Briefly Noted for March 11, 2008

How to make a Leyden jar out of a two-liter Coke bottle, from MAKE Magazine.

Top Ten Moments in Sitcom History. I think you’d have to put Lucy and Ethel’s stint at the conveyor belt at the top of the table, but a good list nevertheless. (Thanks, Jerm.)

Prolific “junior ranger” Chance Finegan on the history of Mt. Rainier National Park.

Keeping with my management kick, here are 14lessons from 37signals for good digital project management and organizational development.

History and the Long Tail

In an interview on the most recent Digital Campus, PublicDomainReprints.org founder Yakov Shafranovich notes that one of the most popular uses of his print-on-demand service for public domain Google and Open Content Alliance books is to supply out-of-print manuals to latter day blacksmiths, pigeon breeders, and others still working in ancient, but declining, trades. Last month also saw the launch of the Obsolete Skills Wiki, an idea originally proposed by journalist Robert Scoble, which preserves such knowledge as how to dial a rotary phone or how to use the eraser ribbon on a typewriter. The Internet has been said to serve “the long tail” of consumers, the multitudes of niche buyers whose needs are not served by mass marketing, mass media, and the big box stores. Here are two examples of how it’s serving history enthusiasts out on that long tail.

"Boomers" and History

I can’t tell you how tired I am of reading about baby boomers and their impending retirements. The self-indulgence of aging newspaper, magazine, and television news editors in running story after story about just how interesting and important their generation has been is very nearly unbearable. Newsweek is case in point. Its 50-something editors’ self-congratulatory “Boomer Files” series has me very close to canceling my subscription.

I did, however, notice something in a recent story from the “Boomer Files” that could be of interest to Found History readers. For Celeb Boomers: 3 Things to Do Before Death, Newsweek asked a dozen or so famous boomers for a list of three things they want to do with the rest of their lives. It turns out several of them want to spend their golden years doing something historical. Here’s a sample:

  • P. J. O’Rourke, Satirist, 59 – “It’d be nice to have more time to fool around with old cars.”
  • Mark Morris, Choreographer, 50 – “Visit New York’s Morgan Library.”
  • Camille Paglia, Intellectual, 59 – “I’d like to go on an archaeological dig in North Africa or Turkey.”
  • Cal Ripken Jr., Baseball Player, 46 – “I have a real zest to learn. I’d like to bone up on my history and business reading.”
  • Bill O’Reilly, Fox News Host, 56 – “Build a collection of American historical documents. I have a letter from George Washington. You get to know people from them.”
  • Patti Smith, Musician/Poet, 60 – “Read the Bible, Torah and Qur’an.”
  • Ted Nugent, Musician, 58 – “Make sure every American remembers the Alamo and acts accordingly.”
  • Keith Olbermann, TV Host, 47 – “I want to find the proof version of the 1967 Topps Baseball card, No. 487, Tommie Reynolds, which I did not buy at an auction in 1989 because bidding went to about a tenth of what I’d pay for it now. This seems kind of arcane, but this card has haunted me since I was eight years old—the proof version misspells his name “Tommy,” so the final version of the card reads “Tom” with two spaces after it. This design inconsistency bothered me the day I first saw it. I just blew it at that auction.”

Kind of interesting. But interesting enough to renew what started as a gift subscription? Probably not.

Classic Toys of the 80s

The past month has seen the reintroduction of at least two classic toy lines of the 1980s. Having finally reached adulthood, having finally attained a certain level of financial and corporate clout, my generation has chosen to mark the achievement with Transformers and Choose Your Own Adventure books. Put in charge of product lines and marketing plans, the children of the 1980s are now probing their pasts and finding Optimus Prime and The Abominable Snowman. At least ten original Choose You Own Adventure titles are already back on shelves, and a set of at least six first-generation Transformers “Classics” will return to stores by Christmas.

For the purposes of Found History, I’m going to chalk these developments up to my generation’s keen sense of history. I will politely ignore more plausible but less flattering interpretations—namely that we are having a hard time growing up and remain helplessly attached to the easy sense of agency that Transformers and CYOA lent us as children. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

"Geek List"—History Board Games

BoardGameGeek.com users debate the question, “What are the best games that teach History?” Visit their self-styled Geek List for an expanding, annotated inventory of commercial history-themed board games. Highlights include the expected—Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage; 1776: The Game of the American Revolutionary War; The Napoleonic Wars; and Battle Cry: The Exciting Civil War Battle Field Game—and the unlikely—Maharaja; Thirty Years War: Europe in Agony, 1618-1648; and Pax Britannica.

Late Update (7/6/07): It looks like the link I posted earlier has died. Fortunately, boardgamegeek.com is full of other history-themed geek lists, for example Games to teach WWII history and Games in the History Classroom.