Posts Tagged ‘1980’

There isn’t a person from my generation who hasn’t heard of Pac-Man.  And there are very few people from my generation who haven’t played Pac-Man.  Personally, I never was a huge fan of the video game, but that may be because I was never very good at it. Pac-Man, you say?  What is this Pac-Man game to which you refer?  If you’re asking the question (or something similar), you must not be from my generation, but I’ll indulge you with a brief description.

The game begins with you in the middle of a maze as a yellow circle.  The maze is full of little yellow dots that you eat for points and some bigger “power-up” dots.  Above you in a center box are four enemies (Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde).  Their goal is to track you down.  Your goal is to eat all the little dots before you’re tracked down…pretty straightforward.  The power pellets turn the enemies blue, making them suitable for you to eat.  Once you clear all the dots, there is some funky music and you progress to the next level.  Subsequent levels introduce additional bonuses like fruit, but I rarely saw those because I stunk at the game.

If you were a very adept player, there were basically an unlimited number of levels you could play.  The monsters would get faster and stay under the “power-pellet” influence for shorter periods of time.  I say “basically” because, while the game was meant to have unlimited levels, a bug in the software limited the fun to just 255 levels.  But still, you could play to that point and have wasted several hours of your day for just a quarter…not a bad investment.

So all in all, a pretty simple concept.  On May 22, 1980, the gaming company Namco released this little experiment on the world, probably with no idea that it would become one of the most popular video games of all time.  Kids (of all ages) took to Pac-Man like parachute pants, break-dancing, and The Cosby Show, dropping quarter after quarter down the money-hungry maw of the console.  Hundreds of thousands of consoles were sold and billions of dollars were “invested” in an effort to, as one song-writer penned, “carve my name in a video game.”

I spent a few dollars on Pac-Man, but quickly realized that I didn’t have the patience or skill to advance past the second or third level.  While the game has largely gone the way of…well…parachute pants, break dancing, and The Cosby Show, there are still those who work to achieve perfection.  That consists of clearing all 255 levels and all the associated bonuses, which earns you a couple million points…and the loss of a quarter.

The bigger cash out, in my mind, is that Namco’s creation forever changed the landscape of gaming.  If you replace the 2-D maze with a 3-D version, modify your character to be a person with a gun, and change the enemies to monsters, you have created any of the first-person shooters that came on the scene a decade later.  These includes best-sellers like id Software’s Wolfenstein/Doom/Quake franchises or Half-Life or any of dozens of other examples.

Expand your vista a bit and replace the maze with a 3-D world and put your character in the military.  You’ve just created Bohemia Interactive’s incredible Operation Flashpoint / Armed Assault series, the Medal of Honor series, or again, any of a number of military-based shooters.

This is not to say that none of these other games would have come into existence without Pac-Man.  But Pac-Man truly showed that these types of games were not only feasible, but undeniably popular.

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Last summer (the rain-drenched summer of 2010), Lake Delhi ceased to exist.  Located in eastern Iowa, the lake was kept in place by a dam.  In late July, a 24-hour period of intense rain (more than 10″ fell) simply overwhelmed the dam, collapsing it and sending millions of gallons of water downstream.

In general, I’m guessing this is the most common way lakes become “non-lakes”.  We’ve seen it in our stories of Johnstown, the St. Francis Dam, and the dam that held back Lawn Lake.  I’m sure there are more incidents like those…there are lots of dams in the world.

But Lake Peigneur wasn’t drained by a dam failure.  Lake Peigneur, located in southern Louisiana roughly 100 miles west of New Orleans, doesn’t even have a dam.  But back in 1980, it did have an active salt mine below it.  And then Texaco showed up, wanting to drill below the lake and search for oil.

And much like those old Reeses Peanut Butter Cup commercials – you know, the “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter” commercials – Texaco and the Diamond Crystal Salt Company got all mixed together.  On November 20, 1980, Texaco was drilling below the lake when it miscalculated and inadvertantly punched through one of the salt mine shafts.  It wasn’t a very big hole, and it was initally plugged by the drill.  But when the drill was reversed…well…when you fill your kitchen sink with water and then pull out the drain…you can pretty much figure out the rest.

Lake Peigneur began draining into the salt mine, sending more than 50 miners scrambling for the elevators and the safety of the surface.  And just like your kitchen drain, a whirlpool formed on the lake as it drained, first sucking down the oil rig (from which the workers had all scrambled as well), then barges, then land and trees from around the lake.

And what’s more, the lake’s outlet, which flowed down to Vermillion Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, was reversed.  This action served to pull salt water from the Gulf back into the lake, changing Peigneur’s composition from freshwater to saltwater.

Fortunately, there were no human fatalities (though I’m sure plenty of fish had a pretty rough go of it), but Texaco ended up paying a bundle of money in compensation.

Recommended Viewing:  Watch Lake Peigneur disappear.

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The collision of a pair of Boeing 747 jumbo jets on the runway back in 1977 is probably something with which many of us “more experienced” readers are quite familiar.  The disaster (which was discussed in the early days of Today’s History Lesson) took place at a rather small airport on Tenerife in the Canary Islands, and resulted in the largest loss of life caused by aircraft (excepting the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001).

That was not, however, the only fatal accident at Tenerife.  Little more than three years later, tragedy struck again.  This time, it didn’t involve runways or Boeing 747’s.  On April 25, 1980, Dan-Air Flight 1008 was approaching Tenerife to land, having taken off from England.  The Boeing 727, carrying 146 passengers and crew, entered a holding pattern, awaiting its turn to land.

But the pilot, descending to 5,000′ and in heavy clouds, turned into an area of high terrain and away from the proper beacon…an area were 14,500′ was considered the minimum safe altitude.  Suddenly the 727’s ground warning indicators began sounding, pointing out a mountain that cloud-obscured eyes couldn’t see.  The pilots, realizing their peril, applied full power and turned hard to the right, but it was too late.  The jetliner crashed into the mountain, instantly killing all on board.

In the wake of these accidents, Tenerife North Airport was supplemented by Tenerife South, built in an area less susceptible to low cloud and, even more dangerous, thick fog.  It’s my understanding that Tenerife South handles most of the flights in and out of the islands (which generate the most traffic), while Tenerife North mostly deals with inter-island traffic and shorter flights to Spain, Western Europe, and the United States.

And since that tragic day in April 30 years ago, no lives have been lost at either airport.

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Most historical events are ones I’ve read about or seen on TV.  And regardless of my level of familiarity with them, there’s still a certain sense of detachment that tags along.  After all, I wasn’t Philadelphia when the Declaration was signedI wasn’t at Marpi PointI never met John Wayne, and I wasn’t in Johnstown when flood waters all but obliterated it.

And on the morning of November 21, 1980, I wasn’t anywhere close to Las Vegas, Nevada.  So I wasn’t in the MGM Grand Hotel when an electrical short started a fire in the walls of one of the hotel’s restaurants.

The fire was discovered by an employee who tried to contain the growing blaze, but was unable to.  Just 15 minutes after the fire was discovered, the first emergency crews arrived on scene, but what greeted them was a raging inferno.  By the time the fire was contained, smoke and toxic fumes had killed 85 people and injured hundreds more.

But while I wasn’t a witness (much less a survivor), the events in Las Vegas had a more personal dimension for me.  I was a 6th grader and, the following morning, our teacher told us that one of our classmates had a father that was one of the 85 victims.  The teacher informed us that the girl would be gone for a while and, when she came back, we should act like nothing had happened…just treat her like we did before that November morning.

I don’t recall how long she was gone (too many years have gone by), but when she came back, I don’t think anyone said anything to her.  I know I didn’t.  She and I went to the same high school for the next six years…she sat adjacent to me in class on several occasions…and still I took my 6th-grade teacher’s advice.  Never once did I ask her about the fire or the loss of her dad.  I’m not sure I would have known what to ask or even say.  I hope some of her friends were braver than I.

Every historical event touches people somewhere.  Usually it’s not me.  But on this occasion, it came close.

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There’s been no shortage of controversy concerning the government’s numerous multi-billion dollar cash infusions over the last several months.  I don’t know all the details, but it started with $700+ billion and I’ve heard the number is going (or has gone) much higher.  Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, billions of dollars to AIG and, most recently, the automotive industry.

In December, $13.4 billion was promised to the Ford, GM, and Chrysler in order to keep the assembly lines running.  But, as some of you may know, 2008’s automotive bailout wasn’t the first time the government intervened in the affairs of an auto maker.

In the late 1970’s, the Chrysler Corporation was facing bankruptcy.  The 70’s had seen a gas crisis and the cars in Chrysler’s line simply weren’t very efficient.  What’s worse, the cars just weren’t all that enticing either.  Ricardo Montalban did his best to talk up the line, particularly the Cordoba, but it, along with the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare, simply epitomized boring.

Faced with collapse and the loss of thousands and thousands of jobs, Chrysler asked the government for help.  Five months later, the government responded…favorably.  On January 7, 1980, legislation was signed by President Jimmy Carter that provided the bleeding car company with $1.5 billion in loans.  In addition, a new chairman, Lee Iacocca, was brought in.

And Chrysler made good.  A new ad campaign featured Iacocca pointing his finger at us saying, “If you can find a better car, buy it.”  What’s more, Iacocca’s charges lived up to the challenge by building better cars.  The Omni/Horizon compacts were small, cheap, really efficient, and had engines that pretty much ran forever.  And the K-cars (Aries/Reliant – shown above) were immensely popular, of much better quality, and were the cars that ultimately brought the company back from the brink.  Just three years later, Detroit’s number 3 auto-maker was profitable, growing, and had repaid the loans that had saved them.  And then came the Caravan

I think the crisis facing the Big 3 today is much bigger than what Chrysler faced alone in 1980.  Will they survive?  I have no idea.  But solid leadership, quality car lines, and listening to the customer allowed the government’s infusion to have maximum effect nearly 30 years ago.  It might happen like that again…only time will tell.

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At 8:32am on May 18, 1980, an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter Scale struck directly below the north slope of Mount St. Helens.  In those first few seconds, it probably didn’t seem all that abnormal.  After all, it had been earthquakes that first testified to the volcano’s stir from slumber back on the Ides of March.  And frankly, there had been thousands and thousands of minor (and not so minor) tremors since then.  In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey counted more than 10,000 quakes in that 2-month period.

But, in the time it probably took you to read that paragraph, it became abundantly clear that this wasn’t just “quake number 10,001”.  Indeed, the earthquake caused an enormous bubble (shown above), which had been building for more than a month, to break free of St. Helens’ grasp.  The ensuing landslide was (and still is) the largest in recorded history, displacing 3.7 billion cubic yards of material, much of which was sliding at more than 100 miles per hour.

The landslide then exposed the magma underneath, releasing the pent-up pressure in a massive explosion.  At times approaching the speed the sound and reaching temperatures greather than 650° F, the explosion quickly overtook the slide and mowed down everything in its path.

According to the USGS, ash reached 80,000 feet into the air before falling back to earth to clog rivers, air intake systems in vehicles, and lungs in people and animals.  Ash fall was reported as far away as western Minnesota.  Fifty-seven deaths resulted from the eruption.

I remember the day very well…actually, I might remember the next day better, because it was the first day I started delivering our local paper, and the photo of the eruption was on the front page.  Our family had a subscription to National Geographic magazine, and I recall the big issue that devoted most of its pages to Mount St. Helens and the aftermath.  I pored through that issue numerous times.  I can even vaguely recall the interviews with Harry Truman, the old man who simply refused to leave the mountain and, after the eruption, was never seen again.  A family friend that was a truck-driver brought back a little jar of ash he had picked up in Montana, and it was almost like flour…just a bit grittier.  Many of you reading this will likely have memories of your own.

Recommended Reading: Mount St. Helens: The Eruption and Recovery of a Volcano

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