FEBRUARY 28, 2011 MORE ICE
Two months ago, I introduced the chart I call the Ice Cube Road. As promised, below is an update, showing the standings of the National Hockey Leagues Atlantic Division through Sundays games. Philadelphia leads. Second-place Pittsburgh has a mediocre record lately, as do the two New York teams. But after a terrible start, New Jersey's surge over the last 20 games has lifted the Devils out of the cellar.
FEBRUARY 27, 2011 WATCHING DAYTONA
A week ago, I tuned in early to the Daytona 500 telecast, thinking Id hear an explanation of the radical new drafting style that all the NASCAR drivers were using. In past years theyd circle the tri-oval in large packs, 10 or 15 feet apart. This year theyve decided to pair up into two-car tandems with the pusher in back practically touching the bumper of the leader in front. Although it looks weird, two cars hooked up in this fashion reportedly can reach speeds nearly 15 miles per hour faster than they can separately.
It wasnt until I received Sports Illustrated later in the week that I was enlightened. Kurt Busch discovered in 2007 that these two-car drafts are more efficient at superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega. However, four years ago it was impossible to maintain a tight formation all the way around the track. The turns were too bumpy and slick. The cars bounced and slid around, and the drivers had to back off on the throttle. But now the smoother surface at Daytona has removed those difficulties.
Twenty-year-old Trevor Bayne was in the lead coming off the final turn as the tandems finally broke up in an every-man-for-himself dash to the checkered flag. I think one of the TV announcers shouted that the pairs had switched and now Baynes pusher was Carl Edwards. To me, it didnt appear that way. Edwards wasnt helping Bayne; instead, he was trying to pass him on the inside, but Bayne slid down in front of Edwards to block his passage. Bayne won, and the celebrations began.
Once again the broadcasters let me down. The race had run longer than anticipated, and when it was over it seemed that the replay technicians had gone home. Through interview after interview, no taped footage was shown. I wanted to see those decisive final seconds again. Finally, I realized that I was watching through a cable box with a DVR, and I could rewind the telecast myself. I spun back ten minutes or so and, in slow motion, watched Bayne hang onto the lead and take the flag.
Before the next race at Daytona, maybe they should re-install a few potholes to keep pairs of cars from gluing themselves together. It just doesnt seem right.
FEBRUARY 22, 2011 THEY'RE ON THE ROOF!
FEBRUARY 18, 2011 MY GRAINS
KCBS-TV reporter Serene Branson began speaking in tongues Sunday night during a Grammy Awards update from the Staples Center. Shes fine now; her scrambled speech has been attributed to a complex migraine.
I can empathize. I've had the same scary experience twice, though fortunately not while on the air.
When I was a toddler, I programmed a part of my brain to associate words like Mommy with the vocal contortions necessary to produce sounds like Muh, aw, muh, ee. Thus I learned to speak. The brain app automatically converts words to speech without further effort on my part. However, a couple of times in 1971, it suffered a power shortage and began outputting gibberish. I wanted to say Check and what I heard coming out of my mouth was Chart. The only way I could produce the words I wanted was by bypassing the malfunctioning software and consciously speaking Each Sound separately, as in Eee, ch, Sss, ow, und. So I shut up for a few minutes while my brain rebooted, and afterwards everything was normal. I described the episodes to our family doctor, Dr. C.W. Holcomb, who basically said there was nothing that could be done.
Ive also had another symptom of complex migraines, the aura. I first noticed this problem when I was 18 years old, and I still experience it a few times a year. It starts with pulsing fuzzy yellow dots in the central part of my vision. (Psychedelic, man!) Over the course of 20 minutes or so, the dots migrate to the outer edges of my vision and then off the screen. One time, the aura hit me as I was reading teletype copy aloud on a radio newscast. It wasnt easy to decipher the faint purple type on yellow paper, obscured as it was by grainy yellow dots, but I managed by looking off-center and using my peripheral vision.
Some years later, I recall that a Pittsburgh Pirates infielder I think it was Jay Bell had to be scratched from a scheduled start because he was experiencing an aura. You dont want to be catching a hard-hit baseball if you cant distinguish it from the other dots of light.
FEBRUARY 13, 2011 FLOWERS SHOW
A couple of days ago, Scott Spears of WMRN radio in Marion, Ohio, taped a 15-minute telephone interview with me about The Sally Flowers Show. Unfortunately, I have only five minutes of memories about this program from 40 years ago. It was a morning talk show that aired on Marion CATVs channel 3. I was the guy in the control room, and we basically just turned the cameras on Sally and let her do her thing.
However, I do recall that Sally was very good at what she did. In the early years of television, she had been a beloved personality in the big city of Columbus. In 1970, we were lucky to get her to present a daily show in our small city of Marion, even if it was for only about four months.
Like her fellow TV pioneer Arthur Godfrey, Sally ad-libbed her commercials, simply telling her viewers about the sponsors. And like Godfrey and more recent performers such as Craig Ferguson, she related directly to her audience, speaking to the camera as though it were a real person. When she was conversing with you through the TV screen, you couldnt take your eyes off her.
FEBRUARY 7, 2011 TYPOGRAPHICAL COMPRESSION
However, they still used the standard font for short names. I didnt like this inconsistency, and I mentioned it to another operator later that year. Then I discovered that he had been the one who came up with the idea!
Nowadays, if we graphics operators type too many letters in a given space, the character generator makes our words fit by automatically compressing the font as much as necessary. Variable aspect ratios have become so common in TV graphics that we no longer notice them.
FEBRUARY 1, 2011 WINTER'S END
In a new article, I attempt to adopt an Irish persona as I give a fanciful explanation of How Tomorrow Came To Be.
JANUARY 26, 2011 WE'RE NOT THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
Is America exceptional? The majority likes to think so. Does everything happen for a reason? The majority likes to think so. However, many educated people know better.
John Brockman of The Edge asked his fellow scientists, What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit? Minnesota professor PZ Myers responded:
Sean Carroll added:
JANUARY 20, 2011 THIS IS MY LIFE
Each year, the Social Security Administration prepares us for retirement by mailing us a lifetime summary of our annual earnings. Out of curiosity, I graphed my numbers (blue line). I also adjusted them for inflation based on what a dollar was worth in 1983; the following discussion refers to these constant dollars (red line).
I didnt reach the third level of income (green tint) until the second half of the 1990s. Thats when I traveled a lot for Fox Sports Nets national telecasts, making $43,820 in 2000.
Since 2002 Ive been working mostly around Pittsburgh (no tint). The only year I approached the 2000 earnings record was 2006, when I traveled with the Pirates for ten weeks of nonstop baseball.
So theres my 40-year career in one graph. What does it all mean? Well, if I retire a couple of years from now, Social Security will send me monthly checks totaling $24,000 per year (blue star), which will be worth about $11,000 in 1983 dollars (red star). Until they run out of money, that is.
JANUARY 14, 2011 WHAT FUN IT IS TO RIDE
Bus trips in January are not always enjoyable.
On the lakefront in Cleveland, the wind chill was 22 degrees below zero on the night of January 4, 1968. The Oberlin College basketball team hurriedly filed out of their motor coach and into a restaurant for a postgame meal to celebrate their first win of the season. As a member of the broadcast crew, I was with them.
Two nights later, following a loss, a snowstorm was raging on Interstate 71. Again I was with the team as a 120-mile journey from Columbus back to Oberlin took more than an hour longer than usual.
These details come from a letter I wrote the next day.
JANUARY 8, 2011 A FRONT-SEAT ROW
Sometimes on a summer evening, while my father was working late, my mother and I would drive over to Richwood Lake to take in a youth baseball game.
We had great seats in our private box, which was much more comfortable than the four rows of wooden bleachers off to our right.
Other spectators did likewise, including some who parked behind the outfield fence. If they forgot to turn their headlights off, the umpire had to halt the game momentarily.
I recently ran across a note from the mother of one of my classmates, describing how village residents also sat in their cars to watch another spectacle one that took place downtown every Saturday night. Ive added it to this article.
And Ive updated a couple of other articles.
A hundred years ago, a Richwood inventor explained his motivation. Click here.
More than 40 years ago, I suggested that laboratory scientists could judge how much pain a mouse is feeling by looking at the expression on his face. Now theyve finally taken my suggestion. Click here.
JANUARY 2, 2011 SHOESTRING PARADES
Hey, State U fans! Now that football season is here, it wont be long until the leaves begin to turn, and cold weather is just around the corner. Be sure to get your cars fall checkup at ...
That radio commercial might have made sense when it was written in late August. But its still running when State U plays its bowl game in early January. Why hasnt the sponsor updated the script? He doesnt care. He bought the air time not to deliver timely sales messages but merely to identify with the popular football team.
In this sort of small-scale broadcasting, many corners are cut. Consider parades. When telecasting a parade, the producer typically assembles big loose-leaf binders with one page describing each unit; the announcers can read from these script books, adding ad-libs and trading comments.
However, Ive been involved in telecasts of local parades in which the video crew merely cuts from one interesting shot to the next one they find, leaving the announcers to follow along in their scripts as best they can. Not infrequently, an announcer hasnt finished telling a story about one unit when the next unit inexplicably appears on the screen.
As is my custom, I watched the Tournament of Roses parade yesterday. I used three TVs. The audio was out of sync on KTLAs coverage on the Hallmark Channel, so I put them on my tertiary set; floats showed up about a minute later than they did on the other networks, because their camera position was around the corner on Colorado Boulevard. On my secondary HD screen, I watched ABC and NBC, switching during commercial breaks. And on my primary HD screen was the uninterrupted coverage of HGTV.
This was not small-scale broadcasting. HGTV, in particular, did it right. I reconstruct yesterdays telecast like this.
When the producer decided it was time to proceed to unit 37, he told the announcers to wrap up their comments about unit 36. As soon as they did, the director put a wide shot of 37 on the air, and the host read the first paragraph identifying the unit. Meanwhile the assistant director assigned other cameras to find certain details: Camera 5 show me one of the wheels, Camera 3 shoot the chimney, Camera 6 get the eagle in the back. The co-host then read the second paragraph mentioning these features, and the director cut to the camera shots at the appropriate times.
It sounds very simple. But, as I say, this common-sense plan is not always followed on smaller telecasts. And the smaller telecasts dont always have the resources to nail down all the finer points.
On September 30, 1978, I was part of a local telecast of a firemens parade in Washington, Pennsylvania. Many of our script pages were extremely sketchy, because, for example, the leader of the Boy Scout troop had never responded to our letter asking for information. But we did receive a plethora of information about one unit: an antique fire engine. This steam-powered pumper was pulled by a team of four horses. Jerry Polen and I were prepared to describe its history and to point out the brass fittings. We were prepared to identify the man driving the horses. We had the names of all the firemen who were riding along. We even had the name of the Dalmatian. But when the engine neared our camera at the reviewing stand in front of the courthouse, the driver gave the crowd a thrill by urging the horses into a gallop as though they were racing to a fire. The engine clanged past us and was out of our view within five seconds. Oh, well.