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2012 In Review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 6,600 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 11 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

It’s a Phone Phreak’s Life! Gaming Ma Bell . . .

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Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, subscribing to magazines was a big deal. Every family took pride in having a slough of magazines arriving at their home and reading them was a pleasant way to stay informed and pass a lazy afternoon.

My mom subscribed to McCall’s, Good Housekeeping, Vogue and some other fashion magazines; my dad, who was a pilot, subscribed to a bunch of different magazines. There was Trade-A-Plane, a tabloid showing planes for sale across the world printed on yellow newsprint. It always had a sixth-page sized single-panel pen-and-ink cartoon on the first page/cover, and that publication printed a cartoon of mine in 1962.

As a fourth-grader, this was an enormous deal for me (I was now a published cartoonist!!!) and my dad was stunned when he saw it in his magazine. He also got Flying magazine and whatever else was available concerning airplanes, along with Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, True, Argosy, Reader’s Digest, and, of course, National Geographic. The family also got Life, TV Guide, Look and the Saturday Evening Post. We loved them all.

I don’t recall my brother, Jeffrey, subscribing to anything, but I subscribed to Mad, American Heritage and a couple of Superman-family comics. My favorite was the magazine put out by the folks at the Boy Scouts of America: Boys’ Life.

Boy's Life Covers

The Boys’ Life of my day was a terrific read. Not only did it have stories about hunting for fossils in the Far West or what it was like to be a cadet at West Point or what was happening next at NASA; it also had some top-notch comic-strip features that I looked forward to seeing every month.

Space Conq2

Several cartoon features were promotional comic-strip-type ads by big companies. My favorite was the adventures of Chip Martin, College Reporter, which was sponsored by Bell Telephone and had art by the young Neal Adams, who went on to revolutionize the look of comic books in the late 1960s. His slick, clean style really caught my eye.

Chip Martin 1960-10 pt1

Chip Martin 1960-10 pt2

One unanticipated result of all this info pouring into the homes of kids of the early 1960s was that it gave some of us naughty ideas. We may have been Boy Scouts, but we were still boys with time on our hands and vivid imaginations and we came up with some creative ways to have fun, as you will see.

Most of my readers weren’t around in the days of no-such-thing-as-a-cell-phone when most telephones had rotary dials and were wired to a wall and there was one big phone company that made certain that long-distance phone calls cost a fortune, so the following may be hard for them to imagine: Many of us kids, including a couple of brainiac nerds named Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, got interested in computers by way of our attempts to hack free long-distance telephone service from the Bell telephone monopoly. We proudly called ourselves phone phreaks, and that little community, with its mimeographed newsletters passed around schools or head shops on the sly, is where I first heard of Jobs and Gates, years before Apple or Microsoft were even dreamed of.

Here’s a grainy picture of future Apple computer founders Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak playing with their phone-hacking toys.

Jobs and Wozniak

In the early 1970s, we all had trick homemade electronic blue- or black-boxes that could get us into a Bell long-distance trunk line for free; they were made of pilfered organ keys that could replicate the duotone sounds that controlled a telephone switchboard. We scoured the local Radio Shacks for little goodies that might be put to creative use.

We were astonished when we discovered that a freebie plastic whistle that came in boxes of Cap’n Crunch cereal could get you into the free long-distance circuits, too, and those whistles were much sought after and in the pockets of many a phone phreak in those days. We loved getting something free from Ma Bell! Just blow your Cap’n Crunch whistle– mine was a baby-blue one– into a telephone handset microphone and you can call anywhere in the world for free! Take that, Ma Bell! Want to talk for hours to a girl who goes to school several area codes away for free? NO PROBLEM!!! Just use my handy blue Cap’n Crunch whistle, my friend!!!

Capn Crunch whistle

Enough true confessions; here are some Bell Telephone comics from the very early 1960s, drawn by Neal Adams, that show the phones of the future! WOW!!!

Chip Martin 1962-10 pt1

Chip Martin 1962-10 pt2

Chip Martin 1962-11

Chip Martin 1962-11 pt2

Of course, all that Up Ma Bell! stuff was very illegal, but we felt as though a monopoly like the phone company was fair game. And it was a game: Bell Labs employed short-haired smart guys in suits and ties and we were long-haired smart guys in jeans and tie-dyed T-shirts matching wits with them. Many phone phreaks later worked for the many phone companies that came into being after the government shattered the Bell Telephone monopoly. Those ex-phreaks knew phones and how they worked.

Other ex-phreaks, like Jobs, Wozniak and Gates, used the skills they learned by soldering electronic phone-phreaking gizmos to create the first personal computers. This ex-phreak used those computers to change how folks made maps or colored comic books. At some point, even the weird turn pro.

No Words; Lots of Laughs!

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Patty is up in Hanover babysitting Sophie while Neenie, Greg and Maddie are in Philadelphia. Instead of playing guitar tonight with the Usual Suspects, I’m sitting at home with Murphy (high winds make him nervous and I don’t want to leave him by himself). As Murph and I try to ignore the winds, I’m laughing my head off at videos of an unusual pantomime comedian. His name is George Carl and there are several great videos of him on YouTube:

I recommend that you go full screen on the video. This particular one is from a 1986 Tonight Show.

Thanks to Mark Evanier, TV-show and comic-book writer (everything from Scooby-Doo and Welcome Back, Kotter to the Blackhawk comic books), historian and all-around genius at large, for pointing us in Mr. Carl’s direction! I owe you a stack of Gold Key Dick Van Dyke Show comics for that, Mark!

They Say It’s Your Birthday! Happy Birthday To You!!!

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One of my best friends in the world is having a birthday tomorrow! Our Boston Terrorist, Murphy, turns five!!!

Murphy, 12:20:12

“How can you refuse my plea for more chicken?!?!?!?”

If you detect a woe-is-me expression on Murphy’s face in this photo, it’s because I wouldn’t give him another piece of the Kentucky Fried Chicken that Patty brought home tonight. Murphy would eat a herd or flock or whatever they’re called of chickens if he thought that he could get away with it!

Our everlasting thanks to Lori and Kevin, Murphy’s original parents, who are such wonderful people. We keep in touch and Lori reports that when she asks her children where Murphy is, they respond, “He’s with Jim and Patty!”

Thanks also to Christine, director of the Old Dominion Boston Terrier Rescue, who arranged for Murphy to join our lives on October 29, 2011, after Patty and I became part of their foster program. Thanks, also, to two wonderful people, Dani and Elizabeth, who saw me moping around the office daily and convinced me to take a chance on loving another dog.

It has been a wonderful fit and Murphy has brought such joy and fun into our lives. Our granddaughter Maddie loves Murphy and he loves her in return; when they play together my face hurts from laughing so much. That’s unusual, because my face normally only hurts other people.

Murphy The Storm Dog, 10:29:12

Murphy Chews a Toy During the Recent Hurricane

Anyway, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Murphy!!!

Jim’s Acoustic Guitar Gizmo!

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A few years ago, I came up with an idea to keep an acoustic guitar’s strap from falling off the endpin pickup jack. I called this little thing my Gizmo.

There is a problem with acoustic guitars fitted with an internal pickup; if you have a cable in that jack, all is well because the cable will keep the strap from falling off.

If you don’t have a cable connected to your guitar, and most of the time you are playing you won’t, there’s nothing to keep that guitar strap from slipping off the endpin jack, and then your guitar hits the floor or deck or whatever else is under it!

This irritating and dangerous problem happened to me more than once and could have had bad results. So I came up with this little Gizmo to keep the strap from slipping off when there’s no cable in the jack.

Here’s a photo of the original brass Gizmo prototype made for me from my specs by my buddy Frank Ford, the guitar repair genius at Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, California. Frank is, in addition to being the fellow who sold Joan Baez her first guitar and the most talented guitar repair-person I know of, a skilled machinist:

Gizmo Prototype

Gotta include this charming photo taken recently of Frank and Joan playing with some ukuleles in Frank’s store:

Frank & Joan

A few months later, when I was visiting the CF Martin guitar factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, one day, I had Frank’s brass prototype of my Gizmo in the pocket of my jeans and showed it to Brenden Hackett, Martin’s marketing guru and a smart and supportive guy. Brenden loved the idea and we showed it to various folks at the Martin factory. It was Brenden who encouraged me to get the Gizmo patented.

Patents take a loooong time to research, write, get drawings for and so on, and once submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, it takes a loooong time for them to be processed and reviewed. But I did all the stuff one has to do to submit the patent and it’s been at the Patent Office for a couple of years, inching its way through the pipe.

Page Patent

Here’s a very low-end video I made one morning on my iPhone that shows the Gizmo and what it does. I made this video in support of a Kickstarter.com effort for the Gizmo. I had some great and enthusiastic supporters for this Kickstarter attempt, but didn’t generate enough financial backing to make the Kickstarter threshold. So it goes!!!:

While the Gizmo was still “patent pending,” one of my other great friends, Bob Shade, president of Hallmark Guitars, joined with me to have some prototypes and samples made overseas. We made them from brass with finishes in nickel, black and gold. Here’s what those look like:

Gizmos Final

Larry Stein, my very patient patent attorney, emailed me Friday afternoon that my Gizmo’s patent application has been published (whatever that means) and is in the final review stage now, after about two years. Maybe the Gizmo will finally come to fruition after all this time. Whether anything comes of it after that, I can’t say; it’ll need to be marketed by a firm with more resources than I have.

But if Jim’s Gizmo can help prevent someone’s nice guitar from being smashed to bits after a five-foot drop, then it’s a good thing!

Wish me luck!

Jim’s Nature Corner: Know Your Moths, Part 2

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My son, Aaron, creates skillful digital imagery, as a previous post spotlighted. Below is the first photography I’ve seen from him. It’s a photo he took of the outside of our basement door with a Luna moth (actias luna) perched on the window:

AA's Moth

It’s a pleasing photo; I like the soft colors and the different textures. The weathered doorknob and the bare wood where the knob has rubbed the old door over the years add interest and contrast. It also provides a sense of scale; everyone knows how large a doorknob is.

As in my earlier post about moths, I have to provide a little bit of background info: Lunas are silkworm moths, and one of the largest moths of North America; some can have a wingspan of four inches. They only live for a week. Seems a pity. The round markings on their wings are said to resemble eyes for scaring off predators.

Nice photo, Aaron!

Thurber’s Cartoons

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Thurber Seal BarkI’ve been accused of having a dry sense of humor, so maybe that’s why the cartoons and writings of James Thurber appeal to me so. The title of my blog, of course, is a reference to one of Thurber’s best books.

Thurber Court

When I was in college, someone in the Dean’s office had the bright idea to make me the dorm resident adviser, or RA. Since I had skipped the first two years of college and Florida Atlantic didn’t (at that time) have freshmen or sophomore students, I was at least two years younger than anyone else around the place. Crazed with the possibilities of my assignment, I bought a can of black paint and a 1/2-inch brush and painted a ten-foot high copy of the “What Have You Done With Dr. Millmoss?” cartoon on a starkly bare buff-colored concrete-block dorm wall.

Thurber Big Animal

Some folks liked it but when I left the university, they charged me $150 to have the wall repainted by the college maintenance crew. Philistines!!!

Thurber, a writer and editor for the New Yorker magazine when it was at its best in the 1930s through the 1950s, couldn’t draw worth a hoot in the conventional sense. Yet he loved to create doodles of floppy-eared dogs, timid men and dominant women and some of the editors insisted these be in the magazine. The cartoon below is unusual for Thurber, as it shows a dominant man. The expression on the woman’s face, however, indicates the man may have met his match.

Thurber Tiny Mind

The New Yorker’s founder, Harold W. Ross, hired Thurber initially as the managing editor to make sure the magazine got out on time. He was puzzled by Thurber’s cartoons, but realized they had a quality that others could appreciate perhaps more than he could. Note the stance on the man in the cartoon below. Probably by accident, Thurber conveys that the man has had a bit too much to drink.

Thurber Rabbit

Plagued by bad eyesight, Thurber was a crotchety person at times and that sometimes comes across in his cartoons. He also felt that men and women were often at war, and wrote and drew an entire book of cartoons based on that subject. Other of his cartoons, as in the one below, document befuddlement between folks regardless of gender.

Thurber Perkins

Many times his cartoons came about because he didn’t have the skill to draw what he initially intended. The classic first wife/present wife cartoon came about because he couldn’t draw the perspective of a stairway. The seal cartoon at the top of this post didn’t start out to show a seal behind the headboard of a bed but it ended up that way.

Thurber First Wife

At other times, he would be assigned to draw a cartoon that wouldn’t work if a better artist drew it. The famous “Touché!” cartoon was submitted by a cartoonist who drew in a realistic style. The editors gave the cartoon to Thurber to draw, as no one would think his cartoon people had blood.

Thurber Touche

Thurber’s obvious limitations irritated some readers and even other cartoonists. A cartoonist once wrote a letter to Harold Ross asking, “Why do you reject drawings of mine, and print stuff by that fifth-rate artist Thurber?”

“Third-rate,” Ross replied.

Thurber Secret

Here are ten of my favorite Thurber cartoons. I urge you to get a Thurber book; all are excellent. Perhaps the best book for someone new to his work is A Thurber Carnival, a collection of his brilliant short stories and cartoons.

Thurber Wine

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