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ArchiveJUNE 2017

 

JUNE 29, 2017    KNEE-HIGH BY THE FOURTH OF JULY

My mother, who grew up on an Ohio farm, used to claim that on hot nights she could hear the corn growing.  I was skeptical, but now I’ve found confirmation in two news reports.

The older story comes from the Richwood Gazette, dated July 2, 1891.

A farmer west of town was awakened by a noise which he supposed was caused by cattle in his corn, but upon investigation found it was simply the cracking of the corn caused by rapid growth.

The much newer story (which I’ve condensed) comes from the Acoustical Society of America, dated November 28, 2016.

Crop scientists have been working on this problem for more than 100 years, albeit with only marginal success.

Now, Douglas Cook at New York University and colleagues Roger Elmore and Justin McMechan use contact microphones to directly record the sounds of corn growing.  This is the fusion of two seemingly unrelated disciplines: plant science and mechanical engineering.

“Many crops are lost each year due to wind damage,” Cook said.  “Material breakage is a lot like a microscopic earthquake: the sudden release of internal stresses sends sound waves radiating in every direction.

“We now think that plant growth involves millions of tiny breakage events, and that these breakage events trigger the plant to rush to repair the broken regions.  By continuously breaking and repairing, the plant is able to grow taller and taller.

“Engineers know a lot about how to prevent structural failure, and by using natural breeding techniques plant scientists can improve virtually any feature of the plant that they can measure.” 

 

JUNE 26, 2017    TIP ONE END, UPSET THE OTHER

Representatives of 50 nations created the United Nations 72 years ago.  They signed the charter in San Francisco on June 26, 1945.

One week later, Norman Corwin presented a CBS radio program called Unity Fair, featuring a song with words by E.Y. Harburg.  You may have heard some of “Yip” Harburg’s other songs like “Over the Rainbow” and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”  As World War II drew to a close, his lyrics went like this:

 
Oh, the Lord looked down from his holy place;
  Said, “Lordy me!  What a sea of space!
    What a spot to launch the human race!”
So he built him a boat for a mixed-up crew
    With eyes of black and brown and blue.

    And that’s how come
      That you and I 
    Got just one world
      With just one sky.

 
We’re in the same boat, brother.
  We’re in the same boat, brother.
And if you shake one end,
  You’re gonna rock the other!
It’s the same boat, brother.

Huddie Ledbetter, the folk singer known as Lead Belly, often performed “We're in the Same Boat, Brother.”  Here's the third verse:

 
Oh, the boat rolled on, through storm and grief, 
  Past many a rock and many a reef.
    What kept ’em goin’ was a great belief 
That they had to learn to navigate
    ’Cause the human race was special freight.

     If we don’t want to be
       In Jonah’s shoes, 
     We’d better be mates
       On this here cruise.

In January of 2017, Sandy Schuman added an up-to-date stanza:

 
   When the icecap melt overfilled the seas,
     When the shorelines surged with refugees
       And the courts were filled with desperate pleas,
   Oh, it took some time for the crew to learn
       What's bad for the bow ain’t good for the stern!

      
       When one group shouts
         A loud hooray,
       The other group
        Can’t just walk away.

   We’re in the same boat, brother.
     We’re in the same boat, brother.
   And if you shake one end,
     You’re gonna rock the other!
   It’s the same boat, brother.

 

 

JUNE 23, 2017    IN ONE WORD

The year was 1974.  I was working for Washington Channels in Washington, Pennsylvania.  Every weekday evening I directed a local newscast on Cable TV-3.

Larry Schwingel was our sole talent.  He gave the news and the sports and the weather report.

Above right: The anchorman in the good old days in “Little Washington.”

Below right: Larry today as a writer for the Forum Publishing Group in Florida.

Our resources were extremely limited.  Nowadays you wouldn’t think of forecasting the weather on TV without elaborate animated maps and radar displays and other graphics, but we had none of that.  We had the bare minimum.


I prepared some slides so I could feed the appropriate one to the monitor behind Larry while he read the final item on the script:  “This evening’s Weather Word is WARMER,” followed by the forecast.

OVERCAST

I tried to guess all the possible Weather Words, and I think we were able to use all of my slides except this one.  Although meteorologists may predict CLOUDY skies, which might turn out to be extremely cloudy and in fact OVERCAST, the latter term never seemed to appear in our forecasts.   Who knew?

 

JUNE 21, 2017    ÉTÉ SUR UNE ÎLE, ALMOST

I’m told that the French word presque means “almost,” and therefore presqu’île means “almost island” or “peninsula with a narrow neck.”

The shores of the Great Lakes feature several places named Presque Isle.  At the right we see the one at Erie, Pennsylvania.  Michigan has a Presque Isle on Lake Huron and another on Lake Superior.

So when I announced in 1989 that I had scheduled a three-day trip to Presque Isle, Maine, just after the Fourth of July, people thought it would be a nice summer vacation at the seashore.

Of course, it was a working trip.  I had been asked to show the Chyron 4100 character generator to the staff of WAGM-TV. 

I discovered that WAGM is quite isolated.  Located amidst potato fields 350 miles northeast of Boston and a mere 10 miles from the Canadian border, it’s the only commercial TV station in the area.

There were other surprises.  I had assumed I was going to be teaching someone at WAGM how to operate the Chyron, but they were only considering purchasing one and I was only there to demonstrate it.

The station is owned by NEP.  That’s the company that had purchased my former employer TCS the previous year, and that’s why I was chosen for this trip.

When I explained what to do when the director says “animate the graphic,” they had to explain to me that with their small staff, the director actually would be operating the machine himself as well as the video switcher.

I also discovered that Presque Isle is not a large city.  Its population never reached 13,000, had dropped below 11,000 at the time of my visit, and recently has been estimated at 9,171.

And it does not actually occupy a proper “almost island.”  Its “peninsula” is bounded by the twists and turns of the Aroostook River and the Presque Isle Stream.

So I got no beach time on the Isle.  I did get paid $750, however.

 

JUNE 18, 2007 flashback   WHY I AM NOT A CAMERAMAN

When televising sports, I sit safely indoors and operate a graphics computer.  I'm glad I don't have to brave the elements as a camera operator.


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

This TV camera towered over the fifth hole of the Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh, site of the U.S. Open won yesterday by Angel Cabrera.  We can only hope that if thunderstorms approached, the cameraman was allowed to descend!

By the way, Oakmont is not far from where I live.  I was on hand in 1983 and 1994 to help televise some preliminaries of the previous two U.S. Opens that were held there.  But this year, there was interleague baseball  to be covered.  After Sunday's game, I came home and watched the last few holes of golf on TV from my apartment seven miles away, within sight of the blimp.

Also by the way, the phrase "U.S. Open" can have several meanings.  Around here, it usually refers to the golf tournament.  In New York, especially among people who work for CBS, it's a tennis tournament.  And in Marion, Ohio, when I started in the TV business, the "U.S. Open" was a drum and bugle corps championship staged annually at the Harding High School stadium.


I saw this picture of a 1956 Oldsmobile last weekend, and I immediately tasted caramel corn and peanuts.  A 50-year-old connection is still imprinted on my brain:  there were giveaway boxes of Cracker Jack on hand for the annual introduction of new models at my father's dealership, and I opened a box while perusing the Olds literature.

Also during my childhood, I once nibbled chocolate-covered mint wafers while reading an encyclopedia article about military armor plate.  Some crumbs got into that part of the book.  Now, if you mention armor plate to me, I smell chocolate.  It's amazing how these connections stay with us.

 

JUNE 14, 2017    UNCOVERING FLOWERS

Discussing Ohio's early color TV in my May 22 post, I referred to a show called Midwestern Hayride.  My high school classmate Lynne Glass Ledley responded, “In the infancy of the Midwestern Hayride, they performed at the Richwood Fair a couple of times” — once on Wednesday night.

I don’t remember that, but I do recall one Hayrider.  I replied to Lynne, “When I first worked at Marion CATV in 1970, we had a morning show hosted by a veteran performer who called herself Sally Flowers.  I got the impression that she was semi-famous in the Columbus market, though I knew little about her.  While researching the Midwestern Hayride for my article, I saw her mentioned as part of the cast for at least one season.  I don't remember her there either.”

Realizing that I had never learned much about this television pioneer, I researched her online.  That led to a new article about Sally Flowers.

 

JUNE 12, 2007 flashback   CARRY ON BLENDING

Today is the 40th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court's unanimous decision in the case of Loving v. Virginia, in which the Court declared unconstitutional a Virginia statute outlawing miscegenation.  As of June 12, 1967, miscegenation was no longer a crime in these United States.

They legalized what, now?  When I read this story in the newspapers at the time, I had never heard of “miscegenation,” though I was about to start my junior year in college.  So I tried to reason it out.

Many offenses begin with “mis-”, such as:

misappropriation

miscue

mismanagement

misspelling

misbehavior

misdemeanor

misnomer

misstatement

miscalculation

misfire

misprint

mistake

misconception

misfortune

mispronunciation

mistrial

misconduct

misinterpretation

misrepresentation

misunderstanding

All of them carry the implication of doing something improperly.  Therefore miscegenation must be the act of improperly cegenating, which I guessed must be pronounced KEG-uh-nating.  So far, so good.  Now what was “cegenating”?

Reading the news story further, I learned that Loving was a white man who had been found guilty of being married to a black woman.  The judge at his trial proclaimed, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents.  . . . The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”  There were sidebar references to another controversial and possibly illegal marriage between black entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. and his Swedish wife May Britt.  They couldn't appear together in public because of death threats.

Apparently, then, to cegenate was to marry within your own racial group.  And Loving had failed to cegenate.

It turns out that my etymological guesswork was wrong.  The actual story of the word's origins is available here.  (Rush Limbaugh would be glad to know it was invented by scheming Democrats working in the evil mass media to discredit a wartime President!)  “Miscegenation” was formed from the Latin words miscere, to mix, and genus, race, and is pronounced either missa-juh-NAY-tion or mis-EDGE-uh-nation.

Loving's offense was failure to keep the white race pure, a failure that was anathema to white racists.  Fortunately the Fourteenth Amendment forced this “crime” off the books, and our melting pot could continue making Americans e pluribus unum (out of many, one).

 

JUNE 10, 2017    AVOID THE KISS OF DEATH

Sometimes a baseball game is half over and one of the starting pitchers has not yet allowed a hit.  His teammates are aware he’s working on a no-hitter, but there’s a tradition in baseball that no one mentions it.  That might make the pitcher nervous.  In the dugout between innings, no one sits near him, no one talks to him.

Because fans like to pretend they’re part of the team, many of them observe the tradition even if they’re nowhere near the stadium.  They don’t want anyone to mention the possible no-hitter in progress.  To do so might “jinx” it.

Some broadcasters accommodate this silliness by only indirectly acknowledging the no-no.  For example, “Joe Blow walked back in the third inning, and so far, he’s been the only Blowhard to reach base.  You can do the math.”

A similar situation arose Thursday night in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, when Penguins goalie Matt Murray was on the way to his second shutout of the playoffs.

I was working the NHL International broadcast, and Steve Mears (right) was calling the play-by-play.  During the scoreless third period, Steve noted that nothing the announcers say in the broadcast booth can affect what’s happening down below in the game.  Nevertheless, he prefers to avoid mentioning shutouts and no-hitters in progress.  His very practical reason:  some superstitious viewers might object.  “Why make those viewers angry?”

By the way, why do the cable news channels pander to viewers by concentrating on just one sensational story?  And why do they label it continuously as Breaking News although nothing has changed for hours?

I always thought for a story to be Breaking, the details had to be still coming in.  “Breaking News:  The governor is holding a press conference right now to announce a new technology park on the site of the old refinery.  No word just yet on how many jobs this might bring to our area.  We have a correspondent on the scene, and we expect an update shortly.”  Hours later, the story will no longer be Breaking; it will have already been Broken.

Personally, I’d prefer going back to the traditional way of reporting Our Top Story Tonight and then moving on to other unrelated news.  There is other news, you know.

 

JUNE 7, 2017    KUKA TUO ON?

English is spoken here.  Finnish, not so much.  But we are somewhat familiar with Italian names.  So when a fast-talking hockey announcer rattles off the name of Finnish goalie Pekka Rinne, I can’t help thinking he’s talking about somebody named Peccorini.

Also, I no longer follow soul and/or country music, so I keep confusing Gnarls Barkley and Dierks Bentley.  I guess one of them sang the national anthem (“like a dying catfish,” someone tweeted) before Monday’s fourth game of the Stanley Cup Final.

So far in that series between the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins, Mr. Peccorini hasn’t been required to face a lot of shots with Pittsburgh on the power play.  The Pens have scored only once in 16 power play opportunities (6.3%), amounting to 27:26 of ice time.

Without the man-advantage, they’ve scored 10 goals in 212:34.

Let’s compute the goals per 60 minutes of action.  On the power play, it’s 2.187.  Otherwise, 2.823.  Their offense is 29% more potent when it doesn’t have the so-called advantage!

Therefore, whenever the Predators are called for an infraction, I recommend that the Penguins decline the penalty. 

 

JUNE 5, 2017    WORLD WAR REGISTRATION DAY

It was exactly one hundred years ago today in southeastern Ohio that my great-uncle, 21-year-old farmer Charles Luther Robinson, made a trip into town.  He had to sign up that day for the military draft.  So did ten million other men.

Within a year Luther was in the Army.  He reached France shortly before the end of the Great War.

Some of the letters he wrote home are in this month’s 100 Moons article, to which I've appended some information that I’ve recently learned:  within months of returning from overseas, Luther married the girl he’d left behind!

 

JUNE 2, 2017
SAVING THE SUN  

A car won’t run without fuel, right?

In town, there are stations where you can buy gasoline.  But you don’t dare drive your car onto the highway!  Out in the country, you won’t find many gas stations.

If only there were some way to store energy until it was needed . . . .

Rick Santorum, the right-wing former senator from Pennsylvania, argues against renewable energy (solar and wind) because he thinks it can’t be stored.



Of course, his home-schooled children find no mention in their textbooks of inventions like “batteries” or “pumped storage,” or any other technology beyond Noah’s ark.

Nor do their books admit that, for example, America’s more advanced rival Germany already obtains 34% of its net electricity production from renewable sources.

Therefore, our failing nation has to continue relying on good old dirty-but-dependable coal.  After all, the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun disappears every night and we have no idea where it goes. 

Is he really this ignorant?  I suspect not.  I suspect he’s just catering to low-information conservatives who disdain solar and wind because they resent other countries asking us to stop burning so much carbon.

President Trump played to this resentment yesterday when he announced the United States would renege on its pledge to curb global warming by means of the Paris Agreement.  Why did he turn his back on the rest of the world?  “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” he said alliteratively.

The citizens of Pittsburgh have some problems with that.


LIBERTY AVENUE, 1944 AND TODAY

Mayor Bill Peduto (at left):  “The people of Pittsburgh voted for Hillary Rodham Clinton — 80 percent.  He’s not representing us at all.”

Leo W. Gerard, United Steelworkers:  “An inexcusable blow to the U.S. economy.”

Congressman Mike Doyle:  “Foolhardy.  Pittsburgh is becoming a leader in carbon-free energy sources and energy-efficiency technologies.”

New York Times:  “Once among the most polluted cities in the country, Pittsburgh today is increasingly rebuilding around greener medical complexes, research universities and tech offices.  The local renewable energy industry employs 13,000 people, according to the city.  Pittsburgh, Mayor Peduto said Thursday, is an example of how environmentalism can also mean economic development.  It was a very different message from the one the president delivered hours earlier at the White House, where he warned that the international climate pact would cost the American economy too much.”

Larry Schweiger, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future:  “Addressing the causes of climate pollution is not a job killer, it’s a job creator.  Pittsburgh has always led the way on these issues, from smoke control to green energy, and to retreat into the dark days of the past just isn’t going to work.”

Pittsburgh’s dark days of the past are far behind it.  The city already plans to reduce its carbon emissions by a further 20% by 2023, and “we will fall in line with other criteria of the Paris Agreement,” says Mayor Peduto.

Other forward-looking leaders are also taking it upon themselves to comply, including the governors of California, New York, and Washington.  Representatives of cities and states and corporations are preparing to pledge to the United Nations that they will meet the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions targets — despite Donald Trump, who doesn’t represent the views of most Americans.

Virginia Senator Tim Kaine tweets, “Trump alienates allies, walks away from Paris Agreement, and sabotages health care.  His presidency is all destruction, no accomplishments.  I'm confident that our nation’s optimistic, can-do spirit will prevail over this short-sighted dereliction of leadership.”

 

JUNE 1, 2017    SPORTS MATH

OVERTAKING IS HARD IN FORMULA 1

During NBC’s pre-race show for last Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix, a graphic something like this popped up, informing us that the pair of cars on the starting grid’s first row had produced 11 of the last 13 winners.

Although there were incidents during this year’s race and five competitors in the back half of the grid eventually dropped out and did not finish, the podium seemed predetermined:  Ferraris started 1st and 2nd and finished 2nd and 1st.  Vettel moved ahead of Räikkönen only when the latter made his pit stop.  We can now update the stat to 12 of the last 14.

Why does it always work out this way? Well, the fastest cars (determined by qualifying speeds) get to start up front, and they tend to stay there because the street course in Monte Carlo is narrow.  Passing is difficult.  The order in which the cars start pretty much determines the order in which they’ll finish.  Nevertheless, it’s exciting to watch the spectacle.

DON'T GRAB YOUR BROOM JUST YET

In a best-four-out-of-seven championship series, might your team “sweep” the series by winning four straight games?  Maybe, but the percentages are against it.

Suppose each team has an equal probability (1/2) of winning any given game.  To sweep, your team has to win four straight with a probability of 1/2 x 1/2 x 1/2 x 1/2  =  (1/2)4  = 1/16, or only 6.3%.

On the other hand, suppose you’ve got the better team and it’s twice as likely (2/3) to win any given game.  To sweep:   (2/3)4  = 16/81, or 19.8%.

However, let’s consider the current situation.  After last night’s win, the Penguins have a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final.  To sweep, they need to win the next two games as well.  What are the percentages of that happening?

If we say the teams are evenly matched, 1/2 x 1/2  =  1/4, or 25.0%.

If the Penguins are twice as likely to win a given game, 2/3 x 2/3  =  4/9, or 44.4%.

Other factors come into play, of course.  That’s why we have sports commentators.  However, the mathematics still predict there will be a Game Five at least.

 

 

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