Ive inserted three real-life examples into brief pieces that I wrote earlier.
This one is about removing peoples names from the credits of television shows. I found one network credit roll from 50 years ago in which a name was apparently blanked out.
This one is about finding stereophonic audio on TV in 1958! Lawrence Welk provided the music.
And this one is about carrying on a long conversation about him without reminding the listener who he is. A podcast went on for nearly three minutes that way and never did mention the subjects name again.
APRIL 19, 2014 BLACK SHEEP OF THE FAMILY
Jesus had four brothers. Theyre listed in the Gospel of Mark and also in the Gospel of Matthew. However, John 7:5 tells us that even his own brothers didn't believe in him. They suspected that Jesus was out of his mind.
Because even his own Christian followers may be unaware of these facts, Ive assumed the persona of one of the neglected brothers, Simon of Shimron, for another of my rewritten Bible stories.
APRIL 13, 2014 DISTINGUISHED VISITOR
I took this picture 58 years ago this month. A luncheon was being held in the basement of the First Methodist Church in Richwood, Ohio; thats the kitchen in the background.
The guest of honor was a friend of my family: Rev. Byrappa Rathman Isaiah, the superintendent of Methodism's South India Conference.
The Thomases had a connection to India, where my father had served during World War II. Our 2,000-rupee donation helped build a village church, and for the past three years we had been corresponding with Rev. Isaiah.
He had come to this country for the quadrennial global meeting of Methodists, the 1956 General Conference, which was going to be held in Minneapolis. The World Wide Web tells us that the two delegates from South India were Rev. Isaiah and Jambayya David, a teacher, from the state of Hyderabad. When the Conference began on April 28, they were seated in section A, row 10, seats 7 and 8. (Isnt the Internet wonderful?)
APRIL 7, 2014 TIME TRAVEL
After six months with my new car, Im starting to figure out one of its features: HD radio. Ill limit my remarks to FM stations that use this relatively new technology.
You probably didnt know that a station today delays its audio by eight seconds before transmitting it. This particular delay has nothing to do with giving the station a chance to bleep out obscenities before theyre aired. No, its a requirement for HD. (In this case, HD does not stand for High Definition. Some say it means Hybrid Digital.)
When I first tune to a station, I hear (via the regular FM analog signal) what the announcer said eight seconds ago. Meanwhile, my receiver starts collecting digital bits to assemble a cleaner version of what hes saying now. It takes about eight seconds to get enough data, allowing for brief dropouts should I drive past a building or something. After this latency period, the receiver switches over; it stops playing the delayed analog signal and starts playing the digital version that its created. The analog signal I heard first was delayed so it would sync up with the digital signal Id hear later.
The digital quality is supposed to be better, although in the somewhat noisy environment of my car I have a hard time hearing any improvement. If I listen very carefully, after eight seconds I notice the bass is slightly stronger. This leads me to wonder about the point of the whole exercise. (However, digital transmission does allow the station to broadcast additional channels like HD2 and HD3, plus brief text annotations.)
But sometimes on Pittsburghs KDKA-FM, a sports talk station known as 93.7 The Fan, the switchover is very obvious. A couple of days ago, the analog delay wasnt working, so when I first tuned in I heard eight seconds of live analog followed by the digital version of the same eight seconds.
Had I tuned in as they started broadcasting the Gettysburg Address, I would have heard something like this, with the switchover from undelayed analog to digital occurring at the word four:
Thats amusing, if it only happens once. But when I drive more than 25 miles from Pittsburgh, sometimes the stations signal falls off the digital cliff. When no digital version is available, my receiver automatically returns to regular analog FM. And if the regular analog FM isnt being delayed, at the switch I seem to jump forward in time. I miss a sentence or so. Before long, the receiver reacquires the digital signal. Eight seconds after that, I jump backward in time, hearing again the sentence that I just heard.
I first noticed this while trying to listen to a college football game last fall. Apparently the delay wasnt working then, either. As you can imagine, the random cutting back and forth was rather confusing.
Yesterday I was planning to e-mail a TV engineer I know at KDKA to have him check with his radio colleagues about this. But apparently they were aware of the problem, and they got the delay working again. Everything seems fine for now. Cross your fingers.
APRIL 4, 2014 THERMAL GRAPH IDEA
Weathermen usually give us the temperature in digital form, but it might also be helpful to study an analog graph. We could visualize the actual hourly temperatures for the past couple of days plus the forecast for the next week.
Heres what Im talking about, using actual numbers for Pittsburgh as of April 2. (The temperature records are from the National Weather Service and the predicted temperatures are from Weather Underground.)
And heres how the meteorologist might describe the graph. Right now on this Wednesday morning, we have a temperature of 43 degrees. It was a beautiful day yesterday with the high getting up to 77, but today will be more seasonable, with a high of 60. Looking to the week ahead, were hoping for another mild day on Friday, when the high will be around 67. But theres bad news for Saturday: We wont even reach 50, and that night will be downright chilly. Im predicting Sunday mornings low will be a freezing 32.
UPDATE, APRIL 21, 2014: Are the folks at Weather Underground reading my website? They've just remodeled their site to include a temperature graph exactly like this, plus graphs for chance of precipitation and wind speed and a whole lot more.
ADDENDUM, OCTOBER 16, 2014: By the way, when this idea first occurred to me in Phoenix in 1979, I envisioned the line becoming fuzzier as it approached the right side of the graph. Who could say that the high next Tuesday will be exactly 49°? The line should be a smear showing the high perhaps somewhere between 40° and 58°. However, in the last 35 years forecasts have become amazingly accurate. Its no longer presumptuous to draw a slender line passing exactly through 49°.
APRIL 1, 2014 TO END A LONG STORY
The CBS comedy How I Met Your Mother concluded its final season last night. For more than 200 episodes, Ted Mosbys teenage daughter and son have been patiently sitting on a couch. Were told the year is 2030, and theyre listening to their father spin an extremely long tale about his adventures over the years until he finally met the woman who would become the kids mother.
In the next-to-last scene, we see not only the teenagers on the couch but also Ted behind a desk, wrapping up the story. Since it's 2030, he's now made up to look older. But why do the kids appear to be the same age as when we first met them nine seasons ago? Their part of this scene was shot way back in 2006, before the young actors grew up! That footage was intercut with new footage of Ted.
Ive read several online complaints that this scene was poorly edited. Personally, I thought the editing was fine, but the staging made it seem artificial. When three characters are conversing, we expect to see occasional establishing shots of all three of them, to indicate theyre in the same room. We never had that in this scene, which jumped back and forth between two static shots: Ted at the desk, the kids on the couch.
Of course, its difficult to show people in the same frame if theyve been filmed in different decades. But there are some simple tricks that could have been employed. Consider this: We open on a wide shot of the room. On the far side, Ted is standing beside his desk, talking to the kids while pulling out the desk chair to sit down. On the near side, the kids are sitting on the couch, but because we're seeing mostly their backs, the original actors can be replaced with doubles in this brief shot.
My bigger complaint: When the 31st of womanizing Barneys most recent conquests becomes pregnant, we never see her, but suddenly nine months later we see Barney holding his newborn baby. Supposedly a changed man, Barney promises to love his daughter forever in the same words he used in the vows of his earlier wedding, which soon ended in divorce. We have misgivings about that promise.
MARCH 29, 2014 ART ALL THY BOROGOVES MIMSY?
MARCH 24, 2014 WHY LONG RUNWAYS ARE GOOD
Slow starts, part 1: When I used to fly several times a week, I noticed that on takeoff, a jet airliner rolls down the runway forever. I know its gathering speed, but I don't feel my seat moving and the engines' roar is unchanging, drowning out any sounds from the wheels. The plane is accelerating so smoothly and gradually that it seems to me to be rolling at a constant speed for half a minute. Then it finally changes its mind and decides to lift its nose and switch to flying.
Slow starts, part 2: Im told that my cars four-cylinder engine is capable of getting me from 0 to 60 mph in nine seconds (almost 1/3 g). I can spare an extra half-minute, however, so I prefer to drive gently. For you calculus students, I keep the second derivative of X comfortably small.
A certain expressway in my area has on-ramps nearly a third of a mile long, including the merging lane at the end. If traffic is light and I wont be blocking any other drivers by doing so, I use this technique:
After I turn onto the ramp, I engage my cruise control at 30 mph. Then I hold down the accelerate button. The cruise control gradually increases my velocity by about one mph per second (which is an acceleration of less than 1/20 g). Half a minute later, Ive reached 65 mph, and its time to merge into the traffic lanes. No accelerator mashing and engine racing just a smooth, gas-saving, almost imperceptible climb to freeway speed.
MARCH 18, 2014 CRITIQUING A HOUSE
Pittsburghs WTAE-TV recently highlighted a five-bedroom home in the wealthy suburb of Fox Chapel. Featured on realtor.com, the residence was built by Tasso Katselas, the citys leading modern architect.
Like the entry steps, the interior stairs are designed for beauty, not senior-citizen stability. Look at the flight of steps on the right below. The thought of climbing them is absolutely terrifying.
I hope theres a safer alternative route to the level at the top of this curved wall. If I lived here, I would declare each of these glass platforms to be not a step but a shelf. Id display potted plants on each one.
MARCH 12, 2014 MUST THE UNIVERSE EXPAND?
I've been told we shouldn't try to fix something that ain't broke. But that's not the way corporate people think. Their company can't just happily hum along, with contented workers conducting business as usual. The firm must always be growing!
MARCH 6, 2014 GRAPPLING FOR A STATE TITLE
MARCH 5, 2014 SO BARBARINO MESSED UP?
Theo Thompseen here no, I mean Tom Thomas. As I sat watching the Oscars, John Travolta didn't ring any of my alarm bells when he introduced Idina Menzel as Adele Dazeem. I'd never heard of either of her, so both names sound equally improbable to me.
MARCH 4, 2014 BRRRDWATCHING
I spotted my first robin of the season yesterday in Pittsburgh. Thats normally a sign of spring. This year, however, were seeing more gulls.
One wouldnt expect seagulls this far from the sea, but its been a very cold winter. The Great Lakes will soon break 1979s record, when they were 94.7% ice-covered. That deep freeze has forced some Lake Erie gulls to migrate south to find a little open water on our Three Rivers. A small flock is hanging out at a nearby mall, perching atop the light poles in the parking lot.
Like our Laridae visitors, we year-round residents have had quite enough of winter. Last night the temperature dropped to three degrees above zero. Theres not a lot of snow on the ground, but almost every day it snows. Almost every day the plows and salt trucks have to clear the roads. Some towns have run out of salt. McKeesport declared a state of emergency yesterday because it could do nothing about its ice-covered streets. More than one commentator has said, I cant stand this any longer!
MARCH 1, 2014 TWO WAYS TO TELEVISE A BAND
When I made a brief visit to England in August of 1992, I noticed that my hotel in Kensington was within walking distance of the famous London concert venue, the Royal Albert Hall. I had one free hour, so I walked over there.
Of course, I couldnt enter the big round building, but I did walk past the BBC outside broadcast TV trucks, which were parked where I've indicated behind the arch in this 2005 photo. I knew why the mobile units were there: It was the middle of Proms season, when the BBC televises several programmes a week from the World's Greatest Classical Music Festival.
The people who work inside those OB units have a complex and difficult job. Way back in 1970, I had learned how much planning is required for an orchestra telecast. The aim is to show that moment's featured musicians, not the ones who are playing in the background or waiting for their next entrance. Fortunately, all orchestral music is fully scripted. By studying the score in advance, the director and assistant directors can plan every camera shot and pass those plans on to the camera operators.
I tried my hand at this sort of thing using only two cameras in 1974, with mixed results. For the way it should be done, click on the picture for a link to a recent BBC Proms telecast.
This piece was only one portion of that nights live programme. Im awed at how flawlessly the production crew was able to televise it. Okay, lets look at the score, measure number 52 [or whatever corresponds to 1:41]. While the trombones are playing the melody of Ive Got You Under My Skin, the concertmaster plays a four-bar countermelody. Well use Camera 2 on a closeup for the first two bars of this violin solo, and then well cut back to Camera 6 on the trombones for the other two bars.
I was also awed, by the way, at the Fox coverage of the recent Seattle/Denver Super Bowl. During the first half, when I was actually still paying attention, it seemed like every shot and every replay was perfectly executed to show me what was happening on the field, clearly and quickly. And there werent any distracting cutaways to irrelevancies like American Idol contestants.
Of course, theres more than one way to televise a performance. Click the next picture for an example from Scott Bradlees Postmodern Jukebox.
This was recorded with only a single stationary camera. You get the feeling that youre sitting in a single stationary chair, in your own living room, with a New Orleans jazz combo performing just for you. The horns are standing back in the corner near the window; never mind that the vocalist is blocking your view of the trombone. Miche Braden is standing on your carpet, looking you directly in the eye, belting out a Guns N Roses song like Bessie Smith. In high-def this all feels very real, as though youre right there with the band.
Im a fan of both techniques.