Christmas shopping back in the day.

While perusing Facebook this morning I came across this Frazz comic strip shared by the Decrepit Old Fool himself. Here’s a quick description in case you don’t want to click on the link. In the past I would’ve included the comic with a link back, but the site specifically mentions a license for blog posts and it’s $35.

Two kids are talking about Christmas shopping in the past. The girls says that her Dad said it used to be all traffic jams by the mall while her grandpa said it was traffic jams by the downtown department store. While they, the kids, would be the ones to grow up to not be able to get out of their own driveways (due to all the delivery trucks). It really is better to go see it for yourself.

This, of course, started me reminiscing about Christmas shopping back in the day. I can vividly remember going to The Pontiac Mall and trying to remember what my parents and siblings had said they wanted and often failing. The crush of the crowd was both frustrating and amazing. It was one of the few times of the year that you really got a sense of just how many people lived in your area.

The Pontiac Mall in its early years before I shopped there.
An example cover.

Of course, we did have mail order back then, but it was mostly limited to a few catalogs that took aim squarely at the Old White People demographic (e.g., Harriet Carter) or foodies (Swiss Colony). Both of those are still around and on the Internet these days, which is a helluva testament to their knowing their target markets.

Though no one I knew did the majority of their Christmas shopping through them. I certainly didn’t, but I did look forward to the arrival of the catalogs as one sign of the start of the holiday season. Also. I did drool over more than a few items in the Swiss Colony catalog. I’m a sucker for cheese and sausage gift packs.

I get excited just remembering browsing through the toys in this venerable book.

We didn’t have an Amazon Wish List. Back then it was the Sears Wish Book. Going through the toy section, circling desired items with different colored pens, discovering the women’s underwear section as I hit puberty, such wonderful memories. Sears is still hanging on by a thread, but back in the day they were one of the big department stores along with Hudson’s which has since gone extinct.

A lot of my clothing growing up came from Sears as did the very first video game console I had: The Sears Video Arcade! Which was just a rebranded Atari 2600. This gives you an idea of the kind of clout that Sears had back then. Atari wasn’t a household name yet, but Sears was. So, Atari agreed to let Sears slap their own name on it because Atari knew Sears was highly trusted brand and it would get their consoles into homes.

When I was growing up The Pontiac Mall had a Hudson’s and a Montgomery Ward as anchor stores. They built a Sears at the north end of the mall in 1973, but it wasn’t attached to the rest of the mall which was annoying during the winter. It was eventually connected during the huge expansion in 1988 that nearly doubled the size of the mall and added stores like J.C. Penny’s and led to changing the name to “Summit Place” which I hated and refused to use. Hell, for most of my childhood I was ignorant of the fact that “malls” were common so it was always just “The Mall” to me growing up. Things have changed a lot since those days. “Summit Place” closed its doors for good in 2009 with only J.C. Penney and Macy’s remaining until early 2010. Sears held out until 2014. It was finally demolished last year. Driving past it during demolition and seeing it reduced to rubble was more emotional for me than I expected.

MY CHILDHOOD, RUINED! Source: Jonathan Hair on YouTube

Not that I’m complaining about things now. The vast majority of my gift giving over the past decade plus has been done online. Yes, I’m Amazon’s bitch. I can’t begin to imagine doing it the old way in the middle of a pandemic. Those crowds would’ve been an unparalleled super spreader event.

I keep my Amazon Wish List updated throughout the year and yet I’m amazed at how many folks still ask me what I want. Here’s a complete list with things both cheap and expensive as fuck. Pick something. I guarantee you ANYTHING on that list will make me happy. That’s why it’s there. For that matter, I’m amazed at how many people don’t have an Amazon Wish List or don’t bother to keep it up to date. It’s one of the things I love about living in the future.

Anyway, I’ve not posted anything since Thanksgiving and I wanted to get something up and the Frazz comic kicked off a wave of nostalgia. I was originally just going to reshare the comic on Facebook as George did, but when I got up to two paragraphs of writing about it I figured it should be a blog post instead. Now I’ve spent the better part of an hour and a half working on this instead of the 2 minutes resharing would’ve taken. That’s OK because I am on vacation and can’t go anywhere thanks to the COVIDs.

What about you guys? Got any memories of Christmas shopping before the age of the Internet and the rise of Amazon? Do you still go to your local mall? Here in Westland where I live now, we still have a local mall — The Westland Shopping Center — that I have been to in the past, but haven’t been in the three years since I officially moved here. I keep meaning to go because I’ve not wasted an afternoon walking around a mall aimlessly in many years, but haven’t yet and probably won’t until this pandemic is under better control. DAMN YOU COVID-19!

September 11th.

Imagine No Religion

CBS News coverage of the Apollo 11 launch in 1969.

Fifty years ago on July 16th, 1969 American astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins took flight to the moon in a Saturn V rocket. I was just under two years old at the time so I don’t have any recollection of this historic event.

Fortunately for me, CBS News did a live stream of four and a half hours of coverage of the event — including the commercials aired at the time — and that live stream is still available to watch on YouTube. Or you can watch it right here:

Courtesy of CBS News YouTube Channel.

I have to admit that I find this interesting not just for the historic event itself, but for the slice of America that it preserves. Between the commercials, which are surprisingly calm and dulcet compared to many commercials today, and the newscast it really puts into perspective how much has changed in 50 years. Some of it good and some of it bad. What’s also amazing is just how much of an emotional experience it still is to watch the launch even after 50 years of routine space flight with the shuttles and the space stations.

You may not want to sit through the full four and a half hours, but it’s worth watching at least some of this video. Especially if, like me, you aren’t old enough to remember it first hand. It really is incredible that we pulled this off using onboard computers with way less computing power than what your phone you carry around with you is capable of.

Ten letters that were dropped from the English alphabet.

I found this YouTube video by Austin McConnell quite enlightening. I was unaware that there had ever been any letters other than the 26 standard ones that we know today. The funny thing is, I know I’ve seen some of these in old books and texts and wondered what the hell they were supposed to be, but never got around to looking them up. At least one of them, the Ampersand, I was aware of and that’s mainly because of its usage in programming and search filtering.

Check it:

Interestingly enough, quite a few of these are a part of the standard character sets that can be typed on your computer. Some of them have been repurposed for other uses, but they’re still there.

“12th and Clairmount” upcoming documentary on the 1967 Detroit riots.

Back in 2007 I wrote a blog entry about the 40th anniversary of the Detroit riots. Now we’re coming up on the 50th anniversary and there’s a new documentary being produced in remembrance of those events:

Trailer for new Detroit ’67 riot film ’12th and Clairmount’

Drawing from more than 400 reels of donated home movies from the era, the documentary is being produced by the Free Press in collaboration with Bridge Magazine and WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) and a group of metro Detroit cultural institutions, led by the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The film combines archival and new interviews with witnesses to the events with footage from the home movies. Those five days in July were among the most pivotal — and divisive — in the city’s history, with the turmoil leaving 43 dead. While the 50th anniversary of the summer of ’67 was the impetus for the film, the home movie footage in “12th and Clairmount” captures a wide spectrum of Detroit life, from proud streetscapes to dance parties to neighborhood sporting events.

As I wrote back in 2007, this topic is a fascinating one for me because I was born in late August at Brent General Hospital just blocks from where the riot started while Detroit was still dealing with the aftermath. Right now it appears viewings are limited to the upcoming  Freep Film Festival in March and then at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) in July. The DIA is continuing to collect home movies of the riot for those interested in contributing:

The film is part of a larger project led by the Detroit Institute of Arts. The DIA, with funding from the Knight Foundation, is collecting amateur films from the era since the fall as part of an ambitious effort by several organizations — including the Free Press, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Detroit Historical Society, the Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs at Wayne State University, Bridge Magazine and the Detroit Journalism Cooperative — to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that pivotal year.

The DIA is continuing to collect footage and is regularly screening them in their raw form. Its effort will culminate with a marathon screening on July 29. “12th and Clairmount” and the DIA screenings will be among a broad swath of cultural events happening in Detroit throughout the year that will reflect on the 50th anniversary of the riot, its cause and lasting impact.

Unfortunately, the trailer isn’t embeddable (or at least the link to do so isn’t working) so if you’re interested click through to the news article to check it out and for information on how to contribute footage.

Science History: Celsius didn’t invent the scale that bears his name.

Here’s a video from Veritasium that was quite a surprise to me. It turns out that what we know as the Celsius temperature scale we use today wasn’t invented by the man whose name it bears. At least, not entirely:

Despite having lived through the big push to learn the Metric system in the 70’s, like most Americans, I never really got my head wrapped around it. Thanks to Reagan the United States Metric Board (USMB) was disbanded in 1982 bringing an end to any official attempt to make the Metric system the U.S. standard. Outside of the popularity of the 2-liter pop bottle and the 9-millimeter bullet, the vast majority of measurements in the United States is still done using the United States customary system (USCS or USC) which is a mish-mash of different systems none of which are as elegant as the Metric system. There’s been a couple of half-hearted attempts to get adoption going again over the years, but they’ve been mostly voluntary efforts that no one wants to volunteer for. Sure, you’ll find it in use in various science-y professions, but the average American is largely clueless on whether they would need to wear a coat when it’s 32°C outside*.

*Hint: No, most definitely not.

The claim that the Civil War wasn’t over slavery is false.

The recent brouhaha over the Confederate flag after the mass shooting by Dylan Roof of black members of a Charleston church brought out a lot of old arguments about the Civil War by folks defending the flag. The most common of which is the claim that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. A claim that is clearly wrong to anyone who has spent much time studying American history.

In a (possibly vain) attempt to settle the matter, the folks at Prager University enlisted the aid of Colonel Ty Seidule, Professor of History at the United States Military Academy at West Point, to speak on the topic:

That explanation is simple and concise and is something you can share with your crazy right-wing uncle the next time he starts ranting about slavery not being the reason the Civil War happened. It probably won’t convince him because those folks tend to be immune to reality, but at least you can save some typing.

Updated to add: This video should be particularly persuasive to Conservatives given that Prager University is the brainchild of Conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager. So this isn’t the work of one of us wussy liberals, but of one of your own.

Today Disneyland is 60 years old.

On July 17th, 1955 the gates to Disneyland first opened to throngs of waiting people. The event was covered by ABC with an hour long special that amounted to a massive commercial for Disney’s new venture. That special is available in its entirety on YouTube:

This was 12 years before I was born and it’s fascinating to look back and see how it was covered at the time. Seeing Ronald Reagan show up not as a politician, but as an actor, is really weird.

The park cost Disney $17 million to build (about $151 million in today’s dollars). An amazing amount of money at the time, but the park quickly turned a profit and continues to do so today. Average yearly attendance these days is 14 million people spending around $3 billion while they’re there. Not bad for a 60 year old amusement park. It helps that the park has been expanded and attractions refreshed several times over the years giving folks a reason to come back. I’ve never been to Disneyland myself, but I have been to Walt Disney World in Florida which is only 4 years younger than I am.

Anyway, I thought the ABC special made for interesting viewing so I thought I’d share it here.

PoliTech asks college students basic history questions…

… the results of which are very disheartening. Granted, this is in Texas where there’s an effort to have textbooks rewritten to push a Conservative slant on all topics, but these aren’t even politically fraught questions. These are basic facts that it’s stunning to think anyone with an IQ larger than their shoe size doesn’t know.

Check it:

headdeskBut, hey, if you want to know what show Snooki was on or who Brad Pitt is/was married to then these kids have got you covered!

To be fair, I can’t recall the last time knowing who won the civil war was critical to my day to day life and knowing that the Vice President is Joe Biden doesn’t help me fix a client’s computer any faster. In the interest of being completely honest I’ll admit that while I do know who we gained our independence from, I wasn’t entirely certain what year it was as it’s a bit of a vague question. My knee-jerk response is 1776, but that’s the year we declared independence. The war itself didn’t actually end until 1783. You could argue we didn’t actually gain it until the war ended. The really sad part is that I do know what show Snooki was on in spite of NEVER HAVING WATCHED THE FUCKING SHOW. I also know who Brad Pitt is/was married to because it’s all anyone talked about back when he dumped one to go to the other.

These people don’t strike me as stupid. They’re just ignorant about the history of their country. I suppose we could debate over how important knowledge of these questions really is, but the point is that you have to work hard at being that ignorant given these are basic facts first taught in elementary school and repeated throughout the years. Given how many times this was covered in my time in public schools I find it hard to imagine there’s any way you could finish K-12 and not know these facts by heart. OK, the Joe Biden one doesn’t really count. I can understand not knowing the dates of important historical events because I was pretty crappy at remembering dates myself, but I at least have a general idea of the time period they happened in.

Are they just not teaching these things in school anymore?