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Yes, time travel is possible!

15 May 2018

Stephen Hawking has invited time travelers to his memorial service.

Apparently, anyone born between 2019 and 2038 is eligible to attend and all they need do is apply for one of the 1,000 public spaces made available by ballot.

Will we see anyone from the future turning up to show their respects?

Only time will tell I guess :-)

However, this week I engaged in a little time-travel of my own, thanks once again to the durability of good old hardcopy print media.

When an elderly local lady passed away recently, my wife ended up with a trove of print publications from the 1930s through 1950s and some of them were NZ magazines. Their content is incredibly interesting.

Since this is primarily a tech column, let me share one of the relevant ads with you.

This was an ad for a "radio telephone" service that would allow mere mortals (with sufficient money) to speak with people around the world using their regular phone handset. Yes, we're talking toll-calls.

Here's copy from that ad (dated June 25th, 1952 from the New Zealand Free Lance magazine):

You're far more likely to swing that overseas business deal if you make a personal phone call. Furthermore, your friends and relatives in Australia or America or elsewhere will be doubly thrilled to hear greetings in your own voice. The RADIO-TELEPHONE SERVICE is available to over 30 countries and the ships "Monowai" and "Hinemoa".

CHARGES ARE LOW -- For example you can phone Australia from early morning to late night any day, including Sunday, without delay and it costs only ten shillings per minute, with a minimum of thirty shillings

For further information, ring "tolls". Issued by The Post Office.

Okay, ten shillings a minute for toll calls to Australia with a minimum charge of thirty shillings... how much would that be in today's money?

Well, according to the Reserve Bank inflation calculator... that would be $29.05 per minute with a minimum charge of $87.14.

Smack my gob!

I guess we can see why international toll calls, just like telegrams, were reserved for very special occasions and/or very important messages. It beggars belief that we can now call these places for just a few cents per minute -- or virtually for free if we do so via the Net.

Now let's look at an ad for home-entertainment technology:

For the discriminating listener

There is a new top-quality receiver that worthily upholds the Pye tradition of excellence, reliability and value. Providing unlimited choice of the world's programmes and true-to-life tone, Model "G" incorporates FULL BANDSPREADING on all short wavebands, ensuring simple, accurate station selection. These are just the qualities you will be looking for in your new radio. Visit your local Pye agent today -- see and hear the Model "G" yourself.

Price 31 pounds, 10 shillings

5-valve, 8-waveband, bandspread superhet for AC power.

Run that price through the same inflation calculator and you'll find that this full-featured *radio* cost the equivalent of $1,830 today. For a freaking radio???

Of course if you didn't need the luxury of short-wave then you could pick up a Philco Model 203 five-valve radio for a mere 22 quid (that's just $1,278 in today's money).

Smack my gob again!

I think we all-too-often forget just how much cheaper technology has become in the 65 years or so since this magazine was published and it is now perhaps easier to understand why it was that so many people made their living repairing this stuff. After all, we think nothing of tossing a cheap piece of "Made in China" technology if it's delivered a year or two's service before it breaks -- but when you're paying over $1,000 just for a bare-bones radio, you're far more likely to invest in its repair, especially when the cost of such repair would be a tiny percentage of the original purchase price.

And finally, there's a drone story in this magazine...

New Zealand Model 'Plane For International Contest

TIMARUVIAN Arthur Macaulay, secretary of the Timaru Model Aero Club, has the honour of representing New Zealand in an international competition, the contest for the Wakefield Trophy, which is to be held early in July in Sweden.

Mr Macaulay's model is made of Japanese tissue paper with balsa framework and has a wing span of about 4 1/2 ft and an automatic means of retracting its undercarriage. The total cost of the complete model is approximately 2 pounds 10 shillings.

I guess people weren't quite so scared of "drones" (aka model aircraft) back in those days and the hobby was billed as a good thing -- rather than a huge threat to public safety requiring strict regulation and control.

It is clear from browsing the pages of this magazine that the standard of living back in the 1950s was vastly inferior to that which we enjoy today. Everything was so expensive (when adjusted for inflation) and wages were low. Cars were a luxury that required new-car buyers to have "overseas funds" and people "made do" with what they had, rather than blowing huge chunks of their weekly income on "disposable" items.

Different times.

People my age (65) tend to look back at the past through rose-coloured glasses and it takes something like these old publications to remind us that those were pretty austere times and that not everything was as idyllic as we remember.

I wonder if the time-travelers who attend Stephen Hawking's memorial will be equally as shocked at how things used to be in 2018. :-)

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