May 22

The year was 1961; do not enter business with Willie’s wife

We haven’t read any old newspapers recently. Let’s go back 61 years, to northwest Alabama. This is The Florence Herald, which we have examined here from time-to-time in the past. Some of my family would have read this paper. Indeed, there’s a brief mention of my great-great grandfather here in a legal notice. And some of the family names appear in some of the local correspondence. But let’s look at the really fun stuff from the weekly, which was published on Thursday, May 18, 1961.

There’s a fair amount to get through over your second coffee. Let’s dive in. This is the lead local story, in a paper that was helping its community celebrate the centennial of the Civil War.

The Reynolds Metals Company, founded in Kentucky in 1919, was a big, big deal. They originally supplied the wrappers for cigarette and candy companies and in the 1920s took over Eskimo Pies because of the foil. They were growing quickly, and in a few more years a few more acquisitions the original U.S. Foil Company became Reynolds. They moved HQ to New York, and then to Richmond. Soon they were mining bauxite, and they opened the plant mentioned here in 1941.

Just before the United States entered the war, R.S. Reynolds ramped up production. He was in aluminum, after all, and he saw a need. Now the second largest producer of basic aluminum in the U.S., Reynolds was key in aircraft production, among other things. A lot of that was rolled out right there. They kept growing after the war, indeed they snatched up six government defense plants that were up for disposal. Reynolds later expanded into non aluminum products such as plastics and precious metals, introducing Reynolds Plastic Wrap in 1982. Odds are you’ve got some of their product in your kitchen cabinets.

The company took out a full page ad in this same issue of The Florence Herald thanking their employees and the community. “Surely the only thing which can surpass our first 20 years at Listerhill will be our next 20 years,” was the last line over R.S. Reynolds’ name. Indeed, they put 37 more years into the area.

When they sold to Wise Metals in 1998-99, there were 1,600 people working at the plant. A global concern picked up Wise in 2015, it was an eight-figure deal. The company is still in operation there, still employing more than 1,200. They recycle and make aluminum cans.

I don’t know if you noticed that story about “Viet Nam” that was set just below the Reynolds piece, and the English standalone photo It’s 1961, and there’s so much patriotic optimism in that story.

Below the fold on the front page …

So it is an interesting time in local and national politics. I shared with you one of the bullet points from Harold S. May’s front page column.


May wrote in this same format every week. I looked ahead. “What has Mr. Average Citizen done to deserve it? All of us will suffer alike,” wrote the columnist in the next issue. The columnist — who had served on the Florence Housing Authority and was the chairman of the local board of education — made another, terrible convoluted mention two weeks out, until, finally, he moved back to his local observations and recycled bon mots.

“The wife with plenty of hose sense never becomes a nag,” was one of the lines just above the condemnation above.

It’s a fascinating column in its own way, if you can overlook the regrettable parts.

Finally, according to the search function, he ran this same ad the next three weeks. And then, apparently, never again. There’s a story behind this.

Sadly, we’ll never know it.

May 22

850 words about the day, and not one of them about a bike ride

I took a lunchtime walk to see some of the flowering dogwoods on campus.

I do enjoy the flowering dogwoods. It was a warm afternoon, a warm day. Summer arrived with a 91-degree high, and just like that the winter is over. And so was the week-and-a-half of spring. Now all is forgiven and forgotten, until Thanksgiving or so. Because all of this is happening.

The shady paths were a welcome part of the walk. One of the fun parts about walking beneath trees is that the light sometimes pokes through from above in the most inspired places.

Most people wait and work for a little moment like that. Me, I just pull out the phone and opened the camera app and there we all were together, for just the right moment in time.

I do enjoy the flowering dogwoods.

This story dates back to March. It goes back farther, but I don’t know when the device failed and I don’t recall when we noticed it it. But in March, I decided to try to fix the thing and after exhaustive on-and-off troubleshooting, I had to admit defeat.

The device was the semi-smart controller for our fancy ceiling fan. What makes it fancy? It has remote controls. We don’t have remote controls. But the fans are remote control ready! And I’ve never been sure why, under anything approaching normal circumstances, a remote control for a ceiling fan was a desirable feature. Also, this ceiling fan has heft. As in it looks heavy. I’ve held it — caught it while standing on a ladder while effecting a previous repair, in fact, — and it is heavy. These things make it fancy, which is how I found myself in an email and phone conversation with a guy from the tech support department of the ceiling fan company.

The wall unit is busted, I told him. I spelled out all of the things I’d tried. He made sure I’d thought of everything. So it’s decided, then, the wall unit is busted. Now, what to buy as a replacement? This company makes a hefty ceiling fan, and has a lot of different styles, but they aren’t built as a consumer-facing company. And if their catalog wasn’t online you could say they didn’t belong in this century. He told me what to buy. You can barely find it in a search. He could not sell to me. They do not deal with customers directly, his helpful phone call notwithstanding. So I had to find a retailer. There are a few in the state. None close by. I called the closest one.

I wish I’d called the second closest one.

After two or so weeks of back-and-forth phone calls with the lighting store, and waiting for the lighting store to have back and forth calls with the ceiling fan company, we finally got all of this figured out. The ceiling fan people in Texas would send this one component to the lighting store an hour away. Can they send it to me? No. Can the lighting store send the little switch to me? Yes. But that’ll cost an additional $75 dollars.

This thing is the exact size of a light switch, which is what it is. It cost $32. But you can — never mind. We’ll just come get it.

The lighting store says the component will arrive in two to three weeks.

Say what you will about Amazon and anyone else who has innovated the home delivery business, but some of the changes they have brought to us have been undisputedly better.

In the third week it arrived. That was last week. The store basically has bankers’ hours, so the little control switch sat on a shelf for a few days, until The Yankee was able to be in the area while they had the Open sign lit.

Now, for all of that, the tech support guy was solid. I said to him, I’m fine swapping out an outlet or a failed switch, but this device has a little more to it, am I going to be in over my head? He said I’d be fine. But if I felt I needed help, to get back in touch and he’d talk me through it.

Tonight the old switch controller thing came out. The new one went in with a minimal amount of fuss or complaint. And, most importantly, I was able to make it work.

OK, most importantly, we didn’t cause an electrical fire. And almost as importantly, the fan and the light now work once more.

There was a third-most important thing, as well. While I had the light switch cover off and after I’d removed the defective switch, I examined the standard switch to the left. Almost six years (!!!) we’ve been in this house and we have no idea what that switch does. And now I know why we don’t know what it does.

It does nothing. The light switch isn’t wired to anything.

What do you do with an extra light switch? What can you do with an extra light switch? Clearly, I need an electrical genius.

May 22

Coldest 62° ever

I believe I had the last meeting of the semester today. Things aren’t over, but the meetings are. And the activities are wrapping up this weekend. Once those tasks are complete, we’ll be doing … summer things.

Personally, I think everyone needs a few weeks off, unscored against their vacation time. It’d do everyone a world of good after the last few years. It’d be useful for the year to come.

Just you wait, someone is going to say this out loud in a few months, but you heard it here first.

But no one listens to my ideas.

Makes the meetings fun.

Here are some more of the programs IUSTV has produced at the end of the semester. I’m told there’s still maybe one more show to roll out this week.

They are still editing and producing shows during finals week. It’s impressive.

Robert Steven Mack is interviewing American Enterprise Institute’s Dr. Zack Cooper, about China’s relationship with Russia and the U.S. after the invasion of Ukraine. Pretty hefty stuff.

Riley and Alex follow the fan shenanigans — I’m just going to call them fananigans — during Little 500 weekend. It’s real atmospheric stuff. Fun, enthusiasm, silliness. What a campus should be — at least part of the time.

It took me two episodes to get it, but I’m a slow learner. That show grows on you in a hurry. I’ll miss it over the summer, but I hope it comes back even bigger in the fall.

We went for a bike ride this evening. She had to do hill repeats. Usually, when I even hear the phrase “hill repeats” I lose two or three miles per hour off my average. But I checked my numbers just before we started the hills, and just after, and I managed to hold everything steady throughout the up and down and up and down and up and down of the hill repeats.

There will be harder, longer hills later. I’ll be slower. The above paragraph will not apply to that experience.

Here we are — well, here she is; I am behind the camera — after those hills, and weaving through the last two neighborhoods before the house. In the last one we found ourselves in an impromptu sprint. We were doing the mid 30s and I was running out of gears.

I was probably working harder at it than she was.

She’s fast.

Apr 22

Doesn’t get better than donuts

There were donuts in the building this morning, and I was nominally involved in the event. My fee was paid in donuts. I had an old fashioned, my standard donut choice. (If you’re at home reading this, go outside for a moment.)

I am not writing home about that donut. It was dry and flavorless, and this is sometimes a misnomer about the old fashioned. It shouldn’t be either of those things. It should be subtle, and nuanced. This was not.

I also grabbed a powdered sugar donut. (You may go back inside, because I will write home about this donut.)

That donut was the best decision of the morning.

I had two studio productions canceled today, and one shoot that went off without a hitch. I think there are just two more productions left this week. Time creeps by, no matter how much fun you’re having, or not having, as the case may be.

I was in a meeting yesterday where this semi-famous quote came up. William Bernbach was an American advertising creative director. He co-founded an influential, global ad agency, and had a huge role in the advertising landscape of the second half of the 20th century. Volkswagen, Life, Juan Valdez, if you watched any TV or read any magazines in the last 80 years or so, you’ve seen some of his agency’s work, and if you’re of a certain age, quite his very own campaigns.

This makes him a celebrity in the right circles. In fact, if you watched Mad Men, you heard his name get dropped a few times, for good reason.

All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.

Anyway, impressive cultural contributor. Important concept in the quote, which has earned its own fame over the years. You know it has pulled the weight the author intended because it has appeared in several textbooks. It’s funny how those mid-century sorts seemed to be reaching beyond their own event horizon.

The quote, of course, also finds its way into a lot of navel-gazing webpages. There’s one that asks Should We Evaluate the Media Input in Our Lives? And if every there was a question that needed asking because it didn’t need to be asked, it might be that one. The brief piece seems to start from the position that we’ve already and incontrovertibly vulgarized and brutalized it. But this isn’t a universal truth, of course.

I’ve been wondering today about the lifting to a higher level. We’d all like to think we have. And, as it came up in that meeting, it isn’t necessarily a big lift that you’re always after. Just a bit is enough. Mass media? Society? The former is merely the tool. Society, being of considerable size, requires a fulcrum.

Hopefully, I’ve done a decent enough job in helping show others how to lift it. Surely I’ve worked with others who have actually shaped some bit of society. Me?

I’m just doing podcasts that I find interesting, after all. This is compelling research.

It turns out we need more people, different sorts of people, in our in-person, face-to-face interactions. That challenges us, mentally, and that stimulus could help ward off cognitive decline as we age. That’s the research from IU’s Dr. Adam Roth. I talked to him about his recent work.

Listen to that, share the show, and then let’s all go out and make new friends.

If watching videos sounds better than listening to me — and who could blame you? — these are the news shows the IUSTV gang produced last night. These are the last two shows of the news division this semester. Here’s the news show. And there’s been big news in town. Two shootings within minutes of one another over the weekend sent four people to the hospital. As of this writing, still no arrests announced.

And here’s What’s Up Weekly, the pop culture magazine style show. There’s a haircut and a taco hat and some clever jokes in here.

The entertainment group will shoot three more shows this week, and that’ll be a wrap on the term. More bragging to come, then, on Friday.

Apr 22

The last sports show of the semester

I took a picture of a monitor showing someone taking a picture of a jib camera, which was shooting video of the person taking a picture. I wish I knew how to be more meta than that. Plenty of people can, but I’m just shooting from the hip, which is why this is framed so awkwardly.

Anyway, it’s basically senior night for the sports crew, so I got to take pictures with some of our graduating people. I keep a folder of them now, so I can pull out the right picture at the right moment and make them remember the little people.

Here’s Ta, who is going home to work for a company called Main Stand where he’s going to do just incredible things. We all know this to be true because he does incredible things on a regular, daily basis already.

Here’s Jevan, who will surely be making his next big announcement any moment now. He anchored tonight, his last show. He wore the same suit the first time he sat at the desk a few years ago. It was a conscious closing of the circle, I think.

His classmate Sean is also destined for great things. He’s been with this bunch for two years, but he’s been so instrumental in seemingly everything that it feels like he’s been there forever.

And it was also Old Home Week. This is Justin. After working with the sports crew here for a long time, he graduated last year. These days he’s doing local news at KEPR in Washington state. I remember when he and I talked about this, and about the job interview, and I asked him if he thought he could enjoy news, because it’s a different animal than the sports he’s always focused on. And, I said, you have to want it, because the news is demanding of your time and attention and your emotion.

He loves it.

He came back to visit his brother, who is also about to walk. He also talked to all the young IUSTV people tonight. That was just the coolest thing.

They’re all quite cool, honestly. Being around them was the best part of my day. Even when they made jokes at my expense. (Sometimes I set them up so nicely, they can’t not make the jokes.)

(Usually that’s a deliberate choice on my part.)