Sunday, June 29, 2014


This is only a test


(From Ask MetaFilter):

An old memory of color TV? Color on a black and white TV? What?! (1950s filter).

My dad was born in 1952. Recently, we went out to lunch. The conversation covered a variety of topics. At one point, he recalled a tale from his youth...

Essentially, this: He grew up outside of Detroit, and he positively recalls that his family owned a black and white television set. He says that periodically the television network or local broadcast partners would attempt to deploy new technologies that might transmit a color signal to a black and white set, and that these attempts would be prefaced with an on air announcement. Essentially, "We will be trying to send color to your black and white TV sets. If anyone sees color, please call us and let us know."

I find many aspects of this story super strange, and also potentially fascinating. However, parts of it also don't add up. Like... what!? Does this ring a bell to anyone? Perhaps there's a kernel of truth buried inside a story that has otherwise "grown" a little bit over time?

(From Some Science Forum Thingie)

Something happened that reminded me of this tonight, and I think I have finally made sense of something seen as a kid. For some odd reason it just hit me. When I was fairly young and living in the Los Angeles area, there was a test done one night on a local TV channel that was supposed to produce a color picture on the black and white TVs commonly in use. And I can recall seeing some color; I think mostly green. From time to time I have thought about this and wondered what it was that I saw. In fact at times I have doubted the memory as it didn't make any sense, but I can remember the event very clearly. Tonight it occurred to me what they were probably up to. I bet that they were strobing the white to produce a false color image, as is done with alternating black and white dots on a rotating wheel [I don't recall the name of the effect]. The idea is that each pixel on the screen would be strobed at the frequency required to produce the desired color for that dot. Does this make sense? I'm not sure what the strobe rate is that produces the false color effect, or if this was doable on B&W televisions, but it is the only thing that has even threatened to make any sense here. Is there any other way that one can imagine producing color on a B&W screen?

Why do I remember these things? I must have been an
embryo or something, or else very very little. The
TV both fascinated me (it was a magic box that was just about
the only thing that could pry me out of boredom) and scared
the living bejeezus out of me cuz every so often, there
would be a Test of the Emergency Broadcasting System, with
terse-sounding announcer coming on to say, "This is
ONLY a test". There would be this Godawful official-
looking logo on that said CD, probably for Civil Defense,
then for half a minute or so there would be this BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
sound that gave me nightmares. I would literally wake
up screaming,my head dripping with sweat. This "only a
test" stuff, routine as it was supposed to be, seemed to
escalate at certain times, which I new see coincided with
things like the Cuban Missile Crisis. My brother "played
war" all the time,which was no doubt his way of coping
with it all, but too often I was the one playing the
prisoner, further stoking my tiny paranoia.

But this, this - I really thought I had dreamed
this! My TV was always doing strange things, like
cancelling Howdy Doody, flipping like crazy, or refusing
to broadcast anything but a tiny dot of light so
that the TV repairman had to come over and replace the
picture tube.
But this was even more bizarre. An announcer
would come on - God, how far back I must dig to
retrieve this one! Anyway, an announcer would come on,
and as he talked a picture would come on of, say,
scene in Hawaii with palm trees swishing
around, and around the border of the shot would
be a strobing, flashing pattern. The announcer
 would say, "Do you see color on your TV?"
(I guess assuming no one had color TV at that point,
maybe because it was 1958).

I don't know if I saw color, but the flashing,
strobing patterns and the stupid meaningless
Hawaii scene scared me almost as much as the announcer,
whom I was sure was THE SAME GUY who did those
Civil Defense announcements.
Now I find these two posts from science forums
(note, one of them would not post because it turned
completely transparent on the page - heh-heh, no
ghosts here - so  attempted to re-paste it in color,, and
good luck reading it), you know the type, done by guys
with glasses held together with tape, and they're saying,
maybe it was realBut everyone has the same feeling: I
probably imagined this, it probably didn't happen.
There is even a sense of embarrassment about it: it
must've been a joke, I was fooled, I made it up! The
memory always seems to be hazy and there is a weird
feeling of unreality, even isolation.

We got all the Detroit channels, so the
mention of "outside of Detroit" (if you can read
it) seems significant. They were always doing
weird things in Detroit, like rioting and broadcasting
Poopdeck Paul and Milky the Clown. Now at least I know
I'm not completely insane to remember this.

I wonder what they proposed to do: frame
the black-and-white shows with dancing borders
of flashing color? Sounds like about as much
fun as having a migraine to me. I think maybe I did make
this up. Or maybe the memory was implanted telepathically into
several thousand brains by evil Russian scientists:

"This is only a test."

Friday, June 27, 2014

How Jell-o saved the free world

How great it is to live in the age of the internet, so that you no longer have to go out and buy books of vintage recipe ads. They just keep popping up on Facebook, unbidden. An astounding number of them feature Jell-o. This Lime Cheese Salad has some sort of indescribable brown stuff inside the mold. Most of these recipes call for at least one cup of mayonnaise.

This thing just frightens me. It's a huge bell of sorts, full of "stuff" like a strange quivering aquarium. You'd never get it to stay up. And how would you ever serve it? Stick a spoon in this, and it'd explode.

There are no details of the ingredients here, so we must use our imaginations. Macerated ham, perhaps? Some sort of bread with the crusts cut off, or (shudder) cake? A layer of Cheez Whiz to form a sort of glue? I do love the clever touch of the olive in the centre, a sort of cyclops effect.

Combining the two deadliest foods in the world in one dish has a certain mad genius about it. That way you can get it all over with at once. 

The candle on the right is really a banana. Perhaps it also vibrates.

This astonishing scene features a sort of igloo jammed to the rafters with a solid brown material. It is topped by a thick layer of what looks like molten Velveeta. No Inuit or any other human being could ever live there. In the background there appears to be yet another jell-o mold, making one wonder if anyone ever ate a meal back then without one. There is a blob of white stuff (mayonnaise?) on top of it.  The red dessert material appears to be more Jell-o.

No, no! I mean it, sincerely - this was considered food! This appeared in recipe books and in advertisements for products, which means housewives must have actually prepared it! Green nauseating slop with pink nauseating slop in the middle, plus a lemon curl.

YES - I want to be happy when company comes. So bring on the Hellman's! Bring on a rectangular brick of overprocessed meat with a cubic green filling of unknown origin!

My feeling is that this is post-war stuff and people still had a rationing mentality. My own mother frequently served creamed chipped beef on toast, the chipped beef coming in a JAR and having the consistency of thin, stretchy leather. She did frequently make jell-o molds, though not monstrosities like these. Creamed salmon. Fried bread n' gravy. Corned beef and boiled cabbage. These were the foods I was raised on. They had a sort of primitive glory to them.

This makes me shudder, because it is an ad for beef suet. I thought beef suet was the stuff my mother asked for at the butcher shop, which she was given for free because she was such a good customer, and which she threw out on the snow for the birds to eat to get through the winter. It was white, crumbly, hard as rock, and unfit for human consumption. "Atora" is called The Good Beef Suet. I can't imagine what The Bad Beef Suet would be like.

You know that crazy guy who did the paintings of cats, the ones with the staring eyes and bristling fur?  I think I've said enough.

This was once, apparently, a salmon, but it suffered a bad fate, its gob crammed with parsley, an olive for an eye (and olives seemed to be one of the four food groups back then), surrounded by masses of brussels sprouts (another food I gagged on). There are brown 'n serve rolls back there, and on either side, two boatlike structures full of - oh God, I can't go on any more.

And yet, I could not resist doing a blow-up (or is that throw-up?) of this rectangular-meat thingie to try to figure out what it is. Let's see if the other half of it is legible. . .

Transcription: SUPPER FOR SIX

Cream of Tomato Soup     
Corn Sticks      
Fresh Pineapple Mint Cup       
Ginger Cookies       


Scoop out center of a 1 1/2 pound piece of bologna, leaving a shell. Soak 1 tbsp. plain gelatin in 2 tbsp. cold water and dissolve over hot water. Mix 1 1/4 cups cooked mashed peas with 1 tbsp. Real Mayonnaise, 2 tsp. minced onion, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper. Add dissolved gelatine and pack into bologna shell. Chill thoroughly. Place on platter on salad greens. Heap with Real Mayonnaise. Garnish with radish roses, parsley and onion rings, as illustrated. *NOTE: Use left-over bologna in sandwich fillings for next day's lunches.

But hist! What's this I see at the bottom, in that little white box?

Grow More in '44 FOOD (with an odd little symbol that looks like a hand carrying a wicker basket.) It also says, I think, "fights" and something else. A reference to war rationing, undoubtedly. It may pertain to maintaining a victory garden to help the cause.

And part of the blurb about Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise reads:

Real Nutrition! This Real Mayonnaise is rich in food energy. . . provides almost exactly the same amount, spoonful for spoonful, as vitaminized margarine, or butter. Good for many of the same uses, too - to help you keep wartime rationed menus up to your own proud "taste good" standard.

So now I get it. There's a war on, we can't manage much more than a rectangle of bologna for supper, so let's hollow out the middle and fill it with gelatinized mashed peas to dress it up, then call it a "salad". Not only that: bologna and mashed peas was a special "company's coming" dinner, not just an everyday meal.  It seems sad to us, but it's what they had to do.

As for the actual product, the mayonnaise, all that emphasis on "real" must reflect the abundance of fake products, such as off-grade margarine and lard disguised as butter, and anxiety about the family not getting enough calories and nutrition to grow and thrive. Kids in wartime Britain often grew up runty and unhealthy, and never did achieve a normal stature.

Sad, but they did get through, didn't they?

Order The Glass Character from:

Thistledown Press


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Back to the garden

I hate being photographed - my head is always on one side, and my face looks kind of like a stroke victim's for some reason. I can't turn on a cheesy "cheese" smile like some people can.

But this was different. Bill got inspired. We made one of our pilgrimages to Burnaby Centennial Rose Garden, a place we stumbled on during one of our walks last year.

The place greeets you with waves of scent, intoxicating. You just have to stick your nose in all the blooms. I know nothing about roses, but they all smell different, some sweet, almost cloying, some spicy, others heavy and honey-like. A bee would drown happily here. The ladybug on the lip of the petal was content to sun itself.

I told you I can't do a good smile. I thought I WAS smiling for most of these, but this is how they came out. But the delicate mauve flowers enchanted me. Roses seem to come in all shades, including the deepest purple.

And fuschia. Every shade of pink and red (and none of the red shots turned out, but they have that long-white-cardboard-box-with-the-ferns smell, almost peppery - an anniversary smell).

These were dark burgundy, and as complex as peonies. 

Is this called a trellis, or a bower? It's much-o full o' flower. They drape heavily over the trellis and nod in the sun, drenching the air with sweetness.

I am happy in these roses, as I am happy in so many things.

There had to be a long shot - or not - but here it is.

I remember a line from Bradbury:
"I think the sun is a flower
That blooms for just one hour."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How does it feel?

This unremarkable-looking display is actually a cultural artifact of inestimable worth.

It's the first draft of Bob Dylan's classic, Like a Rolling Stone, which many have called the best rock song ever written.

Or recorded.

Or sung.

Recently these four humble pages, gleaned from I-know-not-where, sold at auction for $2 million. I don't know if Bob saw any of the proceeds. He may have been off somewhere forging paintings or making time with his new girl friend.

This is my all-too-inadequate attempt to blow up the pages. It's still impossible to read the text, but you can plainly see the little sketches he did in the margins, and the origin of the paper is a humble hotel room in Washington, D. C. Sometimes he write on an upside-down page, not that he would have noticed.

Here they are still more magnified, showing us that genius never moves in straight lines.

OK then, we all know His Bobness is a genius, and his quirky lifestyle is the proof. The fact he has lived this long is by far his greatest achievement.

But like most geniuses (geni-i?), his work has sometimes been wildly uneven. He's the Marlon Brando of rock, brilliant when he's brilliant, and sometimes plain stupid. The Christmas album is a case in point. 

But you never know quite what to expect from him. He has the courage or the foolhardiness to plunge in and try things he's really no good at. Last time it was welding gates out of old bicycle parts, claiming he was a welder when he grew up in Minnesota.

So all of a sudden he grew up in Minnesota instead of Outer Mongolia or wherever, raised by tigers. Now suddenly he's a man of the soil, a blue-collar sort, an everyday working man wielding a blowtorch. My ass he does that, but he doesn't want to run out of spontaneous twists and turns.

OK, the gates were actually pretty good, but who actually made them?