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OCTOBER \ SEPTEMBER 2009

 

OCTOBER 31, 2009     HALLOWEEN SCARE

As I drive up and down the hills of Pennsylvania, sometimes a frightening thought occurs to me.  I've titled this little fantasy To Boil a Frog.

 

OCTOBER 30, 2009     IN MEMORIAM



Today I remember my father on the centennial of his birth.

 

OCTOBER 26, 2009     NEWSPAPERS AND ME

When I worked for local cable TV, the local newspaper was a key resource:  the Marion Star, the Washington Observer-Reporter, the Valley News-Dispatch.

I also subscribed to a newspaper from the big city nearby.  I remember coming home one evening, seeing the Pittsburgh Press on my doorstep, and learning from the huge headline that the Supreme Court had voted 8-0 to order President Nixon to turn over his Watergate tapes.  That would have been July 24, 1974.  Sixteen days later, he was out of office.

In the Eighties, I began traveling more, and I didn’t want have to deal with a carrier.  “This week, please don’t deliver on Tuesday, Friday, or Saturday.  And next week I'll be in California, so don't come at all.”  Therefore I no longer subscribe.  Whenever I'm in town, I buy a paper at a drugstore.  Or I use one of those coin-operated boxes, which continue to frustrate me.

* Some of them refuse to work.  I hope the guy who fills them will realize there’s a problem when, the next day, he finds the coin receptacle still empty and the box still full of day-old merchandise.

* On Saturdays, often the boxes offer not a Saturday-morning edition but a higher-priced Sunday “early edition.”  Why would I want that?  There’s no news in it.  It doesn’t tell me what happened Friday (because it’s a Sunday paper); nor does it tell me what happened Saturday (because Saturday hasn’t happened yet).

* Having given up on that idea, lately I find many boxes aren’t serviced at all on weekends or holidays.

Nowadays, I often don’t even bother to buy a newspaper.  I can find everything I want for free on the paper’s website.  (The “free” part isn’t the main attraction.  I wouldn’t mind paying if the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette started charging me a subscription fee to access its online edition.  They do offer a “plus” service with additional on-line features for a fee, but none of that content interests me.)

Thus I have devolved from a regular subscriber, to a frequent purchaser, to an infrequent purchaser.  Apparently many others have been doing likewise.  An Audit Bureau of Circulation statement to be released tomorrow will show the Post-Gazette’s daily circulation has declined 9.5% from a year ago.

Newspapers are in trouble.  Will they have to cut back on gathering news?

Maybe so, judging from their coverage of high school football games.  In researching our telecasts, I check past editions of the local papers to find out what the teams and their star players did in previous weeks.  A couple of years ago, there would be at least a paragraph about every game.  That’s no longer necessarily the case.

Last month one of the larger local schools, Gateway, defeated Baldwin but had to put an apology on the school website.  “Note:  No news articles after the game; this game wasn't covered by reporters, so there aren't any articles.  We'll have photos and sideline video up by Monday.”

So now the newspaper industry can’t even afford enough sports stringers?  What is the world of journalism coming to?

 

OCTOBER 22, 2009     IT'S HALFTIME!

I have a plan that would solve two problems with postseason baseball.  All times are Eastern.

Problem one:  the Three Rivers Stadium effect.  That ballpark hosted the first night game in World Series history in 1971.  Since then, baseball’s "Fall Classic" has become an exclusively prime-time event, featuring titanic marathons that often are not decided until after midnight.  Last Saturday’s ALCS contest at Yankee Stadium (not even part of the World Series) wasn’t decided until 1:07 AM.  That’s well past the bedtime of many young fans.  Old-timers like me wonder why some Series games can’t be played in the afternoon, at least on weekends, as all the games were when we were kids.  Of course, the answer is money.  But we can dream.  The sun ought to shine on part of the Series.

Problem two:  the Koufax/Drysdale effect.  In 1965 the Los Angeles Dodgers had two ace pitchers, Sandy Koufax (26-8, 2.04 ERA) and Don Drysdale (23-12, 2.77 ERA).  Nowadays, two pitchers in a five-man rotation start only 40% of the team’s games.  Back then, Walter Alston used a four-man rotation and managed to assign 51% of the Dodgers’ starts to his aces.  And he gave them 71% in the World Series, as Drysdale took the mound for games 1-4 and Koufax for games 2-5-7.  The Dodgers won in seven games, demonstrating how — in a short playoff series with several off days — a team built around a couple of dominating starting pitchers has the edge over a team (in this case, the Twins) that might have been better during the everyday grind of the regular season.

My plan:  schedule some World Series games as split day/night events.  Each ticket consists of two parts, one for the day session and one for the night session.  A fan might choose to attend only one session and give the other half of his ticket to someone else, someone who might not otherwise have been able to see the Fall Classic in person.

The on-field ceremonies commence at 1:30 in the afternoon.  Network TV coverage begins at 2:00 with a quick preview of the matchup, and the first pitch is thrown at 2:08.

At the conclusion of the fifth inning, maybe around 4:30, it’s halftime!  The grounds crew goes to work as if it were a rain delay.  The players leave the field, the network signs off, the fans leave the ballpark, and everyone has a nice supper.

If a Koufax or a Drysdale started the game, they’ve thrown five innings, enough to qualify for a win.  But now they have to cool off during a long halftime break.  The way pitchers’ arms work, they won’t be able to go back out there tonight.  Someone else will have to take the mound for the sixth inning.  The pitching duties are spread around the staff, thereby lessening the unfair advantage of the Koufax/Drysdale effect.

Network coverage resumes at 8:00 with highlights of the first five innings.  Celebrities are introduced, the National Anthem is sung, and lots of prime-time commercials are aired.  The sixth inning begins at 8:38.

Assuming the game is a typical five-hour World Series struggle, it should be over before 11:30.

 

OCTOBER 21, 2009     MONDAY CURMUDGEONITUDE

Magazines have always been printed and distributed before their cover dates.  (Mark Evanier explains the reason here.)  However, nowadays things are getting out of hand.  Here it is only the middle of October, and already I’ve received the December issue of Games magazine with its Santa-themed puzzles.  And three weeks from now I expect to find the January 2010 issue of American History Illustrated in my mailbox.

I suppose it could be worse.  When I was a lad, I thought it strange that the newly-crowned Miss America 1960 and the newly-redesigned 1960 Chevrolet were both introduced in September 1959, nearly four months early.  What does a year mean, anyway?

 

OCTOBER 18, 2009     THE LIONS BATTLE THE ORANGEMEN

See those cold concrete slabs in the background?

Forty years ago this afternoon, I sat on one of those slabs to watch a classic college football game between Penn State and Syracuse.

I still have the program from that day.  Click Paterno’s 29th Win for the story.

 
OCTOBER 17, 2009    ANOTHER ANNIVERSARY

“Kids grow up so fast!” it’s said.  Compared to the events of an adult’s life, they certainly do.

It seems like yesterday, but actually it was 22 years ago today that the company I worked for went out of business.  I was out of town that Saturday morning, working the telecast of the 65th renewal of the Penn State/Syracuse football rivalry, when the office gave me the news in a phone call:  “Unfortunately....”

That was the last time I had a full-time job.  Since then, my employment has been exclusively on a freelance basis.

Much has happened since then, but there have been no dramatic changes.  I still live in the same place.  I still work with many of the same people.

However, a baby born that day would, by now, have grown up and graduated from college.

 

OCTOBER 14, 2009    A BIT OF FICTION

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 46-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.

Buzz 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 33-yard line, and when the seats came to a stop after about 15 seconds, Buzz and Cuzz were sitting on the 32!  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 three yards beyond the ball. 

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

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.”

UPDATE:  3-D TELEVISION AGREES THESE SEATS ARE GREAT

 

OCTOBER 10, 2009    LETTERBOXING WON'T BOTHER DANNY

What were Danny DeVito and Rhea Pearlman doing in Oberlin, Ohio, last week?

The town’s 96-year-old movie theater was being reopened after renovations, and it turns out that their son Jake is a student there at my alma mater.

In this photo from the Oberlin College website, TV director James Burrows (Class of ’62) and his wife Debbie are behind the downward-pointing President Marvin Krislov.

Meanwhile, in other news . . .


UPDATE — DDVRPCSCMEP: The theater now houses the Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman Cinema Studies Center for Media Education and Production.  See this press release..

A couple of years ago, I explained various methods of making television pictures look good on both newfangled wide screens and oldfangled squarish picture tubes.  Now a cable channel has adopted the "letterboxing" method fulltime.  Using the Whole Screen will be the standard for all their programs.

 

OCTOBER 7, 2009    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.

Black

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

White

Fastidious.

Red

Sexy, speedy, high-energy and dynamic.

Dark Blue

Credible, confident and dependable.

Light to Mid-Blue

Cool, calm, quiet.

Silver

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?

 

OCTOBER 4, 2009    ERRORS?  WHAT ERRORS?

The Pittsburgh Pirates wrapped up their baseball season today, a dismal year in which they barely avoided 100 losses.  However, there was a bright spot:  they set a franchise record by playing 101 errorless games.

If your defense rarely makes any errors, does that mean it's good?  Not necessarily.  The Pirates were ranked only 23rd among 30 teams in Defensive Efficiency Rating.  I suspect the lack of errors — and of passed balls, for that matter — is due to causes other than defensive excellence.  See my little essay on T-Ball Scoring.

 

SEPTEMBER 30, 2009    THE SECRET OF UNHAPPINESS

“I know very few people,” says Betsy Stevenson, “who would tell me they wish they hadn’t had kids.”

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

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

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 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.”

 

SEPTEMBER 29, 2009    TROLLING FOR HUSBANDS

Early in the autumn of 1883, according to a contemporaneous account in the Richwood Gazette, a train stopped at a neighboring Ohio town.

On board that train was a wealthy passenger.  He spied a young lady walking near the station and "was struck with admiration over the tender manner in which [she] led her grandmother along a path near the track."  The "man of riches" asked to be introduced to the young lady, and after a short courtship, he married her.

"Now," the Gazette claimed a few weeks later, "every time the train pulls in that burg, at least a dozen maidens can be seen trotting their old grandmothers up and down the track."


SEPTEMBER 23, 2009
WHAT WE WERE AND WHAT WE ARE

This fuzzy image shows a cross-cultural duet, as portrayed on a stage in Byesville, Ohio, on March 28, 1930.  The characters are an Iranian nurse and a black man from Texas.  My future mother, Ann Buckingham, played the nurse.

Yes, it's time for me to post the third and final chapter of Blue and White, the story of her high school days.

 

SEPTEMBER 20, 2009    THE LINEUP

Forty years ago this month, we TV-Radio graduate students at Syracuse University stood in front of wood paneling to have our pictures taken.  Click the sample below to see the whole Sequence 22.


 

SEPTEMBER 16, 2009    IS YOUR MIDDLE NAME JEROME?

I was just reviewing tomorrow night’s starting lineups for the Latrobe High School Wildcats.  According to the official roster, the defense includes nose guard Thomas Dovie and strong safety Donato Lonigro.  However, they’re better known as “T.J.” Dovie and “D.J.” Lonigro.

Many young men these days call themselves “something J.”  Can we assume J is their middle initial?  Does J stand for Joseph or Jefferson?  No, more likely J stands for Junior.

A couple of years ago, T.J. Beam pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  His formal name was Theodore Lester Beam, Jr., so he should have gone by T.L. instead of T.J.  But I suppose his father was known as Ted, so people called the new little boy Ted Junior.  That soon became T.J., and that stuck.

Among Juniors, this is still a fairly limited phenomenon.  Otherwise, we'd have celebrities like K.J. Griffey the baseball slugger, V.J. McMahon the wrestling entrepreneur, and D.J. Fairbanks and L.J. Chaney the late movie stars.  Famous racecar drivers would include D.J. Earnhardt, A.J. Unser, and A.J.J. Foyt.  In the Seventies, our President would have been J.J. Carter.  President J.J.?  That would have been dyno-MITE!

 

SEPTEMBER 13, 2009    RETURN TO CRAWFORD COUNTY

What did I do last night for the first time in 34 years?  Check this update.

 

SEPTEMBER 11, 2009    THAT'S NOT HOW IT WORKS

Many car keys come attached to a fob containing a little radio transmitter.  At the press of a button, you can remotely unlock your car’s doors.

Some people have gotten the idea that these devices work better if you hold them up to your chin.  They even have video evidence.  Allegedly, “the oral cavity in your skull amplifies the signal.”

That’s bogus.  Where would the electricity come from to operate this alleged amplifier?

The best you could hope for is an unpowered passive reflector.  Maybe the radio waves are reflected toward your car by the “oral cavity in your skull,” otherwise known as your mouth.

Shut your mouth.  Radio waves don’t behave like that.  They don't bounce off your body; they are absorbed by it.  They don’t reflect off anything inside your mouth (except your dental fillings, which only scatter them in random directions).  Instead, they soak into your head, as we've learned from the alarmist warnings about cell phone radiation.

Yet some people insist that their fobs work better at chin level.  Could this be?  If so, is there a non-bogus explanation?

To automobile stylists, the “beltline” is the base of the windows.  Above the beltline is the “greenhouse” — mostly glass, through which radio waves easily pass.  Below the beltline are fenders and door panels — mostly steel, which radio waves don’t penetrate.

Typically the signals from your key fob are received by an antenna (shown here as a blue asterisk) at the top of the dashboard, essentially on the beltline.

If you hold the fob up high, as this man is doing with his right hand, the radio waves can avoid nearby parked cars and other obstacles, pass through the greenhouse, and reach the receiving antenna.

But if you hold the fob at your beltline, as the man is doing with his left hand, you’re holding it below the car’s beltline.  The radio waves don’t have a direct path to the receiver.  (Nevertheless, they’ll probably get there by a roundabout path if you’re not too far away.  Maybe they’ll first reflect off the underside of the car’s roof and then bounce around the interior for awhile.)

Take it from a physics major:  your mouth can redirect sound waves, but not radio waves.  Unless you're an android, of course.

 

SEPTEMBER 5, 2009    CRIMSON AND GOLD

Classes have resumed at my alma mater, which means that it's time to link to an article I wrote a couple of months ago about the True Colors of Oberlin College.  They're not quite what I had thought.

 

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