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T. Buckingham Thomas: a personal website

 

JANUARY 18, 2017    ROY G. BIV?  WYC G. MRB!

Way back in 1953, the National Television Standards Committee (NTSC) published a protocol for color television that would be compatible with the black-and-white TVs already in use in the United States.

RCA engineers (right) had created a color TV picture tube, and the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers designed a test pattern that could be used to calibrate color TV signals.  It consisted of vertical bars composed of 2 on/off states of each of the 3 primary colors of light, which can be combined in 23 = 8 ways to make 8 colors (seven hues plus black).

Red

Red

Red

Red

Green

Green

Green

Green

Blue

 

Blue

Blue

Blue

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

sum

White

Yellow

Cyan

Green

Magenta

Red

Blue


Why was this test pattern necessary?  NTSC signals, being analog, were seemingly Never Twice Same Color.  When the chroma information slipped out of phase, incorrect hues resulted.

The two examples on the left are about five degrees off in either direction.

Look at the second bar from the left, which is supposed to be yellow.  One example appears too green and the other too red, but how do we know what’s correct?  Try to split the difference?

At home, people would adjust their tint control until faces looked right.


In TV production trucks, I often worked with professional monitors that had a “blue” button to switch off the red and green channels, leaving only the blue.

If the monitor was incorrectly set up, the cyan and magenta bars would not have the same intensity of blue, as in the upper example of an extreme misadjustment.  So I’d turn the tint knob until they matched, as in the lower example.

Also, if the white and blue bars didn’t have the same intensity of blue, I’d turn the color knob.

Now that television has become digital, color-bar adjustments are no longer necessary.  However, the time-honored bars still show up occasionally.

For TV executive Fred Silverman’s 2009 presentation at his alma mater (and mine), Syracuse University, this poster depicted a network television schedule using the seven colors for the seven days of the week.

At my apartment, I’ve honored the tradition by using the same scheme to label the dry-erase board on which I keep my to-do calendar.  Sunday is white, Monday is yellow, and so on.

And to help remind me which day it is today, there’s a pole light accenting a magnifier and a bobblehead in one corner of my living room.

When Sunday becomes Monday, I switch off the blue bulb, and so on.  The primary colors still live!

 

JANUARY 16, 2007    TV NEEDS MORE DISTRACTIONS?

On its high-definition channel, PBS is still occasionally running (at odd hours) a 1998 explanation of digital television by Robert Cringely.  He promotes the wonders of this new technical advance while talking with various folks, including two PBS personalities who are no longer with us, Fred Rogers and Julia Child.

One digital advantage is the much-touted concept of interactive TV.  Using your remote control, you could click on icons on your screen to bring up other, more detailed information, such as the chef's recipe or the manufacturer's specifications.

Advertisers have shown mild interest in the idea.  It might entice viewers to click away from the show they're watching and instead see an ad for their product.  Techno-geeks rhapsodize over other applications like the possibility of choosing alternate camera angles.

But on Cringely's program, documentarian Ken Burns raises some objections.  Television professionals work hard to select the best images and arrange them to tell a story.  Are we now going to encourage the viewer to click away from this story to look at other images or to wander aimlessly through a database?

Fortunately, nine years later, interactive television still hasn't caught on in America.  We watch a TV program straight through, as its creators intended.  (Well, maybe we use TiVo to pause it or rewind it, but we're still watching just the program.)  Then after it's over, if we want more details we can use our computer to find them on the Internet.

 

JANUARY 15, 2017    AGAINST ALLOWANCES

The editor of the Richwood Gazette published this opinion 126 years ago, warning about permissive parenting in “these modern days.”

January 15, 1891

If you want to ruin an impulsive boy, give him plenty of pocket money.  The recipe is infallible.  It has often been tried and always with the same unhappy results.

By the time a boy is eight years old, the little solon on wealth has found the soft side of Pa and Ma.  By age ten, they will carry bank bills in their pockets; and by age 14, they are content with nothing less than well-stuffed pocketbooks.

Every father and mother knows this is wrong.  Say what they may about the harsh, austere, uncompromising old Puritans, their stern family discipline was better than the indulgence by which children are “spoiled” in these modern days.

Fifteen years later, my hometown weekly newspaper again ventured to offer its editorial observations about adolescent economics.

November 2, 1916

Few young men care to have their father as the boss.  The sons of several farmers in the vicinity are working for contractors thereabouts at a lower rate of wages than their own father is paying farm laborers on the homestead.

In their younger days, they had enough of dictation from that source, and they yearn for change, just as the Prodigal Son may have done in his day.

A more mighty reason:  Working for a contractor, he knows that his day will consist of a specific number of hours.  At the end of the day, he will have nothing to do until tomorrow.  Working for his father, the day begins at sunrise and lasts until dad is ready to quit for the night.

 


JANUARY 12, 2017    WINTER MOON

There’s a full moon tonight!

In the wee hours of yesterday morning, Tracey Moody posted the photo on the left, remarking “My, you are proud tonight, my radiant idol.”  On a previous occasion she had written:

The Moon showed up to my doorstep this weekend, the brightest I’d seen him in a while.  The visit wasn’t an anomaly, but neither was it written in my schedule.

As I rushed out onto the lawn, I lost my footing, trusting the grass was still where I last saw it.  I blushingly told him, “Pardon my excitement, but I didn’t know you were coming,” fearing I appeared to be lacking grace.  I gazed at him, he gazed back, both unbroken, and baring our skin.

The thing about the Moon is, he has work to do.  He has tides to pull, forests to gently light, and travels to guide.  He bears the burden of the world, even on those nights I feel he’s just shining on me.

Best not get too whimsical, there’s no rope that can lasso the Moon.  Nor should the Moon compromise all of the harmony of the world so that he can have me.

A science skeptic prepared a graphic posing the question on the right.  His “gotcha” tone implies he doesn’t believe what he’s been told.

Scientists tell us the Moon glows because it’s illuminated by the Sun.  However, some people say the experts can’t be trusted.  Perhaps the glow of “the lesser light to rule the night” comes from the halo of the angel who dwells inside.

First off, I haven’t seen the skeptic’s evidence that moonlit areas are colder than shaded areas.  But if that’s true, here’s my explanation.

Apparently the measurements are being made on a winter night.  It must be a clear night, because otherwise there would be no shadows — no difference between moonlight and moonshade.

To begin the experiment, a thermometer is exposed to the night sky, into which the day’s heat is escaping by radiation.  It’s chilly out there in the moonlight.  Clear nights, when we’re not insulated beneath a blanket of clouds, are the coldest.

However, under a nearby tree, another thermometer is in a sheltered area.  There, as any gardener knows, it’s less likely to freeze, being protected from losing so much heat.  It reads a slightly higher temperature.

But wouldn’t the first thermometer be warmed by the moonlight striking it?  Not enough to notice.  Moonlight is much weaker than sunlight. 

The lunar surface is dark gray.  In this view from the DSCOVR spacecraft that’s stationed a million miles closer to the Sun, the Moon is passing in front of the Earth, possibly eclipsing the Sun for some Earthlings.  From this angle we can see what Earthlings call the “far side” of the Moon.  It’s illuminated by the Sun, but it nevertheless appears very dark.

At best (that is, during a full moon like tonight, when the Moon is on the opposite end of its orbit from this picture), only 12% of the sunlight that hits the Moon gets reflected back toward Earth.  There’s not enough infrared energy in that faint light to raise the thermometer’s reading appreciably.

 

JANUARY 10, 2007    CALENDAR PUZZLE

You may have seen one of these low-tech calendars. 

The two digits of the date are displayed on the faces of two cubes, which can be rearranged to form all the dates from 01 through 31.

At first, you might think that the first cube has digits up to 3, while the other cube has all ten digits from 0 through 9, as shown in the table at the right. 

But that can't be, because a cube has only six faces, not ten.  Some of those ten digits that we need to see on the right must be hiding on the left cube, awaiting a swap to the other side.

How exactly are the digits distributed on the cube faces?  Click here for the answer.

Cube A

Cube B

0

0

1

1

2

2

3

3

.

4

.

5

.

6

.

7

.

8

.

9

 

JANUARY 9, 2017    TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING?

In an average 24-hour day, we now can choose from 29.7 nationally televised sports events.

Last week, Michael Mulvihill tweeted the numbers that I've graphed at the right.  The annual number of telecasts more than tripled in twelve years, from 3,144 in 2004 to 10,869 in 2016.  Last year's total was up 7.9% from the year before.

And in a possibly related statistic, Darren Rovell tweeted that the average viewership for 2016 Sunday Night Football was 20.3 million viewers.  That’s down 9.7% from the year before.

 
JANUARY 8, 2007    THE DYING OF THE LIGHT

It's a winter afternoon.

Low in the southwestern sky, a pale sun casts long shadows across the gray landscape.  The day is almost over.

I check my watch.  It's 2:00 pm.

 

about these flashbacks 

For its first six years, this website emulated a magazine.  Each month I'd publish a new “edition” with several featured articles.

Then, ten years ago, it became more of a blog, with a new post every few days.

Now, with a decade of posts in the Archive, I'm starting to flash back to some of them.  They're articles “of enduring significance,” as Readers Digest used to claim, and will be reprised here on their tenth birthday.

 

JANUARY 6, 2017    THE POLYGONAL CONFIGURATION

I found this picture of a Lego construction.  The design inspired me to return once again to a problem in Biblical geometry and to come up with another solution, which I've called Configuration 2.

I’ve inserted that new suggestion into my 2003 discussion of King Solomon’s Pi.

That updated essay thereby becomes this month's 100 Moons article.

 

JANUARY 3, 2017    DID YOU JUST FNEEZE?

Welcome to Cold & Flu Season.  When you get a tickle in your nose, you'll sniffle and then snort violently.

To people in the Middle Ages, these rude noises sounded like “f-f-f-f-knees!”  They desired to write down a word that might describe this involuntary expulsion of air.

Ignoring the cat’s polite suggestion, they decided to call the event a “fnese.”

But then printing was invented.  If somebody's fnese was to be mentioned in a book, the word had to be set in type.

Alas, typesetting at the time had a peculiar requirement.  When a printer needed an “s,” except at the end of a word, he reached into his lower case and pulled out a “long s.”  That medieval letter was supposed to resemble an “s” in the handwriting of the time, but it's very similar to an “f.”

Can you detect the difference between these two words?  Look closely.  Only the first of the tall letters has a crossbar that goes all the way across the vertical stroke.  It’s an “f.”  Each of the other three is a “long s.”

Modern readers expect characters like this to have a full-width crossbar, so all four characters look like “f” to us.  But they aren’t; the two words (in modern typography) are “fnese” and “snese.”

The original printing of the Declaration of Independence appears to promote the Purfuit of Happinefs while caftigating George III for his perfiftent refufals.  That’s our modern mifunderftanding.

The oppofite mifunderftanding occurred earlier, when early printers set in type.

Early readers failed to notice the tiny little crossbar on the first letter.  The combination “fn” seemed unlikely, so this word must surely begin with “sn.”  They mispronounced the word as “snese.”  In due time the spelling became “sneeze.”

That's the explanation that Paul Anthony Jones gives on Mental Floss, anyway.  He also says “a nickname” used to be “an eke-name,” meaning “an also-name.”  And he learned all this from Oxford scholars, so it must be true.

 

 


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