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Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Truth About Lie Detectors

There is  another element to "Hittin' the sales" that I may have not mentioned yet.  Did you ever wonder what that quiet neighbor's occupation really was?  How about the family that always has their shades down? Or that saintly old couple who seem friendly, but then make that weird hip-shift when they greet you at the door so as to block your view inside the house?  You could say I am the original nosy neighbor, but you would be closer to the truth if you surmised that I am instead suffering from an over-active imagination.

However, when anyone has a sale, they are inviting you into their past, almost saying, "Hi! Feel free to look around at the flotsam and jetsam of my life, and guess what I've been up to." More often than not, you won't see anything worth repeating, or buying, but sometimes you get a surprise.

I found this at a sale in the basement of a neighbor's house (no one you know, that was 15 years ago) and it was right next to an empty hard plastic case for a Walther PPK side arm. Whoa! Who was this guy? A suburban James Bond? It's typical to find garden tools and half finished carpentry projects at these sales, but who has a leftover Lie Detector for sale?
Read More "Lies" after the Jump

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Rocket Action Car

Not much to say here, other than, as bad as the condition of this matchbook is, the car still looks showroom new.  Plus, I love the association to rockets. What is "Rocket Action" anyway? Does it burn up on re-entry to your garage?  Were the matches sold with the car to *ahem* launch it? Maybe this was Oldsmobile's brief foray into external combustion engines.

Small specialized dealers like Lovells are quickly becoming a distant memory.  Too bad, I bet you got really great service at Lovells Garage... and so many Oldsmobile models to choose from!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Perfect Exposure: Hoax or Coax?

Another good combination: Photography and Technology. Photography is a technology, especially because it continues to evolve with improvements to the components that make it up: optics, image quality, design, and the chips and bits that are in everything these days. But before there was any of this, photography was simple: Just a box with a pinhole and light sensitive paper. Keep the paper in the dark until ready to use and then in a *blink* show it what you want a copy of and there it will be (after development of course). No, it isn't that simple, but compared to what it is now, it was a simple process to understand. Photography had an open architecture as any early technology does, and until it is fully commercialized and becomes patent-locked those looking to improve on it can make a living off these helper inventions.

As with most practical, or common inventions, any company can spring up with "Hey! Look over here!" and sell an add-on (or in new-speak: APP) that promises to solve a problem, or enhance the experience for the end user. With photography, one of those aspects was exposure: having the right amount of light for the place and time and subject in order to get the perfect image. You can see my challenge with the image above: there is not enough of the gold lettering left on the box to be reflected by the available light to be reproduced. Ironically, the box reads, "The Perfect Exposure Meter" but, alas, I could not use it for its intended purpose (I apologize for the focus as well).

Keep reading to find out more about the mystery behind the meter!

Monday, September 7, 2009

World Trade Center remembered with respect

Thank you for reading this blog. It is a collection of my thoughts, and thoughts on my collections. I find things that run the gamut from cool to bizarre and moral to beyond immoral. I am not shy about my finds, I am looking for something during these hunts and I can't help that my curiosity has me in a frequent state of, "What's This?". This blog has become the receptacle for these finds and my jumping off point for finding the answers to those questions.

I am always amazed at the coincidence some of these items reveal, as I am sure you might have a story to tell about an item from your past arriving on the anniversary of its disappearance, or 2 unrelated people asking you the same question. It would probably make an interesting blog, or maybe there is no antidote for the anecdote.

This post is no different than any other. I continue to find items that have some relevance beyond their everyday usefulness, and that's what keeps me searching. I want to warn you before you read any further that among the old brochures I found at a garage sale in Ridgefield (and talked about in this post) was another item that I was holding until September. If you are sensitive to the tragedy on September 11, 2001, you may want to stop reading and come back another time. My intention is not to shock or surprise, but to honor the memory of an icon of my youth and those that perished in my own way.

The details are fuzzy, but I am pretty sure this was my 6th grade trip to NYC. I had been there before, but this trip was specifically to see the World Trade Center. It was colossal. At that age big stuff is cool and there wasn't anything bigger for a Westchester boy than World Trade Center. Sure, a few years previous we had gone to the Empire State building and that was amazing, but the World Trade Center was new and bigger. It took 2 elevator rides to get to the observation floor, and as I recall they were long rides. At that height it was hard to believe the floor wasn't moving, it just felt surreal to be that high. It was a cloudless day and you could see forever, but the view straight down was more dramatic. There were railings inside an observation floor that kept you from putting your weight or pressing your forehead against the glass (ala Ferris Bueller). I recall being able to see the hood of a Pontiac Firebird as it cruised the streets below, that symbol of the fiery phoenix stood out among the cabs and buses.

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I was getting ready for work, my wife was already on her way to her work. The TV in the living room was on and I was in the shower when the first plane hit. The TV had turned over to the news and and I could see the image of the single tower burning in the distance and the unconfirmed report that something, possibly a plane had struck it. It seemed a disaster, but it reminded me of the story of the B-25 hitting the Empire State Building, awful but not surprising given busy airline routes and the height of many of New York City's skyscrapers. At first I thought that this was just another high rise fire and  most buildings were designed to for a list of extreme situations. I remembered flying over New York on my way to Florida and marveling at how unreal or model-like the city seemed. I didn't know I was in for a terrifying reality check.

...and then the second plane hit, and I became angry and upset. I felt powerless. I immediately began recording the coverage. I also paced around the house demanding to no one that F-16s should be scrambled and every private and commercial plane should be immediately ordered down. It was an awful feeling as the coverage got closer and closer to the towers and the images were replayed over and over, with the live calls from the people trapped, and interviews with eye-witnesses. The talk of "collapse" increased and after 15 minutes became inevitable, and when it happened seemed like a long drawn out catastrophic nightmare. No hope, no turning back, no rescue, no more towers.

I brought the tapes I had made with me to work around noon and announced to my staff that if they had anyone in NY they were concerned about, they could go home. At that point I didn't think I knew anybody who worked in the World Trade Center. I decided to edit a video of the footage I had recorded to establish some sense of perspective. I mainly wanted to capture the insanity of the media's coverage, but also the juxtaposition of the inane programming that continued to run on other channels despite the tragedy unfolding. It seemed to typify the surrealism of the moment. The random clips of commercials, morning shows and news reports were set to Fat Boy Slim's "Praise You." It seemed a good fit for it's looped repetitious beat and minimalist lyrics that grow to a crescendo and then fades hard with hammering of piano keys. If I can find it I will consider posting a piece of it.

In the days that followed while talking with friends I discovered that I knew someone who had perished. Back in my college days I had come to know twin brothers who involved in student government. They were popular, respected, and fixtures around most student activities and events and were just good people, truly likable, and could have gone in to any field and been successful. My friend Tony was closer to them and I got to know them through him. I was saddened to hear that one of the twins, Stephen Hoffman, had been a broker for Cantor Fitzgerald and didn't make it out. It just didn't seem real. My observation with tragedies of this proportion is, you are left with this gaping unresolvable hole that screws up memory and time. Has it really been 9 years since that day? It seems like it happened last year, and on other days, a 100 years ago.

When I found a box of old travel and vacation brochures at a Ridgefield CT sale, it was this one the froze me stone cold.
I don't think it was ever opened and I was hesitant to disturb the folds. On one side is this panoramic view from the 107th floor, or maybe it's the open-air observation deck above it:
Here is a quarter of that view:

The reverse is a detailed list of facts and information, directions and services, all making quite clear what a marvel this place was.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

You can't judge a book....if you can't see the cover

Because I am not bent on selling the items I find, I don't have to be concerned with the condition I find them in. This book, "Who's who..." is a good example. The condition of the book is part of the story it has to tell. It looks as if it is about one stiff breeze away from turning to dust. I bought it for the subject, because I enjoy the medium. Having restored silent films at a previous job, I had the opportunity to watch hundreds of them (sound and silent), whether I wanted to or not. This book is an interesting compendium of the stars of the day (1920) and includes directors, studio bosses and other noteworthy people. It is a fascinating reference and amazing to see the level of film production when the industry seemed to be in its infancy. Considering the theme of film restoration, I thought I might try to see what this book might have looked like 90 years ago, or part of it. (My hat's off to whoever invented the "clone" tool.)
As I peruse the first few pages looking for a copyright date I often stumble upon other interesting items or clues. This image on the inside cover was very intriguing. I may be sounding like a broken record, but "who are these 2?" the picture looks like it was taken on back lot of a movie set and one of the subjects is obviously George Hyde, but any research on that name comes up empty. Although "Famous Players Studio" which was owned by Adolf Zukor, who later partnered with Laskey Pictures and then eventually became Paramount, is relatively easy to find.

While working in film restoration, my job was to go through each film and perform simple repairs, fix the splices, sprocket holes, and often re-edit an entire scene to cover for a section that was heavily damaged. It wasn't the purest form of restoration, but it was a great education in film history and research. All the films were being prepped to be transferred to video tape. It was the silent film transfers that were most unique with each one being recorded to video while an original organ score was performed by the famous Rosa Rio (Click her name to read an interesting biography of her at IMDB). A fascinating woman who's organ playing could be heard during of the screening of silent films, setting the mood for the radio series, "The Shadow", and waking the audience up for the "Today Show".
This was also on the inside cover, but these stamps were designed to commemorate the mothers of the US who had placed a flag with a star on it to honor a son lost in WWII. That could place the picture in the book closer to the middle of the century, but I think their clothes tell a story that's closer to 1920.