Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Links To Stuff I've Been Reading

I haven't been feeling well lately and haven't felt much like blogging, but I've been reading some interesting things I'd like to------as Rod Serling used to say on The Twilight Zone-----submit for your consideration:

• The Greensburg, KS tornado of May 4, 2007 was a F5 monster that destroyed that unfortunate town. It was also just one of several violent storms in Oklahoma and Kansas that evening. It now seems as if those storms were part of an extraordinarily rare meteorological event-----a cluster of "inland cyclones" and "super tornadoes"------that caused the parent thunderstorms to develop eyewalls, much like hurricanes, and the Greensburg tornado to reach a width of four miles on the ground! That link is to a discussion on the Stormtrack.org website; it's often detailed, and not easy, reading but is a fascinating look at the same phenomenon that may well have produced the great 1925 Tri-State Tornado. (It now seems, based upon the data gathered from the Greensburg tornado, that the Tri-State Tornado was probably a single tornado rather than a series of them.) Tornadoes are produced by super-cell thunderstorms, and it now appears on rare occasions that super tornadoes may be produced by super super-cell thunderstorms! As one of the participants in the Stormtrack discussion asks, can you imagine what a storm like this would do if it hit a populated area like Kansas City, Oklahoma City, or Dallas?

• As if that's not enough to worry about, there has been a swarm of earthquakes under the caldera of the Yellowstone supervolcano. Let's face it; we're all doomed.

• A web site called Strange Maps is worth everyone's attention!

• Don't look now, but the government of Mexico is coming apart at the seams and could collapse at any moment, producing widespread chaos and mega-problems for the United States. Think I'm kidding? The cause is the war between Mexican drug cartels and the wobbly, post-PRI Mexican government, and the Mexican government is currently losing. The Los Angeles Times is covering this situation very well. Visit that link, read the stories, ponder how long a border we share with Mexico, further ponder how open and undefended it is, and then shudder. President Obama's first major foreign policy crisis may not be in the Middle East or Russia, but instead on our southern doorstep.

• I'm so old that I remember when Caroline Kennedy used to be Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. Behind her Senate bid is less a commitment to public service than an apparent desire to frustrate the senatorial ambitions of a former "associate member" of the extended Kennedy political clan.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Ghost Town Of Warm Springs, Nevada

Warm Springs is really in the middle of nowhere. It's located on Nevada highway 6 about 40 miles east of Tonopah, NV, at the intersection of Highway 6 and State Route 375 (the so-called "Extraterrestrial Highway" that leads to Area 51). The isolation here is about as complete as it gets. You are over 20 miles from the nearest gas station, there is no cell phone service available (or at least there wasn't when I last visited in 2002), and you can get just a couple of weak radio stations on the AM and FM bands. When I drove the 40 miles from Tonopah on a weekday afternoon, I didn't see another car the entire way to Warm Springs. In other words, this is the wrong place to have a flat tire or mechanical breakdown!

Warm Springs was first settled around 1866 as a stopover for stagecoaches traveling from Utah to central California. There are some natural hot springs which, when cooled, provided drinking water for horses and travellers and also allowed growing of some modest forage for animals. By the 1890s, railroads had replaced horses and stagecoaches for travel on the route and the original settlement was abandoned. Below are photos of the surviving ruins from that era. As you can see, many of the structures, as well as the horse corrals, were made from stone because of the shortage of wood in the high desert:

In the early 1900s, bathing in natural hot springs became a popular health fad and Warm Springs experienced a little revival. A swimming pool was built along with bathhouses, a small cafe, and a couple of homes for the workers. As I understand things, Warm Springs was never a "destination resort" but instead catered to travelers on Highway 6 who wanted to relax for a couple of hours in the warm waters before continuing on to Tonopah, Carson City, or the Sierra Nevadas in California. The surviving two buildings at Warm Springs seem to be of fairly recent vintage-----say from the late 1950s or early 1960s----and appear to have been abandoned perhaps in the 1990s or so. The cafe is boarded up and sealed, while the house has been stripped of all fixtures, including electrical wiring and plumbing fixtures. I suppose both are now the property of Nye County because of unpaid taxes:

The swimming pool at Warm Springs is behind a locked fence, although it would be a simple matter to cut the padlock and enter; I wouldn't be surprised if that's not a regular event way out here. Because the water flows into the pool from a hot spring and then flows out through a drain, the water seems fresh and has no signs of algae or other contaminants. One can bathe in the warm water without breaking into the pool by using the water flowing out of the pool drain.

Warm Springs is near two sites that are also worth visiting while you're in the area. Ten miles further east on Highway 6 is the so-called "Base Camp Airfield," an emergency landing site for test flights out of Area 51 to the southwest. This is a 7300 foot runway with several trailers behind a fence with several "No Trespassing: U.S. Government Property" signs. While the facility looks deserted, it is staffed and security guards appear out of nowhere if you stop along the fence line. It is my understanding that Highway 6 may be closed during flight tests at Area 51 if an emergency landing might be necessary. Another 15 miles further east on Highway 6 (or 25 miles east of Warm Springs) is the turnoff for the Project Faultless test site. A dirt road at that point leads about 14 miles to the site of a one megaton underground hydrogen bomb test conducted on January 19, 1968. The area was supposed to be a replacement for the Nevada Test Site, but the underground geology was all wrong for nuclear testing; the Project Faultless explosion caused about 4000 square feet of land to sink a little over ten feet, producing an obvious depression which is still visible. Anyone can visit this site and see the concrete "caps" on the blast tunnels and numerous metal ground markers with cryptic lettering. I wrote about both of these sites in my book Top Secret Tourism.

Of course, you can always head south on state route 375 from Warm Springs and pay a visit to Area 51. I previously wrote about visiting Area 51 here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Delightful Miscellany From The Past Week

My skeptical review of the series finale of Ghost Adventures is now up. As you may detect from the tone of my review, I wasn't impressed, but at least I was amused!

• One of the dirty little secrets about cancer tests is how many of them are not very accurate and miss many early stage cancers. So says the New York Times. The large majority of funds raised for cancer research go to "home run" projects that try to discover the underlying causes of cancer----why do certain body cells start running amok and replicating out of control?-----but, despite decades of research and billions of dollars, those efforts have largely failed and show no promise of any breakthroughs in the near future. Meanwhile, research into more mundane topics, such as improving the accuracy and reliability of diagnostic tests such as colonoscopies, is neglected even though such improvements would likely save more lives much sooner. But the "home run" research is more glamorous, money goes to it, and people die needlessly as a result.

• Nick Gillespie lets rip with a magnificent, scatalogical rant about the current state of the United States in this piece from Reason. I find myself in agreement on most of his points. In particular, I find myself wondering why I should be obligated in cleaning up the mess created by fools who bought no-money-down homes with adjustable rate mortgages. I take pride in the fact that I have tried to live my adult life not just within my means but well within my means; I have lived in homes, and driven cars, less grand than I could have if I had spent every last dollar of my disposable income. Instead, I saved and invested much of my disposable income. That's why I was able to buy our new condo in Corpus Christi, as well as our 2009 Scion, with cash instead of credit. (And you have no idea how hard a bargain you can drive in this economy when you're a buyer able to pay 100% cash!) I take pride in the fact that all I owe each month are utility and insurance bills. And that is why I say to anyone struggling with a sub-prime mortgage, one you got with no money down and having the closing costs folded into the loan. . . . . . . . I have absolutely no sympathy for you. None whatsoever. If you lacked the income and/or personal financial discipline to save a down payment of 20% and qualify for a fixed rate mortgage, you had no business trying to buy a home; you should have just rented instead. You, not me, are the one responsible for the jam you find yourself in, and I will severely punish any politician who wants to use my tax dollars to bail your worthless, idiotic, and profligate ass out. In other words, I wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire. I hope this clarifies my feelings on this matter.

• I'm in favor of revoking Illinois's statehood, giving it to Puerto Rico, and instead making Illinois a territory, much like Guam or American Samoa. Here's why. Seriously, if Illinois was a Central American nation with such a chaotic government, we would have sent in the Marines by now.

• Here's a variation of those "100 things to do before you die" lists, but this one deals with visiting places and experiencing things connected to the natural sciences. I was surprised to discover I have done 42 of the 100 things on this list, and I even posted here about #47, Telescope Peak. I'll soon post here about the others I've seen/experienced, like. . . . . .

#1, an erupting volcano (Pu'u O'o vent on the Big Island of Hawaii; I took this photo in 2002):

#2, see a glacier (better yet, I have actually climbed as well as seen a glacier----this is a photo I snapped while climbing across the Palmer glacier on Oregon's Mount Hood-----note the cracks in the surface ice):

Friday, December 12, 2008

Digital Continues To Grow At Print's Expense

It's amazing how something that seems permanent and immutable can collapse in a very short time-----remember how the Soviet Union evaporated in just a few months back in 1991?

Something similar is happening in the print publishing business. Icons of print publishing are collapsing or staggering under the weight of increased competition and declining revenues.

The Tribune Company, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and other newspapers, filed for bankruptcy on December 10. Entertainment Weekly is rumored to be phasing out its print version in favor of its on-line edition. Newsweek is drastically cutting back its print edition in an attempt to survive, but some publishing industry observers think it's doomed-----perhaps as soon as 2010----no matter what.

The interesting thing in all this bad news is that its arrival should be no surprise; since the turn of the century, it's been painfully obvious digital was starting to take large bites out of the hide of print publishing. This post from Clay Shirky is a bit self-congratulatory but is also dead on-target------the changes now battering print publishing are the logical culmination of trends clear a decade ago. In a similar fashion, when I say wireless broadband will replace terrestrial radio, or that the huge bulk of technical and profesional publishing will move to digital, or that something like the iPhone will become the eBook reader platform of choice, I'm just extrapolating from trends that are well underway and have clear direction. It takes no special insight to notice these trends; you just have to be open to the notion that change, rather than permanence, is the normal condition of life.

Sadly, I think my beloved book publishing business is no better positioned than newspapers or magazines to adapt to the digital age, as this post illustrates. (Take a good look at some of those comments!) Oh, I know plenty of rank-and-file employees and lower-level managers who are fully aware of what's about to happen, but the executive suites in most larger publishers are filled with people who are convinced things can be just like they were back in 1988 if they just hang tough and wait for this wacky digital fad to run its course.

Most "crises" are entirely predictable and the logical summation of clear, obvious warning signals that are ignored until too late. Take, for example, this article from Business Week titled "What If GM Did Go Bankrupt?" A timely article, you say? Yes, but it was published on December 12, 2005. And GM's executives and employees have done absolutely nothing over the last three years to even begin honestly recognizing their problems, much less solve them. (And that's why I oppose any auto bailout; the Big Three execs and workers have spent years denying they have a problem and are utterly incapable of developing a viable solution in three months. A bailout will only postpone the inevitable reckoning for decades of collective foolishness. If Congress simply has to spend $15 billion, let them spend it instead on something like health care for uninsured children.)

I fear that many in the print publishing industry will, like GM, continue to ignore problems, deny they even have problems, until they crash head-first into fiscal reality. And when that happens, it's too late to change the outcome.

On the bright side, I think some major fortunes are going to be made by those who figure out how to use digital to meet their readers' (that is, their customers') information needs.

We're in for a wild ride. If you're in the publishing business, hang on tight!

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Petroglyphs At Swansea, California

Swansea, California is a ghost town site located about ten miles south of Lone Pine, CA, along Highway 136. It is located on the eastern shore of the Owens Lake dry lake bed, bordering a vast expanse of white alkaline deposits. There is not much left of Swansea, and I'll blog about that ghost town in the future. Today I'm going to write about a series of remarkable petroglyphs found near Swansea on the east side of Highway 136.

Most of the petroglyphs found in the southwestern United States were made on basaltic rock, but the Swansea petroglyphs were made on marble. Because marble is a harder rock than basalt, making the Swansea petroglyphs must have been a difficult task. Fortunately, it also means the Swansea petroglyphs are very well preserved compared to most basaltic petroglyphs:

So far, these look like very typical petroglyphs. They depict game animals (note the bighorn sheep in the second photo above) as well as astronomical objects (the starburst at left in the photo above). They also include the random geometric patterns indicative of hallucinations induced by native tobacco, lack of sleep and food, etc.

What makes the Swansea petroglyphs a bit controversial is the presence of supposedly Christian and European symbols in them, such as the cross you can see in the photo below:

Some of the Swansea petroglyphs supposedly represent horses, which were unknown in North American prior to the arrival of the Spaniards:

The Swansea petroglyphs are the inspiration for a very unusual web site called The Equinox Project, which claims the Swansea site is proof of European exploration of North America------principally by the Celts-----over 1000 years ago!

Frankly, the Equinox Project's claims are profoundly unconvincing and more than a little demented. But the Swansea petroglyphs are well worth a visit for their own sake.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dub Makes A New Friend

Above is Dubya, my horse from 2005 until this past May when we sold him (along with Buck) to Ward and Sue Critz as part of our move to Corpus Christi. The photo above was taken last weekend, and shows Kimberly Critz, daughter of Ward and Sue, and her young niece Caroline atop Dub. It was Caroline's first horse ride, and she seems to be enjoying it. And I imagine that in another decade Caroline will always want to ride The Dubster whenever she visits her grandparents.

I really miss Dubya. It always amazed me that such a large, powerful animal could have such a gentle heart. I miss walking outside and hearing Dub "whiny" when he saw me and then galloping toward me. It's a relief to know he and Buck are in a good home with loving, caring people to look after them-----and that he will probably be the horse a young girl falls in love with.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Random Musings. . . . . .

Interesting stuff in the news of late. . . . . . .

The book publishing business is finding it is not immune to the current economic climate and some well-known publishing professionals have lost their jobs. There are also some long-overdue efforts underway to consolidate divisions and functions and avoid the duplication of effort that is pandemic in some larger publishers. I expect to see a lot more news like this in the future as the book publishing industry model I worked in for years is no longer financially viable; big changes are going to happen of necessity.

I've previously blogged about the utter insanity of the proposed auto industry bailout, with my biggest objection being that it simply won't work. Reason magazine nicely sums up why the bailout is doomed to fail, and crunches the numbers to show why it can't work------even if GM, Ford, and Chrysler get everything they're asking for, they'll be back for more by next summer. The problems with GM, Ford, and Chrysler are simple: 1) people don't want to buy the cars they're making, and 2) the management of those companies is flat-out incompetent in every possible way. Until GM, Ford,and Chrysler figure out how to build cars people want to buy, no amount of federal money can save them------without customers who want to buy your stuff, you don't have a business. A Chapter 11 filing for all three would be their best bet for a rebirth. Giving federal money to the same teams of executive fools who got the automakers into their current mess would accomplish absolutely nothing. And I really object to how the bailout request is being described as "loans." These are the sort of "loans" that are made when your worthless brother-in-law asks to borrow $500; you know damn well you will never see that money again if you make that "loan." Same thing applies here. . . . .

Several months ago I 'fessed up to my addiction to various "ghost hunting" shows on cable television. Well, there is a new one on the Travel Channel titled Ghost Adventures that I find highly "entertaining," and I'm doing reviews of it for the Skeptical Viewer web site. Here is my first review and here is my second review. I find Ghost Adventures to be only slightly more disingenuous than, say, a typical episode of Meet The Press.

I greatly enjoyed watching North Carolina demolish Michigan State last night by a score of 98-63; this Carolina squad might be the best since the legendary 1981-82 national champions (which featured a couple of players named James Worthy and Michael Jordan). But my enjoyment of the game was impaired by the repeated maudlin references to "Jimmy V Week" and pitches for donations to the "Jimmy V Foundation." Jimmy V was Jim Valvano, the former basketball coach at N.C. State who died of cancer in 1993. What drove me nuts was listening to the non-stop emoting of Dick Vitale during the game and, during commercial breaks, Duke coach Mike Kryzewski, both telling us what a terrible disease cancer is, how it destroys lives, how we must find a cure for it now, how courageous cancer patients are, blab. . . . . blab. . . . . . blab, until I was about to scream. As I've written here before, the "courageous cancer patient" is just a myth; we undergo chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery not because we're brave but because we want to live. Moreover, cancer patients don't live lives of non-stop suffering and despair. Yeah, it's a pain in the ass to have cancer, I'd rather not have it, and I had a lot more fun without it, but I still lead a very enjoyable, rewarding, and fulfilling life. We cancer patients don't want or need anyone's pity. Finally, I was upset by the egocentric, self-congratulatory tone taken by Vitale and Kryzewski in their verbal ramblings; it was as if the subtext was See what a good person I am! I hate cancer! Well, good for you boys! I hate it too. But I don't like being reduced to an icon or symbol that people can project their fears upon, and I don't like being patronized as some sort of pathetic victim in need of constant love and support. I know the vast majority of the other cancer patients I've met since beginning my journey feel the same way. We're just ill, not helpless. And we're real people, not symbols!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Happy Birthday, Di!

Today is the birthday of my wife Di. Above is one of my favorite photos of her, one I took at dusk on the observation platform of the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas. Back in 2003, I swore I would never get married again, and I sure as hell was never going to live in Texas again. And then I saw her, with that fiery red hair against a clear blue desert sky, I was immediately stricken by the sight, and suddenly all of my plans and vows went out the window. And I'm glad they did.

Since we met, she has been both my parole officer and game warden and, since I got sick, increasingly my nurse and my reason for trying to hold on as long as I can. She has shown courage, strength, character, and patience. There have been times she was the only light in my darkness.

Happy birthday, baby! I love you!!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

I'm lucky enough to see another Thanksgiving, and I have a lot to be thankful about.

Like my family and friends. Like the people I've never met but who I "know" through my writings, this blog, and radio activities. Like our dogs, cats, and Lucy the wonder rabbit. Like my memories of the places I've been and the things I have done. Like the fact that I'm one of the lucky patients located on the right side of the mean survival time bell curve. As I look back on my life and reflect, the one thing that keeps popping into my mind is man, I've been one lucky SOB!

Years ago, I used to say I wanted to die suddenly and unexpectedly, and never have an idea it was coming. But I am thankful the way things have turned out and for this opportunity to look back at the road I have traveled. I have climbed heights only to experience steep, brutal falls. I have been thrown from one side to the other. I have turned one way and then turned sharply in the opposite. Sometimes all I could do was hold on as tightly as I could.

That sounds like a world-class roller coaster ride, doesn't it? And that's the perfect metaphor for my life. Now my ride is nearing the end-----the part where the roller coaster slows down as it returns to its starting point-----and I have to say it was a lot of fun, well worth the trip, and I'd do it all again, exactly the same way, without hesitation. And for that I'm thankful.

I hope everyone reading these words feels the same way toward the end of their life journey.

It's just me and Di today. There will be the obligatory overconsumption of food, perhaps a walk on the beach, and then back home to watch the Cowboys versus Seattle and, later, the Texas Longhorns confronting the dreaded Texas A&M Aggies. Viewing of those games will be assisted by bottles of 2008 Georges duBoeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, which will probably do me more good than all that $15K a month chemotherapy I received.

Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone, and thank you for stopping by!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Ghost Town Of Darwin, California

Darwin, California isn't a "true" ghost town; as the sign shows, a handful of people still remain. But it's a "zombie" town that seems populated almost exclusively by those on disability or engaged in activities they wish to keep away from the eyes of local, state, and federal law enforcement agents.

Darwin is located on Highway 190, the western entrance to Death Valley National Park (this is the so-called Panamint Springs entrance). It is reached by taking the Highway 190 exit east off Highway 395 just south of Olancha, CA. The road to Darwin is on the right from Highway 190 eastbound, although it is poorly marked and it's easy to zoom right past it------as most visitors to Death Valley via this entrance do.

Darwin in named for Dr. Darwin French, a prospector who discovered silver in the area in 1874. By 1877, Darwin had over 3500 people with water pumped down from springs in the surrounding mountains. There was a silver smelter, a Wells Fargo office, two general stores, a hotel, several saloons and eating establishments, and a weekly newspaper. Because the site was isolated and populated by miners with little to do for recreation but drink, gunfights were common; outbound silver shipments were frequently the targets of robbers. But in 1879, the miners staged a violent strike for higher pay, culminating in a large fire, believed to be arson, that hit Darwin on April 30 of that year. Many buildings were destroyed, including mine offices, and the results were predictable: the mine operators quickly pulled out. and the now permanently unemployed miners had no choice but to do the same. By 1880, the population of Darwin was only 85. But it never completely died.

In 1908, some new lead and copper strikes were made in the area and people began to return to Darwin. By the 1920s, the population was back up to 1000 and remained around that level until all non-essential mining activity was curtailed in 1942. By the time World War II ended, Darwin had less than 100 people. In the early 1950s, the Anaconda Copper Mining Company greatly expanded its lead mining operations in Darwin, even building a new mining camp (complete with housing facilities for workers) that dwarfed Darwin. For a period in the late 1950s, Darwin was the largest producer of lead in the United States. But the mine began to play out, and Anaconda shut down its operations in the mid-1970s. Today, the remains of their large facilities can be viewed in the distance from behind a fence, as shown below. Being a security guard for Anaconda at this facility seems to be about the only source of employment in Darwin:

Much of Darwin looks like the scene below, with plenty of boarded-up buildings from the 1920s "rebirth" and abandoned/inoperable vehicles from the 1950s left to slowly rust in the high desert:

There's no place in Darwin to get any gasoline or your car repaired-----heck, there's no place to buy anything to eat or drink!------but there is this cool abandoned service station/general store. Look at those two neat old "gravity" gasoline pumps still standing out front!

For fun, I suppose everyone in town goes to the Darwin Dance Hall. When I looked through the windows, however, I didn't see much room to dance, only a lot of glass bottles and miscellaneous pieces of wooden furniture:

One building which survives from Darwin's original 1874-79 boom period is the wooden building below which has served as a schoolhouse, then a saloon, and, finally, reportedly a brothel. Maybe it was all three at once; if so, I guess everyone was happy when they had a lot of homework:

Most of the remaining population of Darwin lives in ramshackle dwellings like the ones below, although many have whimsical little touches like the Mickey Mouse head at right. The only water supply to Darwin comes through a single six inch pipe from the adjacent China Lake Naval Weapons Center. One of the people I spoke to in Darwin said the water pressure sometimes falls to a trickle, and residents all stockpile water for drinking, etc., for such times. The nearest grocery store or medical attention is in Lone Pine, about 60 miles away.

Like all small, isolated areas of the American West, Darwin attracts its fair share of eccentrics, misfits, and those who are just plain batshit crazy. They live in places like the "house" below; it's a fiberglass, pre-fab fallout shelter from the 1950s. You were supposed to cover it with soil or concrete to block radiation. You weren't supposed to locate it on the west side of Death Valley, install an air conditioner, and make it your home sweet home:

It takes a special person to live in Darwin. I'm not special.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The iPhone As An eBook Publishing Platform

Back in early 2005, I started a blog titled "Future of Radio" in which I discussed the coming revolution in radio and communications technology. One of my topic labels was "cellphonecasting," which was a term I coined to refer to phones with wireless broadband capability that could be used to receive internet radio and video streaming. Eventually, that morphed into my conclusion that one day we would carry around a sort of "universal communications device" that would be your mobile phone, have your MP3 and video files for entertainment, allow you to store photos, contact information, and other files, and would finally provide wireless broadband access to the internet.

I discontinued the "Future of Radio" after getting sick, but I was pleased to see the original iPhone validated the notion of "cellphonecasting" and a pocket-sized "universal communications device."

Elsevier gave me an iPod Touch last year after I left my consulting gig, and it was a revelation to use. I was struck by the clarity and resolution of the small screen, and had no trouble reading any of the web pages I accessed on it via WiFi. I mentioned to some of my friends in the publishing business that I thought something like the iPod Touch or iPhone could become an eBook platform. I also felt dedicated eBook platforms like Amazon's Kindle were not the way to go because most of us are looking to carry around fewer items, not more; multifunction devices like the iPod Touch/iPhone struck me as the way of the future.

That's why I found this post from Joe Wikert about his experiences with the iPhone 3G as an eBook platform very interesting. Note how his commenters are also reporting their positive experiences with the iPhone 3G as an eBook reader.

So what would I do if I were 30 and in the print publishing or terrestrial/satellite radio businesses? I would be preparing for a future in which almost everyone has something like the iPhone 3G and gets "publications" and "radio" through it.

For a lot of big, established media players, this is going to be a painful, perhaps fatal, transition. For budding entrepreneurs with energy, imagination, and boldness, it's going to be the opportunity to make a lot of money. . . . . . and I mean a LOT of money.

Given the current gloom and doom about the economy, that might sound a little crazy. But two of the greatest business success stories of the last 50 years, Apple and Microsoft, were started in the mid-1970s, in a similarly hostile-----if not worse-----economic environment. Anybody remember gasoline lines? A prime interest rate of over 20%? Double-digit inflation? It wasn't fun back then, boys and girls, but Steve Jobs and Bill Gates recognized what was on the horizon, took action, and won big. Heck, we started LLH/HighText back in 1990, and the economy wasn't exactly great then. But that's the best time to start something new because many of your potential competitors will be fearfully huddled in their caves, waiting for the storm to pass.

The same is possible today, and brains and the willingness to take a chance will be a lot more important than money and connections.

If I could be reasonably confident of being around two years from now, I'd be getting my ass into high gear to exploit these opportunities. As it is, I am going to make my next book, currently being written, available for the iPhone. If you're in publishing or broadcasting and are reading these words, what are you waiting for?

Whatever you do, or dream, begin it now. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.----Goethe

Friday, November 7, 2008

An Inchoate, Angry Rant For Such A Beautiful Autumn Day

It's official: General Motors has started its death spasms and, of course, wants you------I'm talking about you, schmuck, the American taxpayer------to bail them out. President-elect Barack Obama is on board with the idea, and I suppose that means GM will soon be getting billions of federal money.

Is it possible to impeach a president prior to his inauguration?

Why? Because if GM is in such dire financial straits, then where did they find the $300 million to build a new auto factory in Russia? (And note the date of the grand opening----today, November 7, the day they announced to the world they're going broke!)

And in September, GM opened another $300 million dollar plant, this time in India. Of course, I don't want to forget the $250 million facility they are building in China.

In other words, will any GM bailout go to help save the American auto industry or will it instead go to help the auto industries of Russia, India, and China? (Hint: this is a how damn stupid are you anyway?? type of question.)

The root of General Motors's problems are twofold: 1) they are bloated, producing too many brands that compete with each other more than they compete with other automakers, and 2) GM makes poorly built, crappy cars that offer terrible value for the money.

GM's current problems are exacerbated because of GMAC, the auto financing arm once wholly owned by GM. For years, GMAC provided financing for customers purchasing GM cars through GM dealers and, even more importantly, was how GM dealers financed their inventory. Not only was GMAC the lubricant that kept the GM sales machine running, it was also a cash machine for GM, generating $2.4 billion in pre-tax profit for GM in 2005.

But then GM's executives got a bright idea: to make up for declines in their auto sales and auto profits, they would sell 51% of GMAC to Cerberus Capital in 2006. GM got $14 billion for that 51%, and that allowed GM to show a nice profit in 2006.

But. . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . GM lost control of their ability to finance both their customers and dealers. And that is beginning to squeeze hard now. Have you seen any of the recent GM commercials with their "financing that fits" promotion? That's because GMAC is no longer financing any individual customers but the most credit worthy (credit scores of 700+), and those people can usually get a better credit rate elsewhere. Even more ominous is what GMAC is doing to GM dealers. GMAC is now only financing inventory for three months instead of the previous six and no longer finances any used car inventory. In short, GMAC, at the behest of Cerberus, is slowly strangling GM, much like a python coiled around GM's neck.

And why would they do that? Well, guess which company bought Chrysler last year and took it private?

Yep, Cerberus. The financing arm GM depended on for decades to provide credit to its customers and dealers is now controlled by a competitor. That was the reason for the recent flurry of rumors about a GM/Chrysler merger or acquisition-----Cerberus was trying to force GM to buy Chrysler at a price that would make a nice profit to Cerberus for one year's "work." And that plan would likely have gone through if not for GM steep nosedive over the past quarter.

Of course, the same fools at GM who engineered the sale of GMAC, such as Rick Wagoner and Bob Lutz, are still there and still making nice paychecks even as their dumbass decisions have put the company's survival into question.

A federal bailout of General Motors will not save GM or the American auto industry. A bailout will not alter the fundamentals of the industry (like overcapacity) or make GM's management any brighter. All it will do is keep those new plants in Russia, India, and China running.

It's time for some tough love.

The proper solution for GM's problems, as well as those for Chrysler, Ford, Goldman Sachs, or any of the other leeches wanting federal money, is called a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Chapter 11 isn't nice for anyone involved. Existing management is fired, the board of directors is replaced, labor contracts are voided, creditors are paid just a fraction of what they are owed, assets are sold, shareholders have their investment reduced to pennies per share, and control of the company is in the hands of court-appointed trustees and managers.

But it does give the company a clean slate, fresh management, a new structure, and a greatly improved chance for survival. It is no guarantee of survival, but in GM's case it represents the only realistic chance for survival.

If I were the court-appointed trustee to oversee GM in Chapter 11, I would immediately discontinue the Buick, Pontiac, Saturn, and Hummer brands. I'd sell them to a foreign manufacturer if I could; if I couldn't, I'd stop production of them to focus on just the Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC brands. I'd sell the start-up operations in places like Russia, India, and China to instead focus on the still-profitable European operations. I'd also greatly reduce the number of GM dealers.

Advocates of a federal bailout for GM would probably wail, "But what about those who would lose their jobs in Chapter 11?" Guess what? Those jobs are going to disappear regardless. It's a much better idea to take the bailout money you were planning to give to GM and instead spend it on extended unemployment benefits and other financial assistance, transitional medical care, and training for new jobs for affected workers. It would also be a lot cheaper than giving the money to Wagoner and Lutz so they can just piss it away, and they would be coming back in 2011 for another bailout anyway.

You didn't know GM was investing more in new facilities in Russia, India, and China than they are in the United States, did you? That's because most of the mainstream press just regurgitates corporate press releases instead of doing any research. It took me about ten minutes on Google to find the news about GM's overseas investments, and I bet I could've found more with a little extra effort.

President Bush's bailout of Wall Street investment firms cemented his claim to being the dumbest bastard ever to occupy the Oval Office. But if Obama gives in to demands by GM and the rest of the auto industry for a comparable bailout, then he will have taken the first step toward giving Bush a serious run for that title. Enough already! This country simply can't afford to write a check to every company, or individual, that makes dumb financial decisions. One day there has to be a reckoning. And this day is as good as any to start that process.

Okay, I promise I won't turn this into a political opinion or rant blog. But today's announcement by GM, and the sympathetic press coverage that provided no analysis or insight into how they got into their predicament, sent me over the edge. I'm now going to pour a couple of glasses of Pandasol sangria and try to calm down.

And it really was a beautiful day here; highs in the upper 70s, low humidity, and not a cloud in the sky.

Update! It just gets worse. Since finishing the post above, it turns out GM is now making more plans to expand its presence in China.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Another Print Publication Goes Down For The Count

U.S. News and World Report is changing to a web-only publication. Can Time and Newsweek be far behind?

I'm glad I'm not 30 and intent on a career in print book or magazine publishing!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The First, Last, And Only Political Post I Will Ever Make On This Blog

The photo above shows John McCain using the dreaded "Shaolin death grip" he learned in Vietnam from the late Kung Fu superstar Bruce Lee on President Bush, causing the president to scream in pain. It's too bad McCain ignored my advice to use the Shaolin death grip when he shook Barack Obama's hand before each debate. . . . . . Barack would collapse and writhe in pain, McCain could taunt him: So tell me whose bitch you are, Barack!, and the good senator from Illinois would be forced to squeal I is yo bitch, massuh John, I is yo bitch!

I believe such a moment could have indeed changed the course of this election, but that is not to be.

The Obama campaign has been very impressive in its organization, especially its use of the internet to mobilize supporters, while the McCain campaign has resembled a bit of concept-driven, avant garde performance art that has gone badly awry. Or maybe the "Red Zone Cuba" episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is a more apt comparison. At any rate, by this time 48 hours from now I firmly expect Obama to be our next president.

The real suspense is going to be in comparing the final polls to the actual election results. The final polls are all over the place, and it's clear that some major errors are being made in polling methodologies and analysis. For example, Gallup today gives Obama a lead of 8% while IDB/TIPP has Obama with a 2% lead. That's the sort of difference that can't be explained as normal variations in the data; something else is going on. And as someone fascinated by statistics-----three college courses in it-----I have some ideas.

One obvious problem is that the sample of a political population self-selects; no one can be forced to participate in a poll. I have read that about 20% of those contacted by political pollsters decline to take part. That has to introduce a huge error into the results, although the extent and direction of that error can't be determined. But it is definitely there.

Pollsters also contact people via landline telephone numbers. But an increasing number of people only have cell phones, and those people are omitted from any polling. I was in that situation when I lived in Las Vegas; I had a landline number, but I used it exclusively for my fax machine. If you wanted to make a voice call to me, you had to reach me at my cell phone. Contacting only those with landline phones is another source of sampling error.

But perhaps the biggest source of error in this election will be the Bradley effect. This is the dirty little secret we're not supposed to talk about; as a nation, we like to tell ourselves race will not be a factor in elections. But I don't believe it. I am confident there are quite a few white voters who will not vote for Obama because he is black but will not admit that to a pollster-----instead, they will say they are undecided or even say they are voting for Obama.

Versions of the Bradley effect are found in other areas. For example, it has been repeatedly shown that people are much less like to admit to certain beliefs and behaviors via personal interviews (either face-to-face or by telephone) than they will via anonymous written questionnaires. Just a couple of weeks ago I saw an item where a survey was conducted of married women from 25 to 40 on the subject of infidelity.Only 1% of women interviewed by telephone admitted to having had an affair; that number jumped to 8% on anonymous written questionnaires.

Because of the Bradley effect, I think Obama's margin of victory is going to be less than the polls indicate. I suspect he will win by 3% to 5% in the popular vote, but have a very healthy margin in electoral votes. It will be interesting to see if exit polling is any more accurate than it was in 2004, when exit polls had such laughably inaccurate results as John Kerry winning South Carolina. My advice would be to ignore any and all exit polls tomorrow; wait until actual vote totals start coming in before drawing any conclusions.

I cast my ballot in early voting last week, and I voted for Obama. I did so because I respect his intellect, because I feel we need a president uncontaminated by the "beltway mentality," because. . . . . . . ah crap, I'm not going to lie to you. I'm dying from cancer. I'm worried that maybe my college professors were wrong, that there really is a heaven and a hell, that I'm going to have a lot of explaining to do before much longer. . . . . . . . so maybe if I vote for a black guy for president, thereby demonstrating I am really A Good Person after all, maybe I can plea bargain down to probation and a couple of hundred hours of community service instead of eternity on the Rotisserie Of Divine Vengeance.

An act of desperation? Yes, but I am a desperate man.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Ghost Town Of Bodie, California

I've been dreading the day when I would write about Bodie, California. While it is an impressively preserved ghost town, it is heavily visited and a California state park in the bargain. The things I love about "real" ghost towns-----the challenge of getting there, the isolation in them, the total lack of anything "touristy"-----are all missing in Bodie. It has an admission fee, is only open for a few hours a day, and has hordes of tourists driving up from Yosemite to see a bit of the Old West. But at least it's an authentic ghost town-----nothing has been restored-----and the park rangers do a good job of protecting the remaining structures. If you don't mind sharing Bodie with a horde of overweight parents and their snot-nosed kids, this ghost town has a lot to recommend it. At least Bodie looks like what most people think a ghost town should look like:

Bodie is located east of Highway 395 between Yosemite National Park and the town of Bridgeport, CA; it is seven miles south of Bridgeport on 395, and the exit to the east is clearly marked. The first ten miles or so of the road to Bodie is paved, but the last three miles are gravel. The road is no problem for most passenger cars in dry weather during the summer, but mud and snow can be a problem the rest of the year------June through September is the best time to visit. The park is open all year, however, and some visit by snowmobile in the winter. The elevation here is about 8300 feet, and temperatures even in the summer can be cold, especially early or late in the day. No services other than flush toliets are available in Bodie, so be sure to have a full tank of gas and everything else you need before heading out. Drinking water is something you should definitely take, as the altitude and dry air can quickly dehydrate you as you walk around the town.

Bodie was named for Waterman Body, who discovered gold in the hills around the town site in 1859. In 1877, a major strike in the area created the second biggest gold rush in California's history, and by 1880 Bodie had grown to over 10,000 people. The shot below shows the remnants of the mining operations-----they are the gray buildings toward the left. This is where gold was extracted from the mined ore:

Bodie was a wild, lawless town. There were supposedly 65 saloons in operation, gunfights to the death were frequent (as were lynchings and other forms of vigillante justice), and even a Chinatown with opium dens. But by 1900 it also had some surprising amenities, including an opera house,
a fire department and a limited fire hydrant system, a railroad line, two newspapers, locally generated electricity, and even a semi-pro baseball team that scheduled games with teams from Reno and Aurora, Nevada.

By the late 1910s, however, the gold veins began to play out and the mines closed. People began leaving Bodie as rapidly as they arrived three decades earlier. During the 1920s and Prohibition, Bodie made a virtue of its isolation and became a center for illegal whiskey and gambling. But fate dealt Bodie a fatal blow on June 23, 1932, when a major fire, fanned by high winds, swept through the town and destroyed most of its buildings. The result is a town site today that has large empty spaces between the remaining structures, as you can see below:

The 1932 fire was the killing blow to Bodie as a living town. Basic services, like electricity and fire protection, were not restored after the fire. The post office and school closed, and all but a handful of residents moved on. By the early 1950s, Bodie was completely deserted and scavengers began to tear down the surviving buildings for their lumber and brick. Fortunately, the state of California purchased the site in 1961 and added it to the state park system in 1964.

Bodie is maintained in what is called a "state of arrested decay." This means no effort has been made to restore the buildings, but steps are taken to prevent further damage to them. The photo below illustrates what is meant by "arrested decay"; the building is leaning badly, but is kept propped up so it doesn't collapse:

Perhaps the most impressive building left in Bodie is the old schoolhouse. Below is a photo I took of it on my last visit back in June, 2004. If you look carefully at the right, you can see Di and our dog Bahrnee:

Another pair of impressive structures is the post office building and an adjoining general store. In the photo below, Di, accompanied by Bahrnee, is looking into the windows of the old store; the brick building at left is the post office:

The photo below shows what was once Main Street in Bodie. All those empty spaces represent where buildings were lost in the 1932 fire.

The scavengers who descended upon Bodie in the 1950s managed to take away most of a bank building, but they couldn't take away the vault. It still stands amid the ruins:

The remaining houses in Bodie were generally owned by the last people to live in the town and were probably occupied until at least the late 1940s:

This final photo is another example of the "arrested decay" theory in action. Yes, it's an outhouse. And there's no other structure within a hundred feet of it; I guess it survived the 1932 fire while the home it was built to serve must have been destroyed. It is now lovingly preserved by the taxpayers of California. There must be some sort of lesson in that:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More Death Rattles From Print Publishing

The Christian Science Monitor is discontinuing its print version and going to a web-only version. (No word yet concerning the plans of its main competitor, the Muslim Superstition Merrimac.)

Seriously, that is big news------this is the first major (seven Pulitzers to its credit) newspaper to abandon print and opt for a 100% web version. The circulation of the Monitor had been in a steady decline, along with that of most other major newspapers. And newspapers are responding with staff reductions followed by more staff reductions. That's why I have to congratulate the Monitor for taking such a bold step to position itself for the future; it certainly beats the half-assed, emphasis on cosmetics approach of the floundering New York Times. ("I flew back from California in coach!! Oh, the horror of it all!!") And the financial markets and credit-rating agencies are starting to notice the problems of various media companies. Many print media companies are highly leveraged (that is, they are up to their asses in debt) and it is only a matter of time before some of them will be forced to liquidate assets, likely at fire sale prices which will drive down the value of media assets held by other companies. It will not be a pretty sight, and the closing of publications and job losses in 2009 are both inevitable. The only open questions are "how deep?" and "how many?".

None of this pleases me. My entire career has been spent in magazine and book publishing. I love the feeling of holding a physical book in my hands that I've written; I enjoy the tactile feedback I get from turning paper pages. But I'm a realist. Too much of the consumer cost of print media (books, newspapers, and magazines) is tied up in the printing and distribution of physical printed materials; consumers are tired of footing those bills. Advertising and ancilliary revenue sources can't close the gap. In fact, many advertisers have permanently migrated the bulk of their efforts from print to the web, and no upturn in the economy will reverse that trend.

For better or worse, a transition from print to electronic publishing has to happen; economics alone dictates it must happen. But I get this terrible feeling many in the print publishing world are not prepared, and are not preparing, for that day. There seems to be this unspoken hope that somehow, some way, it will be possible to ride out this crazy internet fad and one day circulations of newspapers and magazines, along with book sales, will return to their per-capita rates of the 1960s. All that's required is to hang tough, refuse to compromise "journalistic principles" (whatever they are), and eventually those people who insist on getting their news and information from the internet will come to their senses.

I understand what motivates those sentiments. I've tried for the past few years to figure out what the future of book publishing will look like, and I must confess I still don't have a clue in hell how it will shake out. I have this feeling it will eventually evolve into something where a physical printed book is only a small part of the total revenue mix. I suspect "book publishing" will morph into something involving a web site (with ads) where readers and others meet to to discuss the book content with the author and each other. eBook versions, supported by embedded ads, will be freely available and widely circulated. The web sites and eBook versions could include video and audio clips that can't be included in a print version. In a sense, a book might never be completed but rather continuously updated and revised as long as the readers (and author) care about the material. And print books could become something akin to a high-end souvenir, much like a team jersey or sweatshirt purchased during a trip to Texas Stadium to see a Cowboys game. (And those "high-end souvenirs" will increasingly be the product of print-on-demand technologies.) In my vision of the future, most author/publisher revenue would come from the electronic publishing side, and the print revenues would be strictly ancillary income, a reversal from today's revenue models.

And, as I've previously blogged here, maybe many authors will find it more lucrative to self-publish through Amazon's CreateSpace or Lulu.com than to go through established book publishers.

Again, I have no idea how any of this is going to be play out or whether I'm barking up the wrong tree here-----no idea whatsoever. All I know is that the tectonic plates under print publishing are shifting rapidly these days, and there are going to be some big winners, and big losers, over the next few years. There's a part of me that wishes I could be in a position to take part in this revolution, while another part of me is grateful I can watch this from the sidelines. If I were still in the print publishing business these days, I would be both excited and apprehensive about the future.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Signs That Stopped Me In My Tracks

When I was doing the research for Top Secret Tourism, I made several visits to the boundaries of restricted sites in the western United States. And while I couldn't actually get inside those places, I could at least take photos of the signs warning me to stay away.

Let's start with America's favorite top secret facility, Area 51. Below is a sign I photographed at its border. Maybe it's just me, but there is something irresistible about a "Photography of this Area is Prohibited" sign-----I just have to take a photo of it! If the sign had read "Photography of this Area is Mandatory," I would've taken no pictures. With people like me, you sometimes must employ reverse psychology:

Here's another sign forbidding photography of Area 51. That orange post at right is how the border is marked beyond the main road; they are spaced about 100 feet apart in the desert. As I discovered, the security guards get very interested in what you're doing once you hike away from the main road and start traveling in the open desert:

Plant 42 in Palmdale, CA is where top secret aircraft are built before their existence becomes known. The U-2 and SR-71 spy planes, along with the B-2 and F-117 Stealth aircraft, were built here along with all sorts of prototypes that never became operational
. If it flies and Uncle Sam doesn't want you to know about it, it's built here. Of course, photography is prohibited at Plant 42, and of course I had to photograph the sign informing me about that:

The Nevada Test Site is the most heavily nuked piece of real estate on the planet. 126 above-ground tests and over 800 underground tests have been conducted here; it's also been the site of chemical and biological weapons tests. That's why I wasn't too offended by the sign below telling me to stay out; I guess they were just concerned about my welfare:

Prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks, the security at the Nevada Test Site was often amazingly lax. For example, I discovered one unmanned, and unlocked, entrance gate a few miles north of the sign above. I actually got to drive about a mile inside the facility before I decided not to press my luck too far and retreated. The shot below is of an old Atomic Energy Commission sign on that road; it apparently led to the site of several 1950s above-ground nuclear tests:

I wrote more about my travels to the places above on a blog at the Feral House web site; here's the link and some interesting comments by listeners and readers.

Friday, October 24, 2008

"This Is. . . . . . Cinerama!!"

The most incredible movie experience of my life happened in the summer of 1962 when my parents and I went to see This Is Cinerama. Even 46 years later I can recall the impact of the opening roller coaster shot and how I literally had the physical sensation of motion------including up and down movement-----during it. More contemporary big screen formats, like IMAX, pale in comparison to Cinerama. It was as close to "virtual reality" as motion pictures have ever come.

Cinerama's astonishing visual impact was based on a simple idea: to capture and reproduce the same image normal human vision would see of a scene. That works out to a field of vision equivalent to 146 degrees. This meant Cinerama could approximate our peripheral vision------what we see out of the corners of our eyes. Since peripheral vision is responsible for our visual perception of motion, balance, and depth, the Cinerama picture could produce those perceptions in the audience.

To achieve this wide field of vision, the Cinerama camera simultaneously exposed three roles of film using a common motor drive and shutter for uniform focus. The camera used three lenses offset from each other by 48 degrees; each filmed one-third of the final Cinerama image. To reduce "flicker," Cinerama movies were filmed (and projected) at a speed of 26 feet per second (fps) instead of the standard 24 fps used for 35 mm film.

When Cinerama films were shown, the filming process was reversed. Three spools of film were simultaneously projected using a common motor drive to synchronize the three parts of the image. To enhance the peripheral vision effects, the screen was curved so the left and right parts of the image were closer to the audience. The image below is one I scanned from a This Is Cinerama souvenir program, and shows the layout of a typical Cinerama theater:

In the image above, note the speakers behind the screen. Cinerama's sound system was just as revolutionary as its visual system. It was recorded on a separate 35mm magnetic tape at a speed of 29 inches per second (ips); this was at a time when tapes used to make phonograph records were recorded at a speed of only 15 ips. Sound was recorded in seven separate channels, with five of the channels behind the screen, one to the side of the audience, and one behind the audience. The system was 100% analog, meaning it could reproduce sound more accurately and clearly than today's 100% digital CDs and MP3 files. The recording and audio playback equipment used vacuum tubes, which likewise produced better sound than today's solid state audio gear. (Don't take my world for it; ask any professional musician who still uses a tube-based Marshall amp, for example.) Acoustics were a key design element for all Cinerama theaters. All of this is why I am much less than impressed with today's theater audio systems, like THX. Their harsh, overly processed sound is much less realistic than what I remember from Cinerama.

What was it like to be in the Cinerama audience? Here's an image I scanned from a This Is Cinerama souvenir postcard. It gives a good idea of what the screen looked like from your seat; the picture was overwhelming:

Cinerama was the brainchild of Fred Waller, a jack-of-all-trades inventor with over 1000 patents to his credit (his other great invention was water skis!). Cinerama grew out of his work in World War II to develop an aerial gunnery and bombing trainer for pilots. The system he devised used five separate 35mm cameras and projected the image on a spherical dome screen. Students were able to move around inside the dome to simulate tracking and firing upon enemy fighters. And those students raved about how realistic the training was; it was easy to transfer their skills to actual aircraft.

Waller incorporated Cinerama, Inc., in 1946 to adapt the system for commercial motion pictures. And it's here where things get controversial. Waller claimed the three projector Cinerama system was solely his idea, but a similar system had been briefly used by French director Abel Gance at the end of his 1927 epic Napoleon. Gance wanted a spectacular conclusion to his film, and the final five minutes of the movie, featuring enormous battle scenes and Napoleon's pet eagle soaring overhead, were filmed with three separate, overlapping cameras and then projected with three separate, overlapping projectors on a wide screen.

I had the opportunity to see a restored print of Napoleon in 1981 at New York's Radio City Music Hall, and the effect in the closing sequence was eerily like Cinerama. There was a pronounced sense of depth and motion (something I have never experienced in any other black and white film, especially a silent one!). Gance was a well known director when Waller began his career, and Napoleon had played New York during the time Waller lived there. I have not found any quote from Waller, or in Cinerama's promotional materials, acknowledging Gance's pioneering work with a three camera/three projector process, but it's difficult for me to believe Waller was unaware of Gance's technique-----the similarities are just too numerous and immediately obvious to even casual observers. Thus, I think Gance deserves just as much credit for Cinerama as Waller.

Cinerama was conceived as a way movie theaters could compete with television, and Cinerama movies were intended to be exhibited much like Broadway plays-----one performance nightly, matinees on weekends, reserved seats, souvenir programs, an intermission, and premium ticket prices that were three or four times the admission of ordinary movies. A Cinerama movie was intended to be an event! Below is a souvenir program for This Is Cinerama I have in my collection:

This Is Cinerama had its world premiere in New York City on September 30, 1952. Despite playing only three months at one theater, This Is Cinerama was the highest grossing film of 1952. In the years that followed, new Cinerama-equipped theaters opened around the country and world. The high water mark was reached in 1963, when over 130 theaters worldwide were equipped for Cinerama.

But Cinerama never became the commercial success its backers expected. One problem was the lack of a plot in 1950s Cinerama movies. Cinerama, Inc., was a movie technology company, not a movie company, and its films reflected a total lack of storytelling skill. Cinerama movies were glorified travelogues in which the "plot," such as it was, involved people traveling around the world to gape at incredible sights or to take high speed trips aboard airplanes, trains, speedboats, etc. The titles reflected their content: Cinerama Holiday, South Seas Adventure, Seven Wonders Of The World, Search For Paradise, etc. They all seemed like home movies of a vacation to exotic places, except for being filmed in Cinerama instead of 8mm. And the audiences for each film declined from the previous one. By 1960, Cinerama, Inc., was struggling to stay afloat financially.

Cinerama got a reprieve in 1961 when it entered into an agreement with Metro Goldwyn Mayer to produce new feature films in Cinerama. Two pictures emerged from this venture: The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm, a biographical film of the two fairy tale authors that featured plenty of special effects, and How The West Was Won, a sprawling historical/adventure epic with stars such as Jimmy Stewart. Below is a scan from the latter's publicity materials; it gives you a good idea of what it was like to be inside a Cinerama theater:

Unfortunately, MGM discovered Cinerama to be too costly a process to justify its continued use and ended its association with Cinerama, Inc., in early 1963. Unable to find another filmmaking partner, Cinerama stopped making new movies altogether. They felt the name "Cinerama" still had value, however, so they developed an alternative to three camera/projector Cinerama. This, dubbed "Ultra Cinerama," used a single 70mm camera and a "squeeze" lens to compress a larger image onto the film; a special 70mm projector "unsqueezed" the image, producing a widescreen image that had the same aspect ratio (that is, height and width) as an original Cinerama image. However, its field of vision was only 80 degrees instead of the 146 degrees provided by original Cinerama. This was too narrow to simulate the effects of peripheral vision, so the result was a much less spectacular visual experience than original Cinerama. In many ways, Ultra Cinerama is much like IMAX; both produce large images but without the field of view or resolution that made original Cinerama so remarkable.

Cinerama licensed Ultra Cinerama for use in various movies (the most notable being 2001: A Space Odyssey) but it was not enough to keep the company solvent. In 1978, Cinerama, Inc. was acquired by Pacific Theatres, and they were mainly interested in the theater properties Cinerama owned and not the Cinerama filmmaking process.

Today, only three theaters in the world are still equipped for Cinerama and still show films made in original three camera/projector Cinerama: the Pictureville Cinema at the National Museum of Photography, Film, and Television in Bradford, England, the Seattle Cinerama in Seattle, WA, and the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, CA. Ironically, the latter was built by Cinerama, Inc., to show Ultra Cinerama films and showed no three camera/projector Cinerama films until it was renovated in 2002!

It's a shame no Cinerama theater is operating in a place that receives a ton of visitors, like Las Vegas. But if you ever find yourself in Los Angeles, Seattle, or Bradford and a Cinerama film is playing, by all means see it! It will be the greatest movie experience of your life.