Posted by: Brad Nixon | September 22, 2010

Nuke ’em Puter: Wahrless, from Radio Tars

Got me one a’ them nuke ’em puters. Dale made it. Dalecumputer. Down in Takesus.

Got wahrless internet, too. They saind out wahrless signals from radio tars. Ah pick ’em up.

It’s odd to consider, but The Counselor and I have been sharing online access for 17 years. Although for most of that time we’ve each had our own computers, only one of them has ever been connected to the Internet at any one time. I was already an established AOL user when I moved to California, and not long after that we launched our Web site dedicated to our hobby of collecting vintage dinnerware and pottery. Ah, those were the days. I can still hear the screeching of the dial-up connection, like the calls of frenzied dolphins warning of approaching tour boats.

Yes, children, I was there at the BIRTH of the personal computer. You doubt me? Hah! You are going to be begging me for more tales of the dawn of the modern era. First, I want you to watch a little video. It means going to YouTube, so, if you’re at work, you might have to wait ’til you get home. CLICK HERE. Play awesome video. Then come back.

Surprised? Yes, that commercial, part of a large campaign that launched my venerable employer, NCR, into the personal computer market, shows you children the primitive tools your elders wielded out on the frontier of the Digital Domain. Who ELSE would you name as the spokesman for a spiffy new technology anyone other than Dom Deluise? The mind reels. Just look at that blazin’ fast NCR PC4! Note the TWO 5-1/4″ floppy disk drives (one had the operating system and application, the other held data). NO, there was NOT a hard drive. Are you kidding? Hard drives were the size of microwave ovens back then. (To his credit, the CEO of the company was already talking about the end of “rotating memory,” as it was called, but he was a few years ahead of developments, particularly where his company was concerned.) As the commercial urges you, please notice the spiffy GRAPHICS: bar charts! Oh, man. Courtesy of a fledgling graphics program called Harvard Graphics, long may those slime rot in the hell of the digital underworld (although I suspect they’re long rich and retired or else writing the HELP menus for Microsoft). Late to the game, long after Apple and IBM, the lame cats out on Patterson Boulevard realized that the client-server concept went all the way down to the individual user, and, far too late, they leaped on a PC bandwagon that was already on its way out of town. The company had missed the BIG bandwagon a decade earlier, and they drove the analog technology ship deep into polar ice until they could only survive by throwing all the crew overboard to lighten the load. Adding Mr. Deluise as the figurehead did little to soften the impact from the glacial ice, despite his bulk. But more about that another time.

As my vernacular introduction suggests, this is the first blog I’m posting from a new computer. I get one every five or six or seven years, usually once it becomes impossible to transfer data from my machine to newer ones as the medium of exchange becomes obsolete. I’ve been using The Counselor’s PC for the entire life of Under Western Skies, because hers is a) connected to the Internet and b) can process photos and video and burn CDs and stuff. MY old machine, however is still useful for word processing, but can’t burn CD’s or connect to the Internet. And no one (including The Counselor) seems to use 3-1/4″ floppies any more. A shame, that. I’m going to have to transfer data off the old machine onto ZIP disks and, thence, to CDs onto THIS machine. I may be the last user of a ZIP drive you’ll ever know. Write it on your calendar: 9/22/10: Nixon still using ZIP disks.

Therefore, I’ve acquired the new PC, which has not only a terrifyingly fast processor but, yes, connects WIRELESSLY to the Internet via the router I installed this afternoon, successfully — miraculously — bypassing all the misleading or incorrect or incomplete instructions in the setup guide. I’m here in the living room, posting, while The Counselor is pursuing her own business, SIMULTANEOUSLY. Awesome.HEY! It just occurred to me. Now she and I can e-mail each other from forty feet away! THIS is the world we have been waiting for. We need to get a chat line open. After all, in the vast, rambling 1200 square feet of Rancho Retro, we need advanced communications technology to stay in touch.

Let’s see, I started out to write about something else. What was it? Oh. Yeah, the title: Radio Tars. Having a wireless signal makes me think of radio tars. In a long ago day, I worked with a wonderful guy named Ray, who only once in his life, so far as I know, met a physical object he could not master. Ray and I were the same age, in our late 20s, and worked together building houses and other construction jobs. I was a fairly strong guy then and could pick up about 270 pounds of cement bags and walk away with ’em, but Ray was in another class altogether. He was one of the world’s sharks: he had no nerve endings, and the limit of his strength was almost beyond imagining. I played football with a guy like Ray, and, believe me, you will lose any confrontation with a guy like that. Make them your friend. They do not know pain or fear, and you must be with them, rather than against them. Demolition is the easy part of any construction job, but, for Ray, demolition was a form of art. Whole windows, doors and walls came down with a single massive effort. Ray’s shoulders would be in the Shoulder Hall of Fame, if there were such a thing. Popeye would call Ray up late at night, asking for advice on building up his forearms. I saw Ray pick up the front end of a car and carry it around to face in a different direction and, no, it wasn’t a rear-engine car. Only one time did I see him stymied. We were working somewhere alongside a railroad track, and there was a stack of standard 30-foot sections of steel rail sitting there. Ray just knew that he could lift the end of one of those. Ray, obviously, had never consulted the standards of the American Society of Civil Engineers, establishing the minimum weights for commercial rail. Had he done so, he would have known that that piece of steel weighed a minimum 40 pounds for every yard, meaning that the entire 30-foot length weighed more than 4,000 pounds. I watched. It’s a rare day that you see a shark defeated by an inanimate object. That was the day. The rail never moved even a fraction of an inch. Ray had another quality other than fierce strength, though, and that was humility, in addition to being a kindhearted guy. He just said something like, “Dang, that’s heavier than you’d think,” and let it go. He did mention it from time to time after that, shaking his head.

Ray was from eastern Kentucky, and spoke a wonderful dialect of English. I grew up around lots of people from the Appalachians, and their speech was no mystery to me, although I did get particularly enamored of another guy who worked for us, Sam, whose speech preserved a pronoun that had passed down directly from the late middle ages, “hit,” as in, “Hit’s jes’ not gonna move,” or “I found hit.” Back in 1500 or so, that was a perfectly acceptable form of the pronoun, and Sam’s people probably came to America from some northern or western part of England with that pronoun still intact, and preserved it through all the centuries that passed.

On one day, though, Ray totally bamboozled me. He started telling me about a place down the Interstate toward Cincinnati, “You know, past all those radio tars on I-75?” Any time you deal with a speaker of an alien dialect, whether they’re from Montreal or Australia or some other far-flung corner of the English-speaking world, you’re always doing a kind of simultaneous translation, but this one got me. Was he saying there was a big pile of radial tires somewhere along I-75? Was there some substance called “radio tar” that I had never heard of?

Finally, it came to me. Outside of Mason, Ohio, the Voice of America, our worldwide propaganda voice to Bulgaria and Albania and other cold war enclaves had a transmission station with big shortwave transmission antennae: radio towers! Saying “radio tars” isn’t really demotic English, it’s probably EXACTLY how some native speakers of our language would’ve pronounced the word in the 17th Century when they signed on as indentured servants to get out of stupid old England to come here, and, in those inland mountain towns of eastern Virginia (as it was then) carried on the same accent that most of us have abandoned through listening to Walter Cronkite and David Letterman. But Ray was just reflecting a survival of an older version of English. In fact, I will now suggest that some of the greatest lines of English poetry scan BETTER when read:

“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships/And burnt the topless tars of Ilium?”

Little did Ray know, but he and Mr. Marlowe were speaking the very same language. The very same.

All that is just to say that as I spot the cell phone towers disguised as palm trees here in SoCal, I always think of Ray. Sale tars! He’s gone now, another inhabitant of a world that is lost, and I miss him.


  1. Ah yes, Ray, will we ever forget the time he went to a neighboring town and wrestled one of those big brown bears, whom the owner/handler would haul over the countryside and offer cash money to whomever could best the beast. Ray came to work Monday morning, when asked how it went, he said, “I woulda got him down, but he was slobbering all over me so bad I couldn’t get a good holt of him.”


    • I was there. It gave one an appreciation of how strong, fast and big a bear is! Ray was like a pipsqueak next to that bear, who not only out-slobbered him, but outreached him by something like a foot on each arm.


  2. I’ve been listening to a lot of Johnny Cash records lately. I wish Johnny and Ray could’ve met sometime.


    • I’m laughing. That slays me. There’s a book!


  3. It seems to me that there was a story about Ray using a jack-hammer over his head too. He was strong.


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