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Antiquing and the Cylinder Phonograph

by Jonathan B. Perry

cylinderEdisongoldmouldedphonographamberolLast Sunday afternoon, if you’d been looking, you’d have found me crouched at an antique mall in Omaha sorting through a surprise collection of about 250 phonograph cylinders, checking for condition, price, and musical selection.  I bought 11.  What are phonograph cylinders?  You might know about them, but somehow I went my entire life, until a few weeks ago, without knowing. Now I own a cylinder phonograph, several cylinders, and rock out like Teddy Roosevelt rocking a monocle.

Invented by Thomas Edison in 1877, phonograph cylinders rivaled phonograph disc records for many years, but were no longer manufactured after 1929 (it was discovered that both sides of discs could be recorded on, while cylinders had no such option). Recently, though, novelty recordings have been made using cylinders, including a song by They Might Be Giants, “I Can Hear You”. This year, a British steampunk band, The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing, released a track on a limited edition cylinder.  I might have gone a few more years without knowing about these little record tubes had I not run across some orphaned cylinders in an antique shop last month.

Not long before, I’d started my antiquing obsession when I came across a beautiful set of antique history books being used as props at an interior design shop and thought they’d look swell in my library.  And they do.  I soon set out to find more nice pieces and maybe an old lantern or two, and knew I needed to visit some antique stores.  I hadn’t been to one in awhile and could sense my lameness.  On my first trip, I went to a large antique mall where I found some cool lanterns, as well as one of those old accordion-type cameras that unfolds.  It decorates a shelf in my living room.

It was the next store where I found some more great books and those fantastic phonograph cylinders.  When I saw them, I was amazed by the packaging, and of course the fact that this was another form of musical reproduction (like the cassette, cd, 8-track) and here I was, a fairly well-read person with an enormous music library, completely unaware of their existence.  In my excitement, I immediately called my brother Jay and had him look up what he could find on the cylinders (another good reason to buy a smart phone).  He saw lots of 25 or 30 cylinders selling on eBay and advised me of actual cylinder phonographs selling online for $800-1200. If nothing else, the cylinders were great novelty pieces and priced moderately, so I bought 3 of them.  And some swell books.  I held off on the nifty furniture, stained-glass windows, and brass miner’s lanterns until a somewhat distant future.

edison cylinder phonograph amberola 30

Cylinder Phonograph (Edison Amberola 30). Not mine (my camera cord is missing)

The cylinders became a footnote as I visited one antique shop after another finding such things as a unique 9″ tall brass mesh sieve and an 1880s 6 volume leather-bound set of Le Comte De Monte-Cristo by Dumas (The Count of Monte Cristo to us English-speakers).  The leather book spines have those cool ridges.  I even saw a nice cylinder phonograph with a beautifully decorated horn, but at $800 it was beyond my immediate consideration.  A few days later, though, as I was trekking through Iowa and Minnesota, I found another great cylinder phonograph.  This one played well, but had the horn built into the box, like a speaker.  I was primed.  Listed at less than half the cost of the other, I negotiated, getting an even better deal, and took the piece home.  I had my own musical bit of history.  It was awesome!

Really, I should be rebuilding my modern audio system rather than investing in the 8-track equivalent of the 1st World War, but it was too fantastic to pass up.  Also, such non-electronic devices will come in handy in the fallout shelter after EMPs (electromagnetic pulses) have destroyed modern technology.  Yea, verily.

To me, visiting these antique shops is like visiting museums where you can buy the display items.  It’s strange to see what people are selling and what they’ve collected over the years.  Sometimes the displays are themed, like Victorian or old tool shed or mad scientist, and really give you a small insight into the people behind the items.  It’s interesting to consider the provenance of a piece:  Who were the former owners and what were they like?  Which meth-addicted grandchild is selling off grandma’s treasures?

So now as Fantasy Baseball season winds down (I have a decent chance of winning 2 championships, if I can survive today oops!), it seems I’ve found an obsession replacement.   In the last 3 weeks I’ve been to a dozen antique shops in 5 towns.  I’ve started visiting garage sales (though I’m not an early-bird shoppers who arrives early for worms) and I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on eBay.  I have an idea of what pieces I’m looking for and what my price points are.  At the moment I’m camping out on eBay looking for accidentally cheap, but fancy, 19th century music boxes that play a dozen songs or use weird metal plates or corn cobs.  I’m also checking out strange musical instruments and unusual antique scientific devices in nice wooden boxes.  In the shops my eyes are also open for the nifty furniture, stained-glass windows, and brass miner’s lanterns, knowing I should still wait on the pricier items until perhaps after I’ve had the house re-sided.  But if I should happen upon that rare cylinder with Christmas music on it, I’ll be sure to grab it right up.  You don’t just find that stuff anywhere.

Once I find my camera cord, I hope to post a video of my cylinders in action.  The cord may be in Minnesota.

The secret word of the day is steampunk.

Read These:

Buying Useless Antique Furniture: Globe Wernicke Card Catalog Cabinet with Map Drawers

Easter Antiquer

How I’m Not Really Related to Ben Franklin

Bachelors In History

A Photographic Memory

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17 Types of Bachelor Pads

by Jonathan Bonobo Perry

ABC has a new cheesetastic reality tv show called The Bachelor Pad which seems like it might combine The Bachelor with Big Brother and The Real World after they’ve soaked in a briny vat of The Girls Next Door.  It promises an abnormally good-looking and freakishly healthy cast of cast-offs from previous reality shows being overly-dramatic and dramatically-amorous in a fine and expensive model home.  Pray, what will this bachelor pad be like?  Certainly it has everything.  Entertainment, games, and watery places, perhaps 7 hot tubs (so a few could be decontaminated simultaneously).  This got me thinking about types of Bachelor Pads as theme parks for men or rather types of homes for types of bachelors. What if guys were only one-dimensional and could each be pigeonholed into one tidy category?  Here’s who 17 of those guys would be and how their bachelor pads would be set up to reflect the weirdness.

1 Lothario/Lech Pad-Round spinning bed, cocktail bar, fancy lighting, a fine collection of loungy mood music.  It would be like the digs for Quagmire from Family Guy or for Austin Powers, replete with bathrobes and smoking jackets and lots of velvet.  A hot tub.  This is usually the first picture that comes to mind when one thinks of the classic bachelor pad.  It’s a lie.  Mostly.

2 Gamer Pad-Comfy chair for all that sitting.  Probably plush.  A couple gaming systems (XBox, Nintendo, Playstation, Wii) backed up by a quality entertainment system.  Dice and game parts for various role playing games.  Occupant-pasty sleepy nerd. 

3 Partier Pad-A sufficient supply of food and beverages and, if lucky, easily cleaned surfaces.  Large tv and other entertainment devices:  good stereo, lots of music, the gamer’s gaming system, some board games and backyard games.  Possibly a jacuzzi and a grill in the awesome backyard.  There might be a firepit.  Tiki torches?

4 Handyman Pad-Handmade furniture or carvings.  An extensive collection of tools and parts.  A fine workbench in the garage.  Powerdrill always plugged into the wall.  Multiple projects at different stages of completion spread about the garage and house.  Possibly a classic car parked in the garage being restored.

5 Traveler Pad-Travel books, posters, and paintings.  Souvenirs and maps.  Photo albums of trips.  Several suitcases, bags & perhaps an enormous travel cases like Jimmy Stewart‘s from It’s A Wonderful Life.

6 Collector Pad-The house may be overrun and/or decorated by strange collections:  stamps, baseball cards, license plates, Coca-Cola memorabilia.  Butterflies.  Places to store and display all this stuff have been set aside. The Antique-r is a sub-specialist of collector. Or is it the other way around?

7 Gadget Dude Pad-Assorted collection of the latest and greatest gadgets both electronic and mechanical.  Not only does he have the latest ostentatious Apple product (iPhone, iPad, iTouch), he also has camcorders, ereaders, robots, roombas, gps’s.

8 Reader Pad-Several bookcases, maybe some built-ins for a large a well-organized library (possibly numbered books, as if it were a real library).  There might be a list of books lent out and who has them and why you’ll never get them back.  (Chris?  Marshall?).  If he’s gone gadgety, there might be an Amazon Kindle or a similar ereader.

9 Sports Fan Pad-There will be lots of sports memorabilia, some of it plastered to the walls.  Maybe jerseys of the home team.  There could be game highlight footage on DVD.  There might even be sports cards, but certainly sports magazines.

10 Movie and TV-Buff Pad-Huge TV entertainment system with surround sound.  Lots of DVDs.  Lots of VHS tapes with the player.  Possibly a Beta player and Beta tapes for some rare ancient weirdness.

11 Musician Pad-Instruments.  The pinnacle is a grand piano or a specialty guitar signed by some dead rock legend.  Recording equipment.  A fine hi-fi system that spans the years from phonograph to 8-track to cassette to cd to mp3 player.  There will be plenty of albums to play on this system.  There might be busts of musicians and sheets of music.  Perhaps rooms have been modified to adjust acoustics.

12 Fitness Enthusiast Pad-In this pad might be found a bicycle and helmet.  If he’s a daredevil he might have mountain-climbing equipment, otherwise regular (and strange) exercise devices: dumb bells, stationary bike, treadmill, elliptical, medicine ball.  He might have his own awards from previous sporty endeavors.

13 Animal Lover Pad-Aquariums, terrariums, cages and kennels.  Leashes and bowls on the floor.  Adorable creatures that want to eat and bite you and need to use the facilities which may or may not be in your house.  Animal hair everywhere.  Unsolved allergy issues.  Hello Kitty stationery?  Maybe that’s just a sub-genre.

14 Hoarder Pad-this comes from mixing too many of the other categories together and having certain psychological issues.

15 Artist/Photographer Pad-Paints and brushes.  Easels and canvas and frames.  Cameras and camera equipment.  Maybe a dark room for old film.  Some of his own work might be framed on the wall as well as his inspirations’ works.  Art supplies and works are spread all over the house.

16 Gardener/Plant Guy Pad-Much of this guy’s stuff would be in the backyard: Veggie garden, flowers, other odd plants.  Sometimes the greenery will come inside and there will be pots of living greenstuff (non-mold) around the house.  There might be books and magazines for gardening ideas and tips.

17 Chef/Cook Pad-This dude has a kitchen full of quality cooking equipment.  Pots and pans and skillets or whatever.  There will be odd measuring devices which might use the metric system or stuff like pinch or smidgen.  He’ll have lots of spices and fancy oils.  The cupboards and fridge are stocked with all kinds of food.

Certainly your type has been overlooked.  That just means you’re weird.

The secret word is pigeonhole

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Why Fantasy Sports Make Me Feel Manly (and like an addict)

by Jonathan Basecommander Perry

Ok, yeah, it's really 2010.

OK, sure.  I’m only playing fantasy baseballIt’s not like it’s fantasy football or sci-fi soccer (yeah, I just made that up, but doesn’t it sound awesome?).  Not only is baseball a snail-paced sport, but because of the daily games in baseball, I have to keep on top of things every freaking day for like 5 months.  Or is it 6 months?  Maybe that makes it more hardcore.  The 1st 2 years I played fantasy baseball I got so into number crunching, I made graphs.  Baseball Stat Graphs! I even updated those graphs periodically throughout the season (yeah, I like stats).  I mean, they didn’t really seem to help me because I never ended higher than 3rd place (though I flirted with the lead a few times as late as August), but I enjoyed comparing players’ stats and it seemed to enhance my fantasy baseball enjoyment.

Last year I missed the deadline to sign up for fantasy baseball with my group and I was disappointed, but more than anything, I was actually relieved.  I felt like I’d kicked a terrible drug habit, like heroin or smack or angel dust (I have no clue what those last 2 are).  On weeklong camping trips when I was playing and far away from a computer, I’d find excuses (groceries, laundry, Taco Bell) to drive the 30 minutes into town and hit the library so I could check my fantasy team and make little adjustments to the roster.  Maybe bench or trade a slumping player.  I’d eat up the latest stats and try to catch some live games.  I’d even drag my laptop along to discover I’d found probably the only Starbucks in the world without WiFi.  It was a compulsion.  Then, when I wasn’t playing, it was as if I suddenly, miraculously, had free time to do other things like exercise, read classical literature (Bill Bryson), and chat online with non-fictional women that I totally didn’t just make up.  The air was fresher.  I slept better at night.  I lost almost 40 pounds (I’m not sure how all this is related).  I’d poured so much time every day for months into my fantasy team that I wasted possibly hundreds of hours I could have spent reading Don Quixote or socializing with humans.  Yes, not playing was a relief.

But here I am again.  Another year.  Another fantasy baseball league.  Actually 2 this time.  Dangit.  Both named Moose & Squirrel.  My buddy Roland, who lured me into the previous leagues, got me into it again this year at the last minute with his friends in TaiwanJerk.  He’s my fantasy crack dealer.  I thought I’d escaped.  Once I’d succumbed to the lure of one league, I remembered my other college friend Brian had been asking around for people to play in his league.  So later that afternoon I decided, what the heck.  I’m already doing it.  I might as well have 2 teams.  I could even experiment with drafting techniques and discover some clever strategies.  The draft is like some weird fantasy Christmas, at least in our leagues where you wake up early after the overnight auto-draft (or race home after work) to see what goodies were left for you in your Easter Basket under the Christmas tree (of course that sounds a little weird when you remember the “goodies” are the players).

Somehow, playing fantasy sports even makes me feel a bit manly.  It’s the stuff guys talk about when they don’t actually play sports.  I suppose it must be like having a second life in one of those role playing games like World of Warcraft (minus the hot orc-women).  I know I’m only playing fantasy baseball, the lesser of the sports fantasies.  I haven’t yet played fantasy football, which is apparently more manly, but less involved, and I feel pretty left out at the office when all the guys gather around Randy’s desk to discuss passing percentages, season ending spinal injuries, or linebacker stats that are pretty meaningless to me, and I consider playing the next year, but I don’t.  I tried to talk to a few of my friends at work about fantasy baseball, but they just gave me vacant stares.  They only do football, so we have little in common.  They also have families.  I don’t even see the guys I’m playing with.

Fantasy sports allow guys to bond in a special way, talk a unique language.  Of course women play, but really it’s mostly guys doing the fantasy stuff (I’m sure there’s some Freudian thing you could take from that).  And however boring baseball might be compared to football or basketball (I do enjoy them both), baseball is still my native sport, the one I most grew up with and I have a soft spot in my head for it.  I still have boxes full of baseball cards I collected when I was younger.  I’ve been to a few major league games and have gone hoarse rooting for the SF GiantsMy mom and her sisters, the biggest sports fans in my family, have their awesome childhood story about visiting Willie Mays‘ house and getting his autograph on the same day they accidentally saw the Beatles in San Francisco, but they didn’t care about the Beatles (that always bothered me).  I even pitched a near perfect game in HS intramurals that was pretty awesome (for a small private school of fat kids).  There’s something about the crack of the bat on the skull…ok, no.  That’s something else.  Anyway, pray for me.

Happy Birthday to my brother Jay!  May he live long and prosper!

Update:  Congratulations to former Nebraska Cornhusker Ndamukong Suh on being the 2nd overall pick in the NFL draft!  The Detroit Lions made a great choice.

The secret word is addiction.

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