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Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Jupiter Ace Computer


The Jupiter ACE computer was a British-designed computer that was released in 1982 by Jupiter Cantab, a company founded by two ex-Sinclair Research engineers. One of the unique features of the Jupiter ACE was its use of the Forth programming language, which was considered by many to be ahead of its time.

The Jupiter ACE was based on an 8-bit Zilog Z80A processor running at 3.25 MHz, and had 3.5KB of RAM and 11KB of ROM. It had an audio input/output to a cassette recorder for data storage and retrieval. It could also connect to external floppy disk drives.

Unfortunately, despite its innovative design, the Jupiter ACE was not a commercial success, due in part to a lack of marketing and distribution. The company was eventually acquired by Amstrad, which discontinued production of the Jupiter ACE soon after.

Today, the Jupiter ACE is considered a collector's item by many retro computing enthusiasts. Its use of the Forth programming language and its unique design make it an interesting piece of computing history.

Saturday, January 08, 2022

The Garfield Telephone

1986 ad for the Tyco Garfield Telephone

The 1986 Tyco Garfield telephone perhaps would have been another '80s pop culture relic were it not for a phenomena happening to this day halfway around the world.

The phone itself was a conventional working telephone molded as Garfield. It's eyes opened when you lifted the receiver. It was targeted to kids lucky enough to have phone lines in their bedrooms (which was becoming a regular feature in homes in the 1980s.) It was foreign manufactured for Tyco (best known for their model trains and slot racers.)   

It even had a toll-free number kids could call and "talk" to Garfield.

And the phone was successful in America, from the numbers of them seen in thrift shops and on eBay.

But they aren't so popular in Iroise, Brittany on the French coast. Because since the 1980s, Garfield phones and parts have been washing up on the beaches of France and for many years, locals didn't know from where until a missing shipping container was found, completely loaded with unpackaged Garfield phones. But since the container is in a sea cave, it's extremely dangerous to access. So it's presumed Garfield phones will keep washing up for many more decades, possibly centuries as the plastic they are made of does not degrade very easily in the elements.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Great Kat - Worship Me Or Die! (Roadrunner, 1987)

Your blind date is here. Image: Discogs

I once saw a mail-order offer for this album in Metal Edge magazine back in 1988. The cover of this made me do the same double take you probably just did. So if you haven't already gotten the trigger warning; This is not an Anne Murray-type album.

"......UNDERSTAND??!!" Image: Discogs

But why it was mail order was an interesting fact of music distribution in the 1980s. Some major retail chains back then (including Walmart) simply did not stock then-independent labels such as The Great Kat's then-label, Roadrunner Records. And perhaps partly due to the then ongoing PMRC controversy and Roadrunner's then 1980s line-up of mostly scare-your-overly-religious-parents satanic shock metal bands, such as Obituary, Mercyful Fate and it's frontman, King Diamond that were hugely popular in the headbanger underground of the 1980s.  

"And always remember to brush and floss daily, limit sweets, and get a dental check-up twice a year. Mr HappyHorns....AWAAAAAAYYYYY!!!...." Image: Discogs

And in the 1980s, many independent record stores in America outside of larger urban centers were being wiped out by mall chains, such as Sam Goody, Musicland and Wherehouse, which typically only had just enough floor space for the mainstream major label hit albums (though you could special order some releases through some chains, you usually had to pay more.) 

So indie labels (even a few majors) often sold direct through fan magazines such as Metal Edge

Your eyes almost melted from the bright, airbrushed full color glossiness of every page of Metal Edge.

And The Great Kat's Worship Me Or Die! was one ad for a record that somehow stuck in my head. Without even hearing it

But even in my then heavy metal-centric stomping grounds of Lynnwood, Washington (circa 1988) and even in nearby Seattle, this album was somehow impossible to find locally. In any format.  

So while promising myself I'd order a copy Worship Me Or Die! (I mean, like, that cover), other albums distracted me. I was a very foolish mortal. And soon, I would really be in for it.

Image: Discogs

I almost completely forgot this album until I came across a miracle copy of this LP at a Goodwill a decade later. I grabbed it. Took it home, wiped the dust off the grooves. Put on my headphones. And began my atonement. 

And I was instantly disappointed. In myself. For not ordering this record when I should have. Because this album would have been the de facto soundtrack of a lot of headbanger parties, had I heard this back then. Because beneath the layers of metal cheese (and she didn't miss a single cliche) is some of the fastest speed metal guitar fretwork I've ever heard then. Or since.

An institutional grade Cuisinart could not shred speed metal lead guitar like The Great Kat. Forget the lyrics. I kept putting the needle back at the beginning of her guitar solos; What the hell did I just hear?

Even with all the thrash/speed metal I've heard up to this point, I still can't comprehend how this still exists absolutely ignored by the mainstream (ahem, rock radio.) But fortunately, you can hear this lost classic in it's entirely on Spotify and YouTube.

The Great Kat (aka Kathrine Thomas) is a Julliard-trained classical musician, which other than actual demonic influence might explain her amazing fretboard dexterity. She played classical music before crossing over to metal. She plays both violin and guitar. 

Her later releases, while not quite as over the top as Worship Me Or Die! combined classical music with speed metal. Her skill getting even more shockingly fast with each new album.

The Great Kat Beethoven on Speed (1990)


And The Great Kat is still showing the boys how it's done. This is her latest, "Shredssissimo" (2021).


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Complete Broadcast Day of WJSV, 9-21-1939


Vintage Zenith Wood Tombstone Radio, Model 10-S-130, Broadcast, Short Wave & Police Bands, 10 Vacuum Tubes, Made In USA, Circa 1936 - 1937 Photo; Joe Haupt

If you were ever curious about how network radio sounded like 82 years ago today, here's your answer.

WJSV 1460 AM was a CBS affiliate radio station that served Washington D.C. It moved to 1500 kHz as part of the 1941 NARBA agreement, where it was later known for many decades as WTOP, an all news station. With WTOP moved to FM, it is known today as WFED federal news radio.

WJSV Studios

In 1939, engineers at WJSV set about recording an entire broadcast day. This was no easy task in 1939. Magnetic tape was unheard of. Wire recording was rare, mostly unheard of until later in the 1940s and prone to breaking and other snafus. So they recorded the output of the radio station on a record cutter on giant transcription discs. These have thankfully survived the decades and serve as an authentic template for old time radio re-creation for any project.

Listening to it, it was clearly another time altogether in America.

Listen Here.


Monday, September 13, 2021

The Nylon Riots of 1945-46

In the aftermath of World War II, full time civilian manufacturing resumed. But not at pre-war levels at first. There was a lot of retooling to be done to get the factories, who had switched to making mostly military goods for the war back up to speed. (It’s a leap from live bunker busters back to cute baby blankets.) So in the following days and weeks after VJ Day, manufacturers were quick to tell consumers to be patient as they ramped up civilian production.

The shortages didn’t last long for most and everything was at full speed by mid-1946. However, there was one product that would not wait; Nylon hosiery.

Women standing in line for nylon stockings outside Miller's Department Store in Oak Ridge, TN in January 1946. Image: Wikipedia

Dupont Chemical invented nylon in 1939 as an alternative to silk, Japan had embargoed all silk exports to the United States. So nylon became a not only a replacement, but an affordable one. 

When World War II broke out, nylon was used for making parachutes and other military items. Civilian production was nearly ceased.

Silk and nylon stockings which could no longer be worn were being collected in stores throughout the country for conversation into powder bags which propel the projectile in big naval and coast defense guns. Image: U.S. National Archives

So women had to take especially good care of their nylon hose. Wearing them only on special occasions. But runs, sags and holes still laid waste to them all. It had actually gotten to the point where makeup-like products were introduced for women to color their bare legs just to replicate the look of nylon hose. 

Woe to the ladies who wore this stuff with white dresses and skirts in public......

There were also actual black markets for nylon stockings.

So when Dupont announced they were resuming full production of nylon stockings in 1945, women across America cheered. But there was a problem.

They announced it too soon. They promised a full production of pairs in the first shipment. The nation had millions of women who wanted to feel nylon on their legs again. Now.

But Dupont could only deliver a small fraction of that due to the actual speed of ramping up production (it couldn't be done overnight.) And that’s when all hell broke loose.

Store managers begged female customers to be patient. Department store windows were smashed in Washington D.C. 
In Pittsburgh, 40,000 women fought over 13,000 pairs of nylon stockings.

Dupont owned the patent and only when faced with anti-trust suits in 1951, long after the riots were over did Dupont license the manufacture of nylon to competitors.