Thursday, August 13, 2020

Some days are carved from the mighty cosmic timber with no greater aspiration than to be filler. These are the sun-stretches when we embrace the mundane and allow our atoms to settle a little. Jodie has needed one of these days for months now; I’ve been grabbing them wherever possible, like a hungry fat kid at a free Corn Nuts buffet. And with an unimpressive roster of potential merriment on tap for yesterday, it was easy to slide fully beneath the radar and allow the seconds to thunder someone else’s landscape. We kept things light and uneventful, apart from this:

World Elephant Day

For those who have been keeping track – and I have no idea why anyone would devote the time and energy to do so – we celebrated National Elephant Day back on March 13. On that day I learned a little about elephants, and remarked at how fantastical and wondrous they are. We are now nearly five months later, and elephants are still just as fantastical and wondrous as ever. I feel no need to repeat the entry.

Still, this one was started by a Canadian, and that’s kind of cool. Patricia Sims co-founded this day with a conservation organization in Thailand back in 2012, and their website has a trove of information about the efforts to keep these majestic grey creatures a-stompin’ around the plains of Africa and India. The site also contains a number of events which took place yesterday, which included videos, talks, and a quiz competition. Oh, and they headline that particular section of the page as ‘Elevents’, so kudos to the creative minds at work here. These are my kind of people.

So without repeating myself, I thought I’d learn a bit more about elephants. I was aware that you can tell the difference between African and Indian elephants by the shape of their ears (which conveniently look like either Africa or India), but I had no idea they had 150,000 muscle units in their trunks. I don’t even know what exactly a muscle unit is, but that’s still probably impressive. They also spend roughly ¾ of their day eating, much like many of us during the lockdown of 2020. It takes about 20 minutes for a baby elephant to learn to stand up.

If you are in a position to sign on to help out the elephants (conservation costs bucks), please do. If not, just appreciate the hell out of these beasts, and spread the word.

National Vinyl Record Day

On this, the alleged 143rd anniversary of Thomas Edison inventing the phonograph, we are meant to reflect on the magic of vinyl and how it has helped to shape our lives. I say “alleged” because with so many conflicting tales of how Edison may or may not have actually invented the light bulb or the film camera, or the tiny legs on chairs that pop out and keep you upright if you lean too far back, I simply don’t trust Edison history anymore. That said, whoever invented this one, it was a winner.

Vinyl is, of course, in the midst of a grand comeback. I wish I was a part of this comeback, but my record player was mortally wounded in our last move, and I have neither the funds nor the inclination to replace it. Still, there is something about those scratches and pops that place a piece of music into an aesthetic milieu detached from time and space. It’s one thing to bask in the passion and pain of the notes Billie Holiday sang, but to hear it with those audible wrinkles can transport the mind back in time.

When I was a teenager my uncle bestowed upon me all of his original Bob Dylan albums, encompassing Bob’s entire career up to his motorcycle accident in 1966. Hearing Dylan’s revolutionary poetry nestled within the warmth of well-played vinyl added an urgency and intensity to his words. This was a revolution and rebirth he was witnessing, and it was easy to see its conclusion has not yet been reached.

My first piece of vinyl was a 45 of Elton John’s, with “Crocodile Rock” on one side and “Elderberry Wine” on the back. I must have driven my parents insane with how often I played that, which upon reflection was an astute way to subtly convince them to buy me more records. I still have a lot of my old vinyl sitting around, including that single, but no means with which to play them. Someday I’ll remedy that.

Maybe on August 12 of next year.

Baseball Fans Day

I don’t know how long this has been an actual day, but this year it lands with an indelicate splonch. Fans of baseball have had to negotiate a truncated season, an insistence that they watch the games only from home, and several cancelled games that could very well derail what little structure the Major Leagues have cobbled together for 2020. We see cardboard cut-outs and weird CGI in the stands, and that will have to do.

I am not by any measure a fan of baseball, though I do appreciate the game and the history behind it. I watched Field of Dreams and a number of other TV shows and movies that embrace the romanticism of baseball’s intertwining with American family culture – I get it. And honestly, going to a game is something I have always enjoyed. I find the intensity of the sport doesn’t carry well over a television broadcast, and that may be due to my lack of deep investment. But in person it’s a terrific game, and always a fun time.

I feel for baseball fans. Hockey and basketball seem to have figured out the logistics of their little ‘bubble’ seasons, and the vote’s not in on how the NFL fares this year, but baseball had to figure it out first. It struck me last week how much sports fans are suffering this year. Being only a fan of NFL football (and, when I can see it, Aussie football), I’m not going through withdrawals yet. Even if the season were to show up and be canceled, I’m okay with skipping a year. But others are more devoted than I. The time I pour into studying music and film they will pour into memorizing stats and watching their favourite highlights. I get it – and my heart truly aches for sports fans right now.

But I also extend that ache for theatre fans and fans of live music. It’s a crappy year for so many loves. Today I extend my heart to the baseball lovers, and trust that you will all remain fans into 2021 when the magic may happen for the full season. They may have been the first fans to get screwed over by this pandemic, but they also have the longest wait until the next scheduled season launch, so hopefully that will buy enough time for things to get more normal.

Next year, I hope those stands are stacked with actual humans. I think there are a lot of actual humans who need it.

IBM PC Day

Thirty-nine years ago, store shelves made way for the IBM 5150, the first personal computer to feature that famous blue logo. This was a huge deal – IBM was dominating the mainframe computer market, and of course a generation or two had learned to type on their typewriters, but the personal computer market was being adequately handled by Apple, Tandy, Commodore and Atari. The key to IBM’s brilliant elbow into this market was to create open architecture machines. This meant making it really easy for other companies to create cards and modifications for the computers.

Back in 1981 if you were ready to scoop up one of the first 5150s, you’d be looking to shell out at least $1,565, which is about $4,400 in today’s money. That would get you a computer with 16k of RAM, actual colour graphics (Apple was still mired in green screens at the time), and zero disk drives. When it came time to try to talk folks into spending that money, IBM considered trustworthy Alan Alda and lovable Kermit the Frog as spokespeople, but finally decided on reviving Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character. It was brilliant – they played on the Tramp’s loathing of modern tech in the film classic Modern Times, and created a connection between the character and the machine. Chaplin’s estate was on board, and wound up suing a number of other companies who also tried to “borrow” the Tramp.

By the end of 1982 IBM was selling one machine every minute of every business day. The following year sales surpassed those of the Apple II. By the end of the decade a PC running DOS and using that IBM architecture was known as an “IBM-Compatible”, which reflected the sheer dominance the company had over the market. It all came down to releasing those technical specs in order to create a number of industry standards. It was genius.

And it all began on an August day long ago. We celebrated this by using the great-grandkids of the IBM compatibles, the Windows machines we have running in our house today.

Today is yet another day in the madness, but at least we dine with style tonight – that’s always a win:

  • National Prosecco Day. Jodie has been looking forward to popping open that bottle in our fridge.
  • National Filet Mignon Day. We have tenderloin steaks to enjoy tonight, which is a different (but in my opinion tastier) cut.
  • International Left Handers Day. Perhaps a trip to the Leftorium is in order, or it would be if such a place existed.
  • Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. Needless to say, this is not the day they receive equal pay, but it’s a good day to point out that they goddamn should.

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