Mixed Media

The 2,000-Year History of GPS Tracking

| Tue Apr. 15, 2014 3:00 AM PDT
Egyptian geographer Claudius Ptolemy and Hiawatha Bray's "You Are Here"

Boston Globe technology writer Hiawatha Bray recalls the moment that inspired him to write his new book, You Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves. "I got a phone around 2003 or so," he says. "And when you turned the phone on—it was a Verizon dumb phone, it wasn't anything fancy—it said 'GPS'. And I said, 'GPS? There's GPS in my phone?'" He asked around and discovered that yes, there was GPS in his phone, due to a 1994 FCC ruling. At the time, cellphone usage was increasing rapidly, but 911 and other emergency responders could only accurately track the location of land line callers. So the FCC decided that cellphone providers like Verizon must be able to give emergency responders a more accurate location of cellphone users calling 911. After discovering this, "It hit me," Bray says. "We were about to enter a world in which…everybody had a cellphone, and that would also mean that we would know where everybody was. Somebody ought to write about that!"

So he began researching transformative events that lead to our new ability to navigate (almost) anywhere. In addition, he discovered the military-led GPS and government-led mapping technologies that helped create new digital industries. The result of his curiosity is You Are Here, an entertaining, detailed history of how we evolved from primitive navigation tools to our current state of instant digital mapping—and, of course, governments' subsequent ability to track us. The book was finished prior to the recent disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, but Bray says gaps in navigation and communication like that are now "few and far between."

Here are 13 pivotal moments in the history of GPS tracking and digital mapping that Bray points out in You Are Here:

1st century: The Chinese begin writing about mysterious ladles made of lodestone. The ladle handles always point south when used during future-telling rituals. In the following centuries, lodestone's magnetic abilities lead to the development of the first compasses.

Image: ladle
Model of a Han Dynasty south-indicating ladle Wikimedia Commons

2nd century: Ptolemy's Geography is published and sets the standard for maps that use latitude and longitude. 

Image: Ptolemy map
Ptolemy's 2nd-century world map (redrawn in the 15th century) Wikimedia Commons

1473: Abraham Zacuto begins working on solar declination tables. They take him five years, but once finished, the tables allow sailors to determine their latitude on any ocean.

Image: declination tables
The Great Composition by Abraham Zacuto. (A 17th-century copy of the manuscript originally written by Zacuto in 1491.) Courtesy of The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary

1887: German physicist Heinrich Hertz creates electromagnetic waves, proof that electricity, magnetism, and light are related. His discovery inspires other inventors to experiment with radio and wireless transmissions. 

Image: Hertz
The Hertz resonator John Jenkins. Sparkmuseum.com

1895: Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, one of those inventors inspired by Hertz's experiment, attaches his radio transmitter antennae to the earth and sends telegraph messages miles away. Bray notes that there were many people before Marconi who had developed means of wireless communication. "Saying that Marconi invented the radio is like saying that Columbus discovered America," he writes. But sending messages over long distances was Marconi's great breakthrough.

Image: Marconi
Inventor Guglielmo Marconi in 1901, operating an apparatus similar to the one he used to transmit the first wireless signal across Atlantic Wikimedia Commons

1958: Approximately six months after the Soviets launched Sputnik, Frank McLure, the research director at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, calls physicists William Guier and George Weiffenbach into his office. Guier and Weiffenbach used radio receivers to listen to Sputnik's consistent electronic beeping and calculate the Soviet satellite's location; McLure wants to know if the process could work in reverse, allowing a satellite to location their position on earth. The foundation for GPS tracking is born.

​1969: A pair of Bell Labs scientists named William Boyle and George Smith create a silicon chip that records light and coverts it into digital data. It is called a charge-coupled device, or CCD, and serves as the basis for digital photography used in spy and mapping satellites.

1976: The top-secret, school-bus-size KH-11 satellite is launched. It uses Boyle and Smith's CCD technology to take the first digital spy photographs. Prior to this digital technology, actual film was used for making spy photographs. It was a risky and dangerous venture for pilots like Francis Gary Powers, who was shot down while flying a U-2 spy plane and taking film photographs over the Soviet Union in 1960.

Image: KH-11 image
KH-11 satellite photo showing construction of a Kiev-class aircraft carrier Wikimedia Commons

1983: Korean Air Lines flight 007 is shot down after leaving Anchorage, Alaska, and veering into Soviet airspace. All 269 passengers are killed, including Georgia Democratic Rep. Larry McDonald. Two weeks after the attack, President Ronald Reagan directs the military's GPS technology to be made available for civilian use so that similar tragedies would not be repeated. Bray notes, however, that GPS technology had always been intended to be made public eventually. Here's Reagan's address to the nation following the attack: 

1989: The US Census Bureau releases (PDF) TIGER (Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing) into the public domain. The digital map data allows any individual or company to create virtual maps. 

1994: The FCC declares that wireless carriers must find ways for emergency services to locate mobile 911 callers. Cellphone companies choose to use their cellphone towers to comply. However, entrepreneurs begin to see the potential for GPS-integrated phones, as well. Bray highlights SnapTrack, a company that figures out early on how to squeeze GPS systems into phones—and is purchased by Qualcomm in 2000 for $1 billion.

1996: GeoSystems launches an internet-based mapping service called MapQuest, which uses the Census Bureau's public-domain mapping data. It attracts hundreds of thousands of users and is purchased by AOL four years later for $1.1 billion.

2004: Google buys Australian mapping startup Where 2 Technologies and American satellite photography company Keyhole for undisclosed amounts. The next year, they launch Google Maps, which is now the most-used mobile app in the world.

2012: The Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Jones (PDF) restricts police usage of GPS to track suspected criminals. Bray tells the story of Antoine Jones, who was convicted of dealing cocaine after police placed a GPS device on his wife's Jeep to track his movements. The court's decision in his case is unanimous: The GPS device had been placed without a valid search warrant. Despite the unanimous decision, just five justices signed off on the majority opinion. Others wanted further privacy protections in such cases—a mixed decision that leaves future battles for privacy open to interpretation.

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Pop on Steroids and Blistering Punk in EMA's and Screaming Females' New Releases

| Mon Apr. 14, 2014 3:00 AM PDT
Screaming Females
Screaming Females Don Giovanni Records

EMA
The Future's Void
Matador

Screaming Females
Live at the Hideout
Don Giovanni

In pop music, there's plain old noise, which can be plenty of fun, and then there's smart noise, which can be even more fun. On The Future\'s Void, her stunning sequel to Past Life Martyred Saints, EMA (Erika M. Anderson) unleashes a thrilling sonic firestorm that defies simple categories. Think Kate Bush's luminous chamber pop on steroids, turned inside-out by a healthy dose of punk aggression and filtered through damaged electronic effects. Howling, snarling and sometimes singing, the South Dakota-bred Anderson rails against cultural norms ("So Blonde"), takes a cue from cyber-prophet William Gibson ("Neuromancer") and embraces the bizarre ("Cthulu"), with consistently riveting results.

Staking out more familiar turf, Screaming Females' blazing Live at the Hideout finds fleet-fingered guitar goddess Marissa Paternoster, the New Jersey band's only female member, in stellar form at a Chicago club. Screaming Females' furious attack suggests an old-fashioned power trio tempered by a less heavyhanded indie-rock sensibility, often recalling the late, great Sleater-Kinney. As a singer, Paternoster shouts with engaging flair, but when she rips off a series of blistering licks—check out "It All Means Nothing" or "Baby Jesus"—she's flat-out amazing.

Exclusive Video: Kithkin's Soundtrack for the Apocalypse:

| Mon Apr. 14, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

Civilization as we know it is going to collapse—someday at least. Judging by what climate scientists are saying—or what some are gleaning from the buffalo running around Yellowstone—it could be a lot sooner than we’d like.

The band Kithkin, hailing from the frigid (and fictitious), tree-worshiping Northwestern nation of Cascadia (consisting of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia), plans to make the most of it by offering audiences the chance to go down dancing.

With their aptly named debut album, Rituals, Trances & Ecstasies for Humans in the Face of Collapse coming May 20, the (actually) Seattle band is hoping to highlight the role of humans in our own demise—and help us think about how we can prevent it.

Kithkin was inspired by Ishmael, a philosophical novel by Daniel Quinn that reframes civilization and its end by means of a Socratic dialogue between the narrator and a telepathic gorilla. "It talks about climate change, sustainability, resource distribution, food, and all these big, kind of hard-to-digest topics in a really engaging and streamlined way," explains Kelton Sears, one of the band's lead singers. 

by Hayley Young

Though Kithkin was founded on a mutual affinity for drums and rhythmic music shared by Sears (who also plays bass) and his fellow frontman Ian McCutcheon, Quinn's ideas shaped the band's identity and moved its members to make positive music about negative things. "It is a very apocalyptic book that's kind about how the way that humans live isn't working anymore, and that things are going to crumble," Sears says. "You don’t pay attention to because it is sort of hard to comprehend and think about."

At Seattle University, the two met up with Alex Barr (guitar) and Bob Martin (keys and theremin), and Kithkin was born. Every member plays the drums as well as their other instruments, which explains the complex layers of rhythms that give their charged lyrics an upbeat quality.

But the bandmates aren't all serious and earnest. They are self-proclaimed "fantasy nerds," and Sears says a lot of the tree-centric Cascadia imagery is just for fun. Still, Kithkin hopes to get listeners thinking. "Singing about that stuff just makes us as honest with ourselves as possible," Sears says. "You are naturally more passionate about it if it has that deeper meaning to you."

The exclusive video at the top of this post, titled "W (Upturned Moon)," is set to Kithkin's single "Altered Beast" and depicts a coven of women in a forest attacking a pile of trashed consumer goods—one metric ton of it, if you want to get specific.

"Thinking about the video, we were also interested in this idea of the witch," Sears explains. "This archetype is interesting to us, and this idea of women as agents of change, breaking all this stuff that is symbolic of all the stuff humans are doing that is contributing to the demise of civilization. And in a way, making it a celebratory thing instead of a scary thing."

Check out the video and catch the band on its first official tour this spring. Who knows when civilization will collapse? In the meantime Kithkin has created an album of great songs, laced with ideas all need to ponder. If the Apocalypse is coming, at least it won't sound that bad.

 

 

Quiz: Who's More Metal, the Cat or the Owner?

| Fri Apr. 11, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

Metal Cats, a new book that compiles photos of headbangers with their felines, made us wonder: Who's more metal, cat or owner? Take the quiz below, featuring some of the book's photos, to find out.

 

Photos from Metal Cats by Alexandra Crockett, published by powerHouse Books.

WATCH: In the United States of John Roberts, the Billionaire Minority are Opressed No Longer [Fiore Cartoon]

| Thu Apr. 10, 2014 12:59 PM PDT

 

 

 

Mark Fiore is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and animator whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and dozens of other publications. He is an active member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, and has a website featuring his work.

Stephen Colbert Is Replacing Letterman. Here Are His Best—and Worst—Political Moments

| Thu Apr. 10, 2014 11:27 AM PDT

On Thursday, CBS announced that Stephen Colbert will replace the retiring David Letterman as host of Late Show. (Mashable reported last week that Colbert was the network's top choice to take over for Letterman.) When Colbert leaves for CBS, he'll be leaving behind The Colbert Report at Comedy Central, where he has played the part of fake conservative cable-TV commentator since 2005.

We're assuming that once he starts his gig at Late Show he'll be doing less left-leaning political satire than he's used to. So here's a look back at his very best—and very worst—political moments over the past few years. And no, #CancelColbert does not make either list:

THE BEST:

1. Colbert slams the Obama administration's legal justification for killing American citizens abroad suspected of terrorism: "Trial by jury, trial by fire, rock, paper scissors, who cares? Due process just means that there is a process that you do," Colbert said in March 2012. "The current process is, apparently, first the president meets with his advisers and decides who he can kill. Then he kills them."

"Due process just means that there is a process that you do" is pretty dead-on:

 

2. The Colbert Report's incredibly moving, stereotype-smashing segment on the openly gay mayor of Vicco, Kentucky: "To get your point across, sometimes you just gotta laugh," Mayor Johnny Cummings told Mother Jones, after the segment aired. "That's how I look at it. So I thought, OK, The Colbert Report would be perfect."

"If God makes 'em born gay, then why is he against it?" a Vicco resident asks in the clip's moving final moments. "I can't understand that. I've tried and tried and tried to understand that, and I can't."

 

3. Colbert on The O'Reilly Factor: Bill O'Reilly still seems to think that Colbert, the satirist, is doing great damage to this country.

 

4. Colbert's roasting of President George W. Bush at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner:  "Now, I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32 percent approval rating," Colbert said. "But guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in 'reality.' And reality has a well-known liberal bias."

For a transcript, click here.

 

5. Colbert's surreal congressional testimony: He testified (in character) before a House hearing in 2010 on immigrant farm workers. He offered to submit video of his colonoscopy into the congressional record:

 

6. Colbert was a two-time presidential candidate who used comedy to highlight the absurdity of the post-Citizens United election landscape. Here's his recent letter to the IRS, in which he requests the opportunity to testify at a public hearing:

Stephen Colbert Comment to IRS

 

THE WORST:

1. That time he used Henry Kissinger as a dance partner: The former secretary of state and national security advisor has been accused by human rights groups and journalists of complicity in major human rights violations and war crimes around the globe: In Chile (murder and subversion of democracy), Bangladesh (genocide), East Timor (yet more genocide), Argentina, Vietnam, and Cambodia, to name a few.

So it's odd that Colbert would feature him in a lighthearted dance-party segment last August. The video (set to Daft Punk's hit "Get Lucky") also includes famous people whom no one has ever accused of war crimes, such as Matt Damon, Jeff BridgesBryan Cranston, and Hugh Laurie:

 

2. The other time he made Kissinger seem like a lovable, aging teddy bear: Kissinger was also on The Colbert Report in 2006 during the Colbert guitar "ShredDown." The following clip also features Eliot Spitzer and guitarist Peter Frampton:

 

Colbert's apparent coziness with Kissinger is even stranger when you consider how Colbert has blasted "the war crimes of Nixon," and has said that he "despair[s] that people forget those." Perhaps he forgot that "the war crimes" he spoke of were as much Kissinger's as they were President Nixon's.

Anyway, viewers can hope that when he's hosting on CBS, there will be fewer musical numbers featuring war criminals.

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Meet the Artists Behind the Giant Poster Targeting Drone Pilots

| Wed Apr. 9, 2014 2:21 PM PDT
Two weeks ago, artists unfurled this giant poster of a drone-strike survivor in a field in northwest Pakistan.

On the night of August 23, 2010, an American drone destroyed a home in Danda Darpakhel, a village in North Waziristan, Pakistan. The strike was meant to target a Haqqani network compound, but also killed Bismillah Khan, his wife, and two of their sons, aged 8 and 10 years old. The family's two young sons and daughter, whose names and ages are unknown, survived.

Now Khan's daughter's face has become part of the first-ever art installation aimed at an audience watching from the sky: American drone pilots.  Two weeks ago, artists spread out a large poster of the girl in Khyber Pakhtunkwwa, the Pakistani province that neighbors North Waziristan. The image on the sprawling poster comes from a photo (below) taken by Pakistani photographer Noor Behram a few hours after the strike on the girl's home. 

The artists call their project #NotABugSplat, a reference to "bug splat," drone-pilot lingo for kills.

A girl and her two brothers after surviving a drone strike in August 2010  Noor Behram/ Reprieve

The artist collective, which includes artists from France, Pakistan, and the United States, set up the poster with the help of the British charity Reprieve  and a Pakistani NGO, the Foundation for Fundamental Rights. They hope that the poster will make drone operators empathize with the people who live under their gaze. "We were considering whether to put words in the poster, but decided against it, since the photograph already speaks a thousand words," one of the members of the collective, who asked to remain anonymous, told Mother Jones, "Her eyes say everything."

When the artists arrived in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, they were greeted by "warm, welcoming" villagers, who helped them unfold the gigantic image. The 90-foot by 60-foot poster took an hour and a half to unfurl. At ground level it looked like a bunch of pixels. But once the villagers saw a photo of the image taken by the artists' own remote-controlled mini-drone, they were ecstatic. 

Unfolding the image #NotABugSplat
Villagers with the poster #NotABugSplat.com
The poster as seen from the artists' own drone #NotABugSplat

To get a sense of the scale of the poster, it helps to look at the road winding besides it, dotted by miniscule people who are "about the size of bugs", says one of the artists.

The strike that killed most of the girl's family also destroyed or badly damaged five other houses, killing at least nine civilians who were part of a community of Afghan refugees that had been there for two decades. The girl and her brothers were taken in by family members on the other side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

More than 100 days have passed since the last American drone strike in Pakistan. The #NotABugSplat artists hope there they won't have to make any more such posters. "But if the need is there, we will do more," says the collective.

Dear Hollywood: Please Don't Make the New "Battlestar Galactica" Movie About Drones

| Tue Apr. 8, 2014 4:07 PM PDT

Universal is planning a major film reboot of the sci-fi franchise Battlestar Galactica, according to a report in Variety. Jack Paglen (Transcendence) has reportedly signed on to write the screenplay, and original series creator Glen Larson is set to produce.

I have one modest request: Don't make it a movie about Obama's killer drones. Please. Don't do that. It's super zeitgeist-y, but please, just don't.

The rebooted Sci-Fi Channel series, which ran from 2003 to 2009, garnered much critical acclaim, in large part because it was smartly topical and political. That reboot focused on war between human civilization and the cybernetic Cylon race. The series worked as an allegory of the War on Terror, and incorporated themes of religious extremism, suicide bombing, and state-sanctioned torture. Many images called to mind the Iraq War, Nazi occupation, and the Vietnam War.

So it would only make sense if an upcoming film version of Battlestar Galactica were also deeply political. And with the Bush years in the rearview, Hollywood has frequently (almost relentlessly) turned to drone warfare as a go-to subject for big-budget political critique in the Obama era.

Here are a few examples of drones in big Hollywood fare released in the past year or so:

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which is about "civil liberties issues, drone strikes, the president's kill list, [and] preemptive technology," according to its directors.

2. RoboCop (2014), which features autonomous killer robots called "drones" that are prominently used in an American invasion and occupation of Iran ("Operation Freedom Tehran," it's called). OmniCorp, which designs and manufactures these military robots, wants to put this technology to use in law enforcement in the United States. Thus kicks off a national debate on civil liberties and so forth.

3. G.I. Joe: Retaliation, in which the democratic President of the United States is a foreign-born imposter who uses killer drones on American citizens overseas, and desires a world rid of nuclear weapons. (REMIND YOU OF ANYONE???)

4. Pacific Rim, which has drones in the form of gargantuan robots called Jaegers (the robots fight amphibious monsters called Kaiju).

5. Iron Man 3, which fits in snugly with the rest of the Iron Man franchise drone imagery.

6. Star Trek Into Darkness, which covers the ethical question of extrajudicial and targeted killing of terror suspects operating outside American borders.

(And it appears this drone warfare movie is in the works, too.)

This seems like it's on the verge of being played out. If Jack Paglen is looking for something fresher to weave into his script, maybe he can go with US special operations in Africa.

Chupacabra Spotted! News at 11! How Local News Created a Monster

| Tue Apr. 8, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

Arlen "Bubba" Parma of Ratcliffe, Texas, was minding his property last weekend when he came upon something he’d never seen before. Four-legged. Hairless. Making an otherworldly noise. Naturally, he brought it home to his wife.

"I said, 'Bubba, that looks like a baby chupacabra,'" his wife, Jackie Stock, told the local ABC affiliate.

Jackie and Bubba believed they'd stumbled upon a Latin American vampire beast that guzzles the blood of livestock. They decided to take it as a pet. The myth of the chupacabra, the ABC station reported, "has been around for decades."

On further examination, there are a lot of Bubba Parmas out there. Although the wildlife experts who invariably weigh in on alleged chupacabra sightings say there is a simple explanation—a skin disease called mange that cause quadrupeds' skin to fall off—dozens of local news outlets have reported sightings over the past three years. But this rash of reporting on chupacabras isn't just entertaining journalism—it's also bad journalism. With just a handful of exceptions, none of these news outlets ever tell it straight: The legend of the chupacabra is barely old enough to buy cigarettes. It's not mysterious. It's not a legend. It's not "decades old"—not even two.

I'm familiar with this problem because, like many Americans, I receive a daily Google News alert for the word "chupacabra." It's a wonder I ever leave the house. If there's a four-legged creature afflicted with a skin condition, chances are an Area Man and a local news crew won't be far behind. In Falfurrias, Texas, a taxidermist nearly broke down in tears when he came upon a still-fresh corpse. In Picayune, Mississippi, residents hid in their cars from a creature whose true identity they discovered after Googling "hairless coyote." A 13-year-old in Inez, Texas, dropped a suspected chupacabra with a .257 Weatherby rifle after spotting it outside his bedroom window.

The beast can apparently swim. It was spotted in Belarus, and in Ukraine, where residents claimed it killed their rabbits. Russian farmers blamed it for the slaughter of 60 sheep, prompting the government to issue a formal notice that "there are no fairytale creatures in the Lukhovitsky district." Last year, it was spotted in the savannahs of Namibia, where villagers reported a "dog-headed pig monster" terrorizing the community.

These stories would be terrific if they weren't so consistently misleading. In local news reports, chupacabra sightings are frequently presented as a handover from previous generations. "Chupacabra sightings have been rumored in North America, Mexico, and Puerto Rico for more than 50 years," an Arizona CBS affiliate explained to its viewers, after a Tucson meteorologist reported spotting one on the way to work. "The legend of 'El Chupacabra' dates back to the 1970s," reported Biloxi, Mississippi's WLOX after the sighting in Picayune. KLTV of Tyler, Texas, identified the chupacabra as "a bloodthirsty predator of Mexican lore." The Associated Press called it "folkloric legend," after another close call in Deer Creek, Oklahoma.

The real story of the chupacabra is decidedly modern. Although myths of vampire creatures are longstanding, the first known reference and eyewitness account came just 19 years ago, from a Puerto Rican woman named Madelyne Tolentino. Researcher Ben Radford laid out the details in his 2011 book, Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction and Folklore. Radford, who deserves a medal or something, tracked down Tolentino and identified the inspiration for her account—she had just seen the movie Species, which came out in 1995 and features an alien almost identical to the animal Tolentino spotted. Radford offered a $250 reward for any earlier reference to the chupacabra and is still waiting.

Every once in a while, a news outlet demonstrates its ability to procure homespun commentary from locals about hairless vampire demons without sacrificing its journalistic cred. Good Morning America, for instance, cited Radford's work in a story about a retired wildlife biologist in Lake Jackson, Texas, who had whimsically reported a chupacabra sighting to the local press only to find himself the subject of a media frenzy.

But the most common strategy is to teach the controversy. "Some people think it exists, others say it's just a mangy dog," reported KENS of San Antonio, referring to a mangy coyote spotted inside the city limits. A Phoenix ABC affiliate offered that an unidentified creature might be a vampire beast or a badger. "What do you think?" the station asked readers.

In the meantime, the flood of sightings seems to be increasing, no doubt buoyed by people who have seen local news clips about previous encounters. "I actually Google Imaged 'chupacabra' and it looks just like the other images," a San Antonio woman said last June, after spotting what local biologists insisted was a coyote with mange. "They said it was one of them chupacabras or whatever," said Matthew Harrell, the Mississippi man who bagged a creature in a place called Pigtown. "That's what I'd call it because it looks just like it." The chupacabra isn't a Puerto Rican phenomenon anymore; it's a local TV one.

The vampire dog isn't real. We're all just suckers.

Read Ronald Reagan's Letter to the Late Mickey Rooney About the Time He Rescued a Dog

| Mon Apr. 7, 2014 9:00 AM PDT

On Sunday, Hollywood actor Mickey Rooney died at the age of 93. He was with his family when he passed away at his North Hollywood home.

"He was a tremendous talent, and someone at 5-foot-tall that everybody looked up to," actor Billy Crystal said on Monday. Rooney had a long, successful career on stage and screen, one that included reigning as the top moneymaking movie star from 1939 to 1942 (his streak came to a halt when he enlisted in the Army). He starred in films such as Love Finds Andy Hardy, alongside Judy Garland, and Breakfast at Tiffany's (in which he—nowadays notoriously so—played a full-throttle Japanese caricature).

Rooney was also a friend of actor-turned-most-powerful-man-in-the-world Ronald Reagan. Below is one of President Reagan's letters to Rooney and his wife Jan, written in 1985. The president invited the couple to a White House dinner. Rooney couldn't make it, and wrote back, "Damn it! It's always when I'm working, but thank goodness that I am." Here is Reagan's reply, in which he writes about the time he and Mickey Rooney met:

Dear Jan and Mickey,

Sorry you can't make it June 12th but you have an ongoing rain check. While we'll miss you we're happy you are working 'cause that means pleasure for a lot of people.

Mickey I'll bet you don't remember the first time we met. The year was 1937 or thereabouts. I was new in Hollywood living in the Montecito apartments. Someone had run over a dog in the street outside. You came in to look for a phone book so you could find the nearest veterinarian and take the dog to him. I figured this had to be a nice guy and I was right.

Nancy sends her best and so do I.

Sincerely, Ronald Reagan

Click here to read another one of President Reagan's letters to Rooney.