APRIL 20, 2018 LUDWIG'S SNEAK START
So imagine this. A huge orchestra assembles on stage to perform Beethoven's Ninth. The audience sitting behind them actually consists of a chorus and solo singers who won't be needed for another hour or so.
The musicians tune up their instruments to the concert A, or perhaps the E a fifth above. But then they fall silent, eschewing their usual warmup procedure of playing an annoying cacophony of random notes and runs.
There's an expectant hush in the auditorium, then applause as the conductor enters. He shakes hands with the concertmaster before mounting the podium. Nodding to the concertmaster to proceed with the preparations, the conductor steps back, arms folded, head bowed.
Now is when the instrumentalists warm up with their random runs. Eventually, after 20 seconds or so, things begin to quiet down again. Soon most of the musicians are just sitting there, waiting. The cellos and the second violins are still playing, but only a pianissimo tremolo of A's and E's, their bows barely moving. The trumpeters are still warming up their mouthpieces by softly playing A's and E's. Occasionally other instruments try a note or two of their own.
It's a surprise symphony! Take that, Haydn.
APRIL 17, 2018 TELEVISED BASEBA////
When my father watched baseball on television, as soon as the final out was recorded he would rise from his chair, walk over to the TV, and switch it off. The game was over. Why watch any longer? Maybe your father did the same.
In the 1990s, television executives fretted about this behavior. It hurt ratings especially for the studio show that followed the game. Therefore they imposed some new rules. Now the postgame show had to begin no more than 20 seconds after the end of the game, before viewers had a chance to switch channels.
(Other new rules: To avoid losing ratings among the younger audience, announcers couldn't talk about dead people. Babe Ruth was presumably relevant only to older viewers, about whom sponsors didn't care. Also, directors were no longer allowed to slowly dissolve artistically from one beautiful shot to the next. In the movies that indicates passage of time. It's out of place in a sports event, which is live in the moment!)
APRIL 14, 2018 TAMING THE WEST
The 1962 motion picture How the West Was Won was an epic retelling of 19th-century American history filmed with an ultra-wide-screen three-lens camera. I recently ran across it on the Sundance Channel. Compared to the last time I had encountered it on television, it looked much better. I could actually enjoy it.
Trying to show this movie on old-fashioned TV sets once required it to be severely letterboxed as in the left-hand image. You could also see the vertical creases. It was unpleasant to watch. But thanks to newer technology including digital restoration and HDTV, those problems have been overcome, as in the right-hand image.
APRIL 11, 2018 ARM AND AND DAD
One of those friends and associates might possibly have been my 48-year-old father, Vernon M. Thomas. Before the show aired, he claimed to have met the multi-millionaire. And, he jokingly predicted, I bet he mentions me.
As it turned out, there was no such mention. But that's not important right now. I know what you're wondering.
Armand eventually tired of being asked whether he was A: the maker of the baking soda, or B: a Communist. So that he could give A as the answer, he acquired an ownership share of Church & Dwight, the soda's parent company.
APRIL 8, 2018 THE BOYS OF VERY EARLY SPRING
It was still winter on March 19. Only ten days later, Major League Baseball opened its 2018 season. Brrr!
The Pittsburgh Pirates began with three scheduled games in Detroit, two of which had to be postponed until the next day because of inclement weather. They won all three of those. Then they returned to Pittsburgh for a six-game home stand, winning four. This afternoon's 5-0 victory gave the Pirates a two-game lead in the National League Central Division.
During those nine games (five at night, four in the daytime), the average temperature at first pitch was 39.7° with a wind speed of 10.8 mph. That works out to a wind chill of 32.9°. And how was the attendance? Not counting the two Opening Day crowds, only 14,274 fans on average braved the cold.
Why do the major leagues have to start in March, anyhow? In my boyhood, seasons typically began on April 15. Let's start a campaign to return Opening Day to the middle of April where it belongs!
Of course, those seasons when I was a boy were only 154 games long. Today they're 162. Could we still squeeze in 162 games between April 15 and September 30? Yes, if we brought back the old practice of scheduling doubleheaders on Sundays.
Alternatively, if games must be played during the first half of April, let's give up on the idea of staging them in northern climes. Play in California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida instead, as college teams do. We might even want to extend this idea to all of April.
Recently I wrote on a message board:
The board was discussing this article. A psychological study of college students has come to the (unsurprising) conclusion that women are better than men at interpreting non-verbal cues. Excerpts from the article:
One contributor to the board actually read the study and found it unconvincing. It ignores such signals such as gestures or voice pitch or physical proximity, merely asking its participants to evaluate photos. He notes that 37.1% of men and 31.9% of women identified certain photos and thought friendly instead of interested. When that large of a percentage in both genders is missing the cues, well, maybe there aren't any cues. The methodology is pretty tortured, too. There are so many variables that, if you did it with a whole different group of people, you'd probably arrive at a different conclusion.
My impression is that many psychological studies are similarly half-baked. They use an unrepresentative sample (easy-to-obtain college undergraduates) and simple tests (easy-to-arrange photo identification), then attempt to extrapolate the limited results into sweeping conclusions.
But regardless of the quality of the experimental data, we can always find anecdotal evidence to support the conclusion such as my contribution to the board, quoted above. Several others agreed with me. One wrote: I'll give you that Amen you're looking for, sir. I wouldn't know flirting if there was a Sprockets-esque announcement Now is the time when we flirt.
APRIL 1, 2018 NEWS AND SOUNDS
And this installment includes a bonus! Inside that article you'll find another link inviting you to listen to ten audio clips, including some natural sound for a news story about an anti-war protest. There's also a conversation with my lab partner about her bicycle.