Monthly Archives: February 2014

AM Radio

I don’t understand or care for much of today’s music. That is to be expected. I’m old, and the music I grew up with, while still around, doesn’t even get play on the “oldies” stations. My music was from the 50’s and 60’s, “oldies” music today is the 80’s and 90’s.

Music is delivered to listeners today in ways I don’t completely understand or really care about: Digitial streaming, directly to an Ipad or Kindle, or smart phone. There is Itunes and Pandora and Spotify, which I presume are places to find the music you want. It seems to be completely on demand, targeted to fit the individual listener. As an aging dinosaur, I really don’t pay much attention to it. When I grew up, we didn’t have all these choices. We had AM radio.

Transistor_radio

Transistor radios came out in the mid 1950’s, but really started getting popular in the early 1960’s. The transistor replaced the old vacuum tubes which previously had powered radios, allowing the manufacture of lightweight portable radios which ran on batteries. It was a major technological development, and every kid wanted one. Fortunately, our defeated enemies the Japanese made them cheaply and saturated the American market (perhaps a precursor of things to come from the Japanese). Most of the radios kids had were like the one above, four transistor. I however, having a father who did not want his kid to be one upped by the other kids, got a six transistor radio as a birthday present.

trans radio

 

Needless to say mine was bigger, and didn’t fit in my pocket, like the four transistor would have, but mine was somehow “cooler”, although frankly I never did figure out what was better about six transistors. How you listened to the radio didn’t matter nearly as much as what you listened to. For kids in the Delaware Valley, there was only one radio station: WIBG (pronounced “Wibbage”) in Philadelphia.

My generation is, and always will be, the rock ‘n roll generation. Rock’n roll started sometime in the middle fifties (a highly debated point), and perhaps the first notable song of the genre was “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets.  This song was the theme song for the long-running TV show “Happy Days”.

Listening to the radio was a connection. Since there was only one R&R station, we all listened to it. If a disc jockey said it, we all heard it. Which brings me to my first point — disc jockeys.

WIBG disc jockeys were far from announcers, they were celebrities. Everyone, and I mean everyone in my generation knew the WIBG “Boss Jocks”. We listened to them every day and we felt like we knew them, and they knew us.

hy lit Hy Lit

joe niagraJoe Niagara

Two of my favorites were Joe Niagara and Hy Litt. Niagara was the morning guy, and he was often the first voice I heard, switching on the radio as soon as I woke up. I liked Joe, but the man with the plan was Hy Lit …..

“Calling all my beats, beards, Buddhist cats, big time spenders, money lenders, tea totallers, elbow benders, hog callers, home run hitters, finger poppin’ daddy’s, and cool baby sitters. For all my carrot tops, lollipops, and extremely delicate gum drops. It’s Hyski ‘O Roonie McVouti ‘O Zoot calling, up town, down town, cross town. Here there, everywhere. Your man with the plan, on the scene with the record machine.”

WIBG was more than disc jockeys and music. It was an institution. We knew what was hot and what was not. They put out a weekly “Top 99″ records listing. They were free at local stores, and we all had our latest copy. This one is from 1960. I was 14 when this one came out, and I’m sure I had it when it was new. Click on it to see the popular songs that week.

wibg1960a

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GOYYbiEul0

 By the way, the top three songs that week were “You Talk Too Much”, by Joe Jones, “Georgia on My Mind”, by Ray Charles, and “Save the Last Dance for Me”, by the Drifters. The Wibbage “Sure Shot” up and coming song was “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” by a guy named Elvis Presley.

With only one station, there was a great commonality among teenagers. You could meet a kid from another town, and you had WIBG in common.

From early morning to late at night, we listened. On the way to school and home, transistor radios were in our pockets or hanging from our bike handlebars. At night we lied in bed with the radio stuck to our ear, sometimes listening well into the early morning hours. The music defined the era, and a good era it was. The music was simple, and maybe we were too. Most songs talked about love – – seeking it, having it, ending it. Good times and good songs, but we’ll take those on in another post.

One last thing. AM radio was funny, sometimes fading in and out, sometimes static. But sometimes, almost always late at night, the AM radio signals bouncing through the atmosphere gave surprising distance and clarity to your little radio, and you heard this:

The Wolfman

 

Space

My wife and I recently saw the movie Gravity  in 3D. It was good, not great, but good. The 3D effects were also good, although I think they have been overhyped. Then again any movie starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney is likely to be Hollywood overhyped.

By coincidence, I happened across a video on Youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jHsq36_NTU

The video shows that our old notions of the planets in our solar system lazily rotating around the sun is actually not correct. This is how we’ve been taught  to see it: solarsystem1

The thing is, that’s not how it really looks. This is how it looks:

solarsysystem2 In this version, the sun is charging through space like a comet at 70,000 miles per hour, dragging all the planets twirling behind it by the force of gravity. The result is we actually move in a helix-like motion, not unlike a strand of DNA.

solarsystem3

I thought this was pretty interesting, but I’m a bit of a space geek. But that’s not what I’m really writing about here. It seems we’ve lost interest in things. Space just happens to be one of them, but I’m trying to use it to make my point.

When I was a kid, outer space was pretty much a mystery to the layman. Aside from the obligatory science lessons in school about the solar system (see first picture above), and the really cheesy science fiction movie, the stars were just something to gaze at from time to time. Oh sure, we learned to identify the North Star and the Big Dipper in Boy Scouts, but they were just connect-the-dots points of light. Then came Sputnik.

In 1957, the Soviets launched the first man-made satellite, Sputnik. For the first time ever there was an object flying over us in space orbit that had been created by man. The game was on. In 1958 President Eisenhower created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) The same legislation created the Advance Projects Research Agency (ARPA) which started the notion of the Internet, but that’s another story.

Generally speaking, Americans didn’t cotton to the idea of the “Ruskies” flying a space vehicle over our heads every ninety minutes or so. It could be seen with the naked eye, and after the novelty wore off, people began clamoring that the Soviets were ahead of us in space, and we were still locked on the ground with their little bright light flying over giving us the proverbial finger about sixteen times a day.

Thus began the “space race” between us and the Soviets, and a decade of growing public interest in all things space. We went from satellites to manned missions, reaching a finale when the US became the first country to put a man on the moon in 1969.

It was an interesting and exciting time. We learned about rockets and propulsion, gravity and re-entry vehicles. We learned about the “sling-shot” method to launch a vehicle into space. We, the collective “we” learned a lot. Kids took a new interest in science, parents bought model rockets for their children. We learned new vocabulary words.  Most importantly, we discovered a national unity, a purpose. Man could do great things; we could even leave this planet if we chose.

We landed on the moon, six times to be precise. Technology advanced by leaps and bounds. Everything from high-tech plastics to lasers to the first major uses of the computer came about as a result of the space program. We talked about going farther; Mars, colonies in space. There seemed to be no limits.

And then it fizzled. I think it started with a “been there, done that” attitude that began creeping in. Further space exploration began to look too expensive. There were other priorities. Sure, we had the Space Shuttle, unmanned space probes, and we landed robots on Mars, but it wasn’t the same. The public interest drifted away from space, replaced with only a series of space monster movies like Alien which suggested space was an evil place where we did not want to travel. Even current movies like Gravity  suggest disaster and chaos in space.

solarsystem4

All this brings me to my point: When we lost interest in space, we lost something else. It seems that desire to reach for the stars is gone in our society. We have turned inward, focus on trivia, and stopped dreaming. My freshmen college students can’t even name the planets, much less exhibit any knowledge of space. Things we knew when we were fifteen are Greek to the current generation.

How do we lose things we once knew? How do we drift off course, more interested in self-esteem and self-enjoyment than seeking challenges and reaching for the stars?

I don’t have an answer, but it is troubling. The space program brought us technology advancments beyond imagination, including the Internet, which offers endless possibilities for knowledge and growth. But it seems we’d rather use social media, more interested in Facebook  and Twitter  than exploring the Internet like the greatest library of all time.

The age of space exploration was a good time, for all of us. We thought outside of our own little worlds. We thought of possibilities. We dreamed dreams. Now it seems those days are over, and we are the worse off for it.

Evolution

darwin

I recently got into a mini-debate on Facebook regarding evolution. The debate was Darwin versus the various Christian or Biblical versions of creation. I’m not a particularly religious person, and I’m not even sure this is a post for this website, but I thought the exercise might be good for my old brain.

Today the notion of “God” creating the universe and everything in it is often considered passe. More than that, it seems popular to infer that those who subscribe to the Biblical concepts of man’s origins are at best ignorant, and at worst…well at worst maybe too stupid to live.

“Science” seems to rule this discussion.  “The Origin of the Species” written by Charles Darwin and published in 1959 is the “bible” of the science believers. I am not smart enough nor educated well enough to completely understand Darwin’s work, but as a practical measure, it seems to make sense. Certainly it seems easier to buy into Darwin’s theory than the notion that God made the earth and everything on it in seven days. But is it really easier? Is it really “different” than the Biblical version?

First, let’s despense with the idea that the “days” in the Bible were actually days.  Time frames that were possibly millions of years long are difficult enough for anyone in the modern world to comprehend. During Biblical times, it was probably incomprehensibe. Could we not however simply entertain the idea that one “day” in the Bible actually could have been thousands of years? Or even millions for that matter? Current thinking places the age of the earth at around 4.5 billion years. Dividing this by six (on the seventh day God rested),  we get each “day” being about 750 million years long.  That many million is almost impossible to grasp as it is, much less billions of years. Why not just call each of these time periods “days” and make it easier to understand. It’s a metaphor folks, a rhetorical figure of speech that makes the blindingly complex a bit easier to comprehend.

So if the only difference between Bible believers and science believers is a time frame, what is the big hang-up? A time frame metaphor hardly seems worthy of any sort of serious debate. You say tomatoe I say tomato.

But there’s more to it, isn’t there? Much more. The real issue isn’t about how long the planet took to cool and evolve, or even the specifics of how that may have happened. The real argument is why it happened. that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Did we just evolve as a random group of molecules from a firey “big bang” to the structured planet we are today? Or, was there something or Someone behind it? Are we a result of “intelligent design”?

I find it interesting that today all but the strongest religionists shy away form saying things like “God created man”. Today, in keeping with polictical correctness, we can only  enter the discussion by meekly referring to intelligent design, whatever that is. Even suggesting that however, seems to raise eyebrows among the enlightened. Surely anyone who even suggests we evolved by design rather than happerstance must be a little foggy brained at best.

So then, if we were not created deliberately by a supreme being, how did we get here? The most common alternative to creationism theory I’ve heard is that we just “sort of happened”.  In other words, some random collection of neutrons, protons and other tons all just came together somehow and created life. All life on earth is nothing more than a freak occurance, an accident for lack of a better word.

Here’s my problem with that:  First, if we are an accidental happening, it seems unlikely that this randomness happened elsewhere. Our species — our evolved species is unique in the universe. If there are any other “accidents” out there, they probably are nothing like us. So we may be alone, but that’s not the big point to me.

If we have evolved from this cosmic accident, life has no meaning. There was no plan making us, so we are no different than anything else in that life cycle. We are no different than a snake or a bird or an insect. We are a lifeform that simply “happened” If we’re “different” than the others, that’s only because we see ourselves as different, not that we really are.

Beyond that, if we are an accidental occurance on an accidental planet, life and death have no meaning. Before we were born we did not exist, and after we die we do not exist. Gone. Nothing, zero, zilch. Any meaning we give to life is nothing more than something we have simply rationalized. There is no Supreme Being, there is no Heaven, there is no Hell, there is only nothing. Human beings are just like a bug that gets stepped on — gone and not only forgotten, but never even noticed.

If we are simply accidental, then moral structures should be optional. To be sure, they seem to be so with some people, but the notion of laws and rules based on moral codes does not apply. After all, where did most of our laws and codes come from? “Thou shalt not kill”, “Thou shalt not steal”, etc and so forth. These all came from religions, all of which believe in some Higher Authority. If could be argued that without these laws and rules there would be chaos, and probably so. But the question is not whether or not these are good things, but rather where these concepts came from. Did they just happen accidently as well? Or were they given to man from someone else; someone who is not man?

earth

Check out this picture. Beautiful, isn’t it? Of all the planets known to man, earth is surely the most beautiful. All alone in our visible space, we sit, blue and green and gorgeous.

mars

Mars? Not so much. A pretty bleak and desolate rock.

venus

 Venus too. Wouldn’t want to live there.

io

And Jupiter’s moon Io –  forget about it.

The point is this. The planet that is beautiful, even from deep in space, is earth — the accident? All that randomness created this beautiful planet, which just happens to be the only one with life on it. Wow – what a miracle. No wait, can’t be a miracle, as that implies outside forces. Must be just a super cool accident.

Attempting to sum this up before it meanders any further, I think this: When we get old, we start to think more directly about topics such as life and death. I think younger people avoid these thoughts and rightly so. Life has too much living in it to think about it ending. But when we realize we have a far shorter future than a past, such things come to mind.

Dying and just being “gone” does not appeal to me.  I think the idea that we just “end” and go no place else is too shallow a thought. No believing in an afterlife requires nothing. We don’t have to worry if we have been just or unjust, fair or unfair, good or evil. None of that matters, because there is nothing after this. Believing in an afterlife, Heaven or Hell, or anything else requires an accounting. It requires us to reflect on the good and bad we have done. It requires some sort of reconcilliation to set things right.

So in the end, I’m pretty satisfied that we are no accident. I can’t say I know anything about the Creator, other than the fact I believe He exists. In that respect, I’m trying to do my own sort of reconciling these days.

eye