A grand weekend. Did nothing. Well, the usual webwork on Friday night, but that’s relaxation. (This rather spare design is a testament to great deal of futzing on the upcoming Minneapolis site addition.) After last week’s work – a quantity I expect to repeat this week, and the next, until I drop – I just wanted to unplug and unwork. Spent a few hours designing a train system in Roller Coaster Tycoon Saturday afternoon: the healing power of sandbox mode.

Watched movies. Read books. Sunday we got the band back together, man; had a rehearsal for the Readathon concluding ceremonies. The principal showed up to practice “Blue Suede Shoes,” which he will be singing with a few lyrical adjustments. (The students will not be given carte blanche to consume his liquor from an old corn jar with the understanding they will lay off of his shoes.) The keyboard player, who is an actual professional musician, is playing guitar for this appearance, so we have three Strats. I’ve decided to shoot the final rehearsal and put that up, unless I really stink.


Via Instapundit, who suggested I might have fun with this:


This was actually a mutant-detection program the government ran in the late 60s to identify children whose brains could resist high levels of stress; they were carefully groomed to become astronauts and fighter pilots. Reader’s Digest did an expose on the toys, asking once again “Why Can’t Johnny Read?” with the sensible answer that Johnny had a series of small but cumulatively disabling cerebral hemorrhages.

I wasn’t surprised to learn they were invented by TRANSOGRAM – they were known mostly for board games, I think. The name wasn't very toy-like; now it sounds like the smallest acceptible unit of a bad fat, and back then it sounded like some sort of communication delivered to your door by a pimply messenger in a uniform. The company had a logo that gave me the creeps when I was a kid. Here it is:

They’re telling you right up front that you’re going to put an eye out with that thing. But I did not see the face as a one-eyed crown-bearing kid; I read it differently. Look at it again. Imagine the eye is a nose. Now the line over the brow reads like narrowed eyes, and the face takes on an ursine quality. See what I mean? One day I realized it was a one-eyed kid’s face, and it snapped into place. But I could still read it both ways, and that made it odd. To say nothing of the fact that it was a face on a T wearing a crown.

At least I was certain it wasn’t a Wham-O toy; it lacked the ingenuity and simplicity of Wham-O products. They were the best. Mattel was great – swell, even – but they made things like the Thingmaker, items you’d want for Christmas but would forget by New Year’s Day. Wham-O stuff was simple and necessary. Mattel was Microsoft. Wham-O was Apple. The Superball, for example: the card showed a ball bouncing over a house, and that’s what it did. We threw the things on the sidewalk and they would go over the house and probably bounce off Telstar. The Frisbee single-handedly relegated the catcher’s mitt to the closet in millions of American homes. Basic as that was, they still managed to improve on it. (A glow-in-the-dark Frisbee? Man! These guys are geniuses! They’re like the NASA of toys!) Let us not forget Silly String, which paralyzed Mothers everywhere who were convinced that stuff would stick to the shag. I think they also made a foam you could mold into shapes, then explode by clapping your hands. At least they could have. We imagined they had labs full of toys we’d never see, because something had either Gone Horribly Wrong, or because they just didn’t work completely.   Like a Superball with a liquid core of the stuff inside of golf balls. It would bounce a mile high, but if the stuff in the center spilled out it would make you blind.

Googling around for some Mattel products called up this one: the Incredible Edibles confection assembler. Had that one too, I think; at least I remember eating some of the worms I made. The flavors did not match the names. They all had a strange electric tang, and they tasted like a melted hunk of automobile seat cover.

I’m pretty sure I had this, too: a newspaper maker.

And I know I had this, because I can still smell the horrible, shrunken plastic. Goes without saying that we played “Fantastic Voyage” with this toy, and that it was made by – well, you know.

As they say on Fark: this. (Again, via Instapundit.)

I've said it before (e.g.), and I'll say it again. I simply didn't, and still don't, understand how anyone could have thought that giving people, often people with terrible credit histories, mortgages with no money down and often with no documentation of income--and after an unprecedented increase in prices left the market especially vulnerable to a downturn in prices--was a good idea. Maybe if I had studied for an MBA in Harvard and worked my way up to the top of the investment banking industry it would somehow have made sense to me.

A friend of mine in the mortgage industry was asked his opinion on the reason behind all the defaults, and if I remember his response, it was this: “They didn’t pay their mortgages.” The value of Jasperwood went up nicely in the recent run-up, but it never occurred to me to play with it, because I have a horror of debt and uncertainty. Got the lowest possible 30-year fixed and forgot about that. I don’t know where I got the preposterous notion that a nonessential item for which I cannot pay cash should be deferred, but it’s served me well.

I remember the Bear Stearns building going up; saw its bones from a hotel window one stay. You look at it now, and you can imagine 40 floors of flop sweat – hotshot traders looking out their corner offices at the world below, and feeling as though everything on which they stood had turned to sand. The building may empty out a bit in the next year or two. But no one's going to tear it down.

This isn’t my first trip on the roller coaster, so I’m not clammy. At least I know we’ll never make this mistake again. And that clears the way for a brand-new, never-before-seen variety of mistake; that boom will spawn its own crop of giant headquarters, each of which will end up with another name 20 years later. Walk down a Manhattan street with an old-timer, and they’d tell you what that used to be. Well, what happened to that company? Gone, of course. Gone or sold or absorbed or renamed.

Speaking as an utter amateur, I’m worried less about a recession than inflation. I’m worried most about a recession, inflation AND a jolly round of trade wars, coupled with fragile banks, overcapacity, diminished consumer confidence and aggressive messianic collectivism. Something about that smells familiar. I love studying the thirties and forties, but not first hand.


New Matchbook, of course. See you at buzz.mn!