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T. Buckingham Thomas: a personal website

 

JUNE 23, 2018    WAS LIFE SLOWER IN OLDEN TIMES?

Pittsburgh Pirates fans consider the finale of the 1960 World Series to be one of the greatest games ever played.  The Pirates captured the title in an all-out Game 7 struggle, using three different relief pitchers before Bill Mazeroski's walk-off home run sent the Yankees to defeat by the score of 10-9.

A couple of weeks ago, the Pirates hosted the Dodgers and won by the score of 11-9.  There seemed to be much less excitement this time.

Superficially similar though the final scores may appear, let's look deeper into the stats.  I'll define “Balls in Play” as the number of batted balls that result in hits, outs, errors, or sacrifices — the essence of baseball action.

     Date

Thursday afternoon,
October 13, 1960

Wednesday night,
June 6, 2018

     Venue

Forbes Field, Pittsburgh

PNC Park, Pittsburgh

     Attendance

36,683

14,327

~

     Total Runs / Home Runs

19

5

20

2

     Total Outs / Pitchers Used

51

9

51

14

     Outs per Pitcher

5.7

3.6

~

     Plate Appearances:

77

88

          Balls in Play

72

93.5%

56

63.6%

          Walks plus Hit By Pitch

5

 6.5%

21

23.9%

          Strikeouts

0

 0.0%

11

12.5%

~

     Time of Game

2 hr

36 min

3 hr

48 min

     Pace

  2 min 10 sec

  4 min 4 sec

 
“Pace” is Time of Game divided by the number of Balls in Play.  In the good old days, the ball was hit toward a fielder every two minutes.  Now fans hoping to see some action have to sit around almost twice as long while the guys on the field play catch, hit foul balls, and hold consultations.

Between plays, the NBA shot clock is only 24 seconds, but MLB fans must wait 244 seconds!  On average!  Often longer!

It's no wonder that attendance is down 61%.

 

JUNE 20, 2018    BUT WHY?

I often find myself watching an educational program on a cable channel like Science or Smithsonian.  The documentary could simply lecture at me.  Often, however, the script employs a more effective technique to keep my attention.  It asks me questions.

For example, consider a sequence from Unearthed.  Near his pyramid, the Pharaoh Khafre apparently ordered an existing outcropping of rock carved into a portrait of himself.

The narrator says, “Inspired by the colossal pyramids of his predecessors, Khafre seemed determined to go one better.  He not only built a huge pyramid but a giant statue that historians believe was carved with an image of his own face.

But why did the great Pharaoh Khafre decide to place his likeness on the body of a giant lion?”

See what they're doing?

The last line could be “He decided to place his likeness on the body of a giant lion, because a lion represents....”

However, instead of simply piling on another fact, the narrator first asks a question to pique my interest.  Then, after the commercial, he will reveal how experts have analyzed evidence leading up to the puzzle's solution. 

It sometimes becomes comical to hear this but-but-but technique repeated every 90 seconds or so.  “Fact.  But why?”  “Fact.  But who?”  “Fact.  But what?”

Fact.  But wouldn't you like to know more? 

 

JUNE 17, 2008 flashback   THE FAITH OF A SLAVE

Why does the church play such a central role as a political institution for blacks?  That question was asked of Melissa Harris-Lacewell, an associate professor at Princeton, in the August 2008 issue of American History magazine.  Her answer:  Black ministers, because they're among the few blacks who don't work for white bosses, are autonomous — not dependent on a broader power structure for support but accountable only to the African-American community.  Therefore they're free to speak out against conditions that they see as wrong.

But she still marvels at the fact that blacks embraced the church when they were yet slaves.  “How is it possible that African Americans who were enslaved — who were unlikely, either themselves or their children, to ever be free, who were living in a context that we almost can't even imagine — how is it that they looked around and said, against all empirical evidence, ‘Actually, God loves me’?”

Somehow, this doesn't surprise me at all.  Faith has nothing to do with empirical evidence.  On the contrary, it rejects evidence.  It flies in the face of evidence.  According to Hebrews 11:1 (NIV), faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Those who most despair of happiness in this life are those who most eagerly seize upon the dubious promise of a better life in heaven.  They have no evidence to support their hope, and it may all be a fairy tale, but they convince themselves it is true because they fervently want to believe that on the other side of Jordan is a sweet chariot coming for to carry them home.

 

JUNE 14, 2018    TWO MINUTES FOR NICKNAMING

Hockey people like to shorten each other's names.  Players like Hornqvist, Visnovsky, and Hagelin have learned to answer to “Hornie,” “Viz,” and “Hags.”

That's why whenever I hear someone mention the coach whose team won the Stanley Cup last week, my automatic reaction is to think it's a familiar reference to the Soviet commissar whom Stalin exiled.  They say “Trotz” and I think of Leon Trotsky.

 

JUNE 11, 2018    THE ICE COLOSSUS

Not like the much-loved Lady Liberty
     Whose invitation spread from land to land,
     A meaner sort now at our gates does stand
Foreshadowing a place not kind, not free.

He disavows our generosity.
     No merciful asylum's in his hand
     But stern decrees with which to countermand
Benevolent traditions. “Leave!” cries he;

“Keep, craphole countries, all your poor! They'll fail
     To find new homes in my domain. What gall!
Such wretched refuse never shall prevail
     Against my gates. My guards will seize you all!
They'll rip your kids away, throw you in jail.
     I'll have no golden door in my big wall.” 

 

JUNE 9, 2008 flashback   HOW COULD THEY MAKE THAT MISTAKE?

In Saturday's horse race at Belmont, the heavy favorite to win the Triple Crown, Big Brown, did not win.  In fact, he finished last.  Nevertheless, 16 seconds after the finish, ABC-TV graphically identified a shot of Big Brown as the winner, using the name of the horse that actually did win.

How could network television make such an obvious error?

I wasn't there; I was working a baseball telecast in Pittsburgh.  But I can deduce what happened.  I myself have been involved in similar mistakes — more of them than I care to remember.

For every horse, the graphics people had already prepared a "font" declaring him the Unofficial Winner of the 140th Belmont Stakes.  It's standard procedure to add the time of the race and insert such a font into the broadcast as soon as possible after the finish, as the winning horse and his jockey are celebrating.

As the horses galloped the final hundred yards, the graphics coordinator said something like this to his operator:  "Number 6 is going to be the winner!  Call up Da' Tara, number 6.  Got it?  He won.  Now what was the time?  Two-29-point-65!  Two-29-point-65.  Is the font ready?  Okay, FONT IS GOOD.  BLIND REVEAL."  This last phrase means that the graphic will be blind (invisible) at first, but on command it will animate onto the screen and reveal the text.

Meanwhile, as the horses galloped the final hundred yards, director Doug Holmes showed the finish.  He cut to a closeup of the winning horse Da' Tara, then to a wide shot of the field slowing down.  But the question on everybody's mind was "what happened to the favorite?"  So, quite properly, Doug cut away from the winner to a closeup of the losing horse, number 1, Big Brown.

The sequence above took only seven seconds to unfold.  Big Brown remained on the screen, unidentified, for another nine seconds.

Then, upon hearing FONT IS GOOD, the director said "Insert font.  Animate it."  And what appeared is shown at the right.

Immediately everyone screamed, "No!  Not that font!  Wrong horse!  Lose it!"  And the graphic animated off the screen after only a second and a half.

The director had assumed that FONT IS GOOD referred to the horse that was on the screen.  The graphics people had assumed that the horse on the screen would be the winner, as planned. 

There was another pitfall ahead for the ABC-TV graphics crew.  They had prepared an Official Results page to list the time of the race and the horses that finished first, second, and third, along with the results of wagers on these horses.  There were additional lines for combination bets:  exacta, trifecta, and superfecta.

Something like the chart in red almost always suffices for this purpose.

However, there was an oddity in Saturday's Belmont:  two horses (numbers 8 and 9) tied for third place.  After checking the photo finish, the judges declared a "dead heat" for third.  That's rare, but not unheard of.

Now there were not three horses "in the money" but four, and additional lines were required, like the chart in blue.

But this had not been foreseen in planning the television graphics package.  The TV crew had to omit the information highlighted in yellow.

Couldn't they insert additional lines into the Official Results graphic?  No, these things can't be redesigned on short notice.  So this was what the crew came up with, less than 14 minutes after the finish.

The SHOW line required somebody's colors, so they picked those of horse number 8.  Then there wasn't room to type the numbers "8 & 9," so they had to leave that space blank and type the information at the bottom, on the line that had been intended for the superfecta.

Unfortunately, in the confusion, they picked the wrong number from this list of split times.  The Belmont is a mile and a half, but they typed in the 1¼-mile time of 2:03.21 instead of the final time of 2:29.65.

In fast-paced live television production, it's surprising that crossed signals like this don't occur more often.

 

JUNE 6, 2018    NO PURCHASE? NO PROBLEM

use

Peace-loving folks would like to restrict who can use assault weapons — ideally, only properly-trained soldiers and SWAT teams.

possess

Second-Amendment folks prefer to talk about who can possess assault weapons — in their view, anyone.

They're afraid if their personal firearms get listed on a government register, someday the government will come and take them away.  However, legislators rarely talk about confiscating existing guns.

obtain

Instead, they debate restrictions on who can obtain assault weapons in the future.  New acquisitions, in other words.

purchase

The marketplace is the easiest choke point to control, so legislators merely debate who can purchase assault weapons.

But purchase restrictions are only partially effective.  They ignore non-monetary ways to get a weapon, such as borrowing, barter, trade, theft, inheritance, or whatever.

A bad guy doesn't have to purchase a gun in order to obtain it and possess it — and use it.

 

JUNE 4, 2018    BECAUSE THE WORLD IS ROUND

Back in the early 1960s, the girls' chorus at my the local high school sometimes brought out a smaller nine-person ensemble called the Triple Trio:  three sopranos, three second sopranos, three altos.

Also back in the 1960s, I sometimes was the organist for church weddings.  You'll be able to hear a sample in next month's edition of “My Favorite Year,” wherein I play an oldie written in 1891.

Most mid-century wedding music was very traditional.  In particular there was “I Love You Truly,” a hit from 1912.

And then there was “Because,” written in 1902.  “Because you come to me with naught save love, and hold my hand and lift mine eyes above....”

This is a television perfomance of “Because” by the wedding barber from Canonsburg, Perry Como.

Sing it, Pierino!  We have the usual strong backlight for you, but watch out for the floral shadows.

Then at the end of the 1960s, the Beatles’ Abbey Road album included a completely different “Because,” written by John Lennon.  It was the Triple Trio revisited.  Three Beatles each sang a different vocal line, then overdubbed it twice more for a total of nine apparent voices.  But they also added instruments.

Listening to it today, I find the Beatles version overproduced — at least compared to the nine voices of Sara Niemietz in this beautiful a cappella performance.

 

JUNE 1, 2018    NOWADAYS I'D BE CALLED A "RISING SENIOR"

I was a “regular and bounded” student at Oberlin College.  But as I began my summer vacation, I learned that my grade-point average had dropped slightly.  At least, though, it hadn't crashed like a seven-foot Dieffenbachia.

For the next three months I returned to automotive bookkeeping while my lab partner Jan Olson became a pediatric nurse's aide.  I had given her a Corvette (fake) and 21 roses (real) to celebrate her birthday, so it became necessary to define our platonic friendship via letters.

Click here for the latest installment recalling my life 50 years ago.

 
TBT


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