How to Wreck a Nice Beach

More Crosstalk on the Vocoder
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Something To That Effect

Thanks, Ralph!

By Dave Tompkins at 2:26pm ET

While in Boston, I delivered a copy of How to Wreck a Nice Beach to Ralph LaRue Miller. I sang “Barnacle Bill” while he looked at old photos of himself on the vocoder conch phone.

Ralph was one of the main Bell Labs engineers behind Project X, the Indestructible Speech rig deployed by the Allies during World War II. He was the first to tell me how the X-men were using two turntables with a vocoder in a Pentagon basement in 1943.

Ralph is also the first person to understand my book title. He is 103 1/3rd years old.

In the background is Ralph’s daughter Barbara Powell, a retired CIA librarian.

I first met Ralph when he was 96, on the morning after the invasion of Iraq had begun. (I had an idea to run Cheney and Rummy through the vocoder’s artificial speech analyzer/woodchipper.) That day, Ralph informed me that crosstalk could sneak between the pulse.*

He was right.

Before I left, Ralph said, “Thanks… MAYBE!” and started cackling.

There was lots of cackling that day.**

Another bugged outing with Ralph LaRue Miller.

*This was at lunch. The waiter was under the impression that Ralph had invented the Internet.

**For instance, Hua told me that Donnie Wahlberg manned the T-shirt cannon during the Boston-Lakers series of 2008.


  1. VERY cool – and LOVIN the book! Can’t put it down since picking it up on Monday! Having worked in both the audio and music industries – the history behind the vocoder is blowing my mind! BRAVO SIR, BRAVO

    Comment by Mike Mercer — May 27, 2010 @ 2:56am
  2. that is the sweetest picture!!I Y’all confirmed his hard work.

    Comment by LOU — June 5, 2010 @ 2:52am

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