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Posts Tagged ‘1970’

Tonight, the country is focused on the East Coast.  And that’s as it should be.  The storm that hit (and continues to pummel) has devastated parts of that region and left an incredible mess for lots of people to try and clean up.  Some of the images bring to mind the tsunami that struck Japan not quite two years ago.  So tonight, we’ll do a little bit of homage to the Big Apple.

Let’s talk about Ben Bailey and Cash Cab, since its home is New York City.

Now when you first think of game shows, your mind’s eye might conjure up images of a fancy set with a pretty hostess.    Maybe there’s a wheel that gets spun by some contestants, or maybe there are prizes on which people bid.  We might hear Johnny yell, “Come on down!!”  Or maybe it’s doors and deals that flash before you.  You can name that tune in just seven notes.  You want big bucks and no whammies.  You can be a millionaire.  What you see is a high-dollar production.

Cash Cab takes place in a taxi.  It’s a minivan taxi and its high-dollar production is limited to a series of small cameras placed throughout the taxi’s interior, a “video bonus” monitor, and a cool light panel mounted in the roof.

And game shows always have a host.  It’s usually a guy with a coat and tie.

Cash Cab has Ben Bailey.  Bailey, who was born on October 30, 1970, is a stand-up comedian turned game-show host extraordinaire.  He wears a shirt and jeans and looks to be the farthest thing from a traditional host.

Unsuspecting people climb into his cab, which then explodes with lights and music and Ben saying, “Welcome to the Cash Cab…it’s a game show that takes place right here in my taxi.”  The show is really just a very up-to-date (and very entertaining) version of Trivial Pursuit.  As contestants are driven to their destination, Ben asks trivia questions.  Every correct answer wins the group money.  Incorrect answers earn a strike.  If a question or two is particularly challenging, contestants can either phone a friend for help or use a “street shout-out”, where a person on the street has the ability to help.  But be careful!…three strikes and Ben pulls the cab over and kicks everybody to the curb.

There is also the fun “red-light challenge”.  If the Cash Cab reaches its destination, the contestants can either take their winnings or risk it all on a single double-or-nothing video bonus question.

The premise is simple, but it’s incredibly entertaining to watch.  Ben Bailey is charming, witty, and really gracious with the folks that get in his cab, expecting nothing more than a ride.

Cash Cab is a great trivia show built on a totally unsuspecting premise (a cab ride), and Ben Bailey is the perfect host.  Kudos to the Discovery Channel for running with the idea.

Happy Birthday, Ben Bailey!!

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I’ve written about computer games on a couple of occasions, so you if recall those, you know I’m a fan.  I don’t play games as much as I used to, but from time to time, I’ll fire up the big machine in the office and have a go for an hour or two.  Once in a while, I wonder if there’s such a thing as a “Computer Gaming” Hall of Fame.  I’m thinking of a place of enshrinement for individuals who have had a tremendous impact in this arena.

If there was, I can already think of a few names that would have bronze busts displayed.  There might be Gilman Louie, who brought Spectrum Holobyte’s Falcon series to life in the late 1980s.  Next to him might be Leon Rosenshiem, who led the development of Falcon 4.0 (which I still consider to be the greatest flight sim ever).  Roberta Williams certainly deserves a place as the designer of King’s Quest, one of the great adventure-game series from the 1990s.  There should be a spot for Chris Taylor, who revolutionized the world of strategy games with Total Annihiliation in 1997.

But few individuals have put flesh on the face of modern gaming as has John Carmack.  He stands as, far and away, the biggest name in first-person shooters.  The list of games to his credit are among the most recognizable in the industry.  There was Wolfenstein 3D, which got Carmack’s company, id Software, really going.  It was followed up by Doom which, like its predecessor, has seen several iterations over the years.  Then there was Quake and all its variations.  In all of these titles, you play a gun with different types of guns and you are required to shoot your way out of trouble, killing everything in your path.  Pretty simple, but oh-so engaging.

I remember well the first time I played Wolfenstein.  A co-worker gave me a shareware copy and said to give it a try.  I loaded it up on my office computer after hours (of course!) and was hooked!  I became some guy named Blazkowicz – or something like that – shooting my way out of a Nazi stronghold.  I can’t tell you how many hours of sleep I lost.  I remember hearing rumors of a better game called Doom, but said to myself, “There’s no way it could get any better than Wolfenstein…”

Until I installed Doom’s shareware disk.  Oh my…this was even cooler!  And it had a chainsaw!  I showed it to my co-workers and pretty soon, we were playing “penny a frag” games over the network (a Netware IPX token ring, to give you an idea of age).  It was absolutely hysterical.

It continued into the Quake series.  Carmack, who’s younger than I am, is a genius with a keyboard and processor.  Each game brought with it new technologies that revolutionized gaming.  And it made John, who was Kansas-born August 20, 1970, a lot of money.  I remember a story (and don’t know if it’s actually true) of Carmack’s mother repeatedly telling her son to get a real job until he purchased his first car…a Ferrari.

But for this developer and his company, there was much profit to be found in licensing the game engines.  Other companies have purchased the engines, re-skinned them, and created all new games.  This is where the incredibly popular Half-Life and Medal of Honor franchises got their starts.

In the ever-more-difficult world of building computer games, John Carmack’s wizardry has more than kept the bills paid.  For a while, he was big into buying and customizing Ferraris.  But he has taken a new interest in rockets and invested some of his money in an aerospace company called Armadillo Aerospace.

But it’s the games that make him recognizable to me.  If you’re roughly my age and like computer games, you’ve probably played some version of Wolfenstein…or Doom…or Quake.  And you know why John Carmack belongs in the Hall.

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College football fans in Iowa are disappointed tonight.  Iowa State, still with a chance to make it to a bowl, played in Colorado yesterday against the winless Buffaloes…and were soundly trounced.  In addition, the Cyclones appear to have lost their starting quarterback for the final game.  Even if they do win the next game, an invitation to “post-season” play looks pretty suspect.  Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes lost to Northwestern (again!), which pretty much put paid to any shot at a conference title and placed their chances at a major bowl bid in jeopardy.  Losses at this time of the year are painful.

So whatever team you support, in whatever sport you like, if you’re disappointed this evening, I offer up a bit of perspective…

At 7:35pm tonight, the Memorial Fountain at Marshall University was shut off and will not be restarted until next year.  In and of itself, this really isn’t news.  It’s been happening every year since 1972, when the fountain was installed.  But the stopping of the fountain marks one of the most tragic stories in collegiate sports history.

At 7:35pm on November 14, 1970, Southern Airways Flight 932 crashed a mile short of the Tri-State Airport’s runway in Huntington, West Virginia.  The weather for flying was difficult, with rain and fog obscuring visibility, but the crew was experienced for these conditions.  There was no catastrophic failure, no structural issues, and no ice on the wings.  Later reports would speculate that moisture buildup in the plane’s altimiter could have caused it to give faulty readings to the pilot.  But it could have been as simple as weather conditions which caused the pilot to come in just a bit too low, clipping the trees on a small hill, rolling the plane and driving it into the ground.

All airplane crashes are particularly tragic.  While we are constantly reminded that air travel is the safest method of transportation, crashes still happen.  And when they do, there are usually very few (if any) survivors.  A lot of death and destruction is concentrated into a very small area.  A lot of loved ones are lost in one flaming moment.  A lot of lives are changed in an instant.

On this particular night, Flight 932 was a chartered flight.  The McDonnell-Douglas DC-9 was carrying 4 crew members and 71 passengers, all of whom were somehow involved with the Marshall football team, returning home from a loss to East Carolina.  It was a rarity for the team to charter a flight, as “away” games were generally close enough for a bus trip.  In fact, the charter was originally going to be cancelled, but plans changed.  Onboard were a couple dozen boosters, eight members of the coaching staff, and thirty-seven Thundering Herd players.  The crash left no survivors.

So when the sun rose that Sunday morning, Marshall University had lost far more than a football game, or a chance at a title.  It had lost most of its coaching staff and more than half its team.  A bunch of college kids had lost roommates and friends, faculty members had lost co-workers, parents had lost sons and daughters, and children had lost parents.

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Vinko Bogataj is retired now.  He spends a good deal of time painting in his home in Slovenia and, from the examples I’ve seen, he’s quite accomplished at his craft.  But painting certainly isn’t how he’s best known.  Before retirement, Bogataj worked a forklift for extra income, though that isn’t the reason for his fame, either.

Vinko Bogataj was a ski jumper, and he was pretty good at that, too.  Ski jumping is something I’m pretty sure I’d never want to do, but it’s awesome to watch.  I took in a good deal of the ski jumping during this winter’s Olympic Games, and it was great.  The jumpers sat on that bar until they got the “go-ahead” from the officials.  Then they slid down the ramp, reached the end, and launched themselves into the air at about 50mph, using their skis and bodies in an attempt to cheat gravity.  The jumpers at the Olympics flew further than a football field, covering 100 to 150 meters before landing softly, skis slightly offset and hands outstretched.

Vinko Bogataj’s jumps were much the same, albeit without the extensive wind-tunnel testing and the super skin-tight materials that make up today’s ski garb.  In fact, when he participated in the Ski Flying World Championships on March 21, 1970, his second jump covered an amazing 410′.  But that didn’t bring him notoriety, either.

It’s the 3rd jump that brought him fame…the jump he didn’t make.  Bogataj took off down the ramp in an increasing snowfall and, just before reaching the bottom, he fell, sliding off the right side of the jump and into the stunned crowd.

Vinko Bogataj escaped with just a concussion, but this forgettable ten seconds of his life would bring him instant recognition, because a film crew for ABC’s Wide World of Sports was on location and captured his 3rd jump attempt on film.  It was included as part of the introductory montage of ABC’s Wide World of Sports, which ran every Saturday (or Sunday) afternoon in the U.S. for, I don’t know, 20 or more years.

You all know the famous “The thrill of victory” line from the intro, which showed numerous different “triumphs of the human spirit” over the years. But that next phrase…“and the agony of defeat”…as far as I know, that belongs to Vinko alone.

Recommended Viewing:  The Wide World of Sports Intro – Well, at least one of the versions.

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This was a somewhat bizarre and puzzling piece to put together, and I’ll explain why in a couple minutes.  But first…

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time looking at a paperback copy of the Guiness Book of World Records.  It was a blue paperback (as I recall), and I believe it was the 1976 edition and in it, there were all kinds of fascinating things to discover.

There were the two heaviest brothers in the world.  They were shown on motorcycles and each weighed about 1,000 pounds. There was the guy with the super-long mustache, the snake with fangs more than 2″ long, and a thousand other biggest, widest, deepest, tallest points of interest throughout the book.

But the one that’s on my mind today has to do with Gary Gabelich and the Blue Flame.  The Blue Flame was built with one thing in mind…speed, and lots of it.  It was a 37-foot aluminum tube with a cockpit and was propelled by a rocket engine capable of generating 22,000 pounds of thrust.

The 1960’s were all about speed records, and the name most synonymous with speed was, without question, Craig Breedlove.  Behind the wheel of the Spirit of America, he had set numerous speed records, topping out at a touch over 600 mph.

He was the natural choice to pilot the Blue Flame, but fame had made him too expensive to hire.  So the builders turned to Gary Gabelich, another speed merchant with a lot of experience in jet-powered cars, though he lacked Breedlove’s name recognition.

Like most contests of straight-line speed, the Bonneville Salt Flats would provide the venue.  But first, a couple of rule clarifications.  Land speed records are “two-way” records, meaning the runs have to be made in opposite directions (to cancel out wind assistance).  The speed of the vehicle is measured over a flying mile, and the vehicle has to complete both runs within an hour.

So, the Blue Flame would attempt to accelerate to more than 600 mph, get measured through the mile, slow down and stop, get turned around, and do it all again…in about an hour.  Got that?…it’s like LensCrafters, only at about the speed of sound.

It took a few days to get two runs completed, but the magic all happened on October 23, 1970, when Gabelich drove one direction at 617 mph and then returned at better than 627 mph, averaging 622 mph.  He had solidly bested Breedlove’s record and, what’s more, Gabelich’s record would stand until the 1980’s.

To give you some sense of scope, the other day I alluded to Usain Bolt’s staggering 100-meter dash, completed in something like 9.6 seconds.  The Blue Flame took 5.75 seconds…to cover a mile.

Now the mystery…

Researching this event is somewhat difficult, as some sources claim the record was set on October 23rd, while others indicate the 28th.  In fact, many of the same articles use both dates, making this a maddening exercise in trying to decipher when this really happened…it shouldn’t be this hard.  Furthermore, there are discrepancies in the reported top speed that Gary reached in the Blue Flame.  Again, even in the 70’s, precise measurements were possible, so an correct top speed should be attainable.

In the end, I used the date from The History Channel’s website as the official date, and used the speed that was most referenced from the 3 or 4 different sources I used.  So there you go…a history lesson that’s probably open for debate.

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Since most everyone has seen Ron Howard’s excellent rendition of the failed Apollo XIII mission to the Moon, Today’s History Lesson hardly bears mentioning.  But still, since the central events of that mission happened on April 13, 1970, let’s give it some due.

The Apollo XIII mission began well enough on April 11th, with Tom Hanks, Kevin Bac…I mean, with James Lovell, John Swigert, and Fred Haise lifting off.  Two days later, after they had passed the halfway point between the Earth and the Moon, disaster struck.  NASA ordered the crew to stir the tanks, which contained hydrogen and oxygen.  Apparently, the two elements were stored in separate tanks and had to be stirred on occasion for some reason I don’t exactly know…I’m not an astronaut.

So, Kevin Bacon (also not an astronaut but paid a lot of money to portray Swigert, the actual astronaut) pushed the button and, without warning, the #2 oxygen tank exploded.  The cause was eventually traced back to a whole host of very small issues, all of which conspired to create a very catastrophic effect.  The explosion also damaged, and eventually drained, the #1 oxygen tank, forcing the crew to evacuate the Command Module and complete the (now-aborted) mission from the Lunar Module.

And over the next four days, a supreme effort would be waged by the engineers at NASA and the three men in space to somehow return a broken vehicle that was a quarter of a million miles from the closest repair shop and hurtling through space at about 15,000 miles an hour.  And when Apollo XIII splashed down safely four days later to complete its “successful failure”, there were many more heroes than the three that exited the spacecraft.

Recommended Reading:  Apollo 13 – Orginally published some years ago as “Lost Moon”, this is the story of that incredible mission as told by Jim Lovell.

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