Secret history of classic TV's laugh tracks

When I watched the Brady Bunch as a youngster, there was one particular deep guffaw that always caught my attention. I knew the laughs were pre-recorded but always assumed that there was just a laugh track tape and they'd press play at the appropriate times. I liked (and still like) the faux communal experience that laugh tracks provide when watching the Bradys, Bewitched, the Beverly Hillbillies, and other great vintage sitcoms from the 1960s an early 1970s.

Turns out, that the rise of the laugh track was due to Charles Douglass (1910-2003), a Navy-trained electronics engineer/maker who went on to build a custom "Laff Box" of several dozen tape loops triggered by keys and dials. After its initial use on the Jack Benny Program, the machine, officially called the "Audience Reaction Duplicator," took the TV industry by storm. Douglass "played" the Laff Box like a proto-sampler and for years had the monopoly on TV laugh tracks. It was a process that the TV show producers and Douglass himself liked to keep secret.

It wasn't until 1992 that Douglass and his pioneering work at the intersection of media, psychology, and technology was recognized with a lifetime Emmy award for technical achievement.

For the whole story on Douglass and the Laff Box, don't miss this episode of the Decoder Ring podcast.

And here is an Antiques Roadshow segment appraising a Laff Box.

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Inventables: new material gizmos by and for inventors

Inventables, "the innovator's hardware store," sells a wide and astonishing variety of inspriring gadgets and components that make use of new materials. Examples from the front page include "Thin semi-transparent metal covering film," "Hand Moldable Plastic," "Suction Cup Tape," "Translucent Concrete," "Bendable Wood" and "Friction Damping Pouch." The materials are largely created by small-time inventors who sell through the site, a kind of Etsy for new material science hackers.

Certainly you've seen spray paint with a perfect looking chrome cap on the shelf at a store, and maybe you even bought some, only to spray it and find out it's simply silver paint. These companies use a "real" chrome process on the caps in an attempt to deceive you into thinking you have bought something that will produce that result.

Chrome Spray Paint has a high output--double that of normal aerosols. It utilizes a larger spray fan and has excellent atomization. In addition, there's no pressure drop during application. Use it to produce quality automotive coatings.

This product offers both time and labor savings, as there is no paint mixing, spray gun preparation, or clean up thinner involved. This product has less overspray cleaning and polishing time, saving additional time and material costs.


(via Super Punch)

  TED talk about cool materials for toys and other uses - Boing Boing


New 3D printing materials: clear plastic, skateboard-tough plastic ... Digital sundial: passive timekeeping through new materials - Boing ... TED talk about cool materials for toys and other uses - Boing Boing Laptop sleeve made out of recycled wetsuits - Boing Boing Highlights from the AAAS: Batteries out of Paper, Order out of ... Read the rest

Kenyan bike-mechanic's homemade tools

Here's an inspiring video of Mohammed Makokha, a master bike mechanic in Nairobi who has designed and built a bunch of custom tools for repairing bikes.

Video of home made bicycle repair tools and gadgets in Nairobi

Previously: Afrigadgets: homemade model airplane from Kenya - Boing Boing Kenyan blacksmiths make bellows from cement sacks - Boing Boing DIY gadgets in Africa: the knife-sharpening bicycle - Boing Boing Africa: small-scale generator powered by sugar and yeast (video ... Xeni on the Road in West Africa: Liberia's Blackboard Blogger ... Bicycle "handcuffs" for flexible bike-locking - Boing Boing Pedal vehicle for traversing abandoned monorailway - Boing Boing Read the rest