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APRIL \ MARCH 2010

APRIL 26, 2010     REMEMBERING TEACHERS

The eighth-grade teacher whom I knew as “Mrs. Endsley” passed away this month.  Mildred P. Maxa Endsley Allen, who had taught in Richwood for 35 years, was 91.

My classmate Lynne Ledley did the math.  Mrs. Endsley was born in Cleveland in October 1918, so when we entered eighth grade in the fall of 1960, she was celebrating her 42nd birthday.  “To us 7th and 8th graders she seemed old,” Lynne remembers.  “42 is definitely not old, as we all know!”

I returned to the stack of yearbooks I used for an earlier article featuring Richwood High School pictures.  There I found the portrait at the left of Mrs. Endsley, looking much as I remember her.  The picture is in the 1954 Tigrtrax, and the same picture is in a 1952 Tigrtrax that Classmates.com has posted online.  When the photo was taken, her age would have been at most 33.  Perhaps it was her hairstyle that made her seem ancient to us adolescents.

Such things do affect our perceptions.  This photo of Fritz Drodofsky was also in the 1952 and 1954 yearbooks.  When I was in high school a decade later, the coach certainly didn't have wavy hair like that.

APRIL 22, 2010     THIRTY-TWO YEARS AGO

It was on this night in the year 1978 that Saturday Night Live aired its best episode ever, according to writer Tom Davis in his book Thirty-Nine Years of Short-Term Memory Loss.  Steve Martin did “Dancing in the Dark” with Gilda Radner.  He portrayed “Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber” and one of the “wild and crazy guys.”  He dressed up as King Tut for a memorable production number.

To open the show, Paul Shaffer (impersonating Don Kirshner) introduced a new act, the Blues Brothers.  When John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd walked onstage in black suits, I remember thinking, “this is rather creative.”  Apparently their hats and dark glasses were in homage to John Lee Hooker, though I didn’t know that then.

We next saw the Brothers on SNL seven months later, introduced by Garrett Morris.  Aykroyd unlocked a briefcase to retrieve his priceless harmonica, and then they started to dance and sing.  “They’ve written a good song, too,” I thought.  “Pretty catchy.”  Apparently I had never before heard Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man.”

That’s surprising, because I had been a DJ at my college radio station ten years before, and our popular music playlist did include soul music.  Somehow this 1967 hit never got airtime on our station, or if it did, it never registered with me.

In 1981 I was taken with a different new song, Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning.”  Only recently have I discovered that it was a remake of another record that I should have known from my college days.

The original was written by Chip Taylor, brother of actor Jon Voight.  Recorded in 1968 by Merrilee Rush (right), it was quite similar to the later remake, except that its orchestration was a little less lush; a lone trombone played the introductory line.

Merrilee’s version rose to #7 on the charts.  That happened during the summer between my junior and senior years, which might explain how I missed it.

I’ve begun tuning my cable TV to the “Solid Gold Oldies” channel of the Music Choice service in an effort to fill such gaps in my knowledge of the music of my youth.

 

 

APRIL 19, 2010     IT'S “WASABI,” MY SON

In the spring of 1983, Willie Stargell, the recently retired baseball player turned broadcaster, had just discovered the joys of sushi.  He brought a box down to our TV truck to pass around.

Even now, many Americans are encountering this Japanese delicacy for the first time.  The other day at an Asian restaurant, I overheard a teenager on his cell phone at the adjoining table.  He reported that although his sushi contained raw fish, it didn’t taste “fishy” at all.  He also reported that it was served with some really spicy guacamole.

 

APRIL 15, 2010     A HALO FOR BABY

For most of my life I’ve used the thick emerald-green shampoo in the unbreakable plastic container, Prell.  Like me, this product was introduced to the world in 1947.

But newborn children are apparently slow to learn that they must keep their eyes closed while their heads are being washed.

That would explain the registered trademark for Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, a gentler formulation which has long proclaimed “No More Tears.”

As an alternative, when I was growing up in the 1950s my mother bought a tear-prevention gadget.  I've tried to re-create it in this drawing.

Imagine a hoop of stiff wire, maybe 15 inches in diameter.  Around the inside of the circle, attach a strip of waterproof material, similar to a vinyl shower curtain.  To the inner side of this strip, attach a ring of elastic.  Slip this ring over the top of the child's head, like a sweatband.  Gravity will cause the outer wire hoop to sag down below nose level.  Then shampoo the child's hair.  The soapy water will be deflected by the elastic band and will run down the vinyl curtain, well away from the child's face.

I soon learned to shut my eyes.

 

APRIL 10, 2010     MISSISSIPPI MOON

Recreated in the gym at Richwood High School would be a romantic moon, shining over a Southern plantation house.  That was the key concept of our Junior-Senior Prom.  On this date in 1964, I was named to chair its decorating committee.

In a new article called Moon through the Night, I share my notes from the project's first two weeks.  During this time, I designed a way to disguise sore thumbs as crepe arbors.  I also wrote a melancholy poem to be inscribed therein.

 

APRIL 9, 2010     THE FUTURE IS NOW

You may have heard that 3-D TV is on the way.  It's going to be the next big thing in entertainment.  Sometime in the future, we will be able to receive live stereoscopic telecasts in our very own living rooms.

Well, the future has arrived!  And it arrived much sooner that I expected.

This afternoon, when I tuned in the Masters golf tournament on Comcast Cable's channel 986, I saw this double picture on my high-definition screen.

All I lacked was one of those newfangled 3-D television sets.  They arrived in retail stores about a month ago.  Locally, a 55-inch Samsung costs $3,400, including a Blu-ray player and two pairs of synchronized glasses.  Retailers are overjoyed because they now have a new toy to sell us.

If I had such a TV, it would have separated the two halves of the picture, doubled the width of each, and displayed them alternately — like this simulation that I've made, except much more rapidly.

While the left picture was being displayed, the right lens of the glasses would darken, and vice versa.


My brain would have combined the two angles to create the illusion of depth, and I would have been even more impressed with the beauty of the Augusta National Golf Club and the treachery of its greens.  (Why can't they make those things level?  Why can't greens be 2-D?  If the ball rolled in a straight line, it would be much easier for golfers to make their putts.)

The 3-D telecast stayed mostly with wide shots, without a lot of closeups or cutting.  I assumed this was partly because the crew had only a few cameras available, and partly because 3-D TV works better this way.  For that matter, in my opinion, HDTV works better this way.

 

More stereoscopic telecasts are planned, including the World Cup of soccer this summer.  The industry hopes to sell 2.5 million 3-D sets this year worldwide.  Prices should fall quickly, and sales are expected to grow to 8.8 million sets in 2011.

 

APRIL 6, 2010     DEMAND YO'URE FEEDOM!

At this site I’ve observed a large number of erudite protest signs.  The placards are being carried by white middle-class conservatives who “cling to guns, or religion, or antipathy to people who aren't like them.”  These citizens bitterly long for the ouster of the liberal, multicultural leaders whom the rest of America has elected.  They dream of taking the country back for people like themselves.

I’ve learned much from reading their very creative signs.  At the risk of crashing my spell-check program, I’m going to write this commentary in Teabonics.

That’s the native tongue of those who insist that English must be are-country’s offical lanaguage.  Above all, we must preserve the sactity of our Constution!  Our forefathes wrote that document in English, did’nt they?  But now alliens are crossing the boarder speaking some strange foreign gibberish.  And Barock Hussien Obama, who won’t even show us his own birth certifiet, wants to give them amesty or amensty or amnety.  Enoungh is enoungh!

Every Tea Party member, without excetion, is a hard-wroking American like Joe the Plummer.  Joe believes tax’s are rediculously high.  To him, any goverment stimulas program is just waisting currancy, although he once baught a car under “Cash for Clunkkers.”

When Joe losses his job, or when you loose your job, you don’t want to become a borror by going into debt and taking out a mortage.  Yet the lobbyests and polititions are deviding us.  They have saddled us with an extremey hugh national debt.  Meanwhile, what is our Commander en Theif concerned about?  Only the redistribtion of our wealth.  We must impeah this lier!  We must repeel his sociazed health care!

And speaking of socilism, don’t forget our school system.  Those public school teachers lack competnce.  If you send you’r daugter, they’ll teach her thinkgs that aren’t even in the Bible!  Your are much better off useing home-schooling.  Then your child will be as well-infromed as you are.

Wake up, Americans!  Were not slaves.  We shouldn’t be living under tyrany, like Nazi Gemany.  True Americans must be rougues and mavricks, proclaiming resisance and descent.  If your not outraged your not paying attention.   Become a extremest for feedom!

 

APRIL 1, 2010     OUR HIGHWAY OF PERPETUAL REPAIR


A four-lane highway usually consists of two roadways separated by a median strip.  Each roadway carries two lanes.

But every spring the construction barrels appear.  Typically the workers close off one lane in each direction for a few miles to repave it.  Cars and trucks jam up in the other lane, causing major delays, and the road crew is subjected to the dangers of working close to passing traffic.

Usually by November they’ve finished, but the next spring they reappear to tear up the next few miles.  After a decade the entire length of the highway has been rebuilt, all the way to the state line.  Then, of course, it’s time to start all over again.  Some part of the road is always under construction!


That being the case, maybe it would be better for a highway to consist of three roadways.

One of them would always be closed completely, and we could drive on the other two until it was their turn to be repaved.

 

MARCH 29, 2010     REMEMBERING R.H.S.

America is no longer the greatest country in the world, at least in education.  Earlier this month, Sam Dillon of the New York Times reported (in part):

One of the world's foremost experts on comparing national school systems told lawmakers on Tuesday that many other countries were surpassing the United States in educational attainment, including Canada.

America's education advantage, unrivaled in the years after World War II, is eroding quickly, said Andreas Schleicher, a senior education official at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris.

Poland, Mr. Schleicher said, is improving its education system most rapidly. In less than a decade, it raised the literacy skills of its 15-year-olds by the equivalent of almost a school year.  "In one way, international education benchmarks make disappointing reading for the U.S.," he said.

Charles Butt, chief executive of a supermarket chain in Texas, said the blame for America's sagging academic achievement does not lie solely with public schools but also with dysfunctional families and a culture that undervalues education. "Schools are inheriting an overentertained, distracted student," he said.

That leads me to reminisce about the days when I was in school.  In the Fifties and Sixties, almost all American families still treated education with respect, not scorn.

Now Richwood High School no longer exists.  The old building was torn down last year.

However, the Tigrtrax yearbooks remain, filled with photos.  You can’t find your old copies?  I've located mine.  In honor of my Class of '65, I've posted 65 of the pictures to this website.

That new article, Tracks of the Richwood Tiger, also includes other details such as class schedules, cheers, pet peeves, and two short speeches I gave.  I'll even tell you my locker combination!  Just click on the title.

 

MARCH 25, 2010     SNAKES ALL OVER THE FLOOR!

As promised last month, it's time for the second half of The Burning Bush!  Just click on the title and you'll jump to my version's exciting conclusion, wherein:

Moses thinks he's talking to God.

Jambres becomes the first to write down God's name.

And Aaron, while admitting that God himself is powerless, asserts that belief in God can change the world.

 

MARCH 22, 2010     UPDATING MY LAST TWO POSTS

• So how's your bracket looking?  After the first weekend of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, ESPN reports that not one of 4.78 million brackets predicted the Sweet Sixteen correctly.  Only four picked 15 of the 16 teams that remain.

Wouldn't it be a lot easier to start your office pool now, instead of a week ago?  Three quarters of the teams have been eliminated.  Filling out a “brackette,” covering only the final two weeks of the tournament, would require predicting outcomes of only 15 games.  Even random choices would give you a 1 in 32,768 chance of achieving perfection.

• A week ago I wondered whether any sports museums displayed life-sized statues depicting great plays, frozen in time.

From Wisconsin, Ray Barrington informs me that it is in fact being done.  At the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in Lambeau Field, visitors can relive the freeze frame just before the final snap of the famous 1967 “Ice Bowl” NFL championship game.

And how could I have forgotten Franco Harris, who made the “Immaculate Reception” for the Steelers five years later?  That moment is also available for inspection, though not in a sports museum.  It’s next to the escalators at Pittsburgh International Airport.

(Photos posted by others on the Internet)

MARCH 16, 2010     BRACKETOLOGY

Suggestions to expand the NCAA tournament's 65-team field to 96 teams have met with various objections, including the claim that this would extend the three weeks of March Madness to four weeks.

That’s not necessarily so.  To decide who gets the 16th and final spot in one of the four regions, there already is a “play-in” game on the first Tuesday of the tournament (which happens to be tonight).  All we have to do is add 31 more play-in games!  And no additional neutral sites would be required.  We’d merely add another all-day session at each existing site.

I illustrate with the diagram above, showing the games to be played at the Jacksonville sub-regional this week.  On the left is the actual schedule, with bold numbers representing seeding.  (There are 16 teams in each of four regions, ranked or “seeded” from 1 down to 16.)  On the right is how it could be modified for a 96-team field, where the seedings run from 1 to 24.

There would be minimal effect on travel.  The top eight seeds would get byes and not have to play until Thursday or Friday, just like the current arrangement.  But before that, on Tuesday or Wednesday, seeds 9 through 16 would face seeds 17 through 24.  The winners would advance to play the top eight seeds on Thursday or Friday, at the same time and on the same floor as their first game.  Thereafter, the tournament would continue in the manner to which we have become accustomed.

 

MARCH 14, 2010     ONE MOMENT IN TIME

Driving home yesterday from the Patriot League championship game, where Lehigh defeated Lafayette for the right to advance to the NCAA tournament and be trounced by top-seeded Kansas this coming Thursday, I stopped at a huge Cabela’s store north of Reading, PA.  I am definitely not an outdoorsman, but I was curious about what was inside.

The photo at the right, and the next one, come from this web page.

Besides the expected vast assortment of hunting and fishing gear for sale, Cabela’s offers other attractions for the tourist, including an aquarium and several taxidermic displays.

In one side room are realistic dioramas filled with dozens of stuffed whitetail deer.  Each is labeled.  Many of the labels name the hunter who shot the deer.  At least one label names the person who “collected” the deer, which I presume means that he picked the road kill up off the highway.

Other displays feature stuffed moose, mountain goats, Arctic foxes, and other animals in natural-looking settings.  

There’s also an African section.  At the entrance are several animals posed in a freeze frame of an exciting action sequence:  a wide-eyed group of greater kudu fleeing toward us, trying to escape a lion attack.  Like running backs making their cuts, the athletic lions are closing in for the kill.

The panicked antelope are almost close enough to touch.  That’s a step up from zoos, where we stare from a distance at bored animals standing around.  Of course, at least the zoo animals are still alive.

Shouldn’t sports halls of fame also depict their athletes in frozen three-dimensional “shining moments”?  Of course, it wouldn’t do for taxidermists to stuff the athletes, but statues could be posed to bring the action within reach.  I’ve faked a photo of such a display.

I haven’t been to a sports museum lately.  Do they already do this sort of thing?  If not, why not?

SEE MARCH 22 (ABOVE) FOR UPDATE

 

MARCH 11, 2010     BRIGHT IDEAS

By some, the concept of daylight saving time has been traced back to a method to save on the expense of candles, proposed in a letter written by Benjamin Franklin.  This letter, as a matter of fact.  But it turns out that old Ben wasn’t completely serious.

In a satirical essay worthy of Dave Barry, Franklin pretends to stumble accidentally on the discovery that daylight begins as early as 6:00 AM.  In the summer, it begins even earlier.  The people of Paris don’t realize this, he says, because they stay up most of the night burning the midnight oil.  Then they go to bed and don’t rise to greet the sun until noon.

By ignoring Franklin’s motto, “early to bed, early to rise,” Parisians are losing money.  If they were to replace costly artificial light with free natural sunlight, he calculates they could save 96,075,000 livres in just half a year.

To this end, he has several suggestions.  However, they don’t include “daylight time.”  He does not propose resetting the clocks so that “noon” occurs at sunrise.

Instead, to encourage people to go to bed earlier, Franklin recommends rationing candle wax.  To discourage the use of window shutters that block out the morning sun, he recommends taxing the shutters.  Sleepyheads would be roused at dawn with church bells and cannon fire.

Sadly, the sleepyheads did not come around, and morning sunlight continued to go to waste for more than a hundred years.  Reportedly, it was not until 1907 that setting the clocks ahead in the spring was first seriously advocated by William Willett.  That expedient is now the law.

When I was in charge of local origination channels on cable TV systems, we didn’t present programs 24 hours a day.  Most of the time, TV-3 merely displayed automated screens of time, weather, and text ads, as in these examples.

Some subscribers must have actually referred to these screens.  On two particular Sundays during the year, a few people would call our office and leave messages like this:  “Hey, you idiots, your clock is wrong!”  Of course, those Sundays were the ones when daylight time began or ended at 2:00 AM.  Because no one was in our office then, no one had yet reset the clock.

It didn’t seem cost-effective to pay someone to come in on Sunday morning for this trivial task.  Finally, I hit upon a solution.

I adopted a policy of changing the clock in advance, on Saturday afternoon.  I put a notice on the crawl at the bottom of the screen:  THE TIME ABOVE IS EASTERN DAYLIGHT TIME, EFFECTIVE AT 2:00 AM SUNDAY.

This seemed to work.  For the rest of Saturday, the incorrect clock reminded people of the impending time change.  Then on Sunday, the correct clock eliminated the complaints.


 

MARCH 8, 2010     REVENGE OF THE WICKED WITCH

Last month's snows have almost completely melted in suburban Pittsburgh.  But if we are to believe this Google Earth image (centered at 40°28'09" N, 79°50'12" W), the spring thaw has caused a significant frost heave on the gray asphalt road in Penn Hills known as Dorothy Drive.

MARCH 5, 2010     NAMES

Are you aware that the world’s longest-running variety TV show is the Spanish-language Sábado Gigante (Giant Saturday) on Univision?  It’s been hosted since 1962 by a man from Chile, Don Francisco.  That sounds Spanish enough.

But it turns out that Don Francisco’s real name is Mario Luis Kreutzberger Blumenfeld, and he’s married to Teresa Muchnik Rosenblum.  His Jewish parents fled from Germany to Chile to escape Nazi persecution.

 

Have you heard sports talkers mention the Yukon Huskies?  This team must be located in Canada’s wild Yukon Territory, east of Alaska.  They must use dogsleds for transportation.  Maybe these Huskies will be competing in the Iditarod starting tomorrow.

But then you discover that in this case, “Yukon” is actually spelled UConn.  It stands for the University of Connecticut.

 

MARCH 2, 2010     LAUGH TRACKS, REVISITED

Last summer, in this post, I raised the question:  When a TV comedy is not filmed in front of a live audience, where does the audience laughter come from?  As a young boy I thought it might be recorded during a preview screening, a guess which I later learned was incorrect.

But hold the phone!  I’ve just run across this four-year-old article revealing that my technique is in fact being used on How I Met Your Mother.

Rob Owen reports that the show is filmed with multiple cameras but no audience, to allow more flexibility.  Then, after filming is complete:

Longer versions of finished Mother episodes are screened on monitors for an audience that sits in bleachers on the nearby Stacked soundstage.  Their reactions are recorded and used as the laugh track.  Jokes or lines that fall flat are cut until the episode hits CBS's target running time (about 21 minutes).

I always thought my idea made sense!

And here's another update, from Mark Evanier's blog of February 12, 2013.  He's discussing The Phil Silvers Show, which aired on CBS from 1955 to 1959.

The Sgt. Bilko show was shot in front of a live audience for its first few seasons.  Then they started filming without one.  After every two filmed-without-one episodes were edited, they’d send the films, some audio engineers and a cast member to some sort of theater with some sort of audience.  The cast member would welcome the crowd, warm them up with a comedy routine, then the episodes would be shown and the live laughter would be recorded and dubbed onto the shows.

Other TV news:  I much enjoyed last night’s American Experience documentary on Dolley Madison.  In time-honored Ken Burns fashion, period correspondence was read by actors.  However, this time they actually appeared on screen, speaking in character to the camera as if they were confiding in us.  The cast included English actress Eve Best as the Virginia-accented Dolley.

No mimic nowadays does an impression of Martha Washington, who spoke in public only once, but we got such an impression last night when Eve voiced one of Dolley’s letters.  She reported that Martha, curious about her rumored engagement to James Madison, had invited her to the presidential mansion.  “‘Dolley!’ she said to me....”  And the first word resembled an aristocratic “Dahling!”  That’s always how I imagined Martha sounded.  Later, Eve gave a wonderfully enigmatic reading of the line, “Now I am Mrs. James Madison.  Alas.”

 

MARCH 1, 2010     HAPPY HOLI-DAY

During World War II, 66 years ago in Calcutta, my father witnessed a Hindu spring festival called Holi.  The Indian people playfully sprayed each other with colorful powders and liquids.

He described the celebration in a letter home, to which I've added some modern photos.

In this year 2010, the full moon having appeared last night, Holi is today!

 

From Calcutta, my father traveled about 300 miles north and then 400 miles east to the province (now state) of Assam.  For the rest of 1944 and 1945, he would be stationed near the town of Chabua.

I’ve recently learned about his neighbor — the little girl who lived down the road. 

The base was surrounded by tea plantations.  They were mostly operated by the British using local labor, as in a photo (click here) that my father brought back.

It turns out that one of those plantation managers lived in the house on the right, pictured recently in the London Daily Mail.  His name was Frank St. John Christie, and he had a three-year-old daughter.

When the war was over, Vernon Thomas left Chabua, returned to America, and became my father.

Soon afterwards, Frank Christie’s daughter left Chabua, moved to England, and became an Academy Award-winning actress.  Her name:  Julie Christie.

And now you know The Rest Of The Story.

 

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