From The Archives: June 2010

Meet The Glove-A-Phone

A Fun, Dirt-Cheap Vuvuzela Alternative

Want to add that buzzy World Cup drone to your special event, but cash is tight, and you can’t afford to drop ten clams on a genuine vuvuzela?  No problem!  Try the Glove-a-Phone!

They say that a moving picture is worth about 30,000 words per second, so check this out:

A boy and his Glove-a-Phone.

Our young maestro does a respectable job, and backed by adult lungs and a few minutes of practice, a Glove-a-Phone will ring out with seven sustained seconds of slightly-mellowed vuvuzela-toot, ripe with strong fog horn undertones and a hint of barking elephant seal.  Honestly, few things in this world sound more hauntingly beautiful.

Before we continue, let me give credit where credit is due.  The Glove-a-Phone concept comes from my son’s school teacher, a Board-Certified-Goofball, who got it from the RAFT, aka the Resource Area For Teaching, a Silicon Valley non-profit that turns donated materials into hands-on educational craft kits.  Check out their excellent Idea Sheets, available online for free!

To make your Glove-a-Phone, you’ll need five ingredients: a powderless latex glove, cardboard tube, three-inch section of plastic straw, rubber band, and short length of scotch tape.  Yes, you can scavenge it all, but do yourself a favor and invest twenty cents on a brand-new glove and clean straw to ensure an utmostly wholesome experience.

The make-or-break component is the tube.  In a pinch, a leftover toilet tissue roll will do, but the thicker the cardboard, the better.  Institutional paper towel cores work perfectly – get clean ones from a school janitor or somewhere like the Depot For Creative Reuse.  You’ll want something robust enough to keep its cylindrical shape under the pressure of excited hands and spittle.

Assembly is a snap!  First, slip the glove an inch-or-so over the end of the tube and secure it, all the way around, with the rubber band.  Next, cut a quarter-inch hole in the end of a finger, insert the straw a bit into the hole, then wrap the straw-glove junction with tape.  Finally, accessorize to taste with some sequins, or to make it World Cup legit, add the letters v-u-v-u-z-e-l-a in Sharpie:

The Glove-a-Phone, Before and After.

The Glove-a-Phone, Before and After.

Confused?  Refer to the RAFT’s handy instructions for clarity.

God willing, you’ve now got a fully-formed Glove-a-Phone in your hands, yearning to be played!  Pull the straw finger back so that the glove stretches tightly over the end of the tube, blow steadily into the straw, and voila!  Bwooomp!  Squeeze the fingers for faster attack, or let them free to buffer your breath.  Pull harder or softer to change the pitch, and soon, you’ll be making music (recommended songs for beginners include Mary Had A Little Lamb and Smoke On The Water).  Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, vuvuzela!

The Pac-Man Drawings

Prototype And Final Mazes, Side-By-Side

Check out the maze from designer Toru Iwatani’s recently-divulged Pac-Man concept sketches, side-by-side with the final arcade version:

Arcade classic Pac-Man and inventor Iwatani's concept sketch thereof.

Arcade classic Pac-Man and inventor Iwatani's concept sketch thereof.

They’re different!  Why?  As the story goes, after one too many blind Tokyo alleys, Iwatani expunged dead ends from the prototype.  A fortuitous accident in modulo-28 space created the tunnels.  And the more expansive overall feel of the final maze?  The details are hazy, but my sources whisper something about a retreat to the American Southwest.  And peyote.

Of course, I made the last paragraph up, but whatever happened, thank you lucky star!  For without Pac-Man’s addictive gameplay – amplified by the improved maze, no doubt – I might have never met his girlfriend: Ms. Pac-Man.

Oh, Ms. Pac-Man, and the crazy bowling alley days that we spent together!  To preserve those precious memories, I shall model my labyrinthine countryside manor after her immaculate first level.  Every detail will be included, from the power pellets and food on the floor to the roaming fruit and ghosts!

Except for Blinky.  That dude’s a flippin’ bastard.

Wokka wokka wokka wokka wokka…

Freeway Bound

A Street Surrounded By LA's Superhighways

Over at the excellent Twelve Mile Circle, Tom Howder recently wondered: where’s the smallest chunk of occupied land completely surrounded by Interstate highway?  Well, if “occupied” means “residential,” the answer might be Wright Street, a stubby cul-de-sac tucked inside the looping ramps of LA’s Harbor-Santa Monica Freeway interchange:

Wright Street and the Harbor-Santa Monica Freeway Interchange, 1964.

Wright Street (at bottom) and the Harbor-Santa Monica Freeway Interchange, 1964.

Back in 1884, Wright Street was just another new road on the outskirts of Los Angeles.  Bungalows quickly filled its freshly-surveyed lots, and as the city grew, apartments and commercial buildings soon followed.  In 1954, California’s first superhighway, the Harbor Freeway, passed two hundred feet westward, and a scant seven years later, the Santa Monica Freeway encroached from the east.  Construction began on the connecting ramps, and Wright winced as road workers halved its length, blocked off one end, and encircled it with concrete pillars topped by pavement.

Click here to read more →

The Color Strata

Color Names, Common And Less So, Compared

I’m an incorrigible data hound.  So, once the tempting aroma of XKCD’s color name survey results tickled my nose, I had no choice – but to run to the dining room, stand up on my hind legs, and yank that statistical top sirloin off the table!  Om nom nom yum yum yum!

For those unfamiliar, XKCD is the popular webcomic, and on its sister blog, author Randall Munroe announced his survey as follows:

I’d like your help for a color name survey!  The survey shows you colors, and you type a name (word or phrase) you might use for that color.  The names can be as broad or specific as you want.

XKCD's Color Map

XKCD's Color Map

During the next two months, over 200,000 people named more than 5,000,000 random hues.  Soon thereafter, Randall delivered a frequently side-splitting analysis of the results, artfully punctuated by his wonderful Color Map (pictured right): an illustration detailing the territorial dominance of each name in fully-saturated RGB space.  The kicker was that the magnanimous Munroe made the individual survey responses – possibly the largest body of such information in existence – publicly available for anyone to use.  Kudos for freeing the data, dude!

Now, deep in the cockles of my drama queen heart, there’s always been a little shrine for the colors with the charismatic, less-spoken names.  Could periwinkle roll off the tongue more adorably?  Maroon?  Aye, there be pirates about!  And yeah, burgundy and chartreuse do sound a bit boozy, but they’re hella more fun at parties than “dark red” and “yellow-green.”

Click here to read more →

Season Creep

Winter, Summer, And Lord Stanley's Cup

Goal!

Goal!

Hooray!  It’s the first of June, and long gone are winter cold and spring gloom.  We’re footloose and parka-free, baby birds chirp with glee, green lawns and mowers duel endlessly, and he intercepts the puck at mid-ice, shakes a defender, speeds over the blue line, fades right, jigs left, cocks his stick, lets loose with a slapshot, and scores!  Goal!!!

What in tarnation?  They’re still playing ice hockey?!?!

You betchya, as illustrated by the following graph, which shows the calendar dates of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals for each season from 1927 to present:

Dates of the Stanley Cup Finals, 1927-2010

Dates of the Stanley Cup Finals, 1927-2010

After hanging back for nearly forty years in the chilly territory of April, the finals skate past the May 1st center line in 1965 and dart offsides during the ’92 playoffs.  Since then, they’ve lingered there, ending latest on the warm June 24th evening that capped 1995’s lockout-delayed season, three days past the official beginning of summer!

Now, call me a hopeless nostalgic, but remove something far enough from its natural state – say from a frozen pond to a climate-controlled ice rink in the summertime – and gone is the gravitas that made it interesting in the first place.  Hockey playoffs in June have the same emotional pull as the World Series – played indoors, on Astroturf, in February.

On the other hand, the NHL’s still solvent, so maybe, on balance, the late season is a draw?  Does the average person find hockey irresistible when dressed in Bermuda shorts and a tank top?  God, it’s hot… and that ice looks so cold and refreshing… come to mama, so she can belly-flop onto the rink like an octopus?

Next thing you know, the National Hockey League will be doling out teams to cities where it never snows, and naming them after those “warm-weather” animals… like sharks and panthers!  Hey hoser, how silly would that be, eh?