Friday, October 23, 2015

The man who taught a dog to talk

Alexander Graham Bell is remembered mostly for inventing the telephone. But did you know he once taught a dog to talk?

Bell, born in Scotland, moved to North America in his early 20s, living most of his life in out-of-the-way Baddeck, Nova Scotia. Today, the Alexander Graham Bell Museum there honors the inventor, his inventions and his life. Among his more interesting experiments, which came before he came to Canada, was teaching a dog to talk. He did it. Sort of. . .

Here is what I learned on my visit to the museum. In Bell’s words:

“By the application of suitable doses of food material the dog was. . . taught to sit up on his hind legs and growl continuously while I manipulated his mouth, and stop growling when I took my hands away. . .

“The dog’s repertoire. . . consisted of the vowels ‘ah’ and ‘oo,’ and the syllables ‘ma’ and ‘ga.’ We then proceeded to manufacture words and sentences composed of these elements, and the dog’s final linguistic accomplishment consisted of ‘Aw-ah-oo-gamama,’ which, by the exercise of a little imagination, readily passed for ‘How are you, Grandmama?’

“The fame of the dog soon spread among my father’s friends and people came from far and near to witness the performance.”

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Seeing a drive in movie. Things have changed!

Cinderella got underway as the sun set.
There are only about 300 drive in theaters left in America. There were once 5,000. 

I went to one last night in North Hoosick, New York — Hathaway's Drive-in Theatre — which is in the country, right across the state border from Bennington, Vermont. Admission was $9 a person or $20 a carload. For that, you got a triple feature.

Some people sat in cars, others in the backs of pickup trucks. Families sat in front of their cars in lawn chairs. Gail and I watched from the front seats of our rented Toyota Camry.

You no longer hook up a crummy little speaker to your window. Nowadays you listen to the movie FM radio (88.1 at the Hathaway). So the sound is about as good as in a regular theater, maybe better. One nice thing is there are no strangers sitting next to you, and nobody's munching on popcorn in the seat behind.

The first movie was Cinderella, which I would normally not see, followed by a borderline watchable Adam Sandler comedy called Pixels. In the old days it would be called a "B" movie. In this case the "B" stands for "bad." Gail and I left before the last movie, a Mission Impossible sequel, because it didn't end until 1 a.m.

The owner sold popcorn and ran the show with his iPad.
I CAN'T REMEMBER the last time I saw a movie at a drive in, but it was at least 30 years ago. I went last night just to do it, not for the movies. I remember going to drive in movies while in college, usually with a date. It was better if you had a car with a bench seat, so you could easily snuggle up. Best case, you would start off sitting in your regular places but gradually inch closer until you were in a position for some physical interaction. For many guys, at least, very best case was moving to the back seat, which too often led to forced marriages due to a kid arriving in nine months. My car back in the old days had bucket seats, so nothing happened except watching the movie.

Bucket seats, I think, helped doom the drive in theater.

In most drive in theaters, the snack bar is beneath the screen and the projector and projectionist far back behind the cars. But that's not the way it works anymore. At the Hathaway, everything is digital. There is no projectionist. The movie is controlled from elsewhere. Last night, it was from the snack bar, where the theater owner operated the cash register as his iPad controlled the show via WiFi to the projector 50 yards away.

It was a lot of fun going to the drive-in. I hope I get to do it again.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

At the Hershey chocolate factory, it's bathtubs to the rescue

In Hershey, Pennsylvania, in the early days of the Hershey chocolate factory, founder Milton Hershey and his crew needed an efficient way to transport materials used in the chocolate making process. After a little creative thinking it was "bathtubs on wheels" to the rescue. It was such a good idea, they are still used today.