Television (#atozchallenge)

Picture this: it’s 1962, a Saturday morning. The three Holton boys (Johnny, 6; Jimmy, 4; and Kippy, 3) wake up at 6:30 and run out to the kitchen wearing nothing but undershorts. Each of them gets a bowl of Rice Krispies, filled to the rim with cereal, milk and sugar, and carefully carries it through the dining room and hall (not spilling any, amazingly enough) into the living room. They sit down in front of the TV, turn it on, and wait for it to warm up. They then spend the next forty-five minutes eating Rice Krispies and watching this, waiting for the cartoons to appear…

I wonder sometimes if people can really appreciate what a magical thing television was in the early days. The idea of a box sitting in your living room that, when turned on and warmed up, could entertain you with sound AND pictures. Radio had been around for years, and had shows and entertainment, but TV was a quantum leap from that.

Take Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Edgar Bergen was a ventriloquist and Charlie McCarthy (and Mortimer Snerd, can’t forget him) was his dummy, and they were huge radio stars. But what fun is it to hear a ventriloquist over the radio? You hear the different voices and all, but the joy of a ventriloquist act was seeing a man have a conversation with a dummy (or two) sitting on his lap. Through the magic of television, we could see Edgar and Charlie have that conversation. And we could see Paul Winchell have his conversations with Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smith, Jimmy Nelson chat with Danny O’Day and Farfel the Dog, Willie Tyler talk to Lester, Wayland Flowers talk to Madam, and Jeff Dunham talk to his bunch of crazies.

Here’s the beginning of The Muppet Show with Edgar and Charlie. Their segment starts at 4:00. You’ll note that Edgar didn’t particularly care that people could see him moving his lips.

TV brought entertainment into our home that heretofore you’d have to go to the movies to see. Like cartoons. Cartoons weren’t originally aimed at kids, believe it or not, but when TV came along the stations bought packages and would show them in the afternoon after school. I wonder sometimes if they knew what they were showing. Here’s an example: this was finally taken off the air, but not until after I saw it.

William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, two MGM producers who had created Tom and Jerry, created a whole slew of cartoons for television that were appropriate for kids, like Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and others. They also created The Flintstones, based on the TV show The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, for prime time, aimed at an older audience. The RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, makers of Winston and Salem cigarettes, were the original sponsors of the show, and the show’s characters actually advertised the sponsor’s products.

If parents thought cartoons were bad, they really hated The Three Stooges. That was another after-school treat, until parents got together and had Moe, Larry, and Curly/Shemp/Joe/Curly Joe temporarily banned from the airwaves.

I could go on about programming for children, but TV brought so much more into our homes. No longer were we limited to just hearing the news read by an announcer. Television brought film of the news. Instead of hearing that Premier Nikita Krushchev of the Soviet Union appeared before the UN General Assembly and banged his shoe on the podium, we saw him do it, and heard him threaten the world that he would crush us. We spent three days mourning the assassination of President Kennedy and the murder of his assassin. We saw what kind of hell Vietnam was. We could watch Mayor Daley of Chicago massacre the English language. Television brought us the Olympics, the World Series, the Super Bowl, and the Stanley Cup. It brought us weather forecasts that were more than just “Tomorrow, partly cloudy with a chance of rain, high 65. Right now, 48 degrees at the airports, 45 degrees near the lake.”

And it brought us entertainment. Somewhere in the world, reruns of The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy have aired since the original shows were first aired in the 1950′s. Those shows are older than I am. And they’re still funny. And the game shows, so many hosted by the affable Bill Cullen. The dramas, like Dragnet, Run For Your Life, and The Fugitive.

TV was more than all of these things. It was magic. I’ve already gone on way too long, and I could go on from here.

I think I know what my theme is for next year, though.

Two for Tuesday: Stan Freberg

Stan Freberg has worn many hats: comedian, satirist, radio personality, adman, author, puppeteer, voiceover artist, and Lord knows what else. Shortly after graduating from Alhambra High School in 1944, he got on a bus and told the driver to let him off “in Hollywood.” The driver let him off in front of Warner Brothers Studio. Soon Stan was doing voices for Warner Brothers cartoons. He made his first records for Capitol in 1951. Today, at 88, he’s still active, and his records are classics. Again, there’s a ton more of his material on YouTube, but I picked a couple of my favorites.

Our first selection features Stan as a radio singer and Daws Butler as a network censor. Here’s “Elderly Man River”…

Our second selection is “Banana Boat Song.” It features Stan trying to make a calypso record while dealing with a fussy bongo player, played by Peter Leeds.

Stan Freberg, your Two for Tuesday, April 22, 2014.

Shopping (#atozchallenge)

Until the stroke, I did the grocery shopping. Mary would write a list with my input and I would take it to Kroger, or Publix, or Winn-Dixie (when it was still doing business in Atlanta) and get everything on it.

Or at least try to get everything on the list.

I’m not talking about knowing what I was supposed to get and not getting it because the store was out of it. I’m talking about trying to figure out what Mary wanted and not being able to, or determining that what she was asking for was not available. Sometimes, I could figure out what it was she wanted: one week, she wanted “muffin thingies” and somehow I knew she meant the paper cups that line the spaces in a muffin baking pan.

Other times, it wasn’t so simple.

She sent me out once and one of the things on the list was “pastry shells.” I figured she wanted a pie shell, and brought one home.

“No, no, no, this isn’t what I wanted. The ones I’m looking for are a lot smaller.” I went back out and brought home tart shells.

“No, this isn’t right, either. I want pastry shells, but not these.”

“Fine,” I said. “Next time, you come with me and get what you want.”

She came with me to the store, we went to the freezer case, and she picked up a box of puff pastry shells. “This is what I wanted. Why couldn’t you get these?”

“Well, why didn’t you tell me you wanted puff pastry shells?” I had seen them every time I was at the store, but had no idea that’s what she wanted.

“I couldn’t remember what they were called.”

Oh.

Other times, I flat out couldn’t find what she was asking for. She might as well have been asking for the firing pin for a nuclear device.

My favorite story about shopping, though, had to do with potato peelers.

Lefse-Potato-Peeler

One week, Mary sent me out with a list that included “potato peeler.” I brought one home from the store, no problem.

Three weeks later, I get a list, and she’s asking for a potato peeler again. I thought, didn’t I just buy her a potato peeler? I shrugged it off and bought her another potato peeler.

Two weeks later, she’s asking for another potato peeler.

“Mary, didn’t I just buy a potato peeler?”

“I can’t find it.”

“Did you look in the silverware drawer?” I knew that whenever I unloaded the dishwasher and found a potato peeler, I would put it in the drawer with the forks and knives and whatever.

“Yes, and it wasn’t there.”

We go to the kitchen and open the silver drawer. Like most people, we have one of those silverware caddies in the drawer, and everything else gets thrown in there more or less at random. I lifted the caddy, and found at least five potato peelers under there.

“Oh,” she said. “I guess you can cross that off the list.”

We still laugh about that.

Random numbers (#atozchallenge)

Dice (source: Wikimedia Commons/Diacritica, used under Creative Commons license)

Dice (source: Wikimedia Commons/Diacritica, used under Creative Commons license)

Roll a (fair) die, and a number from 1 to 6 shows up. Roll it again, and a different number comes up. Or maybe the same number comes up. The result of the first roll of the die has nothing to do with the result of the second. Roll the same die a thousand times, and you would expect each number to show up roughly 166 times, or one-sixth of the time.

Each roll is an event that results in a random result. There’s no relationship between one result and the next. The result of one roll is independent of the result of the previous roll, and neither roll has anything to do with the next.

In days of old when men were bold and the Internet hadn’t been invented, the phone company printed a telephone directory and delivered it to your house. (They still do, in fact, and no matter how much I plead, complain, or threaten, they still deliver one to my house every year. It goes right into the recycling bin.) If you open to any page and read down the column of phone numbers, you have a fairly good approximation of random numbers.

I know: Yeah, so what?

We can use random numbers to generate a set of results that look like die rolls, or coin tosses, or arrivals in a queue, or daily usages of a part, or whatever we want it to be. Let’s do coin tosses as an example. I’m going to use a site called Random.org and generate a list of ten two-digit random numbers from 00 to 99. If the number is even, the result was “heads,” and if odd, “tails.”

63
21
42
43
50
56
10
60
22
33

which we interpret as tails, tails, heads, tails, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, and tails.

Generating random numbers and using them to simulate events is a big part of using stochastic processes (simulation of the evolution of some variable over time). For example, I read recently that in the US a man between 18 and 44 will change jobs an average of 11.4 times, with a quarter changing 15 times or more and twelve percent changed jobs 4 times or fewer. Based on those numbers, I ran a stochastic process to see what the average career looks like.

I know, I’m strange.

By the way, when I decide to visit others in the A to Z Challenge, I generate a dozen random numbers between 1 and 2107, the number of blogs on the list. Works for me!

#ROW80: Second Check-in

My apologies if you’ve received this four times. I can’t seem to get Markdown to work properly.

Click on the picture to link to the website!

Click on the picture to link to the website!

Nearly done with the A to Z Challenge for the year, and I got an email telling me that the Story A Day Challenge starts on May 1. That should help me get one of my objectives done for this round. This week’s recap…

  • Write one “family” story a week: Wrote a couple for A to Z. Done.

  • Write one short story and one non-fiction piece and send them out: I’ll be concentrating on this once I finish A to Z, especially in May. I have lots of ideas for non-fiction pieces, too. Begun.

  • Read one fiction and one non-fiction book: Haven’t felt much like reading. Stalled.

  • Blog at least three times a week: Done for this week.

  • Learn some Russian: I found a sort of “pen pal” who lives in the town of Chernogorsk, Republic of Khakassia. She’s trying to learn English, so it works out well. Reading her emails has given me insight into how the language is spoken. Ongoing.

  • Train my left hand to write: Not as much practice as I’d have liked. Not this week, but ongoing.

In honor of the day, here’s a cartoon from the same good folks that brought us “Frosty the Snowman”.

It’s also Mary’s birthday! Happy birthday, sweetheart!

And, it’s also the day that I can log into Facebook again. I’m not sure I want to..

Straight ahead!

Qiviut (#atozchallenge)

Mary, as I’m sure I’ve told you, is a knitter and crocheter. She does beautiful work, is in charge of workshops for the North Georgia Knitting Guild, and runs the Charity Knitters and Crocheters group at our parish. She’s been knitting most of the time we’ve been married, and I watch her, amazed at the things she can do.

She has told me that the Holy Grail of yarn for her is qiviut, yarn made from the undercoat of the Arctic musk ox.

The musk ox (source: Quartl, Wikimedia Commons)

The musk ox has a two-layer coat; the qiviut comes from the inner layer. It’s either obtained from the pelt of a hunted animal. or, to get the best results and to save the life of a musk ox, it’s plucked from a domesticated animal during molting season, or obtained from things the animal rubs up against. A single musk ox produces four to seven pounds of qiviut a year. The yarn made from the qiviut doesn’t shrink, it’s stronger and eight times warmer than sheep’s wool, and softer than cashmere. And, it’s expensive: a single 220-yard skein costs close to $100, and a scarf made of it can sell for over $300. But, it’s durable: an article made from the yarn, with proper care, can last over twenty years.

The Inuit of Alaska have been domesticating Arctic musk oxen. They run the Oomingmak Co-Operative and sell items made from the yarn, although they don’t sell the yarn itself. There are a number of sellers, however, and they sell both the 100% qiviut and blends, which are much less expensive.

Pops-A-Ball (#atozchallenge)

If you ask my mother, my brothers and I had just about every toy that was ever made when we were kids. I guess we were pretty lucky, but every toy ever made? Nah. I can think of one or two that we didn’t have. But we really liked the ones that we got. Our all time favorite gift was Pops-a-ball.

I couldn’t find a picture of Pops-a-ball (I’m not sure that any still exist), but I think this will explain it. I’m sure you’ve seen these if you know someone who’s an avid golfer.

puttingpractice

It’s a putting cup, so that you can practice your putting inside when you can’t hit the links. You plug it in and stand several feet away from it with some golf balls and your putter, and try to putt the ball into the cup. If you’re successful, the device kicks the ball back to you. Pops-a-ball worked on the same principle. The mechanism to shoot the ball back to you was at the top of a ramp. You stood several feet away and rolled a light plastic ball across the floor and up the ramp, kind of like Skee-ball. If you managed to get the ball into the hole, the mechanism would shoot it back to you. Not push it back across the floor. It would shoot the ball back to you on the fly.

The company that made Pops-a-ball (can’t remember who it was. Kenner? Marx? Wham-o?) advertised it heavily in the weeks leading up to Christmas one year, and every kid in the neighborhood wanted the toy. Especially the three of us. It was an action game that featured balls shooting across the room. What’s not to like? Naturally, my mother was less than enthusiastic. “No! Absolutely not! You are NOT getting Pops-a-ball for Christmas!” So we asked Grandma, and Mom told her that she was NOT, under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, to buy us Pops-a-ball. It was the same with everyone else.

Somehow, she forgot to tell her sister Alice. Alice had just gotten married, so she and her husband Dick had no children yet. They had no idea we were forbidden from having one. So imagine the horror when Alice and Dick arrived at our apartment on Christmas night and gave the three of us a Pops-a-ball. “Well, it looked like a lot of fun, Bunny,” Alice said innocently.

We took the ramp and the light plastic balls out of the box and figured out how to wind up the mechanism so that the balls would come back, set the ramp up and stood a few feet away. I rolled the first ball; unfortunately, we had a sculptured rug, and the ball got caught in the grooves and roll away. We needed a bare floor, and were told we couldn’t bring it into the kitchen, so we set the ramp up on a bare stretch of floor near the front door. We stood back a couple of feet, and somehow missed the ramp. We kept trying it from shorter distances, and finally got it to work from a foot away. One of us rolled the ball up the ramp, got it into the hole, and Pops-a-ball shot the ball back and hit him in the forehead. We knew then that we would have to roll the ball and duck.

A day or so later, we made the discovery that, if you wound the return mechanism tightly enough, tilted the ramp backward, and dropped the ball into the hole, you could get the ball to fly across the room and hit the Christmas tree. Kind of like a mortar.

Mortar224

By the time Mom caught us, we had shot several ornaments off the tree and shattered them. Pops-a-ball was removed to the basement and put on a shelf where we couldn’t reach it, and Mom called her sister. “Alice, when you have children, they’re all getting drums!”