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1947 Toaster

1947ToasterThis ad for a humble toaster appeared 70 years ago in the May 12, 1947, issue of Life magazine.

Made in the USA, in a factory owned by General Electric, the toaster is undoubtedly well made.  It’s undoubtedly heavy, reliable, and probably made excellent toast.  The accompanying text touted the fact that it was adjustable, and the toast would be done exactly how you wanted it, light, medium, or dark.  The snap-in crumb tray allowed it to be cleaned in ten seconds.  And it even had another feature not found in modern toasters, the ability to have the toast either pop up when finished, or stay inside to keep warm until it was needed.

In the unlikely event that it broke, there were shops where you could take your toaster to be repaired.

In short, it was probably better than a toaster you would buy today, and it’s easy to pine for that simpler time when toasters were better.  Until you look at the price.

This simple toaster cost $17.75.  To put it another way, you could buy it with eighteen silver dollars, and those silver dollars would set you back exactly $18 in paper currency.  Those same eighteen silver dollars today would cost you over $300.

So yes, the toaster 70 years ago was better than the typical toaster you would buy today.  Today, you would probably buy a model similar to the ones shown below.

 

Yes, the 1947 version was probably better. But it was also a lot more expensive.



1927 Balloon Jumping

1927MayPMNinety years ago this month, the cover of Popular Mechanics, May 1927, shows a sport that inexplicably never caught on:   Balloon Jumping! As described in the magazine, a balloon of about 18 feet in diameter was attached to the jumper’s shoulders. In his pockets, he would carry lead weights. The balloon and ballast would be balanced so that the man’s net weight was about four pounds. Thus equipped, the jumper could leap to a height of about 40 feet and travel about a hundred yards. In favorable wind conditions, jumpers were known to travel over a quarter mile in one stride.

The balloon was filled with 3500 cubic feet of gas. In the event that the gas expanded in the hot sun, the balloon was fitted with a valve, allowing the jumper to vent excess gas, preventing uncontrollable lift.

After the jump was complete, the complete outfit could be packed into a large suitcase.

This video shows the sport in action, although it doesn’t look quite as graceful as depicted in the magazine:



1942 One Tube Emergency Broadcast Receiver

1942MayPMSeventy-five years ago this month, the May 1942 issue of Popular Mechanics carried the plans for the “Veep” one-tube AC-DC broadcast receiver. The set was built on a simple galvanized chassis, and mounted in a cigar box, the “Veep” name coming from the brand of cigars.

The sew was designed to be rugged and compact, and the part count was kept to an absolute minimum to keep costs down. The set ran off standard household current, eliminating the worry of batteries running down. It was designed for instant emergency use. The set could be kept in a pocket, and in case of need for the latest news, air-raid warnings, or other programs, it ccould be put into action at the plant, office, or home at odd times.

The set used a single 117L7-GT serving as rectifier and detector. Since the set ran right off the line cord, the article warned not to use an external ground connection.

1942MayPM2The set would pull in local stations with a 3-4 foot antenna. For greater range, the antenna could be connected to an ungrounded metal object such as a hand rail or bed springs. While the set was designed for headphone operation, it could drive a speaker for strong local stations.1942MayPMSchematic

 



1867 Manhattan, KS, Earthquake

On this date 150 years ago, April 24, 1867, Kansas experienced its largest ever earthquake, with its epicenter just north of Manhattan, Kansas.  It was felt over an area of almost 200,000 square miles, and caused minor damage in Kansas, Iowa, and Missouri, along with a handful of injuries.  Damage included cracked plaster, downed chimneys, and loosened stones in buildings.  At Paola, KS, one wall of the post office was destroyed.

The report shown here appeared in the Chicago Tribune on April 27, and originally appeared in the St. Joseph, MO, paper on April 25.  In St. Joseph, the earthquake was described as a “low rumbling sound, similar to that produced by a heavily loaded wagon passing over a bridge.”  At St. Joseph, “almost the entire population had rushed terrified from counting rooms, workshops and kitchens into the streets.  At first everybody seemed to be under the impression that his particular building had suddenly become possessed of an unusual number of devils, and was pirouetting by itself; but upon seeing his neighbors rushing out under apparently the same conviction, the idea flashed upon him that an earthquake had playfully jousted us.”



Station D-E-B-U-N-K, 1942

1942Apr12ChiTribSeventy-five years ago, the April 12, 1942, issue of the Chicago Tribune carried this story about a wartime curiosity on the shortwave bands, Station DEBUNK.

After the United State entered the war, the station sprung up on 7.2 MHz, and tried to pass itself off as a clandestine station operating from inside the United States.

But according to the newspaper, the FCC had confirmed what most SWL’s had already figured out, namely, that the station was broadcasting from Europe. The newspaper noted that the station was on the same frequency as the Berlin shortwave station.

The newspaper also noted that many listeners saw the hand of Freddy Kaltenbach in the station’s appearance, noting that it expressed his manner of expression and thinking. We previously wrote  (here and here) about propagandist Kaltenbach, a former Iowan of German birth.

The station was also profiled in the April 18, 1942, issue of Radio Guide, which noted that the station normally signed on to its 41 meter frequency between 7:30 and 8:00 PM Central War Time. The transmission began with an interval signal consisting of a piano playing part of the melody from the Star Spangled Banner, repeatedly playing the music for the words “by the dawn’s early light.”

The announcer then asked listeners to phone their neighbors to tune in and then played some jitterbug records. After about ten minutes, the announcer, one “Joe Scanlon” unleashed propaganda that was “anti-British, anti-American, anti-Communist, anti-Jewish, in fact, anti everything but National Socialism.”

After the diatribe, the station would sign off with the Star Spangled Banner. The Radio Guide profile noted that the station was amateurish in nature, with “the modulation as rotten as the talks.”

Announcer “Scanlon” was actually Herbert John Burgman, originally of Hokah, Minnesota.  Burgman served in the U.S. Army from 1918 to 1920, posted in Germany. In 1921, he was employed as a clerk at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin and married a German national. By 1941, he was a committed Nazi sympathizer, and declined repatriation to the U.S. along with the rest of the embassy staff, and he signed on as a propagandist for Radio DEBUNK.

After the war, he was arrested a tried for treason. The prosecution relied not only eyewitness testimony, but the recordings of the broadcasts from the FCC’s Silver Hill, Maryland, monitoring station. Despite a plea of insanity, Burgman was convicted of 13 acts of treason and sentenced to 6-20 years in prison. In 1951, the Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction. Burgman v. United States, 188 F.2d 637 (D.C. Cir. 1951).
He died in prison in 1953 at the age of 59.  He then found his way home to Minnesota and is buried in Austin, MN.

You can listen to a sound clip of Station DEBUNK at this link.



US At War: April 6, 1917

One hundred years ago today, April 6, 1917, the United States entered the First World War when Congress declared war on Germany.  President Wilson, in an address to a joint session of Congress on April 2, had asked for the declaration, citing unrestricted German submarine warfare and the Zimmermann telegram.  The Senate passed the resolution on April 4, with the House following on the morning of April 6.

 



1967 Outlet Tester

If you do any electrical work around the house, or even if you don’t, and you want to make sure the electrician did things right, you really ought to have an inexpensive outlet tester like the ones shown here. You’ll be able to tell at a glance whether the outlet is wired correctly, or if there’s some invisible fault. Those errors could include the polarity being reversed, either the neutral or the hot not being hooked up, or the absence of a ground connection. The one shown here is available on Amazon, and they can be had at low cost at any hardware store.

But fifty years ago, they weren’t so readily available, and the home handyman might consider making his own. The plans were shown in the March 1967 issue of Popular Mechanics. As you can see, the device is quite simple. If you want to make your own, here’s the schematic:

1967MarPM



Substitute Teaching in Minnesota

No, you don’t need a teaching license!

Among the many hats I wear is that of substitute teacher. Depending on how busy my schedule is with other business, I teach in one of the Twin Cities area districts a few days a week.  For many people, this is an excellent part-time job opportunity to make a few extra dollars, make a difference in the lives of students, and possibly find yourself energized by exposure to their youthful exuberance.  The information on this page explains how to become a substitute teacher in Minnesota, although much of the information will be relevant in other states as well.

The rate of pay for this work varies from district to district, but in Minnesota, typically it is about $140 per day. Depending on the school, the substitute is expected to arrive about a half hour before the students arrive, and typically leaves about the same time as the students. This means that the substitute typically works about seven hours a day, and the afternoon is usually free.  The mathematically astute will realize that this is about $20 per hour, which isn’t too bad on days when I didn’t have anything else scheduled.  There are also frequently half-day assignments available. During the day, the substitute usually has at least one “prep hour” available. During the prep hour, the normal teacher catches up on other work such as preparing lesson plans or grading papers. Since the substitute usually isn’t expected to do such things, this usually results in another hour during the day to catch up on other work. Since there is almost always a telephone and computer with internet access available, this can usually prove to be a productive time.

A person would certainly struggle to pay the bills if substitute teaching were their only source of income. But the schedule is so flexible that subbing can provide a great source of extra income for those who are self-employed or work another job in which they are free during the day.

For me, the main advantages of substitute teaching are:

  • A source of income on days when I’m not working elsewhere.
  • An opportunity to be an “insider” at my children’s own schools.
  • The opportunity to make a real, albeit brief, positive impact on students.

For those who do need the income, it would be possible to work almost every day as a substitute. Jobs are available on an almost daily basis. For those who do not need to work every day, this allows you to be very selective on which jobs you take.

Minnesota Requirements

In Minnesota, anyone with a four-year college degree in any subject can become a substitute teacher. You do not need to have a degree in education. This is because many school districts have a shortage of substitute teachers. In Minnesota, a person with a four-year degree, but without an education degree, and receive a “Two Year, Short-Call Substitute” license.

This license is issued by the Minnesota Department of Education. There is a fee of about $93, and you will need to be fingerprinted as part of the application process. As the name implies, this license is valid for two school years.

Even though you will need to obtain this state license, the starting point is the individual school district where you plan to work. This is because the two-year license is available only to persons teaching in districts where the superintendent has verified that the district is experiencing a hardship in locating fully licensed teachers. As far as I can tell, the license, once issued, is valid statewide. But to get the license in the first place, you will need the signature of a district superintendent verifying that district’s hardship.

Fortunately for you, many districts in Minnesota are experiencing such hardships, and they will be overjoyed to sign off on your license application. In fact, they routinely do this as part of the hiring process.

I have noticed that these “hardships” seem to come and go. For example, the district where I am currently teaching does not currently have this hardship. Therefore, I would not be able to be hired there as a new substitute. However, once I’m in the system, I can keep teaching there. And since they frequently have substitute jobs that go unfilled, I wouldn’t be surprised if they once again declare a hardship and hire new substitutes such as me.

A quick Google search reveals that the following Minnesota school districts are currently hiring subsitutes and are willing to sign the certification so that you can get your license.  So if you live in or near one of these districts, they would be the ideal starting point.

Please note that these districts are the ones that currently publicize on their website that they’re willing to sign your application, and they are the ones I found with a quick Google search. There are undoubtedly many others.  (Some districts might not want to publicize on their website that they’re experiencing a shortage, so a phone call might be productive.)  To find these opportunities, check the district’s website, ask at your children’s school, or call the district. Many other Minnesota districts work with a firm called Teachers On Call, which handles the application process. Many of these districts will probably be willing to hire persons with a limited license as well.

The Hiring Process

When you inquire, you will probably be asked to apply in person. And it’s quite likely that you will be hired on the spot, subject to obtaining your license. You’ll probably walk out with the required form signed by the superintendent, who is happy to learn that his or her chronic substitute shortage is one step closer to being solved. Chances are, the staff at the district will be able to assist you with the process of applying for your license. When you visit the district office, you should plan on being hired that day. Therefore, it’s a good idea to bring along your college transcript, as well as the ID documents (driver’s license and passport or social security card) to complete all of the required forms that day.  When the license is approved, you’ll start getting jobs.

You will get little if any training. Most substitute teachers seem to be hired on a “sink or swim” basis. On your first day on the job, you will simply walk in, announce to the class that you’re their substitute for the day, and then make the best of the situation.

You will be told the mechanics of how you get jobs. Before the internet came into existence, school districts employed a person often known as the “gatekeeper.” This person would report to work at 5:00 AM and wait for teachers to call in sick. When they did, he or she would start calling substitutes to fill the vacancy.

The job function of the “gatekeeper” has now been largely automated. Instead of a human calling you, you will go to a website and/or receive an automated telephone call.  You will see all available positions and be able to select one.  My district, and most others, use a system called AESOP.  If you want to limit yourself to particular schools or grades, you have this option.  But your license allows you to teach any grade level from preschool through adult, and you’ll be given the opportunity to take any available assignment.  Since you don’t have to deal with a human being on the other end of the phone, it is very easy to be selective and take only the “good” jobs.

I currently have the telephone option turned off, and I get jobs strictly by logging in to the website.  I usually have these jobs lined up in advance.  If I were in need of daily work, I would set the alarm clock for 5:00 and wait for the phone to ring, safe in the knowledge that I would be working almost every day.

What the Work is Like

As a substitute teacher, there will be good days and bad days.  Fortunately, however, the good days far outnumber the bad.  And because you can pick your assignments, you never have to worry about going back to the bad classes!  After a while of taking jobs, you will recognize which are the good schools, which are the good teachers, and which are the good classes.  Armed with that knowledge, you can pick and choose and go back only to the good jobs.

Surprisingly, at first, it can be hard to predict which will be the good assignments and which will be the bad ones.  I’ve taught at schools with extremely bad reputations, and often found those assignments to be the most rewarding experiences.  On the other hand, I’ve also taken a few jobs at “good” schools where I don’t plan to go back.  For this reason, the early days of your substitute experience will teach you a few lessons.  But after you’ve figured out where the good jobs are, you’ll have days when you feel guilty about collecting a paycheck for such a fun assignment.

Because of my particular temperament, I  prefer taking jobs in high school, junior high, and occasionally the upper elementary grades.  I know that I wouldn’t be a particularly good kindergarten teacher, so I don’t take those jobs.  Other substitutes are more suited to younger kids and would be horrified at the prospect of teaching high school students.  The nice thing about subbing is that you can pick and choose.

One reason why I prefer high school and middle school is the fact that if I get a bad group of students, I know they’ll be gone in less than an hour.  I can put up with just about anything for an hour.  I rarely have miserable assignments, but it’s nice knowing that if I do, it’s of very short duration.

I have found that the principals, teachers, and all of the staff of the schools where I teach are genuinely happy to see me.  There is indeed a shortage of substitute teachers, and there are times when they need one but don’t get one.  When that happens, the other staff need to work harder.  The regular teachers often need to use their prep hour to cover another class, or the principal or another administrator needs to step in.  So when they see me, they’re happy to know that they don’t have to worry about the class that day.

Most times, the regular teacher leaves lesson plans.  This is often an activity where I need to do little more than hand out the assignment and sit back as the students do the work.  Many substitute teachers are happiest when they discover a lesson plan sitting on the desk.  On the other hand, I tend to enjoy the situations where there is no lesson plan and I’m left to fend for myself.  I consider myself a renaissance man, and I can always come up with something that ties in to what they’ve been studying, whether it’s math, English, social studies, science, or just about any other subject.  It’s my chance to pontificate, and yes, I enjoy showing off to the students that I can do the algebra problem and that, in fact, yes, we do algebra in the “real world” on a regular basis.

The most common question I’m asked about substitute teaching is how well the students behave.  Many adults recall their days as a student, and remember that when a substitute appeared in the room, the class erupted in chaos.

Thankfully, few days end like this. FEMA photo.

Thankfully, few days end like this. FEMA photo.

You will, indeed, experience chaotic situations from time to time as a substitute.  Some students will believe that they can get away with anything with the regular teacher gone, and they will try to do so.  However, by using a bit of common sense and displaying an aura of calm authority, most of these problems can be overcome quite easily.  Occasionally, it’s necessary to kick some student out of the room and refer him to the assistant principal or whoever deals with behavioral issues.  But this is actually quite rare, especially after students realize that you are willing to go to such extreme measures.  Typically, students will do their job with a minimum of prodding.

I’m also frequently asked whether substitutes need to understand the subject matter that they’re supposedly teaching.  The answer to this question is a resounding no.  The expectation is that the substitute will have absolutely no understanding of the subject matter.  If you maintain order for the day, you will be lauded for doing a great job.  You’re not actually expected to impart any knowledge to the students.

Having said that, my favorite part of the job is actually imparting knowledge, or at the very least showing off to the students that I actually understand the material.  So I take pride in explaining the causes of the Civil War on one day, and then applying the quadratic formula the next day.  The students are duly impressed, the teacher is pleasantly surprised to discover that the students actually learned something, and I’m probably requested the next time that teacher is absent.  But this is not the norm.  Normally, if the classroom is still standing at the end of the day, then you have done your job as a substitute, and everyone is happy.  So no, you do not need any particular knowledge of the subject matter in order to substitute teach.  Even if you have no idea what the quadratic formula is, you’ll still do fine teaching math classes.

Even in the worst classes (which are, thankfully, rare), it is clear that most of the students want to learn something.  It’s actually quite gratifying when a student thanks you at the end of class.  The rewards can come at unexpected times.  It’s not unusual to be teaching a history class and have a student ask if you can help with their math.  Occasionally, you’ll see that the student finally “gets it” after struggling with something for quite a while.  I’m not a better teacher than the regular teacher.  But I might bring a different approach that works better for one particular student.

If I haven’t scared you off so far, then I encourage you to become a substitute teacher.  The rules I’ve discussed here apply to Minnesota.  Most other states allow substitute teachers without an education degree.  In fact, some require only a high school diploma.  (Pay in such states, however, seems to be considerably lower than states requiring a four-year degree.)  Each state will have a different set of hoops to jump through.  But most seem to have enough of a shortage of subs that they will assist you in every way possible as you jump through them.

You might get a small amount of training before your first job, but I’ve discovered that experience actually doing the job is much more valuable.  If you want to do some reading before undertaking the job, you might find some of the following books and websites helpful:

BOOKS

WEBSITES