For information about how we recycled some items in The Olden Days go to the Recycling page; For a discussion about tele-communication in The Olden Days go to the Communication page; and the Wireless page for a discussion about the development of radio since The Olden Days.


Picture of a magneto telephone

This website would never be complete without mentioning the telephone, which was invented by Alexander Graham Bell! Not sure if they named the telephone bell after him or not. In fact, he actually invented TWO telephones (think about it).
The 'phone was once a box with a bell on top, a transmitter at the front to speak into and a hook at the side to hold the receiver. It also had a small handle on the other side connected to a small generator. When you turned this it generated a signal to tell the "operator" you wished to make a call. The operator asked who you wished to speak to, tested that line to make sure it was free, and connected your line to it by inserting plugs. Later, the cords were replaced by several rows of switches.
Picture of a rotary telephone dial, which became possible after automatic switching was introduced Later, the automatic telephone exchange replaced most operators (some functions, such as "trunk" or "STD" calls to other areas, were still carried out by them), and the rotary dial was introduced. This had the digits 1 to 0 on a disk on the front of the telephone. The disk was rotated until the required digit was at the stop-position and released, sending a series of pulses to the exchange. The called phone was rung and ring tone was returned to the caller if the line was free, to indicate their call's progress. If it was busy, busy tone was returned to them. Magic!
Tone dialing later replaced this "pulse-dialing". Ten buttons replaced the rotary dial and each triggered a unique pair of tones that the exchange interpreted as a digit and switched the call accordingly. This meant there was no pulsing delay, so connection was much faster.
Nowadays, telephony is only one function of many telephones, especially portable ones. They have cameras, answering services, message-storing, GPS navigation and even internet access on an instrument small enough to fit in the pocket.

If you're interested in the more technical details of telephone switching, go to the Australian Telephony page.


Our choice of sound quality from the radio or tv was limited to a round speaker - the bigger it was, the better your sound, theoretically. Stereo? what's that? Surround-sound? sure, just place three or four radios, tuned to the same station, in various parts of the room.
Later, speaker quality was improved and a small 3 inch one would actually "tweet", while a big 10 inch one would "woof". For more about the electronics-side of radios, visit the Wireless page.
Volume and clarity were not the only things to be improved. Filters were made that allowed selected frequency-ranges to be output from different speakers, at different positions. This allowed "stereophonic" sound to give the impression that the listener was surrounded by the orchestra or group. Further development produced "surround-sound", with speakers placed in all corners of a room.


Picture of Sinclair ZX81 computer

My first computer, which I bought in kit form for $199 back in 1982 was a Sinclair ZX81. It had 1kb but I bought the luxury version with 16kb (16384 bytes) of memory, used casette tapes to load and save programmes and had a black and white display that was sent to a TV screen. Text mode was 22 lines of 32 characters, and graphics were restricted to solid blocks of 1/4 of a character size. It used a programming language called Sinclair Basic, which was quite good for the time. We mostly typed in programmes from magazines, and because of all the syntax requirements (commas, semi-colons, quotes etc.) it often took more time to debug the programme than to actually type it in. Fortunately (or cleverly) most of the keywords of the language were available on keys as one entry. Problem was, this meant every key had up to 5 functions on it, accessed by alt, shift etc.
People who worked in the technical fields were able to type in programmes in "machine code", a very cryptic language indeed, and this gave access to much finer graphics - 512x384 pixels, or dots.
Compare this with todays household computer with maybe 2 terabytes (2,000,000,000,000 bytes) of memory. Graphics are usually 1920x1080 in several million colours. Multi-channel sound can be obtained, and files are loaded and saved from DVDs or external drives that can hold terabytes of data as well.


Banking was done by paying into the bank, usually each pay-day, any money we didn't expect to need that week, using a "bankbook". This money earned interest for the time it was in the bank.
In theory, this is what still happens to our money, but with charges for running the account and various other fees, the amount of money tends to diminish rather than increase when left untouched. We don't go to the bank any more, either, as the money can be deposited and withdrawn at home with online banking or at the store with EFTpos or other cards.
There are also quite a variety of account types now, including savings, credit, trading and others, all with their own rates of interests and charges.


Picture of a Brownie Box camera

Back in my younger days, the Box Brownie camera was probably the most popular camera around, and typical of most cameras available. It was called a Viewfinder camera, and had a viewer next to the main lens. This meant that what you saw through the viewer was not necessarily the picture you got, because of parallax error. This problem would have become even more severe when zoom lenses came into use, since a viewfinder would not adjust for zoom.
The arrival of the Single Lens Reflex camera, fixed this problem as the viewer actually looked out through the lens, and what you saw was what you got (sort of early days WYSIWYG?).
Film cost was a big consideration when deciding whether or not a "shot" was worth taking as film rolls only allowed 12, 24 or 36 pictures per roll. Once taken, that part of the film couldn't be used again - even if it was just a very close shot of your thumb! When the roll of film was finished you took it to the chemist's shop and they sent it away to be developed (unless you had your own darkroom and did it yourself).
Later, electronic cameras arrived which used solid-state devices instead of roll film. These now allow several hundreds or thousands of photos to be taken on one "chip", printed or downloaded to your computer, then the chip re-used. So users could snap happily away, sometimes taking the same shot several times to ensure a good result, with no extra cost.

For further discussion on changes in photography, go to the Photography page.


It's hard for young people to imagine life without television these days. But many of us grew up in a world where the idea was only science-fiction. Even the radio was in its infancy.
But eventually, we heard about people with this new invention in their homes, and the lucky ones were able to see it operating by visiting a rich neighbour. It left most of us gob-smacked that pictures were able to be produced on the front of a box, without a projector. Sure, they were only black and white, and they were very streaky, but they could move!
Then, someone had the brilliant idea of adding colour to the pictures. This was done by sticking two strips of coloured cellophane across the front of the screen, a blue one at the top for the sky, and a green one at the bottom for the ground.
This worked surprisingly well, considering the amount of film footage that had neither sky nor grass.
Later, colour transmission was achieved, and this was accepted more and more as prices fell. A development that accompanied this was 3-dimensional viewing. This was done by the viewer wearing a pair of "3D glasses" which had one green and one red lens. This gave the impression that the picture was being viewed from two different points, giving the 3D effect.

Clocks, Controllers and Timers

Once upon a time, clocks were mechanical devices with two, sometimes three hands to indicate the time, and the ability to "chime" every hour or half-hour. We could use this to control our day - to know when it was time to go to work, take the cake out of the oven etc. They required winding up every day or so to maintain the correct time. Pendulum clocks improved on this by only requiring winding weekly or even less frequently.
Then electricity came along, and we no longer had to wind them at all. Some retained their analogue face-and-hands display, while others adopted a new, digital display that gave the time in hours and minutes and if desired, seconds.
As they became more stable, with battery backup when power failed, they began to be used to control devices directly. They were built into ovens and similar appliances, allowing these to be started and stopped during our absence.
Watering of gardens became less of a hit-and-miss affair, with controllers being developed that not only started and stopped at a selected time, but, with the use of solenoids (electrically controled taps) we could water several areas at different times, for different lengths of time, and on varied days.
Nowadays, it's difficult to name an area of our lives that isn't controlled in some way by a timer or automatic controller.
Of course, daylight saving is a whole 'nother story with several parts of a country using different times depending on their geographical position.

As an exercise, imagine this:
You have three clocks in the home. Clock 1 is an old, wind-up clock; clock 2 is an electrical analogue clock (face-and-hands); and clock 3 is a modern, digital clock. Neither of the electrical ones has battery back-up.
One day, you leave for work, and return in the evening to find all three clocks are showing very different times.
Clock 1 shows 5 o'clock; clock 2 shows 3 o'clock; and clock 3 shows 1 o'clock. None has been tampered with. What happened?
Answer: .sruoh owt rof mp2 ta deliaf rewop ehT

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