Amoeblog

John Joseph Houghtaling 1916 – 2009

Posted by Whitmore, June 22, 2009 11:39am | Post a Comment
Put in a quarter
Turn out the light
Magic Fingers
Makes you feel alright.
- Steve Goodman from “This Hotel Room”

Maybe it wasn’t quite up there with jet packs and flying cars as what the future might hold but in the 1960’s the vibrating Magic Fingers bed was a sign that the future was here. And it felt kind of weirdly good.
 
John Houghtaling, inventor of the vibrating Magic Fingers bed, died this past week in Fort Pierce, Fla., of a brain hemorrhage after a fall. He was 92.
 
Probably the first significant hotel room amenity after the TV was the Magic Fingers bed, and in its time it was a veritable goldmine. The vibration system offered fifteen minutes of mild massage to the weary traveler for only a quarter. At the height of their popularity 250,000 machines were in service across the United States. With the average revenue of just $2 a week per machine, they generated approximately $2 million a month.
 
In 1958 Houghtaling had been hired to design a combination mattress and box spring with a pre-installed vibrating mechanism. Neither the beds, nor the concept, sold well. But later as he worked in his New Jersey basement he devised a small motor that attached directly to the existing box springs. The brilliance of the idea was not in the motor itself, but the idea to install this simple mechanism in hotel beds across the country for a newly mobile culture.
 
Magic Fingers have become a popular reference point in American culture, frequently appearing in movies and television like National Lampoons Vacation, Planes, Trains and Automobiles -- which features a can of beer exploding on a vibrating bed, and an episode of The X-Files where Agent Dana Scully is seen dropping quarters into a Magic Fingers in her hotel.

Over time though, the coin boxes were targeted by thieves and vandals, motel owners gradually found the Magic Fingers as a more of a pain than a vibrating pleasure. Eventually Houghtaling sold the company in the 1980s and though the company has changed hands several times over the years, a home Magic Fingers version is still available.
 
Houghtaling once appeared as a mystery guest on the classic TV game show What's My Line? One panelist, after figuring out Houghtaling’s Magic Fingers connection, claimed that he was owed 25 cents due to a broken machine, Houghtaling tossed him a quarter as he walked off the stage.
 

National Yo-Yo Day

Posted by Whitmore, June 6, 2009 05:30pm | Post a Comment
Carpe diem! If there is any day to walk the dog, pop the clutch, rock the baby, skin the cat, shoot the moon, or split the atom, today is the day, June 6th, National Yo-Yo Day. Flying Saucer, Around the World, Over The Falls, Buddha’s Revenge, Three Leaf Clover, Double On Trapeze, Brain Twister …

National Yo-Yo Day falls on what is believed to be the birthday for the entrepreneur who in 1932 got into the yo-yo business and built an empire, Donald Duncan Sr. Though the truth is the Duncan Company isn’t exactly sure the 6th of June is actually his birth date.

Yo-yos have been popular toys for more than 2,500 years, probably originating in China around 500-1000 B.C., though there is some evidence the Greeks had yo-yos even before then. While yo-yos in one form or another have existed for centuries, the yo-yo as we know it today seems to have originated in the Philippines.

Early yo-yos had a variety of different names; sometimes they were called quizzes, bandelores or Jou-Jous. The earliest recorded account of the word yo-yo is from an 1860 Filipino dictionary. Webster’sDictionary states that the word "yo-yo" probably derives from the Philippine Ilokano language word "yóyo." Other sources suggest that "yo-yo" is a variation of a Tagalog word meaning “come-come” or “return.” My favorite neo-fact about yo-yo's: the urban legend that they were sometimes used in the Philippines as a martial arts weapon.

In 1923 in Santa Barbara, California, Pedro Flores, a Filipino-American, went into the business of building yo-yo's by hand. Five years later in 1928, Flores started the Yo-yo Manufacturing Company and the first yo-yo factory. He also began to host yo-yo competitions. With in a couple of years Flores opened two additional factories in Los Angeles employing over 600 workers and produced 300,000 units daily. Donald Duncan recognized the potential of this yo-yo mania sweeping the west coast and bought out the Flores Yo-yo Corporation. Duncan is said to have paid more than $250,000 for all assets, a fortune in the depression era. He then hired Flores to run Duncan's promotional campaigns.

During the Second World War, sales dropped off, as did the availability of materials. But in 1946 yo-yo's again took off, the Duncan Company moved to Luck, Wisconsin, and quickly became known as the “Yo-Yo Capital of the World.” The Duncan factory produced some 3,600 wooden yo-yo's per hour.

The next big step in the yo-yo evolution was replacing the maple bodies. Duncan partnered with the company Flambeau Plastics in the mid 1950’s to produce the first plastic yo-yo's. Sales went through the roof. By 1962, the Duncan Company alone sold a record 45 million yo-yo's in a nation with only 40 million kids, and still could not keep up with the crazy demand. A couple of years later, Duncan Sr. retired and gave control of his company to his sons. The Duncan family sold the company name and associated trademarks in 1968 to Flambeau Plastics. Today Yo-yo competitions and exhibitions are held world wide. The 2009 World Yo-Yo Contest will be held in Orlando, Florida at the Rosen Plaza Hotel on August 13th, 14th, and 15th. Workshops and panel discussions, covering numerous topics of interest, will be held during the three days of competition. The event hall has over 10,000 feet of yo-yoing space with 22 foot ceilings and will be open 24 hours a day during the event. Sounds like a party about to spin out of control.

Vinyl Confidential, 2.1 -- The Brief History of 45’s, Part One

Posted by Whitmore, May 28, 2009 08:42pm | Post a Comment

The whole brief history of 45’s comes down to about two and a half minutes of heartbreak and a music industry coked up on millions of nickels and dimes from ten year olds spending their allowance. Aaah! But the joy in the weird, seemingly up the arse, off-the-cuff business decisions arbitrarily slung together.  
Why seven inches, and not six… phallic compensation? Why a big whole instead of a small one … phallic compensation! There must be some kind of underlying order and logic to all this, I guess. Then again, I'm no expert on logic and order-- I spend most of my thinking time in the absurd, geeky universe of 45's.   
 
The 7” 45 rpm record was introduced in 1949 by RCA as a smaller, more durable and marketable way to sell records to teenagers. In between crashing jalopies and begetting the next generation at lover’s lanes across the nation, all the flattop cats and the dungaree dolls were done playing Dad’s deadsville 78 rpm shellac platters at sock-hops. The Second World War brought new technology into the marketplace, the unbreakable disc was born, changing and dominating the industry for the next 40 years.
 
The first 45 rpm records were monophonic...and probably should have stayed there in its sepia toned aural perfection. But a few years later technology once again wielded new brawn, cutting a swath through the new middle class’ piggy banks and their want for shiny new electric toys. In the 1950’s and 60’s stereophonic sound looked too fancy to ignore, capturing the imagination by way of graphic designs carving up the backs of entire album covers with a geometry textbook fill of charts, dials and numbers. To starry eyes, this was the conduit to the modern world, chock-full of jetpacks, personal robots, self guided automobiles and scrumptious TV dinners. Except for the occasional monophonic promo record pressed for AM radio play, by the early 1970s almost all 45 rpm records were produced in stereo, though coincidentally, we’re still waiting on everything else promised by those rosy sci-fi prognosticators. I suspect color TV was invented specifically to take the edge off all the disappointments.  
 
Records, like bodies, like the Earth, are not necessarily made to move smoothly on curved orbits by a force called commerce. The cheapest and quickest way for record companies to track the newest new thing in a curved space was always 7” singles. Etched into each side is the shortest distance to a musicians sound, the fastest way to contemplate their muse, value, and the least painful way to navigate the unknown until the slow fade at grooves end has left your head either bopping or shaking. But sometimes the manufactured pre-determined length of a 45 was woefully insufficient. Old school set of natural law insisted three minutes was more than adequate. (Though on occasion editing could be conspicuously delicious, slicing out the unnecessary crap to get to a song’s hook: for example, the original single versions of "American Pie," "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" and "Thong Song"...) Eventually 12” 45’s, unhampered by space and time, boogied down the pike and unhinged the pulse, setting off the ballroom floor, teaching matter how to dance and in particular small objects traveling along the straightest possible lines in curved space. Anyway, the cosmos continues to evolve in its typical way; Earth continues to revolve -- though not at 45 revolutions per minute -- and my blather continues to dissolve in its typical way ...

Remembering Photographer Helen Levitt

Posted by Whitmore, April 28, 2009 09:14pm | Post a Comment
Earlier this month the legendary photographer Helen Levitt died at the age of 95. In the 1930’s she pioneered the art of street photography, most often documenting the neighborhoods and the people of her hometown, New York City. Her influence is undeniable. With the help of an inconspicuous Leica camera she captured small, everyday events, exceptional moments and quiet dramas. Someone once noted that Helen Levitt was "the most celebrated and least known photographer of her time." Here is some of her work.

National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month

Posted by Whitmore, April 17, 2009 09:14pm | Post a Comment

"April is the cruelest month . . ." begins the first line of The Waste Land, the signature poem by T. S. Eliot -- personally, I find November more of a pain in the ass -- but by special decree April is now officially known as National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month. Don't ask me who proclaimed such madness, though I have an idea ... and to help celebrate April’s culinary extravagance, Kraft Singles, for the second consecutive year, will be the sponsor of the National Grilled Cheese Invitational. Yes, this is a real event and competition featuring both professional and amateur chefs cooking their inspired takes on my favorite sandwich. I just hope someone is serving up some tomato soup. The event will take place on April 25th in Downtown Los Angeles; the exact location will be announced on April 20th.
 
By the way, the organizers for the 7th Annual National Grilled Cheese Invitational are now asking for and accepting talented grillers to register for and compete in this year’s event. The fee is $10. All competitors must register their sandwich for competition no later than Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 8:00 pm PDT. To register, go to:

www.grilledcheeseinvitational.com/2009sammich.php

There are three categories of competition:
 
The Missionary Position: Any kind of bread, any kind of butter and any kind of cheese (or combination of cheeses) but no additional ingredients.
 
The Kama Sutra: Any kind of bread, any kind of butter, and any kind of cheese (or blend of cheeses), plus additional ingredients.
 
The Honey Pot: Any kind of bread, any kind of butter, any kind of cheese (or blend of cheeses), and any additional ingredients, but a sandwich that is sweet in flavor, or would best be served as dessert.
 
As for the winners, there will be a 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th place trophy awarded in each category.
 
And if you have a zeal for the cheese and feel qualified (and who doesn’t?), everyone is welcome to register as a judge on-site. All judging is done using standardized ballots and a patented, computerized database that uses a ridiculously unnecessary amount of scientifically calibrated technology to tabulate the results and determine the cheesiest winners.
 
And if that isn’t enough, Kraft Singles will be cooking up thousands of free grilled cheese sandwiches all day. Not to mention you can expect a share of anything and everything cheese or cheesey from poetry, comedy, art, and music to cheese grilling exhibitions.
 
Admission to the event is only $5.
For those unfortunate lactose intolerant folks … "I will show you fear in a handful of dust."

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