“I Am Fenwick” – Kudos to Southwest Airlines’ Arte Commercial

img_4620_cropAre there any among us who have not seen the recent Southwest Airlines commercial, “I am Fenwick?” If so, look it up on the internet – well worth the effort. Were there Oscars to be given for best commercial, this one is my overwhelming nominee. Besides being entertaining/funny, it is a work of art.

I watch a lot of San Francisco Warriors NBA basketball games on television, and I take the time to do so because they play the game with uncommon excellence. I appreciate excellence. Luckily, I have a DVR not only to record the games, but to fast-forward past so many of the horrible commercials featuring previews of upcoming action movies that often sponsor such telecasts. I am so bored by the flash/bang action of hurtling, exploding cars and general mayhem featured in these new films. Seen one, seen them all. These films are hard on one’s eyes, ears, and general sensibilities – no subtlety whatsoever. Moving on.

Southwest airlines is one of the regular sponsors of Warrior games, and their commercial, “I am Fenwick” plays at least three times each telecast. I have watched it dozens of times, now, and still enjoy it every single time. Why? Because it is a work of film art and very deftly delivers Southwest’s advertising mantra, “Wanna get away?” It accomplishes this through a brief micro-drama involving a member of “the King’s” armored minions who are assembled en mass and facing a small, rag-tag group of captured enemy. One of these prisoners is especially notorious and faces severe justice once identified by name.

The opening scene reveals this assemblage as the prisoners are about to be addressed by the knight-in-chief.

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Standing without helmet to the left of the white horse, the knight-in-chief asks: “Who amongst you goes by the name…Fenwick? Tell me, and the rest of you will be spared!”

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The camera zooms in on a nervous individual who hesitates. After the virtual thought-bubble over his head dissipates, he honorably blurts out, “I am Fenwick.” Almost simultaneously – virtually in unison – a comrade standing just behind echoes, “I am Fenwick” followed by a ripple of the same mea culpa throughout the prisoner’s ranks.

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The knight-in-chief, being blessed with quick mind and sharp eye, sees at once what is happening, here.

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Suddenly, a bumbling, oblivious prisoner pushes through the captive ranks, intent on the shield he is holding. He walks directly up to the nervous fellow warrior whose comrades have just attempted to save.

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“Hey Fenwick, have you seen my shield? This has vertical stripes on it; mine has horizontal!”

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Oops! The knight-in-chief is no dummy – unlike the dude with shield!

Now, the sound of a broadsword rapidly pulled from its scabbard accompanied by a triumphant, knowing cackle.

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Uh, did I say something wrong, here?

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Wanna get away?

I love this commercial from Southwest, and I never fast-forward through it because it is a mini-masterpiece of filming. It is funny in the subtlest of ways, made possible by the impressive setting and costumes along with perfect camera timing and sublime acting on the part of each performer. And its core message delivers Southwest’s commercial punch-line perfectly – with ironic “oomph.”

This one is easily one of the very best spots I have ever seen. It puts most of those vaunted, now over-rated Super Bowl commercials to shame. Kudos to Southwest and the production staff who created “I am Fenwick.” Give us more!

Vintage Radio & TV: Repairing and Building Things…Yourself!

Telefixit_ARummaging through some old files from my father, I came across this gem from 1953 and immediately recognized a great blog-post opportunity! Yes, there once was a time when any sufficiently motivated (and clever/handy) individual could actually troubleshoot things like radios and televisions. Those WERE the days – a time when life was simpler and technology was not totally beyond the grasp of 99 per-cent of the general population.

Today, auto repair is the identical twin to radio/TV repair – well beyond our reach, and residing only in the realm of trained, technical specialists. There is one glaring difference between the two twins, however: Can you guess what that is? The time/money aspect of specialized, technical know-how today renders electronic repair largely pointless. In today’s world, replacing electronic “somethings” is almost always cheaper (and more convenient) than repairing them. The same cannot be said of the automobile – for sure.

The universal image of a greasy pair of overalls protruding from the underbelly of a vintage car being repaired on one’s driveway is long-gone from the auto scene, along with the image of smiling, uniformed Texaco service station attendants swooping in to offer full service on your car as you pull-in for a fill-up.

Repairing Your TV Set Could Kill You!

Really? Even if you first unplug the set before working on it? Yes, especially back then when TV screens were of the high voltage, cathode-ray tube variety. In those days, large electronic capacitors were used to store electrical energy for powering these picture tubes. They could retain thousands of volts of electric charge even though the set was turned off or unplugged. Do-it-yourself manuals took great pains to point out the dangers and to explain how these devices could be safely discharged before working on the set!

Radio – TV Repair Shops: Extinct Dinosaurs;
Today’s Throw-away Society

Radio & TV Repair ShopThese shops, with their signs out front, were once ubiquitous. Today, they are gone because repairing any but the more valuable vintage electronics is largely a fool’s errand today – it just does not make economic sense. The reality is that today’s consumer electronics is a huge factor in our “throw-away” society. Not only is repair not economically feasible, the aggressive “newer/better” syndrome which characterizes today’s electronic devices (especially phones and computers) obsoletes most devices long before they ever need repair!

A Related Point: Why Jobs are Lost
 and the Labor Force Transformed

Although my post has a sentimental ring to it, it serves to showcase a serious aspect of societal change – specifically, the shift from manual labor in manufacturing to high-tech know-how. Here is how the chassis-guts of a television set looked some sixty years ago:

GE_RF_Chassis_New[1]

This tangle of electronic components – primarily vacuum tubes, resistors, capacitors, and inductors – was hand-soldered together on an assembly line comprised of a small army (mainly women) who sequentially added each piece until the whole assembly was complete. This approach was both time consuming and very labor-intensive (semi-skilled labor). Today, that long assembly line is completely replaced by robotic assemblers which pick, place, and solder components to a so-called “surface-mount” printed circuit board with designated pad positions for every part connection to the board. All wire connections between parts are replaced by thin metallic traces on the board which connect the components. Fabrication/assembly costs are much less than the old hand-wired approach while quality/reliability is exponentially better with the new technology. Individual components known as “integrated circuits” are highly dense groupings of microscopic components (multiple thousands of transistors, resistors, and capacitors) all on one single semiconductor “chip.” These circuits are identifiable by the multiple “leads” on the package. No wonder the radio – TV repairman could not keep up with the burgeoning technology!

circuit-board[1]

The money formerly paid to those armies of semi-skilled assemblers is now funneled to the relatively few highly educated, skilled and gifted engineers who designed the process and its robotic equipment. This money/job transfer away from lots of manual (often union) labor is inevitable in manufacturing facilities – a key reason for the unemployment and the sinking fortunes of the semi-skilled middle class, today.

The Heathkit Era: Build Your
Own Electronic Equipment

Heathkit VTVM_CROPI still have two pieces of electronic equipment that I built myself from the Heath Company’s famous electronic kits. All parts and detailed, step-by-step assembly instructions were provided. “Heathkits” were lab-quality and were very popular from the nineteen-fifties through the eighties. When I was working on my Masters Degree in electrical engineering in the late sixties, I built one of their biggest kits – a full-blown, vacuum tube, lab-quality oscilloscope. I sold that long ago, but I still have the vacuum tube voltmeter (VTVM) and the small solid-state (transistorized) power supply that I built long ago.

When you built a Heathkit and could read an electrical schematic, you pretty-well understood the guts of your equipment and how it worked. Not so much in today’s world, however, thanks to the miracle of integrated circuits, etc. It was a wonderful time, in a way, because it was a simpler time – a time when technology was still within the reach of a determined grasp. Whenever we visit our good friends, Dave and Patti, down in Santa Barbara, Dave inevitably offers me my coffee in his well-used mug with the simple brown “Heathkit” lettering. He, too, recalls those old days, and we reminisce a bit.

Heathkit VTVM Manual  Heathkit VTVM Instr

Radio and Radio Repair – A Family Heritage

My father and his family had an early relationship with radio. My grandfather, Elmer, operated a small radio repair shop on Diversey Avenue in Chicago in the nineteen forties and the early fifties.

Elmer & Martha Kubitz, 1947 _A

Elmer’s wife, Martha, had a small toy and candy store in the adjacent, connected space to the repair shop. The picture is a rare family photo (circa 1948 – the year my dad was transferred to California) of the two of them at Elmer’s front counter. In the background is a small selection of boxed vacuum tubes. A large shop would have had a much bigger stock/selection. Their joint radio/candy enterprise barely paid the bills for them, and I recall that they lived in rather dark surroundings behind the curtains visible in Elmer’s storefront, here. Theirs was a “mom and pop” business venture if ever there was one! I am very sad that we have so few pictures of my grandparents.

My father got his feet wet in radio as a young man by dropping by to help his dad in the shop on occasion. My dad was particularly good at restringing troublesome “dial cords” which connected the radio’s guts with the station tuning dial. In 1942, Dad left Schwinn bicycles and went to work in the Radio Lab at United Air Lines. A heart murmur kept him out of wartime service, but he completed an extensive radio course at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1944.

Dad's IIT Radio Diploma

I still have several of his early radio textbooks – one with a gift inscription from his young wife, my mother:

“To the finest husband in the world, and may he reach every goal he strives for.”

                         “Alice”