How to use a rotary dial telephone (1927)

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In 1927, folks in the Fresno, California area went down to the local cinema to learn how to use those new-fangled dial telephones that everybody was talking about. This is the charming footage, a combo of live action and cartoons, created by the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. (AT&T) that they saw 91 years ago.

The AT&T Archives writes:

In 1922, New York City was introduced to dial. The first popularized dial telephone was a desk set candlestick model; the smaller, more familiar desk set came later.

It took decades for dial to sweep the entire Bell System. The last holdout was Catalina Island, off the coast of California, which finally converted to dial in 1978. In Camp Shohola, Pennsylvania, an internal automatic switch system still connects campers with the outside world, it’s the oldest functioning Strowger switch in the world.


Superstar Limo: The story of Disney’s “worst attraction ever”

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We can all take some comfort that even Disney, with all its money and creative resources, can fail.

Take for instance, Disney’s epic failure, a long-gone ride called Superstar Limo. The dark ride, that was once in California Adventure’s Hollywood Pictures Backlot area, took guests in a sparkly purple limousine through a distorted version of Hollywood and Los Angeles. It was open just under a year and was later (and as you’ll see in the video, hilariously) repurposed as the Monsters, Inc. ride.

Kevin Perjurer of the YouTube channel Defunctland describes it as their “worst attraction ever” and offers this critical history of it. His video is 20 minutes long but worth a watch, as his research goes deep and this “Superstar Limo” truly has to be seen to be believed. Be sure to stay to the end to see the reactions of the cast of The Drew Carey Show and Rosie O’Donnell when they all took a whirl in it together.

Also, in case you’re curious, here’s a look at the ride without commentary:

Collaborating in Fortnite

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Fortnite is popular for tons of reasons, but chief among it is the “battle royale” style of combat — 100 random players dropped on an island, foraging for defenses and weapons, and killing each other until only one is left standing. There’s no in-game chat, so you have to assume that anyone you encounter is a threat. In such a situation, it’s necessarily dog-eat-dog, yes?

Nope. As Robin Sloan — one of my fave writers and thinkers — discovered, it’s also possible to hack a form of cooperation.

It works like this: Sloan unlocked an upgrade that lets you display a “heart” icon above your head. So he tried using it as a single-bit mode of game-theoretical communication. When he was dropped into the game, upon encountering another player, he’d refrain from shooting — and instead toss up the “heart” icon.

At first, it didn’t work. The other player kept on killing him anyway. Until …

Then, one night, it worked. And, in many games since, it’s worked again. Mostly I get blasted, but sometimes I don’t, and when I don’t, the possibilities bloom. Sometimes, after we face off and stand down, the other player and I go our separate ways. More frequently, we stick together. I’ve crossed half the map with impromptu allies.

When it works, it is usually because I have a weapon and my potential ally doesn’t. When (shockingly) I do not blast them and (even more shockingly) do not pull a bait and switch, a real human connection is established, on a channel deeper than any afforded by the interface. Then, very reliably, when the other player acquires a weapon of their own—sometimes it’s a gift from me—there is no double cross.

It’s never not tenuous. You both have your weapons out. Sprinting down steep trails, my ally’s footfalls crunching loud in my headphones, either of us, at any time, could flick our wrist and end the other’s game, collecting their stockpile of weapons and resources.

But we don’t!

When they’re successful, these negotiations are honestly more nervy and exciting than the game’s most intense shoot-outs.

As Sloan points out, being able to forge a detente in a situation where robust communication is impossible has some interesting real-world implications. One, as he notes, is that it refracts the “Dark Forest” theory of Liu Cixin, which argues that the reason we haven’t encountered any other intelligent life in the universe is that they’re keeping their heads low. They’ve decided that, given the possible hostility of other alien civilizations, and given that robust intergalactic-intercivilization communication might be impossible on first contact, the universe is essentially a game of Fortnite: If someone spots you, they’ll zoom in for the kill.

But what if the same logic that allows for low-bandwidth-communication in Fortnite also allows for first-blush cooperation with an alien species?

The stakes of taking that risk are of course existentially rather higher than in a game of Fortnite, heh. But the fun here is, as Sloan points out, in pondering ways that two opponents might say “Hold up. Let’s do this a different way.”

Not a bad lesson for inter-human life here on Earth, frankly.

Go read the whole essay — it’s terrific!

This movie about a 1300-year-old family business is the most sublime thing you’ll see today

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Built in 718 AD, H?shi is the second oldest ryokan (hotel or inn) in the world and, with 46 consecutive generations of the same family running it, is hands down the longest running known family business in history. But, after 1300 years of tradition, change is in the air. The H?shi ryokan, in Komatsu, Japan, is a beautiful space that has a beautiful story, told well, in this short video by filmmaker Fritz Schumann.

Interview with Scotty Allen, host of the Strange Parts Youtube channel

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My Cool Tools podcast guest this week is Scotty Allen. Scotty is a nomadic engineer, entrepreneur, adventurer and storyteller who orbits around San Francisco and Shenzhen, China. He runs a YouTube channel Strange Parts, a travel adventure show for geeks where he goes on adventures ranging from building his own iPhone in China to trying to make a manhole cover in India.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Show on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | Download MP3 | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Show notes:

1080P HDMI digital camera video microscope ($299)

“So one of the things that I have gotten an outsized amount of value from over the past year has been this microscope that I bought here in the electronics markets in China. It’s a no-brand-name microscope that I got from a little tiny microscope booth in the market, and it’s really been this incredibly high-leverage tool for me, and I didn’t realize how much I was missing out until I bought it. It’s been really great for doing detail work. And I use it for really small soldering work on iPhones and related circuit boards … It’s a binocular microscope. It’s not super high magnification, but because it’s binocular you get depth of field, and so you can really see well. So you can look through the microscope and work underneath it with tweezers or a soldering iron or other tools and in great depth see what you’re doing.”

“ is an online tool that I use for collaborating on the videos I’m making. And it’s a really simple tool … The short version is that you can upload a video to it, and then you can share that video privately with other people, who can then go in and leave comments. You can even draw things on a specific frame of the video using some drawing tools. And then you can have threaded conversations on each of the comments you leave, and multiple people can leave comments, et cetera. And that, at face value, is super simple, but it really allows remote collaboration on videos in ways that there really aren’t very many other good tools for. In fact, I don’t think I’ve found any other good tools. I come from a software engineering background, and we have some great tools there now that have been built over the past 10 years for doing things like code review where you can do something similar, where you can go in and leave comments on a particular line of code on a change someone wants to make. And so I come from that. I come from running a remote software team prior to doing Strange Parts, and so I was really hungry for all of these tools that I’d used as a software engineer. And so is one piece of that. It’s sort of that feedback piece of, ‘Hey, I did this thing. Can you give me feedback on it in a detailed way that’s sort of context-based on the part you’re talking about?'”

TV-B-Gone universal remote control ($25)

“The TV-B-Gone is a universal television remote with one button, and the button turns any TV off. So this is a cool thing made by a close friend of mine, Mitch Altman, who I know from Noisebridge hackerspace, and I actually owned one long before I knew Mitch. It was given to me as a stocking stuffer at Christmas one year, probably like 10 years ago, something like that. … for the first long while that I owned it, I didn’t really use it very much, but now it has become indispensable because I’m traveling a lot more, and when you’re jetlagged and you’re in an airport on a layover in the middle of the night in Russia and there’s a blaring TV in the corner that nobody’s watching, the TV-B-Gone is a great way to solve that problem. So in short, you press the button, it takes up to 15 seconds, and it will cycle through all of the off codes that are programmed in it for all of the different televisions. So you just point it at the TV, and it’s great for just sort of calming an otherwise unbearable airport lounge.”

Shoe cover dispenser ($114)

“The one I have kind of looks like a suitcase. It’s maybe two feet by one foot by like six inches tall, and it’s that silver material, silver metal that they make briefcases in the movies for carrying large amount of cash in sort of look. It’s got a handle. And on top, it’s got an oval-shaped hole that is slightly larger than your average foot, or your average shoe, and the idea is that you stomp your foot down through the hole and it applies a shoe cover over your shoes automatically. You don’t have to touch anything. You just step in it and then step out, and now you’ve got a shoe cover on your shoe. … I ran across it on a factory tour. I visit a lot of factories here in Shenzhen, and I was at an LED factory that was making LEDs. They were trying to keep dust down, and one of the ways they do that is by having everybody wear shoe covers. So there are a number of factories that will do this, and you can tell how fancy the factory is based on whether you have to bend down and put the shoe cover on yourself or whether you have one of these automatic shoe cover machines. And so this LED factory was the first time I’d seen this, and it blew my mind. It was a special purpose thing that was so clever and so well made.”

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $342 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF

Loaded gun stored in an oven gets too hot and shoots owner

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A gun-toting gentleman in Ohio wanted to keep his revolver out of harm’s reach when his kids came to visit him, so he hid it in his oven’s broiler. But 44-year-old Robin Garlock neglected to tell his girlfriend, who decided to do some baking later that evening. Suddenly, she heard gunfire and shouted for Garlock, thinking it was coming from outside. But no, the loud bangs were coming from inside the oven – the revolver was spinning around, firing off shots.

In the process of trying to secure the gun, Garlock forgot to put on an oven mitt and burned himself. He was also struck twice with bullets. Lucky for him he was “severely injured” but is doing okay.

According to Miami Herald:

“It’s too hot,” Warren Police Detective Wayne Mackey told the Vindicator…

Garlock was seriously injured in the incident, Mackey told Raw Story, but Garlock is now doing better…

The heat is what made the bullets explode, Mackey explained.

“Don’t store your guns anywhere that’s hot,” Mackey told Raw Story. “Don’t put your gun in an appliance. They make things for that and an oven is not one of the things.”

Mackey told the Vindicator that, though Garlock’s oven-explosion-gunfire story in Warren seemed unlikely at first, an investigation concluded that’s what happened — and the stove was riddled with bullet holes to prove it. Beyond the bullet holes, Mackey said, the gun had clearly been on fire.

How anyone could think storing a loaded gun in an oven (ovens don’t have locks, not to mention how hot they get) is a good idea is beyond me. But hey, maybe gun owners should take a gun safety class before bringing a gun into their home. Just a thought.

Image: Jacob Bøtter/Flickr

Motiv fitness-tracking ring comes in all sizes

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Beth Skwarecki reviewed the Motiv fitness-tracking ring and liked it a lot. I can’t get over how tiny and inconspicuous it is: it syncs wirelessly with a phone app and needs about an hour’s charge every two or three days. The limitations are that it only tracks heartrate and movement, deducing sleep, steps and active cardio sessions.

The Motiv ring doesn’t nag you. It doesn’t over-analyze. It just tells you when you slept, how your resting heart rate is doing, and with a little help it can keep track of how much you exercise.

That’s really all the data you can rely on from a fitness tracker, anyway. Tracking heart rate accurately would be nice, but it wouldn’t change my motivation to exercise or my understanding of my own fitness.

It also needs a snug fit and costs $200. [Amazon Link]

Underoos were not any more fun than other underwear, seriously

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Underoos were always treated more as pajama than underwear, but occasionally some Super Kid would wear them to school and the jokes would fly!

Sometimes that kid was me.

I had the Spiderman Underoos. Thank Moses they didn’t make Hong Kong Fooey Underoos, I still have a permanent divot in my head from diving into a filing cabinet as a child.

Underoos are still for sale, but seems to have lost whatever charm they had.

The paleocomputing miracle of the 76477 Space Invaders sound effects chip

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In 1978, the 76477 Complex Sound Generation chip was foundational to creating the sound effects in many popular games, notably Space Invaders; it was also popular with hobbyists who could buy the chip at Radio Shack — it could do minor miracles, tweaking a white noise generator to produce everything from drums to explosions, using an integrated digital mixer to layer and sequence these sounds.

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