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Archive for the 'Life in the United States' Category

Tuesday - October 11, 2016

Meet Siri

IMG_0017I was talking to a student recently – on Skype – when I was interrupted by a woman’s voice:

“I’m sorry, Warren, I didn’t get that.”

The voice came from my iPad, which was sitting on my desk. I had said something that woke up Siri, she hadn’t understood what I said, and she was letting me know so I could repeat it.

Siri, if you don’t already know about her, is a computer program that acts as a personal assistant (helper) to people using iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers. Siri can do a variety of tasks (jobs) that begin when the user asks her a question or gives her a command (tells her what to do). She can understand what you say, she knows where you are, and she can search the Internet for information she needs to answer your question.

Siri adapts (changes in a helpful way) to the way you speak and how you use English. The more you use her, the more she learns about you, and the more her answers fit you and your situation.

Recently, Susan Bennett, the original Siri voice, explained how Siri’s voice works and why it sounds so life-like. Bennett is a voice actor. She does commercials (advertisements for radio and TV), sings, and provides voices for other companies and public address services, like the announcements you hear when you walk through an airport.

Siri needs to be able to say almost anything. When she answers your question, the powerful computer program that makes her possible quickly builds words and sentences from a large collection of individual sounds. That means that Bennett, and others like her, must record every possible sound of every letter and combination of letters in English.

You can imagine how difficult that might be. How many “s” sounds are there in English? A lot. For example, the “s” sounds in “hiss,” “snakes,” and “rose” are different. Even short words have many individual sounds: “teeth” has “t”, “ee”, “th”; “lips” has “l”, “ih”, “p”, “s”. Imagine all the sounds that must be chosen and combined (put together) to make all the possible sentences that Siri might need!

To get all the sounds into the computer memory, Bennett records nonsense (without meaning) phrases (groups of words), like “oil your mills jewel weed today.” Bennett did this for four hours a day, five days a week for one month when Siri was first created.

Siri can do a lot, but if you ask a question she doesn’t understand or can’t find the information for, she’ll tell you so you can repeat what you said or ask your question differently. Sometimes she’ll just give you a funny answer. I remember one of the first times I tried to use Siri. I had taken the metro light rail (small train-like system) to meet someone for lunch at a restaurant named “Father’s Office.” When I got off the metro, I didn’t know where to go, so I asked Siri, “Where is Father’s Office?” Her reply – “I’m sorry, Warren, I don’t know your father.”

Today, while I was finishing this post, I tried again. I asked Siri to “give me directions to Father’s Office.” This time she gave me two choices and asked me to tell her which one I wanted to go to.

She’s learning.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English website.

Photo by W. Ediger

Tuesday - October 4, 2016

Tips on Printing Your Own Money

ChaseWhat do you do if you’re the U.S. government and you’re short on (don’t have enough) money? You just print it, of course.

During the U.S. Civil War (1861 to 1865), the federal (national) government was nearly broke (without any money). Before 1861, the U.S. did not have paper money as we know it today. Instead, people used government coins (metal money) or banknotes, which were pieces of paper issued by (produced by) banks as a promise to pay the person holding the banknote in “real” money – metal coins.

Historically, in most places government-issued paper money had always been backed by, or represented the value of, some amount of precious (valuable) metal, such as silver or gold. But since the government needed money to pay for things to fight the war, President Abraham Lincoln decided simply to print paper money even though the government did not have metal money to back it up. The paper money was instead backed by the trust one had in the U.S. government.

Not surprisingly, the value of this new paper money depended on just how much people trusted the U.S. government. When the war was going badly (not well) for Lincoln and the North, the value of the money declined (went down). When the North was winning, people trusted the government more and the value of these paper bills (pieces of paper money) increased.

The mastermind (person with the smart or clever plan) behind the printing of paper currency (money of a country) was Salmon P. Chase, then Secretary of the Treasury, the part of the federal government responsible for the country’s money. Chase was also a very ambitious (wanting very much to succeed) politician. To give himself more attention, Chase put his own portrait (image of a person’s face and shoulders) on the United States’ first dollar bill (see photo), called “greenbacks.”

Chase’s greenbacks helped the government avoid financial ruin (complete destruction), but they had a major problem. Because they were produced quickly and weren’t well thought out (planned), it was easy to counterfeit (copy; produce fake versions). By the end of the Civil War in 1865, one in every three bills was fake (not real). At some points during the war, a dollar bill was only worth 34 cents due in part to counterfeiting (100 cents = 1 dollar), although the lack of a gold or silver standard (backing) contributed to this as well.

President Lincoln understood this problem. On April 14, 1865, he created the Secret Service to purge (eliminate completely; get rid of totally) the country of counterfeit bills. Ironically, it was later that same day that Lincoln was shot. The two events were not connected, however.

Today, the Secret Service is mainly known for protecting the president of the United States. But at the time President Lincoln created the Secret Service, it was all about money. It was only 36 years later that the Secret Service was assigned (given the job) to protect the president. By then, there had been two more presidential assassinations: President James Garfield in 1881 and President William McKinley in 1901.

Back to counterfeit money: The Secret Service knew it had an important job to do. If they didn’t stop counterfeiters, the country was in danger of hyper-inflation, which is when prices go up very quickly and people can buy less and less with the same amount of money. The Secret Service used a staff (group of workers) of 10 people, some of whom were reformed (no longer a criminal) counterfeiters themselves, to clean up (to remove the bad or fake) the United States’ currency. By 1869, the Secret Service had arrested over 200 counterfeiters and opened 11 offices across the country.

How much of the United States’ currency today is counterfeit?  Only one bill in 10,000 – or at least, that’s what the U.S. government says, if you trust them.

~ Jeff

Tuesday - September 27, 2016

When Losers Are Winners

la-sp-sn-cycling-road-olympics-day-2-20160807Mara Abbott could see it.

The finish line. Her life dream. An Olympic victory. A gold medal.

Two hundred meters more and her dream would come true. Two hundred meters more and the Olympic gold medal would be hers.

Unlike many others, Abbott had survived the Rio Olympic cycling (bicycle riding) road race course (streets used for the race).

The course was one of the most difficult ever. A smooth, fast ride along Rio’s famous beaches took the riders to a series of small hills connected by cobblestone- (small round stones) covered roads so rough that riders’ water bottles flew out of the holders on their bikes. A return ride along Rio’s beaches took the riders to the big mountains, leg-killing ascents (going up) that took riders into the cloud-filled skies followed by dangerous, high-speed descents (going down) with turns that could easily throw a rider off the mountain. Riders who made it up and over the mountains had only a few fast, smooth kilometers to the finish line.

The course was perfect for Abbot. She is not a big, strong rider. She can’t ride as fast as many others. But she can climb. She may be one of the best climbers in the world of women’s cycling. And she had counted (depended) on her climbing ability to help her win Olympic gold. She believed that she had a good chance (possibility) to win if she were leading (in first place) at the top of the last mountain.

And she was. But shortly after beginning her final descent, another rider passed her and disappeared down the road.

Abbot descended as fast as she dared (felt she could safely ride). A few minutes later, while making a high-speed turn, Abbott saw the other rider on the ground at the side of the road. She had turned too fast, lost control of her bicycle, and crashed, breaking several bones in her back.

Abbot was in the lead again, alone. Her nearest competitors (other riders in the race) were 45 seconds behind her. She safely finished the descent and turned onto the final few kilometers of smooth road. The finish line, and her dream of Olympic gold, was in front of her.

As one writer wrote, “In cycling, one is often a condemned (impossible to succeed) number.” One rider cannot ride as fast as several riders working together. When several work together, one and then another pull (ride in front) and the others follow closely, hiding from the wind. It’s called drafting.

The three riders following Abbott began closing the gap (distance between) – 30 seconds . . . then 20  . . . 10. Abbott rode as fast as she could – riders call it “turning yourself inside out.” But the other three riders kept gaining (getting closer).

With 200 meters to go, the other three riders swept (went quickly) past and finished 1-2-3. Gold. Silver. Bronze.

Abbott finished fourth. No medal. Just a broken dream.

Abbott was heart-broken (very sad). But I was impressed by what she wrote a few days later:

“Would you rather have some excuse (reason to lose) . . . sick last week, got a flat tire . . .? Or, would you rather honestly know you had ridden a race to the very best of your strength and ability, know that there was nothing else you could have done and have that be . . . not . . . quite  . . .  enough?

Here is what actually matters more than a medal: “. . . creating a performance that was truly your best.”

~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English website.

Photo of Mara Abbott from the Los Angeles Times

Tuesday - September 20, 2016

Clearing Your Conscience

insomnia-1547964Are you unable to sleep at night because your conscience is bothering you? Your conscience is the feeling you get or the voice in your mind that tells you you’re doing wrong. If your conscience is bothering you, you’re feeling guilty (with a feeling of having done something wrong) about something.

Instead of taking sleeping pills, what you might need is the Conscience Fund. The Conscience Fund is an account (place to collect money) the United States Treasury Department (the government department in charge of the country’s money) created to accept gifts of money from people. The U.S. Treasury created this fund or account for people who have stolen money or have committed fraud (crime of cheating others out of money) against the U.S. government and have a guilty conscience. To make ourselves feel better, those who have committed fraud can donate or give money to the Conscience Fund without giving any details or identifying who they are.

The Conscience Fund first began in 1811 when the government received $5 from someone who said he had defrauded (cheated) the government. Since 1811, the fund has collected over $7 million, receiving about $200,000 a year. The money is put into the government’s general fund and used for general expenses (spending).

Most people send in money anonymously (without giving a name or revealing their identity). Some money is sent without any note at all, as in the case of a $155,000 gift from someone in 1990. But others have included a note to explain their transgression (wrong action; action against the rules or the law).

Most money received is in small amounts. For example, one person sent in money and included the note: “Please accept this money for two postal stamps I re-used.” Stamps are those small pieces of paper you purchase to be placed on letters and packages to be mailed. They’re intended to be used only once, but this person used two stamps twice.

Another person sent in this note with their money: “About eight years ago I took from a railroad station an item worth about $25 and this has been on my conscience since, so I’m enclosing $50 to clear my conscience.” To clear (one’s) conscience means to do something to correct something wrong one has done or to recognize one’s mistake so that one no longer feels guilty.

My favorite is this note from a person with a guilty conscience:  “‘Dear Internal Revenue Service*, I have not been able to sleep at night because I cheated on last year’s income tax. Enclosed find a cashier’s check (a piece of paper that can be exchanged for cash, a way of sending money in the mail) for $1,000. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send you the balance (the remaining money; the rest of the money).'” It’s not clear whether this guilty person ever sent in the rest of his or her ill-gotten gains (money earned by cheating or through crime) or if this confession (statement of having broken the rules or committed a crime) was enough to allow for a good night of sleep.

The Conscience Fund is an indication that, as a nation, we value honesty (being truthful). But the relatively (fairly) small amount it collects each year suggests that we are either a nation of very honest people or very dishonest people.

~ Lucy

* Internal Revenue Service = the U.S. government department that collects taxes

Tuesday - August 30, 2016

Our Best Idea

Hawai'i_Volcanoes_National_Park_HAVO1837Here’s a question for you: In the U.S., what is as large as the United Kingdom (the countries of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) and was visited by more than 300 million people last year?

The answer: our 59 national parks.

A few days ago, we celebrated the 100th birthday of the National Park Service (NPS), which is responsible for taking care of our national parks and other national sites (important places). One 20th-century historian (someone who studies history) called our national parks “the best idea we’ve ever had.” Many would agree.

Our national parks are as diverse (very different from each other) as the people who live in the U.S. You’ll find rocky cliffs (side of a mountain that drops straight down) and waterfalls in Yosemite. Seven small islands surrounded (to be all around) by clear blue water in Dry Tortugas.  Wooded (full of trees) hills in Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah. The lowest, hottest, and driest place in the U.S. in Death Valley. Rain forests in Olympic, one of the wettest places in the U.S. Some of the world’s largest trees in Sequoia and King’s Canyon. Wetlands, crocodiles, and Florida panthers in Everglades. Glaciers (slow-moving sheets of ice) with deep crevasses (cuts in the ice) in Kenai Fjords. The deep, colorful walls of the Grand Canyon. A palace (home for an important person) built by early American Indians in the side of a cliff in Mesa Verde. A quiet path along a slow-moving river in Cuyahoga. Fiery volcanoes in Hawai’i Volcanoes. Trees that are different than any trees you’ve ever seen in Joshua Tree. Trees that have been dead for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years in Petrified Forest. And that’s just a sample (part of the whole group).

There’s no better way to explore the parks than to visit them. But if you haven’t, or can’t, the Internet is a good place to get a taste of them. I invite you to take some time, look around, and discover them for yourself. Here’s how you can do it.

For an overview (quick look) of the national parks, watch See all U.S. National Parks in One Minute (Note: there’s a short advertisement at the beginning.). You may want to watch it more than once! And to whet your appetite (make you hungry) for more, look at Mark Burns’ beautiful new black and white photographs.

Next, look at the short National Geographic Best of… videos from the five most popular parks – the links are below. You’ll enjoy the scenery, see some unusual animals, and pick up (learn) some new “park” vocabulary (Note: there’s a short advertisement at the beginning of each one.).

For a closer look, the NPS website is the best place to go. Here are the NPS home pages for the 10 most popular national parks. When you get to the home page, click on Plan Your Visit > Places to Go to explore the park.

Here they are:

If you want to visit other parks, you can use the NPS Find a Park page to find their home pages.

My favorites from this list are Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain (I used to live next to it), and Acadia. Which do you like?

~ Warren Ediger – ESL tutor and coach. My website is Successful English.

Photo from Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Note: For a list of all the national parks we’ve discussed on our English Cafe, see here.

Tuesday - August 23, 2016

An Actual Phone Call to My Internet Provider

A few months ago, the company that provides me with home Internet and phone service sold that portion (part) of their company to another business. Since then, there have been many news reports about service problems. I’m one of the customers who has been affected (felt the change or influence).

Below are excerpts (short sections) from an actual phone call I made to my Internet provider (company that provides Internet service) to report my problem. The same company provides my landline (regular phone; not cell phone). The person who took my call was named “Kimberly.”

Kimberly:  What is the problem you’re having?

Me:  My Internet has been slow for the past couple of months. This morning, service was cutting in and out (sometimes working, sometimes not). And even when I have service, it’s running (operating) very, very slowly.

Kimberly:  [Silence.]

Me: So I’m calling to get my Internet service fixed.

[It takes about six minutes to access my account using my PIN (Personal Identification Number used for security purposes) and for me to give her a phone number she can call me at in case we’re disconnected (call ends unexpectedly).  I repeat my phone number three times before she gets it right.]

Kimberly:  Okay, what happens when you have no service?

Me:  Nothing happens. When I have no service, I have no service.

Kimberly:  I mean, are you not getting a dial tone (the stuttering (short, repeated) sound you hear when you pick up a telephone when its not in use)?

Me:  I have FiOS (a type of Internet service using “fiber-optic” wires).  I don’t have dial-up (using a telephone line) Internet service.  And I’m not calling about my home phone service.  I have a problem with my Internet service.  That’s what I’m calling about.

Kimberly:  [Long pause.]  Do you have pets?

Me:  Huh?  What?

Kimberly:  Do you have pets?

Me:  No, I don’t have pets.

Kimberly:  Can you tell me what kind of router (device needed to send digital data, required for Internet service) you have?  I am going to troubleshoot (solve common problems using established steps).

[The call has already lasted 20 minutes and from what I’ve read about other customers’ experiences, I was confident that troubleshooting over the phone would not help. Others have reported being on the phone for three, four, or more hours going through troubleshooting.]

Me:  I’d like to get a service call (repair work done at the location).

Kimberly:  I’m supposed to troubleshoot, but if you request it, I can schedule it.

Me:  Yes, please order a service call.

Kimberly:  Okay, they can be there Monday at 8 a.m. [Six days later.]

Me:  All right.  If they don’t show up (arrive as scheduled), is there a number I can call?

Kimberly:  You can call the number you just called. I have to tell you that if they don’t arrive by 8 a.m., the window (the time interval (beginning and end time) for arrival, usually for work to be done) is expanded (made longer) to 5 p.m.

Me:  Excuse me?  I don’t understand.

Kimberly:  If they’re not there at 8 a.m., then they will be there anytime between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Me:  Are you serious?

Kimberly:  Yes.

Me:  [Long pause.]  Okay, thanks.















~ Lucy

Image Credit:  “The Scream” From Wikipedia

Tuesday - August 16, 2016


1393535551_28397c1f8e_zMarion Call had a problem.

The 24-year-old singer-songwriter from Juneau – the remote (far from other places) capital of Alaska – was writing a song about work. And she needed more ideas.

Call turned to (went for help to) Twitter and asked her followers, “What were your first seven jobs?” She used the hashtag (label to identify a topic) #FirstSevenJobs and included her own:

#FirstSevenJobs: babysitting, janitorial (cleaning offices, etc.), slinging (informal: serving) coffee, yard work (taking care of area around a building or buildings), writing radio news, voice-overs (speaking on videos or TV without being seen), data entry (putting information into a computer)/secretarial.

Call got the help she was looking for, and more. #FirstSevenJobs quickly became a meme – an idea that spreads quickly from person to person, especially on the Internet. Many thousands of people answered her question. Magazines and websites wrote articles about #FirstSevenJobs. And researchers used #FirstSevenJobs information to compare the jobs teenagers work today with teenagers’ jobs from almost 50 years ago. All of this . . . in about 10 days!

Call says her favorite answer came from Buzz Aldrin, an American astronaut. He was one of the first two people to land on the moon and the second to walk on it. Here are his first seven jobs:

#FirstSevenJobs: dishwasher, camp counselor (responsible for children at a summer camp), fighter (military airplane) pilot, astronaut, commandant (officer in charge of a U.S. Air Force school for pilots), speaker, author.

Sheryl Sandberg, a top Facebook executive and someone we would consider very successful, didn’t get off to a good start (begin with success): she was fired from her first job as a babysitter. The parents were upset because she opened the door for a stranger and accepted and paid for a pizza that no one had ordered. She got a second baby-sitting job, but was fired from that one, too, because she fell asleep on the job.

Call has been fascinated by the responses because they describe “each person’s really tiny journey . . . You get to see thousands of strangers reflecting (thinking) about that journey – jobs they were good at, hated, learned what it was like to have a bad boss, what it was like to be a good boss, what it was like to be your own boss . . . you get a picture of a human (person) behind each one [each answer to her question].”

Here are my first seven jobs:

#FirstSevenJobs: yard work, construction work (building houses and other buildings), furniture factory, mail room clerk (responsible for the mail at a small manufacturing company), delivery truck driver, night watchman (nighttime guard at a school), radio announcer.

What were your first seven jobs? What did you learn from them? I wrote about what I learned from one of mine in What did you learn from you first job?

~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English website.

Photo by Bobby Acree used under Creative Commons license.

Tuesday - July 26, 2016

Is That Our Daughter in the Mail?

800px-Uniformed_Letter_Carrier_with_Child_in_MailbagSpeak to anyone who has worked for the United States Postal (Mail) Service and they’ll tell you that a lot of strange things have been sent in the mail. Perhaps the strangest were children.

In 1913, the U.S. post office (mail service) announced that it would begin a service called “parcel post” to send items that were too big to fit into an envelope. A “parcel” is a package wrapped in paper or other outer covering ready to be transported or mailed. According to post office policy at the time, the only living things that could be sent were bees and bugs (insects). However, it’s human nature (natural for people) to push the envelope (extend the limits of what is possible or allowed), so people started sending all types of things. In 1914, the first child was sent using parcel post.

This child and all of the others sent during this period were not packed (placed and sealed) in boxes. Instead, most of them had mailing labels (pieces of paper with the address of the person mailing and receiving the item written on it) and stamps sewed (attached using thread) or pinned (attached using a long, thin piece of metal) to the children’s clothing. At that time, the weight limit for mailed packages was 50 pounds (22.7 kilograms), so as long as the children weighed less than that, their parents thought it was worth a try (might be possible).

Why did parents mail their children?

Postage (the amount paid to mail) was much cheaper than buying a train ticket. Some of the mailed children either lived in rural (in the countryside) areas or were sent to relatives (family members) who lived in rural areas. The only people who visited these isolated  (far from other people and cities) places on a daily basis (every day) was the mail carrier (person delivering the mail), so the child could quickly and reliably be “delivered.” In those days, mail carriers were also considered trusted and upstanding (honest and respected) members of the community and could be relied upon to look after (care for) the children being sent. (I’m not maligning (insulting; speak badly of) mail carriers today. It’s just that most people don’t have those same expectation today.)

Many traveled only short distances. The longest trip was taken by a six-year-old girl sent by her mother in Florida to her father’s home in Virginia, about a 800-mile (1290-kilometer) journey (trip). Little Edna was just under 50 pounds and cost 15 cents in postage, about $3.85 in today’s dollars.

Mailing children was not a common practice (didn’t happen a lot), but there were some well-publicized (made so many people knew about it) cases. In 1920, the post office finally officially made it against policy (the rules) to send people in the mail.

What is the strangest thing you’ve ever received or have heard of being sent through the mail?

~ Lucy

From Wikipedia, Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

Tuesday - July 19, 2016

The Mountains Called; He Went

IMG_2634The U.S. has more than 130,000 square miles (about 340,000 square kilometers) of national parks, at least one in every state. They are cared for (operated; maintained) by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), which will soon celebrate its 100th birthday.

Yosemite, one of the most popular, is in the Sierra Nevada, or Snowy Range (group or line of mountains), in California. Ansel Adam‘s photos and John Muir’s books and articles have introduced many to Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada and played an important part in the beginning of the NPS.

Muir, an immigrant from Scotland, once wrote that “The mountains are calling, and I must go….” He lived alone for 15 years, observing, experiencing, and writing about the Sierra Nevada. Today’s blog post is from The Yosemite National Park, an article he wrote for The Atlantic magazine in 1899. I have made some changes to his article to make it easier to read.

Of all the mountain ranges I have climbed, I like the Sierra Nevada the best. Though extremely high and rugged (rough), it is welcoming and easy to explore. Its beauty invites a visitor on and on, higher and higher, delighted and fascinated. Filled with divine (God-like) light, everything you see glows (shines with light), and every plant, animal, or rock beats (like a drum) with the heartbeats of God.

The Sierra seem to get more light than other mountains. The weather is mostly sunshine, made even more beautiful by occasional magnificent (beautifully impressive) storms. Nearly everything shines, from base (bottom) to summit (top)—the rocks, streams (small rivers), lakes, glaciers (slow-moving sheets of ice), waterfalls, and forests. It could easily be called the Range of Light, not the Snowy Range, because it is white only in the winter, while all the year it is bright with light.

Yosemite National Park – 36 miles (58 km) long and 48 miles (77 km) wide – lies in the center of the Sierra Nevada. The famous Yosemite Valley (land between mountains) lies in the heart of it. The Valley includes the beginnings of the Tuolumne and Merced rivers, two of the most musical streams in the world; uncountable lakes and waterfalls and smooth silky meadows (grassy areas); the noblest (majestic; dignified) forests; the highest granite domes (rounded tops of mountains); the deepest canyons (narrow rocky valleys); snowy mountains rising into the sky twelve and thirteen-thousand feet (3700-4000 m), with avalanches (snow falling down a mountain) roaring down their long white sides; water rushing noisily through narrow canyons; and glaciers working slowly and silently in the shadows to create new lakes.

Nowhere will you see the impressively beautiful work of nature more clearly side by side with the most gentle and peaceful things. Nearly all the park is filled with deep silence. Yet it is full of pleasant company, full of God’s thoughts, a place of peace and safety in the middle of the most impressive beauty and activity, a new song, a place of beginnings, full of lessons about life, mountain-building, never-ending, unchanging, unbreakable; with sermons (messages from God) in stones, storms, trees, flowers, and almost human-like animals.

But to try to put all this into words is a hopeless task. The simplest sketch (drawing, or a description of a thing) of each part would need a whole chapter in a book. No amount of space, however small the writing, would be large enough. I can only begin to strongly encourage good travelers to come to the feast (meal of celebration).

You can read all of Muir’s article here: The Yosemite National Park.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English website.

Photo of Yosemite Valley by W. Ediger

Tuesday - July 5, 2016

Put Another Nickel In

AMI_Multi-Horn_High_Fidelity_200_Play_Jukebox_-_The_Richard_Hamilton_Exhibition_-_Tate_Modern,_London*Put another nickel in
In the nickelodeon
All I want is having you
And music, music, music

That song, Music, Music, Music by Teresa Brewer, became a #1 hit in 1950 and sold more than one million records. I thought of it recently when I walked past a nearby Rocky Cola restaurant, a throwback (something similar to something that existed in the past) to the restaurants of the 1950s, and saw the jukebox inside.

When I was in high school, if you and your friends wanted to listen to popular music you often went to your favorite cafe (small restaurant that served light meals and drinks) and listened to it on a jukebox, a coin-operated machines for playing music. Teenagers spent many hours sitting in cafes, drinking Cokes or milkshakes (a drink made out of milk and ice cream), and listening to their favorite music. Just like in the television program Happy Days.

Jukeboxes were large, brightly decorated music-players (photo 1). Each one held a number of plastic records (circular discs for storing music) and a device for selecting and playing them.

Most records held one song. To play a song, you put a nickel (five-cent coin) into the jukebox, found the song number on a list of song titles, pressed the buttons on the jukebox for the song – a letter and a number, like D3 – and the jukebox found the record with your song and played it.

diner-jukeboxIn some cafes, a special extension of (addition to) the jukebox (photo 2) made it possible for you to choose the music you wanted from your table or at the counter (long flat area for serving food) you sat at to eat.

Thomas Edison, who invented the light bulb, also invented the first technology for recording music and other sounds. But it was Louis Glass, a San Francisco bar owner described as a “wild-haired inventor,” who created the first jukebox in 1889. It used Edison’s technology for playing a recording and required a nickel to play one song. Rather than the high-quality speakers of later jukeboxes, Glass’s customers had to use listening tubes, similar to a doctor’s stethoscope (instrument for listening to a patient’s heart or breathing), attached to the jukebox. Only four people could listen at the same time.

The popularity of jukeboxes grew during the early part of the 20th century and was greatest from the 1940s through the mid-1960s. Thousands of them were made by companies like Wurlitzer and Seeburg. In the 1940s, 75% of the records produced in the U.S. went into jukeboxes.

Only two companies – one in the U.S. and the other in the U.K. – make jukeboxes today, mostly for throwback restaurants like Rocky Cola. If you’d like to learn more about jukeboxes, check out How the Jukebox Got Its Groove.

* A nickel is a five-cent coin; a nickelodeon is a coin-operated piano or jukebox, the topic of the blog post.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English website.

Photos courtesy of Wikipedia Commons and Dave’s Computer Tips.