29, 2008 IMAGE
too cold to go outside, and our escape from February has been
delayed for one more day, so I've been busying myself with finding
some historical pictures and adding them to existing articles on this site.
the right, that's me as a real estate mogul in 1952. Click the
picture for the full article, which first appeared last month.
is a photo I took in 1965 of a business continuing alongside its old
home's ashes. At the end of this
page, I've inserted two additional shots of my 1974
woman-on-the-street interviews; apparently the subject was
pineapples. And this article
about my hometown church now includes a panorama, assembled from a
2004 church videotape, of the sanctuary from the viewpoint of the
25, 2008 PREDICTA
years later, its shape still spells television.
However, I never knew anybody who owned one. All the TV sets I
encountered were rectangular pieces of furniture.
Philco Predicta, with its futuristic space-age look, was produced
only from 1958 through 1960. The controls and electronics were
enclosed in one box. On top of that sat the CRT, a rounded
picture tube enclosed in a streamlined housing that could tilt and
turn to face the viewers.
commentator noted that despite the radical styling that
endears it to collectors, the Predicta had an unhappy history in the
field, causing some to dub it the Edsel of
televisions. Quality control was poor, leading to an
excessive number of returns and warranty service calls. Some
people blame the Predicta for the demise of Philco, which declared
bankruptcy in 1962.
even today, the Predicta lives on as an icon. Telecasts about
television use its profile, as seen at the left and below. It
remains more recognizable than the actual shape of a 21st-century TV
a flat rectangular screen.
19, 2008 RADIO
our student-operated radio station at Oberlin College, sometimes
took music requests over the phone. We had an all-request
classical music program on Saturday nights, just as WQED-FM in
Pittsburgh has today. The name of the WOBC program was our
campus phone number, "3157."
pop music DJs also got requests. Imitating what they'd heard
on big-time Top 40 stations, they sometimes tape-recorded the
calls. Then they could rummage around to find the requested
record, cue up the tape, and let the magic of radio happen.
"Um, could you play No Milk Today by Herman and the
Hermits?" "Your wish is my command!" No
Milk Today plays immediately.
technique is commonplace now, but in 1968 it felt as though we were
pushing the envelope of possibilities.
night Marc Krass and Randy Bongarten took it a step further.
They arranged for the Rathskeller, a tavern in the basement of the
Wilder Hall student union building, to play WOBC through its sound
system. At one end of the Rat they set up a microphone
stand. To raise its signal to line level, the mic was connected
to a small amplifier the same one that I took to basketball
remotes. The output of the amp was connected to a pair of wires
in the stairwell that led to our control room up on the third floor.
sign invited Rathskeller patrons to speak their requests into the
microphone. It almost looked like a prank. The mic was
not connected to a loudspeaker, and patrons got no confirmation that
they were being heard. The mic might not have even been
on. But a few brave souls risked looking foolish. They
dutifully walked up and spoke their requests.
at the radio station, we had no idea when someone was approaching
the mic, so Randy and I threaded a reel of tape onto a deck and
started recording. There would be long minutes of nothing but
background noise. Eventually we'd hear a request. I'd
mark it by inserting a scrap of paper between the layers of tape on
the takeup reel while Randy scurried off to find the song.
After several requests, we'd start a second recording on another
machine. Then we rewound the first tape to the most recent
request, while my scraps kept tabs on the older ones. We cued
the request up for Marc.
hello? Is anyone there?" "Yes, indeed, this is
Marc Knight, your WOBC disk jockey. What would you like to
hear?" "Uh, can you play Tighten Up by Archie
Bell and the Drells?" "Sure can! Here it is."
DJ Dave Webster was in the Rat that night. He made another
request. "Your assignment, should you decide to accept it,
is to play Takin' Care of Business. This tape will
self-destruct in five seconds!"
14, 2008 MELANIE
weekend, someone on an on-line message board mentioned the song
"Brand New Key." I realized that I never knew much
about the singer/songwriter, Melanie. What to do? Google her!
turns out that Melanie Safka was born just 17 days before I
was. She grew up in New York and sang on the radio at the age
of four. By 1969, when we were both 22, she was performing at
the rain-plagued Woodstock music festival.
wasn't there. I was on my way to graduate school 120 miles
away at Syracuse, where I first became aware of Melanie the following
spring when radio stations began playing her Woodstock-inspired
single "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)."
to AM radio, I got the message but didn't quite get all the
words. To me, the impassioned refrain sounded like this:
down, lay it down,
Lay it all down!
your white birds smile up
And the one, stan, frown.
thanks to YouTube, we can watch a classic long version by Melanie
and the famed gospel group she asked to join her, the Edwin Hawkins
Singers. The audience tries to clap along, but they're from our
parents' generation. For the link, click the pictures on the left.
of the comments on the YouTube page speculates that the lyrics
allude not only to Woodstock (August 1969) but also to the Vietnam Moratorium
Day (October 1969), when candle-carrying protesters marched through
East Coast cities wearing dove buttons. Heavy rain fell down
upon them. Supporters of the war disapprovingly looked down
upon them. This makes sense because the refrain, as I now know,
really goes like this:
down, lay down,
Lay it all down!
your white birds smile up
At the ones who stand and frown.
found much more about Melanie on the Internet. I had
forgotten, for example, that she's done cover versions of songs that
I remember playing as a '60s college radio DJ including "Ruby
Tuesday" and "Lay Lady Lay." She still performs,
with her son Beau-Jarred on guitar. A year ago on her 60th
birthday, she blogged on her website
about the passing of another year.
used to be Guy Lombardo and couples dancing, grownups wearing silly
hats cheek to cheek and Auld Lang Syne, blowing paper horns and
shaking tin rattles. My grandmother and me, we banged pots and
pans at the stroke of midnight. (My parents were out, maybe
dancing with Guy Lombardo.) Something comforting about seeing
the same old Auld Lang Syne. . . .
I am in a different time zone and it is confusing because it's only
the New Year officially when it happens in New York, even
though it happens an hour later here.
you could say I am 60 one hour earlier in New York when I am really
still 50-something here. Maybe I'll just keep traveling west
for a while till it all blows over.
enjoy watching high-definition television documentaries on the
History Channel and National Geographic and Discovery and PBS.
But somehow I enjoy this kind of learning even more: searching
for the story online, discovering low-definition video clips and
pictures, digging up facts and interesting details one by one, like
my research last month on the Scharf.
It's more interactive and involving than just staring at a TV
show. I recommend it.
subject have you always wondered about?
8, 2008 SAY
IT AGAIN. AGAIN. AGAIN.
fifth- and sixth-grade teacher,
John Merriman, used repetition to
drill into us the terminology of fractions. For example, in the
fraction 2/3, the 2 is the "numerator." (What number
tells us how many parts we have? Two.) The 3 is the
"denominator." (What denomination are those
parts? Thirds.) One day Mr. Merriman had us go around the
room with one student calling out "Numerator top!" and the
next student responding "Denominator bottom!" It
seemed a little silly, but we had only to recall this experience to
remember which was which.
I got a tape recorder for Christmas 1961, I experimented to see
whether it could aid memorization. I spliced a foot of
recording tape into an endless loop, so that the machine would replay
the same three seconds of sound continually.
three seconds? The box of splicing tape was marked with an
item number. I'll say it was 7745, but in actuality it was
something else. (For security reasons, I'm not telling you the
real number.) The box also showed the length of the tape.
I'll say it was 200 inches.
read that data into the microphone. "Number seven seven
four five. One-quarter inch by two hundred."
Switching to playback, I listened to my voice repeat the data over
worked. Forty-six years later, I still recall the sound
and the actual numbers. When my bank wanted me to choose an
account number for on-line transactions, I used the old splicing-tape
data to come up with nine digits like 774514200. It's a number
that I can always remember.
3, 2008 FISHBOWL
watched the Super Bowl XLII upset from home this evening, but one of
my Pittsburgh graphics colleagues was actually in Glendale,
Arizona. Mark Fissore (right), known as "Fish,"
operated the Duet for the Fox telecast.
worked out of one of the five 53-foot trailers that make up Game
Creek Video's "FX HD" mobile production unit. Below
are those trucks at Daytona, which happens to be Mark's next assignment.
& Cable magazine from Fox Sports
addition to about 30 high-definition broadcast cameras, this mobile
unit also includes small "point-of-view" cameras mounted
inside the trucks themselves.
the telecast, some of those views were streamed online. Chris
Dahl told me about this, so along with anyone else who knew, I was
able to gawk at the production staff at work.
hours before kickoff, Mark was alone at his post (top).
Eventually his co-workers joined him as the B Unit filled up.
producer, director, and technical director were over in the A
Unit. I listened to their urgent conversations for awhile.
it began to seem too much like being at work myself, and I turned
away from the computer and watched the actual Super Bowl telecast.
30, 2008 WHAT'S
is this engraved lady?
those carousel horses?
a car run without gears?
learn what all these have to do with each other, and with my
hometown in Ohio, when I show you what came in Monday's mail.
Just click on the title of my new article, The
25, 2008 SHALL
THE LAST BE FIRST?
one writes a diary, one begins at the beginning and adds new entries
to the end. That seems normal to me.
when one writes a blog (or a web page like this one), one adds new
entries to the top of the page, so that the most recent
posting is the one that visitors find first. That seems a
little odd. If you haven't visited in a while, you'll find
yourself reading the older posts in reverse chronological order.
And if you scroll down to the archives, you'll find that I've listed
the months backwards as well.
jury is still out on which method should be used for television
graphics like the one below, showing the World Series winners since
the Yankees last claimed the title.
AL RED SOX
AL WHITE SOX
AL WHITE SOX
AL RED SOX
colleagues and I sometimes debate whether to use chronological order
(left) or to put the most recent on top (right). Any preferences?
21, 2008 I'VE
GOT A LITTLE LIST
1959, when I was 12 years old, I discovered Gilbert &
Sullivan. My introduction came by means of two classic
television adaptations that featured two unlikely actors in the role
of Ko-Ko. I explain in the article Ernie
and the Marxkado.
15, 2008 REVENUE
I studied the Constitution in high school, I was puzzled by the
first sentence of Article I, Section 7:
and Senators alike can introduce all kinds of legislation, with only
this one exception: a Senator isn't allowed to introduce a tax
bill. I never really understood why not.
now I've found the answer. I shouldn't be surprised to learn
that it all goes back to Benjamin Franklin.
the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the delegates could not agree
on voting representation in the new Congress. Populous states
like Virginia felt that they should have more votes than smaller
states, because they had more people. One man, one vote.
But small states like Delaware felt that they were just as important
as their bigger brothers and should have an equal voice. One
state, one vote.
from an 1864 book by James Parton,
and Times of Benjamin Franklin
Dickenson, always an unmanageable man, who now represented the State
of Delaware, went so far as to say, that rather than be deprived of
an equality of representation in the legislature of the nation, he
would prefer to become the subject of a foreign power. Another
member said, and truly, "We are now come to a full stop."
this extremity, Dr. Franklin suggested a compromise. "The
diversity of opinion," said he, in his homely, familiar manner,
"turns on two points.
representation takes place, the small States contend that their liberties
will be in danger.
an equality of votes is to be put into its place, the large States
say, their money will be in danger.
a broad table is to be made, and the edges of the planks do not fit,
the artist takes a little from both, and makes a good
joint." He proceeded to propose:
that all the States should send an equal number of delegates;
that on all questions affecting the authority or sovereignty of a
State, every State should have an equal vote;
that in acting upon appointments and confirmations, every State
should have an equal vote; but,
on all bills to raise or expend money, every State should have a
vote proportioned to its population.
ingenious plan was amply debated. The small States, however,
led by Mr. Dickenson, still contended, and with a vehemence worthy of
a wrong cause, for an equality absolute and entire. Virginia
and Pennsylvania were equally resolute against their preposterous
demand, and the Convention seemed again on the point of breaking up.
committee was at length appointed to consider the subject apart from
the excitements of the main body, and to report a compromise.
As a member of that committee, Dr. Franklin proposed the simple, the
admirable expedient, which was adopted, and which has ever since
satisfied the largest and the smallest States.
evolved from his earlier "ingenious plan." That plan
had proposed that most legislation should be subject to voting rules
friendly to small states, to protect their liberty, while financial
legislation should follow rules friendly to large states, to protect
their money. The new expedient was to establish a Congress not
of one house (which Franklin would have preferred) but of two houses
with slightly different powers.
proposed, that in the Senate, every State should have an equal
representation; but in the other House, every State should have a
representation proportioned to its population; and in that House all
bills to raise or to expend money should originate.
small states would have, in the Senate, the equal status that they
demanded, along with the sole power to confirm appointments.
But they couldn't use that power to raid the wealth of the large
states, because in the Senate they couldn't introduce any revenue
bills. The large states would have, in the other House, the
proportional representation they demanded.
suggestion, it is said by men conversant with the state of feeling
in the Convention, saved the Constitution; and to it we owe the
wonderful fact, that no ill feeling has ever existed in a State
growing out of its superiority or inferiority in population and
importance. Rhode Island and Delaware, New York and
Pennsylvania, were thus made equal members of the same confederacy,
without peril to the smaller, and without injustice to the larger.
political expedients this was, perhaps, the happiest ever
devised. Its success in gaining the objects aimed at has been
simply perfect so perfect that scarcely any one has remarked
it. We have all been as unconscious of the working of this
system as a healthy man is of the process of digestion.
9, 2008 ELECTRICAL
I woke up this morning, it seemed darker that usual. I
discovered that my electricity was off.
not surprising," I thought to myself. "A cold front
is moving in, and we're under a Wind Advisory from midnight to
noon. High winds have probably knocked down a power line
somewhere. My neighbors are dark too, so it's not my
power line that's down, but people on the other side of the river do
have lights, so the outage isn't a major regional disaster. The
electric company undoubtedly knows about it, and they'll probably get
it fixed by the time the winds subside. It's nothing to worry about."
went back to bed until there was enough daylight to sit by the
window and read. Eventually, the lights came on for one second,
then went off again.
not surprising," I thought to myself. "They've
probably fixed the downed line, but when they re-energized it, the
power surge tripped some circuit breakers. Now they have to go
around and reset the breakers."
hour and a half later, I glimpsed an electric company vehicle, a
bucket truck, heading down my street.
not surprising," I thought to myself. "The
transformer for this neighborhood is around the corner. They're
going to reset the breaker, and the lights will be back on in five minutes."
five minutes, the lights came back on.
beginning to understand these matters too well.
5, 2008 GRANVILLE
you think it's tough to sell your house in today's real estate
market? You should have tried it my way, as a student just
beginning the academic year in kindergarten. See my new
article with pictures from Newark