About Site



T. Buckingham Thomas: a personal website


For doing well on some math test when I was a student at Richwood High School, I was awarded the golden lapel pin you see below.  It depicts the Mathematical Association of America's iconic icosahedron (20 faces) over a nonagonal background (nine points).

Thirty miles to the southeast, a dozen Democratic Presidential hopefuls held a big debate last night.  I wasn't watching, but I understand that one candidate, Andrew Yang, had a numbers-based pin of his own.

His political numbers aren't encouraging; today's Economist poll shows him in seventh place with only two per cent support.  But his pin promotes MATH.  Mr. Yang says that's an acronym for Make America Think Harder. 


OCT. 15, 2019    WOMAN IN THE MOON

When we humans first dared to travel a quarter of a million miles away, nothing humbled us more than looking back at the small, vulnerable place from which we had come.

Of an even more distant image, Carl Sagan wrote, “That's home.  That's us.  On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.  ...There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits ... [and] our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”

But a similar image had already thrilled humans four decades earlier.  It appeared in a motion picture that opened ninety years ago today!

See my article about the woman and her friends who traveled to the moon, Frau im Mond.


OCT. 14, 2009 flashback   A BIT OF FICTION  (EDITED 2019)

Buzz the engineering student was home for the weekend.  His cousin, still in high school, invited him to the homecoming football game Friday night at Ourtown High.

“You’ll have a blast!” Cuzz enthused.  “They’ve installed all new seats in the stadium, and I can get us a spot front-row center!”

When they arrived at the field, Buzz had to admit the refurbished stadium looked good.  On both the home and visitor sides, there were twenty rows of seats between the 30-yard lines.  Buzz did a quick calculation and estimated the maximum capacity at about 3,600 fans.  It was hardly the Rose Bowl, but it was the perfect size for their high school.

Cuzz was true to his word.  He led his cousin to two seats on the home side of the field, and they were in the very front row.

“Couldn’t we see better,” Buzz asked, “if we were up higher?  How about those seats back there?”

“Nah,” Cuzz scoffed, “the upper half is the parents’ section.  Old folks sit up there.  We’re down here, right in the middle of the action!”

“Pretty close to it, anyway,” Buzz admitted.  But he had an engineer’s compulsion for precision. “Actually, we aren’t exactly in the middle.  We’re on the 44-yard line.  Those kids eight seats to our right, they’re on the 50.”

“But this is plenty good enough.  Look, you can almost lean forward and touch the players.”

It was true.  The front row was unusually close to the sideline, though five feet higher.  The wall was padded for the players’ protection, all the way up to the railing in front of the fans.  When a player stood behind the bench, Buzz and Cuzz could have kicked his helmet if not for that padded wall.

In most stadiums, the cheerleaders would have been deployed between the bench and the stands.  But there was no space for them here; the players claimed the whole sideline between the 35s.  The cheerleaders split into two groups, Left-End and Right-End.  They stood on the sideline near each 30, where the seating section ended. “They’re going to be lonely down there,” Buzz thought.

The teams took the field for the kickoff.  Ourtown High would receive and defend the goal to the left.

In Buzz's section, gates closed to block off the entrances, and he felt his seat shudder slightly.  At first he thought the fans were standing up in anticipation of the start of the game.  But no, his seat and 900 others were actually moving to the left!

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“Didn’t I tell you this was going to be great?” Cuzz replied.  “We’re dropping back to receive the kickoff!”

Buzz realized that their half of the home section was on rails, and an electric motor was trucking it to the left at two miles per hour. 

Across the way, the lower half of the visitor section was also on the move.

The kickoff was returned to the 19-yard line, and when the seats came to a stop after about half a minute, Buzz and Cuzz were sitting on the 18!  They were as close to the action as the head coach was.

Ourtown methodically moved the ball down the field, and with each play the section of seats followed along at one yard per second, always centering itself five yards beyond the ball. 

That meant that when Ourtown was on offense in the first quarter, Buzz and Cuzz found themselves just one yard behind the line of scrimmage, alongside the wideouts.  When the visitors took over and started driving from right to left, their seats were now eleven yards ahead of the line, alongside the safeties.

Ourtown got the ball back and completed a 40-yard pass play down to the 6.  The seats traveled much slower than the receiver — “They aren’t allowed to go any faster, because of safety,” Cuzz explained — but they had almost reached their new station by the time the next play was run.  The Right-End cheerleaders welcomed the fans’ arrival, then turned to cheer the Hometown touchdown.

“Wasn’t I right?” Cuzz shouted over the din.  “Aren’t these seats great?”

Buzz had to admit they were.  “Whose idea was this, anyway?”

“Oh,” said Cuzz, “I think Coach heard about it several years ago.  It was on a website page by some guy named Tom Thomas.”




Some kids threw Frisbees.  I threw a yardstick, kept aloft by the Magnus effect beneath the blooms and beans of the spreading catalpa tree.  I also photographed the trunk of the tree, viewing the photos with a stereoscope made from Tinker Toys.

All of this, plus the introduction of the new 1955 Farmall tractors, somehow made it into this month's 100 Moons article.



I've written before that unfamiliar large rooms frighten me.  Since childhood, I've been scared to look up towards a high ceiling.  In such situations, I cringe.

I seemed to fear that tilting my gaze upward would cause me to lose sight of the “horizon” (the bottom of the wall) and lose my balance.  What happened to the floor?

I've been afraid,” I wrote, “I'd fall down and go boom.  My toes curl downward in a vain attempt to grip the floor more tightly.”

Perhaps cringing is a symptom with more than one cause.  Noting that humans likewise tend to duck when we hear nearby thunder, I speculated that our species had learned “the safest response to lightning is to lie flat, hugging the ground with your hands and your toes, so that the lightning strikes not you but something taller like a nearby bush.  ...Evolution would have eliminated (by electrocution) any humans who did not react properly to a thunderstorm.  Similarly, there are few dogs left that do not fear thunder.”

However, I continue to ponder my vertiginous fear of toppling.  Now that I'm a somewhat weaker septuagenarian, I cringe even more because I perceive myself as less steady on my feet.

Yes, I am a cautious chimpanzee.  (It's more evidence that humans have evolved from apes.)

Both my feet grasp the branch more tightly.

To keep my balance, I reach out with at least one arm.  If I can't touch another branch or a wall or a piece of furniture, a cane can help.


OCT. 7, 2009 flashback   WHERE HAVE ALL THE COLORS GONE?

As an member of AAA, I recently was e-mailed a little feature claiming to describe “What Your Car Color Says About You.”

While there are a wide variety of shades, here are some basic messages each color conveys.


Empowered; not easily manipulated. Loves elegance, appreciates the classics.




Sexy, speedy, high-energy and dynamic.

Dark Blue

Credible, confident and dependable.

Light to Mid-Blue

Cool, calm, quiet.


Elegant, futuristic, cool.

I currently drive a blue sedan, and both of the “blue” descriptions fit me.  But my previous car was dark red, and I definitely am not a stereotypically aggressive red-car driver.

I’ve also owned a green car and a gold car.  Where are those hues?  And where are other possibilities, like purple and orange and yellow and brown and pink and turquoise?  Those were available when I was growing up in the Fifties.

As late as 1994, green was the most popular color.  Now, not so much.

When I look at a parking lot, such as this one in front of the Marine Terminal at LaGuardia Airport, I see shades of gray (black, white, silver) interspersed with a little red.

PPG Industries confirms my observation.  The paint company reports that silver has been the No. 1 color for nine straight years.  It now accounts for 25% of vehicle paint choices in the United States.  White and black get 18% and 16% respectively, while red is in fourth place with 12%.

Apparently most drivers have become “elegant and fastidious” and only one in eight is “speedy.”  That does not square with my actual experiences on the highway, but color choices don't lie, do they?


PPG says the proportion of cars with no hue has increased from 63% to 76%.  The favorite is now white, on 26% of vehicles in North America (and 39% globally).



At the end of September, 1869, Probate Judge W.T. Sinclair of Monroe County, Ohio, granted a marriage license to two teenagers:  John Thomas Buckingham, then employed by Captain Thomas Hughes at his store in Stafford, and Mary E. Curtis.  They were legally united as husband and wife on October 5 — exactly 150 years ago today!

The new couple made their home four miles northwest of Stafford, on a hill known as Curtis Ridge (presumably after Mary's family).

On their farm, "Tommy" and Mary raised four daughters and a son.  The son was named Harry Gladstone Buckingham.  That's him in the middle, growing up.

At age 28 Harry would have a daughter, and she would grow up and have a son at age 34, and that would be me!

Yes, Tommy and Mary Buckingham were my great-grandparents.  I'm 72 years old now and my ancestors are long departed, but a gift for their 150th anniversary seems appropriate.

However, traditional gift lists only go as far as the Diamond Anniversary, after 75 years of marriage.  What about 150 years?  Should it be the Double Diamond Anniversary?  Should it be Triple Gold?  Or is there some other precious material associated with the sesquicentennial number 150?

Well, as a former physics major I'm aware of a certain rare-earth metal used in magnets.  It has an approximate atomic weight of 150.  Therefore, I hereby declare today to be Tommy and Mary's Samarium Anniversary!



In the past, baseball fans would grab the newspaper when it arrived each day.  They'd turn first to the sports page to check the standings.  “How's my team doing?”

In the present, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette no longer arrives each day.  It's still online, but currently there are only three print editions per week.

Nevertheless, any of my fellow ’Burghers following the local team this spring must have been elated for the five days in April shaded below in blue.  The Pirates, with 12 wins and only 6 losses, were in already in first place in the National League Central Division!

However, 142 games still lay ahead.  Late in April there was a slump.  Early in June there was a deeper slump, shown here in red.  The Pirates were in last place for a while, indicated by the green shading.

But after June 13 they put together another .667 run (14-7).  Local fans remained hopeful.  In the first five games of July, Josh Bell hit five home runs!  He went 8 for 19 with 14 runs batted in!  A few days later, he was in the All-Star Game!  More to the point, our team's record at the break, shown above in gold, was 44-45.  We were within striking distance of first place, only 2½ games out.

Then came disaster.  The second half of the season began with a .143 crash (4-24), also shown above in red.  The first nine of those losses dropped the Pirates permanently into last place.  By August 11 they were 15½ games behind first, and they would finish 22 games out.  (Actually, that was the closest divisional finish among the six cellar-dwelling teams; the Tigers ended up a disheartening 53½ games behind the Twins.)

Pittsburgh's 69-93 final record was not only a 13-game drop from the year before, it was the franchise's worst mark of the decade.  On the left, we see how the game-by-game results could be charted as a Diamond Brick Road.

Among the details of what went wrong:  Our fielders led the National League with 21 errors.  Our batters hit the NL's second fewest home runs.  Our pitchers posted the NL's second worst earned run average, and they set a modern-day franchise record by 31 times giving up ten or more runs in a game.  In our 93 losses we were outscored 692-290; that's more than 4.3 runs per game.

Nor was the home-game gate great.  For September 4 only 9,043 tickets were sold and most went unused, as Jason Mackey of the P-G showed us in this view from the pressbox shortly before the first pitch.

Two weeks later, the paid attendance was 10,933, but visiting comedian Craig Gass (who's learned to “count a house”) reported that just 600 fans actually showed up.

The following week, I myself went to PNC Park to work the Chicago Cubs' next-to-last telecast on WGN.  After 72 seasons the station will no longer have broadcast rights; the Cubs will produce the telecasts themselves.

On the left are some of the WGN directors and producers with whom I worked over the years when they came to Pittsburgh: Arne Harris (who died in 2001), Dave Turner, and Marc Brady.

Mark Vidonic commented, “This truly is the end of an era.  Countless of us had a special connection with the Cubs, Braves and Mets because of the superstation status of WGN, WTBS and WOR/WWOR.  There was always something special and magical about getting those stations on your cable.  Yes, you can now watch any team you want if you subscribe to the MLB.TV service, but it's not the same.”


Oh, well.  After the season-ending game on Sunday, Josh Bell tossed some leftover caps to a few diehard supporters.  As Alexander Pope remarked, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast; man never is, but always to be blest.”

Only 133 more days until pitchers and catchers report.   

Matt Freed, Post-Gazette


SEPT. 30, 2009 flashback   THE SECRET OF UNHAPPINESS

“I know very few people,” says Betsy Stevenson, “who would tell me they wish they hadn’t had kids.”  In other words, they wouldn't admit that they regret being parents.  However, that’s at odds with her Wharton School study called “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.”  She was quoted in Maureen Dowd’s column earlier this month.  And what were her findings?

“The one thing in life that will make you less happy is having children.”

The conclusion applies universally.  “It’s true whether you’re wealthy or poor, if you have kids late or kids early,” Professor Stevenson says.

Update from news reports, August 2015:

“Having a child can have a pretty strong negative impact on a person's happiness, according to a new study published in the journal Demography. In fact, on average, the effect of a new baby on a person's life is devastatingly bad — worse than divorce, worse than unemployment, and worse even than the death of a partner.”  [I suppose that’s because you can recover from those other disasters by finding a new partner or a new job; but once you've taken on the responsibility of raising a child, there’s no escape.]  “Researchers Rachel Margolis and Mikko Myrskylä, examining how the experience of becoming a first-child parent affects the likelihood of having additional children, found that 73 percent of participants expressed decreased happiness after their first child, compared to 27 percent who reported no change or an increase in happiness.”

Update from Jane Johnson, August 2019:

“Children are often one great source of happiness.  But there's the daily grind, less energy and sleep, the strain on finances and marriage, the increased level of worry, guilt, frustration, stress....  The time consumed by parenting leaves few opportunities to experience many other sources of joy, so your net happiness can be less.”



In a new article, I imagine astronomers staying up until midnight on this date 38 centuries ago to watch the culmination of the Pleiades.  Then they would blow their noisemakers to signal Happy New Year 1800 BC!

(By the way, L'shanah tovah to our Jewish friends.)



Eric Allie re millennials leaving Illinois

You may have heard about this.

Compared to 50 years ago when I was in grad school, there are now 29% fewer birds in North America!  That's according to a study published last week and described in this article.

Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania headquartered near me, told the Tribune-Review that he is, sadly, not surprised.

How did our continent lose three billion birds?  Among other possible causes, we've eliminated habitats, particularly grasslands.  We've also increased our use of pesticides, thereby reducing the number of insects.

I remember when I was a boy chasing the fireflies ("lightning bugs") in the back yard.  Now I usually see only one solitary firefly each summer.

I remember when robins warbled to greet the dawn, and blackbirds strutted across the lawn, and sparrows chattered in the shrubbery.  Not lately, however.  It's been weeks since I've encountered a robin.  I did see a mourning dove last Wednesday.

Shane Dunlap, Tribune-Review

I'm told that when robins arrive in the spring, they sing to claim their breeding territories, but then in the summer they seem to disappear from our yards because they're foraging in the woods.  Nevertheless, I can't help thinking that the local birds must have migrated back to Canada because of the warming climate.

Scripture predicted this would happen.  The Old Testament warns of a coming day when the grasshopper can only drag itself along, a day “when the street doors are shut, when the sound of the mill fades, when the chirping of the sparrow grows faint and the songbirds fall silent.”  (Ecclesiastes 12:4, Revised English Bible)|



When the Oberlin College Class of 2019 graduated in May, my old classmates also got together on campus to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our Commencement.

Ten months earlier I had been assigned to administer a website so that our reunion would have a presence on the Internet.  The template came from a company called Class Creator, and the home page looked like this.

The site provided a place for messages like “Remember me?  I'm a retired physician now.  I'm looking forward to seeing you at the reunion!”  Classmates contributed pictures and other content.  There was a copy of our yearbook, plus memorabilia from our student years and historical tidbits from the century that preceded us.

I did my best to drum up enthusiasm for the planned events, including an optional day beforehand in nearby Cleveland.



A Conservatory alumnus invited folks to join a chorus that would sing Brahms on Saturday in the concert hall.

An hour-by-hour schedule promoted the available activities for our class, plus other Commencement Weekend events.



Logistical matters like registration, ground transportation, and housing were explained on a page for FAQs.  Who was planning to attend, and which activities?  There were surveys.  I even included a weather forecast.

I received many compliments on the website.  Several class leaders credited my work for our fine turnout.  Of 554 living classmates, 250 joined the site and 167 came to the reunion.  Thirty percent attendance isn't bad, considering that we're all now at least 70 years old.  Over the last half century, we've been scattered across the country, even across the world. 

Of course, lots of pictures were taken at the reunion plus several hours of video, so the website now has a Scrapbook section.

During the Saturday-night soirée (a buffet in the reading room of the old library), I stood in a back corner to take the wide view above.


Class president Wayne Alpern thanked the many who had made the event possible, and at the end he made a special point of thanking me.  The class stood up, turned to my corner, and gave me a standing ovation!  I was touched.

In my life, I've received one other standing ovation from my classmates — 54 years earlier, at an awards assembly during my senior year at Richwood High School.

Why did the Tigers feel I deserved applause?  See this month's 100 Moons article.