by Mike Casey, Director of Technical Operations, Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative, Indiana University
Welcome to the first installment in our occasional series, “Obsolescence in Action.”
In the early days of MDPI, I came across a university in Ohio that was looking to dispose of twelve Panasonic AG-DS840 VHS machines. High-end VHS machines, free for the taking if we’d pick them up. At the time I was just beginning to work with Andrew Dapuzzo, director of US operations for Sony Memnon. I knew he was looking for machines like this as Memnon was tooling up to install video parallel transfer workflows. Perfect, I thought—what a great way to get our relationship off to a good start. I gave him the contact, and a week later he loaded up his rented truck with his daughter, his wife, and his dog and headed off to Ohio.
What could possibly go wrong with this endeavor?
The machines made their way to Bloomington and were presented to Ken Falls, the MDPI facility’s maintenance engineer. I remember Andrew telling Ken that these were great machines that reportedly all worked when taken out of service a number of years ago. He thought that maybe now one or two of them would need a little attention.
Two days later, Ken called Andrew to his work space. “Andrew,” he said, “not one of these will power up.” Andrew didn’t believe him at first but after some talking and tinkering it was clear that all twelve were dead.
So much for my grand plan to get on Andrew’s good side.
Efforts to troubleshoot began. It turned out that every capacitor—some 200 on each machine—had dried out. Apparently, this is an occupational hazard for some types of old video playback machines. Well, Andrew knew a guy who knew a guy who could do the repair work, removing each capacitor and soldering on 200 new ones for each machine. It cost some money, but eventually all twelve machines came back to life.
This is how we exist in the world of obsolescence that media preservation inhabits. Most old machines need to be repaired and/or refurbished. Machines constantly require attention from Ken, ranging from some annoying little issue to a catastrophic problem that puts it out of business. The maintenance and repair budget grows every year while our cash shrinks as we cope with persistent and reoccurring repair issues.
We have lots of little stories like this. We’ll keep sharing them from time to time.