Sunday, January 30, 2011

What Life Was Like Before the Internet

It's kind of freaky to me sometimes to think that today's kids and young people have never known what the world was like before the Internet. The thought occurred to me when I interviewed a couple of college students for an internship in our department. They were both in kindergarten when email was catching on, and they never had to write a report without the help of a browser. With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to list the many ways in which the Internet has changed our lives - for better or worse. I'm kind of omitting the big picture things here and listing the smaller ways of doing certain things before computers took over our lives. For example...

*I wonder how many kids today know what the Dewey Decimal System was? In elementary school we learned all about it, because that was how we had to find books! Each book that a library acquired meant a librarian had to type or fill out a little card and assign the book a Dewey Decimal number, which would then tell visitors which shelf of the library the book was located. These cards were alphabetized (by title or the author's last name, I think) in little drawers. I seem to remember a scene in Ghostbusters where a librarian is spooked by a ghost and all of the Dewey Decimal cards come flying out of their tiny drawers.

*There was no such thing as Wikipedia, so we had to look up subjects in actual hard copy encyclopedias. I happen to think Wikipedia is far superior since the info is updated in real time - the minute a celeb passes away, Wikipedia already has the entry up-to-date. Amazing!

*Inviting people to a party or gathering meant sending invitations and making phone calls. Yes, without email or social media, getting the word out about a party was done by licking some stamps (we didn't get self-adhesive stamps until 10 or 15 years about SO much more work involved back then) or letting your fingers do the walking and your mouth do some talking. At least wedding invites are not immune yet to being sent via snail mail. 

*Reviews of products and services were strictly spread by in-person word-of-mouth. Yelp, InsiderPages, and other popular reviewing sites have changed the way we can pre-screen restaurants and other businesses. In a matter of seconds, we can see the opinions of hundreds of customers and what the rating average was. In the past, we found out from our friends, neighbors, family members, coworkers and other acquaintances if The Regal Beagle bar really was up to their standards.

*We had to wait sometimes to get the latest news. Before the Internet, your news sources were limited to TV, radio, and the daily morning paper.

*Shopping had to be done in person. Whether you were looking to buy clothes, groceries, appliances or records, before the Internet you had to physically get your butt down into a store to make a purchase.

*People met and dated in more traditional ways, not just online dating. I'm not knocking online dating; I've done it before and plan on doing it again, but I'm reminded of a 70s article I found once that surveyed single adults on how they get dates. Most of their romantic relationships started through mutual friends, at work, or at a bar. In other words, the only way of meeting other people was by actually meeting other people in person, not on a dating site. And if you wanted to ask someone out? You had to actually pick up the phone and make a call. And growing up, in my neighborhood if we wanted to play with our neighbors' children (many of whom I already knew through school) we'd just ring each other's doorbells or simply show up at their house and hope they'd already be outside fooling around with the bikes or jumping rope.

Well, these are just off the top of my head. So what would you readers list that I've forgotten? Do you think life is better or worse thanks to the Internet, or just...different?

Monday, January 24, 2011

RIP Jack LaLanne

By now you've probably heard that Jack LaLanne passed away on Sunday. As THE original health and fitness guru, it seemed that LaLanne would last forever. He came close, living to 96 years old, certainly a testament to a healthy lifestyle. To younger people, LaLanne is probably most recognizable for his branded juicer infomercials, but his impact on healthy living stretches back much earlier than that. My mother was a big fan of his in the 60s and 70s, when he hosted his own exercise and health show on national television called "The Jack LaLanne Show." This program actually ran in one form or another from 1951 to 1985.

LaLanne had a remarkable life - born in San Francisco in 1914 to French parents, he started out as a self described "miserable goddamn kid" who attempted suicide, beat up his brother, and even tried to burn his family's house down.

He was also an unhealthy teen, addicted to sugar and junk food. All that changed when he was 15 and went to listen to a talk given by a health food pioneer called Paul Bragg. That day changed LaLanne's life forever, as he studied up on human anatomy, improved his eating habits, and took up weightlifting and bodybuilding.

LaLanne later attended college and graduated with a doctor's degree in chiropractics. He opened his own gym in 1936 in Oakland, California and invented several weightlifting machines that are still used in health clubs today, most notably the Smith machine.

His half hour exercise show was simple: basic moves that needed no equipment, interspersed with nutrition tips and advice for living a happy and healthy life. LaLanne was always a bit ahead of his time - he encouraged women to lift weights when it was considered very unfeminine to do so, and he despised America's processed food, instructing his followers to eat foods as close to their natural state as possible. But this clip below from his TV program astounded me - he talks about how miserable many Americans are despite having the world at their feet, and how different the attitude is in poorer countries. Keep in mind this was during the 50s or 60s - and today our crummy attitude has only gotten worse:

These talks would come in between the workout moves, and sometimes they got a little preachy ("I've been studying this kind of stuff for a long time, so I know what I'm talking about" he says in one about sugar addiction) but LaLanne said so many times that he cared deeply for his "students" watching his program, as well as their health. In this heartfelt clip, he talks about his father's early death, an event that he somehow felt responsible for and probably never got over. It clearly inspired him to teach healthy living to millions of viewers:

You can watch several full length episodes of "The Jack LaLanne Show" on his official website, and there are tons of clips on YouTube. I think it's a shame that there are no fitness/health shows like his on daytime TV (non-cable) today. We've never needed them more in this time of epidemic obesity.

One thing I never knew about LaLanne were the public physical challenges he accomplished such as swimming a mile or more often while handcuffed and towing boats or people or sometimes even both. He set a world record in 1954 when he swam the entire length of the Golden Gate Bridge pulling 140 pounds of weight, including two air tanks. 

He became an inspiration to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Richard Simmons. I think it's a bit of a shame that he became a bit too spokesmanly later in life, pitching his juice machines and vitamins, but by then he had broke ground for teaching basic standards in exercise and nutrition to millions of Americans. He is survived by his wife Elaine and three children. 

His site attributes a nice quote to him: “Anything in Life is Possible, if YOU Make it Happen!” Rest in peace.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Make Your Mobile Old School

Is your smartphone not retro enough for you? Does it have you longing for an old-fashioned landline phone? Do you wish you could cradle it on your shoulder while you handwrite that letter to grandma? Well, a company called Yubz is set to solve those problems for you with the Retro Handset that plugs into any mobile device including the iPhone and laptops.

Nope, it's not a joke. Yubz claims that their retro handset reduces the radiation emitted by smartphones. The handsets come in a variety of colors and patterns (including one inspired by the movie Full Metal Jacket) and retails for $49.95. Unfortunately I just don't see too many people carrying one of these around with them and whipping it out when they make or receive a call, but I could see someone using it at home, particularly in their office when they need to type on a separate device. 

Check out the website for more info and to see all of the colors and options.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Depression Era Dating Rules for Ladies

Never get so wasted on a date that you actually pass out.
Unfortunately I cannot take credit for being the original scanner and poster of these images - I've seen them on a few blogs but most notably a site called Sad and Useless. They came from a book or pamphlet called Dating Tips for Ladies and while there's some common sense lessons in here for the modern dating woman, it also seems painfully one-sided from my female perspective. After all, my fellow ladies, how many of you have gone out with men who acted inappropriately on dates? Needless to say, it's good for some laughs and I guess it's good to know that some men had some standards back then...

Really? It sure looks to me that her date is enjoying his little leg peep show...

Could be least it's makeup and not the remnants of a visit from Mr. Mucus. 

Disagree. I think you should go with looking bored and yawning if a date isn't going well. If you don't let that poor dud know he puts women to sleep, who else will?

Are they serious? I like a man who can multi-task, so I would have to say if he's incapable of dancing and carrying on a conversation at the same time, kick him to the curb!
Could they define the word "need" here? Unless your name is Chaz Bono, you need a bra!

I love how they say "man" here instead of "men" - referring apparently to the entire existence of the male race. 
This dude has intimacy issues. Perhaps she should give the old "footsie" trick a try.

I love how he seems to be amused that she's crying and not giving a rip about her feelings. Typical.

"Welcome back, madam. Ah yes, that last chap you came here with was the cat's meow...looks, money, charm. Too bad you're stuck with Grumpy Gus tonight."

"Gee, that's a swell looking toupee you've got on there - and it feels so real!"

Either she drank herself into a stupor or passed out due to sheer boredom. Something tells me these two won't be seeing each other again, but at least he paid for dinner.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Movie Review: I Wanna Hold Your Hand

Just looking at this movie poster, you can hear the orgasmic screaming of minions of Beatlemaniacs! Yesterday I watched most of this movie on YouTube, and had (nearly) forgotten how endearing it is to me as a Beatles fan; however, being a Fab Four fanatic is not a prerequisite for being able to enjoy it. For anyone who ever pined over a celebrity or singer (which would be everyone) this movie gently pokes fun at fan behavior while also delivering a love letter to our obsession. 

I Wanna Hold Your Hand was released in 1978, co-produced by Steven Spielberg and directed and cowritten by a then-unknown Robert Zemeckis, who would go on to direct the Back to the Future movie series, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Forest Gump. Spielberg had to convince Universal Studios that he was willing to step in and direct the film if Zemeckis didn't work out. Fortunately it did, and while the movie wasn't a commercial success, it is a lot of madcap fun to watch - especially if you're a Beatlemaniac. 

The movie takes place in February 1964, in the days leading up to The Beatles' iconic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. A group of Jersey teens make the pilgrimage to NYC, many of them with the hopes of meeting the Beatles themselves. This motley crew includes:

*The endearing Rosie Petrofsky, a rabid Paul McCartney fanatic (played by the late Wendie Jo Sperber, of Bosum Buddies fame.)

*Aspiring reporter Grace Corrigan (played by Theresa Saldana, who famously survived an attack on her by a psycho fan in the 80s.)

*Bride-to-be Pam Mitchell (Nancy Allen) who really doesn't care at all for the Beatles (or so she thinks!) but is merely tagging along with her friends to experience the adventure.

*Larry Dubois (Marc McClure) who ends up playing chauffeur to get the group to the hotel the Beatles are staying at.

*Janis Goldman (Susan Kendall Newman) who actually dislikes the Beatles and is going along just to protest their music.

*Tony Smerko (Bobby Di Cicco), a tough smart ass who is also anti-Beatles and who refers to them as candy asses and girls. 

Much of the action takes place inside the Beatles' hotel; Rosie, Grace, and Pam manage to infiltrate the building despite the gaggle of screaming fans and cops surrounding the entrance, who are being kept at bay by Murray the K, the famous DJ responsible for spreading the Beatles' music to the masses. Rosie and Grace don't have much luck - being captured by and then escaping the cops that are guarding the Beatles' suite. Rosie does meet her male equivalent of fandom in a nerdy bellhop named Richard "Ringo" Klauss (Eddie Deezan) who secretly lives unnoticed in the hotel, and they eventually find themselves trapped in the hotel elevator moments before the Beatles are due to make their famous TV appearance.

It's Pam, the unlikeliest of the trio, who has the best luck, and the funniest scene in the movie. She hides under a room service cart and ends up in the Beatles' hotel room. Once she realizes where she is, she lets her Fab Four freak flag fly in a huge way: practically performing fellatio on Paul's Hoffner bass, drinking leftovers from the same cups that touched the boys' lips, lolling about in their beds and rubbing their leftover hair, collected from a comb, all over her face in ecstasy. Her adventures make her a brief media sensation and inspire her to ditch her tool of a fiance. 

Throughout their adventures, the group struggles to secure tickets to see the February 9, 1964 Ed Sullivan show, with the film culminating in the Beatles' infamous live performance (of which we mostly see the actual footage.)

There's a few things about this film that it make it work despite the very narrow plot and slapstick comedy. First, we never see the faces of the actors who are playing the Beatles - only the backs of the heads and their feet, matched with voiceovers that actually do passable imitations of John, Paul, George and Ringo; at least moreso than the lame accents heard on the Beatles TV cartoon series. This was a smart decision on Zemeckis' part, as no actor could ever be a close enough imitation to the real thing, and it also adds to the Beatles' mystique as seen through the eyes of the female characters. Secondly, not every character is a Beatles fan, which adds some dimension to the mix. There's some poking fun at their hair (and a sinister sequence where a young male fan with a moptop do is forced by his father to visit a barbershop in exchange for tickets to see the show.) Thirdly, where some movies haven't always done a convincing job with setting a movie in a certain time and place, the clothing, hair, automobiles and sets in I Wanna Hold Your Hand say 1964 to me and allow me to feel the buzz of excitement that was in the air when Beatlemania broke loose. It made me wish I had been along for the ride.

Also, I must give kudos to the actor who portrayed Ed Sullivan, Will Jordan. He convincingly looks and sounds enough like Sullivan that he's actually played him six times in movie and TV roles (including in Oliver Stone's The Doors and The Buddy Holly Story.)  He has some funny moments such as insisting his audience *must* remain seated throughout the Beatles' entire performance and warning his crew that the Beatles will be "like having Elvis, times four."

With no swearing or highly suggestive scenes (well, except for Nancy Allen licking a guitar neck) I Wanna Hold Your Hand is a film that baby boomers can enjoy with their Justin Bieber-loving children or grandchildren. Ultimately, it's a lot like the early Beatles themselves: light, good-hearted fun, and highly recommended.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Twenty Things That Died This Decade

A few weeks ago, The Huffington Post published an article called You're Out: 20 Things That Became Obsolete This Decade. I'm a little confused by which decade they're talking about (2000-2010, or if they mean the current decade we're in) but looking through the list, I have to say I can't think of any other decade where the current technology of its time became replaceable at such a rapid rate. To save some space, I'm choosing only ten from their list (you can see the rest by visiting the link.) So remove your hat and let's have a moment of silence for these pop culture objects and concepts that are either RIP or dangerously close to flatlining:

VCRs and VHS Tapes
I don't care how advanced recordable technology becomes, I'll always remember when my father purchased our family's first VHS VCR in 1981 or so. WHAT a concept at the time: recording shows and movies...recording shows and movies while you weren't home...and recording shows and movies while watching a show or movie on another channel! I think he easily paid $600 or more for the machine which was considered a big splurge at the time. 

Travel Agents
Yeah, this is one career move not to pursue these days. Come to think of it, I've never met anyone who said they worked for a travel agency. Now all of you have to do is just consult Mr. Expedia.

Photo credit Gloucester, A Bottled Spider, Flickr
The Separation Between Work Life and Personal Life
I don't know about you, but sometimes I wish the two weren't so conjoined. Very few workers are allowed to have a life anymore. Mobile devices mean we are connected to our work at all times, and we're expected to be answering email up until 11 PM. Sad because most of our time should be making our personal and family life a priority.

Just another reason why I'm not a fan of the Kindle and other handheld reading devices; places that did double duty as retail providers and social hangouts are slowly being eradicated. I would also add record stores to this list. 

Someone warn Mickey Mouse that his days as a time keeper are numbered. When the time is constantly displayed on that smartphone you constantly keep turned on, who needs to look at their wrist any more?

First it was Google maps, then GPS that has made the good old fashioned paper map obsolete. Still, there are instances where I think it's beneficial to look at an entire town or section of a city all at once to get an idea of the layout of the land. 

I remember what a convenience it seemed at the time to play a CD - no more fast forwarding or reminding a tape to find the song you wanted to hear or skip over. Now even these are too clunky and inconvenient, thanks to iTunes and iPods. But what I don't like even more than the death of CDs is the redundancy of album cover art thanks to virtual music downloading and sharing.

Yellow Pages and Address Books
Let your fingers do the texting...however, for the sake of senior citizens, many of whom don't own a mobile device, address books are a necessity.

Fax Machines
I'd say I use the fax machine in my office once, maybe twice a year. Now all you have to do is scan a document and email it as an attachment. 

Hand-Written Letters
This one makes me sad. There's nothing quite as eloquent and rare today as receiving a hand-written letter. 

I'd add phone booths and public phones to HP's list...unless you're in England, you're not going to be seeing too much of these anymore.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Three Ads Too Good Not to Share

Well, it's been a nasty past couple of days here in the northeast - we've been digging out from under nearly 2 feet of snow in some places from a January nor'easter. So, that definitely inspired me to dig up some great winter themed vintage ads for this installment of Three Ads Too Good Not to Share. Enjoy!

I call this one Dirty Old Men Winter. And the two fools are sitting there waiting with baited breath and flowers. Then again, maybe if little Miss I-See-London-I-See-Your-Crotch weren't making the entire world her ob-gyn...

This drink actually doesn't sound so awful...especially with the addition of that jigger of rum...however, I would imagine today's true Boomer concoction involves prune juice.

 I have to decide? Both are equally creepy in my opinion. I'll wait to see what the spring mask selection looks like.  

Brrrrr...stay warm, moi petites!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Why Are So Many of Us So Fat?

Yep, I'm going to go there. I know this topic has been covered on several other retro blogs, but it's worth repeating because of the health implications: we're a nation of fatties. It's estimated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 34% of Americans aged 20 and older are overweight and another 34% are obese. That's 190 million people, 2/3 of the country's population. Childhood obesity has also tripled in the past 30 years.

And we just continue to get bigger. One interesting thing I've noticed is that "fat" characters in movies from as recently as 25 years ago really aren't all that big by today's standards. For example, over the New Year's weekend I ended up watching Stanley Kubrick's 1987 war flick, Full Metal Jacket (uh, yeah, my brother lent it to my 80 year-old mother and me thinking, I don't know, that it would make a good watch for chick flick night.) Since there was virtually nothing else to watch we turned it on. One of the soldiers in training, played by Vincent D'Onofrio, is constantly verbally abused by the sadistic drill sergeant for being overweight and out of shape. How would I describe D'Onofrio's physique? Chubby at the most, but certainly not obese. I was also watching clips of the 1980 Dom DeLuise movie Fatso, which is a comedy (and a pretty good one, too, even though it would probably never be made today due to the touchy un-PC subject and weight jokes) about a man struggling to lose weight - again, DeLuise could stand to lose about 20, maybe 30 pounds on the screen, but he hardly looks like someone an airline is going to ask to pay double to fly one of their planes.

We just didn't have as many obese people back then, and certainly not many overweight actors unless they packed on the pounds for a particular role, a la Robert DeNiro's Raging Bull. But today? If a director can't find an obese actor, all he or she has to do is take to the streets to grab an ordinary citizen - think Gabourey Sidibe from Precious. It's amazing to me that we've become so desensitized to the growing girth of today's society that when we watch a movie made in the 80s and a character is presented is fat we can actually say, "he isn't that big at all."

Which is why, like everyone else, I'm wondering why it's a national problem. Well, I guess we all know the reasons why...there's no definitive answer, but there's definitely several major differences in the way our lifestyles are today compared to yesteryear that has contributed to the weight problem:

* People used to move more. Before so many varied forms of transportation were invented, people had to rely on their own two feet to get somewhere, and physical labor - farming, building, manufacturing, etc. - used to be a way of life.  

* Too much packaged and processed food; less growing and/or raising your own food at home. Michael Pollan, author of several books about food manufacturing in America and healthy eating, has said that if your grandmother wouldn't have recognized what you're eating as food, then you shouldn't be putting it your mouth. What I think are worse, however, are the gimmicks food manufacturers use today to make consumers think the junk they're eating is actually good for them; for example, sugary children's cereals with added fiber and vitamins.

* The convenience of fast food restaurants at every corner. I remember when McDonald's was THE only fast food restaurant that I knew about in my immediate area. Then a Burger King opened in the next town over, then a Wendy's and a KFC. In a span of 30 years, it's gotten out of control and made it all too easy for tired folks to stop off to pick up an unhealthy meal on the way home from work. 

* It's often cheaper to buy junk then healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Sad but true. I've heard that a meal at McDonald's is cheaper than getting a salad.

* Supersized portions for a deal compared to buying a meal piecemeal. And while we're at it, it's a challenge if not impossible to choose a healthy meal from the chains that are not exactly fast food restaurants, such as the 99 and Outback Steakhouse. Many restaurant portions are also HUGE - much larger then they were in the 60s and 70s. Someone once asked George Burns how he stayed so slim. His response was that he only ate half of what was put on his dinner plate. It's good advice, because whenever I go out to eat at one of these establishments, I almost always get stuffed and end up taking home the rest in a doggy bag; at least I'm getting another free meal out of the deal.

* People working more and longer hours including both parents; not enough time to exercise. Plus, the nuclear family sitting down to enjoy a meal together has pretty much gone the way of the Dodo bird, according to this recent Retrospace post. Less families are eating dinner together, much less taking the time to prepare a healthy meal together. Parents are also more willing to give in and let their picky kids eat whatever they want just to keep the peace, instead of enticing them to eat healthier food.

* Technology and video games taking away from physical activity. As a kid, I lived for summer vacations and weekends, which meant riding my bike, using my rollerskates, jumping rope, running and sliding down a slip-n-slide. And I did it without worrying about a kidnapper lurking in the neighborhood. I had an Atari, but my parents made sure I only played for an hour or so before going out to get some good old fashioned sunshine. Today's kids don't always have the luxury of a safe neighborhood, and too much technology has them sitting on their rear ends, texting away a beautiful day. At least there is the Wii and that new Xbox Kinect which requires you to move your body to play a game.

* Not making gym class a requirement. Hearing this revelation on ABC News recently floored me. Growing up, we were never given an option to opt out of physical education (although we certainly would have given the chance...thanks to Mrs. Christopher's creepy ways of spying on us girls while we were changing.) But today, in many schools, it's no longer a requirement. The report even said that some schools allow students to take gym online!

* Horrible school food. British chef Jamie Oliver's ABC series last year exposed the greasy, artery-clogging underside of an elementary school cafeteria's kitchen. Chicken nuggets full of processed meat, bones, and crap is offered alongside nachos with artificial cheese sauce. It's often too time consuming and expensive for lunch ladies to make a slew of healthy meals by scratch (and as Oliver painfully discovered, many kids tossed his meals into the trash cans instead of even trying them.) Also, soda machines are accessible in many schools today, something that I didn't encounter until I was in high school.

* Food is a growing addiction. For many people, unfortunately, food is their drug - it brings comfort when they're down. I'm not so sure if it's a better option than alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs.

We are such an unhealthy nation today. I hope we can change our ways before it's too late. 

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