Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cleaned Up

Today Boy and I visited his Granny's house to begin organizing a disused study. His Grandpa passed away in 2001 and left vast stores of books, articles, photos, and Stuff neatly heaped in what could be a guest bedroom at the top of the stairs. Overwhelmed but ready to part with it, Granny needed someone who knew books to have a look at it.

I came along for the ride.

While Boy indexed shelves of tomes (discussed here) I dug into the contents of drawers, unearthing a treasure trove of nifty gadgets, contraptions, and art supplies. Granny really didn't want any of it, so we made out like kings. I'm now the proud owner of:

:a well-maintained draughtsman's tool set, including compasses, dividers, and ruling pens

:a set of French curves, rulers, and scale rules

:a small, 2-inch measuring contraption made of brass and horn embossed with "J BUCK LONDON" (Any ideas?)

:A pile of cool nautical gadgets, including small wooden parallel rulers, a marlinspike, and a small, brass weather forecaster (that depends on you having a barometer)

:Folding knives and steel measuring tapes of all shapes and sizes

:Sealing wax sticks and two stamps--one the monogram "WI" in florid lettering and one of a rabbit.

:Several fillable fountain pens and ink that's still good

:Tiny steel futuristic staplers and thousands of tiny futuristic staples

:An antique ammeter

:A clip-on coat of arms for Grandpa's school--The Brentwood (Happy 42nd, Douglas!)

:Folding scissors

:A tiny silver twist-up pencil, about 3" long, engraved with rosettes and Grandpa's initials

A suction-cup listening device for recording phone conversations.

I left some things at the house though, simply because I had no real use for them, but couldn't bring myself to throw them away. These included:

:2 Walkmen with built-in microphones

:Several sliderules and sliderule-esque devices (yuck. These things make no sense and I'm convinced they make maths harder)

:Dozens more rulers and neat wooden rules with bizarre increments

:An inlayed wooden letter-opener

:Computer cassette tapes

I was able to throw away a number of items, some joyfully, such as:

:Dozens of giant, obsolete computer and audio cables

:Bizarre answering machine accessories

:dried-out adhesives, inks, and varnish

:Windows 95 (With a separate CD for Internet Explorer 4)

:Ancient batteries and an equally ancient universal charging station

:Instruction and warranty booklets for obsolete (and generally absent) electrical goods

I've learnt a fair bit about Grandpa in the past few years--it would have been cool to have met him. He was a Methodist minister and a technology writer, so the study is filled with roughly even numbers of theological and engineering texts, many of which he wrote himself. Some of Grandpa's mechanics books are still referenced by engineering students. He was a draughtsman, a sailor, a computer fanatic, and a lover of gadgets who was regularly invited to manufacturing plants all over the world to write about their systems and machines.

As you might expect, the religious texts are still fairly relevant--even the crumbling centuries-old analyses and wartime reflections on the function of the church in society continue to resonate. We came across a family Bible that is over 150 years old, with names of children neatly written in the front as it was passed through the generations, and it looks and reads pretty much exactly like a nice, presentation-grade King James you could find today.

The technology texts, however, are all about ten to thirty years out of date. Even the newest books treat the internet like it's a novel idea. All of the manufacturing systems described in the academic texts look fairly archaic and the computer studies are hilarious. Remember the difference between "Microcomputers" and "Minicomputers"? (Spell-check apparently does!) Remember when 16-colour displays were "Sleek and cutting-edge" and enough RAM to run an egg-timer was "powerful"?

Grandpa kept up-to-date on computer technology until his final days, and there were books in the stacks from the early 2000's, but even the edgiest machines and theories of the day are adorably wimpy or pointing in the opposite direction to how history unfolded. Oh Betamax. Oh car phones. Oh poor, poor laser-discs. (I find it interesting that when CDs came out they weren't sold as 'CLDs')

Boy spent the day filling a data sheet with titles, publishers, dates, and volume quality notes, and I covered myself in dust rooting through historic pointy objects. There's still plenty left to do, and I haven't even mentioned the massive hanging file, the thousands of slides that need to be digitized, and then the final decisions: What do we do with all this stuff?

We may be able to find theologians interested in the religious texts, I'd imagine we'll recycle the obsolete tech books (those not written in-house), scan the interviews and articles, and I'll take the slide projector if no one else wants it. Might come in handy in a scenic context.

Oh dear. I've been doodling with a ruling pen this whole time and my fingers are impressively ink-stained. I feel so quaint.

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