Obsolesence

One of the things I see a lot of in my work is obsolete technology. It’s everywhere in the archives, all kinds of it. Things blossom and die with depressing regularity and it seems increasing speed. I especially love the older construction photos. The workers carry themselves with a powerful dignity that I find genuinely inspiring. I try to always remember who built the rooms where we study and teach. But their methods and tools, and frankly the job sites in general, look like nothing so much as a massive OSHA violation.

I've never been able to figure out precisely what they're doing.

More recent obsolete technology is much funnier looking, even faintly ridiculous. I came across two really interesting examples of this earlier this week. This first picture was taken in Fondren Library not too long after it opened, sometime in the 1950s. The label on the back says that it’s a student play reading group meeting in the new Music Room. I freely confess that I don’t understand what they’re up to here. Does that equipment play something or record something? Both?

I really get a kick out of this next one. Obviously, it’s Norman Hackerman teaching a Chemistry class. It must have been taken very early in his tenure at Rice–look how young he is! I assume that’s a microphone of some sort, but ye gods what an ungainly device. I hope it’s existence was fleeting.

I’ll just stop here, or I’ll wind up boring you with a rant about floppy disks.

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23 Responses to Obsolesence

  1. Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

    The penultimate photo shows what I believe to have been a portable record player. That seems to be a 45 rpm disc on the turntable. I would be surprised if it recorded; however, the arm seems somewhat elaborate to just play records.
    The beautiful blonde is Joan BUSBY RYAN (1958). She later married Frank RYAN, football quarterback, but I think also a physicist. RYAN and King HILL were probably the best combination quarterback twosome in college football. RYAN later played for the Cleveland Browns and HILL for ? – St. Louis Cardinals?
    The ‘dude’ to BUSBY’s left, pretending to know something about the equipment although he was an Eco major, is James Robert Lyne, Jr. (1956). I guarantee you he was wearing blue jeans, as he didn’t own anything else.

    • Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

      Also note, that “Bob” Lyne is wearing one of his 2 dozen “Wild Bill Elliot” cowboy shirts.

    • effegee says:

      Frank Ryan earned a PhD in Mathematics. He returned to Rice in the late 1980’s as a Vice President over the Development Office.

      Wikipedia reports that he was Director of Information Services for the U.S. House of Representatives where he was responsible for setting up the first electronic voting system.

      • Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

        I guess I got Ryan mixed up with Richard Chapman, who was a tackle during the 2-way college footbal of the 1950’s. Chapman was the physicist, and he helped Dick Moegle make All-something with his terrific downfield blocking.

    • Deborah Gronke Bennett says:

      This photo shows us that Texas nerd fashion really hasn’t changed that much over the years. Plaid shirts, and shirts with snaps. Blue jeans.

  2. Matt Noall says:

    In the first photo I would hazard a guess they are spraying grass seed with water. This seems to be standard for planting large swaths of grass. Surely cheaper than sod

    • Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

      Matt,
      It looks as though the birds are putting up quite a fight for the grass seeds.

      • Grungy says:

        Birds?
        Those are glitches on the print or scan.
        I’ve edited them out of my copy.
        The top man on the ladder appears to be working on the bricks, not just pointlessly climbing the ladder to nowhere.
        I’ll side with the “just blowing the water over there” people – either testing the hose or pumping something out that’s off-camera.

    • Deborah Gronke Bennett says:

      I wonder why the two men in the background are climbing a ladder up Lovett Hall which leads to a blank spot in the wall.

  3. Pat Campbell says:

    The microphone that Dr. Hackerman is using appears to be the same as the one Dr. Salzburg used for freshman chem lectures. One of the fascinations of that class was watching him approach the edge of the platform, obviously about to pitch over, tangled in the cord only to recover without ever obviously noticing. Towards the end of the semester he asked if he could get into the betting pool with “never” because he had been doing the same dance for years without a misstep.

    • Deborah Gronke Bennett says:

      And check out that Periodic Table on the wall next to the board, with the actinide series still half-empty.

  4. The third picture i note two freshman beanies. What is with the two arms on the “record player.” If someone knows, I would love to hear about it.

  5. larry j miggins says:

    I would guess that the guys are using a gasoline pump and pumping put a construction site below grade back during the rainy season. Sewall Hall has a natural spring under the building which generates millions of gallons a year just outside the Art Gallery. You can hear it from on top of the manhole cycle about every 3-5 minutes on the East Side next to Lovett Hall.

    • Melissa Kean says:

      I thought about that. The construction sites would completely fill up with water after rains, like swimming pools. But there wasn’t any construction in that vicinity when this photo was taken. It’s a very, very early picture–1912 or 1913–and the next building built was Physics in 1914. I believe that they’re standing right by where that pump outside Sewall is today.

    • Mike Ross says:

      The ground beneath the hose effluent looks torn up and uneven … not smooth and finished like you’d expect if they were seeding it. Also, it looks like dirt on the negative not birds in the air. I didn’t see any on the ground.

      Might it be a water-pressure or clean-out test of a water supply line, for the building/university or fire protection (if they had that in place that long ago)?

  6. James W. Hajovsky says:

    I love the 2nd picture with the record player. What I like the best is the hair cuts the gentlemen are sporting and the watch band the student has on the far right. Did Rice students wear beanies at that time. That’s what the hat on the left looks like. Oh what memories this brings back from the late 50’s and early 60’s. Good question, what are the 2 guys doing on the ladder?

  7. Grungy says:

    The large, unused tonearm is used for 78rpm records.
    The other for 16, 33.3 and 45rpm.

  8. Grungy says:

    D’oh!
    I hadn’t even noticed the microphone.
    Nothing in the picture, other than the mic, suggests the ability to record.
    The turntable-in-suitcase isn’t a recorder – tape or wire.
    It’s either just for show, or she wanted to be amplified.
    Could be the 1950 version of karaoke.

  9. Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

    I sent Bob Lyne an e-mail, alerting him to this photo.
    I had hoped he would enlighten us on what his group was doing.

    He “Replied” with a scandalous cartoon showing a deleterious effect (?sp NOTSL) of solar panels.
    The Class of ’56 never had much couth.

  10. owlcop says:

    As a former firefighter, I would say that is a firefighting drill. The hose reel wagon has a ladder rack mounted on top of it. The construction crews would have to be versed in basic firefighting as the closest fire station (#7) was located at Milam and McGowen (and the equipment may have still been horse drawn).

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