Remembering the 1970’s

By Shamus Posted Sunday Jan 3, 2016

Filed under: Random 217 comments

Everyone else is busy looking forward to what 2016 will bring, so for my first post of the year I thought I’d go retro-hipster on you and look back to the 1970s. I see a lot of these crappy posts on Facebook like, “Only 60’s/70’s/80’s/90’s kids will remember…” But they’re filled with the same points again and againOften the re-poster is lazy and just changes the decade without altering the list, which results in crap lists that make no sense in a world where childhood lasts less than 20 years. and it’s often obvious stuff you could pick up from watching (say) “That 70’s Show”. But That 70’s Show is to the 1970’s what the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is to dying of scurvy on the high seas in 1675.

So I thought I’d try to dig deep and come up with a bunch of details from the time period that don’t make the usual lists, and maybe a few that don’t make it into movies based in the time period.

The 70's was butts.
The 70's was butts.

There were always cigarette butts EVERYWHERE, like leaves in autumn. The wind blew them around and usually they wound up between sidewalk cracks, or in the gutter where the street meets the curb. There were also lots of matches mixed in with these.

People tried to fix the cigarette litter by adding ever-more ashtrays to the environment. This was based on the faulty assumption that people threw their cigarettes on the ground because they couldn’t find an ashtray. The truth is that people threw their cigarettes on the ground because they didn’t give a shit, and because they enjoyed the sensation of flicking a used butt away. It was perfectly common to see some guy lean against the wall beside an ashtray and flick his cigarette into the street when he was done smoking.

Before you get mad at those folks, remember that a lot of them died of cancer.

Having a big smelly pile of ash and butts was kind of unsightly, so upscale places would try to fill ashtrays with something nice that would absorb the smell. Some were filled with small pebbles. Others had very fine white sand. This mostly hid the butts and ash, but (and I’m speaking from personal experience here) they were basically irresistible for kids to play in. This also blurred the line between ashtrays and not-ashtrays. Eventually every vaguely container-like object between shin and waist height became an ashtray. So in your typical waiting room you’d always find a few butts around the base of the potted plants.

The ubiquitous cigarette smoking infused the world with a particular smell. And I’ve never seen a movie or television show that really captured the particular look of sunlight entering a smoke-filled bar or restaurant. The smoke tended to gather near the ceiling and catch the light, letting you watch the air currents of the room in real time.

In addition to the cigarette litter there was a constant scattering of bottlecaps and pull-tabs around every convenience store, bar, and vending machine.

Television was filled with awful, awkward, uncomfortable advertising defined by low production values and dreadful jingles. Stuff like this:

Link (YouTube)

The 50’s and 60’s are almost adorable in their advertising, even when using beloved cartoon characters to sell cancer-causing products. No, especially then. The absence of cunning and cynicism makes them feel like a modern-day parody of themselves. But that naivete is gone in the 70’s, replaced by the feeling of having a creepy old guy try to convince you he’s got some candy in the back of his van.

I remember a strange layer of non-painful static electricity that hovered an inch away from a television screen that had been on too long. Once you turned the TV off, you could trace patterns in this field and listen to it crackle.

Nobody could make speakers worth a damn. In-store music always had a strong tinny quality to it. So did most televisions and small radios.

Also mostly forgotten now: The sound of a radiator as it warms up and cools down. Yes, it’s basically just the pinging of metal expanding and contracting, except the tube-like nature of a radiator kind of gave it a musical quality. Radiator-heated rooms also had a particular smell that I’ve never been able to nail down. It was the smell of “heated metal”, sure. But I’ve boiled a lot of water on the stove in my lifetime and I’ve never smelled “radiator room” since they faded from use sometime in the early 80’s.

For whatever reason, department store flooring was shoddy. Floors were a little uneven. You couldn’t feel it, but you could see the distortions in the way light bounced off the linoleum.

Automatic doors weren’t sleek and silent like today. They made noise that varied between “mechanical murmur” and “heavy-duty power tool”.

How did they fit the airbag into such a thin steering wheel? Amazing!
How did they fit the airbag into such a thin steering wheel? Amazing!

Nobody ever wore seatbelts. Nobody. That’s not a big deal, since the seatbelts were mostly worthless. They were lap-belts, meaning they held your waist to the seat so you wouldn’t go flying through the windshield. A nice gesture, except that left your head to continue traveling forward until it found something to run into. But don’t worry, they planned for that! The dashboard was made from firm, stiff plastic with lots of pointy corners, enabling it to endure all the damage your face could dish out.

We’re used to seeing classic 50’s cars as gorgeous, restored museum pieces. But in the 70’s the only 50’s cars you saw were shitty old junkers covered with rust holes and mismatched paint. This is something movies still get wrong today. In the movies, everyone has showroom-fresh cars. (Because those are the only cars you can still find.) But back then the regulations were much more lax, meaning vehicles would stay on the road longer. It wasn’t unheard of to see cars that were missing a frame panel, or a bumper, or had rust-holes the size of a baby.

Maybe it’s my failing olfactory system, but I remember gas stations having a far more pronounced odor. Maybe it was the kerosene. Maybe it was the leaded gas. Maybe it was the more pungent car exhaust of the day. Whatever it was, it gave gas stations a particular aroma that has since vanished from the earth.

There were attendants everywhere. People to pump your gas, bag your groceries, and carry your goods out to your car. There was a cashier at every register every day, unlike today’s world where 8 out of 10 lanes are closed unless it’s Black Friday.

So that’s what I remember. It’s also why you don’t often hear me talking about the “good old days”. Screw those days. They sucked.

Here’s to the future.



[1] Often the re-poster is lazy and just changes the decade without altering the list, which results in crap lists that make no sense in a world where childhood lasts less than 20 years.

From The Archives:

217 thoughts on “Remembering the 1970’s

  1. Bitterpark says:

    The radiator smell is probably not metal, but oil or whatever agent they had inside that would maintain heat. I know this, because when I run my own plug-in radiator for a long time, it starts to emanate the same type of smell, somewhere between car oil and gasoline, even though it was allegedly made this century.

    1. My wood burning stove makes a distinctive “hot metal” smell when it heats up, especially after it’s been unused for a while. I’ve never smelled a radiator so I don’t know if the smell is similar.

      1. Destrustor says:

        Electric heating tends to have a distinct smell when it hasn’t been used in a while, like the first time you turn it on at the end of summer.

        My guess is that it’s dust burning up on the heating metal.

        1. Phill says:

          I was about to suggest the same thing – most likely dust on the hot metal making the smell, since in my experience it only happens on hot surfaces that are likely to collect dust.

          1. Seax says:

            Yep, that smell is burnt dust. Radiators are partuicularly good at making that smell, since it is almost impossible to clean them thoroughly. Also, since emission regulations changed, “modern” burnt dust doesn’t smell like it used to in the 70s and 80s, during the Age of Smoke.

            And the smell in the gas station is the smell of petrol. I’m not sure about the quality of gas over the years, but today fumes are sucked back in to reduce the chance of something igniting them and sending the whole station to the sky. Less fumes – less smell!

            1. Lanthanide says:

              When you say the ‘fumes are sucked back in’, I assume you mean from the dispensing pump? Sure that’s to reduce smell and explosion risk, but I think the main reason is probably to avoid wasting fuel via evaporation as fumes. If that saves 0.1% of the gasoline from one gas station in a year, that’s probably worth $10,000+

              1. Mike S. says:

                While that may be a factor, current vapor recovery systems (in the US, at least) have been the result of environmental regulations rather than for reasons of pure economic efficiency, with tougher regs applicable in the last few years in denser areas with high ozone levels.

                Apparently the need for those latter is declining, as more cars have onboard vapor recovery built in.

            2. nm says:

              There are still some holdout states that don’t require the vapor recovery stuff on their gas pumps. Surprisingly, Massachusetts is one of them.

      2. Xeorm says:

        As someone who had a wood burning stove and now uses radiator heating, (New Hampshire is backwards) they’re very different smells. Part of the smell from radiators is dust burning, but it doesn’t encapsulate the entire smell.

    2. Felblood says:

      The radiator I had in my college apartment (this was 2006 in Idaho) had a distinctive smell that blended the elements of a hot brass kettle and the distinctively linty charred dust that collected inside it’s coils.

      It’s not the same as the charred dust that collects in a heat vent, or even an electric baseboard heater.

    3. Peter H. Coffin says:

      The agent inside MOST radiators was either steam or warm water. Steam was more efficient of than water, but made radiators hot enough to give serious burns, so most of those systems have the radiators in shrouds or cabinets. Water radiators got warm enough to be uncomfortable to lean or sit on, but weren’t actually hazards. When cold, the primary way to tell the difference is that water systems have a bleed screw or valve at the top of the radiator and steam systems MAY have a pressure valve at the end of one branch of interconnected radiators. The radiator smell is mostly roasting dust and spider webs. Steam systems get a lot hotter so the odor is more pronounced, but in both cases the smell fades after a couple of days of use as whatever is going to roast gets roasted and then it’s done again.

      Mineral oil is used as a transmission medium in portable electric heater units. Not used in gas, coal, or oil-fired heating or large installations of any sort because the oil itself is flammable and you don’t want a leak to cause a disaster. Mineral oil is also an electric insulator so it can flow over heating coils directly, which improves the efficiency of those sort of heaters. It’s basically the best way to get electric heat WITHOUT fan noise.

    4. McKracken says:

      If you can smell the stuff inside your radiator, I think something’s wrong.

      Some of the old-timey radiators on my side of the atlantic were so bad they needed reaaally hot water (or oil). The small portable electrical ones you can buy for emergencies still do, because they need to be small, so they need to be very hot to transport enough heat per time.

      As far as I can tell, they smell because in between being active they gather dust and stuff, and that stuff being singed is what makes the smell. Case in point: Flat irons smell verz similar, and if you keep a radiator at temperature it stops smelling eventually. If it hasn’t been used in a while, it smells a lot more.

      The proper radiators in these days (in western Europe at least), even the slightly older ones from the 80s, have a lot more surface area and can operate at much lower temperature, and they don’t smell.

      For comparison, this was in the 1920s:

      and these ones are the norm today:

      1. Mistwraithe says:

        Exactly. “Radiator smell” is really slowly cooking dust on metal smell.

      2. EwgB says:

        I’m sitting 1 meter (slightly over 1 yard for you Imperial folks) from exactly the type of radiator at this very moment. I find it funny how Americans talk about radiators like they are a thing from “ye olden days”. I guess it is true for the US, but they are very common in Europe (Germany in my case), since we generally don’t use AC for heating, and most people don’t have any AC at home at all. At my job (where I am now, yay procrastination) we got AC, but only for cooling in summer. And at home I don’t have any AC, only underfloor heating (running heated water through pipes in the floor) and a fireplace. And if I want cooling in the summer, well, I open a damn window! ;-)

  2. Mousazz says:

    Sounds… interesting. Cool, actually. I guess being born in 1996 makes me unable to appreciate what we have now, since it’s impossible to draw from the past I’ve never even been involved in.

    I bet the 50 year old guys of the time saw the 70’s in much more positive light compared to the economic depression and war of their times. I wonder if it’s a generational thing.

    30 years from now I’ll probably be looking back upon, say, the 00’s the same way as you do towards the 70’s. Hmm…

    1. Joe Informatico says:

      If you were an American…probably not.

  3. As with everything, there will be exceptions. The tv screen static persisted until my childhood in the 90s, and my ’75 Dodge has shoulder belts (although many people were probably still driving cars from the 50s and 60s at the time, and didn’t have them.)

    1. Taellosse says:

      No kidding there are exceptions. For example, as the owner of an old house (originally built in 1890, and retrofitted repeatedly over the years to have indoor plumbing, electricity, and an oil furnace with steam radiators), that sound of an operational radiator is a very familiar one for me even now, as is that distinctive smell (though it’s mostly only perceptible in the fall or winter when the system first starts turning on regularly, as much of it dissipates with frequent use, and the rest fades into the general olfactory background).

    2. Will Riker says:

      Yes, shoulder belts were first mandated in the early 70’s, but of course older cars weren’t required to be retrofitted with them.

  4. Infinitron says:

    There were attendants everywhere. People to pump your gas, bag your groceries, and carry your goods out to your car. There was a cashier at every register every day, unlike today's world where 8 out of 10 lanes are closed unless it's Black Friday.

    So that's what I remember. It's also why you don't often hear me talking about the “good old days”. Screw those days. They sucked.

    They didn’t suck so much for those people who could get jobs as attendants.

    1. Richard says:

      True, although they looked more like traps than real jobs.

      The histories I’ve read imply that they were borderline poverty jobs with ridiculous hours and effectively trapped people in them.
      – No possibility of promotion or advancement, no sickness benefits, can’t save up for education or other method of improving your lot or your children’s, can be fired on a whim or lose the job due to illness – at which point you’re totally done for due to the lack of aforementioned savings…

      You could argue that’s worse than indentured servitude.

      These days there are much fewer “it’s a trap” jobs, for various reasons.
      When the staff have a way out, the boss has to treat them better to stay in – or the business will go bust, because even if you are easily replaceable, it still costs to replace you.

      As to why – I think it’s down to healthcare, women’s rights, and how cheap technology has become.

      Fewer children dying and empowering women leads to fewer children being born. Two breadwinners, fewer children and cheap technology means they can educate the ones they have to a higher standard – the kids do not have to work until they are older.
      For example, in the UK, the school leaving age was raised from 15 to 16 in 1972 and this had a huge effect.

      In the longer run, this also leads to a smaller workforce, forcing employers to compete for valuable workers. (The cynic in me wonders if this is why some groups are so dead-set against women’s reproductive rights)

      Higher tech means that the low-skill jobs vanish. That makes workers harder to replace as almost everything is now skilled, requiring at least a days training to do at all, and longer to become competent at it.

      1. Felblood says:

        A lot of this can actually be linked back to America’s changing attitudes towards workman’s compensation and personal liability lawsuits.

        If a random gas station customer manages to spay gasoline into his eyes, this is obviously his own fault, for not using the gas pump correctly. If a gas station employee does the same thing, this is more likely to be chalked up as his employer’s fault, for not training him properly, and the employer may be at risk for more lawsuits, even after paying for any associated medical costs.

        What person sits down in the morning and says, “You know what, I think I’ll pay good money for that added risk”? It’s happened just often enough to legitimize that fear in the minds of small business owners everywhere.

      2. Jonathan says:

        On the other hand, if the two-breadwinner pattern holds nationally, wages go down because there are more people in the workforce. Some additional jobs are created out of this, but they’re mostly low-end/low-skill jobs for women that usually involve long hours and fit the “trap” definition – maid services, daycare, laundry/dry cleaning, nannying, and the like.

      3. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        Meh. Automation seems like a more straightforward explanation for all of it.

        In a day before laser scanners you’d need lots of attendants just to get through a sudden surge in customers. In the days before computer spreadsheets, you’d have a hard time scheduling different numbers of attendants at different hours (I seem to recall our host had some experience with that problem when he worked at Taco Bell). In the days of manual registers you’d actually run into women who couldn’t run them without extensive practice simply because they couldn’t hit the keys hard enough (my grandmother was a typist -she considered the invention of the word processor the greatest gift to women ever).

        The automation also means you need fewer low-skilled workers working part time (those store-clerk jobs might have been “dead-end” jobs, but they were also filled by 16 year-olds who would turn over every couple of months) and more mid-skill workers who you actually want to retain -hence, benefits et cetera.

        1. Mike S. says:

          In middle school circa 1980, I learned to type on a manual typewriter with blank keys. Probably the most practical class I ever took, and it gave me a skill I’ve used constantly since, but the worst grade I ever got.

          I never got really proficient with a manual typewriter, and even the electric my parents had (which predated correction hardware– if you made a mistake you had to fix it with correction film or Liquid Paper) was a poor fit.

          After one particularly frustrating session of messing up a document and having to retype it I did a Scarlett O’Hara “As God is my witness, I will never go through this again!”, and roped my brother and dad into getting a dot-matrix printer for my Atari 800. I had to lobby teachers individually to accept the output (certainly the first word-processed documents any student had turned into them, and visibly so), but I did so with the fervor of a convert.

          All of which is to say that the word processor wasn’t only a gift to women. :-)

    2. Peter H. Coffin says:

      The buying power of those low end jobs is about the same as it was in 1973. There was a little bobble upward in the mid 1980s when minimum wages were playing catch-up, but it’s about the same as it was 40 years ago. Rents, however, are not. The first table in shows adjusted prices for median rents and rental prices in inflation adjusted figures show housing costs going up about 50% from 1970 to 2000, while we know that low-end wages didn’t much change over the same period. So while those attendant jobs might have sucked and been poorly paid, at least one could live better on them then than now.

      1. Wide And Nerdy says:

        If you call living in the 70’s living better. I’d rather be struggling in 2016 than making a more comfortable wage in 1973. But thats just me. It seems it really is just me.

        (Sorry for being preemptive, but I just wanted it to be clear that my mention of cultural lag where I live is not an invitation for further comment)

        1. Joe Informatico says:

          Crime–especially violent crime–is way down. (People think it’s worse because the 24-hour news cycle and now social media allow you to instantly be informed of the worst thing that happened in your hemisphere in the last week, but the statistics are way, way down.) That alone makes living in the 2010s better than the 1970s.

          Some people today act like a few dozen extremists are some kind of existential threat (or benefit from others feeling that way), but I can only remember that in the 70s and 80s, if you lived anywhere in the industrialized world you lived every day about 15 minutes away from being reduced to atomic ash. There was at least one significant close call.

          1. Soylent Dave says:

            Violent crime being way down might be related to Shamus noticing petrol (gas) stations smelling differently.

            Violent crime was climbing inexorably until the mid 90s (you’ll notice that quite a few films about the future made in the late 80s / early 90s end up being about some sort of criminal dystopia, because frankly it was hard to imagine anything else)

            Then, all of a sudden, violent crime just dropped off. Not just in the US, but all over the world.

            There are a lot of suggested explanations for this (like “the proliferation of the internet” (giving would-be petty criminals something else to do with their time)), but it perhaps the most compelling – given that we’re talking about such a widespread reduction in violent crime – is that we stopped adding lead to petrol (gas) roughly a generation prior – so the first young adults who grew up in a world with significantly reduced lead had come of age.

            If that’s the reason, then leaded petrol was quite literally driving all of us psychotic. Which is a sobering thought.

            1. Lanthanide says:

              The most likely explanation is the availability of abortions, generally starting in the 1970’s. So in the 90’s, there were fewer dead-beat teenagers and twenty-somethings with nothing better to do than commit crime.

              1. Iunnrais says:

                There seems to be systematically more evidence for the leaded gas theory, particularly since you can look at different locations that regulated leaded gasoline at different rates. Consistently, crime drops in those areas at a set number of years (23 years, to be specific) after the gasoline went unleaded. Creepily consistently. And it makes sense to me, given how we’re taught that lead pipes contributed significantly to the fall of rome. And that we know for a fact that lead significantly impacts mental processes.


                  1. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

                    So eugenics. Got it.

                    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      People keep using eugenics like a bad word,but generally its not.Just because the nazis abused it doesnt mean its always wrong.Heck,we have been using it since before we even knew what it was.Public schools,healthy diets,those are both ways to improve your brood.And lets not even mention the recommended abortions if a serious defect is discovered early on.

                    2. Wide and Nerdy says:

                      I just want you to know I could respond to this. I’m not going to because of where we are. But I could.

                    3. Shamus says:

                      Much appreciated, W&N.

                      I know how hard it is. I really do.

                    4. Darren says:

                      Eugenics is the practice of improving the human population at the genetic level. Lathanide’s link does not advocate eugenics, nor does it raise any mention of abortion as a method of eugenics. It simply says that abortion was made more readily available and, thus, more widely sought out, and that this practice had measurable effects.

                      Dismissing his statement as advocacy of eugenics seems rather inflammatory.

                    5. Shamus says:

                      This is way too close to politics. Let’s drop it.

                    6. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

                      It was certainly passive aggressive on my part and I apologize for that.

                    7. DjordjBernardChaw says:

                      I don’t disagree that this chapter in Freakonomics is super uncomfortable, but my understanding has been that if they advocate for anything, it’s not any particular group not having babies, it’s not having babies until you’re ready for them.

                      The former would be eugenics, and definitely immoral, I’m with you there. The latter may or may not be immoral, depending on the methods and technologies used and your religion. This chapter discusses one of the more controversial methods of ensuring you don’t have a baby until you’re ready, but not all methods are controversial.

                      That said, this chapter is controversial for its methods as well as its conclusion.

                      There’s a lot going on here and calling it eugenics may be oversimplifying it.

                  2. Will says:


                    As a general rule, don’t link to Freakonomics in an effort to prove a point. It’s thought-provoking, but falls short on the “adequate rigor” axis.

                  3. DjordjBernardChaw says:

                    That section of the book has received significant criticism, and not just on the moral front. Regardless of your opinion on the supreme court decision, this is not a clean-cut case.

                1. Darren says:

                  Lead sounds like the Old Blood in Bloodborne.

    3. Incunabulum says:

      Yeah, it sort of did.

      In any case – when those jobs were automated away you didn’t see a huge underclass of perpetually unemployed show up. Those people, like the farmers put out of work due to increasing efficiency, moved on to other jobs.

      Remember – jobs are a *cost*, not a benefit. Labor is an input just like electricity, steel, whatever. If we really considered employment a benefit in and of itself we’d outlaw machinery outright. No cars, no washing machine, no microwaves, nothing.

      At the beginning of the last century farming employed 41% the US workforce. At the beginning of *this* century, its 2%. And no one is really lamenting the loss of the hugely labor intensive work that farming used to be and, again, we didn’t see a massive increase in unemployment – those people found work elsewhere.

      1. Felblood says:

        One of the eternal difficulties of economics is that unemployed people are essential to a healthy economy.

        You need people available and eager to fill new positions so that companies can seize opportunities to produce goods that they didn’t need to be producing in the past.

        However, you need to be able to ensure that the individual worker is not left waiting for a paycheck until he resorts to crime or insolvency to survive, which are both bad for the economy.

        Most major political schisms in modern history have hinged on what sacrifices certain groups are willing to make to resolve this conundrum, which other groups found abhorrent. Feudalism, fascism, mercantilism, slavery, communism, capitalism, socialism, it all comes back to the need to have a system that can fluidly regulate the flow of our finite labor resources in response to the economy’s actual needs, and and what sort of Humanitarian cost you are willing to pay for Human Resources.

        That might seem like a stretch at first glance, but at it’s heart economics is the individual struggle for pure survival, viewed through the lens of statistics. What better tool is there for a charismatic figure to raise a large force of people willing to kill for their cause.

        Master economics and you hold the children of the world as your hostages.

        1. Richard says:

          Good point. I’d not realised that about unemployment before.

          I’d long since come to the conclusion that full employment is fundamentally impossible in a scarcity economy due to the “balancing on a needle” stability problem, but never realised that it’s actually necessary to a functioning economy.

          If there’s no unemployed, then employers needing a job doing can only poach from somewhere else. Thus employing someone becomes a much higher cost and thus a much higher risk, so you’d only do it if the potential returns are very large…

          So it’d lead to stagnation as nobody wants to take a risk.

          Though if we ever reach a post-scarcity situation, how would we avoid the stagnation?

      2. djw says:

        At my grandfathers 100th birthday party he mentioned that when he was a boy his father asked him if he wanted to grow up to be a farmer like him. He said “no way, I hate farming.” His dad thought for a bit, and said that he did too.

  5. 4th Dimension says:

    Some of these are things that are common in my country right now.

    Things like not tying seat belts and complaining about being forced to use them when we don’t need them is still common with older generations.

    If you want to keep warm during winter it’s either some form of oil radiator or “quartz” heater or burning wood in stoves. ACs are not effective ways of heating. Thus radiatiors are common. Allthough I don’t think I ever sensed the smell you smelled. I guess the older ones had bad welds and allowed small amount of oil to seep out. Or it might be the smell of the heat resistant pain they were painted in.

    The pavement in shops can be uneven for a variety of reasons. The main is probably the fact that the entire floor was not poured in one go but done in sections and leveling was done quickly because “it’s good enough”. Or maybe the floors were used to be paved with something else before the linoleum was added, or the room was made by knocking down walls thus the unevenness.

    Oh well things will get better in the end I guess.

    1. Richard says:

      Actually, AC is a very effective way of heating, and the heat-pump end can easily exceed 200% efficiency. That’s why stores and most large and new buildings use it.

      However, forced-air heating/cooling is effectively impossible to retrofit into most brick-built buildings, and very expensive in other types of construction. You need hollow walls and floors!
      – In some buildings (eg churches) you can partially-retrofit forced-air systems by raising the floor or using pre-existing crypts or drainage channels, however this doesn’t work very well unless you get lucky.

      Hot and warm water heating is much easier – drill some 1″ holes for pipework and you’re basically done.

      In the UK you can get a grant to retrofit a heat-pump into existing water radiator systems, however it is a warm-water system which carries other interesting limits – eg it cannot be used for hot water taps due to the very high risk of water-borne pathogens.

      1. Mike S. says:

        There are ductless a/c systems that are better suited for retrofits. But they still don’t fit every application. We live in a condo apartment, and there’s nowhere for us to put the compressor. So we still have through-the-wall a/c units for the rooms on the outer wall. (And hot-water radiators for heat.)

        (The entire building probably could be retrofitted with a single system. But good luck getting twenty-one households to agree to pay for it.)

        My impression is that heat pumps work better in milder climates than in places with really deep winter. (Though my dad worked for the gas utility, so the information I received may have been colored somewhat by that. :-) )

      2. 4th Dimension says:

        My main problem with AC is in the way AC is installed in these parts. They are installed primarily to cool the building so you have your compressor outside and a single blower on the inside. This blower is always positioned high so that the cool air it provides can slow fall down and cool the entire room.

        This is ideal during the summer (as long as you are below it), but during winter due to simple thermodynamics it fails because the hot air is pumped high above the room floor. This hot air rises above the already cold air. In order to warm the cold air below it you need to pump even more hot air into the already too warm top of the room so that any heat can be transferred below. In the end you end up in a situation where you are too warm in your head when standing up, and freezing while sitting down.

        If we could place two blowers one high and one low, it would be a much more efficient system. But as it is, it’s highly inefficient at warming some place up.

        1. Lanthanide says:

          Heat pumps in NZ are typically high-wall units as described. They work fine for heating, because they have louvres in the fans so that the hot air is blown down into the centre of the room.

          1. 4th Dimension says:

            They do, but it still not efficiently since at best they will be able to push it in the middle of the room, while leaving the floor and the area where you are sitting unheated. Worse it creates a false sense of warmth since your head will be warm but your feet will be on cold cold floor and so will your arms on the cold cold desk.

            And then somebody comes in and says “Wow, turn down the heat it’s too warm” in here because half a meter up it really is that warm.

            1. Lanthanide says:

              Ah, the word you’re really wanting here is “effectively”, rather than “efficiently”.

              Subtle difference in this context.

              1. 4th Dimension says:

                Considering a great amount of heat is wasted by heating the ceiling and high parts of the room I think “efficiently” works.

                1. Lanthanide says:

                  It’s an efficient generator of heat compared to other heat sources. The heat that is produced may not be used as effectively as other heat sources.

                  Anyway, heated air always rises, so any sort of heating system is going to result in different layers of heat in a room. Yes, a heat pump is worse, but if you take into account that it is 3 times more efficient than direct electric heating (and about 2.5 times as fuel heating), this efficiency makes up for the lack of effectiveness.

                  And you can just add a simple ceiling fan to distribute the heat throughout the room and you’ll still save money, thanks to the efficiency of the heat pump meaning it’s cheaper to run than other forms of heating.

        2. Decius says:

          Ceiling fans, man.

        3. Mike S. says:

          Where I grew up, it was the opposite: all floor registers, so presumably more efficient for heat and less for a/c.

    2. ? says:

      Pouring concrete floor in sections allows them a little bit of movement, preventing cracks when building inevitably settles down and later expands/shrinks due to temperature. In my experience uneven floors come from “f*ck the instructions on packaging, we will eyeball it”. Also in ye olde times concrete would be mixed on site with usually too small cement mixer ( something like this), so every batch would be slightly different. Nowadays you can order as many trucks of fresh concrete as you need (maybe not everywhere in the US, you guys are huge, I mean where I live), so whether you build a shopping mall or suburban house you can pour the floor in one go.

      1. shiroax says:

        “Olde times”? I used that thing two months ago.

        1. ? says:

          Would you prefer Star Trek terminology: ancient device, we know so little of human history during that period…

      2. 4th Dimension says:

        True those things aren’t being used no more for floors which are poured from a cement mixer. But those things are still largely being used to produce cement for anything else where hiring a cement mixer is considered too expensive.

        But we are talking about floors you can encounter today, and many of those olden floors are still in use. Hell I remember the time where pouring second and onward floors on your house would involve you calling everybody you knew to help you and then manually through manual brute force hoisting wheelbarrows full of cement up to the second floor where it will be pured. Thank God those times are over and it’s cheaper and more efficient to hire the cement mixer and that cement pumping crane now.

        1. ? says:

          I own one of those and haven’t used it in this century. All my concrete needs are either fulfilled by large bucket and a power drill or a professional.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Ive actually had a few occasions when I got to explain to older people why “modern crappy plastic cars” are actually superior to “sturdy metal cars from my youth”.

      1. Will says:

        Not least of which because, unless you’re driving a Saturn, modern cars are just as much steel in structure and body (that is, entirely) as old ones; it’s just not concentrated into the bumper and/or garish bodywork fins and flares for maximum pedestrian-pulping, occupant-crunching deadly effect.

      2. Mike S. says:

        Just show them this video of a 2009 Malibu running into a 1959 Bel Air.

        (The Malibu protects the dummy in its passenger compartment with minimal injury. The Bel Air basically disintegrates.)

        1. Richard says:

          Wow. That is awesome – in the sense of filling me with awe.

          Modern crash safety is almost incredible.

      3. 4th Dimension says:

        I did not have that conversation thankfully, on the other hand I did have these:

        – The seatbelt hurts me and constricts my breathing thus I don’t want to wear it
        – We are living on the coast. In the West in some coastal roads they forbid the usage of seat belts so you can jump out of the car in the event of car running into the water. While driving on a road no where near the sea.
        – We should turn off the airbags so they don’t turn on if we have a small fender bumper here in the city. After all my head is cheaper than new airbags.
        – “I heard of who was hit from behind by another car. He would have been able to stay on the road and stop had the airbags not deployed, obscured his vision and thus forced him off the road where he sustained greater injuries. Aren’t airbags stupid”
        – Multiple variations of “Airbags wont save you in a car crash so why do we have them”.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          ““ We are living on the coast. In the West in some coastal roads they forbid the usage of seat belts so you can jump out of the car in the event of car running into the water. While driving on a road no where near the sea.

          Wow,what a stupid reasoning.Aside from the fact that going into the water is a pretty rare occurrence,even in a coastal city,going into the water having a seatbelt is much more helpful than in a crash on dry land,because it prevents both you hitting your head and losing consciousness,and you breaking the windshield and allowing the watter to rush in from there and disorient you.

          ““ We should turn off the airbags so they don't turn on if we have a small fender bumper here in the city. After all my head is cheaper than new airbags

          Heard that piece of idiocy as well.Though honestly,someone who reasons like that is not wrong:Their head indeed is cheaper than an airbag.

          1. Supahewok says:

            I’m not proud of it, but I will admit that a year and a half ago I rear-ended a stopped Jeep at 15-30 MPH, because I was looking around for an entrance to a highway rather than watching ahead of me.

            Anyways, crumpled the front of my car pretty good (although the engine wasn’t damaged, the radiator was destroyed). Air bag didn’t deploy, even though, to the best of my knowledge, it works. So that reasoning that a small fender bender is going to deploy the airbag in a modern car is empirically incorrect.

            Edit: I should also mentioned that despite the front of my car being wrecked, the Jeep didn’t have a scratch. Those things may guzzle gas, but damn if they can’t take a beating.

            1. 4th Dimension says:

              I did think that it would be unlikely for the airbags to deploy at slower speeds. Their firing mechanism is probably tied to sensed force of deceleration.

              Those jeeps might be built like tanks but that is not such a good thing since crumpling is not done because we cna not make cars that you can tear down walls with, but in order to lower the deacceleration the passanger is exposed during a car crash. Like a today’s modern car ofers about a meter of crumpling and thus slowing down before the driver is forced to stop. Compare that to the tank car where as soon as you hit anything the car stops imediatelly and you proceed to deaccelerate your head from road speeds to 0 when you hit the wheel.

              1. djw says:

                That kinetic energy is going to go somewhere. Would you rather it crumple you? Or the car?

            2. Daemian Lucifer says:

              The fact that they are elevated helps a lot,because a regular car hitting an suv will end up hitting its strongest part with its weakest part,having its bumper go beneath the bumper of the suv.

              And yes,air bags are designed not to open at low speed collisions.

  6. lucky7 says:

    As a child of the new millennium, hearing stories like this is fascinating to me. I remember reading my history book last year, and feeling surreal when it covered the 2008 election.

    But when it’s told like this, I can actually think about the 70’s as a time in recent history, rather than something cold and distant.

  7. Galad says:

    Thank goodness we’ve moved on from commercials like the one you linked with the Flintstones. It’s a travesty to use beloved cartoon heroes this way, even though I would not be opposed to them advertising a less (obviously) harmful product, so I guess this issues is not so clear cut.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Its obvious now,it was not obvious then.However,there are still plenty of obviously harmful products that are advertised this way.Energy drinks,for example.

      1. Galad says:

        Even if I’d say energy drinks are not as obviously harmful, I agree with your point, and let’s acknowledge progress where it’s due.

      2. Alex says:

        I would not agree with that. There is no hard line between tea and coffee on one side and energy drinks on the other that makes one okay and the other not – it is a problem of excess. Cigarettes are bad right from the get-go – setting fire to anything and breathing in the smoke is bad for your health.

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          The hard line is that tea and coffee are more like food whereas energy drinks are, by their own proud admission, a mish mash of different substances both natural and unnatural. In moderation, yeah it’s probably fine. But a lot of people SUBSIST off this energy drink stuff where they’d be WILDLY better off with an addiction to tea.

    2. djw says:

      The Winston’s cigarette add was from 1961, which was their first season, so it was before they became beloved cartoon characters.

      The Flintstones was originally marketed as an adult TV show, at least according to its Wikipedia page (I recall my parents mentioning this to me at one point as well).

      So, looking back from a present where the Flintstones are clearly for kids, that add is utterly horrifying, but in context its no worse than any other add for cigarettes targeted at adults. In fact, I’d argue that its less harmful than some of the other adds from the era that aimed to make cigarettes macho (eg. the Marlboro man).

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I did not know that about The Flinstones. That explains some of my experiences with the show when I was a kid.

  8. MichaelG says:

    I started working in 1975 at IBM. Conference rooms were smokers dens. After a long meeting, the air was so thick you’d choke on it.

    People still told dirty jokes before a meeting. Dumb blonde/woman driver jokes were common too. So were racist jokes. The programmers were 100% white males, and when they started training women as programmers, the guys would call them “little Susie Cobol”.

    I drove an AMC Matador, which my parents had bought used. Twice the weight with half the seating of a modern car. Really — the back seat was almost useless, despite the fact that the car was huge.

    Cable TV was later in the decade. In the early 70s when I was in high school, we still had an antenna on the roof, with a little hoop thing that you could use to get UHF stations. We had a total of four network channels, and 2 UHF channels. We thought the picture was great when there wasn’t much static and the colors were vaguely right. The kids TV was black and white.

    I wrote my college assignments on a typewriter. The Sony walkman tape player was a portable marvel. I played my first video game in the 70s — a version of Pong.

    Programming was done on a terminal connected to a mainframe. At school, this was a modified typewriter — you typed commands or code, and had line-at-a-time editors. Many feet of paper were used debugging anything. I saw my first video terminal with full screen editor at IBM. This was considered cutting edge. Most of the older programmers still wrote their code on paper, typed it into a punched card machine, then submitted the stack of punched cards to be run as batch jobs.

    Yeah, the past sucked.

    1. Felblood says:

      Nothing hammers home the fact that my rural Idaho upbringing was weird like seeing a list like this, and having just one item that feels perfectly normal, stuffed in with all that alien nonsense from the bronze age.

      I migrated directly from rabbit ears to Netflix, and never understood why anyone felt like cable TV was worth paying for. 4 channels weather permitting is how I’ll always remember television.

      1. James says:

        So whilst i’m young, (i was born in 91) i grew up with 5 TV Channels, and the day that we got the 6th was odd, Channel 6 was a very weird local broadcast that varied from awful to not quite awful. Channel 5 (both its name and it was the 5th channel) showed porn on terrestrial TV at night, and children TV in the morning, Channel 4 was a “Edgy” “channel made to push the boundries, and honestly it did do that.

        Then Satalite TV happened and suddenly there was 1000 channels and i didnt want to watch any of them.

        I’ve never had cable but thats actually normal in the uk

    2. Mike S. says:

      Anyone know when ashtrays stopped being the default kids’ arts-and-crafts class project? That’s all I remember ever making with, e.g., modeling clay in preschool and elementary.

      (And do they still make the same thing but call them candy dishes now or something?)

      1. We made cups and vases mostly. I don’t think I ever made an ashtray

      2. NotSteve says:

        In shop class in the late 90s we made what were essentially ashtrays but called them change dishes. The sort of thing you put on your nightstand to empty your pockets into.

    3. 4th Dimension says:

      Oh that TV situation was the norm around these parts all the way I think until second half of 00ts when the ISP started offering streaming TV to DVR. That is the first time we got “quality” and reliable picture.

      Before that nearly all houses had a small forest of antennas on top of them pointed at the variety of ground transcending stations or even random directions where the signal was strongest.
      Hell aligning the antenna so you could watch certain channel was a mystic art I remember one time we dropped an antenna and it fell into the garden from the third floor and we got beter reception with it there than on the roof.

      We did have more channels though. You could catch our Montenegrin state television’s (two?!?) channels, Italian two main channels (RAI UNO and RAI DUE) which had stellar programming and were a joy to watch, with some luck and finagling you could get the Croatian state television, Serbian state television’s (two?!?) channels with it’s excellent morning programme fro kids (until it was stopped from broadcasting due to political reasons) and couple of local “private” televisions.

      1. Felblood says:

        I remember almost all of our stations were relayed over from Washington by “translator” stations on top of the mountains, so tuning your TV to channel 9 would grant access to KHQ channel 6, and 11 was ABC 4, and channel 13 was an NBC network that seemed to be aware of the fact that it might not be in the same part of the dial throughout it’s membership, and didn’t mention it’s native channel number often enough for me to remember.


        There was one station that could be picked up under the same number that it advertised in all of it’s filler commercial slots. Getting PBS 7 to come clearly in was an arcane art, equal parts science and mummery. It was plain fact that if the weather wasn’t cloudy enough, there was simply no way we were picking up that station. But I still spent about 30 minutes a week during sunny months turning the antenna this way and that, in accordance with my parents shouted instructions, while they tried to watch Bob Ross.

        I still feel an unwarrantedly strong sense of accomplishment when I tune a TV to PBS and a picture actually appears.

        1. 4th Dimension says:

          It’s strange to me that you knew the TV stations by their channels. For us tuning in to some station was a lot more analogue. You would basically scan the entire range slowly memorizing the stations whose signal was good enough. We never tried to simply tune to channel N or something.

          1. Mike S. says:

            US broadcast TV stations have always (give or take early experiments) been local and discrete. The TVs themselves had dials with numbered stops for channels on the primary VHF band (until electronic tuning), and the feds licensed stations to those channels to ensure that they weren’t close enough to interfere with one another. (So a market that had a channel 2 and 4 wouldn’t also have a channel 3, for example.)

            Add to that the fact that the same national network (which generally only supplied a fraction of their affiliate’s programming) might be on different channels in different markets, and the stations had a strong incentive to identify themselves by their channel number. (Along with their call letters, but except for unusual cases like the one Fellblood describes, a given station’s call letters would correspond to only one channel.)

            So for day-to-day watching in your locale channels would be the primary means of identifying stations. Newspaper listings and TV Guide would be organized that way, telling you, e.g., what was on at 7:30 on channel 2, 4, 7, etc. Since there were only a handful, anyone who watched TV would pretty quickly know which stations were where.

            (Where I lived during later childhood, we could get a couple Canadian stations as well, but they used the same system, and their shows were listed in our local paper.)

            There might be a struggle to tune in weak or distant stations. But that would always involve turning to the channel, playing with the antenna, and maybe adjusting the fine-tuning ring around the channel selector dial. And mostly it wouldn’t work, unless you had a roof antenna.

            (I always loved going to my cousins’ and using the motorized dial in the family room to spin their roof antenna around the compass directions. Which was doubtless great for the motor.)

    4. Wide And Nerdy says:

      A lot of this stuff stuck around. I was born in the late late 70’s and my earliest memories are the early 80’s. A lot of this stuff sounds kind of familiar. Particularly the ash trays and cigarette butts everywhere.

      But then maybe its because I live in universally reviled punching bag of America that everyone still enjoys hating with zero irony, the South.

      It never gets old . . .

    5. Ooh, IBM story! My mom worked for them for 35 years (mostly selling computer systems to banks) and retired with a golden shoot in the early 90s. She won’t tell me her work stories of those sort, probably because she doesn’t want to think about them.
      I don’t remember radiators having a smell, but my first experience of ’em was at Mount Holyoke College and generally I remember going from “Goddamn it’s hot”, walking outside, and going “FRACKING COLD!” Also, having a window cracked all winter long so it wasn’t 90+ inside.

  9. Tuck says:

    Radiators are still common everywhere in the UK except in buildings put up in the last 20 years. Which reminds me I need to turn the heating on, it’s getting chilly again.

    1. Mike S. says:

      For the US, it’s probably more like 40 years, and a lot of places the building stock averages newer than that. But in core cities and inner-ring suburbs, radiant heat is still pretty common.

      (I went backwards: both the houses I grew up in had forced-air heating and central A/C, but now we live in an older building with radiators and individual room air conditioners.)

    2. Will Riker says:

      Yeah, growing up in the western US in the 90’s, I had never seen a radiator outside of, like, old movies, and Half-Life 2. Then I moved to Boston, and almost every place here still uses radiators for heating. I can hear mine clanking away right now.

    3. Tom says:

      Conversely, as a child of ’84, I recall that air conditioning was virtually nonexistent in the UK. Only the biggest, swankiest supermarkets and offices had aircon; having it in your home was UNHEARD OF, and I still remember being gobsmacked the first time as a kid I had a ride in a car that had an air conditioner. You might as well have given me a lift in the space shuttle. (It may have been different in London/The South – the rules are different there. I’m a Northener.)

      One other thing I remember from the era that nobody else has mentioned yet – supermarket security cameras. Gigantic, terrifying Black Orb Of Death, at least a foot in diameter (might as well use old units, even though we were supposedly metric by then!) hanging from the ceiling on a stalk with multiple lenses pointing in different directions, which would randomly and ominously swivel to get a good look at you. They bore an uncanny resemblance to the floating torture device seen in Leia’s prison cell in Star Wars…

  10. John says:

    Concentrated cigarette smoke is the worst. The teachers’ lounge at my junior high school had been accumulating the stuff since sometime in the 50s, and whenever I walked in there I could feel my eyes and the lining of my throat begin to burn. Like, immediately upon entry. Even when the room was empty and no one was actually smoking!

    1. Mike S. says:

      I don’t know if it’s still true, but at least through the 00s Las Vegas casinos were a chance to re-experience 70s smoke levels for the nostalgic. Including the “non-smoking section” in the middle of a room full of smokers, on the apparent theory that force fields exist.

      1. McNutcase says:

        Last time I was in Vegas, the casinos still smelled like an ashtray.

        1. djw says:

          I’d imagine casino’s would be one of the last places to ban cigarettes. They do want to cater to people with addictive personalities, after all (at least until they are out of money).

          I guess I’ll add that to my already fairly long list of reasons to never go to Vegas.

      2. MrGuy says:

        I still vividly remember when I moved to New York from Chicago. It was in that period in the mid-aughts where New York had an indoor smoking ban in bars, and Chicago was still resisting passing one.

        As a non-smoker, I appreciated the smoke-free environment in New York bars (I have some way-less-than-Shamus-but-still breathing issues). I didn’t think it was a big deal, but it was a little nicer.

        Then I went home to Chicago for a few days, and one night some buddies and I went out to some of our favorite neighborhood bars until 2am.

        I woke up at about 5am that night convinced the house was on fire. Nope – that was just my hair having absorbed so much smoke the pillow reeked of it (and I don’t have particularly long hair). It was astounding how much odor there was. And it’s not like we went to a particularly smokey bar – I’d been there dozens of times for similar lengths, and never noticed anything before.

        I started washing my clothes before I’d go home so I wouldn’t come back with that smell in my suitcase.

        That said, smoking bans in bars aren’t completely rosy, especially in New York where there are apartments over most of the bars in the city. Because the smokers haven’t gone away. They just can’t smoke indoors. So, from 7pm to 2am most nights, there’s a cluster of smokers out on the sidewalk in front of every bar in the city, mostly talking and having loud bar conversations. And despite pretty much every bar having a “please respect our neighbors and keep it down!” sign out front, it’s pretty annoying. Plus, in the winter, most bars are either really cold from the heat constantly going out the door, or have a plastic tent-like thing outside creating an airlock (and so impinging on sidewalks).

        Progress has weird side effects sometimes. We’ve reduced the risk of cancer by making it more noisy to live in certain places!

  11. Phill says:

    I remember having to turn the TV on five minutes before a program started to give it time to warm up and start showing a picture. And of course, the slowly vanishing glow becoming a line and then a dot as the TV slowly cooled as it turned off. It’s one of those visual effects that still keeps being re-used (like a needle scratching across a record, or a tap being played in fast forward or rewind) in modern programs and are probably utterly mistifying to young ‘uns.

    In the 70’s UK, anything resembling nice food was pretty unusual. Pasta and pizza were new exotic things for most people. Frozen Vesta curries were new and exciting (as was prawn cocktail as a starter)

    1. Rack says:

      I’m too young to remember anything of the 70s, or even the 80s in any real context. But even as far as the early 90s it was a pain to get decent food in the UK. You could get a decent curry from a restaurant but in the supermarkets you could get Vindaloo sauces that had less spice in them than you’d find in a Korma nowadays.

      I remember regularly going to a caravan that had a business importing ingredients from Calais and that was commonly the only way you could even cook a decent meal that wasn’t some kind of pie, soup or roast.

      While it was rubbish I did enjoy it feeling almost illicit to get hold of nice food.

      1. Phill says:

        I found it pretty easy to get hold of decent ingredients when I went to university in 1992, although things have continued to improve. But in Leeds at least it was possible to get decent curry ingredients thanks to the large local Indian and Pakistani populations, so some of the local supermarket chains carried a good range of spices etc. But nowadays you can get fresh coriander, ginger, fenugreek seeds, cardamoms, chapati flour etc in normal supermarkets, which wasn’t the case in the ’90s.

        I had a “grub on a grant” cookery book (’80’s book), full of gloriously cheap recipes. I remember it mentioning that you might be lucky enough to find pesto in a few large, very well stocked supermarkets. Nowadays most corner shops have about 5 variety of pesto on the shelves.

        1. Rack says:

          It’s easy to imagine there being a lag of a few years between Barnsley and Leeds given Barnsley was a much smaller town with a much less diverse population. I could probably have hopped on a train to find some but it wasn’t on the beaten track where I lived.

            1. MrGuy says:

              Back when I was a lad, we didn’t have ready-made YouTube links to post all willy nilly when we wanted to make a reference to some cultural touchstone. We had to hand draw it into a flip book and make all the funny voices ourselves as we showed it to people. Of course, back in those days we could all do proper regional accents and falsetto voices, unlike these people today who can’t seem able to make any sounds other than their normal speaking voices without some digital doodad doing all the work.

              1. Mike S. says:

                While it was more an 80s/90s phenomenon, quoting Monty Python at length more or less was geek folk culture, often to annoying excess. (Because while tapes and DVDs might exist by then, they weren’t something you could just pull up at will.)

                In the early-mid 70s, of course, recording just didn’t happen. If you missed something, you missed it and hoped for a rerun. Movies once out of the theater were gone, to maybe reappear chopped up in both time and picture area on TV. (Or maybe a lucky 16mm viewing at school or a film festival or SF con.) The closest equivalent to DVDs were novel adaptations, comics (I had both for Star Wars, and read a bunch of James Blish’s adaptations of Star Trek episodes before ever seeing them broadcast– which led me to his original fiction.)

                (And occasionally “fotonovels”: still photos taken from the production and laid out and dialoged like comics– I had a bunch of those for Star Trek.)

    2. Incunabulum says:

      Or like static being displayed over lost video connections – this is the digital age, what you seen now is a solid black or blue background instead.

      1. Soylent Dave says:

        Or the save icon, which may as well be an abstract picture for people under the age of n.

        Where n is a depressingly high number that I don’t want to guess at.

        1. Christopher Kerr says:

          ‘n’ is probably not quite as high as you’re thinking, because there was a weird interval of history where floppies persisted in schools long after their tiny capacity became obvious.

          USB flash drives first appeared in 2000, but at that time they were so expensive they were a status symbol. I don’t remember personally owning one until 2004.

          CD burners were pretty expensive up to about 2001, and they were slow and cumbersome. I certainly burnt plenty of CDs between ~2000-2008, but I only remember one of them being for a school assignment.

          ZIP/minidisc/etc never really caught on in my part of the world – I remember one weird kid who used a USB ZIP drive at school, but it certainly wasn’t common.

          Internet upload speeds were slow enough that emailing files didn’t become common until about 2004, and I don’t remember using a cloud storage service until 2008.

          All of which means that I remember using floppies during high school up to at least 2005. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were students in primary school using them at the same time. Personally, I don’t remember much from before I was 7, so we’ll say age 7 in 2005, or age 17 now.

          After typing all that, I’m not sure if 17 is a depressingly high number or not….

      2. Mike S. says:

        William Gibson’s Neuromancer opens with “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

        This means something entirely different to modern readers than it did when I first read it, and potentially evokes a very different mood. Though as it happens, every possibility is a plausible color for the sky.

        (Neil Gaiman played off the dissonance deliberately in the 90s in Neverwhere: “The sky was the perfect untroubled blue of a television screen, tuned to a dead channel.” But odds are that fewer and fewer of his readers notice that he’s making a joke.)

  12. Joshua says:

    I’m just a few years younger than you, and I don’t remember any of this except for the cigarette butts. However, based upon your other memoirs, that’s likely because you have *way* better sensory detail memory of your childhood than I do. I’m the one who catches a few minutes of a cartoon I saw as a child (G.I. Joe, He-Man, etc.) later in life as an adult and winces because I don’t remember them being as bad as they were.

  13. Christopher says:

    Ironically, the drive to reduce smoking led to a big gap in the budget for schools because the cigarette tax was poured into education budgets.

    But man has it made things prettier.

    There’s a bit from “That Mitchell and Webb Look” about a pair of snooker commentators that is extremely evocative of that 70’s english snooker bar scene.

    1. James says:

      Annndddddd Thats a bad missss

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Well maybe if we focused our efforts on developing ecigarettes sooner than on banning the old ones with nothing in between,we could now have both the prettier air AND money from tobacco tax.

      1. Incunabulum says:

        Except e-cigarettes aren’t tobacco product and would be exempt from such taxes. Doubly so since the companies that make them are post Master Settlement Agreement.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          They still use nicotine though,which is harvested from tobacco(Im not aware if there is a way to synthesize it in another way).

    3. Slothfulcobra says:

      There’s always other places to draw extra taxes from, you just need to have the guts to raise them.

      And of course, with the extra people who don’t die to lung cancer, and the disposable income not being spent on cigarettes, there should theoretically be more leeway for taxes to be raised.

      1. djw says:

        The mistake there is to tie school funding to a sin tax. I think that it is fine to use taxes to reduce unwanted behavior, but to link those taxes to something we do want (like good schools) just seems like trouble.

  14. Chris says:

    I only turned 20 a few days ago but i remember a lot of these from my childhood (except notably pull tabs, i don’t think they existed any more at that point).

    Maybe its just because i grew up in a shitty town in middle England but my school had those huge metal radiators (i bet they still do) which make that pinging sound. And they only stopped using CRT’s the year i left, 4 years ago, to move to another country.

    Also every adult i knew smoked, my dad drove around in an old MG with only waist seatbelts and a dozen other little things.

    Maybe that part of England was just stuck in the past. Wouldn’t shock me.

    1. Henson says:

      My local opera troupe has rehearsals in the basement of an old church. Whenever the heat gets going, those pipes start banging like the Dickens, which is really nice when you’re trying to sing.

    2. Mike S. says:

      The future arrives a varying speeds. A few years ago I was in St. Louis (only a few hundred miles away) and ate at a restaurant with a cigarette machine (long banned in my state), which served red wine (which it called “Burgundy”, though I doubt it was from within a thousand miles of there) and white (which it called “Chablis”). That (including the wine nomenclature) was straight out of my childhood.

      I don’t know St. Louis enough to know if that was typical, or just a particular venerable restaurant sticking with its tried and true ways. But it’s certainly common even now for trends to hit some places years ahead of others. Big cities got pervasive cell service and broadband faster than smaller cities and rural areas, places with mostly new construction got ubiquitous air conditioning faster than those where the buildings are a century or two old and expensive and difficult to change, etc.

      1. LadyTL says:

        I lived in St. Louis for more than 20 years. It was just that restaurant. St. Louis is a weird mix of old/refusing to change and new/embrace the change.

  15. Primogenitor says:

    ” Maybe it was the unleaded gas.” – don’t you mean leaded gas? Since that wasn’t removed until much later ( late 80s/early 90s?)

  16. Tizzy says:

    I remember the gas station smell. I wonder if better pump design might be why we don’t smell it any more.

    1. Jonathan says:

      They have those fancy ‘vapor recovery systems’ on the pumps now. I bet that’s a lot of it.

      1. Peter H. Coffin says:

        This. Pumps have vapor recovery. Filler necks are MUCH more tight-fitting that they used to be. Tanks vent to an evaporative emissions canister instead of to .. well.. the air. (Remember, filling a gas tank displaces the same amount of air, at the saturation point of gasoline vapors, as whatever you put into the tank. That air’s gotta go SOMEPLACE, and it used to just spill out of the filler neck, condense a little on the fueling handle and hang around the driver’s feet, until the wind dispersed it or until someone lighting one of those omnipresent cigarettes with one of the omnipresent matches didn’t put the match out well enough before throwing it on the ground. Then it got exciting for a little while.)

  17. tmtvl says:

    I was born in the ’80s, and whenever I hear anyone say the ’90s sucked, I wonder what they’re talking about, my ’90s were awesome.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      90s did suck.As did the 80s.And the 70s.And so on.And today will also suck when compared to the future eras.

      Thats why I always roll my eyes hard when tv shows talk about “rural simplicity” and “glory of the old days”.

      1. Peter H. Coffin says:

        80s were worse than 90s. They were probably even worse than the 70’s. Outside of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the 80s were closer to world annihilation than any time before or since, routinely and continually. One guy in the Soviet Union even ignored orders to launch missiles in 1983 and single-handedly averted WWIII. The Day After, a made-for-tv movie about nuclear war, got **100 million viewers** for one broadcast. Mr. Rodgers talked about it on his program. People that were born after like 1975 just have no comprehension about how much that colored the time. Mix in unemployment over 10% and (comparatively) rampant inflation and you have some horrible, horrible times wrapped up in neon Spandex and hairspray.

        1. Mike S. says:

          Bad incidents aside, I think we were closer to choosing to go to nuclear war in the 50s and 60s than later. Both sides were more directly confrontational, and while there was a clear sense that nuclear war would be awful (see a huge amount of 50s SF– the radio show “X Minus One” did so many postapocalypse stories my wife stopped letting us listen to it when she was in the car) it wasn’t quite so unthinkable as it later became.

          (In the 70s, there was kind of a despair about the Cold War: we were basically losing ground everywhere internationally, and the best we hoped for was to slow it down and find a way to live with the Soviets via detente.)

          But accidental war in the 80s was potentially significantly worse, given the much larger numbers of nukes and the more effective delivery systems.

          On the other hand, I remember the miraculous feeling of the late 80s, when against all expectation the Soviets first withdrew and then collapsed, mostly peacefully. After the continued cycle of slight liberation->crackdown (Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968, Poland early 80s), I didn’t really believe it was happening (while still hoping), until it finally did. It’s the closest experience I’ve had of what Tolkien called “eucatastrophe”: things unexpectedly and shockingly turning out well.

        2. 4th Dimension says:

          That does depend on where you live. For us ex-Yugoslavia folk we can pretty conclusively say the 90s sucked MUCH MUCH more than the 80s. And it wasn’t war that was necessarily causing problems. Even without it the entire society and the economy were collapsing due to fall of communism and the old value system and the painfull introduction of the new socio-political and economic system.
          The aftershocks of that are still felt to this day.

          On the other hand to be frank things weren’t really rosy in the 80s either but the worst stuff was being kept from the public eye so most of those living those years were blissfully ignorant of the rot.

    2. djw says:

      I spent most of the 90’s in graduate school, and I worried a lot about what I would do after graduate school. That put a pall on the decade for me, of a completely personal nature.

      I liked the 80’s better because other people worried about the future for me then, and I liked the ‘aughts better because I got a job that both pays well and I enjoy.

      However, none of that has anything to do with the 90’s themselves, just where I was in my life when they were passing by. It was the decade that brought us Doom, Quake, Masters of Magic, Ultima 7, and Civilization. What’s not to like?

      1. jawlz says:

        If you were involved in computers (professionally, as a hobbyist, or whatever) in the 90s, it was a really tremendous time to be alive. The industry exploded then in a way that I don’t think we’ve seen any industry do since maybe automobiles in first half of the 1900s. The pace of industry growth and advances in technology and the spread of the Internet were really amazing. I can’t help but look back on the 90s with fondness as a result (though I suppose the fashion and music left something to be desired).

        1. djw says:

          That was a double edged sword though. Part of my difficulties during the 90’s is that video game addiction hit me like a ton of bricks, immediately after I purchased my first PC in ’96. I had no built up immunity to it, and I wasted far more time than was healthy on them (mostly on Everquest, though there were several non-mmo’s that I obsessed over as well).

          Fortunately, I leveled up a few times, got a job, and acquired a partial immunity to mmo’s (eg. the obsession wears off and I become bored by them before they ruin my life).

  18. Ingvar says:

    Seat belts sure differed between the US and Sweden. A typical car in Sweden in the mid-70s would have a “lap and cross chest” belt in the font seats and the outer back seat positions, with (typically) a lap belt for the centre position. Don’t know, actually, when they became mandatory in Sweden, but the only way you can not have them in a car in this day and age is to have a car that was initially sold without and has never been retrofitted with them.

    1. ? says:

      Didn’t Volvo invent the three point seatbelt and then licensed it for free so it would be widely adopted?

      1. Ingvar says:

        My recollection is “invented, declined to patent, tried to get everyone to use”.

      2. Was it Volvo that had the 2 seats in the trunk of their station wagon facing backwards? As a kid we all thought that was THE COOLEST EVER!

        1. McNutcase says:

          Volvo, and Mercedes-Benz. My parents drove Volvos, although they never had the rear-facing seats. They had a smuggler’s compartment under the floor of the boot where it would have been. I still drive one of the old-school brick-shaped Volvos now…

        2. Mike S. says:

          Of course in the pre-seatbelt use, pre-minivan era, it was common to dump a bunch of kids in the way-back of a station wagon with no seats at all.

    2. Phill says:

      Seatbelts were pretty rare in the 70’s in the UK. They were probably standard in the front, but not sure about the back (passenger-side wing mirrors were also optional). I remember trip to the beach for a friend’s birthday – his Dad had an estate car, so about 10 of us piled into the boot (or if you’re American, the trunk) and spend the journery there and back jumping around, climbing over the back seats, and wrestling in the boot.

      Other fun 70’s features include the four minute nuclear attack warning, and generally growing up with the threat of imminent nuclear war (glad I missed the 60’s when things were far worse). And regular explosions in pubs and major cities thanks to the IRA. Kids today don’t know how lucky they are… :)

    3. Peter H. Coffin says:

      Yup. And they were available much earlier than the 1970s too. My father owned a Volvo in the mid 60s that was fitted with shoulder belts. At the time, pretty much the only cars in the US that did were owned by police departments or amateur racers, so he got pulled over a couple of times by curious cops trying to figure out in which category he was.

    4. Mike S. says:

      Our car in the 70s had lap belts in back. In front, it had lap belts with a separate shoulder attachment. No one ever used any of them. For a couple of years, cars were mandated to have a buzzer that wouldn’t turn off till the belt was buckled. People would just leave them buckled and sit on the belt.

      On long road trips we’d bring toys and pretty much bounce around the back seat. (Late in the decade I got a cassette recorder, and would record the audio of Battlestar Galactica and other TV shows to listen to on the trip.) The idea of being tied down for all those hours was unimaginable.

      My uncle did make us use seatbelts in his car when we visited, and I deeply resented him for it. Then somewhere around age thirteen I completely flipped, started wearing belts religiously and guilted the rest of my family into doing so. But that was the early 80s.

    5. 4th Dimension says:

      That is because you are Swedes, sane unlike the rest of us and thus you don’t count ;)

  19. rjp says:

    If you were in the UK, you can add “dog excrement everywhere”. Football on the local field (obviously used by dog walkers) was a risky business. No sliding tackles for us.

  20. Chris says:

    It predates a lot of your experience by 10-15 years, but have you read any of 11/22/63? I couldn’t make it all the way through (once we got to the “stop the Kennedy assassination” plot the book slowed to a crawl, and in typical King fashion it’s probably 300 pages too long), but the first bits where the protagonist steps back in time are super fascinating because it’s all about these little details.

    Like, it’s not all “Oh wowee I’m in the late 50’s/early 60’s, we have a different president!” It brings up small details that are no doubt part of King’s lived experience of the era; little tidbits of how life worked that aren’t feasible or are pointless now with the advent of technology. It was super fascinating. When feeling freaked about being noticed as from the future:

    …And then there was my hair, which touched my collar. In my own time that would be considered perfectly okay for a high school teacher – conservative, even – but it might garner glances in a decade where shaving the back of the neck was considered a normal part of the babering service and sideburns were reserved for rockabilly dudes like the one who had called me Daddy-O.

    Or just other random details:

    As in most states, Maine plates now come with letters – the one on my Subaru is 23383IY – but the one on the back of the almost-new white-over-red Fury was 90-811. No letters.

    (Checking into a hotel):

    I checked in (no problem there; cash on the counter and no ID required) and took a long nap in a room where the air-conditioning was a fan on the windowsill. … There was next to no traffic on the highway after sundown, and the quiet was so deep it was disquieting. The television was a Zenith table model that must have weighed a hundred pounds. Sitting on top was a pair of rabbit ears. Propped against them was a sign reading ADJUST ANTENNA BY HAND DO NOT USE “TINFOIL!” THANKS FROM MANAGEMENT.
    There were three stations. The NBC affiliate was too snowy to watch no matter how I fiddled with the rabbit ears, and on CBS the picture rolled; adjusting the vertical hold had no effect.

    I love all that slice of life stuff. It’s like a completely different version of worldbuilding – rebuilding the details of a world that did exist but doesn’t anymore. Unfortunately the plot gets going and *pfbbbbbt*

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Michael Crichtons timeline is somewhat like that as well,talking about the hardships of adjusting to the differences of smell and clothing as well as talking the language that was dead for centuries,except on paper.Obviously,the details arent as perfect there,since I doubt Chrichton is from the olden times,but those are all nice tidbits.

      1. 4th Dimension says:

        If you want such look at another period of time, 1633 series is also good. On the other hand there the premiese is relocation of an entire miner town from Apalachians in 2000 to Germany in 1632 and characters do start to influence the society. But it does try quite hard to explain and give a human face to the people of those years and their society and how and why it worked like it did.

        On the other hand it’s a Flint/Baen production so the writing isn’t excatly stellar and the writers (Flint isn’t the only one writing about the universe) have their own axes to grind from time to time.

        1. Mike S. says:

          Though my understanding is that the axe-grinding benefits somewhat from having multiple authors with different axes to grind, giving the world more complexity than a single Baen-style author is likely to include. (In particular, left-of-center Flint and right-of-center David Weber bounce off one another with interesting effects on characters they both work on.)

          1. 4th Dimension says:

            That is true. Oh particullar note is transformation of the Admiral Simpson from a stupid reactionary to a more human and respectable being by Webber.

            On the other hand that is the main thing that I find annoying in their works, how everybody in the end become friends or something. Despite at the beginning having opposing views.

            But back to the toppic, there is a lot of cultural shock described in detail on both sides. And it’s described most of the time sensibly.

        2. crossbrainedfool says:

          1632 – given the series natural focus on the butterfly effect – has a lot of discussion about the things you don’t think about, and the way you process events.

          For example, pretty much all of the downtimers think that Grantvillle’s appearance is divine is origin. They all take different conclusions from there, but they tend to (understandably) gravitate towards viewing it as an act of God.

          Some uptimers view it that way, but some also have a hard time accepting that. Grantville (and the town it’s based on) is so mundane, ordinary and backwoodsy that it seems odd that God would pick it.

          Another is economics. The complete disregard for say, the silver standard, is shocking to early modern economic thinking. As is the absence of barter in day to day living. And that’s not getting into how American civic planning works.

          One of the minor ironies pointed out later in the series is how the uptimers (remember, mostly hillbillies) identify themselves as individualists, while being possibly the best bureaucrats in the world, due to modern expectations of say, definition of government offices.

          Just as important is that the series portrays downtimes as just as capable, and often more capable in a lot of areas (languages, horse ridding, and others).

          1. 4th Dimension says:

            That last thing is I think most important. The downtimers are not the unwashed stupid mud covered stinky masses how modern media likes to portray them. They are simply the product of their society that is a product of the socio-political and economic state of their age.

            They are not only not stupid, but once they are taught something new they are often quite quicker at adapting the new technology to solving their problems.

    2. Kieran says:

      I remember reading the beginning of the special edition of The Stand. The original edition was published in the 70s, but this version came out in the 90s. King decided to bump up all the dates 20 years, so if someone mentioned the current year, 1974, it would become 1994. It was really incongruous though because all the technology and pop culture was the same, and the whole book is steeped in Cold War paranoia that feels really out of place in a time with no Soviet Union. Its interesting, because I never really would have noticed the difference between then and modern day if King hadn’t done that.

    3. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      I was gonna bring that up. It’s a compelling read for sure, but the rose colored glasses with which King (and his protagonist) view the past, my God. He spares one sequence in the entire book for “oh, I guess there was racism or something?” as a downside of the era. The rest of the time it’s “Hoowee, it’s refreshing to be a white male in this era.” Eventually things take a turn for the worse, but he never really tinges the era, it’s always “oh the time travel screwed things up” or something like that.

  21. Mike S. says:

    Most of the observations about cars are spot-on, but today’s cars stay on the road much longer than they did in the 70s. Back then, Shell stations gave out little yellow pamphlets about auto care and gasoline (which I read as a kid because in those days before the portable information revolution I would read anything). One as about how to shepherd your car into lasting more than 100,000 miles. These days, barring bad luck, that’s not even a question.

    (This New York Times article talks about some of the reasons way, but a lot of it is better materials and engineering.)

    But cars don’t look as old as they did in the 70s, for two reasons. One is that car fashion changes have really slowed down. (Mid-sized sedans from the 50s and the 70s look vastly more different than those from the 90s and the 2010s do.) You don’t have things like tailfins and chrome appearing and disappearing as quickly or as universally– partly due to market changes, partly due to everyone converging on designs that are relatively aerodynamically efficient.

    Probably more important, they’re so much more rust-resistant. If you lived in the snow belt in the 70s, you pretty much reconciled yourself to visible body rust within a few years. (And “rustproofing” was a scam to get money out of the customer. Drilling holes to inject it if anything made the cars more rust-prone.) These days a car might be old and falling apart mechanically, but it still won’t show the rust in fifteen years that a 70s car would in five. (They still, as Shamus observes, don’t look Hollywood-movie new, but they don’t look like the junkyard a real 70s parking lot did.)

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Ive also read once how all the tests we use to check car safety had to be changed recently because all the new models were outside the charts with the old tests.Which was a satisfying thing to learn.

    2. SlothfulCobra says:

      Well, there’s also the factor that car usage has also ramped up a lot since the 1970s, so a car these days may see far more usage, whereas a 1970s car can limp along longer chronologically in a world that doesn’t expect as much driving.

  22. Veylon says:

    I was born in 1982. I remember the abestos scare. They came to rip the stuff out of the walls of my school while class was in session. Seriously. They couldn’t wait a couple months and do it during the summer break.

    I remember the tube TVs. I found out that you could press a magnet against the screen and make all kinds of cool colors appear in a pattern that would persist even after it was turned off and back on (though it did fade over time).

    I was told to go out and play. So we went to the gravel pit or the railyard or the quarry or the rockface or down into the pipes under the road and played. Unsupervised. That doesn’t seem to happen as much these days.

    1. McKracken says:

      That unsupervised playing bit … I wish that was still a thing.

      We did all sorts of stuff and went places our parents never knew about. After school (I went on my own from day 2, first year!) I sometimes made some detours. My mum wasn’t happy about me coming home late but accepted it.

      These days I doubt many children still have that liberty.

      1. Nick Pitino says:

        Born 87.

        Growing up my Mothers expectations during summer were that you are to be Not In The House, Not To Be Seen Until Dinner, and then Out Of The House again until sundown.

        You can argue that might have been a bit much but that still in my mind seems preferable to the current situation where we have shit like kids being taken by CPS because they’re outside by themselves.

        1. Zak McKracken says:

          I was actually inside much of the time, but it was my choice. And when I wasn’t there weren’t really limits. My brother and me explored the forest on our own, some 10km away from home and counting, with no map or whatnot, at 10 and 12. Gives you a good sense of orientation :)

  23. I was born in 1967, and I remember a lot of weird, random tidbits from the 70s.

    Maybe it was just the small rural Michigan town that I grew up in, but women would often be seen in public wearing tin can-sized rollers in their hair. Sometimes with a scarf tied over the top of the rollers.

    I miss the small, often family-owned, stores that were later supplanted by the ubiquitous big box stores like Home Depot, Menards, Lowes, etc. In my hometown there was a small store that sold just appliances. Another store that sold plumbing supplies. Another store that sold paint. A stand-alone hardware store. A single lumber yard. Each of these stores were staffed by people (sadly, ALWAYS men) who could answer almost ANY quest you might have about their specific specialty.

    And I really miss the lack of constant auditory stimulation. There was no music playing in the doctor’s office, or the grocery store, or the hardware store. Having (unwanted) music forced into my ears at every opportunity and in EVERY public space drives me rather batty in my “old” age.

    1. Henson says:

      It’s often nice to walk into those smaller stores. My local hardware store is in a strip mall, and it feels pretty cozy. I think you’ll find quite a few of those smaller stores in smaller towns still.

    2. Zekiel says:

      My wife finds constantly being played music in shops incredibly annoying. Apparently it is supposed to subtly encourage you to buy things you’re wavering about (I can’t remember what the psychology is for that). In my wife’s case it makes her much more likely to just walk out of the store, annoyed, without buying anything.

  24. Nick Powell says:

    The radiator outside my bedroom has made the heating up/cooling down pinging noises every day it’s been on since I moved here at the age of 4. So that’s still alive in some places.

  25. Rodyle says:

    As a nineties kid, one of the best inventions ever is still AC in cars. I remember that for the first half hour of going anywhere, cars were either way too hot or freezing cold. Furthermore, they always smelled vaguely of dust, for some reason. I guess it was because of the fabric of the upholstery they used back then.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Uuuh,yeah.Thats one of those inventions that you just dont get how awesome they are until you get them.I used to think of car ac as just a waste of money and gas,but once I got to actually drive one in the scorching heat I realized how crucial it is.Its not just luxury,it makes you a much more relaxed and consequently better driver.

      1. Felblood says:

        My Grandmother insisted that the AC in her car never be used, well into the 90s.

        Air conditioning is the path to weakness, apparently.

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          Saitama from One Punch Man followed that rule to rather astounding results. Perhaps there IS something to it…

    2. Our cars (volvos both) had AC in 85 & 86. Granted we were middle class at the time and GA is not a place you want to live without AC if possible.
      But someplace like Boston or Minnesota (only other places I’ve experienced bits of summer) I can see not shelling out for maybe 3-4 weeks of “hot” weather. (Hot in quotes because a Minnesota heat wave is to me a normal to slightly cooler than normal summer day).

      1. Supahewok says:

        Yeah, the reason for the South booming in general over the course of the 20th century was that air conditioning made it bearable to live here. I’ve heard from multiple northerners that after living in a land with no snow in the winter, they couldn’t conceive of ever forcing themselves to deal with it ever again.

        You follow up by asking “What if there was no air conditioning here during the summer?” and they retract that previous statement right quick.

        1. djw says:

          I keep my house at 60 degrees year round. I’d go broke living in the south.

    3. djw says:

      My first car had black vinyl seats and no AC. Even in Michigan that was horrible.

  26. Mike S. says:

    TVs: in addition to static and warm-up, there was the need to periodically adjust the vertical and horizontal hold knobs, which were helpfully usually tiny knobs on the back of the cabinet. (Necessitating a helper or some contortions to see the results of the adjustment.) If the first was out of whack, the picture would roll up the screen, if the second, the picture would be a mess of diagonal lines.

    (In the 80s, there were a few scrambled pay TV stations broadcast over the air for people who hadn’t yet been reached by cable. (We got cable in the mid-70s, then moved and it didn’t reach us again till 1986.) Subscribers had a decoder box. Nonsubscribers could sometimes get the picture into brief semi-clarity by assiduous work with the horizontal hold knob. Which was mostly the province of teenaged boys looking for snippets of R-rated movies. Kids today, with their hot and cold running porn, just don’t know….)

    When you turned off the TV, the picture would briefly shrink down to a bright point. (The magnetic deflection that caused the electron beam to scan the area of the screen going off, so the beam briefly focuses all its output at the center of the screen.) As a kid, I’d turn the brightness all the way down and then turn off the TV: it was the viewscreen on my spaceship, and there was a supernova directly ahead…

    TVs also had separate dials for VHF (channels 2-13) and UHF (14-83; 70-83 were reassigned in 1980). The VHF dial had stops for each channel, while the original UHF dials just spun freely. (Stops showed up on later sets– a mixed blessing when you had to turn a dial forty clicks between stations.)

    We even had a set when I was a kid that only had the 12 VHF channels built-in, and needed a converter box for anything else.

    (Not that there was much. Where I spent my early childhood, we had the three networks on VHF plus a single UHF station for public TV. Moving to an area with three independent stations in addition was amazing.)

    UHF was always considered to be somewhat of an also ran (see the Weird Al movie by that name), though that distinction somewhat faded with digital tuning. (These days, with TiVo, I’m as unlikely to know channel numbers as I am to know phone numbers.)

    1. Ivellius says:

      Hm. As one born in ’87, you’ve made me realize in hindsight why the small TV we owned had two different dials, with one being for the higher numbers.

      I believe my family had cable from the time we moved when I was in second grade, but I’m not sure we did before that. After that move the small TV became dedicated to our Super Nintendo until I got my own in middle school.

      1. Mike S. says:

        Yeah, a lot of those VHF dials wound up permanently tuned to channel 3 once VCRs, Atari consoles, and cable boxes showed up.

        Our first cable system (circa 1976) had a remote control the size of a cigar box, attached to the TV with a long wire. Which I think was the first TV remote we ever had.

        (TV remotes, like so many things, went from “what, you’re so lazy you can’t even get up to change the channel?!?” to “we’re helpless without the remote” surprisingly quickly.)

  27. Mike S. says:

    And speaking of phones: for most people the 70s meant dial phones. (Wired, of course; even cordless house phones didn’t start showing up widely till the late 80s/early 90s.) Touch-tone existed, but was a luxury most people didn’t pay for even if they could. Answering machines were basically nonexistent unless you were a business.

    (The first one I saw was on the intro to The Rockford Files. Which, btw, is on Netflix, holds up surprisingly well, and does a great job of conveying the era– including showing cars that aren’t all shiny and new.)

    In those days before the AT&T breakup, you rented your phone from the phone company, mostly a very basic model, maybe a “Princess” phone (with the dial in the handset) if you were fancy. They were tough as nails and lasted forever, but if you added up the rental cost over the years of service you were certainly paying for that durability.

    And if the person you were calling was on the phone? Busy signal– try again later and hope they’re off. (Homes with teenagers tended to be an endless struggle over phone access. By the time I was in middle school in the 80s, my parents got a second line for us kids to take the pressure off, but that was vanishingly rare in the 70s.) No one’s home? You’re out of luck: call again later.

    (And of course calling someone for a date often meant navigating the gauntlet of their dad, mom, or younger sibling first.)

    Long distance calls were proverbially expensive, and so were to be short and rare. Around 1980, my mom started working for MCI, and the free long distance was a massive perk even when it involved dialing a seven digit number, a long access code, and the number you were calling.

    (And international calls, well, you pretty much just didn’t do it. If someone managed to swing a vacation or business trip overseas, postcards are the only thing you’d be likely to get till they returned.)

  28. McKracken says:

    Accidentally went into a pub where smoking is still permitted a few weeks ago. With friends, one of whom smoked.

    Oh my goodness, is it a wonderful thing that most pubs and restaurants are non-smoking these days (with either a separate room or the backdoor for smoking)! By the end of the evening my eyes were teary and red, I smelled like a burnt log, and my throat was very unhappy, too. How did I not notice how horrible that was back in the day?

    1. Tom says:

      As I understand it, an unintended side-effect of the smoking ban is that pubs and clubs have had to significantly improve their restroom cleaning efforts. Apparently without the heavy pall of stale cigarette smoke to hide it, the horrific stench of their barely-tended latrines became noticeable to customers in the rest of the building.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        Yes, that and the smell of sweat in discos. Then again, covering something unpleasant with something unpleasant which is even stronger may not have been the best tactic in the world. Unless you’re a smoker, in which case you probably didn’t mind.

  29. Ingolifs says:

    All this talk about old rustbuckets gives me a good excuse to post this video…

    Of the cars that were driven in Barrier island – a remote part of new zealand, in the 80’s.

  30. Xeorm says:

    This is one of the few articles where reading the comments is better than reading the article itself. Not because the article was bad, but because they’re able to add so much.

    Really shows just how old the readers of this blog are though. I feel so very young right now, it’s great.

  31. SlothfulCobra says:

    It’s always really neat to hear about little forgotten details of eras past. Most movies refuse to acknowledge smoking at all, mainly because there’s a slightly orwellian conspiracy to remove smoking from most forms of media in order to fight against the peer pressure effect.

    Of course, air pollution was way worse a century earlier, when big cities would occasionally have days where the smog was so thick you could barely see.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Its still like that in some cities today however.

      And honestly,I never understood the need to ban smoking indoors in places where cars are making the outside air stuffed.Those fumes are far worse than cigarette fumes.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        I live in a big city full of cars, but after the last time I spent an evening in a place where indoor smoking was permitted, I felt much more supportive of the smoking ban than I was when it was introduced.

        I was always a non-smoker but tolerated it because that’s all I knew. After some years getting used to smoke-free places, I never, ever want to go back. I’m all for making smart arrangements with ventilation to avoid putting smokers a closed door away from non-smokers but as a non-smoker, it is really really not nice to sit in a badly ventilated room where even just 20% of people smoke. No comparison to a high-traffic area. Those aren’t nice either (and possibly similarly unhealthy) but sitting in other people’s cold cigarette smoke is just ugly.

        Also, whatever’s outside your building will be inside, too. So if my city has bad air, why would I want to add cigarette smoke to that?

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Spend a few years in a place free of car exhaust and when you come back tell me if cigarette smoke is still worse.Like you said,you tolerate it simply because you dont know for something different.

          1. Zak McKracken says:

            Actually … yes, cigarette smoke feels worse. I’ve grown up in a place with clean air and lots of forest, and last time I sat in a ski lift somebody said something about the good air quality and then got the cigarettes out…

            This is certainly a matter of personal preference (or personal history), but as I said: I see no reason to expose myself to something unpleasant just because there’s something else that is also unpleasant which I am already exposed to.
            I’m not too happy with how regulations are implemented and I have sat in badly ventilated smokers’ rooms a few times because that’s where the people were I wanted to be with. I always had to change clothes afterwards, and take a shower. If I had to go back to enduring that every time I walk into a café, I think I’d rather just not walk into cafés anymore.

            By comparison, the smell of car exhaust gases has extremely improved over the last few decades. I’m sure that if I was exposed to the smell of London or Berlin in the 70’s, I wouldn’t like it, either, but these days it’s entirely tolerable to me, although I make sure to get out for a while every year.

      2. Slothfulcobra says:

        Smoking indoors was banned because people kept setting their houses on fire that way. It was a fire hazard.

        Car fumes may be bad, but what we have now is way better than the 19th century smog that was worse than even the horror stories we hear from China today. In cities, the advent of cars also meant that they could do away with all the horses that packed the streets, pooping absolutely everywhere. Cars have also gotten cleaner over the years, although I don’t think that they’ve been able to decrease emissions enough to keep pace with rising usage of cars.

        1. Lanthanide says:

          Also, in the really big cities of the world, like London and New York, they had such a high population of horses that dozens of them would die every day. Because horses are very large, heavy and hard to move, generally they would leave them to rot in the street to become more manageable before disposing of them.

          So, heaps of horse crap, dead horses, and lots of hay and feed coming in for them.

          Cars are better.

        2. Tom says:

          19th century? In 1952, the London smog was killing people. Not shortening their lifespan a few decades later; actually killing them by the end of the year.

          However, there is one far more insidious way car fumes were worse than coal smoke for most of the 20th century: tetraethyl lead. The rise and fall of the use of leaded petrol has been directly statistically correlated with a significant rise and fall in general levels of violent crime in the same areas, with a latency of about 20 years – the time it takes for a kid to breathe it in throughout their developmental years before growing up enough to be able to commit violent crime. Thank you so much, Mr Thomas Midgley, who knew damn well his invention was dangerous and even endangered his own health covering it up (dipped his hands in it and breathed the fumes for a minute at a press conference to show it was safe, then secretly took an entire year to recover), and for an encore invented chlorofluourocarbons. He is said to have “had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth’s history.”

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Most movies refuse to acknowledge smoking at all, mainly because there's a slightly orwellian conspiracy to remove smoking from most forms of media in order to fight against the peer pressure effect.

      You know,I find the current climate of whitewashing history quite weird and stupid.Just because you dont mention it doesnt mean it didnt happen,nor does you mentioning it mean it will return.Its kind of understandable(still stupid though) when you do it from the start than when you do it with an old work,like huckleberry finn.

      1. Will says:

        There’s a decent reason for leaving out smoking, actually. I hope we can agree that it’s extremely desirable not to encourage people to smoke; from there, it follows that we shouldn’t portray smoking as “cool”. That leaves us with two options for eras where smoking was universal: make it uncool, or leave it out altogether. Personally, I think leaving it out probably works better, since making it uncool is an explicit misrepresentation.

        Someday when it’s not still a major public health issue, we can go back portraying it as it was and laughing at those schmucks from the 70s with their lung-cancer sticks, but in the meantime, there’s a balance to be made between “accurate” portrayals of the past in popular culture (lack of smoking being probably the least of the problems there) and public health.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          That is true for kids shows.But if someone is ok with watching violence being portrayed as cool,they are ok with seeing cigarettes portrayed as cool.Especially since most movies that are set in the period when smoking was everywhere are usually crime thrillers and dramas,something thats aimed at older audience.

          1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

            Kids (and more importantly TEENS when people start smoking) watch those shows though. Honestly, destroying the rate of smoking among the youth is worth it to me to damage the depiction of smoking in certain, specific mediums. Like, yeah it sucked that NBC Constantine didn’t smoke. It was lame. A fan of the show starting to smoke in appreciation of how cool it was would be much worse though.

            1. djw says:

              I’ve never seen the show, but I did read the comics. Constantine without cigarettes does not seem right to me. He’s an anti-hero, not a roll model!

              How did X-files get away with the cigarette smoking man? Was it the fact that he wasn’t the main character? Or were they just able to get away with things like that in the 90’s? (Smoking was already well on its way out then).

              1. Mike S. says:

                It’s just that much farther back in a long-term trend– after smoking had been scrubbed from media aimed directly at kids (Reed Richards had lost his pipe long before, and by the 90s I think J. Jonah Jameson couldn’t have his cigar in the Spider-Man cartoon) but before it was starting to be verboten in adult-oriented shows that kids might watch.

            2. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Kids (and more importantly TEENS when people start smoking) watch those shows though.

              Yes,and?You dont see them pulling guns at people just because it was cool on that one show.You dont see them trying to summon and vanquish demons just because constantine does it.

              Preventing minors from buying cigarettes reduced teen smoking far more than scrubbing it from tv.And on that note,why is drinking ok in those shows?Alcohol doesnt require decades to ruin someone,but you dont see it scrubbed from tv.Heck,alcohol isnt even restricted to just period pieces from the old days like cigarettes.

              1. djw says:

                Do you have any data on the actual impact of banning TV adds versus the effects of restricting sale to minors? I’m sure I could make up a story or anecdote to support either of those, but I’d be interested to hear about actual studies that back it up.

                In any case, alcohol differs from cigarettes in that moderate use is not unhealthy. In fact, there are some indications that alcohol in moderation is actually good for you. I do not think that the same can be said of tobacco (although I have heard that nicotine has some nootropic effects).

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Oh right,ads.Wanted to add those up there as well.Removing cigarettes from ads also reduced their appeal to minors.What is dubious is the effect of having cigarettes in tv shows and movies on their sales.More specifically,in the shows Ive mentioned above,namely thrillers and dramas.

                  Alcohol in small quantities dosnt cause health problems,true,but it does impair judgement,which is what I was talking about.

                  As for nicotine itself,it has its uses.The problem with cigarettes is that they arent just nicotine,but plenty of other stuff as well.Also that you inhale heated smoke.

                  1. Zak McKracken says:

                    I think this is something that just can’t be done right.
                    You want people to be aware of the health problem that smoking is, for smoker and their environment. And you would like to give smokers a slight nudge to please take care where they smoke and maybe think about stopping, but you shouldn’t really beat them over the head because that’s patronizing and doesn’t work, either. You also don’t want people to start smoking because now it’s not mainstream anymore and hip kids don’t do mainstream.

                    Add to that some media campaigners and politicians who are… less than sensitive to how you approach addiction problems, and you are guaranteed to both make smokers angry and encourage some people to smoke who wouldn’t otherwise.

                    On the whole, though, and from where I’m sitting, people smoke a lot less these days, and it’s more regarded as a nuisance and bad habit than “cool”. I’m fine with that. I’m not quite fine with how heavy-handedly things are handled at times. It’s supposed to reduce smoking, not be anti-smokers…

                    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

                      I’m fine with being anti-smokers, to a point. Because unlike other kinds of possible self harm (say, eating unhealthy foods) just performing the activity is a health risk to everyone in the nearby area. It also causes long term damage to property and effects (you can’t just wash the smoke smell out from the belongings of a chronic smoker. It’s permanent.)

                      This isn’t to say smokers should be attacked or jailed or anything, I just have no problems with directing quite harsh advertising (as long as it’s true) towards them and banning their use in pretty much all public places.

                  2. Zak McKracken says:

                    About nicotine: After you get used to nicotine, you need it to get into “normal” mode. That’s the problem with it. Nicotine users are only a few minutes/hours away from becoming very cranky if they don’t get their stuff.

                    The state a frequent smoker is in after smoking one cigarette, that’s the state most non-smokers are in most of the time…

                    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Same is true for any addiction.

  32. J Greely says:

    I remember being sent to the grocery store with my uncle, who casually picked up two packs of cigarettes on the way in, opened the first pack, and lit up as we headed back to the meat counter.

    I remember seeing kids “feed the ducks” by stripping filters out of cigarette butts and tossing them into the water. There were so many butts everywhere that they could have done it all day long. (and likely killed off all the ducks in the process…)


    1. Incunabulum says:

      I remember both cigarette machines in bars *and* going to the local convenience store to pick up cigarettes for my father – at eight years old.

  33. Soylent Dave says:

    I grew up in the 80s, in the UK, and almost all of that tallies with my childhood memories (especially the discarded ringpulls… and the difference it made to the streets when cans with ringpulls that didn’t detach became commonplace!)

    Although the radiators bit is more ‘present’ than ‘past’, as that’s the default for central heating in the UK.

    (and as a few people have suggested, I’d guess the smell – which is pretty distinctive – is hot dust)

  34. Lanthanide says:

    This should make a few people feel very very old:
    Ring-tabs on beer cans are now officially considered historic artifacts and can be used to date areas of habitation.

    1. djw says:

      I remember seeing those all over the place on the beaches of Lake Michigan in around ’75 or ’76, but by the time the 80’s rolled around they had largely disappeared. They were not missed.

  35. djw says:

    I think Shamus is a year younger than me, so most of his observations correlate very well with my own. Here are a few other random memories.

    Every body wore brown, and almost everybody wore corduroy. (That lasted into the early 80’s).

    I thought the Bicentennial was a yearly celebration (I was only six, and I was a bit confused).

    Everybody had a mustache. Well, half of everybody did, at least.

    My parents were non-smokers, and I had a real sense that they were cultural wacko’s. In retrospect I’m very happy about that.

    Star Wars changed everything.

  36. Jabrwock says:

    I always thought radiator smell was a combination of baked paint (because EVERYONE slapped coats of paint on those suckers until they doubled in size) and cooked greasy dust (because radiators can’t filter the air, and kitchen vents were only just becoming a thing).

  37. Annikai says:

    I had one of those old TV’s in my room when I was a kid (born in the 90s). The kind where the knob to turn it on was also the sound control. I remember the static and the one time when I was a stupid kid and put tinsel on the TV. Let’s just say it’s a lot more painful when you do that.

  38. jd says:

    Member Woodsy Owl? Member when Smokey Bear could say forest fire instead of wildfire?

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.