October 27, 2015

I will not be Old

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 6:31 am

Annals of obsolescence

This distinction isn’t as widely understood as it should be. Most new technologies make our lives easier without changing them other than superficially. The compact disc, for example, was a convenience, not a revolution. Unlike the iPod, it didn’t alter our relationship to the world of music. The answering machine, by contrast, really did transform the way in which we used the telephone by making it possible to screen incoming calls. As soon as that possibility became a reality, the place of the telephone in daily life underwent a profound change, and never changed back.

Not everyone is open to such change. Sooner or later each generation comes to a great technological divide, a chasm that most of its aging members are unable or unwilling to cross. For my mother, who was born mere weeks before the Great Depression, that chasm was the invention of the personal computer. She owned an answering machine—I bought it for her—but she never screened her calls, nor did she learn how to use a computer. When the PC became a routine part of American life, she was officially old. The world had passed her by.

The author and I are kind of in the same boat, roughly the same age, and we’ve noticed the same things. I recall when I first wrote something on a computer — actually, with a halfway decent word processor (WordPerfect 5.1, which roooooolz) — and I thought that it changed everything. I could cut and paste text! I could delete it completely! NO MORE WHITEOUT! I didn’t do too much writing on a typewriter, to be honest. I guess in college I did some papers on one, but I don’t remember spending a whole lot of time on them. But I adapted to computers and the Internet easily.

I also adapted to iPods (and the like) and smart phones, although I took my time with those because frankly I didn’t really need one until I started doing CRM. Nowadays I text like a sumbitch. I adopted Facebook and blogging, but not Twitter or Instagram. I happily read books on an iPad. I have, however, promised myself (or perhaps it never occurred to me) that I shall never Act Old. I am not going to be one of those people who have no clue about [insert modern technology here]. I may not use them all, but I’m not going to be stuck in the comfortable past.

Interesting observation also on how certain technologies change the way we do things, as opposed to just making incremental changes to things we already do. You can apply this to the past, obviously. Ceramics, when being made as maybe heating stones, didn’t really change anything, but once people started making vessels out of them it opened up a whole new range of activities. I’m sure some archaeologist somewhere has come up with a whole terminology for this. . . .

October 17, 2015

What the Internets are made for

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 6:19 am

Collection of NASA photos

September 10, 2015

While I hate to link to Slate. . . .

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 3:08 pm

This critique of some Victorian wannabes brings up some good points:

On Vox Wednesday, Sarah A. Chrisman writes about the decision she and her husband have made to conduct their lives as if they were late-19th-century Americans. The couple lives in their home, which was built in 1888, without the benefit of 21st-century conveniences, eschewing refrigeration and modern electric lighting. They also wear period dress, happily pedal around town on reproduction bicycles, and clean their teeth with a toothbrush made of “natural boar bristles.”

There are many irritating things about this article. The irony of congratulating yourself on sticking to 1880s technology in a piece circulated on the Internet is an obvious place to start.

Yeah, you can kinda sorta get something of the flavor of a period but it’s extremely difficult to really live it in any realistic sense. As I found when I tried to Live Like The 1980s I found that there were myriad little things to consider, most of which would have — back then — been part of the everyday warp and weft of society. If one were to live 1880s style, for example, one would have very limited access to certain foods that we now take for granted: fruits and vegetables would only be available in certain times of the year depending on where you lived. As she mentions, medical care would have been extremely primitive as well.

I won’t decry the attempt too much, however, unless they’re really being smug about it. It’s an interesting exercise to try to do something like that (as I found out) and it can be kind of fun.

July 11, 2015

Dune at 50

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 10:12 am

Dune, 50 years on: how a science fiction novel changed the world

What makes Dune more palatable than, say, the gruesome spectacle of a blonde-wigged Emilia Clarke carried aloft by ethnically indeterminate brown slaves in Game of Thrones, is the sincerity of Herbert’s identification with the Fremen. They are the moral centre of the book, not an ignorant mass to be civilised. Paul does not transform them in his image, but participates in their culture and is himself transformed into the prophet Muad’Dib. If Paul is one-part Lawrence of Arabia, leading his men on to Aqaba, he is also the Mahdi. Dune glosses this word as “in the Fremen messianic legend, The One Who Will Lead Us into Paradise”. In Islamic eschatology, the honorific Mahdi has a long and complex history. Various leaders have claimed or been given it. Most Shia identify the Mahdi with the 12th or Hidden Imam, who will imminently reveal himself and redeem the world. To the British, it will always be the name of the warrior prophet who swept through the Sudan in the 1880s, killing General Gordon on the steps of the palace in Khartoum and inspiring a thousand patriotic newspaper etchings. As Paul’s destiny becomes clear to him, he begins to have visions “of fanatic legions following the green and black banner of the Atreides, pillaging and burning across the universe in the name of their prophet Muad’Dib”. If Paul accepts this future, he will be responsible for “the jihad’s bloody swords”, unleashing a nomad war machine that will up-end the corrupt and oppressive rule of the emperor Shaddam IV (good) but will kill untold billions (not so good) in the process. In 2015, the story of a white prophet leading a blue-eyed brown-skinned horde of jihadis against a ruler called Shaddam produces a weird funhouse mirror effect, as if someone has jumbled up recent history and stuck the pieces back together in a different order.

When did I first read this? Must have been in the later 1970s when I went through my big SF phase. I admit I’ve read nearly all of the sequels including the finale (sort of) and all of the backstory novels. There are still a couple out there that I haven’t read yet, recent ones about Paul’s years out in the desert, etc.

I have mixed feelings about the theatrical treatments. The David Lynch movie I thought captured the spirit of the book, but it was so full of distracting weird stuff that didn’t even come close to anything in the book. But I liked the casting. People make immense fun of the scene where Sting, as Feyd-Rautha, emerges from the stream bath looking totally gay. . . .which was brilliant and perfect because that’s exactly how he would have tried to look for his gay uncle the Baron. And I liked the whole vibe of it, which was familiar but still foreign. The Atlantic captures my feelings: “a deeply flawed work that failed as a commercial enterprise, but still managed to capture and distill essential portions of one of science fiction’s densest works.”

Sci-Fi also did a miniseries of it in 2000 which was more faithful to the book (also a 2003 followup, which was the better of the two IMO). I think they did a far better job translating the book to the screen and the whole thing looks better than the other one, but I mostly hated the casting; just none of them really worked.

Its the Guardian so the article full of SJW “colonialism” junk, but it’s got some interesting angles, namely:

Actually, the great Dune film did get made. Its name is Star Wars. In early drafts, this story of a desert planet, an evil emperor, and a boy with a galactic destiny also included warring noble houses and a princess guarding a shipment of something called “aura spice”. All manner of borrowings from Dune litter the Star Wars universe, from the Bene Gesserit-like mental powers of the Jedi to the mining and “moisture farming” on Tattooine. Herbert knew he’d been ripped off, and thought he saw the ideas of other SF writers in Lucas’s money-spinning franchise. He and a number of colleagues formed a joke organisation called the We’re Too Big to Sue George Lucas Society.

That never occurred to me but now that they mention it. . . .

There was also a National Lampoon spoof of it, Doon, most of which was forgettable, but I think of whenever I pour something out of a tap and tip the glass to keep the foam down. If you’ve read it, you’ll remember that bit. Still gives me the giggles.

*sigh* I suppose I shall have to read the other books at some point. I don’t read much fiction and then only science fiction (mostly, except for classical literature), so I’m probably missing out a lot of good stuff by only reading these things.

June 23, 2015

The evolution of background music

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 9:02 am

The Rise and Fall of Easy Listening

Easy-listening music and its maestros never had to worry about screaming teenage fans or long stadium tours. Ridiculed in the 1960s and since as “elevator music,” the gentle genre was marketed then as music for frazzled adults run ragged by the decade’s social upheavals, argumentative kids and rock’s blare. Unlike other forms of music, easy listening wasn’t meant to be analyzed or even heard. Instead, albums typically featured lush orchestras playing pop melodies at a slow tempo that subliminally freed minds from the clutches of anxiety and distraction.

Back in the 1960s and ’70s, easy-listening orchestras led by Mantovani, Bert Kaempfert, Ray Conniff and Percy Faith, among others, accomplished this with yawning violins, wandering trumpets and moody pianos playing in a style free of jarring moments or aesthetic calories. Today, given the music’s calming, reflective powers, many aging baby boomers are rediscovering the soothing sounds they once derided in their parents’ dens and station wagons.

My parents had some Ray Conniff albums which I remembered kind of liking. I admit that I got into adult contemporary in the early 1980s when I was an undergrad, partially because the two other rock radio stations in town turned sucky (WIBA and WMAD, the former playing Bob Seeger three times every hour and the latter. . .I don’t remember, but I didn’t care for it; I was a WAPL fanatic) and partially from being a lovesick 20-something for a time. Mostly in that genre I listened to Magic 98, still do when I’m there. Otherwise, at the time the only radio I listened to was that and the local public radio classical music times.

Otherwise, new age stuff kinda of filled the background music vacuum after I moved. We had, briefly, a new age station in Seattle, but these days I just subscribe to Pandora, earlier Rhapsody.

June 8, 2015

Modern artifacts

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 7:02 pm

I’ll have something on another blackboard later, but here’s something that’s been making the rounds: Haunting chalkboard drawings, frozen in time for 100 years, discovered in Oklahoma school

Teachers and students scribbled the lessons — multiplication tables, pilgrim history, how to be clean — nearly 100 years ago. And they haven’t been touched since.

This week, contractors removing old chalkboards at Emerson High School in Oklahoma City made a startling discovery: Underneath them rested another set of chalkboards, untouched since 1917.

“The penmanship blows me away, because you don’t see a lot of that anymore,” Emerson High School Principal Sherry Kishore told the Oklahoman. “Some of the handwriting in some of these rooms is beautiful.”

Anyone ever see this method for (apparently) teaching multiplication tables?
Desert Fox

June 6, 2015

Many a quaint and curious volume. . . .

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 8:18 am

of forgotten lore:
Desert Fox

That is one set of two shelves containing a bunch of dissertations and MA theses from the UW Anthropology Dept. where I got my degrees. The building will be gutted and remodeled this year and the dept. is moving to another building temporarily, so they’re going to dump the collection. They sent out emails to former students to let them know to come get theirs if they wish. I got mine, but decided to go in and see if there was anything else I might want or need. The ones I was really looking for were not there, but I found two to snag, one of which might be of interest:

Desert Fox

That’s Kent Weeks‘ MA thesis from 1965 and it’s signed by Walter Fairservis.

While looking through them — I opened up a few to see what they were about as most just had the name on the outside — I started to get a little sad. I’m guessing many of the students who wrote the MA theses especially may have dropped out of academia altogether and never wrote another thing. They would have spent months, maybe years on these works, only to have them sit on a shelf in a library and never get opened once in 50 years only to be tossed into the shredder eventually.

So I decided to save one:
Desert Fox

Never heard of this person before and really have little interest in Modoc basketry (though I’ll probably read it), but at least now it’s going to sit on my shelf for a (hopefully) couple of decades more, and maybe. . .just maybe. . . .someone will pick it up at my estate sale and let Margaret Copeland’s 1956 master’s thesis live on for a while longer.

March 28, 2015

Whipped Cream, Wurst, Spaghetti, and Other Delights

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 9:43 am

Thought I would take a slight detour from all the seriousness of late (most of which I haven’t been posting about here, but will at some point) and examine a bit of pop cultural evolution and other delights. I speak (again, as it turns out) of one of the most famous album covers of all time, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’s Whipped Cream and Other Delights:

Desert Fox

It might be described as the album cover that launched a million mid-life crises (or pubertys). Go into nearly any home occupied by a man in his 60’s and up today and you will probably find a copy of it, probably barely played (I know, I’ve looked at many). Occasionally you’ll find one or two other HA&TB albums but most likely this will be the only one. I admit it: Even my own family had one (did Dad instigate buying it? Surely). I will also admit that I actually loved the album even before the ol’ hormones kicked in and I came to fully appreciate what was on the outside as well as what was coming out of the speakers. Part of that probably came from my playing the trumpet, but I think I still would have taken to it. It’s fun music.

Turns out the model used for the cover, Dolores Erickson, has something of a local (to me) connection, living here in Washington State, which I first became aware of here (note the update). Since I’ve started playing my old horn again, I’ve had the old HA&TB albums out playing them for songs that I can start learning. And while searching for sheet music I started coming across various WC&ODs. . . .paraphernalia. Mostly take-offs on the cover. Doing a more complete search, I came up with quite a lot of them (many not fit for a family-friendly blog such as this).

And it got me wondering: Could this be the most copied album covers of all time? I was all set to create The Definitive Compendium of WC&ODs, but found that. . . . .someone else had already done so. Here are a few of my favorites anyway, but follow the link to see the full panoply.

March 18, 2015

A really modern artifact

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 7:50 pm

This here, ladies and gentlemen, is my old trumpet:
Desert Fox

Played it for probably 10 years back in school, quit after graduation and have barely touched it since 1980. Yes, I’ve schlepped it around the whole time. It’s a Bach though I’m not sure how good it really is. I was never very good at it, although I played first trumpet as a senior. Lack of practicing, mainly because I wasn’t that into band music (I just did it for the chicks, ha).

Anyway, I had taken up guitar about 18 months ago (almost two years actually) because I wanted to learn some new skill in my old age and always wanted to learn guitar (for the chicks, ha). It’s been tough slogging. The last 3 months or so my left (fretting) forearm has really been hurting and I was wondering if maybe it was from the guitar, as I’d recently started doing bar chords which require a lot of muscle in that area. So I stopped the guitar for a couple (now few) weeks to see if it helped (maybe), and in the meantime took out my old axe and started noodling around.

And you know I wasn’t too bad at it. Yeah, my lips were completely out of shape and I could barely hit a middle G consistently, but it was actually kind of fun fiddling with it. And I’ve made really decent progress lately, although my playing time is limited due to lips muscles giving out after 15-20 minutes. But I’m hitting high D’s already and halfway decently.

I admit I’ve always been a Herb Alpert fan but I never played his stuff back in school. I’ve started getting a little practice with one of his old song books, mostly just for the fingering practice and such, although I’d like to play some of them at some point. Unlike the guitar, I actually know what I’m doing. And what I should be doing. And how to get there. In a way, I’m kind of making up for my high school (and before) playing days, by practicing and doing the things I wasn’t very good at then, like hitting high notes bang on right from the get go. That always scared me. “How can I just pop out a high G??!!”

Holding it may even be helping my forearm.

So, who knows, maybe I’ll end up switching to play trumpet again. I would really like to learn those old Tijuana Brass tunes. Maybe even join an Oom-Pa band? One thing is, I actually look forward to practicing it, which was becoming a chore with the geetar.

Semi-historical archaeology

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 7:10 pm

Archaeological exploits possible in Mom’s deep-freeze

I’ve sometimes wondered what tomorrow’s archaeologists might deduce from those two massive, rusting cocoons of steel. After all, these appliances were built in the early 1960s – when a deep-freeze was a once-in-a-lifetime purchase. Back then, if you bought a freezer with your husband, it meant you were never getting divorced. It would be too much work to move it out of the basement. And so there were actually chest freezers made by International Harvester – the same company that manufactured trucks and tractors. In other words, a freezer could double as a bomb shelter for a family of five.

These food fortresses would be so impenetrable – and their contents so meticulously bagged and Saran-wrapped – that a cinnamon roll could easily survive into the year 2329 without a whisper of freezer burn. And so scientists could still survey the contents to see how the people of the late 20th century and early 21st century lived.


My parents had one but I have not yet gotten one. Mainly because for two people it’s not really worth it. We used it for two reasons. First is, my parents were in the Air Force and so every couple of months would drive down to Great Lakes Naval Station and stock up at the commissary there, and put lots of the frozen stuff away. Second, when I was younger they’d go in on a side of beef with someone else and so we’d have all these white-butcher-paper-wrapped packages in the freezer for months at a time and slowly work our way through it.

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