The John Davidson Show

40 years ago today, I was on The John Davidson Show.

Yes, me.

Yes, THAT John Davidson.

The John Davidson Show

“That’s incredible”, you’re thinking.

Yes I suppose it was, but not that show.

You know. The John Davidson Show. This one –

It woulda been mentioned in here. Well, I probably wasn’t mentioned, but that episode’s guest star Todd Bridges would have been.

TV Guide

Perhaps you’re wondering how I, Steve, happened to be interviewed by John Davidson on the John Davidson show, 40 years ago today.

Or perhaps you aren’t. Understandable.

S1Ep224. John’s guests are actors Danny Thomas and Todd Bridges, singer Bill Medley and Joan Embery of the San Diego Zoo. Highlights:Bill Medley sings “Hey Girl”.

It is our sincere hope that there is no video of John asking audience members trivia questions at the end of the show.

My 1981 Train Trip to California

So, OK. I was in California. Shortly after graduating from Waterloo, I took the train all the way from London to Los Angeles as part of swell grad present from my parents – A two week Amtrak pass. I headed first to Sacramento for the grand opening of the California Railroad Museum. That was great. A big pageant of music and locomotives.

Then, down to LA And beautiful downtown Burbank. I really wanted to see the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Stood in a long line for tickets. Eventually got to see his show that night. It was outstanding.

I got to take a tour of the NBC Studios, and while there, I actually met Gene Gene the Dancing Machine. As if this trip didn’t have enough highlights already.

Somewhere in there, somebody was desperately trying to get people to come to a taping of the John Davidson show, a daytime talk show that I think had been a replacement for Merv Griffin.

John was a singer of some repute, and also the host of “That’s Incredible.”

His daytime talk show, I was soon to learn, was not that incredible.

Well, the tickets were free, and I had time to kill before seeing Johnny Carson, so why not. Into the studio we went.

suddenly I’m in the audience

Now, when I saw the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, it was incredibly slick. They didn’t mess around. The band played right through the commercial break and the show picked right up again. No stopping. One take. Brilliant comedy. High production values. Carson, a total pro.

The John Davidson Show was not quite like that.

So, the show always started with John Davidson singing a song. He really was a good singer. And the day I was there, he announced to us ahead of time that he was going to do the Barry Manilow classic, “Copacabana.” Hey, this’ll be good. Descending some stairs. Fog machine. OK!

Show starts. Roll tape! Lights! Camera! Fog machine! Backing band! We are GO for Copacabana!

15 seconds later, song stops. Cut. John Davidson cannot remember the words. He confesses to the audience, off air, that he’s never heard this song before.

Srsly? Copacabana?

After a couple more takes, they have a complete version in the can somehow, and the show continues.

I’m sitting in the audience, halfway back on the aisle, looking at my watch, wondering how long this is going to go on, and when the Tonight Show taping that I really wanted to see starts.

(5:30. The tonight show taped at 5:30.)

Can I just add here that John Davidson struck me as an extremely nice guy, even if he couldn’t remember the words to “Copacabana”.

end of show trivia segment

So the show continues, mostly without incident, and they interview Todd Bridges, and it was getting towards the end of the episode And I suddenly remembered: Oh, doesn’t John Davidson ask audience members trivia questions at the end of show? And look at me, here on the aisle.

Here we go, final segment. Trivia time. Souvenir coffee cup prizes. John Davidson approaches a woman in the front row, and asks her a question. I don’t remember what it was, but he said the answer was wrong. Was it, though? (Foreshadowing.) He moves on to another contestant.

Now, I have seen a recording of this, recorded by pointing a Super-8 movie camera at the live TV broadcast.

Let me describe what happens, in an impartial observer kind of tone.

John Davidson looks around the audience for another trivia contestant, and makes a beeline for the nerdiest, geekiest-looking doofus in the crowd, and sticks out his microphone.

so of course I stand up.

the dorkiest thing I have ever said

He asked my name, and we have a pleasant little chat, and he asked me what I do, and I’m thinking that I just graduated from Waterloo with a particular degree and I’m not really sure what I do and I haven’t started my first job yet, but I blurt out “I’m a computer scientist.”

I really wish I could edit that part out.

Audience: “Ooooooh”.

40 years later, I’m still cringing about what a dork I must’ve looked like at that moment. On national TV no less.

But, no matter. The show must go on. John Davidson hits me with a trivia question.

I don’t remember what the question was, but I got it right somehow, and the band played a little “Ta-da!” and John Davidson handed me a souvenir John Davidson show coffee mug.

I should’ve just sat down.

But, for some reason, egged on by the director, John Davidson kept asking me trivia questions.

I think he asked me six questions. And I got them all right, somehow.

The only one I remember is this.

John Davidson: “Where are Panama hats made?”
Me, recognizing a trick question: “They are not made in Panama, they’re made in Ecuador!”

Tada, another coffee mug.

panama hats

I don’t know why I knew that 40 years ago, but now that I’m a grown-up, I actually own a Panama hat and I can confirm this.

My Panama Hat

six mugs

Anyway, show is almost over. John Davidson thanks me, I sit down, with my set of six John Davidson show coffee mugs — And the Director is frantically signaling to John Davidson about something.

“What? She was right?” John Davidson says.

Remember the first contestant from about 47 paragraphs
ago?

“She gets a mug too”, he announces.

And then, this might be the highlight of my television career (and let me remind you, that includes leading band at the world beer games opening ceremony)

the best part

John Davidson turns to me and says:

“We’re out of mugs! Steve, can we have one of those back?”

And of course I turned one over. I still regret that I did not ask John Davidson a trivia question in return for the mug.

So that’s what I was doing 40 years ago today. My sincere thanks to John Davidson . That really was fun.

epilogue

So you’ve still got those John Davidson Show coffee mugs, right?

Sadly, no. A few broke and the others eventually faded to pure white after multiple dishwashings.

I think I’ll order some more, somehow.

another epilogue

Hey, how about that –

John Davidson Liked My Tweet

What to do about the name “Ryerson Public School”? How about “Roger Penrose Elementary”?

Ryerson public school

I went to Ryerson Public School (kindergarten through grade 3), two blocks from home in London, Ontario. So did my siblings. And my mom. And many others in our Old North London family.

That’s not the only connection – my great-grandfather led the John Hayman and Sons Construction Company, who built Ryerson in 1916.

I didn’t know who “Ryerson” was at the time. It never came up. Nobody said anything about it that I can remember.

Now we all know a little more about Egerton Ryerson, who not only lobbied for public education in Ontario, but also was involved in the shameful legacy of the Residential School system.

It’s time to rename the school. You know what would be a perfect choice?

How about naming it after a young boy who

  • lived in London with his family during World War II;
  • was – probably – a classmate of my mother’s at the time;
  • learned basic arithmetic there
  • became one of the most famous mathematicians of the past 100 years, and
  • won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics (for “the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity”.)

Wait, what? A kid from Ryerson won the Nobel Prize in Physics?

How could you NOT rename it after someone like that?

Let’s call it Roger Penrose Elementary School. Let’s tile the floor with Penrose tiles – one of his discoveries of two tiles that can only tile the plane nonperiodically. (Us mathies get excited about things like that.) Here’s an example of a Penrose Tiling

440px Penrose Tiling Rhombi svg

And here’s Roger Penrose at Texas A&M where they’ve done the floor that way!

440px RogerPenroseTileTAMU2010

Those oddly patterned tiles might be tricky, but I know a construction company that would rise to the challenge.

p.s. I know you’ll all see it when your copy arrives on the doorstep, but I wrote a Letter to the Editor of my hometown paper, the London Free Press, about this. I would have written more, but their web form only allowed 500 characters.

London Free Press clipping.

People of Edmonton, I’ve got your back. Even if you don’t notice.

You might have heard that the Edmonton Football Team – until recently, the Edmonton Eskimos – has changed its name to the Edmonton Elks, and I like this change. It’s a great logo, it retains the historic “EE” abbreviation too.

Edmonton Elks logo

Plus Elks was actually the team name for a couple of years in the 1920s. Good choice!

The old name was unsustainable – you could argue, I suppose, about whether it was intended to honour the Inuit people, but it’s just not appropriate any more. I’m glad they changed it, and they did a great job with the big reveal this week. Check out the video!

Cleveland Indians. Atlanta Braves. Kansas City Chiefs. Washington “Football Team”. See? That was easy. They’re selling a ton of new merch. What’s holding you back?

i knew this would happen

here’s the thing: I knew this was going to happen. Six years ago, in fact.

I registered the Twitter account @EdmontonElks in 2015,just in case. The team had been using @Esks for their account, and seeing as how I’m a kind, considerate CFL fan, who wants the best for the league, and who knows that people sometimes hold useful Twitter names for unreasonable ransom, I wanted to make sure it would be available.

I fully intended to turn this @EdmontonElks account over to the team, if they decided to become the Elks; if they’d gone for Energy or Empire or one of the other suggestions, no problem, I’d just forget about @EdmontonElks.

Last summer the rumblings began that the team might change its name. I sent an email, offering @EdmontonElks to them.

Heard nothing.
Crickets.

This week they changed the team name, and for a while were still using @EdmFootballTeam on Twitter. I sent another note to the team president. Hey, you can have this account for free, no strings attached.

More crickets.

But the @EdmontonElks account was getting the occasional misdirected tweet from people who thought @EdmontonElks really was the team account.

Then – a couple of hours after the grand name unveiling – the team unveiled their new twitter identity: they had secured @Elks and that was their Twitter handle going forward. I don’t know who had that one before. The Elks Club, maybe? I bet they had to pay somebody for that name. Short, memorable Twitter handles are tough to come by.

I’ve still heard nothing – and @Elks is certainly a better account name than @EdmontonElks, so perhaps they don’t need it. But the offer still stands. Edmonton Elks, you can have this twitter account just for the asking. Otherwise, I guess I’ll just let it sit there, unused.

oddly enough, I had another edmonton twitter sports account

Incidentally at one point, a decade ago, Edmonton was bidding for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, and I noticed they had registered @Edmonton2022 on Twitter and the edmonton2022.com domain name.

But – the city abandoned the bid and refocused on 2026. So guess who happened to register @Edmonton2026 and edmonton2026.com? This time, though, I did manage to transfer the twitter handle and the domain to the City of Edmonton, again, no strings attached.

People of Edmonton, I’ve got your back.

Elks, if you want that twitter account, just ask. (And if you wanted to send me a hat, I wouldn’t say no. Geez, the antlers. You could really make awesome hats.)

Edmonton 2022 logo

Canada/USA Border Trivia

The border between Ontario and the USA is 2,760 km long, from the Ontario/Quebec/New York end in the east to the Ontario/Manitoba/Minnesota end in the west.

2,760 km.

How much of that is over water, and how much over land? Well, let’s see. from East to West we’ve got

  • the St. Lawrence River
  • Lake Ontario
  • the Niagara River
  • Lake Erie
  • the Detroit River
  • Lake St. Clair
  • the St. Clair River
  • Lake Huron
  • the Whatever it is River in Sault Ste. Marie – excuse me, that’d be the “Saint Mary River”
  • Lake Superior

And then an amazingly convoluted 880 km route, initially following the Pigeon River between Ontario and Minnesota, extends all the way to the Northwest Angle.

Seriously you should look at how convoluted that route is. The 1789 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War, defined the border.

The St. Lawrence/Great Lakes part was pretty easy – let’s just go right up the middle, let’s give all of Lake Michigan to the Americans but we only get half of Lake Ontario for some reason – but the route westward from Lake Superior must have been harder to define. Fortunately there were well-known routes that the voyageurs in their canoes had previously established.

But is it really all water?

Amazingly, no, it isn’t all water.

land borders between Ontario and Minnesota

I know of at least three spots where Ontario and the USA share a land border. Two of them are in northwest Ontario, where there is a brief portage between one lake and another. Here’s one.

Ontario-Minnesota

There’s another one up there. Go find it.

But how about this third one

land border between Ontario and New York State

I suspect most people think the border at Niagara Falls zips right down the middle of the Horseshoe Falls – but it doesn’t. It cuts REALLY close to Goat Island on the American side. 99% of the Horseshoe Falls is in Canada but if you look really closely at the border line itself …

Niagara Falls

See it? Right there at the base of the falls on the US side? The border cuts through a few of the rocks piled at the bottom of the falls, and assuming those are dry, THAT is a land border between Ontario and New York.

Good luck crossing at that point though.

while we’re at it

Everybody knows that if you go south out of Detroit, you get to Windsor.

Fewer people realize just how far Ontario stretches in a North – South direction.

There are places in Southern Ontario that are south of places in California, and there are places in Northern Ontario that are north of places in Alaska.

Every 4 Years. but not this year.

I’m sad today. But happy. In a nostalgic-sad-happy kind of hybrid way.

This is in my calendar right now. An event that repeats every 4 years, along with a message from me in 2017. I like leaving myself messages in the calendar to read in the future.

UntitledImage

So what’s going on?

We used to live 3 doors down from a little park and one day – specifically, May 28, 1997 – I took this picture of the lads on a bench there.

may 28 1997

1997

I liked that picture a lot. I still do. So 4 years later we strolled down to the park to take the same picture on the same bench.

may 28 2001

2001

The astute viewer will note that child #2 is wearing the shirt that child #1 was wearing in the 1997 picture. That was a complete coincidence, and somehow I forgot to continue this trend. But we kept returning to that bench, and taking the picture again, every four years.

may 28 2005

2005

By this point I’d started putting the series of pictures in a nice frame, and giving a copy to various relatives. And the photos continued.

may 28 2009

2009

Number 1’s in high school now and is wearing his Ursula Franklin Academy shirt. I think they moved the bench in the park by 50 feet so the angle was no longer quite right, but we kept going.

may 28 2013

2013

By this point I’m starting to become exceedingly grateful that they’re still willing to go along with this.

may 28 2017

2017

We’d moved to Oakville, but returned to Beresford Park to take the picture again, and the photographer may have been a little overcome with waves of nostalgia. (Along with regret that we didn’t continue the hand-me-down-shirt routine but these guys are getting all grown up now …)

may 28 2021

Today’s the day.

I have been staring at my calendar all week wondering if we can pull off the “Every Four Years” picture this year.

But I don’t think we can. For one reason – you know, global pandemic, nobody should be travelling, Ontario still in lockdown.

For another – both of the subjects have jobs and are working today and have moved away, one’s a two hour drive, one’s a four hour drive, and the logistics are getting too complicated.

Also it’s raining.

I think we might bend the rules a bit, what with there being a pandemic and all. The next time they’re both in town, I’ll see if they’re willing to take a little drive to Beresford Park and see if the bench is still there, and I’ll bring my camera, and take another 200 pictures in the hopes that 2 or 3 turn out well, and I’ll print Photo #7 and find an even bigger frame to add it to ….

but it won’t be the same somehow.

time marches on. Take lots of pictures of your kids. They grow up awfully fast.

UPDATE

well we managed this on the evening of May 28 2021, at least. In this pandemic year of craziness, it’ll do!

2021

You NEED to watch “For All Mankind”. What’s real? What wasn’t?

For All Mankind poster

I was a kid during the glory days of the Apollo space program and as you’ve probably heard me say a million times, Dad took us to Florida to see the actual launch of Apollo XI. Like every kid I lived and breathed every aspect of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, and I’ve devoured every book and movie I can find about it. “Apollo 13”? Loved it. “From the Earth to the Moon”? Terrific. “The Right Stuff” ? Fabulous.

Apollo 11 Launch

That’s a picture I personally took of the Apollo XI launch on July 16, 1969.

But, For All Mankind, WOW.

I need you to watch this too. Sign up for a free trial of Apple TV+ if you have to (i’m biased, but it’s a great service.)

This is a fictional TV series (on Apple TV, about to enter Season 2) from Ronald D. Moore, the creator of “Battlestar Galactica” that’s an alternate-history view of the world, starting in 1969 as the first Apollo missions are set to land on the moon, except … the Russians get there first. All told from the point of view of the NASA astronauts and engineers – and their families! – who are suddenly behind, racing to catch up.

I just love this show. It’s alternate history that feels real.
The thing is, I seem to be surrounded by increasing numbers of people younger than me, who weren’t around when this was all happening, and who might be unaware of exactly what went down. I don’t want them to be puzzled by For All Mankind. I want them to revel in it too!

This article’s for you.

Of course the Russians never actually landed on the moon, but as a kid I remember people being worried that they’d do something to upstage the Apollo XI landing. And – that’s what happens in episode 1. The first man lands on the moon, and it’s NOT Neil Armstrong, it’s Alexei Leonov.

This, of course, gets NASA and the American government all riled up, and the space race is ON. The show starts to diverge from reality as the Americans scramble to get Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon, but now shortly thereafter, the Russians have landed their second ship, and – it’s a woman. NASA now scrambles at President Nixon’s direction to recruit and train female astronauts.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the women astronauts and engineers are the true heroes of this alternate version of the space race.

What truly fascinates me about this show is the mixture of fictional and real people and events.
For instance, the Russians have never actually landed anybody on the Moon, but Alexei Leonov was a real cosmonaut, the first person to walk in space outside the capsule, and he really had been scheduled to be the first Russian on the moon.

We see a variety of actual people – NASA astronauts, administrators, politicians and so on, in slightly modified roles as the show’s timeline begins to diverge from reality. Here for instance are some notes on a few REAL people or events, what they did in real life, and what happens to them on the show.

(It’s also fascinating watching the technology slowly get better – very primitive computers and displays at Mission Control in early episodes, much better computers towards the end. That’s a reminder of how much of what NASA did drove advances in civilian technology too. Imagine if we’d kept going to the moon in real life, not just in the show.)

Also somebody gives somebody a slide rule. I liked that.

the actual Apollo missions

Apollo missions used a three-astronaut crew; two would descend to the lunar surface in the Lunar Module, while the third orbited the moon in the Command Module for a few days waiting for the crewmates to return in the (top half of the) Lunar Module. They’d rendesvous, everybody would transfer back into the Command Module, and they’d leave lunar orbit and head back to Earth.

A few missions were just rehearsals for different aspects of the mission.

Mission Purpose
Apollo 1 A test, on the ground, that tragically ended in a fire, killing astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. This was a major setback to the Apollo program, and NASA had to regroup.

Apollo 2,3|There were a variety of test launches but these names weren’t used.

Apollo 4 | An uncrewed launch, the first est of the Saturn V launch vehicle. 3 earth orbits.

Apollo 5 | An uncrewed launch, the first flight to include a Lunar Module. 7 earth orbits

Apollo 6 | An uncrewed launch. 3 earth orbits.

Apollo 7 | The first Apollo mission to fly with a crew of 3 – but only to earth orbit, testing various systems.

Apollo 8 | The first astronauts to leave Earth’s orbit. Apollo 8 executed the trans-lunar injection burn, and headed for the moon. It orbited the moon several times, took some very famous photographs, and returned to earth. The Lunar Module was not involved this time.

Apollo 9 | Earth orbit, but with the Lunar Module on board and the team practiced docking and undocking manouvres.

Apollo 10 | A full on dress rehearsal for a moon landing. Apollo 10 flew to the moon, where the Lunar Module separated from the Command Module and descended close to the surface – without landing.

Apollo 11 | Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first astronauts to walk on the moon’s surface in July 1969, while Michael Collins orbited above in the command module.

Apollo 12 | Yet another moon landing, a successful mission in the mold of Apollo 11, but to a different part of the moon, which I should really look up.

Apollo 13 | Houston, we have a problem. I hope you’ve seen the movie Apollo 13 which is an excellent dramatization of this real-life accident. The crew went to the moon, orbited a few times but were obviously unable to land due to damage from an explosion in the Service Module, and due to heroic efforts of many at NASA, they returned safely to the earth.

Apollo 14 | A two day visit to the moon, including Alan Shepard, who was already famous as the first American in space on the first Mercury mission.

Apollo 15 | They took a CAR to the moon on this one! The first launch that included the Lunar Roving Vehicle.
440px Apollo 15 Lunar Rover and Irwin

Apollo 16 | Three days on the moon, with the LRV. Commanded by John Young, later the commander of the first Space Shuttle launch.

Apollo 17 | In December 1972, Gene Cernan became the last person to walk on the moon.

And that was it. Cernan died in 2017. Only twelve astronauts have ever walked on the moon. As of this writing, only Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11), David Scott (Apollo 15), Charles Duke (Apollo 16) and Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17) are still with us. Schmitt is the youngest, at 85.

We haven’t been back. We thought there’d be more – but almost 50 years later, nobody has returned to the moon.

Well, not in real life, anyway.

But on the show …

Apollo 10

This really was a manned mission to the moon – but without a landing. The plan – which we also see in the show – was to rehearse every step of the Apollo XI mission, EXCEPT the actual landing. In reality, astronauts Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan descended in the Lunar Module to within 8 miles of the moon’s surface, at which point they deliberately “aborted” the landing and returned to join the Command Module (and astronaut John Young) and return to Earth.

In the show, it’s more or less the same except Apollo X is crewed by (fictional) Ed Baldwin and Gordo Stevens, who become major characters throughout the rest of season 1, and the “aborted” landing becomes quite the plot point as people question if they SHOULD have gone ahead and landed, and beaten the Russians.

Apollo 11

Of course this mission actually went to the moon, but on the TV series, they will be the second people to get there. One of my favourite scenes in the show shows a technician crawling into the craft while it’s still on the launchpad, to remove the historic plaque that was attached the leg of the lunar module. You know, the famous REAL plaque that said “Here men from the Planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. We came in peace for all mankind.”

This is the real plaque, still there today on the Sea of Tranquility.
Apollo XI plaque

And on the show, well, they’re suddenly not going to be first any more. Better remove the plaque before launch. A great little detail.

Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin

Armstrong and Aldrin are, of course, the first two people to land on the moon. In the show, they’re beaten to the moon by Alexei Leonov, but they still land as scheduled in Apollo XI – with a major twist, that I won’t spoil here.

Michael Collins

In real life, command module pilot on Apollo XI, so he orbited the moon while Armstrong and Alrdin landed.
In the show, he returns as the commander of Apollo 23.

Wernher von Braun

von Braun was a major figure in real-NASA – an actual Nazi Germany rocket scientist who moved to the USA and was instrumental as director of the Marshall Space Flight Center and chief architect of the Saturn V rocket. In real life, he was also obviously quite controversial because of his Nazi background. Tom Lehrer wrote a famous song about Von Braun and his controversial past.)

In the show, von Braun is played by noted Canadian actor Colm Feore and … well, his Nazi background is still a problem, and that affects the arc of the show.

The Mercury 13

In the show, President Nixon angrily orders NASA to recruit some female astronauts to help win the PR war – and many of those astronauts have spectacular roles later in the show.

In reality, a group of women known as the Mercury 13 were recruited and went through the same training as the actual Mercury astronauts, although they weren’t formally part of the space program. One of them was an accomplished pilot named Jerrie Cobb. In the show, this group is brought back into the space program and somewhat controversially brought up to speed – and one of the successful astronauts and a major character from this group is named Mollie Cobb, no doubt as an homage of sorts. (and now that I’ve done a little more googling, the producers agree that they named Mollie as a tribute to Jerrie Cobb who died during the production of Season 1.)

Deke Slayton

Real Donald K. “Deke” Slayton was one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, whose career was derailed by a heart issue that meant he couldn’t fly in the Mercury program, and he became a senior NASA administrator and manager of the astronaut office.
He was eventually cleared to fly, and flew on the Apollo-Soyuz mission (a joint earth orbit thing between American and Russian spacecraft) and here he is, whaddya know, with cosmonaut Alexei Leonov. (See above! In the show Leonov is the first man on the moon.)

Deke Slayton and Alexei Leonov

Deke Slayton is a major character in the show too, with a gritty performance by actor Chris Bauer. He’s in the same role as manager of the Astronaut office, selecting crews and … whaddya know, he manages to insert himself into the crew on one of the moon missions later in the show.

Real Deke Slayton passed away in 1993. I am very curious to know what his family thinks of his portrayal on the show.

Gene Kranz

Real NASA flight director. If you saw the movie Apollo 13, you saw a gritty portrayal of him by Ed Harris, chewing the scenery, and barking out the famous line Failure is not an option.. He never actually used that term but he was still a heroic real NASA character.

In the show, he’s played by actor Eric Ladin in the same gritty style.
You’ll want to watch carefully as he inspects the (mythical) Apollo 23 pre-launch. It doesn’t end well.

President Kennedy

Lots of fun historical tidbits are dropped in the show. You hear that Senator Ted Kennedy has postponed a vacation on Chappaquiddick to deal with some crisis or other – of course, in reality, he really did go to Chappaquiddick and an incident there derailed his political career.

On the show however – no incident! And he’s President by the end of the season, although we never really see him in the show.

Moon Missions

The actual Apollo program landed Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 on the moon between 1969 and 1972, with a famous accident on Apollo 13. Future missions, including Apollos 18 and 19, were scrapped, and today you can see some of that actual launch-ready hardware on display at the Kennedy Space Station.

Here’s some of the remains of the unused Apollo 18, 19 and other hardware on display today – we visited the Kennedy Space Center in 2015 and I highly recommend this tour. These aren’t museum mockups – this is actual launch-ready hardware that was built and never used. You can’t help but feel embarrassed that this magnificent vehicle is on display in a museum and never launched.

Apollo hardware

For All Mankind is moving at a much faster pace, due to competition with the Russians. At one point it abruptly fast-forwards by two years, to keep the plot moving along, and by the mid-1970s, NASA has an actual permanent base on the moon (and, minor spoiler, so do the Russians.) By the end of Season one, Apollos 24 and 25 are launched. And, NASA has modified the moon landing hardware so that the lunar module isn’t a single use land-once take-off-once thing as it was in reality, but a reusable vehicle to take people from lunar orbit to the surface. The tech still seems very believable and the Jamestown moon base is really fun to see, imagining that you’re still in 1975.

There is one hell of a cliffhanger involving an accident between fictional Apollos 24 and 25 at the end of episode 9, which turned out to be one of the most gripping things I’ve ever seen on TV.

And watch the final episode right past the credits. There’s a post-credit flash-forward to 1983, where we see NASA launching the Sea Dragon, a massive rocket launched from the middle of the ocean. Of course we’re now solidly in the fiction realm, but the Sea Dragon was an actual idea NASA was kicking around in the early 1960s (and one you briefly hear Von Braun mention on the show.)

What’s up in Season 2?

A first look is out.
We see modified space shuttles heading towards the moon.
We see a disturbing escalation of military action on the moon’s surface – astronauts with weapons.

And, I hear we’re going to see the Buran, the fabled Russian shuttle. In reality, the Russians were copying the overall design of the US shuttle but theirs never made it to space, and the remains of the only two Buran vehicles are actually rusting away today in a warehouse in Kazakhstan. Here’s an amazing picture of the abandoned Buran at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Read more about that here.

Abandoned Buran shuttles

But in Season 2, they’re up in the air.

I can’t wait.

business cards I have known

“business cards”? what are you talking about?

Kids, back in the day, you used to “travel” sometimes and “meet people” “in person” and, amazingly, you might “hand” them one of these things.

I should really find a nice frame for all of these.

cableshare, 1981

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Cableshare! 1981! My first job after graduating. Long enough ago that your card didn’t show an email address, which is strange because one of Cableshare’s products was an enterprise email system. But, dig the Telex number. I don’t think I ever got a Telex. But at Cableshare, I was lucky to work on a touch-screen network information system for shopping malls using Telidon, which I really need to write up at length. That was pretty cool. Absurdly expensive, and the touch screens were REALLY flaky, but hey, I was working on touch screen systems in 1982, and I still am today. Today’s touch screens are better.

grad school at Waterloo, 1983

UW Research

back in my grad student days someone figured out how to order UW Business Cards. I remember this coming in handy exactly once, when trying to rent a townhouse and persuade the landlord that no, I wasn’t a student, I was obviously a RESEARCHER.

I think the UUCP email address certifies me as old-school. also “ihnp4” means “Indian Hills Network Processor 4.”

the Warriors Band, 1984

IMG 8001

I snuck in another order, as leader of the University of Waterloo Warriors Band. Check this out, the band had an email address! watmath!watbun!war.band. This email was set up in about 1980, which could mean that the Warriors Band was one of the first bands in the entire world to be emailable. Maybe.

Math Faculty Computing Facility, 1985

IMG 7999

What’s the easiest thing you can do when you’re done being a grad student? Slide into an IT job with the Math faculty. First card with a proper domain name address on it, but you can see UUCP emails are hanging on for dear life. Also my first experience with a manager with a pretty relaxed attitude towards whatever your job title on the card was – thank you, Bill Ince. I’ve always thought of myself as A Software Kind of Guy.

Indiana, 1988

IMG 7998

Grad school friend Greg Rawlins somehow recruited me to come work for Indiana University for a couple of years. UUCP email addresses seem to have disappeared, but that was an amazing experience in an exotic foreign land, where I wound up buying a NeXT cube because I wanted a cheap ($11,000, WITH the academic discount) Unix computer at home. That led to …

NeXT, 1991

NeXT

This is the position off from which I was laid in 1993.

That email address steve_hayman@next.com was a little clunky, and NeXT let you choose an additional alias, and for a brief period of time I was steve@next.com, a tremendously bad idea, but that’s worth of another story. Regret I did not hang on to that email address long enough to get a business card out of it.

More to come.

Remembering NeXT’s Black Monday. Or possibly Sunday.

NeXT Logo

NeXT’s Black Monday

Today’s the 28th anniversary of the day in 1993 that NeXT decided to

  1. stop making its iconic black computers
  2. abandon work on a PowerPC-based workstation
  3. try selling its hardware business and factory to Canon
  4. focus on software
  5. rename the company “NeXT Software”
  6. and not insignificantly

  7. lay off 300 of its 540 employees.

Including me, Systems Engineer for NeXT Canada.

(Later on, of course, Apple purchased NeXT and its software became the core of iOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS, all running on hardware that was inconceivable to any of us in 1993.)

or possibly Sunday

Looking back at my calendar I see that February 7, 1993 was actually a Sunday, so I might be off by one in my reminiscing. But still. It was kind of a big deal, personally.

vague reminiscences, previously tweeted

I remember we all got an urgent voice mail and the entire NeXT Canada office – all 3 of us – were instructed to fly to Chicago immediately for some news.

That was an interesting trip as Phil, Paul and myself debated exactly what was going on and who was going to be left standing. We knew that the regional manager was out.

And we all got let go, effective immediately, and – I still can’t believe we felt we needed to do this – we went to visit our big customers back in Toronto in person the following day to let them know what was going on.

You know those tables where they assign numerical values to various stress factors? Getting laid off was one thing but we had also (2) just bought a house and (3) were expecting child #1. I needed a bigger chart.

I remain, however, eternally grateful to Trimark Investment Management, one of our biggest NeXT customers, because when we visited them to tell them all of NeXT Canada had been let go, they said “Huh. That’s unfortunate …. Steve do you want to do some consulting for us?”

Thus began the historic short life of the consulting firm of Steve Hayman and Associates *

  • there were no associates

One thing I remember from the layoff meeting in Chicago, where somebody I had never met before told me I no longer had a job. “I want to keep my computer.”

— OK … what computer do you have?

(Changed the subject quickly. I think I actually had two computers.)

One other thing I remember. Consulting for Trimark, they had a fleet of NeXT computers, I had one at home, so I bought a portable SCSI hard drive to carry my work back and forth because how else were you supposed to do it in 1993

a ONE GIGABYTE SCSI hard drive. Massive! And it was only $1000!

Today for $1000, you’d get, what, 50 terabytes? 50,000 times as much? Storage is 1/50,000 th of what it was? How many other things are 50,000 times cheaper? That’s basically FREE now.

I know this will come as a surprise to nobody but Steve Hayman and Associates was not exactly a huge success. (I blame the associates, of course.)

18 months later, as NeXT pivoted to software, the regional team – from Michigan – came to Toronto to present to, I forget who exactly, some bank or something. They kindly invited the entire Steve Hayman and Associates team to attend.

Before the session started, the NeXT team said in a kind of off-hand way, “Hey Steve, how about you do the presentation?”

I guess in retrospect it was kind of an audition.

And, whaddya know, I guess NeXT saw (one of) the error(s) of its ways, and offered me a job again.

note: it is possible I am still telling the same jokes in presentations, because, you know, Object Oriented programming encourages re-use

So, miraculously, even though this day in February 1993 was a very stressful low point for me and hundreds of others, I was lucky enough to get drafted by NeXT a second time.

For a while, NeXT Canada was me in Toronto, and a guy in Vancouver (hi Scott.)
We’d phone each other on Memorial Day, or July 4, or US Thanksgiving just to verify the other guy was actually in the office.

I still have a surprising quantity of NeXT business cards. I keep those with my SCSI cables. Hey, you never know.

Audio Ping at 30

Thirty years ago today I achieved my first mild dose of Internet fame, with this post to the old comp.sys.next Usenet newsgroup. Here’s the original post first – and let me tell you about what happened afterwards. Also it involves ducks.

Date: Sun 23-Jan-1991 21:15:24 
From: sahayman@iuvax.cs.indiana.edu (Steve Hayman)
Subject: NeXT "audio ping" for network debugging

The thinwire started messing up in the building where I work yesterday;  I was scurrying around with an ethernet terminator cutting off segments of the network to try to isolate where the problem was.   I have a NeXT and a Sun on my desk, and was trying to 'ping' the Sun from the NeXT.  Whether it worked depended on where I cut the network off.

ping is a good tool for debugging but it sure is a pain to have to run back to your office to see if any of the ping packets are getting through.  So I came up with this quick hack.

1) Use "sndrecord ping.snd", hit return, say the word "PING" into the mike  hit return again.  Try to make the recording less than 1 second long.

2) Run this script

#!/bin/sh
# audio-ping host
# output of 'ping' looks like this:
#    # ping porbeagle
#    PING porbeagle.cs.indiana.edu: 56 data bytes
#    64 bytes from 129.79.254.138: icmp_seq=0. time=3. ms
#    64 bytes from 129.79.254.138: icmp_seq=1. time=3. ms
#          ...
# one line per second.  no output is produced if the packets
# aren't coming back.  
# This script plays a sound whenever it sees a line with "icmp_seq" on it.
#


ping $1 2>&1 | while read line; do
    case "$line" in
    *icmp_seq*) 
        sndplay ping.snd
        ;;
    esac
done


Now start this up.  Crank up the volume on your NeXT to the max.  You can now wander through the building fiddling with the network, unplugging different machines and so on; if it's working you'll hear this voice saying PING ... PING ... PING; if it quits working the voice will stop.

If you wanted to get really fancy you could play a different sound for some of the other messages that ping might generate - sometimes ping says "network is down", for instance.

This script helped me find a faulty tee-connector in just about a minute.

OK it's a dumb hack.

Steve

ping? what’s that?

ping is a Unix tool that attempts to make a connection to a remote computer, and once a second, it will print a line of received data. It’s a quick way to check if your network is working. Ping a faraway computer, and if you get a line of information back every second, your network is working.

I still use this today.

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so what where you trying to do in 1991?

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I was working for the computer science department at Indiana University – we’d temporarily been relocated to, I think, this building –
while the main CS building was being renovated (and wow, did I ever wind up with a great office in the renovated building when it was done, Lindley Hall – corner office, top floor, overlooking the quad… and two weeks after we moved in, I quit to come back to Canada. I’ll never have an office like that again.)

Anyway.
The network in our little house wasn’t working. I was running this ‘ping’ program and had to keep returning to my desk to see if it was working, as I experimented with changing network settings and futzing with cables on other computers in the building. We didn’t have portable computers, that’s for sure.

So what I did above was to combine the sound recording tool on my NeXT cube on my desk, with the Unix ping program, in a way that my computer would play a recording of me saying PING once a second when the network was working, and it’d be silent otherwise. I could then wander through the building adjusting things and when I heard the PING sound from upstairs, I knew I’d fixed it.

I didn’t think this was such a big deal but posted the above writeup to the net.
A few people congratulated me.

and then what?

Somehow this little hack made it into the Jargon File, a legendary compilation of hacker terminology, and a subsequent book, The New Hacker’s Dictionary.. If you check the jargon file today, 30 years later, you can see this entry for ping

ping [from the submariners’ term for a sonar pulse] 1. n. Slang term for a small network message (ICMP ECHO) sent by a computer to check for the presence and alertness of another. The Unix command `ping(8)’ can be used to do this manually (note that `ping(8)”s author denies the widespread folk etymology that the name was ever intended as acronym `Packet INternet Groper’). Occasionally used as a phone greeting. See ACK, also ENQ. 2. /vt./ To verify the presence of. 3. /vt./ To get the attention of. 4. /vt./ To send a message to all members of a mailing list requesting an ACK (in order to verify that everybody’s addresses are reachable). “We haven’t heard much of anything from Geoff, but he did respond with an ACK both times I pinged jargon-friends.” 5. /n./ A quantum packet of happiness. People who are very happy tend to exude pings; furthermore, one can intentionally create pings and aim them at a needy party (e.g., a depressed person). This sense of ping may appear as an exclamation; “Ping!” (I’m happy; I am emitting a quantum of happiness; I have been struck by a quantum of happiness). The form “pingfulness”, which is used to describe people who exude pings, also occurs. (In the standard abuse of language, “pingfulness” can also be used as an exclamation, in which case it’s a much stronger exclamation than just “ping”!). Oppose blargh.

The funniest use of `ping’ to date was described in January 1991 by Steve Hayman on the Usenet group comp.sys.next. He was trying to isolate a faulty cable segment on a TCP/IP Ethernet hooked up to a NeXT machine, and got tired of having to run back to his console after each cabling tweak to see if the ping packets were getting through. So he used the sound-recording feature on the NeXT, then wrote a script that repeatedly invoked `ping(8)’, listened for an echo, and played back the recording on each returned packet. Result? A program that caused the machine to repeat, over and over, “Ping … ping … ping …” as long as the network was up. He turned the volume to maximum, ferreted through the building with one ear cocked, and found a faulty tee connector in no time.

I gotta tell ya, to have your name mentioned in the Jargon File certainly gives you an aura of street cred in certain strange circles!

not only that

Mike Muuss

The Ping program itself was written by a legendary Unix developer at AT&T Bell Labs named Mike Muuss. He tragically passed away in a car accident in 2000 but his personal web site lives on, and I was delighted to see his page titled, The Story of the Ping Program.

He tells the interesting story of the birth of this program and then – much to my delight – includes this anecdote, which is mostly accurate

The best ping story I’ve ever heard was told to me at a USENIX conference, where a network administrator with an intermittent Ethernet had linked the ping program to his vocoder program, in essence writing:

ping goodhost | sed -e 's/.*/ping/' | vocoder

He wired the vocoder’s output into his office stereo and turned up the volume as loud as he could stand. The computer sat there shouting “Ping, ping, ping…” once a second, and he wandered through the building wiggling Ethernet connectors until the sound stopped. And that’s how he found the intermittent failure.

Imagine my delight at stumbling across that, from the author of ping himself.

the best part

There’s a famous children’s book from 1933 called “The Story about Ping”. It’s about a duck, of course. A Duck! Ping, a spirited little duck who lives on a boat on the Yangtze River and gets into various misadventures. It’s about a duck. A duck named Ping.

61wX5eTkNcL SY498 BO1 204 203 200

But Mike Muuss’s page mentioned this legendary Amazon review of the book which still makes me laugh today.

Customer Comments

A reader from Upper Volta, Uzbekistan, March 7, 1999

Excellent, heart-warming tale of exploration and discovery. Using deft allegory, the authors have provided an insightful and intuitive explanation of one of Unix’s most venerable networking utilities. Even more stunning is that they were clearly working with a very early beta of the program, as their book first appeared in 1933, years (decades!) before the operating system and network infrastructure were finalized.

The book describes networking in terms even a child could understand, choosing to anthropomorphize the underlying packet structure. The ping packet is described as a duck, who, with other packets (more ducks), spends a certain period of time on the host machine (the wise-eyed boat). At the same time each day (I suspect this is scheduled under cron), the little packets (ducks) exit the host (boat) by way of a bridge (a bridge). From the bridge, the packets travel onto the internet (here embodied by the Yangtze River).

The title character — er, packet, is called Ping. Ping meanders around the river before being received by another host (another boat). He spends a brief time on the other boat, but eventually returns to his original host machine (the wise-eyed boat) somewhat the worse for wear.

The book avoids many of the cliches one might expect. For example, with a story set on a river, the authors might have sunk to using that tired old plot device: the flood ping. The authors deftly avoid this.

Who Should Buy This Book

If you need a good, high-level overview of the ping utility, this is the book. I can’t recommend it for most managers, as the technical aspects may be too overwhelming and the basic concepts too daunting.

Problems With This Book

As good as it is, The Story About Ping is not without its faults. There is no index, and though the ping(8) man pages cover the command line options well enough, some review of them seems to be in order. Likewise, in a book solely about Ping, I would have expected a more detailed overview of the ICMP packet structure.

But even with these problems, The Story About Ping has earned a place on my bookshelf, right between Stevens’ Advanced Programming in the Unix Environment, and my dog-eared copy of Dante’s seminal work on MS Windows, Inferno. Who can read that passage on the Windows API (“Obscure, profound it was, and nebulous, So that by fixing on its depths my sight — Nothing whatever I discerned therein.”), without shaking their head with deep understanding. But I digress.

A National Anthem Update: Some bugs fixed.

One year ago today I broke the news that the National Anthem of Canada contained some bugs. I’m grateful to report that at least one of the following issues has been addressed.

See last year’s post for all the nitpicky details.

Now just so you know, although I usually limit my complaining to blog posts and Twitter, in this case I actually went the extra mile by tagging the Government of Canada Canadian Heritage account.

So what’s changed after a year?

BIG NEWS

They fixed complaint #2 above. The official sheet music now shows the correct notes.

Previously:

NewImage 2

NewImage 3

Now:

UntitledImage

UntitledImage

You can see from the metadata in the PDF file that the change was made Feb. 17, 2020, no doubt in response to my tweet.

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(You can also see that this PDF was originally created in Adobe InDesign, which explains the generally sloppy typesetting, lack of barlines at the end of each staff, and other formatting errors that wouldn’t happen if it were created in a proper music typesetting application.)

so everything is OK now, right?

No.

Although I’m grateful for the above change, please note that in the new version the dot above the B♭ on “The” in the 2nd example has been shifted. Previously it was correctly to the right of the note, indicating a dotted-eighth note; now it’s above, indicating a staccato note.

This means the sheet music now features the exact same musical error as the National Anthem Act. The act, passed in 1985, includes this fragment of music notation.

NewImage 4

Let me remind you that the image above is the LAW in Canada. Bar 10 of the National Anthem is short one sixteenth note.

I realize that the government has had other things to worry about over the past year, but this is still wrong and I hope will be corrected some day.

also

it should be in E♭, the National Key Signature. And the last two notes should go up an octave because that’s how everybody sings it.

also also

we still have not designated “Taking Care of Business” as the National Rock and Roll Anthem of Canada. Perhaps that can be rolled into an Act to Correct the Music Notation Of O Canada.

also also also

Please, for the love of God, there is no apostrophe anywhere in the title O Canada.

I can see that my work here is not done. I’ll keep you posted.