The Pleasures of the Obsolete

Sharon December 26th, 2008

 Before you ask, no it isn’t quite done, but just about - now all that’s left is some editing and a final look over that I need to step away from it for a day or two to do effectively anyway.  So close, and I’m officially reopening the blog in the meantime. Expect light posting over the next week as I finish up, take a bit of time off, and enjoy the season.

Karl Denninger points out today that part of the reason we’re not shopping is that we’ve all got plenty.  He intersperses his call for a return to hugs and pumpkin pie with a discussion of the fact that most of what we’re being sold isn’t a radical leap forward in technology - that is, blu-ray isn’t that big an improvement on a dvd.

Can you name one product that is a “game changer” - that provides a quantum leap forward, and thus is truly a “must have”?

I can’t. 

That’s a problem, when you get down to it; all retailers are really catering to is “the quantum of more”.

Now look around your house.  Look at all the junk you have in your home.  Quantify “junk” as anything that doesn’t provide you with a place to sit (or lay down), a way to keep you warm, a means to prepare (or consume) food or drink and a way to keep your premises livable (you gotta wash your clothes somehow, right?)

All the trinkets, the 47 computers, the three iPODs and the cell phones.  The “new car” you bought over the last few years, for what - the “new car” smell?  Does a used car - or even a clunker - get you to work? 

Think about it - how much less would an inexpensive used car have cost you?  Liability insurance only as opposed to “full coverage”, because if you wreck it you could replace it for a couple of grand in cash - no need for collision coverage, and if the transmission falls out you could junk and replace it for less than the cost of the repair!  In a couple of years you’re way ahead, and even more so if you make a habit of smashing cars (since insurance gets verrry expensive for collision coverage if you wreck frequently!)

We as a nation have gotten used to deciding we want something and therefore we will have it, because the credit card hasn’t been declined (yet).  When it was, we then went to the bank and pulled out our home equity, paid off the card - and charged it up again.

Now I’m going to have to take Denninger’s word for it, you see, I don’t have a 60″ tv (the size at which he notes you can really see the difference between blu-ray and a dvd).  I’m trying to envision such a thing - that’s a tv as tall as my mother (and there’s a scary way to think about it - how many do you think they’d sell if that was used in the advertising campaign)!  In fact I don’t have a 36″ tv either, on which he says he can’t tell.  I’m not sure how big our tv screen is, actually, but it is pretty small - I can carry the whole thing, built in DVD player and all, under my arm. 

And even that is a pretty big shift in our lives - it was only about 3 years ago that we managed to get something that played DVDs - until then, we had a VCR.  We still have it, because when everyone else converted over to DVDs, videos got really, really cheap and it was a great opportunity to pick up the kind of favorite movies that you really want to watch more than once (as opposed to most movies) - so now we’ve got Butch and Sundance, Singing in the Rain,  The Wizard of Oz and Bladerunner whenever we want them.  Now according to Denninger, there’s a pretty big difference in the quality of picture between a video and a DVD, and I sort of see it, but then again, my tv screen is so small that I don’t notice it much.  I’m just happy that I can show the boys the dancing up the walls bit in “Make ‘Em Laugh.”  For that, we can see fine.

And then I think back to the tv we had when I was a kid - you see, I come from a family of late technology adopters.  We didn’t have a tv a lot of my childhood, but when we did get one, it was a teeny, tiny black and white tv, which was the only option into the middle 1980s.  But the thing I remember most from when we converted to color wasn’t this sudden revelation, a la the shift of Dorothy from Kansas to Oz.  It was the opposite - you see, when you watch black and white long enough you become adept in the ways of shades of grey - it wasn’t that different.  You could figure out roughly what the colors were supposed to be by the light and texture of the film.  What really struck me was that when our new color set broke down a few months later, and we brought out the black and white, that I’d lost the ability to translate black and white into color - sure, the color was nice, but it also cost me something.

Perhaps that’s the origin of my taste for obsolete technologies.  My husband and I chronic late adopters of technology - my guess is that we’re ten years from our first blu-ray acquisition, if ever.  I still don’t have an Ipod, and we just broke down and bought our first cell phone in years - a tracphone with no camera, no internet.  I recently replaced our cracked glass topped electric stove with an old style electric burner one, because you can’t can on the glass top stoves.  Our one car is nearly twice as old as my oldest child, and even my bicycle can claim the same.

That’s not to say that I can’t see the virtue of some technological improvements - the big revelation this year was that the Chanukah fairy brought me wireless internet, something that until now has been impossible in my little rural hollow, away from any tower.  And in many ways that is a huge improvement - I can listen to youtube music while I type and surfing runs a lot faster.  On the other hand, I can already tell there’s a price too - I used to surf the web with a book on my lap, reading poetry or essays while I waited for pages to load.  I have the odd feeling that I’m going to miss the justaposition of Frank O’Hara and the Oil Drum or John Donne with The Automatic Earth.

Of course, I’m famous for my claiming of even more obsolete technologies - I sew with a treadle machine, cook on a wood cookstove, grind my grain with a hand turned grinder, knead bread with my hands, not a bread machine, chop vegetables with a knife rather than a food processor.  This might be just a kind of precious Little House on the Prairie Nostalgia, or so I’ve been accused.

But I have an electric sewing machine.  I’ve used a bread machine.  I have a food processor, and of course, and electric stove.  I don’t use these things because it makes me feel cute and period - in a family with four kids, a farm, the writing, feeling cute falls to the realities.  The truth is that in every case, I’ve decided that the older technology has advantages - or the modern one a price I don’t want to pay.  I don’t like the bread machine because I don’t like the texture of the bread I get out of it - and because when I add in the time to clean all the parts, I don’t feel I’ve saved any time.  The same is true with the food processor - I can cut more uniformly myself, and when you add in the time to clean it, I often can do the chopping faster.  The cookstove warms my house while I cook.  The treadle sewing machine is more fun to use and never goes through my fingers.

All of which for me, raises the question that Denninger doesn’t ask - he talks about how we’re pretty saturated on stuff, and that’s true.  But when wasn’t that true for most of us.  I can remember my Christmases in the 1970s, as a child, in a house with no VCR, no DVD player, no CD player.  I remember sitting with my parents around a record player, singing along, watching the Wizard of Oz on its annual appearance on our staticky black and white tv.  Did the static matter?  Were the records in some way inferior?  I didn’t think so then - is there a way to go back, to forget the monotone clarity of the CD, the perfect picture of the DVD, and accept what we had then?

No technological leap goes just one way - every gain has its price.  Some of them are worth it, no question.  The front-loader washing machine is in every way an improvement over my old top loader, and the price - its hefty price tag - is one I’m willing to pay to use less water, energy, detergent.  But of the technological innovations I’ve had a taste of, few offer that big a step, and when they do, they often come with surprising costs.  The most surprising one, is that they make our past uninhabitable to us.  What I learned for the first time in my early teens going from black and white to color turns out to be true for most things.  Once we accustom ourselves to the new level of technology, it gets harder and harder to go back to the past.  If we do, we must accept the accusation that we are failing in some way, to live in the present.  And there’s a truth in that - because in our society, the present is never “now” it is “what’s new” - and the only way to ever live there is to keep rushing forward, keep unfitting yourself for the now in favor of the future, to always be waiting for the next step.

I’m hopeless, I know.  I’ll never get the full appreciation of the sound and visual quality available to me while the boys and I are watching Donald O’Conner on our tiny little screen.  There are nuances that they may never know about.  On the other hand, the 400 bucks that the blu-ray machine and the dvd would cost are still in our pockets.  And if this is costing us so much, how come we’re all giggling so hard anyway?

 BTW, since I now have decent internet, I can include a link to the scene on youtube - the feat of athleticism I mentioned above is at the very end of the clip: 


88 Responses to “The Pleasures of the Obsolete”

  1. Laura says:

    I’m still torn between whether I should keep using my washboard and tin laundry plunger… or splurge and find a used wringer washing machine. I thought of getting a non-electric James Washer, but the $600ish price tag is a put-off when I can probably find a used wringer washer for $50. The trade-off is a wringer washer needs electricity and is capable of breaking-the James Washer can’t break and needs no electricity.

  2. Throwback at Trapper Creek says:

    I would encourage anyone considering a wood cookstove to get one. We have an electric stove that I use in the summer mostly to conserve wood when we don’t need heat. I would hate to can as much as I do and use all that wood. Having both works great for us, but if need be I would use the woodstove all the time. We also heat with wood, so like a commenter above, if I’m cold I have to build a fire, or at least keep it going. :)

    Our cookstove doubles as a heat stove too, and is very economical if you have a cheap or free source of dry wood. During the recent spate of bad weather we had, loss of power etc, we we were able to cook, and stay warm, and because our water is gravity flow and is heated in our wood furnace we were comfy - only missing our on-demand technology (tv, internet). It just gave me time to knit, since I couldn’t surf the net… . Not really a bad trade-off.

  3. george says:


  4. Steven Earl Salmony says:

    Many too many economic powerbrokers have been playing “the only game in town” the way everyone “in the know” has been participating in the construction of a global, leviathan-like “house of cards” called the global political economy.

    QUESTION: Can we share an understanding of the many attacks on Earth and climate scientists by saying loudly and clearly that their assailants’ activities are venal efforts to spread garbage and junk science, based upon nothing more or less than the duplicitous promulgation of ideological idiocy?

    ANSWER: The many arrogant and hostile efforts toward Earth and climate scientists are for the sole purpose of shoring-up and building trust in a con game; to support the most colossal pyramid scheme in human history…..a modern version of the ancient Tower of Babel. Only this modern ‘edifice’ is an Economic Colossus, one not made of stone but rather built out of filthy lucre as a house of playing cards. The entire game is a patently unsustainable, gigantic ruse perpetrated by a tiny, greedy minority of outrageously conspicuous consumers who are recklessly consolidating and relentlessly hoarding great wealth and power.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population
    established 2001

  5. A says:

    Just this last year I took my 1983 tv to the electronics recycling drop site. Still had a fantastic picture, but the sound and tuner were shot. The used mid-90′s model I replaced it will probably will not last close to 25 years. That’s my biggest beef with modern electronics. I have no issues with having a decent “big” television set, it should just last a long time. Why fill landfills with electronics every 5 or less years?!? Celluar phones are handy little things, but why must everyone get a new one every year? My cordless land line phone is easily 10+ years old and still works excellently, and my cell phone is going on it’s 3rd year in age.

    We do keep quite up to date on computers, but those are “game changers” every 2-3 years for the more advanced software. For internet surfing and word processing not so much, but I do a lot of work with graphic design and drafting. My computer monitor is almost bigger than my television, but at least it generates income.

    I must admit that I do have a Blue Ray player now. A Christmas gift from family since our 2000 built DVD player died. Repairing it would be more than a new one. Why did it die? According to the local sales guy, they build them to fail in under 10 years so you’re forced to buy another one. Gee, thanks a lot.

  6. virginia says:

    Was feeling a lot of sales pressure this holiday season re: technology when I went to a music store expressly for the purpose of getting my piano-loving little daughter her first metronome. The sales staff kept insisting that we need a digital one that requires batteries. All we wanted was one like her piano teacher uses, an old-timey windup model.

    We wound up paying $60 for a neat German-made windup metronome, instead of $20 for the battery kind. Just because I’m sick to death of constantly putting 2 double-A batteries into EVERY GADGET THAT WE OWN.

    Plus, it is just frankly looks cuter, sitting on our old piano.

  7. dewey says:

    I hate cell phones too, but from the developing-country perspective (which, hey, may soon be ours), they are the best form of telephone service. You only have to put up a limited number of towers, rather than stringing thousands of miles of wire. (Also, in at least one country where they started off with a landline system, wire theft was so constant that it was impossible to keep the system operating.) You would be amazed at some of the places that now have cell phone service, and entrepreneurs with sidewalk stalls who will recharge your phone or let you pay to make a call on their phone if you can’t afford your own.

    My DH is agitating (no pun intended) for some kind of European hand crank clothes washer that is a sealed vessel that uses hot water to create air pressure that forces the soap into the fabric. It’s apparently made of plastic and only holds one pair of jeans (hopefully including plus-size ones) at a time. I just wonder whether an older type of crank washer wouldn’t be cheaper and less of a pain in the butt in the long run. Does anyone here have experience with this type of hand washer?

  8. risa b says:

    Yes, what’s up with H&H?

  9. virginia says:

    Risa, this was a music store called Music & Arts. The salesperson kept insisting that digital metronomes are so much more accurate, and cheaper, and anyway they’d have to special order me an “obsolete windup metronome”, which could take several weeks to arrive. So I said no thanks, and walked into a small independent music store where they cheerfully took my $60 and gave me exactly what I wanted. I realize that I’m a sucker for paying that much. Wish I could have found a used one.

  10. Grey says:

    I too, tend to resist new technology. An electric can opener? It would take up space, and I noted it takes someone just as long to pull it out, plug it in, and hook up the can to the opener as it does to use the hand-crank one. I chop my veggies by hand, knead my dough on the counter and stir ingredients with a beaten stoneware bowl and a fork.
    Then my MIL started teaming up with my hubby and they started supplying me with some fancy stuff. I didn’t think I would use the fancy, heavy food processor - until I discovered I can make beautiful piecrust effortlessly in it while I work on something else. I found it indispensable when it was time to chop up boxfuls of carrots, daikon and apples for drying or canning - the slices were perfect, and saved me hours of time.
    In November, they got me a kitchen-aid mixer. I’ve had mixers before. I’ve always gone back to the fork. It too, has saved me time. Time is valuable - especially in December and you have company coming for dinner, it’s 5:00 and you haven’t started yet.
    I wasn’t sure I’d use any of the appliances when I received them. What I’ve learned is, a high-quality blender won’t balk at our morning fruit smoothies, that a heavy mixer can sometimes be used to knead dough or whip up fancy desserts, and that a solid food processor has proven its value to me over and over again.
    Though most days, a bowl, a fork, and a sharpened knife are good enough for me.

  11. Gus says:

    I’m not going to lie. Two ipods, wireless, Sony PS 2 (gotta get rid of it, never use it), laptop, no cell phone, CRT TV with cable. No interest in BluRay. The technology isn’t inherently evil, it’s all in how it’s used. I think it’s a generational thing. My wife is 10 years younger than I am, and she thinks we “need” a flatscreen TV, even though there’s nothing wrong with our current one. She is in entertainment journalism, so she can justify cable television (though not a flatscreen). I think people from her generation have a tougher time telling needs from wants. I was raised by Depression-era parents and was taught that if it works, you use it until it doesn’t. If it’s repairable, you repair it. I use one of my iPods as a convenient way to have all my music at my fingertips and a smaller one that was a gift for working out. I do garden (with my own compost), so I’m aware of the beauty of home-grown vegetables. My wife and I own one car, but I use public transportation extensively. I can do a lot of simplifying, but I expect that sometime within my lifetime I won’t have a choice. I’m enjoying my conveniences, while trying not to let them become “necessities.”

  12. TJ says:

    2 things -
    - dishwasher. I grew up without one and occasionally without hot water. So I LOVE the damn thing. On balance time vs. energy vs. expensive solar panels vs. misery for an hour+ each day. I hope dishwashers never go away.
    - clothes washer. had a very rudimentary half working (no pump, no rinse, agitator only) machine until about 20 years ago when dad took out a 3 yr loan to by our first front loading AUTOMATIC (unheard of) washing machine - mom was a beaming birthday girl for years (even though I did help washing my socks etc.)

    So while I agree there is a price, and I take “Luddite” as a compliment :)
    Some things are pure bliss.


  13. Aaron says:

    There is a lot of speculation about the American consumer and descriptive commentary about being jittery, reluctant, fearful, etc. Although Denninger makes a good point that over-capacity is a serious issue (who needs 4GB of RAM when 1GB allows a person to check their email without a problem), I believe that the American consumer is actually in a state of revolt:

    Middle French revolter, from Old Italian rivoltare to overthrow

    intransitive verb
    1: to renounce allegiance or subjection

    How can one maintain allegiance to a system when one’s net asset value drops precipitously? Housing prices are down over 20% from their peak in 2006 - and is headed down another 20% according to most analysts. The DJIA is down 47% from its high in October of 2007. Most people’s assets are in the stock market (401k, Roth, etc) and in their houses. Having half your worldly value wiped out so suddenly is a wake-up call that few are ignoring.

    Participating in the American system requires consuming things - and in return the system promises financial and material security. No one can look at the system currently and have confidence in its ability to fulfill future promises. The consumer has begun to revolt, to renounce allegiance to credit-fueled lifestyles, to no longer be subjects ruled by debt.

  14. NM says:

    I admit I love my refrigerator and freezer. No dishwasher, though, and happy with that (well, most of the time … : } )
    We grind our flour in a hand grinder, and my friends think I’m nuts, but it’s not that big a deal. Though we’re just starting to get back into it now, after a lull of a year or two, so I do still have bought flour on hand. And I’ve started baking my own bread again. So satisfying. A year and a half ago I developed terrible carpal tunnel — could hardly even pick up a coffee cup. Had received a lovely Kitchen Aid mixer as a wedding gift, and I tried once to use the dough hook to make bread, then gave up in disgust and sulked for a year with store-bought bread — I Hated the idea of not being able to knead by hand, as I’d been doing since my mother taught me at the age of about 7. But there was no way I could knead with my hands as bad as they were. I found a good physical therapist who said you must let them heal! Be patient.
    All these months later, they’re much, much better, though still weaker than before — and I’m using the dough hook and making delicious, wonderful bread, and kind of happy to able to wash dishes and knead bread at the same time. So I guess we’re kind of living somewhere in the middle with the technology.
    We were snowed in for a week and nearly everyone I knew was going nuts about not being able to get out of their houses Go Somewhere. Anywhere, so far as I could tell. We weren’t. My husband was finishing a carved rocking horse for his sister; I was telecommuting, and doing Christmas baking in my spare time, and we were having a fine time. Seemed (and seems) odd to me that apparently no one else around me has enough to do at home, while I can never catch up with all there is to do!
    I would like to learn to use a treadle sewing machine. We have 2, and I tried, years ago, but couldn’t get the coordination figured out to keep the thing going. I need to try again, one of these days. Perhaps by first moving the potted plants off the machine … : }
    But if anyone has any advice for using the treadle, I’d love to hear it.
    Incidentally, I’ve been canning on my glass smooth-top stove since about 1994. I don’t think I’m supposed to be, but it’s worked so far. Though I wouldn’t encourage anyone else to do that, since I wouldn’t want to be responsible for wrecking an expensive appliance.
    We did wind up having to replace a little switch for one burner, which went bad and did things like turning the heat to high, instead of low or off … but only after we’d been using the stove for 12 years, by which time it was supposed to be obsolete anyway.
    Though last year, when we finally realized that maybe we weren’t supposed to be canning on it, we did buy a 22-quart aluminum stock pot to replace my old water bath enameled canner; the canners all have indented bottoms.
    Apparently, the new glass top stoves have special canning burners. Does that count as a technological leap?

  15. Laurie in MN says:


    There is a manual available for treadle sewing machines that goes through how to use the treadle to get and keep the thing running. :) Also basic repair, etc., and where to get parts and needles.

    “The Complete Guide to Treadle Sewing Machines” by Reuben O. Doyle

    I got my copy at It’s entirely possible that other places carry it and/or that it’s available at the library. Removing the potted plants will probably help. ;)

    I need to haul mine out from under the lamp that is sitting on it, clean, oil, and re-belt it, and figure out how to use the damn thing. (It was my grandmother’s — I never even met her, but I’m unbelievably pleased to have her sewing machine.) I keep telling people that I have it so that when the EM pulse hits/the world falls apart, I can still earn a living. They laugh, and don’t realize I’m (mostly) serious. :)

    I *also* take “Luddite” as a complement. *grin*

  16. NM says:

    Thank you! I must find a copy immediately.
    Yes, even my dear husband thinks I’m a little nuts. You should have seen his expression when I suggested buying an antique ice box to replace the refrigerator, and using ice from the freezer, in order to have one less electric appliance.
    Ah, well. It probably would have leaked water all over the floor anyway.

  17. The Screaming Sardine says:

    Dewey -

    I have one of those small hand-cranked washers that you’re talking about. They are a pain when you have to wash jeans/pants. Plus, if you wanted to wash sheets or blankets, you’re out of luck.

    I bought mine from Lehmans, and the lid broke within a couple weeks. That meant I couldn’t seal it to create that suction to wash the clothes. Apparently various of its parts are known to break. Luckily, Lehman’s sent me a new lid, free of charge, but I’m holding my breath wondering when it’s going to break again.

  18. DEE says:

    My cell phone is an entertainment item…have myDH programed to ring with special music when he calls and everytime it rings at work my co-workers are compelled to shout “PA” and get up and dance!!!!!! Yes, we are bored on the night shift. This old Nokia only rings…no pics, no internet,no nothing but a safety link when I do my weekend commute to work.

    The older I get the less I want clutter in my life and we are constantly shedding possessions. Stuff weighs you down. Expensive stuff means you need to pay for insurance to protect it. Cheap stuff is just more stuff to move and clean around. I’m passing my special things on to my children now that I know they’ll treasure. DEE

  19. AngieC says:

    Treadles again: I’d say just have a go! Take a while just to practise rocking the treadle plate; rest your feet on the plate and give the balance wheel (that’s the one at the top, also called handwheel) a spin forwards by hand. Your feet need to sense the motion, then pick it up & continue it. The first few times you’ll think you’re never going to get the hang of it; if you’re anything like me you’ll be trying too hard and feel hopelessly unco-ordinated, but suddenly it clicks & you can keep it going forwards. Then try sewing, with a long thin strip of scrap fabric; the torn-off end of an old sheet perhaps. It’s easy to get carried away and forget to slow down towards the end, but again, it will soon be second nature, like stopping with the needle down to turn. Make sure everything (machine head, treadle plate, treadle wheel) is well-oiled and moving freely. Then practise, practise, practise! Do small, easy things like Morsbags to start with, with lots of straight lines and few fiddly bits.

    Nearly all treadles’ balance wheels spin forwards; all Singers do AFAIK, but a very few (the Jones Spool, for example) spin backwards. If yours doesn’t form stitches going forwards, it may need to be spun backwards to start off. It makes no difference to the actual treadling process.

    Your belt may need adjustment if it’s been out of use for a long time. It’s not hard; you just need to open out the clip, cut off ¼”, make a new hole with a hammer & awl or small nail or something similar to put the clip through, then close it with a pair of pliers. The belt should not be too tight, but tight enough that the wheel doesn’t slip. New belts will nearly always need re-tightening after a couple of months use, and may need several inches cut off them initially. They don’t need greasing; the roughness is what causes the wheel to spin.

    I own & use several treadles; I take them out to events demonstrating how we lived in bygone days and everyone always wants to have a go, boys especially. Each one feels different to use, and has different strengths & weaknesses, so I would say just get to know yours and enjoy! One advantage of being independent of the power supply; there’s very little could beat dragging my Singer 201K out into the courtyard area of our garden on a summer’s day and quilting away under our massive, beautiful “Mayor Of Casterbridge” scented rose in the dappled sunlight…

  20. dewey says:

    Thanks Sardine! Your experience reinforces my suspicion that the thing (pressure washer) would be more likely to add than to replace a piece of annoying modern clutter.

  21. Elizabeth says:

    Gus, I think you’re right about the generational issue to an extent. However, my DH is 12 years older than I am, and I’m the “No, we don’t actually need that” wet blanket in the family. I think it may have more to do with personality and family background than generation. His family tended to run more towards “We have money now, we may as well spend it and enjoy it since we may not ever have any again!”, whereas my family was way more focused on saving.
    But then again I do love the ipod he bought refurbished for me 2 years ago. I love the wind in the pines and the clucking of hens, but I also love me some John Prine and Okkervil River!

  22. dark_matter says:

    My favorite kitchen tool is a Mouli rotary grater. We got it for $2 at a thrift store 15 years ago. All metal, hand cranked. Will grate an entire 2 pound block of cheese in about 5 minutes without shredding your fingers. Works as well now as the day we got it. You can get one on ebay even now for 5 dollars.

  23. NM says:

    Thank you for the treadle advice; that sounds do-able. I’ve copied it, along with Laurie’s book recommendation, so I can keep re-reading it as I practice. Sewing in the garden with the roses sounds like utter bliss.
    Not that I’m all that good at sewing even with my older electric machine, but it’s one of those things I’d like to at least become reasonably proficient at. Have made two shirts for my husband and a dress for me — although I buy those patterns that say “easy! Finish in a couple of hours” — and it takes me weeks. Clearly, more practice is in order…

  24. Chile says:

    Laura - you can convert an old-fashioned wringer washing machine to pedal power. See here for instructions.

  25. PK Scott says:

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned about “old” machines is that they were made to LAST, although they require maintainance (like squirting oil in the little hole that says OIL over it.)
    I collected things like old fans and mixers when they were a couple of bucks at garage sales. Now most of these things are “antiques” and fetch high prices. Ditto all the old people powered appliances like butter churns. The new stuff that is available is usually inferior and high as a cats back.
    I suffer from this fascination with what I call “the simple mechanical solution” and have looked askance at “labor saving” devices my whole life. I have used a wind and solar powered clothes dryer for years which gets the “greenies” all excited untill I tell them it is a clothes line. By my simple calculation if you labor to buy something and labor to pay for the energy to run it you have in fact saved little or no labor. Then there is the whole kettle of fish about ecological impact.
    When you get into the area of “green technology” it seems to have been hi-jacked by clever marketers. I found thousands of plans for pumping water that involved solar panels, batteries, and 12v pumps (at a cost of lots and lots of dollars) but ZERO plans for a functioning small scale windmill for a shallow well (mine are under 20 feet and hand dug) I finaly found a cast iron pitcher pump for under 50 bucks. Cost aside, the thought that ran through my mind was this, water has been pumped for thousands of years without electricity using wind and animal power and really rudimentary machines, WHERE THE HECK has that level of technology gone? SIMPLE MACHINES and direct water or wind power make a LOT of sense and have been almost completely ignored in favor of complex solutions that require a high level of technology (and lots of money) to achieve. To me the treadle sewing machine is wonderful example of this level of technology. Today if you were trying to replicate one I suspect you would be sold a solar panel or wind turbine, a bank of batteries, and an inverter or a 12v motorized machine all of which would wind up defunct at some point where as you would have gone through 2 or 3 leather belts for you treadle machine which would happily keep on runnig for years (provided of sourse that you cleaned and oiled it regularly.) There are (surprise) actually new treadle machines manufactured for the amish market and cost over a thousand bucks. (ouch)

    Most people do not understand that a lever and a wheel are actually very simple machines. Gears are great and leverage is our friend. The kind of proto technlogy that was laying around in abundance and cheap even 20 years ago is disappearing or valued only as an antique. Take a manual hand crank cream separator. $300 plus for a new one made of plastic. Maybe half that for one that may or may not be functional and probably got used as a flower pot and thus needs to be retinned. Since I have goats and simply skimming the cream is more difficult than with cows milk this is not an academic question.

    Just for the record I do own a front loading VERY energy efficient washing machine and a small feezer that is so efficient that when loaded up with block ice was kept running with a couple of 12v batteries and a small inverter when Ike took out our electricity for 2 weeks. I have a small bank of solar panels and am looking at plans for a small scale VAT wind generator. A little energy is a whole whopping lot better than NO energy, but I question the viability of even a fully functional alt energy system over time. Efficiency drops, batteries wear out etc., and unless you have 20K plus or so laying around you are not going to maintain anything like you current life style with it. In a future of depleted energy and resources the simple machines that use levers and gears to translate and mutiply the MECHANICAL energy of wind, water, and muscle will be more attractive than a room full of dead deep cycle batteries and iPods.

  26. Ken says:

    I accidentally stumbled on this site doing a google search that included the word obsolete. I do not have a cell phone. I Don’t have an iphone. In fact I have no idea what they are talking about in most of the ads I see for electronic gizmos.
    I was interested in your comments about cars. You just buy another clunker if the transmission falls out. I do not buy new vehicles. And I don’t change vehicles every few years. That being said, when a vehicle reaches the clunker stage I get rid of it. I went 30 years without being late or absent from work. I’m not going to be dealing with a car that is likely to let me down every once in awhile. Calling work to tell them I will be late because my car broke down again is just not going to happen. Do you just really not care if you’re late or miss work. I have trouble understanding that attitude.
    My buddy and I have a friend who has been driving clunkers for years and we both agree that between the occasional missing work, the aggravation and the cost of keeping his vehicles running these vehicles actually cost him more than we spend on our vehicles.

  27. Donn Wallis says:

    I bought this point-of-use water heater (the smallest of three variations) so that it might fit underneath my kitchen cabinet. I’ve been using it for a number of days now, and am thrilled that I get warm water each time, day or evening, no matter happens, in about 1-2 seconds, max.

  28. Melaine Ville says:

    I simply put in of those in my home. That’s as a result of I’ve two water heaters. I’ve city water however drain into a septic system. The house is a ranch type so it takes a couple of minutes to get scorching water into the showers in the morning. After putting in these recirculation pumps I now get hot water in about 13 seconds. I estimate that in our household we will probably be saving no less than four hundred gallons of water a month.

  29. Vitamin Water : says:

    we always use pressure washers whenever we need something to get cleaned in a short period of time ::

  30. Drip Tray says:

    i will be needing some high power pressure washers to clean our home and our garden `*,

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