Cartrivision: The Netflix of 1972

Self described “hardware/software necromancer@foone posted some remarkable hardware necromancy in Twitter about an Ebay auction for a rare 1970s television containing a Cartivision, a long forgotten forerunner to the VCR. As @foone put it,

Cartrivision is an early (1972) home video format which had some wacky DRM nonsense (well, ARM I guess, it’s not digital) and it only lasted about a year, and one of the reasons it’s impossible to play now is that you couldn’t just buy a VCR for it. Instead you had to buy a TV with a Cartrivision player built into it, and since those were all huge 1970s console TVs the number of them that have survived until the modern day is basically zero. The wacky DRM thing was that most movies only came on red tapes, and the key distinction between red tapes and black tapes is that YOU COULDN’T REWIND RED TAPES.

The business model gets even stranger. You could buy a very limited amount of titles and record stuff on blank tapes but if you wanted more recent films you had to go to a store, choose from a catalog, and then have the tapes mailed to the store for you to pick up. So, basically, it’s 1970s Netflix with no rewind.

Unfortunately you’re all too late to get in on the Ebay auction since the beauty above sold for $1,525. If you’d like to get it working you’ve got to have some serious analog repair chops and any existing tapes will likely disintegrate as they move through the mechanism.

Conservator Maurice Schechter won an Emmy for his heroic effort to digitize two Cartrivision tapes that contained the only existing recording of game 5 of the 1973 N.B.A. finals. A 2013 New York Times article describes his analog wizardry.

If you’d like in-depth info on the history of the Catrivision there’s an article in Fast Company.

If you’d like to fix one yourself you’ll need to get familiar with LabGuy’s Cartrivision restoration project. Here’s some Cartrivision documents including a catalog of titles.

While it’s unlikely that any of us will take on a Cartrivision restoration project there’s a way in which we’ve all become conservators of outdated media. I’ve got a box of 3/4 inch video tapes from when I used to be an editor that are rotting in the garage. Then there’s all the digital photos . . .

News From Nowhere

We did some traveling last week for the first time in two years and I flew for the first time since 2013. On our trip to the in-law’s reunion I was struck by how much of this country is made up of liminal spaces, as if the whole landscape were one long, dead mall corridor leading nowhere.

It’s common to see these vistas as a kind of moral/aesthetic failure rather than the landscape of a capitalist system that has to always be in motion or it will end up in crisis. It’s no coincidence that most of our land is devoted to constant churn, movement and commerce. As David Harvey points out, the first thing that president G.W. Bush suggested we all do before the dust even settled on the World Trade Center was not to stop, contemplate, pray or meditate but to, “Go shopping!” That is, to drive to the mall and spend some money. Capitalism’s need for constant motion results in a landscape that operates like a long, circular airport corridor with no end. The point is the churn not the destination.

It’s shouldn’t be a surprise that in a system based on motion and individualism that the automobile would dominate. For years I fought for better bike infrastructure here in Los Angeles. The enemy was “car-centric planning” or so I thought. But we live not in car-centric cities but capitalist cities. Cars are just one more way to build capital. They are, after all, packaged debt that just happens to have an inefficient mode of transit attached to it. We’re all forced into cars because that’s the best way to wring profit out of the transportation sector. For this reason we should never shame people for driving a car because we live in a system that forces us to.

Our airport hotel even had an upscale weed shop in the parking lot.

Denver, where I was visiting the in-laws has many beautiful streets, parks, the stunning Rocky Mountains in the distance (obscured by the fires burning in California) and one hell of a lot of weed shops. To be clear I fully support legalized pot but I can’t help but think that so many people are self medicating to relieve the misery of meaningless low paid work, the anxiety of the pandemic and life in this meaningless corridor leading to nowhere.

It would be a mistake to just go along and accept this world as it is, to think that it’s just a matter of morality or that we can somehow go back to a previous “golden age” way of doing things. As Angela Davis said in a lecture in 2014, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” Let’s work on exiting this endless corridor.

Weekend Linkages: Goblincore, Casino Bombs and Hoes

Goblincore: the fashion trend that embraces ‘chaos, dirt and mud’

Drivers for Elon Musk’s Loop get a script about their ‘great leader’

Enter the Dragnet

FBI Artifact of the Month: Harvey’s Casino Bomb (Via Mark Frauenfelder)

How many years until we must act on climate? Zero, say these climate thinkers

Facebook cracks down on discussing ‘hoes’ in gardening group

What Kind of Wall Anchor Should I Use?

Patent illustration for the Molly bolt.

Fine Woodworking has a phenomenal article by Mario Rodriguez that, next to the meaning of life, unlocks the second greatest philosophical conundrum of all time, “what kind of wall anchor should I use?” If, like us, you live in an old house with lath and plaster walls you’ve likely made a mess at one point or had something just plain fall of the wall. By all means, if you can, get thee some picture rail. But, if that’s not an option, take a look at Rodriguez’s article for all your wall anchor needs, whatever kind of wall you’re dealing with.

I’d like to highlight two of the suggested anchors in that Fine Woodworking article for those of us in the lath and plaster tribe. One I’ve already blogged about, is the pull toggle pictured above. It’s not perfect as sometimes the plastic snaps prematurely, but I’ve used this bit of hardware to hang heavy stuff successfully, such as flat screen TVs.

Though I haven’t tried this type of wall anchor I’m intrigued with another anchor that Rodriquez mentions, the Molly bolt. The patent goes back to the 1930s so there’s nothing new about this particular flavor of wall anchor. Rodriguez suggests that it will work in lath and plaster and there’s even a new tool to make installation easier if you’ve got a lot of them to put in.

And a tip on using either of these two hollow wall anchors: they won’t work if you hit a stud or fire block. If I’m not sure if there’s a piece of solid wood behind where I’m drilling, and in an old lath and plaster wall it’s often hard to tell, I drill a tiny pilot hole to see if I hit solid wood behind the lath. If I do I can just use a regular old screw. If the wall is hollow I can get a bigger drill bit and use either of the two wall anchors in this post. Remember to make sure you have the correct drill bit size for the wall anchor you’re using or you’ll have one of those multiple trips to the hardware store sort of day.

Rodriguez’s article reminds me of a pledge I’ve made to myself of trying to understand the design and use of the fastener I need before venturing into the most confusing and confounding aisle of the hardware store, that place where all the bolts, anchors, screws and nails are kept.