Thursday, June 26, 2008

Vince Long's paper tape archives

Here's an interesting site that came along in an old time radio mailing list I'm a member of.

OTR enthusiast Vince Long obtained about 100 reel to reel tapes, many early Scotch paper-based tapes, that were recorded of network and local radio shows in the Billings, Montana area in the early 1950s. They're a fascinating look at local radio and what an average listener might have been tuned to at the time. The collection includes many shows not previously in circulation and include music, variety, news and sports shows. All are available in downloadable MP3 format.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

... and speaking of robots ....

Found this interesting video of the Sony Aibo, an electronic pet "dog" marketed by Sony a few years back.

Unlike the maker of the video, I just don't think it would be as much fun as a cat.

Robot pets are a big industry in Japan; they're seen as convenient companions for the elderly or in situations where there's not much space in small apartment buildings.

Here's two ads for a Japanese robot cat:

And a video that shows a robotic pet seal named Paro. There's also another video on YouTube showing it interacting with patients in a Japanese nursing home.

Chris Thrash's Rock-A-Fire Explosion

Back in the 1980s, there was a pizza chain called Showbiz Pizza that eventually went bankrupt and merged with Chuck E. Cheese.

The centerpiece of the restaurants was an animatronic band, the Rock-A-Fire Explosion, designed by a company in Florida. The display, which would take up one whole side of the restaurant, was similar to the animatronic robot displays that Disney used in their theme parks.

As these displays have been removed from installations in recent years, a small group of enthusiasts have tried to preserve them. Chris Thrash owns one and does something a little more interesting with it.

Originally, the displays would put on shows of pop songs for kids; Thrash and other enthusiasts reprogram them to play current popular songs.

The videos are funny, but also admirable for the technical skill of the original designers of the Rock-A-Fire and for the new programmers. The Rock-A-Fire, by the way, was originally controlled by a four track reel to reel tape machine and later by VCRs or Apple II computers; those preserving and reprogramming the displays now use a modified Tivo.

First up is a video from YouTube showing what one of the original Rock-A-Fire shows looked like:

Here's a couple of reprogramming efforts. The first is Usher's "Love in This Club". Note: This song contains explicit lyrics that may be offensive to some viewers.

The second example I found is the Madonna/Justin Timberlake song, "4 Minutes". It's not quite as creatively programmed as the Usher track and doesn't use all of the characters in the display.

Each week, Chris Thrash takes bids from Internet viewers on what song they should program next. The funds from the auctions go towards upkeep and preservation of the Rock-A-Fire installation.

There's also several videos by Thrash and others located here:

I could see Chris Thrash's Rock-A-Fire Explosion being a musical guest on "Saturday Night Live" or as an opening act for The Gorillaz. (In fact, why not get them to perform Gorillaz songs like this?)