Albert Hofmann Dies

Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist that discovered the hallucinogenic properties of LSD, died at his home in Basel on Tuesday. He was 102.

Hofmann didn’t start out looking for a way to alter his consciousness. He was researching “medically useful ergot alkaloid derivatives” (ergot is a fungus that infects grains; some think that the Salem Witch Trials were caused, in part, by an ergot infection of the colonists’ grain stores). When conducting one experiment in particular, he accidentally spilled a tiny amount of the chemical lysergic acid diethylamide on his hand. He reported that he “became dizzy and was forced to stop work”. He then went home and was “affected by a ‘remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness’. He got into bed and “sank into a not unpleasant ‘intoxicated like condition’ which was characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination”. He stated that he was in “a dreamlike state, and with his eyes closed he could see uninterrupted streams of ‘fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors’. The condition lasted about two hours after which it faded away.”

Hofmann believed that LSD was useful in analysis of how the mind works, and hoped that it could be used to recognize and treat illnesses like schizophrenia. Over the years, he defended his “wonder drug” and “problem child” after it was banned in the 1960s.

RIP, Albert!

A Serious Sports Question

Most men love sports, and over the years an intricate set of rules have developed surrounding “fandom”. For example, if you are a fan of your hometown NFL team, and that team moves to a different city, you are free to choose any other NFL team to pull for, as long as that choice doesn’t violate any of the other rules. If you are a fan of a particular college team, and one of that team’s heroes is drafted by an NFL team, you are free to start liking that NFL team, too.

One of the worst “violations” of the “Man Rules, Sports Division” is “bandwagoning”, which is to start liking a team as soon as they start playing really well. If your hometown NFL team has played poorly for years, then starts getting really good, you’ll see the stands fill up with “fairweather fans” who have “jumped on the bandwagon”. This, in itself, isn’t so bad. However, most of those people will stop liking a team the instant they start playing poorly again, and that’s why “bandwagoning” is so bad.

A question though:

What’s the statute of limitations on bandwagoning?

When I was a kid, I liked two NFL teams about equally: the hometown Atlanta Falcons and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I honestly don’t remember when or why I started liking the Steelers. My folks tell me I started liking them when I was 4 years old, so you can understand why I don’t remember any of this. But my first memories of the Steelers aren’t of them winning big games, but of the individuals that made up the team. I thought that Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, “Mean Joe” Greene, Jack Lambert, L.C. Greenwood, Jack Ham, Rocky Blier, Mel Blount, Dwight White, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth were giants among men. This was the first team that I actually “got into”, the first team I actually spent time learning who all the players were, what positions they played, and actually paying attention to the team’s schedule.

As I said, I liked the Falcons and the Steelers about equally… until January 1983, when the Falcons fired Leeman Bennett, one of their most successful coaches ever. This earned the team the unending hatred of my father, who (I believe) is still pissed off about the whole thing. At any rate, the Falcons broke his heart, and he stopped pulling for them. And me, being a little kid who saw his father as the ultimate authority in sports knowledge, stopped liking them too. Which left only the Steelers.

So… I guess you could say that I am a “bandwagon” Steelers fan… although I jumped on that bandwagon 38 years ago. I was there during the 1980s, and I suffered through the Kordell Stewart years just like people born in Pittsburgh. So am I still a “bandwagoner”? Or am I just a “fan” now?

Good Lord! (Kristen Bell)

From today’s Page Six:

April 29, 2008 — WHICHEVER lucky guy ends up marrying Kristen Bell, the luscious blonde from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” he’s in for a treat after the ceremony. Bell tells next month’s Vegas magazine she’s kept her Catholic high school uniform for the past decade with a grand purpose. “I tucked that away when I was 18,” she says. “I’m going to wear it on my wedding night.” Maybe Dax Shepard, who she’s rumored to be dating, should take note.

Thanks, Kristen Bell! You owe me a new keyboard!

REVIEW: “Hard Candy”

Madonna - Hard CandyHard Candy is Madonna’s 11th studio album. Will it be an instant classic (like Ray of Light or Confessions on a Dancefloor) or will it be an instant bomb (like American Life)?

Honestly, in this “true blue” fan’s opinion, it falls somewhere in between. I like much of the music, but Madonna’s lyrics (never that great to begin with) could really use some work. What made Ray of Light so great was that we got a peek behind Madonna’s veil; the lyrics were heartfelt and real. This honesty continued on Music, but had largely disappeared by American Life, where Madonna tried (and failed) to skewer George Bush, Hollywood, and other aspects of “American life”. by Confessions, she’d mostly gone back to doing straight pop music, which was a relief. Which sounds hypocritical, I know. On the one hand, I want her to stay away from political messages and other “deep” topics, yet on the other hand I criticize her for writing “silly” pop tunes. But it’s deeper than just that. Sure, Madonna isn’t known for being a deep thinker, and her songs work better when she shies away from such things. But that doesn’t mean that she has to rehash the same lyrics again and again. Check out these lines from the new album’s opening track, “Candy Shop”:

All the suckers are not all we sell in the store
Chocolate kisses so good
You’ll be beggin’ for more
Don’t pretend you’re not hungry
I’ve got plenty to eat
Come on in to my store
‘Cos my sugar is sweet!

Hmmmm. Fine, I suppose, but not much different than anything else she’s written over the years.

You’ve probably heard the next track on the album – “4 Minutes” – so I won’t waste a lot of time on it. Suffice it to say that although I don’t dislike the song, I’d probably like it better if it was someone else singing it, not Madonna. Is that weird? Does that many any sense? I will say one thing: I hate it when the artist of a song is mentioned in the lyrics (which is one of the many reasons I hate rap music). I don’t know why… it just gets on my nerves.

“Give It 2 Me”, the third track on the album, is one I actually like a lot. It loses much of the Timberlake \ Timbaland \ Pharrell Williams \ Kanye West influence and sounds more like something Stuart Price would have done.

“Heartbeat”, the fourth song on the disc, sounds suspiciously like something Nelly Furtado would do… and, let’s be honest here, Furtado would have done it better.

The fifth track – “Miles Away” – is a bit more downtempo than the others on the album so far. Although it has a nice beat, the somewhat spartan music – mostly an acoustic guitar, with some synths thrown in for good measure – the song just seems slower than the other tunes on the disc. It’s also an interesting tune in that it seems written directly to Madge’s husband, Guy Ritchie. Many of the songs so far contain a few hints of trouble in the Ritchie marriage… but this one seems aimed directly at Guy:

I just woke up from a fuzzy dream
You’d never would believe those things that I had seen
I looked in the mirror and I saw your face
You looked right through me, you were miles away…

As if that weren’t enough, the next track – “She’s Not Me” – is directly written to a man that’s having an affair on Madonna:

She started dyeing her hair and
Wearing the same perfume as me
She started reading my books
And stealing my looks and lingerie

I just want to be there when you discover
You wake up in the morning next to your new lover
She might cook you breakfast and love you in the shower
The thrill is momentary, cause she don’t have what’s ours

She’s not me
She doesn’t have my name
She’ll never have what I have
It won’t be the same
It won’t be the same

Wow. Bitter much? The song’s pretty good (I’m not a fan of the “love you in the shower” line).

The next song, “Incredible”, also sounds like something Nelly Furtado would put out, but it works much better than “Heartbeat”. It’s an infectious tune, one of those songs you crank up on the car stereo but carefully turn all the way down when you cell phone rings. You just can’t help but get the song in your head for hours at a time… and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“Beat Goes On” is the 8th song on the album. It’s got a nice, “bouncy” bass line… but is sounds too familiar. For reasons I cannot fully explain, it almost sounds like an updated outtake from Erotica or Bedtime Stories. It’s pretty decent, but is ruined for me by the background vocals.

“Dance 2night” is a nice (if forgettable) throwaway pop tune. It really reminds me of a 70s disco\R&B tune – especially the bass line, which actually kicks ass. It’s like Chic came back to life for one song!

The 10th song on the disc – “Spanish Lesson” – couldn’t be a bigger Furtado rip-off if it tried, with hip-hop influenced percussion over “Spanish style” acoustic guitars. It’s not… bad, but I’ll probably skip this tune when I listen to this album in the future.

The 11th song – “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You” is the album’s “hidden gem”. It’s slow and introspective, with a nice melody, accentuated by piano\synths. It’s a really nice track, so it’s sad to see it burned so far near the end of the disc. If I were in charge of the track list for this album, I’d move it to just after “Miles Away”. Seriously, listen to this song.

The final track on the album “Voices” might as well be a B-side. It’s decent enough, but not good enough to write more about here.

All in all, it’s a better album than I had feared it would be. Any time I see the words “Madonna” and “urban” in the same sentence, it’s usually a sign of awfulness. It’s also a bad sign when Madonna “hooks up” with the “latest and greatest” producer (like Timbaland, in this case). Notice that the best Madonna albums happen when Madge picks a DJ or producer out of relative obscurity (like Stuart Price for Confessions or William Orbit for Ray of Light). She should always stick to her won instincts, rather than do “what’s cool at the moment”…. which I guess is my main complaint with this album.

It seems to me that Hard Candy is Madonna’s blatant attempt to “black up” herself in order to win back a US audience. Confessions was a huge hit in almost every country but the U.S., so I guess Madonna thinks that getting Kanye West to sing backup will help her gain fans here. And I suppose she’s smart to think that. The album is actually pretty decent (even if I’m not especially excited about it as I was for her past few albums). Just like a loyal puppy, I’ll stick with her through this “phase”, and I’m guessing most of her hard core American fans will, too. So she can essentially release this album “risk free”. But that doesn’t mean that I have to like that she’s hanging out with Justin Timberlake and Kanye West.

30 Rock: “Succession”

OMG – is 30 Rock the funniest show on TV or what? This is one show that I have to watch on the DVR, because the laughs come so quickly that I have to pause the TV, else I’ll miss a later joke because I’m still laughing about something that was said 30 seconds ago. I swear, this show might actually be harmful to your health. I do believe that I will one day literally bust a gut laughing at this show. Any why not? This episode had everything.

If you’ve never seen the show (and if so, why the hell not?), the plot is simple: Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) is the head writer\producer of a sketch comedy television show called The Girly Show , which features her friend Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski). Early in the series, Lemon gets a new boss, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), who decides to “spice up the show” by bringing “outrageous” black comedian Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan)  onto the show, which is then known simply as TGS. The show is mainly about Liz Lemon and how she deals with her boss (since NBC is owned by GE, Jack’s official job title is “Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming”), her prima donna best friend (Maroney), a prima donna new member of the cast (Jordan), her staff of nutty writers, a sweet but naive NBC page (Kenneth Parcell, played by Jack McBrayer)… and oh yes, she’s trying to live her life and get a man in the middle of all this too.

Fey is, of course, the star of the show. Liz Lemon is desperate, nerdy, and aloof. Although I know full well that “Liz Lemon” is a fictional character, I think there’s a lot of Tina Fey in ol’ Liz. But Fey’s stardom is occasionally eclipsed by Baldwin, who has some of the best timing I’ve ever seen.

30 Rock - Tina Slap

The most recent episode of 30 Rock – “Succession” – was one of the funniest things I’ve even seen on TV. Not only did the show have a running spoof of the film Amadeus (featuring the return of “Dr. Spaceman”, pronounced Spah-CHE-men), there was a lot of slapping, talk about diabetes, and even a discussion about Uncanny Valley:

30 Rock - Uncanny Valley

And that’s just the plot! Here’s a  list of just some of the jokes from this episode:

“You look like Gene Simmons had sex with a basset hound!” – Liz, to Frank (pictures above)

“Hugging is soooo… ethnic.” – Jack

“Don Geiss has stacked the board with the most reliable collection of cronies and ‘yes men’ this side of an Al Franken book signing.” – Jack

“I’d have my assistant sit on his naughty stool if he didn’t like it so much.” – Jack, after his assistant didn’t tell him his boss was in the office.

“Everyone knows the only thing we should be ashamed of is our bodies.” – Kenneth

“Eureka! … We should call Eureka, she always has great ideas.” – Tracy

“I’ll give you Kenneth!” – Liz, to Devon after giving away sensitive information about Jack.

“Devon … once they cast Clay Aiken in Spamalot, I knew it was just a matter of time before you showed up.” – Jack

“You’ve got the charm and spark of a young Leona Helmsley.” Geiss, to Liz.

“To get through it, I pretended he was a sandwich.” – Liz, about how she got through kissing Banks.

“My genius has come alive, like toys when you turn your back!.” – Tracy

“Suck it monkeys! I’m going corporate!” – Liz

“Well, it’s business drunk. It’s like rich drunk, either way it’s legal to drive.” – Jack

“Is it 411 or 911? I can never remember… [dials 411 on the phone] New York… Uhhhhh… ‘diabetes repair’, I guess?” – Dr. Spaceman

There are tons of visual throwaway jokes, too. When Tracy wistfully talks about leaving a legacy for his children, he reaches behind a giant picture of himself to pick up a picture of his kids. Then there’s the fact that Frank had a chart visually describing “Uncanny Valley” when Tracy asked him about it. And then there’s the Amadeus spoof:

30 Rock Amadeus

Really, folks… 30 Rock is the funniest show on TV right now!  You can watch it on Thursdays at 9:30 on NBC… or you can watch it (for free) at right now!

Fun With: Airport Codes

If you’ve spent any time at all traveling, you’re probably familiar with three-letter “airport codes”. If you’ve ever been on a frequent-flyer message board, you know that airport codes are tossed around like so much jargon by road warriors. And if you’ve thought about it, you might have wondered why some airport codes are obvious – like CLT for Charlotte, NC or ATL for Atlanta, GA – while others don’t seem to make any sense at all. MCO for Orlando, FL? MSY for New Orleans? Why are some codes simple and others mysterious?

Well, it all has to do with history. These “oddball codes” generally fit into four categories:

Laziness: Before there were commercial airports, the National Weather Service (NWS) used a two-letter code for most US cities. By the 1930s, commercial aviation began to take off, and some bureaucrat noticed the need for airport codes in cities that didn’t already have an NWS weather station. So a three-letter airport code system was adopted, and many cities simply took their existing NWS code and put an X at the end… thus, Los Angeles is LAX, Portland, Oregon is PDX, and Phoenix, Arizona is PHX, and so on.

Changing names: Most of the “oddball” airport codes fall into this category. The airport at New Orleans, Louisiana, now known as “Louis Armstrong International Airport”, was called the “Moisant Stock Yards” for years, hence the MSY code. Another Louisiana example is Alexandra, where the airport is known as ESF, for Esler Field. Orlando International Airport stands on what used to be McCoy Air Force Base, hence MCO. The airport in Columbus, Ohio was known as Columbus Municipal Hangar, so CMH. And Chicago’s O’Hare airport changed names from Orchard Field (hence ORD) to O’Hare to commemorate a Chicago-born WWII flying ace.

Other codes got in the way: As a general rule, most TV and radio stations east of the Mississippi River begin their call signs with the letter W, while most cities west of the Mississippi use the letter K. What you might not know is that the U.S. Navy claimed all the “N” codes, Canada uses all the “Y” codes, “Q” was once used exclusively for international communication, and the FAA itself reserved “Z” for “special uses”. This means that W, K, N, Q, and Z were off limits as first letters for airport codes, and airports that wanted to use those letters had to think of something else. Norfolk, Virginia, for example, couldn’t begin their code with “N”, so the folks there dropped the “N” entirely to get ORF. Newark, New Jersey had to make do with EWR, while Wilmington, North Carolina came up with ILM. Newport News, Virginia skated around the issue by using a code named after the airport – Patrick Henry Field (PHF).

A combination of the above: Because Washington, DC couldn’t begin any airport codes with a “W”, they chose to use DCA for Washington National Airport. However, when Dulles Airport came along, it was initially given the code DIA (Dulles International Airport). But this was a nightmare for baggage handlers, since DCA and DIA are so similar, especially since luggage tags were handwritten at the time. So DIA became IAD, which is almost impossible to confuse with DCA.

Airport names come and go, but their codes are rarely changed. This is because travel industry folks become used to using a code, and because reprogramming every computer with a new airport code would be a giant pain. New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport is one of the few to have changed both names and codes. It was originally known as Idlewild Airport (IDL), but when the airport was renamed for the slain president, the airport code became JFK. The three-letter code system is so pressed for codes that IDL was retired and eventually reused: IDL is now the airport at Indianola, Mississippi.

The “Life On Ashes” Universe

WARNING: This article contains open spoilers about the British TV shows Life On Mars and Ashes to Ashes.

So… a couple of weeks have passed since the Ashes to Ashes finale, and, as promised, I’m writing a couple of in-depth articles about that show, as well as its predecessor, Life On Mars. In the first article, I’ll discuss the main storylines of the shows, as well as the “real world consequences” of the storylines. And in the second article, I will discuss specific issues about both series, including the most obvious question: Is Gene Hunt God?

Life On Mars is the story of Sam Tyler, a Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) in the Manchester (England) Police in the year 2006. Sam has been chasing a thug named Colin Raimes for years, a man Sam knows to be a killer. Sadly, proof slips between his fingers on legal technicalities time and again. It seems that Raimes is coated in teflon.

One day, shortly after the suspect is released yet again, Sam’s girlfriend, Maya Roy (who is also a cop), gets a tip about the killer and leaves the station in a hurry. Soon, she calls Sam back to say that the tip might have been a trap, and it appears that she is being kidnapped. Sam leaves the office in a panic and begins driving wildly around Manchester looking for her. When it becomes obvious to Sam that he has no idea where Maya might be, his adrenaline glands calm down, and he pulls to the side of the road to think. But he doesn’t have much time to think: mere seconds after getting out of his car, he’s hit by another and left unconscious in the middle of the road.

Sam wakes up after what appears to be a few seconds. He’s still in Manchester. He’s still a cop. Only it’s now 1973. He’s dressed in the fashion of the time. His car has transformed from a Jeep Cherokee to a 1970-something Ford. The freeway he had parked near in 2006 doesn’t exist yet, so he’s in the middle of an abandoned lot. And the David Bowie song “Life On Mars” is still playing on his car stereo (although in 2006 the song was playing on an iPod and in 1973 it’s coming off an 8-track tape).

Continue reading “The “Life On Ashes” Universe”

Time Warner: Navigator sucks!

Check out my updated review of Navigator here!

Recently, my Time Warner cable DVR was “upgraded” from Passport to “Navigator”, Time Warner’s in-house DVR application. Can I just say one thing? It sucks.

Unlike many others, I actually like the newer, high-res menus, although I can see where the “blue on blue” might be off-putting for some:

Time Warner Cable\'s \

Sadly, “better graphics” is about the only nice thing I can say about the Navigator software. Oh, there are a few nice touches here and there – you can now sort your recorded programs by name as well as date, and if you initiate playback of a program that had been stopped previously (if I, for example, watched the first 10 minutes of The Office, then clicked “play” to watch it in full a few days later), you can now press SEL + Restart to begin playback from the beginning (on Passport, you had to select “Save” or “Delete” and then go back to the main menu and press SEL + “Restart playback from beginning”).

Although the new software looks much better and has a few nice upgrades, it fails miserably as a DVR. On Friday night, the DVR was set to record The Soup and Battlestar Galactica at the same time (10pm). Although I was there, sitting in front of the TV, I got up to help Lisa with some aspect of the home improvement stuff, then decided to have a smoke. “No problem”, I figured… “I’ll just wait 10-15 minutes into the show, so I can watch it ‘live’ but skip the commerials”. But no – the DVR didn’t record the episode… at all! Man, I was pissed! So I went into the guide and told it to manually record the 12:30am replay of the episode… and when I checked the settings, the DVR wanted to record the 5:00am repeat of an episode from season 2 – and there was no trace 12:30 episode I had just then set to manually record! I manually deleted the 5:00am episode, then told it to record the 12:30 episode again! (to Navigator’s credit, It did end up recording the episode).

Then there’s the issue of “New” programs. I have most of my series set up to record only “new” episodes of most series. A show like The Tudors broadcasts several times a week on the several Showtime channels, so recording only the first episode of the week saves a lot of hassle and disk space. Between local syndication, TBS, TNT and Cartoon Network, shows like Family Guy and The Simpsons come on several times a day, and deleting unwanted episodes is a chore. The Navigator software has an annoying tendency to mark every episode of these shows as new, so it ends up recording episodes you don’t want. But what’s even more annoying is that you can scan the “Scheduled Recordings” menu and fine no trace of these shows! If I were to press the “Scheduled Recordings” button right now (Monday afternoon), I’d see nothing but stuff I actually want to see – tonight’s new episode of Bones (which I actually haven’t watched in a year – I don’t know why I even have it on the DVR anymore), Tuesday night’s new episodes of The Riches and Hell’s Kitchen, then nothing on Wednesday, then a busy Thursday of My Name is Earl, 30 Rock, The Office, and Lost. There will be no trace of The Tudors in the “Scheduled Recordings” menu. Yet, somehow, tomorrow morning, there will be a “new” episode recorded on the DVR. That’s simply unacceptable.

Also, as previously reported, missing from the search feature is “keyword search”. With Passport, you could search the program guide for KATE WINSLET or LONDON or TAR HEELS or any phrase you fancied. Passport would return not only movies with Kate Winslet, but also appearances on Leno or Letterman, or Inside the Actor’s Studio. You can’t do that any more. You can only search by the name of the show. Which bites, especially since the “keyboard search” doesn’t seem to work half the time. I typed in “Deadliest Catch” the other day… and there was no trace of the show in the program list… even though I had just seen it in the guide. Nice work, Time Warner!

Navigator also has a nice feature where you can opt to have your Favorite Channels listed in the guide at the beginning of the list, or the traditional “embedded within other channels” way. The problem is that Navigator moves the Favorites to the beginning of the program guide – it doesn’t copy them. Which doesn’t work well with the music channels. If I tune in to the Alternative channel (514), then I can’t simply press the down arrow to get to the Retro-Active channel (515). This is because channel 515 has been listed at a favorite, and is now near the beginning of the guide. So the only way you can navigate to 515 is to open the guide and press the PAGE UP button all the way to the beginning of the guide (which can cause Navigator to crash) or enter the channel numbers manually: 5+1+5+SEL. What a pain!

Lastly (for now), the FF and REW buttons are… odd. If you rewind a recording, it rewinds but then skips ahead a few seconds. Passport did this too, but did it well. Navigator, on the other hand, seems to wait a variable amount of time to skip ahead after rewinding, so it’s almost impossible to get to exactly the point where the show is coming back from commercial. After futzing with it for the past few days, I usually just watch the last 8 seconds of the commercial and stew about how crappy Navigator is.

I could go on, but I won’t. I’ll just say that I long for the days of Passport. It didn’t have a lot of fancy features, but it was rock-solid at being a basic DVR. I know I seem to be the minority when I say that, but for me it’s been true. Sure, the SA8300HD could act up sometimes, but it was, for me, a pretty solid machine. I guess my local TWC head-end is just well run, ‘cos I really hadn’t had that much trouble with Passport. Navigator has crashed three times on me so far, and that’s 2 more times than Passport crashed on me all of last year. Scrolling quickly through many menu can crash Naviagtor, and rebooting the box will take up to six minutes! (No, that is not a misprint). Word is that TWC is testing some brand new Samsung DVR boxes to appear to work much better with the Navigator software. Let’s keep our fingers crossed, ‘cos the current situation sucks!

In the interest of fairness, I’d like to add a tip and dispell some myths about the Navigator software:

– To get into the “configuration screens”, press the SEL key on the remote until the “Mail” LED lights up on the front of the cable box. Then press the DOWN arrow. You will see at least 28 configuration pages – you can’t edit any of these pages, but you can get important information like the version of the software you are using, the hardware in your box, and how much free RAM\disk space you have.

– When Navigator debuted, many complained that TWC had “killed” the 15-minute skip feature that Passport had. This rumor was either not true, the feature was not documented, or perhaps it was added to the software later on, because you can easily skip in 15 minute increments by pressing and HOLDING the REW\FF keys on the remote.

– Passport had the option to change the screen resolution (Normal, Zoom, Stretch) by pressing the VIDEO SOURCE button on the remote; you could also press the pound key (#) to do the same. Navigator has killed the VIDEO SOURCE button, but you can change the resolution in Navigator by pressing the # key.

STUFF I MISS: Famous Amos Cookies

Wally Amos was born in Tallahassee, Florida on July 1st, 1936. He moved to Manhattan with his aunt when he was twelve, and he then enrolled at the Food Trades Vocational High School. Amos had always been interested in cooking, and it was from his aunt that he would get his recipe for chocolate chip cookies. He would improve on the recipe in the following years, as he dropped out of high school to join the Air Force, eventually got his GED and went to college to become a secretary. After graduation, he was hired by the William Morris Agency, rising from his clerical position to become the agency’s first black agent. His gimmick was to bake up a batch of his delicious cookies and send them to celebrities with his business card and an invitation to come in to his office. The cookies worked… Diana Ross and The Supremes were just one of his many clients.

Over the years, many celebrities told Wally that he made the best cookies in the world. Many also suggested that he open up his own cookie store. In 1975, Wally did just that, and Famous Amos Cookies were born:


The cookies originally came in the above tin, but would soon work their way into the deli sections of many grocery stores in white paper bags. I remember that a 5oz. bag cost $2.99 or $3.99 (outrageously expensive for a bag of cookies in the early 80s). Who cared though? The cookies were sublime. They had bits of chocolate that always seemed unbelievably sweet, gooey and fresh. They had “just enough” pecans to make them interesting, but not enough to overwhelm the chocolate. The batter itself was unbelievably buttery and brown sugar sweet. Hmmmmmm… “the sharp, almost malty ‘tang’ of molasses…” Mmmmmmmmmm… Where was I? Oh yes, the cookies. They probably had 500 calories each, but they were so good that you didn’t care!

Sadly, “real” Famous Amos cookies lasted only a few years. Financial troubles caused Wally to sell the company in 1985, and four different companies owned the brand for the next few years. During this time, the quality of the cookies varied widely, from close facsimiles of the original to lifeless cookies that wouldn’t give Chips Ahoy a run for the money… and then back to the original formula, then again back to some cheap basic “cookie”. In 1992, President Baking bought the brand, and Keebler Foods then purchased President in 1998. Keebler was then bought out by Kellogg in 2001. By this point, Famous Amos was just a “brand” that has no resemblance to the divine original cookies. It’s sad. You’d think that Kellogg might want to go back to the original (heavenly) recipe and have both “cheap” and “upscale” cookies with one brand. But alas, that hasn’t happened yet…

But we can always dream!