On common interests Bongusta Overlord

Found at: zaibatsu.circumlunar.space:70/~solderpunk/phlog/on-common-interests.txt

On common interests

Bongusta Overlord Logout wrote recently[1] about the interests that he, pet84rik
and I share (and some of them are even more widespread in gopherspace, making
them "common interests" indeed!).  Since I have been writing some relatively
heavy phlogs entries lately (and, rest assured, have more to come), I thought it
might be nice to talk about something a bit more relaxing.

When it comes to mechanical watches, fountain pens and film cameras, it's the
watches that I know the most about and own the most of.  I was happy to read
that Logout has a couple of Indian watches, because I'm 90% sure I know which
watches he's talking about, and while I haven't actually ever seen any in the
flesh, I do love them.

The thing about mechanical watches it that from a purely utilitarian perspective
they have been totally obsolete for decades.  What I'm about to say will not be
news to other watch nerds reading, but to clue in the "normal people" reading
who may have literally never thought about this, it would be a mistake to think
that a $10,000 luxury Swiss mechanical watch by Rolex or the like must have
*some* kind of technical superiority to a $15 Casio watch, but the simple fact
of the matter is, that with the exception of water resistance in some cases, it
straight up doesn't.  The best mechanical watches in the world are less
accurate, less robust and more maintenance intensive than all but the very
cheapest quartz watches.

This means that, with a few exceptions, the only way for a company to survive
selling mechanical watches in 201X is to aim hard for the luxury end of the
market and play up big time on ideas like heritage, tradition, exclusivity, the
appeal of having a family heirloom to pass down, etc.  The mainstream modern
mechanical watch world is rife with snobishness and conspicuous consumption.

As anybody who has read much of my phlog might suspect, all of this is
tremendously off-putting to me.  But I still really like mechanical watches for
the mechanical wonders that they are, and for the fact that they are the end
product of a centuries long process of human ingenuity trying to solve a problem
that, as much as we take it for granted today, is actually not at all

The only real way to actualise this fascination with the things without spending
a lot of money or losing all self respect by buying into the snobby marketing
bullshit is to collect vintage watches from the days when mechanical watches
were not just for the elite but also for the everyman.  I like to go even
further and I am mostly interested in watches which are explicitly utilitarian
and not at all fancy.  There is no shortage of these coming from either
developing nations or former communist regimes - times and places in history
where nations with large populations and not a lot of hard cash have been trying
hard to industrialise.  This leads to watches which are cheap to make, easy to
repair, relatively robust and "accurate enough" for the working class to get
through their day.  No exclusive brand names, no designed obsolesence, no
refusal to sell spare parts to third-parties so you can gouge your customers on
repair costs.  Honest, humble tools for the masses which can be appreciated for
what they are.  This attitude leads to things like the USSR's Podeba, the DDR's
Ruhla, China's myriad Tongjis and, of course, India's HMTs, which I strongly
suspect Logout has two of.

Hindustani Machine Tools (HMT) licensed the design for a particularly simple
hand-winding watch with no special features from Japanese mechanical watch giant
Citizen, sometime in the late 60s, I think, or perhaps very early 70s.  It was a
pretty protracted affair, the Indians sent a bunch of people over to Japan for a
a year or so, to go through an intensive training program including tours of
Citizen's factories, before bringing them home to set up a factory of their own.
Citizen then sent some Japanese engineers over to India to supervise the early
stages of production and once things were running smoothly they went back to
Japan and left HMT to it.  HMT then continued to churn out home-grown versions
of this humble, unremarkable but perfectly adequate Japanese watch, without any
technological changes whatsoever, up until *very* recently (I think the HMT
watch factory only shut down sometime in the last 2 or 3 years?).  I love stuff
like this, it's like some kind of living technological time capsule, and it's so
unadulterated.  These are definitely not watches designed primarily to solve the
problem of convincing last season's customers to buy another watch even though
their current one still works.  This is honest tech.

Tell me, Logout, is one of them a HMT Pilot?

I am not super big into fountain pens.  I "caught" that interest off a friend
many years ago, who was made on them and owned probably hundreds.  Even then I
was already at the stage where I was wanting to make a serious effort to
simplify and minimise my life, and actively avoid getting involved in hobbies
that would involve turning piles of money into piles of *things* I would then
have to care for and lug all around the world with me.  So I bought a small
number of vintage Chinese pens to satisfy my keen interest in Chinese industrial
history (a side-effect of the watches), and one modern pen which is the only one
I really use on a regular basis.  It's a TWSBI Eco, and I endorse it as a nice
pen for somebody who wants to use a fountain pen without becoming too much of a
"fountain pen person".  It avoids most of the pain and inconvenience that comes
with fountain pen use.  It has a *huge* ink capacity, in terms of mL of ink held
per dollar the pen costs I think it leads the market but a very comfortable
margin, but could be wrong.  This means you don't have to worry about filling it
up every other day.  If you don't write *that* much, like me, you can go for
months on one fill.  Because the body of the pen is clear (it's a
"demonstrator", in the lingo), you are never taken by surprise when you run out
of ink, usually you have known for days that this was coming so you can be
ready.  And because it's a piston filler you don't need any extra nonsense to
fill it up, you just need a bottle of ink you can stick the thing in and you're
good to go (as opposed to, say, a pen you need to refill with a pipette).  If
you buy your ink in recyclable glass or plastic bottles, then it is a zero-waste
pen-for-life, unlike pens which use little disposable cartridges ("converters" I
think these are called).  I think it hits a very nice sweetspot in design space
for people who are looking to get rid of disposable, low-quality stuff in their
life but don't want to replace it with inconvenience and hassle.

As for cameras, well.  I think my problem is that I'm into old cameras more so
than I am into photography.  I definitely do enjoy photography, and sometimes
get quite into it, but I'd be lying if I said I was passionate about it.  I got
into photography purely so I had a chance to play around with old cameras so I
could learn about and appreciate them as machines.  This happened when I learned
how high speed shutters work.  When you take a photo with a shutter speed of
1/60th of a second on a mechanical camera, what happens is that one shutter
curtain flies open "very quickly", a timer (mechanical or electrical, depending
upon vitage) runs for 1/60th of a second, and then a second shutter curtain
flies closed "very quickly", and the film is exposed to the scene for 1/60th of
a second plus two times "very quickly", which is close enough to 1/60s for all
practical purposes.  Now, what if you want an exposure time of 1/1000th or even
1/2000th of a second?  That is actually even less time than "very quickly", so
you can't open one curtain, wait for it to complete and then close the second
one.  So you actually release the curtain which covers up film immediately after
you release the curtain which exposes the film!  They chase each other, and even
though it takes more than 1/1000s for either curtain to fully traverse the film,
no actual individual *part* of the film is exposed for more than 1/1000s.  As a
side effect, when you photograph something moving very fast (like a race car)
this way, you get a characteristic distortion because the scene changes faster
than the narrow exposure window wipes its way across the film.

I had never thought deeply about cameras or photography before in my life when I
read about this, and I immediately realised "holy shit, this is *actually*
interesting", not artistically but technically.  I did more reading and learned
that most of the technical side of photography (e.g. the exposure triangle) is
*blindingly obvious* and very intuitive once you understand how the camera
works mechanically.  So I thought maybe I'd try this out.

I have a Canon AE-1, which is no way a "cool" camera, it's a camera hardcore
film nerds groan at because it has become such a terribly hip and trendy camera
for millenials getting into film for the first time in order to be "retro".
Which I suppose is a charge I can't *fully* dodge, although I am old enough to
have briefly used film unironically in the pre-digital days.  Anyway, I didn't
buy it to be trendy, but bought it rather after obsessively watching second hand
camera listings online for weeks and realising that somebody who obviously
didn't know any better was selling this one for well under half the average
market value.  I have now got a decent range of lenses to use with it (50mm
f1.8, 28mm f2.8 and 135mm f3.x, all "NewFD" lenses which are lighter than the
old ones with the nice chrome locking rings), and as such I'm somewhat invested
in the FD mount.  If I ever had the chance to upgrade at a good price to an A-1,
an FT-D or an EF-1 I suspect I probably would.  But I'm not actively looking for
any of these, because after a few years of happily snapping away on the thing I
am at the point where my interest is waning, and a new body would probably only
change that temporarily.

Phew!  That's it from me, I think, but I will close with a request to Logout for
more information on his non-licensed radio hobbies.  I am a shortwave DXer, but
nothing more right now.  Logout, you mentioned that you do stuff on PMR446.  I
have had a cheap pair of Motorola PMR446 walkie talkies on my "to maybe buy"
list for ages, but mostly just to use for their intended use as walkie talkies
when e.g. camping or hiking.  I had no idea there were interesting hobby things
to do with that kind of radio, like trying to make long-distance contacts.  I
would love to hear more about this, if you don't mind.  Yes, I could just Google
it, but then, I could just Google everything you crazy Gopher folk talk about.
It's nicer, I think, to learn about this kind of thing through talking to

[1] gopher://i-logout.cz:70/0/en/phlog/01-2018-phlog.txt