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AUGUST \ JULY 2010

 

AUGUST 31, 2010     DON'T TELL ME WHAT TO THINK

A Fourth of July letter to the editor of the Daily Herald reminded readers in Provo, Utah, about

“the startling claim that continues to unsettle dictators and elites everywhere: ‘That all men are created equal.’ This reverberates always, but especially today.  We are constantly bombarded with messages, overt or subtle, about the superior wisdom of this professor or that expert.  The Declaration is an antidote to the dogma that any clique or coterie has some superior wisdom and that the rest of us must kowtow to them.”

I object.  We aren’t forced to agree with professors.  On the other hand, the know-nothings believe we should agree with what they say.  Their clique or coterie claims to know, somehow, that the experts are wrong.  As Texas State Board of Education member Don McLeroy declared during this year’s textbook debates, “Someone has to stand up to experts!”

Or consider the complaint of pastor Ray Mummert during the 2005 trial about teaching creationism in Dover, Pennsylvania (as quoted by Charles P. Pierce in his book Idiot America).  Speaking on behalf of all stupid, uninformed Americans, pastor Mummert whined, “We’ve been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of our culture.”

Did the experts have their superior knowledge handed to them because of some pre-existing elite status?  No, they studied.  They earned the right to have their conclusions respected.

Others may have preferred not to learn, because they might have discovered that some of their cherished beliefs are wrong.  But if they deliberately chose to reject knowledge, they have no grounds now to complain about unfairness.

Even Rush Limbaugh likes to point out, “America guarantees equal opportunity, not equal outcome.”  In the capitalist system, if we work hard we should have as much chance as the next guy to achieve success and join the financial elite.  Likewise, if we study hard we should have as much chance as the next guy to achieve wisdom and join the intellectual elite.

All people are created equal, as poor foolish infants.  Those who don’t apply themselves are likely to remain poor and foolish.

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been.  The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

—Isaac Asimov in Newsweek, January 21, 1980

 

AUGUST 29, 2010     ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE

Google Earth keeps getting better.  They took this picture last month.  I added the yellow pushpin to identify my apartment.  The dark rectangular object below the pushpin is my Chameleon Blue automobile, parked a little off-center in one of the building's two gravel parking spots.

According to Google, the "imagery date" was July 3, 2010.  According to my appointment book, July 3 was a Saturday.  Judging by the shadows, the imagery was probably captured between 10:00 and 11:00 in the morning.  I would have been inside the apartment, reading Internet articles while listening to Car Talk.  Before noon, I would leave to telecast that evening's Phillies at Pirates game.  My neighbors, meanwhile, would have been readying their fireworks.

 

AUGUST 24, 2010     PERSPECTIVE

Sometimes we lose sight of the business model.  Who are the customers?  Who’s the competition?

. . . television . . .

Most people think a TV channel’s viewers are its customers, and its programs are the products it sells to those viewers.  Therefore the channel should want to offer us the highest-quality programs possible.  That may be true of a pay channel like HBO.

However, it’s not true of a traditional broadcast station.  In this case, viewers like us are not the customers.  We are the product.  Our eyeballs are delivered to those who actually pay the bills, namely the advertisers.  The advertisers are the station’s real customers.

Therefore the station doesn’t really care what we want to watch; it merely wants to attract as many of us as possible to see its customers’ commercials.  It doesn’t care about the inherent quality of its programs, only their popularity with the desired demographic.

. . . baseball . . .

Recently in Pittsburgh there’s been much discussion of baseball team finances.  The difference between success and failure depends on how you define your goal.  Do you want to earn a profit, or do you want to win a championship?  As a business, the Pittsburgh Pirates are a profitable success.  As a baseball team, they’re a spectacular failure.

The Pirates are beneficiaries of revenue sharing, in which teams in big cities like Chicago contribute to a fund that helps teams in smaller cities like Pittsburgh.  Supposedly this improves the disadvantaged teams’ ability to compete and win on the baseball field.  But, as one blogger noted yesterday, “most businesses don’t receive revenue from their competition.”

From a business standpoint, however, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs are not in competition with each other.  Are the Altoona Wal-Mart and the Meadville Wal-Mart competitors?  No, they’re part of the same endeavor.  Ball clubs are merely franchises, in different markets, of Major League Baseball.

From a business standpoint, the Pirates’ true competitors aren't the St. Louis Cardinals.  Their true competitors are local amusement parks, movie theaters, and other places of entertainment right here in southwestern Pennsylvania.  That's how the Pirates can lose two-thirds of their games (to their baseball competition) and still be a successful enterprise (against their business competition).

 

AUGUST 23, 2010     THE YACHT HAS BEEN DISPATCHED

I grew up in Ohio quite far from the sea; 
Therefore, nautical terms weren’t familiar to me.
I had no need of knowing the technical name 
For a luxury boat of a person of fame.

Nonetheless, whether taught by my parents or not,
I knew how to pronounce the exotic term “yacht.”
A yacht’s “h” remains silent, and so does its “c” —
Though there’s no explanation of why this should be.

There was one of my classmates in third or fourth grade
Who referred to a yacht in a joke that he made.
He’d encountered the word in a book, I assume,
Or a magazine found in the library room.

His omnivorous reading made all of us proud,
But he never had heard the word spoken aloud.
Thus the lad had no reason at all to suspect
That to “sound the word out” just would not be correct.

So his joke set off childish amusement unmatched
When we heard him pronounce the deceptive word “yatched.”

 

AUGUST 17, 2010     THE FANS ARE HOOING

Steelers tight end Heath Miller made a catch in last weekend's preseason game at Heinz Field.  Listen closely to the reaction from the Steelers supporters.  The audience seems to be displeased.  But I’ve heard this sound often enough to know that they aren’t booing; they’re yelling “Heath!”  I have no idea why their “ee” sounds to me like “oo.”  Must be the Pittsburgh accent.

Audio Link

 

AUGUST 12, 2010     DESTROY AFTER READING?

Suppose you have several pieces of paperwork in front of you, including schedules for yesterday and today.  You no longer need yesterday’s schedule.  How do you get rid of it?

Some people rip it up, either by tearing it into pieces or running it through a mechanical shredder.  I’m not that paranoid.

Others crumple it up into a ball and throw it into the wastebasket, thereby sharpening their basketball skills.  But a ball takes up more space in the trash than a flat sheet of paper.

Personally, I neither shred or crumple documents, because there’s a chance I might need to refer to them again.  I might fold yesterday’s schedule once to distinguish it from today’s.  But when I’m done with it, I merely set it aside.  I'll discard it later, or maybe I'll use the other side or file it away for posterity.

This habit of preserving historical trivia about my life explains much of this website.  How else would I have been able to tell you the combination of my high school locker?

Another part of the explanation:  I remember things.  Several people have read detailed articles here and marveled, “You have a great memory.”  I think it works like this:

Something happens that interests me, like looking down via television on the stars atop the shoulders of Eddie LeBaron and the 1961 Dallas Cowboys.  (See the previous post below.)  I’m a solitary person who spends a lot of time alone.  Therefore, later that night, with no family around to distract me, I’ll relive the interesting event several times.  I’ll simplify any details that seem unimportant.  Then the next day I’ll enjoy the memory a couple times more, and occasionally in the days after that.  Every time the memory is played back, that’s a new experience.  A new copy of my reconstruction of the event is recorded elsewhere in the brain.  Eventually there are so many copies scattered among my various mental file folders that it would be impossible for me to forget the old days, even if advancing age someday makes it difficult to record any new incoming data.

 

AUGUST 6, 2010     DÉJÀ VU

On Wednesday afternoon I was working a telecast of a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game.  My coordinator Jason Steele was monitoring the Internet for other news from around the major leagues.

Suddenly Jason found a report from Yankee Stadium.  He asked me to call up graphic 2671, a shell for a news bulletin in the lower third of the TV screen.  He began dictating what I should type on it.  “Alex Rodriguez (NYY)...”

“He finally did it?!” I interrupted.  Yes, he did.  We had been anticipating this achievement for weeks.

Jason continued, “...hits 600th career home run.  Youngest player ever to reach milestone.”  The graphic went on the air, and our announcer Greg Brown informed our viewers of Rodriguez’s accomplishment.

I was reminded of a similar experience nearly half a century ago.

It was a Sunday afternoon, and my father and I were watching an NFL game on TV.  Checking the annals of history, I conclude that we must have been watching Dallas at Cleveland on the first day of October in 1961.  I remember that the Cowboys were an expansion team then, wearing funny uniforms with stars on the shoulders and led by diminutive 5’9” quarterback Eddie LeBaron (left).  They were playing in only their second season, and the Browns defeated them easily by a 25-7 score.

During the course of the football telecast, the announcer (probably Ken Coleman) informed us that in an afternoon game at Yankee Stadium, another New York Yankee had just hit a long-anticipated home run.  In this case, it was the 61st of the season for Roger Maris, breaking the old record of 60 set by Babe Ruth 34 years before.

I didn’t see either homer when it happened.  But you always remember where you were when you heard the news.

 

AUGUST 2, 2010     WEEKEND UPDATE

Over the past weekend, I augmented some of the existing articles on this website by adding links to other people’s multimedia.

In this article, scroll down to the Automobiles section.  Why was my hometown’s speed limit in 1904 only eight miles per hour?  The motion picture camera shows us actual business-district traffic from back then.  You wouldn’t want to drive much faster.

Another article now includes links to video of Groucho Marx — and his daughter — performing snippets from The Mikado.

And at the end of this article, you can find a link to a recent audio podcast featuring the mentalist whom I televised when he was just a teenager.

I also read in the Sunday newspaper that a kid in a poor neighborhood has to watch his back.  Always on the lookout for trouble, he never learns to concentrate on a single task, because he can’t shut out the rest of the world the way a child in a safer middle-class neighborhood can.  Thus, as he grows up, his brain develops differently.

 

JULY 31, 2010     A BETTER PERCH

Traditionally, football action is televised from a catbird seat, high atop the stadium.

But nowadays the latest technological wrinkle is 3D.  And if you try to shoot the action with a 3D camera on the pressbox level, you don’t get much feeling of depth, since everything on the field is far away.

You could reposition your camera lower down in the stands, but then you’d have to kick out paying customers to make room.  Several hundred paying customers, perhaps.  It’s very disorienting in 3D when a fan jumps up to signal “hook ’em ’Horns” directly in front of the dual lenses, so several rows of seats in front of the camera would have to be left empty.

The best solution might be a “MastCam” on the sideline, which ESPN-3D will use for college football play-by-play this fall (according to reports in the trade press).  Already deployed behind the pitcher’s mound during this month’s Home Run Derby, a MastCam is a robotic 3D camera atop a 20-foot pole.  The cameraman operates a pan-bar remote control from elsewhere in the stadium.

The mast will be attached to a motorized cart that will travel up and down the sideline to stay close to the action.

As I’ve suggested more than once, this will provide a viewpoint that will be the greatest seat in the house.

 
JULY 27, 2010     AN UNMARKED SQUARE

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the Main Line that brought canal boats to Pittsburgh in the 19th century.  Now I’ve discovered the meaning of a recently-constructed water feature that I photographed near PNC Park.

There are no signs identifying it.  I didn't realize its significance until, in a newspaper story about Pittsburgh’s fountains, it was referred to as Canal Square.  Apparently it recalls the manmade waterway that connected to the Allegheny River near this spot 176 years ago.

I’ve added a couple of additional photos to my earlier article.

 

JULY 21, 2010     COUNCIL CHAMBERS

Talk about transparency in government!  Richwood Village Council now holds its meetings in this glass-walled room, looking down the main street of that Ohio town.

When my father built it more than 45 years ago, this was the showroom of Vernon M. Thomas Chevrolet-Oldsmobile.  However, as I mentioned last year, the former automobile dealership has been reconfigured to serve as Richwood’s municipal building.

Now another governmental body is also taking advantage of the space.  The Claibourne Township Trustees are moving their files to the Richwood building, where they’re scheduled to meet monthly starting at 7:00 tonight.

 

JULY 18, 2010     MY FIRST REMOTE

In my article Radio and TV at Syracuse, I included a letter I wrote the day after the first TV sports “remote” of my career.

The telecast took place on a rainy Saturday exactly 40 years ago today, when the Onondaga County Firemen's Convention featured a parade and “Firematic Races.”

Recently, I've discovered further fascinating production details in my files.  I now have excerpts from the script, and I can describe camera and microphone placements!

Click here to jump to the updated letter.

 

JULY 15, 2010     THE CONFIRMED BACHELOR

Fictional talk-show host Brother Billy is back with another edition of It's in the Bible.  This time he's brought along his wife Bernice to help interview a famous man of letters.  Click here for Talking with Paul.

 

JULY 13, 2010     NEW PHOTOS

Today I took a little trip to locate the address where my future mother lived for four months in 1943.  I took some pictures and added them to this article.

Also, I've found some black-and-white publicity shots of my favorite cute television actress from 1973.  They're now part of this article.

JULY 12, 2010     BLOW, GABRIEL, BLOW


 Come on, you scamps!  Get up, you sinners!
 You're all too full of expensive dinners....
      Will you be ready to go
      When I blow
               My horn?
 —Cole Porter, Anything Goes

I know, I know.  The World Cup is over, and you’re suffering vuvuzela withdrawal.

But did you know these infernal one-note instruments were sounding off 43 years ago?  At the college library, no less?

In this country we called them “stadium horns.”  One or two made it onto the very website you’re visiting now.

Click here to listen to the sound clip.

Click here for the full article.  When I wrote it eight years ago, I overestimated the length of the tube.  It’s not really 48 inches long; more like 28 inches.  But it does make its presence known.

 

JULY 8, 2010     WE'RE HAVING A HEAT WAVE

In the winter, I set my thermostat at 65°.  In the summer, I can handle indoor temperatures up to 80°.  Above 90°, however, I can’t get much accomplished.

Using a digital thermometer at my computer desk, I’ve charted the indoor temperature over a 60-hour period this week.  I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end (the orange portions of the chart).  Every afternoon the merciless sun bakes my apartment building.  Even after the sun goes down for a few hours (the blue portions), the day does not end, because the structure of the building continues to radiate its stored-up thermal energy into my living room.

The data for the first two days shows that the thermal lag could be as much as ten hours.  The outdoor temperature peaked around 4 pm; my apartment temperature peaked at midnight one night and 8 pm the next, but it didn’t really start to cool off until around 2 am.  That’s not very conducive to sleeping.  And there seems to be a longer-term effect:  the building is getting a little hotter every day.

The larger, earlier peak on the third day can partly be attributed to a temporary problem with my window air conditioner.  It’s not really designed to cool the entire apartment.  All I can do is sit directly in front of the AC vent, with another fan blowing from another angle, and hope for milder weather.

A news story yesterday used the obligatory sentence “No relief is in sight,” adding, “Forecasters predicted the heat would continue to peak in the 90s and even approach 100.”  But then, a few paragraphs later, the same story admitted that relief is in sight.  Although “the temperature today and Thursday is expected to be in the low 90s,” on Friday “temperatures are expected to drop to the 80s.”

I’m not sure I can make it.  Today is Thursday, predicted to be the last day of the barely bearable heat.  My chart suggests that the interior of my apartment will reach 93° tonight.  I may have to abandon this oven and spend the night elsewhere, somewhere with full air conditioning.

 

JULY 7, 2010     TO TAKE ARMS AGAINST THEM

Guns, like other implements of destruction, are repugnant to me. 

If I had to personally obtain my own food, I’d probably be a lacto-ovo vegetarian.  I’m perfectly willing to gather animals’ freely-offered milk and eggs and eat them, but I don’t want to kill the animals and eat their corpses.

I don’t want to murder anything — not animals, not fish, not criminals, not enemies.  I’m neither a hunter, nor a fisherman, nor an executioner, nor a soldier.

Fortunately, there are other people who do like to kill.  I can rely on them to slaughter animals and blow up bad guys for me.  Therefore, I can eat meat and enjoy freedom while still claiming to have a clear conscience.  I’m not the one who did the killing.

Some Americans who do like guns worry that “the government” wants to take their firearms away from them.  They remind us that such confiscation would violate the Second Amendment to the Constitution:  “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Let's look at the language of the amendment.  Why are citizens allowed to own weapons?  So they’ll have the equipment to join a militia if necessary.  Will this militia be able to go around waging war on any and all perceived enemies?  No, it will be well regulated.  Regulated by whom?  By the State, of course.  The duly-elected government.

Some Tea Party supporters seem to have this backwards.  They’re in the minority at present, which means that the duly-elected government of the United States is dominated by their political opponents.  Therefore, they’re itching to use their guns against the government of the United States.

Sharron Angle, running for the U.S. Senate, threatens, “If this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying, my goodness, what can we do to turn this country around?”

According to columnist Jay Bookman (click here), such “Second Amendment remedies” are treason.  “People who spout such nonsense are not patriotic Americans; they are not lovers of liberty or believers in the rule of law or self-governance. By claiming the right to impose their viewpoints through violence rather than the ballot box, they seek to become the very tyrants they claim to oppose, and wrapping their ugliness in the American flag does nothing to change its vile character.”

 

 

JULY 4, 2010     MAKING CENTS

Just in time for the Fourth of July, the newly redesigned 2010 pennies have begun to show up in circulation.

I first received one in change only nine days ago.  Lincoln’s portrait is still on the front, but the back now features a Union shield, with 13 stripes capped by a broad chief.

I've colored the shield to highlight its Latin motto:  E pluribus unum, or “Out of many, one.”

In 1776 that motto proclaimed,
“From 13 colonies or states,
one great nation has emerged.”

Today it can remind us,
“From many ancestries and religions,
one great people has emerged.”

Christians, Muslims, atheists, Swedes, Latinos, blacks, Japanese, whatever — we Americans are one.

However, with inflation over the years, we Americans can no longer buy anything for one cent.  A lone penny is virtually worthless.  Minting them wastes taxpayer money, and handling them at the cash register is a cost that businesses could do without.

Gasoline pumps already round off your $2.709 gallon of gas to the nearest penny, or $2.71.  How about a federal proclamation that any retail store may, if it desires, round off your bill to the nearest dime?

Say that today you buy an item for 76 cents including tax.  Tomorrow you buy another item for 83 cents.  But the cash register is marked with a “round ten” symbol, and in both cases it rings up 80 cents.  You hand the clerk a dollar bill, and she gives you back 20 cents change.  No pesky pennies are required.  And you aren't allowed to complain about being shortchanged, because (1) there’s official permission to do this and (2) it all evens out in the end.

 

JULY 1, 2010     ENOUGH SPENDING FOR NOW

The Pittsburgh Pirates are back in town today after a 2-7 road trip, so it’s time for me to go back to work at PNC Park.  Yes, it’s time to start earning money instead of carrying out my own economic stimulus program.

My biggest expense item this week was my car, which was due for its 90,000-mile checkup.  Including changing the spark plugs and all the fluids and filters, it cost many hundreds of dollars, but Old Reliable should now be good for another couple of years.

Three other expenditures were in the $150 range.

When my DVD recorder gave out in April, I swapped my Comcast cable box for one that includes two DVRs.  I use that for almost all my TV time-shifting now.  The ability to record in high-def is a major plus.  But I still sometimes need to record something on a standard-definition DVD:  perhaps a third show at the same time, or perhaps something I want to keep indefinitely.  Therefore, this week I installed a new DVD recorder, also taking the opportunity to simplify some of the wiring in my video rack.  The new machine gets its first assignment tonight.

My desktop computer had been connected to the same 15” monitor as its predecessor.  Fine print is gradually becoming harder for me to read, so this week I splurged on a 20” widescreen monitor.  Now a line of text, formerly 11 inches wide, can be 16 inches wide.  That means that a one-square-inch object is now 2.12 square inches — a big improvement.

Finally, my 10-year-old pocket-size digital camera uses rechargeable battery packs, but after about five years they wear out and won’t reliably hold a charge.  Also, the camera’s resolution is only 1.92 megapixels.  Cell phones nowadays do better than that.  So this week I got a new Nikon that uses easy-to-replace AA alkaline batteries.  Its resolution is 12 megapixels, and it can even shoot 480p video.  Now I merely have to spend a day next week learning how to use it.  I promise I won’t post any 4000 by 3000 pictures here without downsizing them first.

 

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