Saturday, July 23, 2011

Telephones - Then and Now

I'm amazed at technology. And how it changes over time. I was driving today in my new car and my phone rang. Since my cell phone is linked to my iDrive system in my car, the ringing came over the car speakers and my readout on the information center on the dash showed who the call was from. I pressed a button on my steering wheel and answered the call. I also have a blog about my experiences with the new car HERE in case you're interested in new car technology. But let's get back to the subject at hand.

Now, let's compare a talking car with a high tech phone system to what we used to have. We were actually pretty primitive in comparison. When I was a kid, we had a black phone with a wire that ran into the wall. Cell phones and wireless technology and bluetooth hadn't been thought of yet. In fact, our phones had mechanical, analog dials on them. Rotary dials, we called them. And we had phone numbers with names, like CLifton 7, or DRexel 4, BUtterfield 8, and others.

We also had something interesting called "party lines." It was kind of a Twitter of the fifties. The necessity of these party lines was probably due to the fact that the phone company didn't have enough lines installed to give everyone their own private line. And when the phone rang, you had to listen to the ring and see if it was yours before answering it. Ours was a long and a short ring. If you wanted to make an outgoing call, you picked up the receiver and checked to see if there was a party liner already using the phone. If so, good manners told you to hang up and check later. If not, you could go ahead and make your call.

In 1959 things started improving dramatically when ATT introduced the new Princess Phone. Contemporary advertising shows that this telephone was marketed to women, hence the feminine designation 'Princess'. A broad range of colors were offered, including pink, red, yellow, moss green, black, white, beige, ivory, light blue, turquoise, and gray. And four years later, in 1963, Western Electric introduced touchtone dialing which replaced the rotary dial with 10 lighted push buttons. We were in the modern age now. Everyone eventually got their own private line and the party line became a thing of the past.

In time the Princess was redesigned and became the Trimline phone. You may remember these as the slim units with the push button dial built into the handset.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Growing Crystals

When I was a boy I discovered the magic of growing crystals from various ingredients. That was shortly after I was so disappointed when my Sea Monkeys didn't look at all like monkeys. They didn't even have crowns or scepters. And my X-Ray Specs didn't work like they were supposed to, either. So I started growing crystals in my little bedroom laboratory.

I used salt, sugar, and alum. Each of these composites produce crystals with different structures. The salt crystals were always cubic. The sugar (which you could eat after they formed) were hexagonal with pointed ends. My favorite was the crystals produced with alum. In case you have a youngster, or a grandchild, this might offer you an opportunity for some quality time and a learning experience that could spark an interest in chemistry or science.

Just so you know, alum crystalizes in a tetrahedral form. The crystals form like two pyramids joined at the base.The photo above is of a chrome alum crystal. I'm sure what chrome alum is, but the crystals you can grow from regular alum look just like this except they are clear instead of black.

Below is a step-by-step procedure for turning common, white alum into beautiful, clear crystals that look like sparkling diamonds. What you need to do is to create what is known as a super-saturated solution. More material (salt, sugar, alum) will dissolve in hot water than will dissolve in cold. The higher the temperature, the more will dissolve and the more saturated the solution becomes. So here we go . . .

Step 1: If you don't already have some, go to the grocery store and buy a box of alum. You'll find it in the baking section or with the spices.

Step 2: Place a sauce pan containing one quart of water on the stove and turn it on.

Step 3: As the water starts to heat, begin pouring the alum into it, stirring with a spoon as you add it. Not too much at a time. Make sure it's all dissolved before you add more. Continue adding more alum until no more will dissolve. Try to keep the water temperature just a little below a rolling boil.

Step 4: After the water has cooled a bit, pour it into a a quart jar and leave it alone for a few hours.

If you've created a super-saturated solution, the alum will begin to form crystal within 24 hours. You will see them forming on the bottom of the jar. There will probably be several of them, so we want to remove a lot of them to give the others more room to grow. Otherwise you will end up with a "matt" of crystals on the bottom of the jar. And that's not what you want. We're trying to create three or four really nice crystals.

Step 5: In a day or two your crystals will have grown to 1/8 inch or so across. Get a long pair of tweezers and remove all of the small crystals. If you don't have a long pair of tweezers you can pour the solution carefully from your incubator jar into another container and then remove the crystals with a spoon. Examine them and pick a half dozen or so of the biggest or best ones and set them aside. Then pour the solution back into the jar and add your selected crystals. Try to arrange them so they're not touching each other.

Step 6: You'll need to turn your crystals every day so that the alum is added to each side equally.

: Do not place a lid on the jar. If you do, the water can't evaporate. Evaporation is important so that the solution remains at a constant state of saturation and your crystal continues to grow. If you notice your crystals look smaller than they did the previous day that means the saturation level has decreased and the water is dissolving the alum from your crystals. If this happens, remove your crystals and create a new solution as explained in Step 2. But don't place your crystal back into this new solution until it has cooled to room temperature. Otherwise it will dissolve. Keep making new solutions as your crystal continues to grow until you get it to the size you want. Then you can take it out of the jar and put it on display. The air won't hurt it. Just don't let it get wet because they do melt in water.

Having written this, it makes me want to do it again. I'm going to go buy some alum. Have fun! If you have any questions, leave a comment and I'll try to answer it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Donna Reed

Here's the opening from Season 1. I used to watch this program all the time. Of course, it was long before Dan Akroyd became famous. In this opening video, Carl Betz reminds me of Dan. Does anyone else notice any resemblance?

Rather than rewrite the entire history and plot line, I thought the author who provided this info to Wikipedia did a great job. I couldn't do any better, so I've pasted it below. If you'd like more details, just Google the Donna Reed Show or click on the previous Wikipedia link to go to the reference page.

The Donna Reed Show is an American sitcom starring Donna Reed as the upper middle class housewife Donna Stone. Carl Betz appears as her pediatrician husband Alex, and Shelley Fabares and Paul Petersen as their teenage children Mary and Jeff. The show originally aired on ABC at 10 pm from September 24, 1958 to March 19, 1966.

When Fabares left the show in 1964, Petersen's little sister Patty Petersen joined the cast as adopted daughter Trisha. Bob Crane and Ann McCrea appeared in the last seasons as the Kelseys, friends of the Stones, and Darryl Richard became a near regular as Smitty, Jeff's best buddy. The show featured a variety of celebrity guests including Esther Williams as a famous dress designer, baseball superstars Don Drysdale and Willie Mays as themselves, teen heartthrob James Darren as a pop singer with the measles, canine superstar Lassie as herself, and young Jay North as Dennis the Menace.


Donna is the wife of Dr. Alex Stone, a pediatrician practicing in fictional Hilldale, and the mother of teenagers Mary and Jeff. The plot revolves around the lightweight and humorous sorts of situations and problems a middle class family experienced in the late 1950s and the early 1960s. Donna, for example, would sometimes find herself swamped with the demands of community theatricals and charity drives; Mary had problems juggling boyfriends and finding dresses to wear to one party or another; and Jeff was often caught in situations appropriate to his age and gender such as joining a secret boys' club, avoiding love-smitten classmates, or bidding at auction on an old football uniform. Alex was the family's Rock of Gibralter, but often found himself in situations that tested his patience: in one episode for example, Donna volunteered him as the judge of a baby contest, and, in another episode, Mary insisted her gawky, geeky boyfriend was the spitting image of her father. Very occasionally eccentric relatives would descend on the Stones to complicate the household situation. When Mary left for college in the middle seasons, a runaway orphan named Trisha was adopted by the family. In the last seasons, Jeff would spend much time with best buddy Smitty, and Donna and Alex would find best friends in Dave Kelsey, Alex's professional colleague, and his wife Midge. While mainly concerned with mundane household and family affairs, the show sometimes addressed edgier issues such as women's rights ("Just a Housewife") and freedom of the press ("The Editorial").

It was a great program that entertained America for seven and a half years. Sometimes we forget the really good programs from those early days. Thanks guys.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Another Side of Peter Lorre

Okay, before anyone jumps on me and says, "Hey, this movie is not from the fifties or sixties. It was released in 1935." I know that. I actually discovered this video while looking at some scenes from Casablanca and Maltese Falcon. I wasn't actually looking for Peter Lorre, but when I stumbled upon this, I thought it would be something of interest to others. I went to IMDB and found the following plot summary. I've never seen this film, but it looks like one I would like to see.

From IMDB by Gary Jackson . . .

In Paris, Dr. Gogol is infatuated with theater actress Yvonne Orlac as he returns to his same box seat for her every performance. Yvonne is married, however, to concert pianist Stephen Orlac. They plan to move to England. When Stephen's talented hands are crushed in a train wreck, Yvonne asks for Dr. Gogol's help by operating to save them. Although the doctor can't save Stephen's hands, he will do anything to help Yvonne. His solution is to replace the hands with those of an executed knife-throwing murderer. Gogol's obsession with Yvonne grows while Stephen discovers that his proficiency at the piano has been replaced by an uncanny accuracy with throwing things. The doctor's next move is to play on Stephen's mental distress to convince him that he is crazy, and a murderer. It is the only way he can get Yvonne.

A 6th Grade Adventure...

Did you know that the color Sea Green is only available in the 64 Crayola box? That's the one with the built-in sharpener on the back. How do I know this? Well, it's not a long story, and I feel like relating it today.

It was 1961. I was in Mr. Miller's 6th grade class at Randall Elementary School in Independence, Missouri. Our assignment was to create a world map. My partner in this project was my best friend, James Johnson.

Mr. Miller gave us a sheet of paper that was about three feet high and six feet wide. He instructed up to draw all of the continents, then all of the countries within those continents, and to color them in any manner we wished. We began drawing and in a short time had located all the continents. Then the work started involving drawing in all the countries. But by the end of the week, we had everything penciled in and had started coloring the countries in a variety of hues.

It took a little time the following week to get everything colored. Plus there was a bit of planning involved when you had several countries that were adjacent to each other so that you didn't have two bordering countries ending up in the same color. By the end of the week we were finished. And it looked great, too! Then James came up with the idea that has since become known as The Sea Green Fiasco. He suggested we color the ocean. I was against it since it would require additional time and effort. But James was persistent, and he painted a rosy picture of how great it would look. So I finally agreed. Obviously, if you're coloring the ocean, there is no other color choice that seems nearly as appropriate as Sea Green.

Since James and I both had 64 Crayola boxes, the only product containing Sea Green, we began filling the massive white area on our map that comprised the watery part of the world. Those two crayons had short lives. They didn't last long enough to complete the Atlantic. It was at about that time I began to realize that we had made a huge blunder and I should have stuck to my guns about leaving the ocean white. Based on the amount of square inches we had covered with the two crayons, a quick calculation in my head told me we were going to need more Sea Green crayons than were currently available in North America in order to finish this map.

But there was no choice but to continue. We were committed now, and we couldn't erase the Sea Green that we'd already scribbled on the paper. So the quest began for other students whose parents had purchased the 64 Crayola box for them. There weren't many in our class. There weren't many more in the entire school. But we finally managed to scrounge up four more of the precious wax sticks in the right color. We used them sparingly, and the intensity of the color lightened as we expanded beyond where our two personal crayons had taken us.

At last, the project was completed when we exhausted the last of the Sea Green crayons. Unfortunately, there was still a white, circular area the size of a grapefruit in the lower right corner. James told the teacher the white circular area represented the moon. This was news to me, so I just nodded when Mr. Miller gave me his questioning look. He bought it.

I often wonder whatever happened to that map. And to James.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Red and The Pledge

The fourth of July is passed, but patriotism isn't something that's only acceptable on that date. I was searching for some information on Red Skelton, one of my favorites from my younger years, and I ran across this video on YouTube. I remember having seen it before, but it's been some time, and I had forgotten how powerful is is, especially the ending. And how appropriate it is today.

I hope you enjoy it and you get a new look at the heart of a comedian who knew how to be funny but also knew how to be very serious.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ice Cream, Snakes and Fountains

On this Independence Day weekend, I wanted to share with you some of the 4th of July holiday memories from my childhood. Yours may be similar, and there may be something in this narrative that causes you to recall a special moment from long ago. At my current age, those memories have become sweetened with time. Looking back on it all, the summer heat from those days doesn't seem quite so overwhelming, the worries of life aren't recalled as being so imposing, and the world seemed to be spinning at a slightly slower speed. It was a time I would go back to in a heartbeat if it were possible to do so. But alas, the only way to do that is to relate the story to you, my readers, and hope you will join me in remembering it.

I grew up in a blue-collar family. My father was a plumber, my mother a stay-at-home mom. Along with our parents, my two younger sisters and I lived in a modest, 3-bedroom home in a middle class neighborhood. Having grown up during The Great Depression, Mom and Dad were frugal, although my father would occasionally spend a little extra at the grocery store and purchase steaks or ribs or shrimp for a special occasion. And the Fourth of July was special enough.

As the warm afternoon continued toward evening, and the Black Cat firecrackers started popping on the neighborhood streets, my dad would start cooking. He didn't put much faith in an outdoor barbecue grille, and he did most of his cooking on our Roper gas range in the kitchen. He usually opted for barbecued ribs on July 4th, and he also made his own barbecue sauce. Unfortunately, I didn't think ahead and get the recipe before it was too late. Naturally, there would be some southern style (my parents were from Tennessee) fried potatoes and some refreshing sweet iced tea (with fresh lemon) to go along with that evening meal.

After supper we would go out in the back yard. Some years there would be a big, dark green, Black Diamond watermelon to enjoy. And sometimes, instead of the watermelon, my mother would bring out the big silver cylinder containing the ice cream mixture, and Dad would put it into the old-fashioned ice cream maker. You may remember: the bucket with the crank handle on it? The one you had to sit on while someone cranked it? A little ice and a little rock salt went in next, and the cranking began. It was a slow process, ice cream making, and a bit boring. If you could find a fairly clean and clear piece of rock salt, you snatched it from the ice and sucked on it while you cranked. Forever it seemed.

Within a while (which always seemed longer than it should be) Dad would say it was time for the cranking to stop. He would remove the cylinder from the ice and carefully pry the top off. A moment later, the deliciously cold cream was being scooped into special bowls for all to enjoy. An occasional brain freeze was an event that might occur if you ate too fast. But if you didn't eat it fast, you might end up drinking it because it didn't last long in its solid state when the temperature was hovering around the 100 degree mark. As a side note, I actually still have those bowls in my kitchen cabinets today, and they serve as a constant reminder of those days every time I look at them.

Lawn chairs were brought out next, and as the summer day faded and darkness settled in, the show began. We didn't spend a lot on fireworks, and it seems like we always bought the same things: a box of sparklers, a couple of boxes of those black pellets called snakes, a package of Black Cat firecrackers, a couple dozen bottle rockets, and a half dozen "fountains" that were actually nothing more than a paper cone with some stuff inside that just kind of fizzled for a few seconds. And we always got a bunch of those great punks, because they were free. Oh, it was nothing like the high-tech pyrotechnics of today, but for 1957 it was state-of-the-art, and we didn't realize how primitive it was at that time.

The whole neighborhood was lit up with the sparkling displays taking place on every front porch, driveway, and even in the street. Cheers and applause filled the night air when an especially impressive display exploded. It was exciting while it lasted. And when it was over, it was a little disappointing that there was nothing left to blow up. But still, way down deep in your soul there was a warm feeling bubbling up and settling in, and you were suddenly content with nothing more than to be at home with your family.

Do you have specific memories of your summer holidays? If so, leave a comment and tell us about it. It's good to share.