Stag Party

I’ve been seeing a large group of bucks roaming through the neighborhood, but they’ve never been close to the road (don’t want to trespass) or I haven’t had my camera.  I was heading home from the post office and saw two of these guys close enough to take pictures of from the road, so I ran home, grabbed my camera, and hoped when I got back they hadn’t wandered off.  Luckily I live about 3 minutes from where they were.

On the way back, I noted the big guy had arrived for the party.  There were a total of 4 bucks in the area today, I was able to shoot 3 of them.  These animals live on private land so they have no fear of cars; but they don’t like walkers and especially dogs.  So they are fun to watch.

Wyoming Solar Eclipse

Wyoming Solar Eclipse.  August 21, 2017.  We knew the crowds would be large, we knew the traffic would be bad, but we had to go anyway…it was just too close to miss.  August 21st brought the total solar eclipse through the middle of Wyoming.  My sister, dad and I decided to witness it first hand.

Wyoming Eclipse

My family stayed with my folks that weekend, they live on the Colorado side of the Wyoming border up near Red Feather Lakes.  The plan was for my sister to come up and meet my dad and I near the Wyoming border on 287.  We’d carpool from there.  The target was south of Casper on BLM land, staying clear of the I-25 corridor.  There we’d be in the center of the shadow for the longest totality without the crowds.

We drove on Wyoming 487 and there was a good amount of traffic so we jumped off onto Wyoming 77 and was just looking for a nice spot with a good view.  Just so happened we hit the Shirley Ridge which had an amazing 360 view, and only two other cars were there.  We got there a couple of hours early.

Eclipse Roadtrip Map

Here was our target area. We jetted over to 77 once we realized the popularity of 487.

Since we were early, we set up our cameras and then I started wandering around looking at rocks.  There were agates and jaspers laying everywhere!  Cool.  So a rock hound and celestial road trip together!  Can’t beat that!

Shirley Basin Agates and Jaspers

Agates and Jaspers were everywhere.

For the photography buffs out these, here was my setup.  I had a Sony Alpha with 2x teleconverter and 70-200mm lens zoomed.  That gives me 400mm, and then I used APS-C mode on the camera to give me another boost to 600mm.  My dad had purchased a solar viewing film and I had that taped on the lens hood with painters tape to not leave residue.  All of this was on a tripod which was a lot of weight, but luckily the mirrorless cameras are light in comparison and it didn’t get too windy so I felt we were safe.

Photography Setup

The setup, my Sony Alpha (covered with a cloth to prevent overheating in the direct sun) with a solar filter taped to the hood.  On the screen it shows a picture of the eclipse at about 75%.

My plan was to take pictures every 3 minutes both coming into and leaving the eclipse and then during totality I would remove the lens hood, refocus, and take shots at different settings to capture all the different features of the totality.  All of this worked except one thing, I realized about half way into the waning of the eclipse that I was out of focus.  I didn’t realize that my focal point was the film several inches off of the end of the lens (affixed to the lens hood).  So I didn’t focus correctly getting many of the waning shots.  Oh well, rookie mistake.

taken from mreclipse.com

Taken from the Mr. Eclipse article on photographing eclipses, this is an amazing article that everyone interested should read!

Leading up to the totality the birds and crickets started to sing and make noise as if it was dusk.  There were no trees so we didn’t see the kaleidoscopic effect that others saw which would have been amazing.  It also got considerably cooler, fast, and the winds started to blow adding to the chill factor.

Start of Eclipse Chill Out

My dad Alex and sister Kristy chilling out as the Eclipse was starting.  You can see all the people that got at this site after we did; but we were all very comfortably spaced out.

During totality it was a scramble, I was taking many shots with different settings per Mr. Eclipse‘s chart above and then I sat the camera down and just observed.  What was cool was the 360 degree view we had, and the 360 degree color spanning the horizon!

Solar Eclipse moon shadow

During totality, looking NE towards Casper-ish. You can see the shadow of the moon in the clouds! That was really one of the coolest things about the eclipse is watching the shadow progress across the horizon.

Sun before the eclipse started

Here is the sun at the start of the eclipse. You can see some spots.

Final picture before totality

Here is one of the last shots I took before removing the lens hood with the filter affixed. From the next several minutes I explored different settings and took a bunch of pictures. Focus was a bit of a challenge as infinity was blurry.

Solar Eclipse corona

Here is a picture of the corona. Taken at f/8, 1/80 sec, ISO-100 at 600mm.

Final picture total totality

This was the last picture I took without the filter. f/8, 1/125 sec, ISO-100 @600mm.

Diamond Ring Solar Eclipse Totality

Here is the “diamond ring” feature of the totality. I’m pretty satisfied how this one turned out!

Chalk Cliffs, Shirley Basin, Wyoming

Here were the chalk cliffs which was the only feature on the horizon that is on google maps.

The trip home wasn’t too bad, although there was about an hour backup on 487 because of the stop sign in Medicine Bow at US 287.  But the state troopers had that engineered well and traffic slowly flowed through and no-one had to completely stop.

You can see the line of cars, looks like ants, on the horizon. This was no where near as bad as I-25 was. Good choice to my sister and dad on this route!

horny toad

We found this little horny toad lizard wondering around.

2017’s Music Highlights

First, mad respect to ourselves!  Here is new music from our crews…

Chillout Enforcement Crew’s “Acid LuAu” 7”.  Obliq Recordings #17

2017 was tremendous fun with this new project.  The crew has an open door policy to spark collaboration and creativity; with the foundation upon bringing just enough gear to get by, and imrpov is the core virtue.  We had 6 great shows and twice as many studio sessions to get this project rolling.  We’re celebrating the Earth’s wobble with four 7” releases packaged in retro 8” floppy diskettes.  #1 is a Polynesian party track, on acid.  The tracks are free digitally, so it would be pretty damn old-man style lame if we don’t have 5 more downloads before Xmas.

 

_entrancer’s “No Borders” cassette.  Obsolete Future #14

Great acid record.  Think Recondite style, but not so formulized, and much more chill.  Great for Sundays!

 

The Howling Hex’s lathe cut 7”.  White label

Contact me for more information on getting this release.

Great track!  Enjoying the amazing packaging and release over the last month, it’s a late-comer to 2017; get it while you can, ultra-limited.

 

Multicast’s “Multicaster” CD+Zine.  Obliq Recordings #16


IFJ stenciled artwork

Front covers, both multi-color stenciled artwork!Multicast’s best work to date, included is an amazing little Iron Feather Journal magazine from Japan.  Cross-Pacific collaboration.  Zine features Multicast’s Phonographic Toys collection, don’t miss it if you are a vinyl freak; there’s some serious history for you waiting!  Ambient, Acid, Experimental!

Can’t be that bad, we’ve had about 15k views on YouTube.

 

Now on to some other favs of 2017!

Dopplereffekt’s “Cellular Automata”.  Leisure System.

Cinematic robot tunes.  This is an amazing collection of electro, sci-fi, cinematic tunes.  Their early Eps all were dancefloor driven; but their albums are more ambient and melodic!  Think Blade Runner 2049 caliber sci-fi and you’re on the right track.

 

Raymond Scott’s “THREE WILLOW PARK: Electronic Music from Inner Space, 1961-1971”.  Basta.

http://www.raymondscott.net/three-willow-park/

This year brought the re-release of the outstanding “Manhattan Research Inc” on colored wax (if you don’t have this, hurry).  But Three Willow Park tops my top pick list!  It has 61 unreleased gems across 3 slabs of wax.  Each wax is in its own gatefold sleeve with tons of great photos and information.  This release explores a very exciting and innovative time for pioneer Raymond Scott, and electronic music in general.  He had already invented the machines for electronic music composition (long before Moog and Buchla) and was mastering his craft during this period—as others were just getting started.  By this time he was self-employed and had full creative and innovative freedom to explore the future!  This release includes works using the Electronium—the machine using “programmed intelligence”.   Amazing stuff here.

 

Raymond Scott’s “Soothing Sounds For Baby”.  Basta.

http://www.musiconvinyl.com/catalog/raymond-scott/soothing-sounds-for-baby-vols-1-3#.WjZSzkqnGUl

This is a re-release, remastered on heavy-weight colored wax, but another amazing electronic music gem.  Raymond was a heavy influence on heroes, just to name a few, Froese, Eno, Fripp, Kraftwerk, Glass, Multicast…  These records were intended to be played by the mother to the baby at three critical phases of life.  0-6 months, 6-12 months, and 12-18 months.  If you change “months” to “decades”, they still work as intended!

 

Aphex Twin’s “3 Gerald Remix / 24 TSIM 2”.  Technical Equipment Supply.

https://www.discogs.com/Aphex-Twin-3-Gerald-Remix-24-TSIM-2/release/10452636

Vinyl is going through a renaissance, with LED lights inside of records, colored wax becoming an artform, animated records coming back into style, and new and crazy distribution tactics.  Richard James is a man of ideas, and in 2017 he released two singles that are difficult for the collector.  His new tactic is to have limited releases from small, independent record stores to help keep the passionate entrepreneurs thriving!  This release was only available from the small store in Ypsilanti, Michigan and cannot be sold mail-order.  You either have to visit the store, or find an expensive one second hand.  The tracks are good, making this release worth the effort!

 

“Evil Dead 2 OST”.  Waxwork Records.

https://waxworkrecords.com/products/evil-dead-2?variant=30413229125

This movie started me down a one-way path.  Thinking we were just going to see a slasher style movie on the silver screen, well, our minds were expanded, quickly!  This movie likely has the entire dialog sampled in one industrial song or another, but the music was great too, even though you didn’t notice it.  This is a wonderful package including some psychedelic colored vinyl.  A trip down memory lane.

 

Guerilla Toss’s “G T Ultra”.  DFA.

“I’ve driving a car, but I’m not the owner”.  The other 1/2 of Multicast, Jeff, can relate!  With an album cover featuring a sheet of acid, this was worth checking out.  This NYC band reminds me of a cross between Chicks on Speed and The B-52s without Fred Schnider; with a funkier core.  This was my soundtrack to my European journey this summer.  This could be my top pick of the year, still a couple of tabs left on this release…saving them for friends.

 

J Dubular’s “View from the Summit”. 

My buddy here in the hood has an amazing view from his porch, and we often just decompress gazing 50 miles down the front range onto Lookout Mountain.  My buddy Jim is a reggae aficionado (see soundcloud’s ReggaeDispensory) so we constantly search out Dub for the porch.  This was one of those records from Colorado band (Idaho Springs) J dubular.  Warm breeze, sunset, porch, relaxation, stunning view soundtrack!

 

UHF’s “Strange days of Happiness” EP.  Borg Recordings.

This hails from Spain on UK’s Borg Recordings label.  Those that know me know I love electro (not that house crap, real electro with its roots in the early 80s hip-hop culture), and this is a melodic foray into heavy bass.  I can’t count the number of sunrises I’ve seen this year to this soundtrack.  Perfect for the commute!

 

N-TER’s “Falling Apart” EP.  Crobot Muzik.

Another electro slasher, this time out of London.  The label is amazing, found it on bandcamp this last year.  Melodies on top of BASS breaks.  This one is more for sunsets, or maybe just the deepest darkness of night as the sliver of crescent moon arises!

 

Recondite’s “Theater II” EP.  Dystopian.

One of the top acts in techno, travelling the world from festival to festival.  This is a stray from his typical Plastikman legato acid style, and a trip into deeper techno.  I described it as “Intense Sci-fi soundtrack intertwined with deliberate driving beats.  Excellent mood and production.”  I will someday hear this on a large sound system, and that will make me very happy!

 

Ceephax Acid Crew’s “Acid Fourniture” & “Byron’s Ballads” EPs.  Weme Records.

Someone once said “This is not a mind trip, it is a body journey”.  These EPs falls within that realm.  London’s Mr Ceephax released two Eps the same day this winter, and both are great!  Worth checking out!

 

1NC1N’s “Praying Mantis” EP.  Zodiak Commune Records.

Another latecomer to 2017, this is a rock solid acidic dancefloor EP.  High quality production, both in the sound and the vibe, demonstrating that Acid music is still on a plateau overlooking the vast spaces of other dance music.

 

Human League’s “Travelogue”.  Virgin

https://www.discogs.com/The-Human-League-Travelogue/master/643

Had to mention this amazing album has been re-issued on heavy-weight vinyl and remastered.  The band’s 2nd record was released in early 1980 and has stood the test of time.  This was before they ditched half of the band for two female vocalists and a contract with the devil; back when they were pushing the experimental boundaries of early synth-pop!  A classic!

 

This year’s bootlegs worth noting…

The Cure.  Period.  This year has been an amazing year for demos and live sets being released (or re-released) on vinyl.  What’s up with Discogs not allowing “Fan Club Vinyl” to be sold anymore?  Does every cool website have to sell out to the MPAA and RIAA still, in this day and age?  Well, there is still a distribution channel or two, once again it heads underground!

The Cure – Forever. 

https://www.discogs.com/The-Cure-Forever/master/1086713

Demos and Unreleased material from 1980-1983.  Killer!

 

The Cure – The Wailing Demos. 

https://www.discogs.com/The-Cure-The-Wailing-Demos/master/1203041

More demos from their golden era.  Killer!

 

The Cure – Grinding Halt & 10:15 Saturday Night.

https://www.discogs.com/Cure-Grinding-Halt/master/765075

https://www.discogs.com/Cure-1015-Saturday-Night/master/765074

Live show from 10 June 1981, Mensa Morgenstelle, Tübingen, Germany.  Two vinyl set released separately.  Man what a great set!  Raw!  Soundboard!  Picked this up in Belfast.

 

The Cure – Disintegration in Cokeland. 

https://www.discogs.com/The-Cure-Disintegration-In-Cokeland/master/1187158

Another pickup from Belfast.   This is the pink vinyl version.  Soundboard from their second golden period 9/9/89 in Oakland’s Coliseum.

 

The Cure – World War.

https://www.discogs.com/The-Cure-World-War-Rare-Demos/master/1174763

These are some rare demos across their first couple of years.  Great stuff!

 

The Cure – Pillbox Tales.

https://www.discogs.com/Cure-Pillbox-Tales-1977-1979/release/2594094

This is really early stuff, from when they were “Easy Cure”.  This is more rock oriented before Robert came into his own.  But still worth hearing where they came from.  That said, glad they went down a one-way road!

The Leo Pocket – Large Colorado Smokey Quartz

The season of Scorpio often brings good luck to me in the Colorado Rockies, and this year I was treated with a special find (large quartz crystals)!  As most rock hounds probably experience, as you gain experience you think of old places you’ve dug and the potential for those spots still producing crystals now that you know what you didn’t during the original dig.

Leo Pocket Point

This otherwise drab (likely microcline) rock was coated with secondary crystal points. Really interesting growth pattern too.

There was a spot I found many years ago where I found a couple of floater crystals that were so-so and I abandoned that dig site prospecting for lusher areas.  I have always wondered, what if I dug deeper in that spot?  I didn’t think I dug deep enough but I always wondered if it would be worth the effort to try that area again as it was a bit of a hike with several steep hills.  So I have been thinking about this spot now and again over the years and I finally decided to prospect that area again.

In early November I went out on a crisp morning and found myself in the area of this dig.  I wasn’t having any luck prospecting, so I decided what the hell, I need to resolve this once and for all, so I hiked back to that spot.  I reclaim all my digs and after many years away they have grown back the ground cover and looked good, which was pleasing.  I ended up digging in the area that I had long thought about, and within about 30 minutes starting hitting some signs.

The area had some large rocks and as I dug around them I started to see some darker coloration, which ended up being pegmatite.  Digging into that started to produce some flats and faces and it wasn’t long before the first crystal popped out, maybe a foot underground and in a peg seam.  After the initial crystal I started to see the seam open up and then experienced some harder clay.  Only once have I hit a really thick clay, but I could tell right away that experience was happening again.

Leo Pocket plate

This plate came out in 3 pieces which is repaired above.  The main part of the plate was at the top of the pocket, as seen in the video. The left crystal had sunk to the bottom of the pocket after it was shattered off, you can see me pull it out in the video immediately before I pulled out the larger healed crystal toward the end.  The upper right piece was also at the bottom of the pocket.  It pays to save all pieces and parts.

Working in the clay requires metal tools, there is no way you can get it out with your fingers or even wooden material.  I have a dulled screwdriver just for these times.  I started to pull out quartz crystals but they were all heavily overgrown with a brownish, sharp milky quartz-type crystal.  It wasn’t coming off, that’s for sure, and I thought perhaps it would require a little soaking o loosen up the overcoating.  So I continued to dig and starting pulling out some really nice crystals, but it was VERY slow going and somewhat tedious on the fingers and wrists due to the clay.

As I continued to dive down with the pocket, the clay got thicker and the crystals got bigger!  It finally ended up where there were many large crystals all at the bottom of the pocket.  I could tell the pocket collapsed because I found bits and pieces of broken crystals in between these larger ones that matched up to crystal parts I was finding at the top of the pocket.

The crystals all have several stages of growth.  Most are coated with a brownish quartz like coating.  I could tell there was microcline in the pocket, but it appears to have all been corroded away and the replaced on all the smokey quartz throughout the pocket.  Must have been some acidic stuff in the pocket during its creation!

Leo Pocket Point

This crystal is typical of almost all crystals in this pocket. Multiple layers of additional growth on the original smokey quartz. It is very difficult to remove–this has been soaking in SIO baths for a while, and a water gun does nothing. I will attempt mechanical means as soon as I get that available to me. But the crystal is GEMMY inside!

Needless to say, these crystals are going to be VERY difficult to clean.  Super Iron Out has pulled some of the coating off; leaving behind a harder, sharp layer of quartz type coating.  I was able to shine a light through the side of a quartz, and the big crystals I found are all typically very gemmy inside–at least those I could peer into.  So I am looking into an abrasive solution to help make some of these large, beautiful smokey quartz crystals shine!

This was one of the largest pockets I have found, definitely the largest by far this year.

If you have any tips to help me clean these, I’d love to hear your suggestions.  Note that I put a couple of crap crystals in a beaker of fully concentrated muriatic acid and it did clear the brown off, the quartz-like coating did not get touched.

Leo Pocket micro crystals

This was on a very small piece that I am not sure why I brought home…typically if in question it comes home to get a rinse. It was covered with tiny crystals as seen in this macro shot!

The Making of Acid LuAu

On December 12th we released the latest Obliq Recordings record.  This was the inaugural 7″ in a series of four celebrating the Earth’s wobble by my latest project, Chillout Enforcement Crew.  We have been wanting to release  a flexible record or lathe cut for a while, and so this idea hit me.  Why not do another floppy diskette release?

For those not in the know, back in 2000 my other project Multicast released Sympathen, a limited edition of 300 7″ records in a retro floppy diskette–the single from our forthcoming LP Rural Sessions.  That time was the height of electronic music distribution, and the unique packaging sold this release out immediately; mostly to Europe.  We really had fun with the design of that release, so I decided to research to see if we could pull that off again, this time in a very limited run.

I looked around for the contact information from the manufacturer of the 8″ floppy diskettes (they were new from a firm still making them for mainframes, but they were trash from being tested for Quality Assurance, so I worked a discount!), but I couldn’t get a hold of that firm anymore.  I ended up finding a vintage computer collector on Etsy that had some for sale.  Luckily he was cool as I told him about our project and he sent me four different manufacturers in quantity of 25 each!  Perfect for our “Earth’s Wobble” four seasons theme.  They also came with cool original blank sleeves so I could print upon them!

For the design, I downloaded some free fonts with an arcade style vibe.  I ordered some small labels and laser printed the design on them.  I used one label for the diskette label (like old-school diskettes had) and then another for the back of the picture disk record.  I used a rubber stamp that we made for the original floppy release so we could have some consistency between the 17 years between releases on our label.  I decided to stamp on the sleeve and also on the back of the record.  Finally I found a nice gold outlined sticker tab at a local craft shop for the write protection, which will seal the record inside the floppy and retain the 80s vibe I was looking for.

Looking forward to the next three releases, all earmarked for 2018!

Construction begins. Cutting out the download code coupons.

Started assembling, but haven’t stamped the sleeves.

Letting the stamp dry.

Closeup of the drying records

Stamping the sleeves!

Package with all the sides showing

The finished stack. Ultra limited to 25 copies!

Gem-o-rama 2017

There were many rumors that Gem-o-rama was done after the 75th year, but seeing a flyer for year #76 got my hopes up for attending in 2017 again with Kirk.  But, the work schedule wasn’t looking like it was going to cooperate so I had written off going this year.

The week before Kirk calls me and says he still wants to go, but on a compressed schedule.  I was able to take a day off of work last minute and we were locked in for another road trip and gem collecting extravaganza.  I’ll detail the road trip in other blog posts (it was a lot of driving–thank you Kirk–and a ton of fun).  But this article will talk about the event itself.

We learned a lot at last year’s field trips and so we had a strategy going into this year.  For the mud trip, I was focused on Hanksite complete crystals and/or clusters.  I ended up leaving a lot of crystals that I found, many were probably nice, but it was nice having mostly great ones to clean this year instead of a bunch of so-so ones–the strategy paid off!

Cleaning these does take some effort.  This year we bought a couple more liters of brine from the store for cleaning which was needed.  We both brought dental picks and a variety of firmness and size of brushes which also sped up the cleaning process.  We brought newspaper to wrap the crystals in, and zip-lock baggies to seal in the moisture for the drive back home.  I brought paper towels which was a mistake as it stuck to the crystals if they fully dried, so newspaper next time for sure.  For cleaning, a bucket is too big except if you find a monster cluster, so we brought hard plastic throw-away containers from the grocery store which conserved brine and make it easier to access.

Hanksite Cluster

This is the El Grande Hanksite cluster I found. Notice the white residue all over it, that has to be scraped off with a dental pick. Each facet will require a full cleaning. It sits like this in the cabinet waiting for a more ambitious weekend (which it will take, probably 15-20 hours)!

Hanksite Cluster

The medium Hanksite cluster from the mud dig. Every face had to be scraped which took about 4 hours, and really sore hands and wrists. It was worth it!

Instead of spending a bunch of time cleaning at the site of the mud dig, we just did a quick scrub, especially on the clusters, which left more time for digging.  Note there were more people this year than before, and it took longer to drive to the mud site, so less time actually searching for crystals.  After the mud field trip we got back in line in Trona, ate lunch, and then a much deeper cleaning of the crystals.  The goal is to get most of the mud off of the crystals.  We then wrapped them while they were wet and sealed them in zip-lock containers.  This helps considerably to have them still moist after the road trip home for the final cleanup.  If the crystals dry up, then you’ll need to scrape every face to get the top layer of dried hanksite off, which is more effort.

Hanksite Cluster

The second field trip on Saturday was the blow-hole trip.  We learned last year that the hanksite crystals were neat from this dig as there were basically three types we want, all double-terminated.  Barrels with flat ends, one side flat and the other side pointed, and both sides pointed.  But, the hanksites from this dig are not as big or cool typically as the mud dig.  My focus was to find Sulfohalites, interesting Borax, Halite cubes and clusters; also potentially hanksites if they were awesome.

Watching the demo of blowing crystals out of the ground was cool; but this year I decided to just focus on collecting as much as possible.  Again, even though we were in what we thought was a good place in line, we ended up going out of the way to the blow hole spot and it ate some time out of our collecting–but what are you gonna do?  We dug in an area that was about 3-5 inches deep of crystals that had piled up.  Once sitting in the right direction to get the best sun reflections off the crystals (and out of the shade of the body and hat) we were able to make quick work of sifting through the crystals.  I had a small 2-gallon bucket and just tossed the crystals in there; except for the small ones I put in individual 3×3 inch baggies that I brought.  This was to ensure the little crystals, or nice ones, didn’t get damaged in the bucket.

This was the last field trip for the day so I didn’t spend any time cleaning crystals at the field trip site.  After dinner, we drank a beer, chatted and cleaned into the night.  I wrapped the wet crystals in wet paper towels and put them in zip-lock baggies once cleaned.  Some that were fully cleaned I applied mineral oil to with a brush.  Eventually all crystals except the Halite plates would get mineral oil since we live in a very dry climate.

Sulfohalite with Phantom

Sulfohalite octahedron with phantom!

Hanksite with Phantom

Small Sulfohalite octahedron with phantom!

Sulfohalite octahedron cluster

Sulfohalite octahedron cluster

Sulfohalite octahedron cluster

Sulfohalite octahedron cluster

Variety of sulfohalites

Variety of sulfohalites

Halite cubes

Halite cubes with sulfohalite crystal

Borax crystal with hanksite

Borax crystal with hanksite

Borax crystal

Borax crystal. These turn white no matter what I do with them at home due to oxidation

Borax crystal

Borax crystal

 

Borax crystal

Borax crystal with sulfohalites, it was fairly common to find these together

Borax

Borax crystal

The final field trip was on the salt lakes on Sunday morning.  We learned last year that the crystals grown on shelves, typically where there is running brine or on the edge of brine pools.  Right away we were finding larger plates but with small crystals.  I was digging in the pools and Kirk found a spot (right where everyone was walking by to get further out into the lakes) digging in the ditch at the edge of the lake.  This ended up being the best spot and I joined him after a while.  We pulled out so many cool plates of medium sized pink halite clusters from this area.  We just feel along the edge of the ditch and you could feel the cube crystals with your fingers, then carefully extract the plates by either pulling up, or using a pick and breaking the plate in the size you want.  The one problem was, we didn’t have enough space in the car to bring a ton of plates home, so we ended up giving many away to passers by–which in itself was a lot of fun!

Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate Halite plate

For the trip home, I discovered last year that if you pack them in your salty clothes (you get pretty wet digging) they make the trip well.  I packed them in a 5 gallon bucket on top of my zip-lock baggies of other crystals from the previous digs.  I also brought a couple of beach towels this year to wrap the plates in.  The dealers there utilize either produce boxes or hard plastic storage boxes you get at the hardware store.  These come out clean, so just a rinse in the ditch and leave them out to dry is all that is needed before you wrap them in cloth.  I only had a couple break apart on the way home, having them secured in the bucket was safe.  I do not use mineral oil on the halite plates but do use it for the other crystals.

Again, a wonderful trip filled with fun!  This time Kirk’s boys got to join us.  Hopefully there will be many more Gem-o-rama trips in the future!

 

Vintage Phonographic Toys

Originally published in the Iron Feather Journal 2016 by Dave Alexander.

If you are a Millennial then you are at least two generations too old to remember most of these toys, but for those born in the 1950’s through 1980’s you will probably remember many of these toys during your formative years.  What you may not realize is that these toys made their sounds, unlike today via computer chips, through a mechanical means using built in records and phonographs!

The phonograph-based toy started in the late 1950’s when the fastest growing toy company, Mattel, started to produce dolls that interact with their owners.  Barbie was a huge seller for Mattel but it lacked interaction which left a lot to the girl’s imagination.  The Chatty series of dolls solved this problem and started a new era of dolls.  In 1959 the idea of pulling a string on your doll would and having her speak one of 11 phrases at random to you was ingenious!  Later models towards the mid-1960s would speak 18 different phrases.  This was accomplished by dropping a needle on a small 3 inch record in random locations—the player was installed in the doll’s abdomen and was a wonder of engineering at the time.  These dolls was an instant success and their underlying phonograph technology was used over and over in many toys by Mattel and other companies through the 1980s.

In 1963, after many successful years with the various Chatty dolls, Mattel introduced Charmin’ Chatty.  This doll was a bit different than the others because the records were interchangeable through a slot on the doll’s side.  The 3 inch records were double-sided, so you had twice as many phrases per record.  Records and clothing were sold as accessories, including the ultra-collectable “Let’s Talk ‘n Travel in Foreign Lands” which included a cute “travel” outfit accompanied by 4 records speaking in 7 different languages—instantly giving the doll and her owner world culture!  Since the phonograph played random tracks when the string was pulled, Mattel released the “Chatty Games” accessories.  Each box included two games; with 4 total games where a random move was spoken by Charmin’ Chatty, kids could play up to 8 different games with their dolls.  In 1965 Mattel discontinued production of these dolls, but continued to innovate with their phonograph-based interactive toys.

Chatty Games, this one includes “At The Fair” and “Skate N Slide”

Chatty Games "Animal Roundup" and "Animal Friends"

This Chatty Games includes “Animal Roundup” and “Animal Friends” board games

Here is Chatty at the Fair game. The reverse side has the Skate N Slide game. Each game set comes with records to insert into the doll, all board game pieces and reversible board.

Chatty brochure

From the brochure, with instructions on how to change records, and details all the different fun you can have with Chatty including what needs come out of the piggy bank.

After the success with the Chatty dolls, in 1965 Mattel created the See‘N Say toys line of toys providing similar interaction with the toy, but this time the child had control over which audio track would play using a dial.  The kid would point the arrow at a picture and pull the string, and the phonograph player would have its needle dropped on the specific track based on the slot the dial was placed.  It was the same mechanism inside the toy as the previous Chatty dolls, but with a user chosen groove instead of a random groove on the record.  The initial toys were the Bee Says toy that spoke the alphabet and the Farmer Says toy that spoke farm/animal sounds.  After the success of these, new variations were produced, the only difference was the sticker on the toy showing the available choices, and the phonograph record within; a clever way to sell new variations in the brand using the same manufacturing line!  These toys continued popularity into the 90s where the phonographs were replaced by digital sound reproduction.

Of course, all this success didn’t go unnoticed, and other toy manufacturers joined in the dream of huge profits with their own mechanical phonograph-based toys.  In 1964 General Electric joined in with a toy television with a record player on top.  Inserted filmstrips were backlit to project 16mm images onto the toy television screen while the record provided audio.  Picturesound programs were sold individually including a filmstrip with 15 films and a 4 minute record.  At fixed intervals on the record the filmstrip would mechanically be moved to provide the next image in the story.

Meanwhile, Mattel was not done with their line of dolls and in 1971 Cynthia My Best Friend was built based on the Charmin’ Chatty technology except the doll was much smaller.  She played 2 inch interchangeable records that were inserted in her side.  To repeat their successful business model, Cynthia fashion kits were sold each with a new record full of phrases.

In addition to dolls, Mattel produced two different interactive phone toys.  Alongside the See’N Say toys, 1965 saw the Mattel-o-Phone with interchangeable 4 inch records.  Kids could have conversations with their dolls (or just by themselves) with this phone, which sported many popular cartoon characters and dolls of the day that would talk to you.  Later, their 1971 Fun Phone Alphabet Phone toy was aimed at education, teaching kids using sporting colorful 2 ½ inch picture discs with the alphabet and other important things for young kids to learn over the phone.  By this time, Mattel had the mechanical phonograph dialed in and they were using it in all sorts of ways to add interactive speech long before computer chips would take over!

In 1970 Ohio Art produced the “World’s Smallest Record Player” called the Mighty Tiny.  This small coffin looking player opened up and the kid would insert a 2 inch plastic record.  Upon closing the toy the needle on the top of the player would track on the record and would reproduce its sound through the small internal speaker powered by AA batteries.  Records came in 4-packs grouped by music styles, which included “Foreign”, “Rock’n Roll”, “Country and Western”, “Novelty”, etc.  Of course they encouraged people to “collect them all”.

Mattel continued the interactive experience with Live Drive in 1970.  This toy has a steering wheel and gear shifter and was aimed to allow the driver to imagine driving.  To help that imagination, there are cardboard backdrops attached to the “windshield” area for the visuals and records for the audio.  The experiences include Racecar, Submarine, Spaceship, Airplane, Fire Engine, and Speedboat.  “You can drive ‘em all!!”  The battery operated interchangeable record player is very similar to the Instant Replay player mentioned below; probably the same one given they were released the same year.

Mattel Live Drive Box Mattel Live Drive Box

In 1977 Mattel released the ABC Monday Night Football game.  The game came with a football field and some plastic accessories to aid in gameplay; the main component was a record player with 2.5 inch discs, some single sided, some grooved on both sides.  These discs had different offensive, defensive and penalty called plays that were recorded by the original ABC Monday Night Football commentators.  Using the random needle dropping technology, the records were perfect for a football game!

ABC Monday Night Football

Disney got in the action and produced the Mickey Mouse World Series Baseball Game in 1984.  They used a special “Trick-Track” process that dropped the needle on one of 15 tracks of a 6 inch flexi-disc record.  Each track played about 15 seconds of commentators that called the gameplay.  The sleeve’s gatefold was used as the diamond, and small punch-out discs were used by each player to mark their progress and score.  You’d play for 9 innings, or however long it would keep your attention!

Sports trading cards have been popular for a long time, and Mattel decided to use their phonograph toy technology to make sports cards interactive.  In 1971 they released the Instant Reply toy, which played small 2.5 inch records that had different players talking to you.  Most records were single sided with a sticker of the athlete on the front side, but there are highly collectible double-sided cardboard picture discs available as well.  The proprietary record player was battery powered with a built-in speaker and used a switch for turning the player on and off.  Discs were sold in either 4-packs based on sport, or 8-packs folders with small informational booklets.  It was said the basketball series was the most popular, and the double-sided basketball stars can fetch hundreds of dollars in collector’s circles!

Mattel Instant Replay

In 1989, Topps cards produced the Sports Talk player and cards.  Topps released 164 talking baseball cards for that year’s popular major league athletes, and also included cards for all-time favorite players and important historical baseball events.  The cards were full color with a picture of the athlete on the cover and statistics on the back, just as you’d expect; but additionally there was an embossed plastic record on the back.  Once inserted and closed into the proprietary phonograph player’s transparent plastic window, the record would play and you’d hear the athlete tell you something funny or cool about their career while you looked the front of the card, or re-live important baseball history!Sport Talk

Fisher Price and Yes! companies realized there was a market for read-to-me style books for kids just learnings to read.  They took popular books like Bernstein Bears and television shows like Sesame Street and added embossed 3 inch records to each page.  Their record players would lay on top of the page, registered to the center of the record, then when pressing play, if properly aligned, the needle would drop and the story would be narrated.  The players and books were interchangeable, no clue if this was intentional.

Perhaps the most serious attempt at a record-based educational toy was Mattel’s Teach & Learn Computer in 1981.  The computer was battery powered and contained a slot for the 5 inch record and a generic touch panel.  Overlays and records were purchased separately and the record and touch panel were programmed to work together interacting with the child and hopefully teaching a thing or two in the process.

Mattel Teach and Learn Computer

Finally, my personal favorite was the Cosmic Clash arcade game released in 1982 by Tomy.  This entirely mechanical game provided mechanical visuals based on back-lit cellophane film strips for aliens that you’d shoot, and the rotating back-lit cellophane cylinder laser beam you’d fire, and the op-art style explosions.  The audio was played on the record where the needle was dropped in certain locations based on the sound effects that needed played.  This game was a wonderfully engineered toy providing a home arcade alternative before video games entered the home.

Cosmic Clash Cosmic Clash

The mechanical phonograph record used in toys lasted for well over three decades when they were finally replaced by electronics.  The creative use of phonograph records allowed for interactive toys that were state of the art for the time; captivating children’s hearts and piling up wish lists at the North Pole that were mailed to Santa each year!

Colorado Crystals – The Boogie Pocket

Crystal digging time has been limited this summer, however I was able to make it out several times this fall having several successful days!  This day in late September I was able to find a fun smokey quartz and light amazonite pocket.  There was an antler my dog found that he enjoyed all day long; the cool part is where he found it!  Investigating the area he led me to showed some promising signs on the surface.  I dug a few test holes and eventually found a crystal pocket!  I feel it thus is appropriate that I named the pocket after him (his name is Boogie)!

Beginning of Boogie Crystals Pocket

Boogie chawing on a an antler near my test hole, which ended up in a couple small pockets

At the point of the antler, there was a few quartz and feldspar chunks laying on the ground.  Digging a test hole there, I found a couple of pieces of float pegmatite within the first 5 inches so I followed the float peg up the hill.  Its always a good sign when you can follow a path of float rocks up a hill, especially if there are euhedral sides, which in this case there were not any flats.  A short while (maybe 5 feet) later uphill the peg stopped showing up at the float level.  Often this sudden stoppage of float material means that whatever was producing the float is back downhill.

Going back down the hill a few feet, I dug deeper and found more peg!  Following that led me to the host peg which started maybe 8 inches below the surface. It looks like I found the source!!!  Now, hopefully the peg chunks will start having flat faces and become more crystallized ending in a seam or a pocket!

In this hole, digging down, I was able to hit the bottom of the peg seam where it turned into crumbles of granite gravel.  Going up hill I ended back into gravel, so I feel I found the girth of this pegmatite seam.  That said, nothing interesting was presenting itself, yet…

Next, I followed the peg from side-to-side.  Within about 30 minutes I found a few nice terminated quartz crystals and a few smaller pieces.  This is documented in the first few minutes in the video, below.  The quartz ended as soon as it started, however, and I ended up on a fruitless dig in that direction for about an hour longer…that is typical of me, when I find crystals I go in that direction for an extra long time just to be sure; someday I’ll figure out when to stop earlier…or not.

Next step was to take a break and eat lunch.  After looking at what I had dug and the size of the pegmatite from different perspectives I figured there was only one choice, to stay on this peg which had produced quartz crystals and dig the other way.  Soon after digging that way I was pulling out some quartz and microcline with sides, and finally some microcline crystals.  This is where the video continues.

The pocket contained a lot of chunks of microcline/light blue amazonite but none were fully euhedral, until the very end which contains a big 5″ crystal in three pieces.  Many of the crystals were good size and had many faces.  All were heavily coated in iron oxide. I did find some quartz too, especially in the center and lower parts of the pocket.  The quartz had interesting staining, all having a secondary coating of grey/white quartz on their tips, and then on 3 of the faces horizontal lines of the same secondary coating while on the other three faces heavily iron oxide stained.  They all had similar coatings and stain patterns which I found interesting!

The find of the day was a smokey quartz and cleavelandite combo, a 4-5 inch smokey quartz with excellent patterns in the secondary coatings and staining, and a 5″ wide light amazonite crystal at the bottom of the pocket.

cleavelandite and quartz

Cleavelandite and Smokey Quartz combo with mica sprinkled around it. The quartz has a secondary coating of quartz.

Almost all the quartz had a secondary coating of milky quartz on top and the amazonites and microclines were heavily coated with iron oxide.  There was a very large 5″ amazonite at the bottom of the pocket which was in three pieces, but they fit back together nicely.  All have been in the cleaning bath for a while and have yet to clean up to my liking, except a few in which the staining adds to the color and character!  I’m working on abrasive methods and hopefully will have cleaner pictures to show soon.

large amazonite crystal

Large amazonite (light blue) found at the bottom of the pocket in 3 pieces. Undergoing a lengthy super iron out bath.

Light amazonite with mica

Light amazonite with mica still heavily stained after many weeks in a SIO bath. From the video.

Smokey Quartz pair

Cool pair of smokey quartz showing the parallel growth and quartz caps

Quartz point overgrowth

A couple of the smokey quartz showing the overgrowth of quartz on the points.

largest boogie smokey

Largest smokey quartz from the pocket. I’m done cleaning it as I really like the lines and their parallelism to the crystal faces. This is shown in the video.

 

Playing with the Bees

Been playing with a new lens and decided to photo the bumble bees in our blooming sage garden.  Was able to get some interesting close ups, but in a couple the wings did some interesting things.  Haven’t quite figured that out yet as I was at 1/8000 second.  Are their little wings really that fast?