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ArchiveMARCH 2019



I never realized that birds knew so much about astronomy.  My neighborhood has been quiet for months.  But then the vernal equinox arrived at 5:58 last evening, and today when I got home from lunch the air was filled with birdsong from at least four different species.  No robins yet, but they'll join the chorus soon.  Spring is here!


MARCH 19, 2009 flashback   TIMELESS TABLEWARE

On March 12, 1974, as I was moving into my first apartment, my mother gave me a 20-piece set of  Corelle dishes — porcelain-like but microwave-safe, made from laminated glass.

Today, 35 years later, these plates and bowls and cups are still in use.  As you can see, they’re still in perfect condition.  None has broken, chipped, faded, or aged in any way.  They’re as good as new.

If Corning continues making such excellent products that never need to be replaced, how long can that company stay in business?



This is “Selection Sunday,” which means the national college basketball tournaments are about to begin.  After each game, the coaches and star players will sit behind a table in the press room to tell the assembled media what happened.  The print reporters will take notes.  However, they don't really have to, because a verbatim transcript will be handed to them shortly afterwards.

It's not always like that.  For example, no official version of the participants' remarks was available after the Pitt-Duquesne game in 2005, and the reporters had to reconstruct those remarks as best they could in writing their stories.

As one might expect, there was not word-for-word agreement as to what had been said.  My comparisons resulted in this month's 100 Moons story. 



We've reached the halfway point of our unmasking.  Delazon Smith has detailed the shortcomings of student life in the early days of Oberlin College:  learning, labor, sex, and food.  He now turns to the shortcomings of the faculty and other “pious” Oberlinians.

Sometimes they held a “protracted meeting.”  No math instruments were involved, just debating and preaching and confessing and praying.

(In the 20th century we would call these “revival meetings.”  For a week, members of a church would forgo their usual evening activities and attend special services, conducted every night by an allegedly inspiring preacher from out of town.)

Charles Finney lectured in 1835 that protracted meetings “are not new, but have always been practiced, in some form or other, ever since there was a church on earth.  The Jewish festivals were nothing else but protracted meetings.  In regard to the manner, they were conducted differently from what they are now, but the design was the same:  to devote a series of days to religious services, in order to make a more powerful impression of divine things upon the minds of the people.  ...Yet now in our day they have been opposed, particularly among Presbyterians, and called New Measures.”

Finney argued that “when circumstances plainly call for it, it is our duty to lay aside every other business, and make direct and continuous efforts for the salvation of souls.”

Therefore, in the fall of 1836, classes were canceled and the people of Oberlin were summoned to a protracted meeting where they were urged to beg forgiveness for their sins.  Various faculty members and students admitted to stealing chickens, eating too much gravy — and wife-beating!  Some even doubted the existence of God.

The details of their confessed hypocrisy are part of my serialized condensation of Oberlin Unmasked, Smith's 1837 pamphlet criticizing the institution in its fourth year of operation.  (The college is now in its 186th year, and I can attest that conditions are much improved.)

This installment finds fault with the Conduct and Character Of The Church.


MARCH 13, 2009 flashback   AT THE EPOCH, I WAS 22 YEARS OLD

The things I learn from being curious!

The paper edition of TV Guide has been downgraded to the point that it’s inadequate for planning my television viewing.  For more than 50 years I'd relied on this reference, but reluctantly last year I had to turn to the magazine’s on-line listings.  However, they still don't list all of my cable channels, and some of the channel numbers are wrong, so I recently switched to the more accurate Zap2it.

I noticed when I requested a Zap2it schedule grid starting at 7 pm tomorrow night, the Internet address shown on my web browser ended in “fromTimeInMillis=1237071600000.”  When I requested a grid that started an hour later, the long number changed to 1237075200000.

Does “TimeInMillis” perhaps mean “time in milliseconds”?  Simple subtraction shows the latter number to be 3600000 greater than the former.  One hour does in fact equal 3,600,000 milliseconds (1000 milliseconds in a second, multiplied by 60 seconds in a minute, multiplied by 60 minutes in an hour).  Aha, I thought, I’ve broken the code.

But time in milliseconds since when?  What was the starting point, when TimeInMillis would have been zero?  Perhaps the most recent New Year’s Day?

I divided TimeInMillis = 1237075200000 by 3600000 to obtain TimeInHours = 343632, then divided that by 24 to obtain TimeInDays = 14318.  Fourteen thousand days is considerably more than a year.  Dividing it by 365¼ gives us 39 years and 73 days, approximately.  Subtracting that from the current date brings us back to January 1, 1970, which was apparently the arbitrary starting point for the Zap2it schedule makers.

Some further research reveals that it wasn’t their idea.  Computer programmers of the 1970s chose midnight on January 1, 1970, as the basis for something called Unix time or POSIX time.  They called that zero moment “the epoch” and counted upward from there by milliseconds.  The resulting 13-digit numbers may look awkward, but the arithmetic is easier with them than with our usual non-decimal combination of years, days, hours, minutes, and seconds.

Four weeks ago tonight, according to Wikipedia, Unix time reached 1234567890000.  Nerds did not let the occasion pass unnoticed.  “Parties and other celebrations were held around the world, among various technical subcultures, to celebrate 1234567890 day.”

What time is it now?  This web page will tell you.



Everyone needs a hobby.  Some build birdhouses, but I'm not as handy with a hammer as I am with a mouse.  So I built a calendar.

Typical calendars show a single month, but I'm interested in the bigger picture.  I wanted to be able to see a longer period of time without flipping through pages.  Therefore, I created a Word document with a huge 48x17 table, a calendar for all of 2019 plus the first half of 2020.  I printed it on card stock and cut it into three six-month pieces, three-quarters of an inch high and totaling 17 inches wide.  They're now attached to the bottom edge of my computer monitor, always in view.

To fit the strip on my monitor's narrow frame, I saved space by omitting the two top rows.  One of them usually labels the months.  The other usually labels the days of the week, but instead I employed my TV-inspired color code in which, for example, Wednesdays are green.  That left only five rows.  Each month has five rows, seven daily columns, and 5x7 = 35 cells. 

At most there are 31 days in a month, so I had at least four cells to spare.  I used two to identify the month (or, for January, the year) and two for the previous month's 30 and/or 31 if necessary. 

To render the tiny nine-point-high numbers a little easier to tell apart, I chose a bold condensed Corbel font in which the digits 68 extend above the 012 line while the digits 34579 hang stylishly below.

So what have you made this winter?



Are you addressing a million viewers on television?  Don't think of it that way.  Imagine you're speaking one-on-one with your old pal Fusfast.  She's your Friend Unfortunately Suffering From A Sore Throat.

Imagine that you can see Fusfast's face in the camera lens.  Although her laryngitis prevents her from responding verbally to what you say, you can imagine her reacting in other ways.  You smile and wave to Fusfast, and she smiles back!

Here comes an interview guest.  Now it's a three-way conversation.  Say hello to the guest, turn to Fusfast and explain “this is Mayor Smith, who's been in office for five years now.”  Then turn back to the guest with a question.

Don't say to the mayor, “You were on the Council when this law was passed; what was your thinking then?”  He knows he was a councilman.  Instead, confide to Fusfast, “Mayor Smith was on the Council when this law was passed.”  Then turn back to the mayor and ask about his thinking at that time.

And if the mayor tells a joke, don't act as though Fusfast isn't in the room.  Shoot her a quick grin to include her in the merriment!



Some TV sitcoms have titles that don't make a lot of sense.  We've forgotten the significance of these situation-comedy names because their situations appeared only in the pilot episode.

Ray gets a compliment.  His resentful brother grumbles, “Oh, sure, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND.”

Senior citizens at a lunch table won't let a woman join them: “You can't sit here.”

She asks, “Why not?  Who are you guys, THE COOL KIDS?”



I've rewritten yet another Bible story in the first person.

Which apparent miracle are we giving an alternative explanation this time?  Filling up the oil!

Oh, and also Raising the Widow's Son.