Friday, February 27, 2009

1958: beginning of the CB radio boom

Citizens' Band radio (CB) is a system of short-distance radio communications between individuals on a selection of 40 channels within the 27MHz (11-meter) band. CB radio service should not be confused with amateur ("ham") radio or Family Radio Service ("FRS").

It's available in several countries, with varying requirements for licensing and differing technical standards. In many countries, CB does not require a license and, unlike amateur radio, it may be used for business as well as personal communications.

The Citizens' Band radio service originated in the United States as one of several personal radio services regulated by the FCC. These services began in 1945 to permit citizens a short-distance radio band for personal communication.

Originally, CB was located in the 460 MHz–470 MHz UHF band. There were two classes of CB: A and B. Class B radios had simpler technical requirements but were limited to a smaller range of frequencies.

In 1958, the Class D CB service was established with 23 channels at 27 MHz.

Over time, several countries have created similar radio services. While they may be known by other names, such as General Radio Service in Canada, they often use similar frequencies (26 to 28 MHz), and have similar uses, and similar issues with antennas and propagation. Licenses may or may not be required, but eligibility is generally simple.

In the 1960s, the service was popular with small businesses (particularly tradesmen such as electricians, plumbers and carpenters), as well as truck drivers and electronics hobbyists.

With the advancement of solid-state electronics, the weight, size, and cost of the radios decreased, giving the general public access to a communications medium that had previously been only available to specialists. Many CB clubs were formed, and a special CB slang language evolved, used alongside 10-codes similar to those used in the emergency services.

Following the 1973 oil crisis, the US government imposed a nationwide 55 mph speed limit, and fuel shortages and rationing were widespread. CB radio was often used to locate service stations with a supply of gasoline, to notify other drivers of speed traps, and to organize blockades and convoys in a 1974 strike protesting the new speed limit and other trucking regulations.

The prominent use of CB radios in 1970s-era films such as Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Convoy (1978), and television shows like Movin' On (debuted 1974) and The Dukes of Hazzard (debuted 1979) bolstered the appeal of CB radio. Moreover, popular novelty songs such as C.W. McCall's Convoy (1976) helped establish CB radio as a nationwide craze in the USA in the mid- to late-1970s.

Originally, CB required a license and the use of a call sign, but when the CB craze was at its peak, many people ignored this requirement and used made-up nicknames or "handles". The many restrictions on the authorized use of CB radio led to widespread disregard of the regulations, most notably in antenna height, distance restriction for communications, licensing and the use of call signs, and allowable transmitter power. Eventually, the license requirement was dropped entirely.

Originally, there were only 23 CB channels in the US. The present 40-channel plan did not come along until 1977. Channel 9 was reserved for emergency use in 1969. Channel 10 was used for highway communications, though channel 19 later became the preferred highway channel in most areas.

Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, a phenomenon was developing over the CB radio. Similar to the Internet chat rooms a quarter century later, the CB allowed people to get to know one another in a quasi-anonymous manner. Many movies and stories about CBers and their culture developed.

In more recent years, CB has lost much of its original appeal due to the advancement of technologies and changing values. Some of this rapid development includes: cellphones, the Internet, and Family Radio Service. The changing radio wave propagation for long-distance communications, due to the 11 year sunspot cycle, is always a factor for these frequencies. In addition, CB in some respects became a victim of its own intense popularity. Because of the millions of users jamming onto frequencies during the mid-to-late 1970s and early 1980s, channels often were intolerably noisy and communication became difficult. Many CBers started to use their radios less frequently or not at all after this period. (info from Wikipedia)
Your humble blogmaster was co-author of CB Bible, published by Doubleday in 1976.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

2009: First Israeli athlete plays in Dubai

Protected by two bodyguards as he walked on the court, Andy Ram on Wednesday became the first Israeli to play in Dubai. He and partner Kevin Ullyett lost a doubles match a week after Israel's Shahar Peer was denied a visa for the women's tournament.

Spectators had to leave their belongings outside, and metal detectors were set up outside the court. There were no protests or incidents, with about 100 spectators watching the match on an outside court.

Ram did not hold a news conference afterward, but organizers issued a transcript of comments made to a pool reporter.

"It was obviously something big, history here, what's been done, the first Israeli coming to play sport in Dubai," Ram said. "I fought for something really, really big and coming here was something big because it showed that we should not involve sports with politics."

Ram was granted special permission late last week to play in Dubai after Peer was barred from entering the country for her tournament.

At the time, organizers cited security concerns, prompting widespread protests and pressure to allow Ram to compete.

"It was different. It was an experience for me," Ram said. "They did everything possible to secure me. ... Coming to the court, obviously with a couple of bodyguards, was nice. I felt like, OK, as soon as we start the match, hitting the first shot to warm up, I was thinking tactics and concentrating to win the match, but it did not happen today."

Ram said he was well received in Dubai, encountering no hostility.

"Not at all, really," he said. "From the first moment I arrived to the airport, (they) took me to the hotel, (treated) me very good. (I) went out ... obviously with the body guards, the guys were watching me. Just really, they let me feel very comfortable."

United Arab Emirates has no diplomatic relationship with Israel, but Israelis with dual citizenship have entered the country for international sports and business events using second-country passports.

On some occasions, Israeli passport holders have been allowed entry for meetings held by the United Nations or other international agencies.

Dubai tournament organizers said Peer was denied an opportunity to play in the women's event because they feared fan anger over Israel's recent military offensive in Gaza. The WTA fined organizers a record $300,000 last week and the UAE granted a permit to Ram to play this week.

Ram's next brush with politics is not far away. The Davis Cup series between Sweden and Israel next week will be played in Malmo without spectators. Swedish organizers said they anticipated anti-Israeli demonstrations.

"When I heard about the decision playing without crowd, that freaked me out," Ram said. "This is really something bad I think, and there's nothing I can do about it."

Ram was chosen for the Israeli Davis Cup team on Tuesday, along with Dudi Sela, Harel Levy and Noam Okun. (info from The Associated Press)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

2011: End of GM Saturn cars

Saturn was established in early 1985 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of General Motors in response to the success of Japanese and German imports in the United States.

As a "different kind of car company", Saturn operated outside the GM structure for a time, with its own manufacturing plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, unique models, and a separate dealership network. However, sales did not meet expectations, and by the 21st century, Saturn was sharing manufacturing and product designs with other GM brands such as Opel and Chevrolet

As automotive sales evaporated i nthe recession, GM announced yesterday that Saturn, Pontiac, Saab and Hummer would be phased out, abandoning a decades-old product strategy that once helped ensure its dominance.

Left with just four key brands, GM will be a leaner, more focused car company. But it also risks a further slide in its already-shrunken market share as it loses customers who gravitated to the four orphaned lines. These buyers may have little interest in driving a Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac or GMC truck.

In 2008, Toyota supplanted GM as the world's largest auto seller. GM now faces the possibility of another blow -- Toyota could move ahead of GM as soon as this year to become the largest auto seller in the US.In January, GM had market share of 19.5%. Without Saturn, Pontiac, Saab and Hummer, its share would have been 16.9% -- a point less than Toyota's.

Some Saturn dealers now hope that instead of closing the brand, GM will spin it off as a separate company. A team of Saturn dealers is spending 60 days working with GM to evaluate the possibility. These dealers would sell vehicles under the Saturn brand made by other manufacturers, possibly from overseas.

GM's move to pare brands represents a major shift in thinking at the company. Adding brands to appeal to different types of consumers, from college students to senior citizens, was part of the formula that enabled GM to grow and remain the world's largest auto maker for nearly 80 years.

But faced with huge losses and relying on government handouts, GM will shrink to its most successful brands.

Saturn, Hummer, Saab and Pontiac have all struggled to attract customers. That prompted GM to sell large numbers of them to car-rental concerns, corporate fleet buyers and GM's own employees. Of the 504,000 vehicles sold under the four brands in 2008, 40% went to fleets and employees. Such sales generally are less profitable than those to consumer buyers.

In its recovery plan, GM said Saturn, Hummer and Saab generated an average annual pretax loss of $1.1 billion a year between 2003 and 2007.

Hummer, the maker of hulking sport-utility vehicles inspired by military models, will be sold or phased out. Saab, the Swedish niche brand, could file for bankruptcy protection within a month, GM said in its recovery plan. Pontiac will be reduced to just one or two models and essentially cease to exist as a full line.

For years, analysts have urged GM to pare its brands. But GM executives insisted it would be too expensive after spending an estimated $2 billion to wind down Oldsmobile earlier this decade. Yet cutting brands cuts operating costs because each brand requires a certain amount of spending on product development advertising, dealer support and other expenses.

In addition to trimming its main brands from eight to four by 2012, GM also plans to cut the number of individual US models to 36 from 48. Eliminating models should help GM sell more of each surviving nameplate. In 2007, Toyota sold an average of 90,000 vehicles per nameplate, such as the Camry LE, while each GM nameplate sold 54,000 on average.

Of the four brands being cut off, Saturn once held the most promise. GM created the line as a completely separate company offering small cars that aimed to compete head-on with Toyota and Honda.

Saturns featured dent-resistant plastic bodies, its dealers promised friendly, no-haggling sales and customers were invited to an annual "homecoming" cookout at the Saturn plant. For some customers, buying a Saturn was like joining a club.

But in the 1990s, GM starved Saturn for new products as it tried to revive Oldsmobile. After GM killed Olds, it turned to neglected Saturn. It spent billions to produce a range of new vehicles, many of them derivations of its Opel models from Europe. Some were hits; the Aura sedan was praised by many car reviewers.

Last year, 13.2 million vehicles were sold in the U.S., and this year, the level is expected to be between 11 million and 12 million.

Saturn sales in particular were slammed in January, falling 60% to 6,172 from a year earlier -- about 15 per dealership. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

1982: first portable pc, first IBM PC clone

Compaq is now the low-end brand name used by H-P, but Compaq Computer Corporation has in important place in PC history. Compaq was founded in 1982 by three men from Texas Instruments who invested $1,000 each to form their own company. Sketched on a paper place mat in a Houston pie shop, the first product was a "compact" portable personal computer.

The Compaq Portable was the first 100% compatible IBM computer clone. It could run the software written for IBM’s PCs, which was a major achievement at the time. Compaq couldn't just copy IBM's BIOS (Basic Input/Output System, the internal software that determines what a computer can do), to make their new machine guaranteed IBM compatible. It would be illegal, and easily proven by IBM. Compaq determined to reverse-engineer IBM's BIOS, and used two sets of programmers, one group who had access to IBM's source code and another that knew nothing about it.

The first group analyzed the original code, and made notes of exactly what it did. The second group analyzed the notes, and wrote their own BIOS that performed identically. It took one year and a million dollars to accomplish.

More than a mere IBM clone, the Compaq Portable was something different, it was transportable, designed so it can easily be taken aboard an airliner as carry-on luggage. The machine was very successful for Compaq and the company took in $111 million in its first year, a record in American business.

This precursor of today’s lightweight laptops and palmtops, weighed 28 pounds, had a 9-inch monochrome display, and cost $3590 with two 5-1/4” floppy drives and 640K of RAM. A basic version with just one drive and 128K of RAM, sold for $2995, considered a bargain compared to IBM prices at the time. (info from and Byte magazine)

Friday, February 13, 2009

2008: first reported decline in US food spending

In 2008's fourth quarter, consumer spending on food fell at an inflation-adjusted 3.7% from the third quarter, according to data from the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis. That is the steepest decline in the 62 years the government has compiled the figure.

The report is based on receipts from a sampling of food-oriented businesses across the country. Consumers have cut back sharply on food spending, shunning restaurants, opting for generic products over brand names, trading in lattes for home-brewed coffee and shopping for bargains. That is hurting sales and profits at many food processors, grocery chains and restaurants.

The big drop likely comes from two things, said Joseph Carson, an economist who worked at the Commerce Department in the 1970s. First, consumers have been trading down to lower-priced items. Second, he thinks many households dug into their pantries for staples rather than going to the store, a trend that can't continue indefinitely. "You can't contract at this rate for long," he said. "It's just shocking."

"In recent years, a lot of discretionary income has gone into buying fancier food, whether it's Starbucks coffee or prepared dinner or restaurant meals," said Barclays Capital economist Ethan Harris. Now, he said, that trend seems to be waning.

Last week, Kraft Foods Inc. lowered its earnings forecast for the year, saying customers are cutting back purchases of snack foods and trading down to private labels. Groupe Danone SA said this week that U.S. consumers sharply trimmed their purchases of yogurt and other dairy products at the end of last year.

Even makers of chocolates are worried about how well their products will sell for Valentine's Day on Saturday.

On Tuesday, Citi Investment Research warned of a "modern-day price war" based on Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s plan to freshen up its Great Value private-label foods and the analyst's expectation that it will trim national-brand prices. That could force grocery stores to cut prices to compete.

US sales of private-label food rose 10% in 2008 from 2007, to $82.9 billion, according to a spokesman for the Private Label Manufacturers Association, citing Nielsen grocery-sales numbers. At the same time, branded food products saw sales rise 2.8% to $416.6 billion, he said.

When times get tough, restaurants are one of the first places where people economize. In its quarterly surveys, research firm WSL Strategic Retail has found that more people are preparing food at home, eating at lower-priced restaurants when they do eat out and picking less pricey items from the menu. Declining sales at established locations have forced Starbucks, Ruby Tuesday and other chains to shut hundreds of outlets and put many independent restaurants out of business.

The shift has a silver lining for some companies. While supermarkets passed along last year's high ingredient costs to customers, McDonald's and other fast-food chains absorbed some of the expense and kept many items priced at $1. Now, some consumers consider a fast-food meal a bargain. On Monday, McDonald's said same-store sales rose 7.1% in January, including a 5.4% increase in the US. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

2009: first collision between two earth satellites

An American commercial communications satellite was destroyed in a collision with a defunct Russian military satellite in what NASA said was the first such accident in orbit, raising new concerns about the dangers of space debris.

The crash, which happened Tuesday, involved one of the satellites owned by Iridium Satellite LLC and a crippled Russian Cosmos satellite that apparently stopped functioning years ago.

The collision created two large clouds of debris floating roughly 480 miles above Siberia, and prompted space scientists and engineers to assess the likelihood of further collisions.

Cosmos satellites have caused a number of scary incidents over the years, including a 1991 collision between one defunct model and debris from another; a near-collision with the space shuttle the same year; and another that crashed into Canadian wilderness in 1978.

The accident could have implications for US space budgets and policy, partly because it comes amid a Pentagon campaign to increase spending on systems to protect US.high-tech space hardware by keeping better track of the thousands of pieces of debris and other satellites circling the Earth. As more and more satellites are launched, the challenges of keeping them from hitting debris or each other are growing. Military planners also worry about enemies jamming, disabling or potentially even ramming US satellites.

Industry officials say Iridium has identified the Russian craft as a Cosmos series satellite launched in 1993, weighing more than a ton and including an onboard nuclear reactor. That couldn't be independently verified. Experts have said the chance of radioactive debris surviving a fall through the atmosphere and reaching inhabited areas is very small.

More than 220 active commercial satellites now orbit the globe, in addition to hundreds of military, spy and scientific satellites. Commercial satellites provide businesses with everything from data and video transmissions to support for consumer navigation devices.

The Russian craft was being monitored by Pentagon organizations that keep track of space debris in order to prevent in-orbit collisions from damaging or destroying both commercial and government satellites. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Pentagon track more than 10,000 pieces of high-speed debris, some no larger than a football.

Pentagon officials will face questions about how they missed such an impending collision with an intact satellite. Commercial satellites are routinely repositioned to avoid potential collision with smaller pieces of debris.

Pentagon brass, satellite industry executives and NASA leaders for years have publicly expressed concern about the dangers of orbital debris. But the odds of a direct hit between satellites were considered so small as to be basically unthinkable. The ground-based and space-based reconnaissance tools available to the Pentagon generally were considered adequate to keep close track of larger objects.

Recently, US and European operators began reviewing contingency plans to move some telecommunications satellites away from a pair that are malfunctioning. Space collision worries gained momentum in January 2007, when China used a relatively simple antisatellite weapon to knock down one of its aged weather satellites.

When satellites reach the end of their useful lives they often are parked in remote orbits where they are unlikely to endanger working satellites. But if a satellite's onboard computers or other systems fail, or it runs out of battery power, it can be difficult for ground operators to maintain control.

Iridium uses more than 60 satellites to provide voice and data services for about 300,000 subscribers globally. It said the collision has "minimal impact" on service due to its backup capacity. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

1928: First blind girl received masters degree in New York

Mary Bierman, apparently the first blind girl to receive a master's degree fom a New York college, graduated from Teachers College at Columbia University on June 5, 1928 with high honors.

She received her bachelor's degree a year earlier.

She was a musician and helped pay for college by teaching dancing. She specialized in speech education. (info from The New York Times)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

2009: China sells more motor vehicles than the US

China's monthly vehicle sales surpassed those in the US for the first time in January, moving China closer to becoming the world's biggest auto market.

With its growing middle class and vast potential as a consumer market, China is vital for General Motors, Volkswagen and Toyota as they count on demand in China to offset weakness elsewhere.

But China's ascent in the global auto market has been hastened by the plunge in US. auto sales, which tumbled 37 percent in January to a 26-year low of 656,976 units.

Chinese vehicle sales also have cooled, but hardly as dramatically. In January, 735,000 vehicles were sold, down 14.4 percent from a monthly record 860,000 last January.

China's vehicle market has grown dramatically in recent years, overtaking Japan in 2006 to become the world's second-largest by annual sales. With 1.3 billion people, China will inevitably leapfrog the US, with a population of 300 million, into the No. 1 spot, industry experts say.

Still, if American car demand revives in coming months, the US will remain the world's largest market by annual sales - at least for another year.

China's best-selling automakers are GM and Volkswagen but its own producers, such as Chery, are growing fast.

General Motors says it sold a record 1.09 million vehicles in China, up 6 percent from 2008.

January sales in China were 0.8 percent below those in December and well below the 790,000 some analysts had anticipated. To spur the slowing auto market in China, the government has rolled out measures to help boost sales as part of a multibillion-dollar economic stimulus package while it also tries to promote cleaner, more energy-efficient engines.

The sales tax on cars with engines less than 1.6 liters has been cut by half to 5 percent through the end of the year. The government also is spending about $730 million on subsidies to farmers to replace three-wheeled vehicles or outdated trucks with small, 1.3-liter or less vehicles.

Another $1.5 billion is going into upgrading automakers' technology and developing alternative energy vehicles.

Trucks and buses make up a larger share of China's sales than those of the US or Japan. Some observers say that makes direct comparisons misleading. But many rural Chinese use such commercial vehicles for everyday family use. (info from The Associated Press)

Monday, February 9, 2009

9 FEB 2009: birds return to my backyard

My backyard in Connecticut is still half-covered with snow and my pool is still covered with canvas and vinyl. I don't expect to see the first crocus pop up for another week or two.

But the birds are back.

Seven years ago we had a big awning installed over our rear deck -- mostly to provide shade for Hunter, our Golden Retriever. But he's not the only animal to take advantage of it.

Non-descript birds quickly constructed nests above the supporting brackets at each end of the awning, and became unwelcome neighbors by dropping nest-building materials and bird shit on our deck.

In the early years, I tried to evict them. I destroyed the nests (but first made sure their were no eggs or babies in them). My best efforts were no match for the birds. They quickly rebuilt their homes.

I provided a professionally-made bird house, with a food supply, about ten feet away from the awning. But the critters were not interested.

I realized that the only way I could eliminate the bird mess was to eliminate my awning, and I would not do that.

So finally I decided to live and let live, and settled into a policy of benign cohabitation. I got used to cleaning up the droppings, and enjoying the songs.

Spring is coming. Each day we get a few more minutes of sunlight. The planet is warming. Five PM is now daytime, not night time. Pretty soon Hunter will be swimming in the pool and my 1974 Fiat convertible will come out of the garage.

So, welcome back, birdies. It's good to see you again.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

2006: first woman vacations in space

On September 18, 2006, Anousheh Ansari paid $20 million to ride on the Russian Soyuz TMA-9 capsule, and became the first woman to vacation in space.

Anousheh was also the first Iranian in space, first Muslim woman in space, and the fourth private explorer in space.

She blasted off for an eight-day expedition aboard the International Space Station as part of the Expedition 14 crew of the Soyuz TMA-9, which included NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Buy my book, or maybe get it free

I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life is a collection of more than 100 stories -- mostly short and funny, one long and serious and funny and shocking.

They deal with my early childhood, my time in public school and college, and while working in advertising, telecommunications, journalism, and as an amateur attorney. Culture clash is a frequent theme. So is food. And phoniness. There's lots of sex, drugs and rock & roll. Even the sex and drug stories are funny. There are four murders.

The main title is a quote from one of my teachers. She was nuts.

Here are some comments from readers:

“I loved the 3-way sex scene. It seemed familiar. Was I there?”

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“I knew the lesbian painter. She was a lousy painter but an excellent lesbian. When does the movie come out?”

“You remember everything. I'm glad you didn't see me doing anything illegal or stupid.”

“Obviously your typing class accomplished something useful. You almost made me pee in my pants. Very, very funny.”

“I didn’t realize what an a-hole I was back then. If this book wasn’t so funny, I’d probably sue you for libel. I'll settle for an autographed copy.”

The 308-page illustrated book has a list price of $19.95 and is discounted at, but if you get a new Amazon credit card, you'll get a $30 certificate which is enough to pay for the book and shipping, and leave a few bucks to buy something else.

Monday, February 2, 2009

1869: first transcontinetal railroad in the US

The First Transcontinental Railroad was completed on May 10, 1869, with a ceremonial golden spike driven at Promontory, Utah, after track was laid over a 1,756 mile gap between Sacramento and Omaha by the Union Pacific Railroad and Central Pacific Railroad.