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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Posts Tagged communication

miller-blog

Go to the back of the museum, over in the area filled with hulking power-generating machinery, next to the grey mass of the Spokane water turbine, and you’ll find something new.  Or rather something almost a century old that’s new to the area.  Actually, you’ll find twelve things.  Or rather 795.  Okay, let me explain…

What you’ll find is a group of 12 display panels created in the mid-1920s for the L. Miller and Son lumber and hardware store of 1815 W. Division Street, Chicago, Illinois.  The installation consists of six panels of hand tools and six of hardware, all logically, carefully, and gracefully arrayed on green felt backing, mounted in glass-fronted doors.  Now they are arranged gallery-like on the wall, but originally they hinged out of a floor-to-ceiling cabinet system of shelves, bins, and drawers custom-fitted into the store’s long narrow retail space.  

The original business was founded by Louis Miller, a Russian immigrant who had arrived in the United States in 1894.  Miller and his family served a neighborhood made up of immigrants from Poland, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine (the second and third floors of part of the store property housed Russian and Polish social clubs).   The clear visibility of the store’s stock of tools and hardware made it easier for customers with a language barrier to find what they needed.  The display’s elegant arrangement was great salesmanship but could also serve a problem solving function: viewing tools and components is rather like scanning a menu of possible solutions. 

The neighborhood underwent several transformations over the years.  The final wave of European immigrants, primarily from Poland, arrived in the 1940s and 50s as refugees; Kennedy Expressway construction cut a wide swath through the area, and once completed in 1960 served to cut it off from neighborhoods to the east; by the 1970s many residents were fleeing to the suburbs and the area was becoming rife with gang activity.  The store, in its original location on Division (the “Polish Broadway” that served as the dividing line between the Wicker Park and East Village neighborhoods), endured through all these changes except for the most recent: gentrification.  The subsequent rise in property taxes finally prompted the need for the company to move to a new location. 

How Did the Exhibit Make Its Way to The Henry Ford?
During the 1950s the owners had already phased out the hardware side of the business in order to concentrate on lumber and construction materials.  The display remained in place, fondly remembered—and occasionally visited—by a dwindling number of locals.  In early 2011, with the business’s move looming, owner Bob Margolin (grandson of the founder) and I began to discuss The Henry Ford’s potential interest in acquiring the display.  In April Bob indicated that he would be travelling to Michigan on business and we agreed that bringing a sampling of the display—a panel or two to look at more closely—would be a good idea.  On the sunny afternoon of Friday April 29 I went out to meet him in our employee parking lot adjacent to Lovett Hall: he hadn’t brought a sampling, he’d brought the entire display, and had already started carefully propping the panels adjacent to one another against the side of his van—much to the fascination and enthrallment of numerous staff leaving for the day.  An amazing sight, it was as if the display had lurched out of the shadows to literally claim a day in the sun—and offer a kind of final proof of its sales power, even though there was no longer any stock of tools for it to sell.

The acquisition went ahead.  Now, precisely five years later, the display is on exhibit.  It is a museum of tools within a larger museum.  It is an artifact in its own right but it is made up of artifacts.  It is made up of stunningly ordinary stuff—the workaday items ordinarily built into homes or hidden in toolboxes—but it celebrates everyday practicality and resourcefulness.  Like a great many museum artifacts it is a paradox: in a state of rest, set sparkling in Made in America—but also active, continuing to work its magic, prompting an urge to build, fix, construct—making you want to somehow do something…

Marc Greuther is Chief Curator and Senior Director, Historical Resources at The Henry Ford.

Learn more about the L. Miller and Son Hardware and Tool Display in this collection of artifact cards.

Continue Reading

making, communication, by Marc Greuther, shopping, immigrants, Made in America, Henry Ford Museum

99.4.1

imls_logo_2cAlmost exactly two years ago, The Henry Ford embarked on a project to identify, conserve, photograph, catalog, rehouse, and make available online at least 1,000 items from our communications collections.  This project was made possible through a generous $150,000 Museums for America grant (MA-30-13-0568-13) from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, or IMLS. Though we will continue to work on some straggler artifacts that have not yet made it through the entire process, the grant officially ended on September 30, with a total of 1,261 artifacts available online. One of the very last artifacts to be added during the official grant period was this computer trainer, used in the metro Detroit area in the 1960s to teach students to operate computers, a skill increasingly needed in the American workforce.  You can see some of the other artifacts that worked their way through the IMLS grant process by browsing our digital collections for such communications-related artifacts as typewriters, radio receivers, phonographs, amplifiers, cameras, motion-picture cameras, mimeographs, and magic lanterns, among many others. We extend our thanks once again to IMLS for enabling us to make these significant collections accessible to everyone.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

communication, technology, computers, IMLS grant, digital collections, by Ellice Engdahl

The world’s first xerographic image made by Chester Carlson and Otto Kornei (Image courtesy of Xerox Corporation, Xerox Images Library).

imls_logo_2cA date, and a place, written by hand: 10.-22.-38. Centered underneath: Astoria. The letters are composed of bold strokes, defined at the edges and flaking towards the center. The whole arrangement seems to be crumbling towards the bottom of the page, like it is made of dust that could be wiped away by the backstroke brush of a hand. Its purpose uncertain, this is not a “note to self” to be in a place, on a certain date—this is the first successful Xerox copy ever made.

The inventor of the modern photocopier, Chester Carlson, began thinking about mechanical reproduction and the graphic arts at a young age. His first publishing effort was a newspaper called This and That, circulated among family members when he was ten years old. The first edition was handwritten, with later issues composed on a Simplex typewriter given to him as a Christmas present in 1916. In high school, Carlson was forced to work multiple jobs in order to support his impoverished and ill family; one of these jobs found him sweeping floors at a printing shop. Working around printing machinery inspired him to publish a science journal, but the tedium of setting type by hand, line by line, led him to give up on this idea quickly. The machines did not support the quickness of his mind. It was in these frustrations with printing equipment—the fussiness of equipment that reproduced documents during his youth—that motivated Carlson to create the instantaneous printing process that would eventually be central to the creation of the Xerox photocopier. Continue Reading

technology, by Kristen Gallerneaux, communication, IMLS grant

This mid-20th century phonograph by Zany Toys, Inc., was one of the artifacts treated by Conservation for cadmium corrosion.

Many reading this post will remember that in 2013, The Henry Ford was awarded a two-year, $150,000 Museums for America: Collections Stewardship grant by the United States Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  In this grant, The Henry Ford set out to identify, clean, treat, rehouse, and create digital catalog records for more than 1,000 communications-related artifacts related to photography, data processing, printing, telecommunications, sound communication, and visual communication.  We’re pleased to announce that with about a month left to go in the grant period, we have put more than 1,000 objects through almost every step of the process, and expect to finish up a number of additional objects before we run out of time.

Given how close we are to the end of this project, I asked a few of the staff who’ve spent time working with these objects to weigh in with their thoughts on what was interesting, what was challenging, or what they’ve learned through this process. Continue Reading

communication, conservation, collections care, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, by Ellice Engdahl, IMLS grant, digitization

60.56.1

We are more or less three-quarters of the way through the two-year timeframe on our “Museums for America” grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to conserve, catalog, photograph, and rehouse some of our communications collections.  We’re pleased to report that as of now, we are on track with digitization of these objects, with 743 of 1,000 grant-related artifacts from our collections available online, and for many of these, we’ve been able to track down their specific origin.  The insulator shown here, for example, was originally used on telegraph lines running along the Oregon Trail.  Visit our collections website to see more of the insulators we’ve uncovered in our collection through this project. You can also learn more about the grant and see some of the behind-the-scenes work it entails on our blog, or peruse some of Curator of Communication and Information Technology Kristen Gallerneaux’s favorites here.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

telegraphy, communication, IMLS grant, digital collections, by Ellice Engdahl

IMLS_grant_2014.0.17.74

Last year, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded a two-year “Museums for America” grant to The Henry Ford to conserve, catalog, photograph, and rehouse some of our communications collections.  We are nearing the halfway point of the grant, and have digitized more than 400 grant objects so far. Many items we’ve uncovered through this project have been one of a kind prototypes and innovations, but many others, like the pink Princess phone digitized this week, are mass market phenomena.  Browse our collections website for radio receivers, computers and peripherals, loudspeakers, vacuum tubes, and calculators, many of which were digitized through this grant.  You can also learn more about the grant and see some of the behind-the-scenes work it entails over on our blog, or peruse some of Curator of Communication and Information Technology Kristen Gallerneaux’s favorites here.

Ellice Engdahl  is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

communication, digital collections, IMLS grant, by Ellice Engdahl

The Henry Ford, like other older, long-established museums, can only display a very small percentage of its artifacts at any given time. The remainder is kept in storage for future generations. In recent years, The Henry Ford has begun to digitize its collections, and put them online. This effort has helped expand what we can say about what is on exhibit, and importantly, has made it so that people don’t have to wait decades to be able to find out about artifacts that are in storage.

Thanks to a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services’ (IMLS) “Museums for America” program, The Henry Ford has an opportunity to digitize over 1,000 artifacts that tell the story of changing communications technologies from the late 1800s to the late 1990s. The project is focused on communications collections that are stored in a large, tightly-packed warehouse on The Henry Ford campus. Many of these artifacts have been in this building for many decades, with limited cataloging. This project will inventory, catalog, preserve, re-house and digitize for online access these computers, radios, telephones and televisions, cameras, printing presses, teletype and telegraph machines and other artifacts, making them available to The Henry Ford staff and the public to a degree never before possible.

Our computer collections have been the focus of the early work. This work has reminded us of how rapidly technological change has occurred with computers. Check out the (not so mini) DEC PDP-11/20 Minicomputer, 1970 mini-computer.

The challenges presented by this densely-packed storage area has meant that the project staff has really needed to live up to our mission of innovation. Before any work can be done on the artifacts, decades of accumulated dust, dirt and mold needs to be removed. Collections Specialist (and in-house McGyver) Jake Hildebrandt fashioned a downdraft table, complete with HEPA and charcoal filter, out of a portable ventilator, steel shelves and leftover grid for overhead lights. A downdraft table quickly pulls away dust and dirt as the artifact is cleaned, making the cleaning process faster and more effective.

Conservation specialist Cayla Osgood utilizing the downdraft table.

We look forward to highlighting some of our exciting “re-discoveries” as we work on this project; collections digitization projects in museums around the world have led to new “re-discoveries.” We expect to add the tremendous collections of The Henry Ford to this ever-expanding resource of artifacts online.

Mary Fahey is Chief Conservator at The Henry Ford.

communication, IMLS grant, digitization, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, collections care, conservation, by Mary Fahey

It’s cold at the Ford-Wyoming Drive-In Theatre. The first shockingly dry-crisp days of autumn in the Midwest were overdue this year, trailing an already belated Indian summer. While the arrival of cool weather in Dearborn, Michigan, was inevitable, most of us have not yet adjusted to the sudden snap. Virgil, the manager in charge of the theatre, is standing high on a ladder, repairing the roof of the streamlined ticket booth. He waves a gloved hand and climbs down. We are both bundled up against the cold in all manner of hunter green, plaid, and wool.

Drive-in theatres like the one I’m standing in peaked in popularity during the post-WWII era. In the late 1950s there were 4,000 throughout the United States. Today, approximately 350 remain, and the Ford-Wyoming is the last example in southeast Michigan. The first patent for a drive-in theater was awarded to Richard M. Hollingshead in 1933. He worked out the details in his New Jersey driveway, by putting a projector on the hood of his car and nailing a sheet onto a tree for a screen. To simulate bad weather, he hooked up his lawn sprinkler. The family stereo came out of the house for an impromptu sound system. Hollingshead sat in his car, to test drive the show. He liked what he saw.

Virgil ushers me toward the corrugated metal opening through which vehicles enter the theatre. Once through, I’m in a wide expanse punctuated by randomly-leaning speaker posts, my eyes stinging from the wind gusting uninterrupted across the empty space. Most patrons choose to tune into their movie’s sound via their car FM radio, but strangely, when the theatre owners tried to decommission the ranks of poles with their perched and weathered speakers, there was something akin to a mutiny: whether deployed in the car or not, the grey speakers had become an essential part of the drive-in landscape.

The Henry Ford Museum’s collections also contain a set of EPRAD, Inc. in-car speakers (c. 1955), These speakers were previously used at the Ford-Wyoming Drive-In Theater. (ID: 88.164.1).

The Ford-Wyoming drive-in was built by Charlie Schafer, opening for business in May 1950. He and his family grew a veritable movie house empire in the Metro-Detroit area under the umbrella of Wayne Amusements, but the Ford-Wyoming is the only evidence of the legacy that remains. When it was first built, there was only one screen—the backside of the immense Streamline Moderne structure that sits at the front of the property. One screen with accommodation for 750 cars grew to nine screens and a 3,000-car capacity, and the theatre began to make the claim of being “the largest drive-in in the world.” Today the theatre has downsized to five screens, showing double-features from dusk until dawn. As of 2013, at 92 years of age, Shafer remains an active manager, working from home, disinclined to retire.

Original screen built in 1950 by Charlie Shafer (Photograph by author).

Right now, the emptiness of the Ford Wyoming—no cars, blank screens, dead silence—is amplified by our presence, two figures buffeted by the wind. I look down and see a discarded pine tree car deodorizer lying in the sandy gravel. Virgil and I are headed toward the one place that drive-in patrons never get to go – the projection booth. Like most theatres, the Ford-Wyoming is converting their projectors to digital, and this is the reason I am here. The previous morning, I had received a call with a certain sense of urgency. The last of the 35mm machinery was headed for the dumpster, and I made an appointment to take a look to see if there were any items that might be added to the museum’s collection. We climb steep industrial iron stairs, up to the booth, and I wonder how the projectionists don’t trip down them in the dark carrying flashlights and film cans. Virgil tells me that he used to get the occasional flustered phone call from late-night projectionists: “I dropped the film reel down the stairs and it unraveled.”

“All this stuff is just going to get scrapped in the dumpster. Anything you see here… it’s up for the taking. The boss just wants it gone,” Virgil tells me. He pauses and asks: “Have you ever worked in film?” “A little, when I was in college,” I tell him. He nods and walks over to the shoulder high stack of table-sized film platters, where a few reels of forgotten 35mm film are wound around the circular cores. These mechanisms hold up to four hours of footage, making the projectionist’s life easier with fewer changeovers of reels. “We have some old intermission commercials wound on here that are ours.” “What’s on them?” “Oh, you know… Dancing hotdogs and popcorn, that kind of stuff. They’re pretty scratched up. We’ve been using the same ones out here for decades. I think we’ve only changed it over once.” This is very exciting. I tell him, “If you’re willing to part with one of those reels, I’d argue to the death that it has a home in our collections.”

Intermission films belong to a film category known as “snipes,” collections of generic promotional material used to advertise theater services. Perhaps the most famous of these films is the Dave Fleisher animated Let’s All Go to the Lobby, produced in 1957 by Chicago’s interstitial trailer company, Filmack Studios. A “clock shell” is a basic countdown reel sold to theatre owners, which creative projectionists could use to make a custom animated clock unique to their theatre. By tape-splicing together sections from the generic clock shell with blackout film, music interludes, generic food advertisements, policies, and short cartoons (all of which again, pointed towards the snack bar), a mix-and-match intermission film was created.

Still images from "Refreshment Time," a clock shell produced by the National Screen Service, 1964. (ID: 2013.121.1)

The film reel that Virgil is about to give to me is one such clock shell, beginning with the Hungry Martian, and followed by a unique version of Refreshment Time. The reel was produced by the animation department at the National Screen Service, a company that began in 1920 as a movie trailer production outfit, and in 1940 became the monopoly for poster distribution. The NSS also made intermission films, but suffered competition from companies like Filmack and Pike Studios, who specialized in the genre. The animation on the two snipes here is rumored to be by Jay Ward, animator of Rocky & Bullwinkle and designer of the Cap’n Crunch logo.

The concession stands and snack bars of drive-in theatres provided ready-made food that could be gathered quickly and returned to the car before the next feature began. Roadside America author John Margolies tells us this was a time when: “Watching and eating became, and still are, ritualistically and irrevocably intertwined.” Onscreen, the drive to sell snack items and drinks to patrons was decidedly transparent. Animated anthropomorphic dancing, trick-wrangling food things, psychedelic abstractions of wild shapes and colors, and other oddities have continued to be a nostalgic oddity. The Ford-Wyoming remains a site where dancing hotdogs stay limber.

Still images from "The Hungry Martian," National Screen Service, 1964. (ID: 2013.121.1)

While Virgil searches for an empty reel to feed the intermission film onto, we talk a little more about his life at the theatre. He has worked for Shafer since 1976, and used to manage the Ford-Wyoming 6-9 Theatre. When those screens were demolished in 2010, he relocated across the street to the 1-5 Theatre. Virgil started working as a projectionist in 1986 because “there was no one else wanted to do it.” When asked about the bizarre schedule related to working at an all-night movie theatre, he explained that he arrives at 8pm, and ends his shift at 3am. After a short rest, he returns at 7am to test equipment and do building maintenance until the early afternoon. Apparently, he doesn’t get much sleep. The Ford-Wyoming has a history of dedicated employees, and Berean is one of them.

Passing the reel to me, Virgil seems eager to get back to work. Before I go, he asks if I’m good with computers. “Good enough to get what I need to done,” I joke. He strides over to the new digital projector and swipes his finger around on the touch-screen. It glows awake with cold and even LED light, a docket of possibilities for film arrangements appear on the screen like entries on a recipe card. The screen acts as a digital slot system to swipe in and orchestrate trailers, advertisements and messages. I look at the text and scan it for hints of familiarity. I can’t help but wonder if drive-in theatres still project the “Anti-Love Bug” and “No Necking” messages for teenagers acting out their part in the archetype of the “passion pit.” Tonight, this projector will show a double-feature of horror films. Behind me, there are two more projectors, pointing out through windows, towards two more screens. I realize I’m standing in a film house Panopticon, next to a dusty brown La-Z Boy recliner that commands the space from the center.

I look up to see Virgil waving something in his hand that looks like an external computer hard-drive. “So you just take this thing, it sucks it up into the slot, extracts the files, and away it goes! They told me I could make everything work from a laptop… I could just stay at home if I felt like it!” Looking at the files arranged on the touch screen, I wander to thoughts about the demise of 35mm film stock. Film enthusiasts who did not grow up with digital foresaw this harbinger when Kodak ceased production of 35mm slide film. Struggling to resist giving in to the comforting hum of those sleep-inducing machines was the bane of many college level art survey courses, my own included. And sitting at the back of a movie theatre, you could enjoy the physicality of the sounds: the whir of the film flying through the projector, the metallic rhythmic clacking when the sprockets let the end leader fly. The reasons for converting to digital are many, and I’m sure Virgil would agree. But at the risk of sounding like a Luddite: the dust floating through the blinding arc lamp of a true film projector just settles differently.

Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communication & Information Technology at The Henry Ford.

Sources

  • “Ford Drive In.”
  • Liebs, Chester H. Main Street to Miracle Mile: American Roadside Architecture. Baltimore, Md. [u.a.: Hopkins, 1995. Print.
  • Margolies, John, and Emily M. Gwathmey. Ticket to Paradise: American Movie Theaters and How We Had Fun. Boston: Little, Brown, 1991. Print.
  • Segrave, Kerry. Drive-in Theaters: A History from Their Inception in 1933. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co, 1992. Print.
  • Various Detroit Free Press and Dearborn Times articles, 2002-2006.
  •  

    * With thanks to interstitial film expert, Walter Forsberg.

    food, communication, technology, Dearborn, Michigan, cars, popular culture, movies, by Kristen Gallerneaux

    Located outside of the Benson Ford Research Center's reading room the past few weeks has been a case of birthday telegrams sent to Henry Ford on his birthday over the years. We asked Jake Hildebrandt, reading room assistant, a few questions about the telegrams in anticipation of Henry's birthday.

    edselWhy did people send telegrams versus other forms of communication?

    Speed was definitely the main draw to telegrams. Telephones were widespread by the time of these telegrams, but like today it was a lot easier to get a written communiqué to a VIP than a phone call. Telegrams cost a great deal more and in many cases took more effort to send than a letter or card through the post, so there was an element of importance and respect in that way.

    How many Henry Ford birthday cards do we currently have in collections?

    We have only a few dozen actual Ford's birthday "cards" in our collection, but hundreds of telegrams. Many of the cards are intricate and complicated, with layers of lace and metallic foil and such. Really beautiful things that are a world away from the printed stock we send today.

    What is your favorite birthday card received by Henry Ford?

    I couldn't choose a favorite, but there is a really neat scrapbook-type album of novelty cards that Ray Dahlinger put together for Henry Ford. The cards themselves are really fun, and the book shows an interestingly playful side to the two men.

    Where can we look at more birthday cards?

    Most of Mr. Ford's birthday cards can be viewed by anyone in the reading room of the BFRC!

    Interview and photos by Krista Oldham, former Marketing and PR Intern at The Henry Ford.

    telegraphy, Henry Ford, communication, by Krista Oldham

    What's in a name? Sometimes a little confusion...

    Hollis Baird (1905-1990) was an inventor, entrepreneur, and, eventually, engineering teacher. Born along the Maine/New Brunswick border, by the mid-1920s Baird had made his way to Boston. He was active in the exciting field of television—in the 1920s and ‘30s. We usually associate television with the prosperous years after World War II, but inventors had been attempting to send pictures over radio waves for many decades. One of the few surviving Baird televisions is in the collections of The Henry Ford.

    Mechanical television is based on the premise that a spinning disk can scan an image to be sent by radio, which can then be received by another spinning disk synchronized to the first. Hollis Baird produced televisions as the Baird Receiver Company from 1925-8, after which he founded a company with A.M. Morgan and Butler Perry called the Shortwave and Television Laboratory. Shortwave and Television sold radios and mechanical televisions and, beginning in April 1929, operated Boston’s second experimental television station, W1WX (later known as W1XAV,) which transmitted 60-line mechanical television images, including a speech by Boston’s mayor in 1931.

    Hollis Baird TV Disk

    The television (39.554.1) is a Shortwave and Television Laboratory Model 26/36, sold as a kit or as a finished set. This was the viewer; it would have been connected to a radio receiver. That’s a 3” screen, for watching narrow-band television programming.

    Historian of television and The Henry Ford volunteer Tom Genova operates a television history website, where he has put up a wonderful Shortwave and Television Laboratory brochure from 1930 called The Romance and Reality of Television. The brochure clearly explains how mechanical television works and seems aimed at a broader audience than the radio amateurs who usually bought early televisions.

    After Shortwave and Television Laboratory dissolved operations in 1935, Baird and his colleagues founded a new company called General Television Corporation. During this time Baird also taught radio telegraphy at a school in Boston. After General Television, too, was shuttered in 1941, Hollis Baird moved on to a career as an educator. He taught electrical engineering and physics at Northeastern University’s Lincoln Institute, starting in 1942 as part of the Engineering, Science, and Management War Training program. He retired in 1976 after a long career as professor and administrator.

    Baird had the fortune—or misfortune—of sharing his last name with John Logie Baird, one of the inventors of mechanical television. The colorful Scottish inventor and entrepreneur (early products included soap and socks for trench warfare) demonstrated television at London’s Selfridge’s department store in 1925 and had convinced the BBC to produce television programming through the 20s and 30s.

    On this side of the Atlantic, Hollis Baird, who was no relation, took pains in Baird Receiver Company advertising to say that his products were not, in fact, made by the other Baird. The fact that he needed to put disclaimers in his advertisements indicates that this was a common problem, one that Hollis Baird probably didn’t mind if it led to better sales. But the name confusion has meant that Hollis Baird’s name has been mostly occluded by John Logie Baird’s. Even experts were confused: when this television was last on exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum, the label identified it as a John Logie Baird TV. Luckily, this Baird television is such a compelling object that it rewards further research—uncovering the story of an American inventor in a field that no longer exists.

    Thanks to Michelle Romero at the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections for research assistance.

    Suzanne Fischer is former Associate Curator of Technology at The Henry Ford. She typed this post on an 1880s index typewriter and sent it to the blog editor via telex.

    communication, radio, by Suzanne Fischer, technology, TV