Saturday, March 5, 2016

"Our online history is disappearing at an astonishing rate"

Saturday night only-semi-coherent musings...

The Internet is full of more text than you could read and pictures that you could view in a lifetime the length of Norman Lloyd's. The Surface Web1 contained more than 14 billion pages at the last known count. Thousands of new blog posts, works of journalism and cat GIFs are being added every day. It boggles the mind.

But while the Internet's vast collection of content is always growing, much is also lost, forever, each day. Despite the valiant effort of projects such as The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, the BBC and other organizations have noted that "our online history is disappearing at an astonishing rate, creating a black hole for future historians."

Last year, Internet pioneer Vint Cerf warned:
"We are nonchalantly throwing all of our data into what could become an information black hole without realising it. We digitise things because we think we will preserve them, but what we don’t understand is that unless we take other steps, those digital versions may not be any better, and may even be worse, than the artefacts that we digitised. If there are photos you really care about, print them out."
History disappears every day, of course, Internet or otherwise. The Library of Alexandria was destroyed. Cities are bombed. Books are burned. Diaries and photographs and convenience-store receipts are dumped into landfills.

I recognize the deep irony in an ephemera collector like me trying to preserve and discuss tangible paper items on a weblog. Would it take much, really, for the nearly 1,800 Papergreat posts to vanish in the blink of an eye?

But I have both optimism and backup plans. These posts are on Blogger, and it seems to me the Google's blogging platform has as good a chance for long-term survival as anything on the Internet. And, if all else fails, there's the return to paper. There are already six thick volumes of archived Papergreat posts, thanks to blog2print. Those books, filled with all the incidental history documented here, could end up at a research university, the Library of Congress, one of those salt-cavern storage facilities ... or perhaps a trunk in the attic of some creaky old house in the Midwest.

Anyway ... I think there's going to be a point here. I surf the Internet quite a bit while writing and I frequently find myself in some odd corners, reading stuff that is technically available by Google search but that few people are likely to ever stumble upon. I'm going to share and repost some of that stuff here, as I come across it. Mostly, they're just interesting human stories and confessions. Journal entries floating in cyberspace before ultimately blinking out of existence. Re-posting them and eventually printing them in the bound volumes of Papergreat might help to increase their odds of a prolonged existence. A little something for those future historians looking for some humanity in the bits and bytes of life at the beginning of the 21st century.

1. The Surface Web, the part indexed by Google and other search engines, is what you and I and Aunt Flo use. There is also the Deep Web and a subset of the Deep Web called the Dark Web, of which we should not speak.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Activision's Freeway: It was like Frogger, but for chickens

This colorful pamphlet contains the instructions for Freeway, a videogame published by Activision in 1981 for the legendary Atari 2600. The game was similar to the much-more-famous arcade game, Frogger, also from 1981. Apparently, the two games were developed independently around the same time, and Freeway is not a chicken-based rip-off of Frogger, in case you were curious about that.

But the concept is similar, for sure. In Frogger, a frog tries to get across a busy highway. In Freeway, a chicken tries to get across a busy highway.1 Why did the chicken cross the road? In this game, it usually didn't, unless you were very skilled with a joystick.

Here's the Freeway description from the cover of the pamphlet:
"If you think driving on a busy freeway is intense ... wait 'till you try to cross it on foot! In Freeway by Activision, your challenge is to guide a chicken across ten lanes of the most perilous freeway traffic imaginable. Be careful, because those speeding cars and trucks don't brake for animals!"
The game was designed by David Crane, whose picture from the back of the pamphlet appears at right. Crane's most famous game as a designer for Activision was 1982's Pitfall! (a personal favorite of mine.

The most infamous game he was involved with (as a programmer) was 1992's Night Trap, which starred Dana Plato and spawned United States Senate hearings that led to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

The Freeway instructions detail the various "games" that were available. Different locations (Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, Santa Monica Freeway, LBJ Freeway in Dallas, etc.) represented different difficulty levels. Here's a screenshot that appears in the instructions. As you can see, video games were much less realistic back then.

Note that the chicken only "chirps" and gets knocked backward when it's hit. As I said, games were (thankfully) much less realistic back then. This despite that fact that, apparently, the game's in-development title was Bloody Human Freeway.

Freeway has an average rating of 73% at AtariAge. Reviewer Jason Owens writes that the game "is actually a lot of fun, and even a little bit humorous the first few times. It's especially fun to play against somebody you really like playing video games with, and laughing at each other when one of you gets hit."

Share your Freeway and Atari 2600 memories in the comments section!

1. Full disclosure: I'm writing this post while sort-of sitting on a chicken.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Illinois Athletic Club: 1931 Ladies Admission Card

From 85 years ago, in 1931, this was my great-grandmother's admission card to the Illinois Athletic Club in Chicago.

At the time, she was living in Hammond, Indiana, about 25 miles away. How often she actually visited the Illinois Athletic Club is something we don't know. It's most likely that she went there for socializing and dining. And it's possible that she bumped into Tarzan and/or the Lone Ranger at some point!

Here are some historical tidbits about the IAC that I dug up:

  • The Illinois Athletic Club was founded in 1904. It survived more than three-quarters of a century; its sale and liquidation was finalized in 1986.
  • The IAC's 18-story Beaux-Arts building, located at 112 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago, was constructed between 1907 and 1908. It had a full gymnasium, a basement pool, steam rooms, racquetball courts and dining areas.
  • The IAC sponsored a basketball team, the Armour Square Cornells, from about 1914 until 1920.
  • Among those who frequented the club were Johnny Weissmuller (pictured at right, as Tarzan) and Clayton Moore.
  • Swimming was a big there deal. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago:
    "In 1912, Bill Bachrach became swimming coach at the IAC, which dominated competitive U.S. swimming for the next decade. The IAC continued to produce champions up through the 1920s, including freestyler Johnny Weissmuller, one of the world's all-time greatest swimmers. When the AAU began sponsoring women's swimming competition in 1916, Bachrach worked assiduously with female swimmers. His most notable protégées were two 1924 Olympic champions, backstroker Sybil Bauer and freestyler Ethel Lackie."
  • Around 1984, according to this article by Russell Gottwaldt, the 112 South Michigan Avenue building was purchased by Charles Vavrus, who spent $25 million renovating and adding six floors to the building, thus creating the Charlie Club and Fitness Center. The club, which catered to the wealthy, had two restaurants and squash courts, in addition to the building's earlier fitness amenities. But it would remain under Vavrus' ownership for less than a decade...
  • In 1993, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago purchased the building. It was soon turned into the school's first dormitory, Wollberg Hall. After that, according to the SAIC:
    "Shortly after the residences opened, the building's historic ballroom was restored and now hosts many public and school events. As SAIC acquired more buildings, the residences at Wollberg Hall were converted into classroom spaces, and the building is now known as the MacLean Center, named after donors Barry and Mary Ann MacLean. It houses offices, classrooms, and graduate studios for many academic departments in addition to a small cafeteria and student lounge."

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Postcard featuring the beautiful Jeita Grotto in Lebanon

This undated Kruger postcard (with an unreadable date on the postmark) features the amazing Jeita Grotto (مغارة جعيتا‎ in Arabic), which is located about 11 miles north of Beirut, Lebanon.

The natural attraction consists of two separate limestone caves. The upper cave can be visited via a specially designed walkway for tourists. The lower cave is along a underground river and is only accessible by boat.

The Jeita Grotto is one of the top tourist attractions in Lebanon and, as such, plays a vital role in the region's economy and national pride. According to the official website, "Jeita grotto contains a lot of touristic attractions that fill the visitor’s time with enjoyment and happiness, The attractions include ropeways, train, miniature zoo, gardens and many sculptures."

And, of course, there are gift shops. Four of them, to be precise.

Unfortunately, Lebanon is not considered the safest place in the world to visit right now, especially for Americans. The U.S. Department of State issued a lengthy, updated travel warning on December 11, 2015. It states: "The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon because of ongoing safety and security concerns."

The revised warning in the wake of a November 2015 suicide bombing that killed at least 43 people and wounded more than 200 in the southern Beirut suburb of Bourj el-Barajneh. The travel warning cites public demonstrations, road blockages, terrorist attacks (ISIL) and kidnappings as potential threats.

While the threats are very real and Americans have been killed in recent incidents in Lebanon, others say the conditions in the Middle East country are not as dire as they are made out to be. In a forum labeled "Is it safe for American to travel to Beirut, Lebanon?" someone wrote, just a few days ago: "The travel warnings appear to me to be ill informed. I had been safely and comfortably living in a couple of different countries for extended periods when I found out much to my surprise they had dept. of state travel warnings."

And, back in September, another TripAdvisor commenter wrote: "Beirut is very safe. ... I am an American. Lebanon welcomes visitors. It's really safe, police around, army, tourist police ... all make sure people stay safe."

Finally, there was this comment in the forum last summer: "This can happen in any country, including the USA."

So sadly true.

As I mentioned, there's no date on this postcard. It was mailed to an individual in Mahopac, New York, with the following note:
"Hi Chris,
Having a fine time here in Beirut. Doing a lot of touring & swimming. Went to the Hall here. I've toured this cave in the mts.
So long,
The postcard includes these really cool Lebanese moth and butterfly stamps, for Pericallia matronula and Satyrus semele.

Peace and butterflies ... not hatred and war!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Super Tuesday: Great non-political reads & some walkable streets

Typical Street Scene, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Published by Rahola Photo Supply, Santurce, Puerto Rico. Dormand Postcards, Riverhead, Long Island, New York.

As Super Tuesday envelopes the United States and Jesse "The Body" Ventura is additionally threatening an independent run for president, here is the latest and wide-ranging roundup of Great Things to Read on the Internet, interspersed with vintage postcards of walkable streets and communities.

Books, reading, writing and life

Environment and recycling

Kramgasse ("Grocers Alley") and Zeitglockenturm (clock tower) in Bern, Switzerland. The street dates to the 1100s.

Walking and exploring


Current events

Technology & gaming

Folklore & Ephemera

Fava beans and other entertainment

Dronningen's Gade, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

Monday, February 29, 2016

Book cover: "The Weird Shadow Over Innsmouth" by H.P. Lovecraft

  • Title: The Weird Shadow Over Innsmouth
  • Subtitle: And Other Stories of the Supernatural: The Whisperer in Darkness, The Outsider, The Festival
  • Author: Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937)
  • Cover illustrator: Unknown (!!)
  • Publisher: Bartholomew House, New York (#4)
  • Year: 1944
  • Pages: 190
  • Cover price: 25 cents
  • Notes: While it would certainly be nice to have a Fine or As New copy of this Bart House rarity as a collectible, I think this Fair copy from my bookshelf has its own worn, off-center charm. You might even argue that the marks and creases make the illustration seem a bit creepier. And how about that illustration! It's a crime that nobody on the Internet seems to know who the artist was. So I'm making it a Minor Mystery; and I hope it's one that's solved some day, to allow for proper credit in the historical record. ... has an excellent history and full bibliography of Bart House books, which consisted of 40 titles between 1944 and 1947. ... In addition to the four stories listed on the cover, The Weird Shadow Over Innsmouth also includes a fifth Lovecraft tale, "He". ... The inside front cover is an advertisement for Bartholomew House self-help books, including How to Raise Your Baby, Standardized Contract Bridge, Your Heart and Arteries, and Man Alive — You're Half Dead! ... According to the copyright page, the book was "printed in the U.S.A. in strict conformity with Government Regulations restricting the use of paper and other critical materials." ... The last page of the book contains this message:
    "OUR BOYS need and deserve books. Soldiers, Sailors, Marines — they all need books to read — to read for pleasure, information or relaxation. Give them books — give them this book. When you have finished with it, take it or send it to the nearest U.S.O. or to the Librarian of the nearest military post or naval station. A three-cent stamp will do it."
    ... This was the first of two Lovecraft volumes published by Bart House. The second was The Dunwich Horror (#12), which I also have on my shelf as a time-worn beauty. I'll put that up as a post some day, too, Nyarlathotep willing.

Related posts

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Eternal Sunshine of the Terrible B-Movie

In the hours before the Oscars, this odd postcard from the 1970s gave me some pause and also some inspiration. What's going on here? What is this place? And then, because this is how my mind works, I thought: "I want to see this hypothetical 1970s movie!"

I imagine it would be a great ball of schlocky fun, with terrible production values and special effects. And enough melodrama to put a U.S. presidential debate to shame. It would have choppy edits, inappropriate music, and possibly Lee Majors. To give it a little more class, it would have a cameo by Takashi Shimura and give a "Special Appearance By" credit to Scatman Crothers for the role of "Chum."

Here's what I'm thinking...

This could have been Barbara Steele's Oscar role!

Of course, these are not really irradiated, mutant children. They're just plain old, garden-variety European children.

They are frolicking (barely) at a place called Swissminiatur, an amazing attraction in Switzerland that opened around 1960 and is still in operation today. (In fact, if you're in the general neighborhood of Switzerland, you should stop by Swissminiatur this week. Admission is 50% off because they're in the midst of maintenance.)

The park is a miniature version of Switzerland, with more than 120 models of houses, castles and monuments. There are also cable cars, trains, ships and more, all on the shrink-rayed scale.

Here's a panorama look at the park. Click on the image for a better view.

And here are some tidbits about the history of the park, from the English-language version of its website:

  • He demanded a lot from his associates. But he also gave them a lot. When insurmountable disagreements occurred, he would always find all-round solutions. This identity may apply to various Swiss pioneers, but here we are referring to Pierre Vuigner who was born in Grimisuat in the canton of Valais and who 52 years ago [Note: This was written a few years ago and not updated.] had an idea that simply would not then let him rest. Based on the example of the Dutch park “Madurodam”, he wanted to create the same thing in Switzerland.
  • Then came the boom years of the golden 70s. At weekends and on public holidays, Italians would flood into Ticino. The reason for the invasion of the spend-happy southern neighbours is enlightening: 1000 Lire would get Italians seven Swiss Francs. 65% of all Swissminiatur visitors would cross the border at Chiasso and stock up on Swiss chocolate, cigarettes, storm the restaurants and department stores and accept the hour-long queues at the Swissminiatur tills.
  • But the era of the golden fat 70s was followed by crisis years. The Italian Lira suffered a crash where the Italians then only got 70 centimes for 1000 Lire instead of 7 Swiss Francs. Switzerland, which used to be a shopping paradise became too expensive for them.

If Swissminiatur ever suffers a steep decline that leads to it being put up for sale, and I also happen to win Powerball, I think I'd like to buy the place, put on a Godzilla suit and stomp all over those miniature Swiss buildings.

And we might as well film it all for posterity. I wonder if Bill Rebane is available to direct?