Peanut Tubes, Labelmakers and Kindles

Although the Twentieth Century was crammed with rapid technological advances, in my opinion, aviation holds top honors. Think of it: from the Wright brothers’ wobbly kite managing a few feet in the first decade, to a moon landing in 1969?

Dad earned his private pilot’s license in 1936, so as a pilot during this aptly-named Golden Age of Aviation, he made his living on the cutting edge of technology.
I remember Dad as being an “early adopter” who loved to be the first to buy a new gadget when it appeared on the market.

When he was twelve, he rigged up a couple of “peanut tubes” into a primitive radio, and was able to listen to transmissions from far-off and exotic locations: such as the United States! This would have been 1927. He went on to become one of the first ham radio operators, and wherever we lived, he’d always be seeking a good location for his antennas. I have a pleasant memory of being quite young, and being assigned the task of sorting out his resistors and other tiny components, usually by colour, which made it more fun. His radio room was a cozy place to visit with its glowing dials and tubes, but I was taught very early on to have a healthy respect for electricity.

Another delightful childhood memory resulted from a trip Dad took to California. He traveled extensively on business, and from this particular trip he brought back a new gadget called the Dymo Label-maker. Even though we lived in the suburbs of the most progressive and cosmopolitan city in Canada (Montreal!) this amazing invention was not yet available to anyone we knew. So we gleefully seized upon this new piece of American know-how, making and sticking signage on everything that wasn’t alive. Dad was particularly pleased with its label-making ability, because he built much of his ham radio equipment from scratch (or from kits) and now he could replace the primitive labels he’d made from masking tape. To this day, I feel happy whenever I see a Dymo.

Fast forward to 2011. Dad, sad to say, has been gone from this world since 1997. But in the last two decades of his life, he became a writer, getting down his story with the help of, first, an IBM Selectric typewriter, and then, eventually, a computer/word processor. It was of a brand I’ve never heard of before or since, with a very tiny green screen. Its entire memory — RAM and ROM — was 30 megabytes.

This computer, which he was both grateful for and enormously frustrated by, was his means of sallying forth into the wilds of the Internet. Dad predicted that a writer would be able to use this new “web” to sell his books directly to the public. Well, yes, we know that. It’s old hat, right.

But please understand, this was in 1994 and Dad was 79 years young! I meet 80-year-olds NOW who refuse to use computers and that new-fangled Internet. Okay, they were how old when Dad made his momentous prediction? Goes to show, healthy curiosity keeps the brain young.

I do wonder if Dad ever thought technology would come up with devices such as Amazon’s Kindle. It’s just a mini-computer, really, dedicated to reading. As a voracious reader and student of history, a seeker of knowledge and a person with many interests, in his last years stricken by infirmities that confined him to his apartment, Dad would have loved a Kindle. Between the Internet and the Kindle, Dad would have been in his glory!

My Kindle has become very dear to me, and I would so love to have the means to give them as presents to certain friends who, like Dad, find themselves home-bound. Instead of passively accepting what fare the television doled out, or the newspapers and magazines that quickly grow stale, Kindle readers (“Kindlers?”) can actively seek and choose all types of reading material without leaving the safety of home.

But even better for Dad — and me as his proud editor/publisher— his books are now being “re-published” on Kindle. It’s immensely satisfying to me that I am fulfilling his predictions regarding not just the usefulness of the Internet, but the more direct link between the author and the reader.

When he was a pilot in the RAF Ferry Command, he was famous for being a real press-on type, and that drive never left him. It manifested itself in his writing, and then in his pioneering efforts to self-publish. So as I dive deep into my father’s adventures, I feel his drive re-kindling within. Genetics, gotta love ‘em.

But here’s what really started my props spinning: I learned that now people can download for free the Kindle application on their phones and computers, and read to their heart’s content anywhere, any time!

So, it struck me.

Technology had finally caught up to Dad.