The Junk Whisperer. Part III

My folks had discovered an actual camera store in Dover, New Hampshire at some point and when I told them about the Brownie, they were kind enough to stop in and pick me up a couple of rolls, ready to meet my sander and get resized to fit. Now with everything I needed to go put this old beautiful box into action, only one question remained: Color or Black and White.

Hmmm.

Black and White film holds a special and dear place in my heart. Many years ago, a much younger and substantially more awkward version of me could often be seen stalking interesting shadows and high contrast compositions with my trusty steel body Minolta. It had belonged to my father when he was young and now I had taken to it with enthusiasm. It shoots 35mm and though it only has one lens and is not a snazzy SLR, (i.e., Single Lens Reflex, meaning that the range finder lets you look right through the lens of the camera and not out a separate little range finder in the upper left corner of the camera) it still took the best Black and White photos I’d ever seen. I spent many a happy hour, late at night in the campus dark room developing and making prints of my black and white images.

Color though, offered another, special possibility.

In this crazy-fast, laser like perfected digital age, the phones we have crammed in our collective pockets can take pictures of stunning resolution and clarity and for some odd reason, this ability has kicked off the craze of the “retro-ing” of pictures. The ability to saturate the colors, fade the edges and fake a little light bleed at a corner here and there has become increasingly popular. I have to admit, I find it somewhat perplexing.

I’m looking at you, Hipsamatic and Instagram.

Without a doubt, the images made with these bits of software do indeed look genuinely old school and  the filters and effects used on each uploaded image are often dutifully stamped into the accompanying text of the Facebook post by the shooters.

Lens: Edward Q

Film: Kobe’s 1971

Flash: strobe

…Or some such thing.

I mean no offense to the legion of happy iPhone photographers out there, but when I see these images, my mind quickly drifts to of all the actual filters and lenses that still lurk to this day in dark and dusty, forgotten drawers and backs of closets in homes across the world. They sit unused and unloved and it somehow seems a cheat to let the computer oldify the photo if you have the tools to do it the right way from the very beginning. To me, it feels like buying carrots at the store, sticking them in the ground only to pull them out and call them homegrown. Sometimes, doing something the hard way makes the end product that much better.

To my mind, anyway.

It also makes me slower on the draw, so I guess victory can be claimed on both sides.

Carefully loading the black box with my precious eight frames of ISO 200, color film, I carried the Brownie out side, trying to look at the world with my dusty, rusty photographer’s eye. Something I hadn’t done in far, far too long.

What initially came thundering back to me was the realization that I had eight shots and that was it. For the first time in a long time, I had to really consider my shot rather than just blaze away. It was going back to hunting with a muzzleloader after having used what is essentially, a machine gun. I had become used to snapping off a double fist-full of pictures, looking at what I had, and the culling the duds. In the end, I’d still have three or four pictures that were worth keeping of any given object or situation. Unless your funds are limitless, it doesn’t work that way with film.

I thought about subject

I’m drawn to photographing stuff. I like stuff! It doesn’t move, it’s timeless and you can fiddle with it to get the best effects. The problem is that it can also be impersonal. A photo of a boat on a beach is great and all, but it doesn’t get coveted by your great grandchildren, it doesn’t solve a family mystery and it probably won’t be attributed to you if you’re not there to claim attribution. This time around, I was shooting for something to go in a family album. I was remembering the picture that Great-Grandma took of her child and husband

Scooting around in the flower garden next door, a fancily dressed fairy princess and a serious butterfly hunter caught my eye. My son, Shortstack is six now and his sister Lulu Belle is four and to our great relief and enjoyment, they are each other’s best friend as well as sibling. I also tend to have a slightly biased eye when viewing them. They were the perfect subjects

In this case, their near constant movement would only add to the image. It is how I see them nearly all times unless they are asleep. Blurry.

Holding the camera at chest height and looking through one of the range finders, I lined up my subject.

The shutter swings. SNAP!

What a sound.

I catch her again as she flies along at the edge of the garden.

SNAP!

After a few seconds of cajoling and kindness, I get both of them to stand still long enough to line them both up, capturing a moment of their youth to celluloid.

SNAP! Number three out of eight taken.

The day is beautiful and breezy as the chilly afternoon wind kicks up off the Atlantic and blows the treetops. The three of us head out for some adventure and the Brownie comes with us.

As my two dear children enjoy their time with some kites at a nearby field, I stand off to squeeze them into the tiny field of my camera lens.

SNAP!

Sun at my back and turning the Brownie on its side, I look through the landscape range finder and take one more picture, just to be safe.

SNAP! Number five.

The kids are very interested as I take each photo and are more than a little bugged that I can’t show them the image like on my phone. I wonder if they think I’m making it up. To temper them I take a few more with my digital and we talk about which ones came out best.

That evening, I can’t resist the siren song of low angle sunlight and I joyously give in and search out my last three images. These are for me.

SNAP!

SNAP!

SNAP!

In the end, it wasn’t that long a wait to get my film back from the photo place in town. The hardest part was just getting around to driving it over, and then back to pick it up. I had forgotten how exciting it is to open that little glued envelope. Things could go so wrong. You won’t know until you fan them out and see for your self. There is no going back.

The Garden Series:

The Kite Series:

The Boathouse:

There they are. All eight in all their glory.

I still have the roll of black and white, but that will have to wait for another time and a different method of printing. The photo place I had brought this roll to only develops and prints black and white about every six months, so I’m left with a problem. I could leave my used rolls of film with them and wait like a patient little soldier, or…

It’s a thought to terrifying to think.

Should I?

I know how, after all.

There’s really not that much to… developing it all… my self!

 

All I need is an enlarger.

Oh, and a developing can.

Well, I need the chemicals too. And lets not forget the baths and a timer. Not to mention tongs, a water supply, drying racks and a bunch of other minutiae I’m no doubt forgetting.

I wonder what corner of the basement would make the best dark room?

 

Uh oh…

Advertisements

Type-oh



Record Making

You Tube has been my savior for many a dinner hour. Since my wife works evenings most nights, it’s just Short Stack, Lulu Belle and me clustered around our little ash wood table as I try repeatedly to get them to take bites and masticate what I’ve made for supper. Since neither one of them is really “in to” eating, it’s a crazy making situation for their father that can very quickly ratchet up my stress level to brain popping levels.

“Short Stack, take a bite. Lulu Belle, chew.”

“Short Stack… What did I just say? Lulu! Stop pouching! Chew!”

“Hey! Take. A. BITE!”

“Lulu! CHEW! You’re going to choke!”

And around and around it goes until I need to get up and find another beer.

The main problem is that, being five and three, the two if them usually get messing around with each other, which is a lot of fun it their eyes, but usually ends up with a two hour mealtime and at least one spilled glass of milk. This is not good for my mental well being, especially when you throw in the inevitable cry of hunger that will be tossed at me at bedtime.

“But Dad! I’m too hungry to go to sleep!”

And before you say it, the tough love thing doesn’t really work. Sending them to bed hungry, mostly just makes for a midnight visit to my bedroom asking for food OR them getting up and raiding the cracker boxes them selves at O-Dark-Hundred. It’s not a good way to ensure a full night’s sleep. So, I use the only trick I have found that works: Distraction.

With the computer sitting at the table like a guest unto its self, I cruise You Tube in search of fun things that will astound and amaze my kiddos without giving them nightmares or turning them into sociopaths. There’s more that fits that criteria than you’d think! Today’s was the magic of the phonograph.

“Hey! Look at this one guys! It’s a Victrola.”

“What’s a Victrola, Dad?” It was a machine, so it had Short Stack’s interest immediately.

“Yah! What’s a Bic-tra-la?” Lulu asked around the mouth full of sandwich I had just crammed in her.

“Well, it’s a old kind of record player. I’ve always wanted one of these. It plays 78s!”

Blank stares.

“You see, different records spin at different speeds. The older ones… Wait.” I stopped my self as a mind blowing notion washed over me like a big analog wave. “You’ve never actually seen a record player before, have you guys?”

More blank stares.

“Eat up, and I’ll show you something amazing.” And with that, I hopped out of my seat and scurried to the basement.

To my children, our basement must seem like some sort of Cavern of Wonders, which I suppose makes me Ali Babba, which I’m cool with. I love neat, old stuff and I’m pretty careful to keep things in good shape. Couple that with my ability to fix most things I encounter and my ridiculous sense of sentimentality and you get a basement that is bursting at the seams with “stuff”.

Good stuff, though!

Lots and lots of it.

It took about five minutes for me to locate my ancient stereo with integrated turntable. This machine had been lusted after by a far, far younger me something like thirty years ago and purchased in the electronics department of Sears by my lovely mother. I’m sure she knew exactly what she was in for, but, bless her, she bought it anyway. It had a double tape deck (for making mixes!) as well as the ability to record directly off the radio. Somewhere, in some ancient and sagging cardboard box, there must exist my collection of radio recordings featuring the best of the 70’s and early 80’s. Back in the day, I was quite proud of my ability to fling myself across the room with enough precision to reliably connect with the record/play buttons when a sought after song started playing on the local station. I have a lot of music that’s missing the first second and a half of each song.

What this wonderful piece of hardware also sported, was a turntable! MY turntable! Down in the living room, my parents had a super fancy, stack six or seven records and let it rip, turntable. It was a thing of beauty and music playing power. It was also mostly off limits. It was for their music and though my Mom and I often shared similar tastes, Dad was another story all together. Dad was mostly a Classical person and rarely ventured into anything with an amp or a snare drum. For whatever reason, the only real divergence from this involved the 70’s answer to disco: ABBA.

For much of my childhood, I listened to every ABBA record that they ever made, over and over again as my parents stacked them on the turntable and spent their weekend hours working on our house. Somehow, and for some reason unknown, it didn’t burn a hole in my soul and actually, I came to love it. Call it nostalgia, call it disco-fever, call it the outcome of a mild head injury, whatever… I loved it. Even later on, as I started purchasing my own albums, the likes of Van Halen, the J Giles Band and even ZZ Top weren’t capable of totally eclipsing the guilty joy of catching that Swedish Supergroup on the radio or on the weekends when my folks were painting. Eventually, as the decades wore on, it faded away, with the likes of plaid pants and el caminos.

As my own children quickly munched down their dinners in the hopes of seeing the latest treasure dredged up from the house’s depths, I dragged the wooden and plastic box to the head of the stairs and plunked it on the kitchen floor.

“What’s THAT, Dad?”
“Yah! What is it?”

I felt like a magician. I was going to make music with NO iPod or CD involved. After a brief foray into the living room to retrieve a speaker from the house sound system and a little wire splicing, we were ready.

I plugged it in and touched the dusty power button.

It lit up!

I love old technology. Thirty years later and after who knows how many in storage, it still works!

The kids clustered close around me. “Ok, it looks like there’s a record in there so we should…” What I had expected to see was an old Fleetwood Mac record, which I have a vague recollection of playing in the garage while I cleaned. This particular garage belonged to our last house which I haven’t set eyes on in a decade or more, so I can be forgiven for not remembering correctly. What I was there made me smile broadly.

“Oh… You’re gonna like THIS!” Looking up from the table was a dusty but unscratched ABBA Album. Actually, it was ABBA: The Album.

You know!? The one with Take A Chance On Me?… Okay, maybe that was admitting too much knowledge.

“Hey! It’s got lines on it!” Short Stack chirped.

“Actually, it’s just one line. It’s a spiral that starts at the outside and goes all the way to the center. As the needle on this arm travels in the groove, it makes music.”

Pause. Pause. Pause.

“WHOA!”

Little mind: officially blown.

He looked on in amazement for a second more and then reached forward. “Can I start it?”

“No, no! I’ll do it. You have to put it down just right.” And in that moment, I had become my parents.

“Don’t drop the needle!”

“Don’t run in front of the record player!”

“Only touch the edges!”

“Don’t set it down like that. Put it right back in its jacket!”

Oh the rules of an analog world. Compared with the modern rules of “Don’t drop it” and, “Don’t drop it in THE WATER” what we had to deal with as kids looks pretty Byzantine.

Still, as the record spun, both of my kids sat next to it, glued to the floor, watching the disk spin and the arm move slowly to the middle. Short Stack was intrigued with the breaks between songs and Lulu, with the wonderful music she had never heard before. I’ve now listened to The Name of the Game and Thank You For the Music more times in a row than since I was under ten years old… and I have to say, I still love it! It brings me back to summer days long gone, couch cushion forts in the living room and my Dad’s voice booming, “Slow down! You’ll make it skip!” as I ripped though the house at full throttle.

Good times. Good times.

Looking up, I noticed that though mostly gone, my munchkins didn’t get quite all of their dinner eaten, but that was okay. I shut the computer, still sitting on the table and showing the frozen You Tube page, waiting for our next digital selection and cleared the plates. Lulu Belle and Short Stack hopped around in the living room, far from the delicate needle traveling in its microscopic groove and grooving away.

“Close enough,” I thought and broke out the cookies.

My little girl beamed at me over the thumping beat of the bass guitar, “Let’s dance, Daddy!”

“You bet!”

After a while, the telltale hiss of static, clunk and silence announced the end of side one and the beginning of dessert. We chatted as we munched about different records, record speeds and how old their daddy was until the cookies were gone. Getting up, I went to put my venerable old stereo back where I had found it.

“Dad…” It was Short Stack.

“Can… Can I put the needle down this time? I’ll be super-careful.”

I smiled. “Yah. Sure. I know you can be super-careful. Just let me flip the record first. I’ll show you the right way to pick one up.”

Arrival, Part III

The tricky bit about going to some place like the Kennedy Space Center, is that they rarely if ever have a street number. Heck, if they’re big enough, they often are on their own special street purpose built just for them and these places pretty much universally are without signage. It would be like saying, “What’s the Pentagon’s address?” I’m willing to guess that if you wrote, “The Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia” on an envelope and put it in the mail, not only would your letter there with no issues but you’d also get your very own little file with your own name on it in the very same building. It’s huge. Far larger than any puny little street sign or set of brass plated number that they might put out front. The thinking goes that if you can’t seem to take notice of the massive complex to your left, than a small green sign on a post isn’t going to help you either, and this I believe, it true. The trouble comes when you inject a computer into the equation. They want specifics.

If the Space Center has a driveway address, then I couldn’t find it.

What I had settled for was punching in “Titusville, Florida” into the screen and then selecting the button marked, “City Center.” My hope was that with NASA being kind of a big deal with the locals that once there, I could revert to my eyes and brain method of navigation, hopefully without a hilarious-in–retrospect sort of outcome. My worry now was just where in Titusville was the city center versus the place we needed to be. I continued to watch the GPS and follow its direction, but I began to talk back it with the same strange hope that inhabits the minds of sports fans as they watch the game on their TV. Maybe, if I tried hard enough, I could get it to listen to my concerns.

“Turn left onto Route 95 North”

“Really? Are you sure about that? The road sign says that I should keep going strait.”

“Exit right in one hundred yards.”

“I don’t know Erma. (I had named the female voice in the little black box Erma since I felt that I needed something to call her) I think you might be wrong on this one.”

“Exit in fifty yards.”

“I don’t know…”

“Turn now onto Route 95.”

One last thought of independence went flitting through my head like a moth as the exit opened wide to my right, leading to its own dark and unknown path. It was decision time. Who’s smarter: Erma or me?

The triangle of grass delineating the end of the exit ramp came rushing on at highway speed.

“Gah! Alright! Fine!”

A heavier than normal deceleration and swerve quickly followed.

“Who are you talking to Daddy?”

“Ummm. The GPS.”

Then a pause from the back seat. “Can it hear you?”

I shifted a little in my seat.

“Eh, no. Not actually.”

“Then why…”

“Hey Buddy! Look… um… There are some…” I groped for a distraction worthy point of interest in our dark surroundings. Anything to save face for being caught acting like a nimrod by arguing with an inanimate object. “That sign says that we’re almost there!”

And to make matters even better, it was the truth.

As I gazed at the signs telling me that I was indeed approaching the Space Coast, my confidence in Erma renewed and I once again realized that betting against myself was almost always the safe money. In this case I was happy to be wrong. After pulling off the highway and into the more populated areas, signs came with more and more frequency and eventually I was able to thank Erma for all her help before yanking the plug and unceremoniously stuffing her under the driver’s seat. To my right, behind some trees and an embankment, massive shapes suddenly loomed up against the darkness, pointing rigidly as if to indicate there intended destination. They were rockets. Real rockets.

“Hey Short Stack. Look over there. What do you think those are?”

Spotting things that I point out as we drive along is not his strong suit and I looked in the rearview mirror to see if he was awake enough to take direction.

“What? Were? Where are you point…” Silence. Then. “ROCKETS! Those are ROCKETS!” Any of the remaining brain fuzz affecting his performance was burned out of his cranial clockwork with the fire of a freshly lit J-2 hydrogen engine. I heard the seat belts strain against his body as he strained forward in his chair.

“DADDY! Those are ROCKETS! Right THERE! Can we go see them?!?!”

“You bet, Buddy!” The blast wave of pure joy and excitement that erupted from the back seat ripped through the fatigue that had started to pull me down and there was no way I could not join in with my son. I laughed out loud, sharing in the experience of a passion that was to be imminently fulfilled. That jolt was more than sufficient to have us back up at full power and ready for anything.

Pulling into the drive that lead to the vast parking lots, I reached down and jammed the special parking placard that had come with our tickets for the launch. We were waved into our directed parking area and I looked around to get my bearings. I’d need to find this car again in about six or seven hours but things would look substantially different by then. I gazed up at the massive lot identification pole marked that we were only a few rows away from.

As I scanned across the giant plateau of paved and neatly lined parking lots, I spotted another pole not too far away emblazoned with a Number five and the name Wally Schirra below. Number three, in the distance, was too far away to read, but I bet I knew what it was. Each lot, it seemed, was named for one of the original Mercury astronauts and emboldened with knowledge of these men via a recent viewing of the movie, The Right Stuff, I was tempted to point this out to Short Stack.

But he was four and it was midnight. Once again I felt a bit like the bad parent for dragging my very little boy out at such a ridiculous hour. The fact that he was still dressed in his jammies and had remained barefoot didn’t help ease my mind either. Then I spotted the car next to us and the young couple who had just arrived seconds after we had. They were here to enjoy the launch and so were both their small children, one of whom couldn’t have been possibly more than two. It was then that I realized we were in good company and it was time to get ready.

Tickets, Part IV

As things turned out, timing was actually going to be on my side for once. That particular Thursday morning we would all be visiting my in-laws in central Maine. Because of my wife’s somewhat unusual choice of profession as ferry captain, it means that her workweek is anything but the Monday through Friday, nine to five routine which most folks live in. Much of the time she works second shift type hours and weekends fall… well… wherever they can. We’ve done Tuesdays and Fridays; we’ve had Mondays and Wednesdays. You name the combination and she’s had it. All, that is, except for Saturday and Sunday. That’s something that just never ever happens in her line of work except for the very most senior of the senior captains, which se is not. Not yet, anyway. With her current schedule however, our weekend, for the moment anyway, was Wednesday-Thursday. That, and because I’m a full time stay at home Dad, my weekends are… frankly, never. BUT! I don’t have an office to go to. That is, unless you count the kitchen.

We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and after the various pleasantries about the drive, how we’ve been and what should we feed the kids, I explained the situation to my wife’s folks. Tomorrow morning we were going to need the computer. All of the computers, actually.

Being a huge tech geek and former I.T. director, I admit that I like computers. That’s not quite right. I LOVE computers. I like them powerful and portable and I had made darned sure that my wife and I had our laptops with us and ready to go when the time was nigh. To make things even better, my in-laws had just recently switched from the slow-as-tar-in-January connection that they had to a super fast cable connection full of wonderful high speed broadband goodness. Now, it was time to stop rowing and start hoping.

After reading and then rereading the rules of the game on the Kennedy Space Center website, I explained it to my wife.

“Okay, here’s how it works. At eight forty-five the site will open a page that will let us in to a virtual waiting room. Once the virtual waiting room fills up, they will close it off to new arrivals, so we have to be very, very fast on that.”

“And then we can buy tickets?” Action Girl looked a little groggy as she hovered over her steaming mug of coffee, but she was doing her best to look attentive.

“No. Not quite” This was where things got interesting. “That gives us the chance that we might get picked at random while in the waiting room to be allowed to buy tickets, providing that someone else hasn’t hovered them all up already.”

“That’s stupid.”

“Agreed. But that’s the way they play. And it’s not over yet. IF, we get into the waiting room and then IF one of us gets picked then we will be given exactly two minutes to fill out the information to order the tickets. If we go over the two minute mark, we get bumped back into the waiting room, but by then it will probably be too late to get picked again.”

Blank, semi-caffeinated eyes looked back at me. One eyebrow arched and was followed by a very flat, “What?”

“Yah, so we need to be ready.”

“I’m gonna need more coffee.” And with full mugs in hand, we sat down and got prepared.

I set the two laptops up on the dining room table and once they were set at the right page on the Kennedy Center’s website, I then attended to my in-law’s machine. Everything was ready and we all had our jobs. Mine was the laptops. My wife’s was the other desktop computer. My in-law’s was to keep the kids entertained and prevent them from trying to climb into our laps and demand to watch (in my daughter’s case) kid shows such as Miffy, Kipper or Maisy Mouse, or (in my son’s case) videos of rockets or the Space Shuttle. This had an added difficulty factor being that the page we had to wait at was covered with a rocket and space motif. Once Short Stack spotted that, the pleading began instantly.

“Later, I swear. Right now we need to do something important.”

“But Daddy, can’t we just watch one video? Puh-LEEZE?

The easy thing to do would have been to simply explain why I couldn’t. I could just tell him that we were all trying to get tickets for him to go and see these things in person and just how awesome that would be. He is three, and the idea of putting off a little enjoyment now for a lot later on is a difficult concept for him to grasp, but I had met with some success there before. The very real problem was possible failure. Very possible, actually. I had no idea what our chances were to get launch tickets and the idea of getting him all cranked up to see something that would blow his mind that much… and then not making it out of their hideous little virtual waiting room… well, I just didn’t think I could deal with that sort of guilt. I know it wouldn’t be my fault, but still, the look of a deeply disappointed child, YOUR deeply disappointed child is just too withering for me to want to get anywhere near.

I’d rather eat bugs.

So, with my in-law’s best attempts to get him distracted, Action Girl and I sat, drank more coffee and waited.

8:36

*Slurp*

8:41

*Slurp, slurp*

8:44

“Get ready…” I didn’t take my eyes off the clock on my laptop. The clock that is set via the Internet, so you just KNOW it’s right.

8:45 “NOW!”

Three clicks and all three computers navigate away from their page and into the waiting room. “Okay, so we’re in. Now we wait.”

Here, I give my wife some serious credit. While we had been waiting, it was her idea to copy down all our information, credit card numbers, addresses, names, etc, on another document on the computer. Then, if one of us got in, we could simply cut and paste it all into the appropriate fields without worry of error. That, and it would be faster.

Brilliant!

It was all set to go and just as I had hoped, BING, I was in.

The computer that got he magic pass happened to be my own and with a whoop, I quickly focused on filling out everything perfectly. Easy! And as I typed, I realized that it was going to be even easier than I thought! The information that is so commonly needed on forms like this is cached in your computer’s browser memory and the auto-filling took over as I zipped though. Names and phone numbers appeared without me having to do a thing! The only thing that made me pause was when I had to decide on the type of ticket.

Causeway or Space Center?

Causeway was a better view.

Space Center had stuff to look at.

What to do?

I looked at my son who was at that moment playing with his wooden Space Shuttle, making a low pass about three millimeters over his nose as he added rocket noises for effect. He worships rockets. He loves them. He needed to be surrounded by them when the moment came. That, and like I said, they had bathrooms.

Space Center, it was.

I clicked the appropriate button and hit “Complete”

I reached the end with time to spare. I smiled… then went bug eyed.

Instead of being shown the “You’re all set, you lucky boy” page, I was looking at my form again with a message stating that there were, “some errors.”

WHAT?! WHERE?!?

As I looked down the list of information, I realized that I had been sabotaged by my very own machine. Auto-fill had been less than perfect, but that didn’t stop it from trying! Here and there, I started to see where, in an effort of helpfulness, my computer had put down things that didn’t make sense. Phone numbers that were in wrong fields, Addresses that were either incomplete or overly so. I had to do some quick triage.

A few seconds of work and… “Complete.”

“There are some errors that we…”

AAAAAGH!

I scanned though the form again looking for the offending fields and tried and mostly failed to stop swearing in the presence of my children. I felt like I was an involuntary contestant on some evil game show. I do not know who programmed this site or decided on its rules, but I can safely say that if they were present at that moment, I would have elbowed them in the groin. “Accidentally,” of course.

“Third time’s the charm?” I clicked “complete” again and mumbled through clenched teeth. “Come on you bastard. Take it!”

“Congratulations! You are reserved for two tickets at the viewing area at the Kennedy Space Center for STS-131 on March 13th.

(Note to readers: We didn’t’ miss nor see the launch already. It was rescheduled for April 5th. More on that later)

I’m not certain, but it sounded to me like I let out at least three lungs worth of held breath as I rocked back in my seat and smiled. We were in. We had the tickets. Nothing would stop us now.

“Hey,” My wife said excitedly. “I just got picked from the waiting room! Do you need any more tickets? Are you sure you’re all set?”

It was an odd moment and a possibility that I hadn’t really considered. Did I need any more tickets? I had heard about tickets being resold on eBay for over a grand each and the reality of that notion hung there in the room like low fruit. “No. I’m all set. We’ve got what we need.”

Let someone else get the tickets. Perhaps there was another father and son who were dying to go. Perhaps they were still languishing in the waiting room thumbing through dog eared virtual copies of Field and Stream and LIFE Magazine. To take there dreams away would be totally unfair. Hopefully, they’d get called up next.

With that, we shut down the computers, stood up, stretched and topped up mugs with more coffee. We did it.

“Dad, NOW can we watch some rocket videos?” His Shuttle was gripped in his hand as he looked up at me.

“Yah, I think we can now. What one do you want to see?”

With that, I sat back down, reopened the laptop and let him scurry into my lap as I punched in the URL for YouTube and searched for the NASA channel.

“Let’s watch that one!” and a little finger shot out to direct me to the chosen clip.

“Sure Buddy.” I was one happy dad, and now so was he. All we needed to do now was get there.

Copies of Memories of Copies

“If anyone wants a piece of crap, four head VCR, I just tossed mine in the trash can outside.”

This was the announcement my friend Rae had made from the open doorway that lead to the computer arts room. There were five or six of us in there at the time so I didn’t waste a moment. In vein, I attempted to not look too eager, as I lunged at the black barrel that sat in the hall and reaching past the debris of cut off bits of foam core and mat board, I nabbed the unit it and gave it a quick look-see.

“It wasn’t cheap, actually.” Rae had followed me after I had bolted past her to snatch up the failed bit of technology before someone else decided to break it apart and make a mobile out of its guts. This was, after all, an art school, so the danger was real. “It worked well for a while but then it just stopped playing or recording tapes correctly. If you can fix it, it’s yours.” After a pause, she added, “Actually, it’s yours even if you can’t. Either way, good riddance.”

Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I’m a totally unrepentant scrounge and at the time, a four head VCR recorder was nothing to sneeze at. They were fairly pricy and for a college student who routinely checked under the cushions in the common areas for loose change (The trick was to beat the other guys to the cushion mining expeditions) so that he might order a horrible, little pizza from Dominoes, this was a huge win. Well, a potential win at any rate.

I’ve always loved taking things apart. Mechanical things, to be specific. Getting into some critter’s innards in biology class never made me feel sick, but it didn’t get me very excited either. That’s probably a good thing since I doubt seriously that I have the mental aptitude for professional science and so if I had that gory interest… well, it would lead me to decidedly creepier waters. A good thing all around, for all parties involved, so far as I’m concerned.

Gore? No.

Gears? OH, YES, PLEASE!

I loved finding free technology to vivisect. My feeling has always been that if it was already broken, then there wasn’t much for me to loose. The possible gain was worth the time tinkering around with screwdrivers, soldering guns and pliers. In this particular case, I got lucky. Within moments of opening the case, I spotted the main drive belt, stretched and distorted as it snaked through various pulleys in the VCR.

I replaced it with a large rubber band, and oddly enough, it worked perfectly.

What this got me was not only the satisfaction of getting a new VCR for the price of a rubber band, but also the ability to inflict… I mean “share” a newfound insanity with my classmates.

Mystery Science Theater 3000

Back in the late eighties and early nineties, the concept of viral marketing was virtually unknown. If you wanted to get your product, TV show, or what ever, to go over big then you needed big corporations to shepherd the way. There was no other real way to break through.

Then came MST3K.

The show had nothing to do with Mystery, Science, or the number three thousand. The theater part though, oh… it had theater. The premise of the show was simple and bizarre. A guy is shot into space by two mad scientists. He is a prisoner on the “Satellite of Love” with a variety of strange little marionette style robots and each week, he and the robots are forced to watch bad movies.

No. That’s not quite right.

HORRIBLE movies. Movies that people wish had been forgotten… and here, I’m talking about the people IN the movie. These movies often redefine the word, “ghastly” or at least set the bar that much lower.

When you watch the movie, you watch it with the prisoner/astronaut guy and his robot friends. They will appear as little silhouettes at the bottom of the screen and mock the actors, the plot (if any) and anything else through the length of the entire thing.

This, in essence, was college humor gold.

Here’s where the marketing comes in. MST3K, as it was lovingly known, started out as an “on the cheep”, cable access show out in the Minnesota. If you didn’t live near by, there was no way to see it… except for the tapes.

There was no way, back then, that any major broadcaster was going to touch MST3K with a ten foot antenna and video streaming over computers was not even close to on the horizon. If they wanted distribution, it was going to have to happen the hard way. Knowing their audience, the minds behind the show not only turned a blind eye to taped copies being handed around campuses all over the nation, they actually promoted it! In the end credits, a message appears reading, “Keep circulating the tapes, guys!”

Talk about appealing to your fan base! When it came to marketing, these guys were at least fifteen years ahead of the game.

So, with my new VCR, I happily introduced MST3K to the dormitory and, as expected, it went over as well as you’d expect juvenile and often esoteric humor would on a college campus. No. BETTER! We’d sit up late at night watching, “The Cave Dwellers”, “The Phantom Creeps” or “Manos, The Hands of Fate,” all the while laughing our heads off at the cutting remarks made by the professionals in the front row. It was great!

Eventually, we all moved on. College ended, jobs were found, connections with old friends were lost and MST3K, which reached its zenith by finally being picked up by Comedy Central and then briefly, the Sci-Fi network, ended its time on TV and as most shows are, was finally canceled. To all good things…. Ah, well.

A funny thing about technology today is that it often seems to all be focused on ordering our lives. We, as a culture have become obsessed with keeping track of everything that we have or will encounter, be it friends, appointments or nostalgia. Facebook has reconnected me with many individuals whom I thought I might never again speak to. My computer calendar attempts (and mostly fails) to keep me apprised of when I should be doing something I scheduled and, as I have just discovered, Hulu and Netflix have brought me back MST3K.

So, I sat down this evening with my laptop to see if the old magic was still there. The verdict? Hmm.

It’s not quite like I remember it. To watch it again all these years later, and this time in a crisp, clean resolution was a little… odd. The shows that I recall were grainy to watch and the sound was often distorted as well. The tapes had been copied so many times, that to have the show fail for a minute or two was not unheard of. It was even expected, to a degree. This time, it was so… so… perfect. Too perfect. The lack of a room full of drunk or otherwise decision impaired college friends also dragged the laugh-o-meter down a bit. It may have something to do with a change in my own tastes as well, I suppose.

Still, the fun (at what ever level) is there to be had and if you’re in the mood for some seriously horrible cinema, there is no doubt in my mind that this is the way to watch it.

In my basement, somewhere, no doubt in a very dusty box, sits my old and neglected VCR tapes. Among them is my own ancient collection of bootleg Mystery Science Theater 3000 shows. Copies of copies of copies, in all their blurry finery. Somewhere, I might even have that old VCR player as well. Who knows? The overall lesson though seems to be that some memories are best left as just that.

It’s great to reconnect with friends and relive some of the good times over a beer or three, or even over a computer if that’s the only way you have available, but I think I’ll leave it at that. Someday, I might just get around to tossing out all that old stuff saved for years for God knows what reason. We’ll see. It’ll wind up at the local dump here and perhaps, just PERHAPS, someone will find it and think, “SCORE! I can’t believe someone just threw this all out! I’ll go get a box!”

Yah…

I doubt that too.

A Cup of Perspective

As I typed away on my trusty, dusty, highly abused laptop, I decided that it was time so save what I had thus far. Command-S

“An Error has occurred. You can not save to this disk. It is either full or you do not have access.”

Hmmm. That’s not good. I try saving a different file in a different program and the same error appears. This is not good at all.

I’m a Mac guy. I love my MacBook Pro and schlep it everywhere I go, pretty much. I’d be lost with out it. The various arguments both for and against Macs take up an indecent amount of space on the internet and amongst various geek gatherings and I’m not about to get into it here. I don’t consider my self to be a Mac “Fan boy”, but it’s the system that I’ve used for much of my computerized life and therefor, is the one that I’m most familiar with. There are plenty of very good PC’s out there, I’m sure. I just want nothing to do with them. I like my Mac.

So, a little while ago, I decided that the hard drive I had was far too small. It was time to upgrade. I purchased a new, larger and faster drive, broke out the hex drive screwdrivers and prepared to void a few warrantees. Within minutes, the new drive was in and the old drive tossed into an enclosure in preparation of having its brain sucked out and transplanted onto its new, bigger home.

It won’t surprise you to know that this didn’t work out the way I planned. Eventually, I pulled the new drive back out and put the small, difficult but full of my stuff drive back in.

Apple has this little program that you can run called “Fire Vault” and it is, to put it simply, a piece of crap. The idea is a great one. What it’s supposed to do is encrypt your data to keep bad guys from getting your stuff if the machine is stolen. I keep bank info and customer’s credit cards on my laptop so I thought that this might be a good idea to use. The flaw comes into play when you want to copy your old drive to a new one. Fire vault, apparently has a bad reputation for not shutting off correctly and leaving your data encrypted. This is what it did to me. Luckily, I’m pretty fastidious about backing up but this was still a major pain in the butt. I called Apple for help and the very nice level two tech whom I was talking with told me, “Oh, I wouldn’t use Fire Vault if I were you. Everyone here is scared of it. No one uses it. It’s too dangerous.” Talk about your ringing endorsements.

To make a long and painful story far, far shorter, not only did I have massive trouble retrieving stuff from my old drive but eventually it stopped letting even me look at my files, or save anything else to the disk. Great. A reboot of the computer and it locked me out all together. It has been about three weeks since my last back up, so there that goes out the window.

So, rather than being a productive little worker bee, I spent much of my day screwing around with putting the new drive back in and trying to reconstruct everything I lost as best as I can. I was not enjoying this.

When I got home that evening, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one having a less that stelar time. Lulu Belle was in the the snittiest of snits and trying to make her happy was supplanted with trying to make her stop crying until she pukes. She was over tired and grumpy as grumpy gets. Eventually, I managed to get her upstairs and into her bassinet and relaxing to some degree. If I sat there and left a hand on her, she seemed to calm down. The problem was that this gets pretty boring very fast for the human pacifier. I cast about for a book within reach and managed to snag one from a dusty pile.

For those of you who might not be familiar with Eric Sloane, I highly recommend that you take a moment the next time you find your self in a library or book store. This is a man who loved what he did and did it well. Eric had a passion for old New England and the ways that things were done. At a time when everything was changing fast and the old ways were being lost, he took it upon him self to go out and chronicle what he could find before it was gone forever. His research took him to farmhouses and covered bridges, barns and churches and with his amazing talent for pen and ink drawing, sketched out what he found. Where he could, he talked to the oldest of the old timers and found out the secrets of post and beam construction, building the best root cellars, when to harvest what and which tools to use. Tools, in fact, were a particular love of his and he reveled in finding some strangely shaped saw designed for one type of cut only or a axe built for specific use.

As I sat there in the fading light, hand on my now sleeping daughter’s chest, I thought of how It’s nothing short of fascinating when we look back at the evolution of technology. In 1809, the cutting edge was just that, a sharper axe with a better blade that made your work go faster and easier. A broken handle was a decent equivalent to my toasted hard drive. Both stopped work cold and destroyed the day’s productivity. Technology might make our lives easier at times, but when we rely on it and it fails us, it upsets our world terribly.

The difference, I guess, is that I can’t go carve a new drive from a near by ash tree.

%d bloggers like this: