el mercado de baterías extintas en Habana / Little Bobby's Geiger Counter
Also vanished from the landscape are the ubiquitous big-ass Vacuum Tube Tester Machines which were in every hardware and drug store. If your tubes were dead, you opened the cabinet at your knees and found and bought a brand new GE 4N2210.
The problem momentarily keeping me from measuring certain types (alpha and beta rays, you need some other kind of doohickey for gamma and X-rays) of ionizing radiation in my environment is not the physics, not the electronics. It's the Sizes and Shapes and Voltages of the ancient batteries.
The metal wire sealed in a glass vacuum tube inside a rugged steel Geiger-Müller probe must be fed a pretty high voltage, and compared to transistors and chips, the vacuum tubes need high voltages to heat metallic elements (like in toasters) to liberate and expel electrons. For equipment of this vintage (circa 1955) the battery industry sold appropriate batteries. But then transistors came in, with their much smaller voltage and power demands, and the whole battery catalog changed within a few years, extincting the batteries my Geiger Counter needs. Lower voltages and amperages also mean the batteries shrank in physical size and dimensions.
I have been advised that the place to go to get a nice fresh set of circa-1955 batteries is CUBA, where them what's got portable radios what still work, their radios are like grampa's vacuum-tube portable radio that he listened to the 1959 World Series on. So the demand for extinct batteries is there, so somebody makes and sells 'em there.
Cuba is also the world's capital of 8-cylinder 1950s big-ass tailfin Detroit cars like Plymouths and DeSotos and Packards and Chevies and Fords and Buicks and Mercuries and Pontiacs, and they all still drive around Habana; the Cubans keep them alive as a necessity and now, as a Labor of Love, como un Trabajo de Amor.
They have to maintain their ancient tube equipment and DeSotos because of the US economic embargo which has been in effect since Castro started giving the USA the finger around 1959. The USA also prohibits Americans from buying Cuban cigars, but Canada has full relations with Cuba and its cigars. Canadian travel agencies look exactly like American travel agencies, except they all have huge posters advertising holidays in Cuba, and the beaches and downtown Havana look very dreamy.
But there is fairly Minor Surgery which I can perform with a soldering iron on this pre-Solid-State electronic dinosaur so that a proper complement of common modern patriotic American batteries will power this sucker up and we can rock and roll. Watch This Space.
Them two metallic breasts above the flashing light (it flashes happily yellow whenever a quantum of invisible ionizing radiation flies through the Geiger-Muller Tube) are big-ass steel caps to keep the desert dust out of two sockets, one for the Bakelite earphone, I forget what plugs into the other hole. But many's the time, while prospecting for Uranium in Rock Creek Park, that sucker was just going clickety-clickety-clickey gangbusters. (Yes, there's Uranium in Rock Creek Park. Just not much, and the ore's too low-grade to make a profit strip-mining it.)
And if the meter wasn't swinging dramatically enough to the right, you could always put the Radium Calibration Chip up next to the Tube, and then all hell would break lose. Or your Radium Dial wristwatch, Grampa gave me one of those when I went away to camp, and I would spend nights under the blanket with the Radium Dial up to my eyeball to watch its hands and numbers glow green. It also made the Geiger Counter go jiggy.
In high school one of my classmates built something which he said was an Ion Gun, it was a thin metal tube about 5 feet long, with all these electric wires wrapped around the outside, and he said it launched Ions anywhere he pointed it, I guess pretty darn near the Speed Of Light. I mean, you make a Science Fair Project which does Invisible Stuff -- how the fuck do I know if it worked or not? He could have been totally bullshitting me and all the judges at the Science Fair, there was no way any of the judges could tell; I certainly couldn't tell. But he won a Blue Ribbon anyway.
(My Neurological Flatworm Experiment took a 3rd, which was Very Generous considering those were earthworms in the tank; the Flatworms [Planaria dugesia tigrina, I think] from the Bio Science Supply company didn't come in the mail on time, and I couldn't catch flatworms with the piece of raw liver on a string in the scum pond, like the Boy Scout Manual said I could. But maybe you can.)
He showed his homemade Ion Gun to me one afternoon while he was launching Ions all over the neighborhood, through house walls (he said), into trees, into the sky -- he said there was no theoretical reason why they wouldn't keep flying out into space forever. We weren't close, I don't know what happened to him after high school, I don't know what he's doing now. Or where he's doing it.