A gift for Dad

Health update: I’m almost completely recovered from my flareup of lower back pain. Still some pain when I first get out of bed in the morning, and some stiffness when I get up from a chair if I’ve been sitting for too long. But once I’m up and moving around, I feel fine. I suspect that in a day or two, I’ll be completely pain-free. The muscle relaxant really helped, and I’ll make sure to thank Dr. Raman for prescribing it when I see her for my annual physical in a couple of weeks. Once again, I have my life back, and I’m grateful.

Recently, I was reading one of the blogs I follow, and I found myself looking at the following image, which was presented without any context or explanation.

I was immediately intrigued. A USB flash drive that looks like a vacuum tube? That’s really cool, and I want one! But is it a real thing, or just a picture someone made in Photoshop? After a quick image search, I determined that this is absolutely real, and it’s for sale on Amazon.

Sadly, my design to own one was extinguished when I saw the prices. They vary depending on storage capacity: the cheapest is $49 for 8 gigabytes, and the most expensive is $119 for 256 GB. (For comparison, you can buy a SanDisk 512 GB drive for under $50.) Those prices seemed exorbitant to me until I read the description, and learned that this thing doesn’t just look like a vintage vacuum tube, it actually is one. Each of these drives is made by hand (in Latvia) from a vacuum tube that was manufactured in the Soviet Union in 1981. A genuine collector’s item. Suddenly, the price seems appropriate when I consider the scarcity of the raw materials, and the skilled labor required to craft the finished product.

It’s still too expensive for me to buy just for my own amusement. But if my father were still alive, I would buy him one of these in a heartbeat. Dad was notoriously difficult to buy gifts for, because if he wanted something, he would usually buy it for himself before anyone had a chance to give it to him. So the trick was to find something that he wasn’t aware of, but that he would like if he knew it existed.

Dad was a ham radio operator and electronics hobbyist from the 1950s onward, when vacuum tubes were still in a lot of radio and TV sets, although transistors were gradually making them obsolete. He was quite familiar with these tubes, and I’m sure he would have appreciated the combination of retro and futuristic tech. He had fond memories of the tube-powered radios and TV sets of his youth, but he was also an avid early adopter of cutting-edge technology. It was because of him that our family had a home computer in 1976*, at a time when you couldn’t just buy a functioning computer; you had to build it from a kit.

Dad would have loved this. I wish I could have given it to him for Father’s Day. Seeing the look on his face when he unwrapped it would have been worth the price.

*Correction: Bob informs me that we didn’t get the computer (a Processor Technology Sol-20) until 1977. That’s still years before the arrival of the IBM PC (1981) and the Apple Macintosh (1984). However, a bit more research shows that several home computers that did not have to be built from a kit made their debut in 1977: the Apple II, the Commodore PET, and the Tandy TRS-80.

One thought on “A gift for Dad

  1. Cool. Not just a vintage vacuum tube, but a vintage Soviet vacuum tube. (Although I suppose anything from the Soviet Union is by definition vintage.)

    One small correction: we didn’t have a computer in 1976. The kit from which Dad assembled the Sol-20 arrived on March 1, 1977. Although if you want to get really technical, it wasn’t a computer yet; he finished assembling it and powered it on for the first time on March 6.

    Yeah, 1977 was a big year in our house.

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