I'm a huge fan of technology advancement, in nearly all cases. But there are times when I wish the steady march of innovation wouldn't leave certain products obsolete.
A few weeks ago, I faced a major quandary. It was Game 4 of the World Series. It was also Halloween. Something had to give.
Up until the later part of the evening of Nov. 1, I could aptly be described as a long-suffering San Francisco Giants fan, who like many others had been given legitimate cause to worry that the team would not win a world championship in my lifetime. I'm also the father of two young boys, who though short-suffering Giants fans themselves, made it abundantly clear that they were planning to accumulate as much candy as possible through trick-or-treating.
My wife had to work late. That left Daddy the only option for trick-or-treat escort. But the game began at 5:19—right at the start of prime trick-or-treating time. It was Madison Bumgarner versus some guy named Tommy Hunter, and there was a lot riding on this. The Giants led the series 2-1 after losing Game 3. If the Giants lost Game 4, it would have been anybody's series. If they won Game 4, they would take a commanding lead (some threw around the term "insurmountable lead," but I'd been hurt too many times by this team to think so boldly).
Were it a regular season game, I would have had no problem tracking the game through occasional scoring updates on my Blackberry. But it was not a regular season game. It was Game 4 of the World Series. And I was not about to allow a pitch be thrown without being in a position to analyze, evaluate and scrutinize every detail of it.
There was no getting around the fact that I needed to leave my house during the game. But the solution was simple enough, right? Just grab a transistor radio, tune it to the AM band, slip on some headphones and hear the game for me described in rich detail while I watched my kids roam the neighborhood looking for handouts.
Only problem was, as I soon realized, I didn't have such a radio. Though I must have owned at least 10 such devices in my life, a thorough search of my home turned up an iPod, several portable CD players, and even a Sandisk Sansa (some Sansas have an AM tuner; this one didn't), but not a single radio small enough to carry around without looking thuggish.
I hit my local CVS and paid $13 for a simple "Walkman-style" AM/FM radio with headphones. Because I live in a bad area for reception, and because the radio was a real piece of junk, the reception was very poor. But after some effort I managed to tune in the game on a national radio feed. (I couldn't get the Giants flagship radio station, KNBR, despite the fact that it has a very strong signal, because another AM station dominated most of the band). But either way, problem solved.
Now here's my favorite part of the story: My brother, another long-suffering (at the time) Giants fan, had volunteered to join me for the trick-or-treating, and though he was also torn by wanting to watch the game, he kept his word. Hipster that he is, my brother paid $5 for an app that enabled him to listen to the game on his iPhone. With our apparatuses in hand, we piled into the car and headed for the TTZ (trick-or-treating zone; to maximize efficiency I selected a target-rich environment around the corner).
Once we hit the streets, I was able to follow every pitch. My brother was, too, but the iPhone feed was way behind the over-the-air AM signal—at least one minute, probably two. A batter that was just strolling to the plate on his headphones had already grounded out to short on mine, and I was quick to report the updates. Finally, he gave up. His sophisticated smartphone, featuring Apple's A4 processor and other elegant hardware as well as cutting-edge software, simply couldn't compete with my little radio, which probably has circuitry very similar to the first transistor radios of the 1950s.
There are two morals to this story. One is that we should embrace new technology with open arms, but not rush older gadgets off to premature deaths. The second is that you should always keep a small AM radio on hand, because you just never know when your team's appearance in the Fall Classic might have to deal with a competing event (even you, Cubs fans).
I'm joining the discussion late, but: as a confirmed radio listener, there's at least one radio in every room of my house, and several are am/fm portables. The Tivoliaudio PAL is a portable AM/FM that sounds decent & can be carried around if needed, like out to my driveway when I have to work on the cars. The crank-up emergency radio is stored in the shed, probably has AM band since I bought it many years ago, late in 1989. So far it has prevented the next big quake...
@RobertReavis- You make a great point that others have already made to me. I do need an emergency radio handy and have been planning to get one for years. Now that I have been chastised by several readers, I will make it a priority. Even so, though, the hand crank emergency radio I will be getting would probably not have been a great solution to this problem.
I still miss my 9 transistor Sylvania AM radio. It was too expensive for my parents to buy, but I actually won it at my father's union Christmas party. I thought I had gone to heaven!
That radio worked great. I remember laying in bed listening to those "clear channel" stations that were hundreds of miles away.
That radio got thrown out when my mother moved, even though it still worked & looked great. It was old.
I did however recently snag an old Westinghouse 6 transistor that was abandoned by a tennant of mine.
Although I'm a Rockies fan currently living in the Bay Area, I was also captivated by the Giants run though the post-season. lListening to the games on my late commute home, I had a choice of the local KNBR feed (Kruk and Kuip are fabulous to listen to, even when you are a fan of the opposing team) or either home feed or the national feed on the XM system in my car. As an engineer, I just had to benchmark the latency difference (at least 15 seconds of delay on the satellite feed, as I recall). At one point I arrived home during a crucial at-bat, and it was apparent that the DirecTV satellite feed was even further behind than the satellite radio feed. It didn't matter, however, because as soon as I walked in the door my wife paused the DVR, we took care of some quick dinner preparations, then picked up the game from where we had been. No reason to miss a pitch! (And we could catch back up during commercials.)
So many technologies, so many choices...
I have managed to hang onto a couple of plain old transistor radios that work. We're in tornado and ice country and it has paid off a couple of times. A hint for finding AM radios is to take a look at the emergency/travel radios that a nmber of places sell, including the Red Cross.
We've also resisted doing away with the POTS line for similar reasons. Our power was off for a full week one time and Internet service was down for 10 days. Cell service was problematic as one of the nearby cell towers was down (literally) as well.
Beyond that, we do have a generator that can run the essentials in the house such as the gas furnace blower, sump pump and lights and my ham radio station has Gel-cells enough to run for several days.
Reminds me of a few years ago when the Red Sox were in the hunt and I had to be out and about for the evening (shuttling kids around) and was going to miss the game. I tried to find a FM station broadcasting the game but was not able (I wanted the clarity of FM), I gave up and switch the car radio to AM and found one station and then a better one later on! Sometimes the old ways just work! Thanks for the memories.
Great story Dylan. I was overseas during the Giants run this year so an AM radio wasn't much use. My iPhone app did the trick, though, even if the games started after 2AM local time. In an odd kind of way it brought me back to my days as a youngster in Boston, falling asleep with a transistor radio on under my pillow when the Sox were on their West Coast swings. I just wished the iPhone battery lasted as long as the transistor radio used to!
If you and your brother were betting types you could have made a fortune! ("Twenty bucks says the batter is going to ground out to short.")
A third moral is that you should always keep a small AM radio on hand in the event of a unscheduled disaster (hurricane, tornado, earthquake, snowstorm, flood)in case the modern and complex communications systems fail. A CB type walkie-talkie would also be useful. Keep the batteries fresh. Same concept as retaining a twisted pair corded telephone than runs off the central office battery for when AC power and cell service or VOIP fail.
@Danngis.Liu- I might be wrong, but I think the FCC-mandated delay is only a few seconds. The meat of the delay, as I understand it, has to do with the way the signal is relayed...
@dsthil- thanks for the tip. I will check it out....
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.