Thursday, July 30, 2009

Vintage typewriters, Mark Twain, and the Paige Typesetter

The history of typewriters is really interesting. Some early typewriters looked very strange. The "Sholes & Glidden Type Writer" was first marketed in 1873. Only 5 000 were sold over the next five years. It did use the QWERTY keyboard, but only typed capital letters. It took a while for the QWERTY keyboard to become standardized. In 1878, it was replaced by a quieter model that type both lower case and capital letters., It took a while but it sold much better then the original model.

The full story of the early Remington typewriters can be found here.

Mark Twain was a very early user of the typewriter, and typed this letter to William Dean Howells on December 9, 1874.

You needn't answer this; I am only practicing to get three; anothe slip-up there; only practici?ng ti get the hang of the thing. I notice I miss fire & get in a good many unnecessary letters & punctuation marks. I am simply using you for a target to bang at. Blame my cats, but this thing requires genius in order to work it just right.

Twain's 1883 novel, "Life on the Mississippi" ,was the first typewritten novel, although Twain didn't type it himself is a great site for information about old typewriters, with lots of photos.

Here are photos of two early typewriters from the site.

The Edison

The Crandall

Twain invested heavily in ,and eventually bought the rights to the Paige typesetter., It looked great, and had over 18,000 working parts. However some of the parts didn't work so well, and it lost out to the more efficient Linotype machine.The failure of the Paige typesetter contributed heavily to Twain's bankruptcy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

First Disney post - Disneyland opens

As often happens, I was looking up information for a potential post, and was sidetracked in an interesting way.

Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955 to a specially invited group of guests, and to the public a day later. The special opening was plagued by multiple problems, including heels sinking into melted asphalt due to the excessive heat, food shortages, water fountains with no water, drink stands that had run out of drinks, broken rides, etc.

One of the most interesting things about opening day was how scarce Mickey and Minnie Mouse were..Later to be come the iconic Disney figures, they appear in the coverage only briefly in the parade, and for three minutes towards the end of the event.

Here are a very different looking Minnie and Mickey Mouse.

The highlights of opening day were broadcast on an ABC special. I'm not sure how many of you will want to watch it due to it's length (It's well over an hour long) it drags in places, but overall it's really worth watching. It's filled with bloopers, as live coverage from multiple vantage points was fairly primitive at that time. Numerous celebrities appear, including Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr, and Gale Storm .There are three hosts for the show: Bob Cummings, Art Linkletter and.... "Ronnie" Reagan.

You can link to the rest of the segments from here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

One-syllable word versions of "Pilgrim's Progess" and Robinson Crusoe"

John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress", first published in 1678, is considered the greatest Christian allegory in English, and one of the great works of literature. It's long .complex, and difficult to read. In order to make Pilgrim's Progress accessible to children, Lucy Aikin, using the name Mary Godolphin, created an "in words of one syllable" version of Pilgrims Progress in 1894. She also created "one syllable word" versions of other works,including " Robinson Crusoe". Names in these works are kept "as is" rather then recreated as one syllable words..

I can't find any formal term describing works written with one syllable , though of course they remind me of lipograms. Lipograms are poems,paragraphs, or longer works written without using a certain letter of letters of the alphabet, An earlier post of mine discussed Gadsby, a 50,000 word novel written without using the letter E.

Here's the one-syllable Pilgrim's Progress".

and "Robinson Crusoe"

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Acoustic recording and Edison's 125 foot recording horn

From the dawn of the recording era in 1877 until the development of electrical recording by Western Electric in 1925, recordings were made through the use of a horn, which connected to a diaphragm. The vibrations caused a stylus to etch a pattern in wax. Recordings were made on both cylinders and flat disks. The singers and musicians gathered close to the horn. Sound reproduction was entirely mechanical; no electricity was used in the recording or playback process. Sound quality did improve over time, but it never reached the quality of electrical recording.

Here's a photo of an orchestra session conducted by the composer Edward Elgar in 1914.

Some of the greatest records of all time were made during this period, including performances by singers such as Caruso, whose voice recorded particularly well using the acoustical recording process, Other great recordings were made in spite of the limitations. King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band featured a young Louis Armstrong on cornet. Armstrong's playing was so powerful that he had to stand at the back of the group, farthest away from the recording horn, in order not to drown out the playing of the other musicians

Here is "Dippermouth Blues" from 1923.

In 1919, Edison decided to try to improve the process of acoustical recording so that a full orchestra could be accurately recorded. He thought that the way to do this was by constructing very long recording horns in order to "untangle" the mix of sounds from the recording process. The first attempts, using a 40 foot horn, didn't work out, so Edison tried again, this time building a 125 foot horn in 1923. The piano recorded well ,but not orchestras as a whole, so the project was abandoned in 1925 because it was too expensive, and not very successful. The need for a device like the horn was also superseded by the invention of electrical recording that year. The horn ended up being donated in 1942 to a World War II scrap metal drive by the Governor of New Jersey.

In 2005, Jerry Fabris, host of WFMU's show "Thomas Edison's Attic", devoted a show to Edison's experiments with long horns, It includes some of the experimental recordings and parts of talks given in 1973 and 1975 by one of the engineers who had worked on the the project and by Edison's son Theodore.

Some more experimental recordings made with the 125 foot horn.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Making Darfur a Topic on Twitter

I'm encouraging everyone who reads this blog to check out Mary's blog at:

She's long been active in the effort to make everyone aware of the genocide in Darfur, and the insufficient effort to stop it. She is organizing a campaign re this by making it a topic on Twitter., starting this Wednesday.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Martha Washington and Educational Currency

This will probably be my last post until Sunday, since I'm working on an article I need to finish.

When I was growing up I collected coins. I bought a few, but most of my collection consisted of coins I found in change, or got from family members. Every time I saw my uncle I would always ask him if I could "check his coins". It became a running joke with us, and I always asked him that long after I stopped collecting.

I discovered a few years ago the world of U.S. paper money. I've never collected this myself, since most of the really desirable currency is really expensive, but I've seen a couple collections of it. It's filled with wonderful engraving, particularly the paper money of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Those of us in the United States see $1 bills with George Washington's picture every day, but what amazed me was discovering an 1886 $1 bill with Martha Washington's picture on it.

The 1896 series of "Educational Currency" is considered to be the height of design. The bills were issued in $1, $2 and $5 denominations. Here are the fronts of the $1 and $2 bills. For the $5 bill, and the backs of all three bills, check the Wikipedia article, which provides a good description and discussion of the meaning of the bills.. George and Martha both appear on the backs of all three bills.

This is a good summary of the history of educational currency.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Song -Poems

"Song poems" have been a favorite musical genre of mine, since I discovered them years ago on a collection called "Beat of the Traps: MSR Madness Volume 1"

Song poem recordings are roughly analogous to the vanity publishing industry, where anything you write, and are willing to pay to have published, will be accepted by the publishing company. Owners of song-poem labels would place ads in the back of comic books, tabloids etc. to send in your poems. Some potential customers would send in music as well, though usually they would just send lyrics. No matter how poor, strange or unmarketable the lyrics were, the customer would get a letter saying that that their submission was excellent and potentially a hit. For a fee the company would press up a small quantity of records, and promise to promote them,although records were never properly promoted since the likelihood of the record actually becoming a hit was near zero. None of the vast number of song-poems out there has ever become a hit.

Once the deal is made, the music is quickly composed,arranged and recorded. The musicians on the recordings are often top-notch studio musicians, since they are recording music they haven't really rehearsed or in some cases have never seen before. The vocalist often hasn't even read the lyrics until he or she is singing them. Some fit broadly into another genre, such as the disco song poem "Jimmy Carter Says Yes", but others seem to sound like nothing except for other song poems. Most song poem recordings have insipid and banal lyrics and aren't worth hearing, but there are a number I love either because they have totally bizarre lyrics, ideas, and subject matter in combination with the hard to describe music.

PBS made a pretty good documentary on song poems called "Off the Charts" The film includes an interview with Gene Marshall ,who is featured on countless song poem records. Marshall worked with a number of successful musicians, including Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. A song poem recording session is the film. The highlights of the film are the interviews with several writers of song poems. None of the people l interviewed seem overly concerned that their records didn't sell; they are happy just have their songs recorded, The movie is touching; sad and funny in places. It's a tribute to the human spirit, and well worth watching.

Here are several song poem recordings:

A Gene Marshall recoding with indescribable lyrics/ "We are the men counting sheep... we're not Little Bo Peep..."

Gene Marshall - "Jimmy Carter Says Yes"

Rodd Keith was considered the best song poem performer. He was extremely talented, and eccentric, and had major substance abuse issues. he either fell or jumped from an overpass onto the Hollywood Freeway in 1974. Rodd's son, Ellery Eskelin, is featured in "Off the Charts" and wrote this article about his dad.

Rodd Keith - Space

Rodd Keith - "Like the Lord Said"

One of the few song-poem records collectible for it's musical value, it's a major "Northern Soul" collectible

WFMU's Beware of the Blog has posted many the song poems that used to be on the American

Song-Poem Music Archive

A good overview of song poems from the American Song-Poem Archives

Monday, July 20, 2009

Moon Landing Anniversary

Since today is the fortieth anniversary of the first moon landing, I thought I would do a small tribute.

The parents of Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, appeared on "I've Got A Secret" on September 17, 1962, the day their son became an astronaut,. Interestingly, Neil's mom was asked how she would feel if her son became the first man on the moon, a full seven years before he turned out to be.

The Straight Dope takes a look at whether or nor Armstrong muffed his first words on the moon.

Bart Sibrel,, who believed that the moon landings were a hoax, aggressively confronted Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, in a hotel. Aldrin, 74 at the time, responded by punching Sibrel in the face. No charges were ever filed.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bargain barn

I was in a pretty down mood earlier, but this really cheered me up. WFMU's "Beware of the Blog" just posted this clip from a public access station in Shawnee, Oklahoma from the mid 90's. The host does a a great job of pitching merchandise ranging from the incredibly shoddy to the totally broken.

Weird patents

I've always liked odd things in general, and strange and unusual inventions in particular.

Here are a few favorites.

"Device for Waking Persons from Sleep"

"Gas Powered Pogo Stick"

A novel use of horsepower

One of the great patent drawings: "Voice Communication With a Local Entity"

A new application for a plant patent.

Patent title : Dianthus plant named 'WATERLOO SUNSET'

I presume the name for the plant comes from the song,since the same breeder patented a plant named "Ruby's Tuesday".

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thirty five years after Watergate

August 9th will be the thirty-fifth anniversary of the resignation of Richard Nixon and the culmination of the Watergate scandal. It was a truly transformative event in American history, marking perhaps the most cynical time in twentieth century America.

The break-in at the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington occurred on June 17, 1972. Discovered by a security guard, it quickly became apparent that Nixon campaign officials and other members of the administration were involved, and that there had been a pattern of illegal activity engaged in by the Nixon administration.

It was unclear how much the president himself was involved, John Dean, the White House attorney, testified to the Senate Watergate Committee that Nixon was personally involved. On June 13, 1973, Alexander Butterfield, who had been Nixon's appointments secretary, revealed to the Watergate committee that Nixon recorded all his White House phone calls.This resulted in a long legal struggle and the decision by the Supreme Court that Nixon needed to turn over all of the subpoenaed tapes. The content of these tapes, the passing of three articles of impeachment by the House Judiciary Committee, and political pressure from both Democrats and Republicans led to Nixon's resignation.

Here's a concise Watergate timeline.

This is Nixon''s "I am not a crook statement". This was made three weeks after the "Saturday Night Massacre" where Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, was fired. This was followed by the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Assistant Attorney General William Ruckelshaus. ( sorry for the poor quality)

The "smoking gun" tape was the clearest indication that Nixon had conspired to obstruct justice. From June 13. 1972, this is the tape with the "18 1/2 minute gap". Rosemary Woods, Nixon's secretary, claimed she had accidentally erased this segment. The tape is well worth hearing, in spite of its poor quality. The link also includes a transcript of the conversation. Mark Felt, who is mentioned as "ambitious" here turned out to have been "Deep Throat", the mysterious source for Woodward and Bernstein in theior investigative workon Watergate for the Washington Post.

Part of Nixon's resignation speech:

A complete archive of all the released Nixon tapes.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Enchanted Highway

I love the "Enchanted Highway ".Gary Greff , a teacher and principal, began building a series of giant roadside metal sculptures along a 32 mile stretch of highway north of his hometown of Regent , a small town in western North Dakota, in order to promote the town as a tourist attraction. The sculptures include "Geese in Flight", which at at 110 feet tall and 154 feet long is the worlds largest metal sculpture.

I've driven along the Enchanted Highway. There are seven sculptures in all; one every few miles. I kept wondering what someone would think if they just happened to drive by, and knew nothing about the project.

I love the "Pheasants on the Prairie" sculptures.When you drive through the back roads of western North Dakota, you see pheasants everywhere, often sitting on the road.

"The Tin Family" is also wonderful. These sculptures are 23, 44, and 45 feet tall.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

30 Year Anniversary of "Disco Demolition Night"

A story in PCL Link Dump this week discussed one of the strangest events in music and baseball history - the "anti-disco" riot at Comiskey Park in Chicago. on July 12, 1979. Steve Dahl, a Chicago DJ on WLUP, arranged for a promotion, "Disco Demolition Night" in which fans were to bring their unwanted disco records to that nights double header between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. In return, they would be admitted for 98 cents. The expected crowd was 12,000 but 90,000 showed up. Comiskey Park could only seat 52,000.

Between the games, a pile of disco records was blown up on the field and soon an out of control disturbance developed. The White Sox ended up forfeiting the second game of the double header. This event is cited as the end of the disco era by some, but that's quite a bit overstated.

PCL Link Dump

This is a video of local TV news coverage of the event.

Here is the trailer from a 2004 documentary on the riot



One of my favorite extinct animals has long been the quagga. Native to southern Africa, it was hunted to extinction in the late nineteenth century. The last surviving quagga died in the Amsterdam zoo in 1883. The quagga was long thought to be a distinct species but DNA analysis showed that it was actually a subspecies of zebra.The Quagga Project, started in South Africa in 1987, is attempting to "breed back" the quagga from a zebra.

The Quagga Project:

The only known photo of a quagga was taken at Regent's Park Zoo in London in 1870.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Cathedral of Junk

And now for a change of pace.

This is the wonderful Cathedral of Junk, in Austin, Texas. I think it would be worth a trip to Austin just to see this. Vince Hanneman , the builder of the cathedral, started the project in 1988, and estimates it includes about 60 tons of junk.

Second Sotomayor post

This post will focus on the Ricci case, for which Judge Sotomayor has been harshly criticized by her opponents.

The Wikipedia article on Ricci provides a nice summary of the facts of the case.

Ricci v. DeStefano
is a 2009 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States arising from a lawsuit brought against the city of New Haven, Connecticut by eighteen city firefighters alleging that the city discriminated against them with regard to promotions.[1] The firefighters, seventeen of whom are European-American and one of whom is Hispanic, had all passed the test for promotions to management. City of New Haven officials invalidated the test results because none of the African-American firefighters had passed the exam, stating that they feared a lawsuit over the test’s disparate impact on a protected minority. The complainants claimed they were denied the promotions because of their race—a form of racial discrimination.[2] [3]

The firefighters appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, The court affirmed, in a per curium opinion, the ruling of the district court. A per curium opinion is one issued by the court as a whole, rather then an opinion authored by a particular judge..

To me at least this criticism is unfair for several reasons.

1) The case was a close call legally, in that it required a balancing of the "disparate treatment" of racial groups and the "disparate impact" on them. In this case the plaintiffs argued that they were discriminated against because they were not promoted due to their race, and the city argued that they if they certified the results of the test they would be subject to a lawsuit from the African - American and Hispanic firefighters, given that so few on them passed. There would be a disparate impact on them consistent with previous case law, therefore the city was likely to be sued.

2) The Supreme Court changed the standard of review here to a"strong basis in evidence" standard that was not in effect at the time the case went before the appeals court that Sotomayor was on.

3) There was substantial disagreement in this case among the members of the Supreme Court, not only over what the standard of review should be, but also to the facts (were there other tests the city should have given that had less of a disparate impact, etc.) Justice Ginsberg in her dissent, argues that even given the new stricter standard of review, the city's decision to cancel the test results was valid.

4) The one area where criticism of Sotomayor might be justified is that the appeals court ruling was extremely short, and provided little detail as to her reasoning and that of others on the court, for affirming the district court ruling.

5) Although the Second Circuit's decision in Ricci was reversed by the Supreme Court, it did so in a 5-4 ruling, further indicating how much of a legal split there is on this issue.

Here are some links.

The headnote issued by the Supreme Court in Ricci:

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision:

Two interesting articles:

A couple posts coming up in areas outside of law.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Supreme Court robes

Ever wondered about how the robes for Supreme Court justices (and other judges) are made? I really hadn't, but I thought this clip was pretty interesting.

Monday, July 13, 2009

First post on Sotomayor hearings

The Senate Judiciary Committed confirmation hearings on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court began today. In spite of the strong opposition of some of the Republican members of the committee, it's all but certain that Sotomayor will be confirmed. Although at times she has made statements that were ill-considered, such as her statement about "wise Latina" judges making better decisions then white men, Sotomayor's record is solidly in the judicial mainstream . Overall her reocrd is slightly more liberal then the average judge nominated by a Democrat, but there's nothing at all indicating she's an extremist.

Here's a good article that discusses just how much in the mainstream Sotomayor is.

An article on how moderate her record in criminal law is

She has been endorsed by over 1000 law school professors.

Sotomayor's rise from a poor childhood in the South Bronx to a likely Supreme Court Justice has frequently been discussed, This article provides a brief biography.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Significant Objects Project

While surfing the other day I ran across the Significant Objects Project. Here's how the project works. The project curator buys a (usually kitschy) object from a flea market or thrift shop. The object is turned over to a writer, who then writes a fictional history of their association with the object,thereby giving it significance. It's then listed on eBay, along with the fictional history. It's made clear to potential buyers that the story is fictional.

Here are the stories re the Santa Claus Nutcracker and the Creamer.. The eBay bid history can be linked to from these pages.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The death of Emmett Till

Emmett Till was in the news recently due to the events at Burr Oak Cemetery near Chicago, where Till is buried. I thought I thought I would provide a recap of who Emmett Till was, and the role his murder had in the civil rights struggle

The details of the story are too long to go into here, but Till, a 14 year old black male from Chicago, was murdered in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman while spending the summer there with his uncle. His body was dumped din the Tallahatchie River, and was found several days later. The killers were acquitted in a 67 minute trial, and admitted to Look Magazine after their acquittal that they had in fact committed the murder. The outrage generated by Till's murder and the acquittal of the defendants was a major spur to the growing civil rights movement.

Wikipedia has an excellent article on the case.

This is the Look article based on the confessions of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, who were acquitted of Till's murder.

Bob Dylan wrote and performed the great song "The Death of Emmett Till.This video contains lots of photos about the case, and a couple (of Till's body) are pretty gruesome.

78 RPM label designs

As you can see from the previous entries, I'm interested in almost everything, and I'm open to suggestions for future posts. In the next few days I will be posting on the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings that will begin next week, Watergate, Emmett Till, albino buffalo, and various other topics.

One of the great things about record collecting, in addition to discovering great music, is running across rare and unusual record labels I've never seen before. I really like these two, thought I've never heard the music here or seen these labels. Ted Staunton has many other great label images on his website

The Stadion label depicts the stadium that was built for the 1912 Olympics, held in Stockholm
. The record is from 1915.

The Busy-Bee record is from 1906.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The very large and the very small

Two pictures here: one of the very small and one of the very large.

The first photo shows the Sloan Great Wall, arguably the largest structure in the universe. Not a very glamorous photo, but what it represents in astounding. It's over one billion light years long.

The second photo was taken with a scanning tunneling microscope of an array of nickel atoms.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fashion, futurology and Mr. T

One thing that has changed for me over the past year, is that I'm now quite interested in fashion, something I had never previously paid a lot of attention to. This is mostly due to the influence of all the great fashion blogs I've been reading over the past few months.

Here are three clips re fashion history.The first is a great slice of 80's tackiness: a clip of a fashion show hosted by Mr. T. The other two clips are projections of what fashion will be like in the year 2000, one form the 1930's and one from 1967 - very strange .

Text messages from plants?

I wonder what my mom would have thought of this story. She never really understood how cell phones could do so many things, and I wonder what she would have though about getting a text message from a plant.

Now I'm following the adventures of a plant in Germany on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Some podcast links for you

Here are three of my favorite podcasts.

Two of these are from Slate Magazine

I've been a big fan of the Political Gabfest for quite a while now. It's from the (moderate ) left, and is highly informative, fun and thought provoking.

Slate also has a Cultural Gabfest, which is also very interesting . These podcasts have many cool links to the topics being discussed. Slate also has a new Sports Gabfest, which I haven't heard yet.

The Political Gabfest: (posted on Fridays)

The Cultural Gabfest (posted on Wednesdays)

"Truckers, Shuckers, Freeks and Geeks", hosted by Mark Allen, used to be a weekly show, but now appears more irregularly. The shows focus on country and rockabilly music from the 50's, with a more general 50's and 60's show on occasion. My favorite shows are his oddball ones, including a two hour episode of Elvis tribute records, one of the strangest,and most difficult to listen to genres. but a great slice of Americana.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The wonderful Life of Nicholas Slonimsky

This is the first of several posts re the 365 Days Music project,. The project started in 2003, and featured clips of unusual, and rare audio in various genres, including homemade LP's, "found" recordings , school bands, and just plain weirdness., The project was revived in 2007, and, given the widespread availability of high-speed Internet, often featured entire LP's..

Slonimsky was an amazing guy. He knew a wide range of musicians including Stravinsky, Ives, and Zappa, compiled "Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians", and only spoke Latin to his daughter until she was five.

Slonimsky , while in
his nineties, recorded some advertising jingles he had written in the1920's. No one actually wanted to use them at the time they were written. Here are three recordings by Slonimsky including his ode to a laxative, "Castoria"

I read Slonimsky's autobiography, "Perfect Pitch" several years ago, and there were many interesting stories about his family as well as Slonimsky himself. His grandfather Hiam invented , but did not patent a form of the electric telegraph, and came up with the "Slonimsky meridian" to mark the start of Shabat.

Slonimsky also recounted a story involving his relatives ( I can't remember whom) who did something that could have come from Woody Allen's "Love and Death". They were trying to resolve an ethical problem regarding the firing of a servant, and realized they were near Dostoevsky's house. They went to see him, and he helped them resolve the problem.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Bulwer-Lytton bad writing awards

This years winners of the Bulwer-Lytton contest have been announced. The contest rewards bad writing and is named after Edward-Bulwer Lytton, the Victorian novelist best known for his novel "The Last Days of Pompeii', and for actually starting a novel with the words "It was a dark and stormy night". The prize goes to the writer who comes up with the worst opening sentence from an imaginary novel. Here is this years winner, from David Mackenzie, of Federal Way, Washington.

"Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the "Ellie May," a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin' and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests."

Here's an article about this years winners.

There are so many great category winners, dishonorable mentions etc. One of my favorites is

"Their relationship hit a bump in the road, not the low, graceful kind of bump, reminiscent of a child's choo choo train-themed roller coaster, rather the kind of tall, narrow speed-bump that, if a school bus ran over it, would cause even a fat kid to fly up and bang his head on the ceiling."

Michael Reade, Durham, N.C

The complete list of winners is here:

Of course I needed to try some bad writing of my own:

"While contemplating whether or not he should post on his blog he was suddenly inspired by the congealed remnants of a Proustian madleine laying on the table, the kind of decadent treat that could have been found in the ruins of ever so decadent Pompeii if there had been a really decent bakery there, which there wasn't."

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tony Schwartz, media pioneer

This will be the first of several posts, on Tony Schwartz (not to be confused with the "peak performance" expert with the same name). Schwartz was a pioneer in ambient sound recording. political advertising, and in communications in general. He was an agoraphobic, but lectured and taught classes all over the world remotely by telephone. He rarely left his home neighborhood (ZIP 10019) in Manhattan .Marshall McLuhan called him "the"guru of the electronic age".

Schwartz started recording the sounds of his neighborhood, and his home,starting in 1945. His recordings are a great slice of Americana, braodly portraying the life of his neighborhood. His projects included "A Dog's Life" - which documented the first year in the life of his dog., "The New York Taxi Driver" and various sound collages of life in his neighborhood.

You can hear sample clips and download the liner notes to some of Schwartz's recordings here.

Schwartz is best known for the"daisy commercial", from the 1964 Johnson presidential campaign. Although it's clear that Schwartz came up with the idea and did the audio for the commercial , it's unclear how much help he received with the final product, considered by many to be the best political commercial ever made. Even though it was only shown once, it received tremendous publicity, and helped clarify for many the deep unease they felt about Goldwater's candidacy.

I can't find a good embeddable copy of the" Daisy" video so here is a link to it from the LBJ library website.

There's a great website re the :"Daisy" commercial,which includes audio excerpts from the recording session

Schwartz made recordings of his niece Nancy for many years, then spliced them into a two minute collage of her first 12 years in the 1940's and 50's . As far as I know, he was the first to do something like this. (audio only)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Christmas in July with the Colonel

Here's a bit of Christmas in July for today's post, and a Tijuana Picnic with the Colonel.

One of the legendary bizarre LP covers from the 1960's capitalized on the "Tijuana" sound craze of the mid-60's. It was exemplified by the Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass LP "Whipped Cream and Other Delights",which may be the most common thrift store record. There's a joke that the first thing astronauts who go to Mars will see is a copy of of the Whipped Cream" LP.
I will post again on Herb Alpert.He's had quite an interesting career that goes well beyond the Tijuana Brass and his MOR hits later on. "Whipped Cream" was originally done by the Stokes, a pretty good New Orleans band. I've only heard one track form the Col. Sanders record,, which consists entirely of covers of Tijuana Brass songs.It's typical of the cheap rip-off records associated with many musical fads. I love cheap rip-off records:)

I found the cover and liner notes for the LP at:

Here's the story of Colonel Sanders and KFC.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Origin of "The Star Spangled Banner"

Here is the last of my holiday posts.

Although The Star Spangled Banner was the unofficial national anthem of the U,.S. for many years , it didn't become the official national anthem until 1931. The melody was taken from an 18th century drinking song, The Anacreaon Song". The Anacreon was a club, based in London, of amateur musicians.

Here are the lyrics to "The Anacreon Song"

One of my favorite songs that mentions Independence Day is "Tears of Rage" .I prefer the Dylan version,,backed by The Band to the Band's version from "Music From Big Pink".

"How About a Little Firecracker Scarecrow?"

Here's one of many great images from a set of Chinese firecracker wrappers.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Photos of Revolutionary War veterans

I was amazed when I first learned this, but there a number of photos, taken in the 1850's and1860's, of some of the few remaining survivors of the Revolutionary War.

Alexander Milliner, pictured here, was a drummer boy in
Washington's Life Guard. He was present at many of the major battles of the war, including Valley Forge. He shook hands with Cornwallis the day after the British surrender at Yorktown.

Milliner's story along with other stories and photos of Revolutionary War veterans can be found here on the great History Channel Revolutionary War website.

Sometimes it really is rocket science

Good afternoon! There might be another post later on.

The last post started me thinking about physics, and rocket science in particular. I've also been thinking about cliches, and how sometimes they are literally true.

One time, back when I lived in Maryland, my cousin come into Baltimore for a Bar Mitzvah. My mom and I were talking with him in the lobby of the hotel he was staying at. We were having a private conversation, which i thought was pretty obvious. A relative I didn't know sat down and started talking to us. The cliche "Well he's not a rocket scientist " crossed my mind. However, he was in fact a rocket scientist. He started talking about a mission to a comet he was working on, and ironically it was far more interesting then what my mom, my cousin and I had been talking about, so I was glad he stopped by.

When I was growing up we went on a family trip to Boston. We got lost,and my dad said " "We are really out in left field here". We actually weren't far from the left field bleachers in Fenway Park..

A friend recounted that one time she was traveling with a friend of hers. They were about to board a train. It was really busy, and her friend said "It's like Grand Central Station in here". She reminded him in fact, that they were in Grand Central Station.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The birth of the Web, particle physics, rapping about the LHC

Happy Canada Day everyone!

Today's post focuses on the very early days of the Web, and on the CERN particle physics lab in Switzerland

This is the very first picture ever "clicked"on in a web browser. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, requested his friend Silvano de Gennaro FTP him photos of Les Horrible Cernettes,, who were fellow employees at CERN,, the Swiss particle physics research center. Here's the picture, from 1992.

Les Horrible Cernettes are still performing. They are OK musically, and maybe the only group to use particle physics imagery in their love songs. There will be more posts later about scientific imagery in music.

The first website,, is still active, though now it's just a brief introduction to the origins of the Web

There was quite a controversey re the Large Hadron Collider, CERN's new, intensely powerful particle accelerator. The fear, which was unfounded, was the the LHC could be a doomsday machine that would produce an expanding black hole that would destroy the Earth. The LHC launch date has been postponed a couple times due to technical problems

Alpinekat, joined by the CERN dancers, raps about the LHC.

There will be another post later today, or sometime tomorrow.