The Transistor (1953)

I think this may be the most (unintentionally) hysterical thing I’ve seen in a good long time (oh, the world of the future):

I mean seriously side-splitting, tears streaming down the face, really truly, delightfully, must-see funny. (I love the wrist device! Dick Tracy has come true in that regard. And just imagine: portable televisions!)

As a bonus, here’s the hot ticket from 1940, the “high vacuum tube” that the transistor made largely obsolete:

They are still used by some audiophiles, who prefer the “warmer” sound of tubes (because of how tubes treat sound clipping and harmonics compared to how solid state does — the “tube sound”).

They’re also still used (as far as I know) in some very high power radio applications — the final power stage that feeds the antenna.

And, of course:

Audiophile tube warmth aside, tube distortion sounds way better than solid state distortion (again because of the harmonics, which become really prominent when the signal is over-driven and distorted).

(Magnetic tape distortion has an even better sound, and many bands over the years have recorded with the VU meters spending most of the tune in the red.)


In both films, I’m intrigued by the language and level of detail. It’s just my impression, but it seems as if things weren’t as glossed over or dumbed down as they are today.

The vacuum tube film, especially, is just detailed but accurate. It doesn’t cut any corners to make it easier to understand.

I think maybe the producers were willing to require more from their audience than today where getting eyeballs is more important than disseminating interesting information.

In any event, quite the enjoyable blast from the past.

In completely unrelated news, according to my WordPress list of posts, this here post is number 800.

800 Posts

My Index lists 643 regular posts, plus 65 Sideband posts, plus 60 Brain Bubbles posts, plus 30 posts in the Special Relativity series…

Which, unless my math is wrong, is 798 plus this post makes (only) 799.

I’ve lost track of a post somewhere!

Here’s the funny thing: The last time I celebrated an odometer landmark like this, the 500-post mark, it was exactly four years ago yesterday (I’m actually writing this post and queuing it on the 17th to be published on the 18th).

Weird, life’s little coincidences.

Stay electronic, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

20 responses to “The Transistor (1953)

  • Maggie Wilson

    Congrats on the 800th – 799th – but who’s counting, right?

    The transistor plays a role in my family’s story – my father ran his own radio and TV repair business at home in the late 50’s. Thanks to you and this post, I now have insight into why his business tanked. He couldn’t keep up with changes in technology.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’m sorry to hear about his business (I actually have a somewhat similar history regarding my dad). The technology really did move fast. I remember how I learned about tubes, only to find the world had moved on to transistors. So I learned those, only to find out now it was all logic gates and ICs. Learn those only to find out I had to move on to microprocessors.

      Hardware or software, one characteristic that remained true in this field is it takes constant study to remain current. It’s that Red Queen bit from Alice in Wonderland about running faster and faster just to stay in place. It’s friggin’ exhausting! (I’m glad I’m retired and don’t have to anymore.)

      • Maggie Wilson

        Interesting to learn you can relate. Yes, it wasn’t for lack of trying on my Dad’s part, I don’t think. But before long, he couldn’t find parts to repair the units that came his way. And I don’t imagine that his business afforded him the chance to update his skills, either.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, I was just a kid, so it was just a matter of going to the library and reading books all day, no business to try to maintain. For my dad, it was his print shop (where I worked for a few years after I got out of college). He had a career as a Lutheran minister, but got involved in political conflicts within the church hierarchy, got fed up, and decided to leave the organization (but not the faith).

        He’d always like the ancient “worker priest” mode, where clergy had to work for a living, so he set out to pursue one of his great loves in life: books. He wanted, ultimately, to be a book publisher of small arty books. We did publish a few. A book of photos by a local photographer, one fun one about predicting the sex of your child, and a few others, but he was such a bad businessman, that the business never took off and ultimately just died.

        He died of Alzheimer’s, and when we look back, there were some signs (per my mom) even when I was in high school. So it’s possible he had some mental deficits that made an impact. He was prone to becoming fixated on things that didn’t have much return value, but which he enjoyed doing.

      • Maggie Wilson

        Thank you for sharing your story. You have inspired me to write my own transistor blog post.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Cool! Keep me, um, “posted”! 😀

    • Wyrd Smythe

      (In fact, it was my dad’s business struggles that led me to decide to never open my own business, but to always work for hire. Owning your own business is a challenge I never felt up to. I very much admire those with the guts to even try.)

  • Coy of Alien Resort

    I remember using tube testers in drug stores. I tested many tubes and never found a bad one. The problem was always somewhere else in the circuitry.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I remember those very well!. Very much a product of a bygone era.

      The whole idea that people were trusted to be competent enough to open their own TV sets, reach inside (where there were indeed stored voltages that good give you a good zap) and remove tubes, keep them organized in order get them back where they belong, and handle the actual testing (which required matching tube numbers with settings),…

      Can you imagine that with today’s population of general morons and idiots? Not to mention the litigious aspects?

      Truly a bygone era.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    It’s always interesting to see the mindset of people in the past. Some of their predictions are funny, but I’m struck by how much they nailed the coming importance of the transistor. I only watched the beginning of the 1940 video, but I imagine that to them the vacuum tube looked like the height of technology. (And at that time, it was.)

    It affected the fiction of the time too. A lot of the old time stories had vacuum tubes blowing in spaceships. Even the 1956 Forbidden Planet movie had characters hearing the opening and closing of circuits in the millions years old planet wide alien computer.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “It’s always interesting to see the mindset of people in the past.”

      We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?

      Between the two, the vacuum tube probably seemed downright magical. The film referred to it as “Aladdin’s Lamp.” And it really did change the way so many things were done (the 1940 film gets into that near the end). For the first time, we could amplify signals! Whoo and Hoo!

      OTOH, the transistor was “just” a huge improvement to technology that had, to some extent, become part of life. Kind of a game-changer versus platform-changer (albeit still a game-changer, just a smaller game).

      It may be the enthusiasm for the transistor in that film comes from by then having a sense of what this really meant. The vacuum tube video is more of a sales job on why tubes are so great. The transistor video is, as you say, almost a celebration of a stunning achievement in technology.

      “It affected the fiction of the time too.”

      Oh, very much so! I think I’ve mentioned George O. Smith and the Venus Equilateral stories. Hard SF about solving communications problems IN SPACE with vacuum tubes and other components of the day. Really loved those stories. 😀

      One that cracks me up is how many SF writers in the 1970s and 1980s thought fax was going to be a thing in the future. I’ve read many accounts of high tech fax machines. Very few actually realized personal terminals would be what smartphones turned out to be. That screens would ever be so good we wouldn’t need to print messages.

      That tube film stresses how tubes enabled long distance telephony (including in cars and ships! 🙂 ). The growth from tube to transistor to microchip resulted in distinct archeologies of telephone switching office. When I was a field tech, I was in a lot of those COs, and the differences in technology were fascinating. Walking down the aisles of a mechanical CO you got a cacophony of clicking from all the relays (many thousands of them). Down the aisles of an electronic CO all you heard was the whisper of fans and faint whine of electronics. I liked the mechanical offices better. More alive! 🙂

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Someone uploaded the old Space 1999 episodes on Youtube, and I’ve been watching some of them, purely for nostalgia. (It was one of my favorite shows when I was nine.) The premise of the series was scientifically ludicrous, but once you get past that, the show actually had some heart.

        Anyway, one of the things is that the only computer is the central one in the moonbase, referred to simply as “Computer”, which only communicates with little printed slips of paper that look like supermarket receipts. Everyone walks around with electronic phone-like devices, but they appear to be only good for communication and opening doors. For doing any serious work, they have to use the base’s central computer.

        Yet, despite that, the base has the ability to detect “life signs” in alien spaceships and on alien worlds. (No doubt using the same life-radiation that the Star Trek life detectors used.)

        And to think, we’re now 20 years passed the future time that story was supposed to take place in!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I remember the show quite fondly! It was where Barbara Bain and Martin Landau ended up after Mission:Impossible (which I’d been a big fan of, and, of course, was a fan of any SF TV show).

        Ah, yes, the good old remote sensors! Often good for immediate readings from light years away!

        Yeah, it’s funny to think about all the imagined futures we’ve passed by now. I’m old enough to have looked forward to 1984 and 2001 and wonder what they’d be like. Looking back, certainly not like their literary images suggested. (We do seem on the brink of some serious Nineteen-Eighty-Four stuff now, though.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I loved the first season intro to Space 1999 (still do), but when I watched it as a boy, I didn’t understand why it made such a big deal about Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. I didn’t see Mission: Impossible until several years later, and never realized the connection, until recently.

        Part of the thrill of 2001 and Space 1999 was that they were depicting a future I knew would be within my lifetime. (As was 1984 and Blade Runner, but those weren’t attractive futures.) I really looked forward to piloting an Eagle.

        Now I’m too jaded to be much interested in near future fiction. My escapism prefers fiction set centuries or millenia in the future.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, that’s part of the attraction of really good fantasy, too: pure escapism. That was one big difference between Brin’s Existence and Donaldson’s Final Chronicles series. Brin’s was a near-ish future, and the book was very much oriented on our foibles and perils. But The Land is pretty far removed from anything mundane, that even with the difficult subject material, it really takes one away someplace very different.

        (Tragic Sir Terry Pratchett passed away. Discworld was such a delightful blend of fantasy and fun. Gee, for that matter, Robert Asprin is dead, too, and he was another one that wrote creative, fun fantasy. We need someone to take their place. Neil Gaiman is sort along their vein, but much darker and more serious. I do like his work, too, though.)

        Barbara Bain and Martin Landau were a pretty big deal back in the day. She was kind of the blonde femme fatale (with acting chops; an early Sharon Stone). He was also seen as one of the better actors of the day, almost kind of a Brando. Plus being actual husband and wife who worked together in two TV series. Not something you see often. For them to be in Space:1999 together was a definite score on the show’s part. Easy to see why they’d feature them.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Not sure if I knew Robert Asprin had died. (Although I see it was years ago, so I probably just forgot.) I used to read him and Douglas Adams whenever I traveled. I find traveling stressful, and their relatively light hearted books helped.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        D’oh! Douglas Adams!! There’s another one.

        Did you see the Dirk Gently series on BBC? It was pretty good! Kinda captured the spirit of the books, I thought. (None of the plot.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I did see it, and enjoyed it. I was sorry to see it canceled. I never really got into those particular books. I did try to read the first book after the series came out, but after reading more than half of the book and Gently, or any other character I recognized, still not making an appearance, I lost interest.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        The Dirk Gently books were… not the same as the Hitchhiker books. Adams was trying for a different kind of humor, and it was… different.

        I really liked the first season. Watched it three times, I think. (Kinda had to to figure it all out.) The second season was also pretty good, but I could see they were going to have trouble keeping it up. It was kind of a one-trick pony.

        Two seasons, two books. Apparently a full hand.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    So weird, the reactions of some people on YouTube. 😮

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