Oct 26

Older than dirt, part 1

The following quiz is making the rounds, and it rang enough bells with me that I thought it would be fun to write about.

Older Than Dirt Quiz
How many of the following items can you remember? (From your own firsthand experience, that is. Things you remember being told about don’t count.)
1. Blackjack chewing gum
2. Wax Coke-shaped bottles with colored sugar water
3. Candy cigarettes
4. Soda pop machines that dispensed glass bottles
5. Coffee shops or diners with tableside juke boxes
6. Home milk delivery in glass bottles with cardboard stoppers
7. Party lines
8. Newsreels before the movie
9. P.F. Flyers
10. Butch wax
11. Telephone numbers with a word prefix (Olive-6933)
12. Peashooters
13. Howdy Doody
14. 78 rpm records
15. S&H Green Stamps
16. Hi-fis
17. Metal ice trays with levers
18. Mimeograph paper
19. Blue flashbulb
20. Packards
21. Roller skate keys
22. Cork popguns
23. Drive-ins
24. Studebakers
25. Washtub wringers
If you remembered 0-5 = You’re still young
If you remembered 6-10 = You are getting older
If you remembered 11-15 = Don’t tell your age,
If you remembered 16-25 = You’re older than dirt!

So what were my answers? Let’s start with a list of the things I don’t remember:
Blackjack chewing gum. I’ve never heard of this before.
Tableside jukeboxes. Except in TV shows and movies, and some of the new retro-by-design restaurants.
Newsreels. TV had killed these off by the time I was born.
Butch wax. Never heard of it.
Phone numbers with word prefixes. No, I can still remember the phone number of the house I lived in when I was six, and it was just a string of seven digits.
Peashooters. I’m not even sure what these are.
Howdy Doody. No, that show ended when I was a baby.
78 rpm records. When I was a kid, all the record players we had could be set to play at 78, but my family didn’t own any of those records.
Hi-fis. Those came before stereo sets, right?
Mimeograph paper. I almost said yes to this, because when I was a public-school student, the schools used what everyone called mimeograph machines to duplicate handouts and test papers. But I’ve since learned that these were actually spirit duplicators. Mimeograph was an even older technology that I’ve never encountered firsthand.
Packards and Studebakers. I’m sure I’ve seen them on the roads, but I don’t think I ever rode in either one. Packard stopped making cars before I was born; Studebaker did likewise when I was in first grade.
Washtub wringers. No, just clothes washers with spin-dry cycles. I don’t remember washboards either.
So what do I remember? That will have to wait for part 2.

Oct 25

Natural 20!

Is the world ready for a reality TV show about Dungeons & Dragons players? Maybe, if all of the players (apart from the Dungeon Master) are attractive young women. The Daily Illuminator reports that such a show already exists on cable-access TV in Southern California. It’s called Dungeon Majesty, and you can see a video clip of it here.

Oct 19

Free your mind

If you believe that mad scientists exist only in old horror movies, you are sadly mistaken. I offer as evidence this press release describing an experiment (conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester) that involved a dozen ferrets and a copy of The Matrix.

Oct 12

Taco technology

In his latest Backfence column, James Lileks notes that Old El Paso has unveiled a new taco shell with a flat bottom, so that it stands up by itself while you fill it. Lileks has mixed feelings about this innovation. I do too, but for different reasons — it doesn’t seem necessary to me, because this particular problem is already solved by various sorts of taco holders or racks. But I might give the new shells a try.
As impressive as flat-bottomed taco shells are, I don’t think they are the most significant recent advance in taco technology. That honor belongs to Taco Bell‘s ingenious design for its Double Decker Taco, which addresses the fatal flaw of all conventional taco shells: they are brittle, and tend to fracture under stress. Frequently, the shell just cracks in two along the bottom, allowing the taco juice to drip down your shirt. Or (even worse) the shell shatters into multiple fragments, raining ground beef, shredded cheese, and lettuce all over you. The so-called “soft taco” (made with a flexible flour tortilla instead of a hard corn-tortilla shell) may have been intended as a solution to this problem, but I reject it out of hand. If I wanted my fillings wrapped in a flour tortilla, I would have ordered a burrito! No, a taco must have a hard shell, but it shouldn’t disintegrate when you bite it.
The Double Decker Taco solves the problem by using both kinds of tortillas. The corn-tortilla shell is enclosed in a flour tortilla, with a layer of refried beans in between. The shell gives the taco rigidity, while the flour tortilla holds the taco together and prevents leaks even if the shell cracks. Brilliant! It’s too bad there’s no Nobel Prize for fast food design; the taco engineer who achieved this breakthrough would certainly have won it.
While I’m on the subject of Taco Bell, I’ve been meaning to post a link to ChiliCheese.org, a Web site dedicated to saving the Chili Cheese Burrito (formerly known as the Chilito) from extinction. Apparently, some Taco Bells have dropped it from their menus, so it can be hard to find. At ChiliCheese.org you can sign a petition, order ChiliCheese.org merchandise, or use the Chili Cheese Locator to find a Taco Bell near you that offers the CCB. (Lileks alludes to this site at the very end of his column, where he refers to himself as SavetheChilito.)

Oct 11

Regular or premium?

In this week’s Straight Dope column, Cecil Adams addresses the question of how to choose between premium and regular gasoline. This topic is surely of great interest to everyone as the price of regular gas hovers around $2 per gallon. I thought I already knew the answer: use the lowest grade that doesn’t cause your engine to knock. But that rule is out of date, because today’s engines detect knocking and automatically adjust the timing to prevent it — at the expense of power and fuel economy. So how do you know which grade of gasoline to buy? Cecil offers a rule even simpler than mine: read the owner’s manual.

Oct 06

Silly stuff

My last couple of posts have been kind of grim, so it’s time for some frivolous, inconsequential things.
Check out this freaky optical illusion — it looks like it’s constantly moving, but it’s not. Notice that the apparent motion only takes place in your peripheral vision. The circle you’re looking at doesn’t move, but all the other circles seem to. And if you don’t look at any of them (for example, while reading the text above the picture), they all seem to move. Weird!
Be careful on this page. The little creature that lives there collects mouse pointers, and it will steal yours if you get too close. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Oct 05

Happy trails, Gordo

Colonel Gordon Cooper died yesterday at age 77. He was one of the legendary seven Mercury astronauts and flew into orbit on the last and longest Mercury mission in 1963. Cooper also commanded the Gemini 5 mission in 1965 and was backup commander for Apollo 10.
I don’t know whether Cooper witnessed the X Prize victory of SpaceShipOne before he died, but I hope so. With his passing, only three of the Mercury Seven remain alive: John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, and Wally Schirra. Gus Grissom was killed in the Apollo 1 fire in 1967. Deke Slayton died of brain cancer in 1993, and Alan Shepard succumbed to leukemia in 1998.