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ArchiveJUNE 2020

 
JUNE 30, 2020    RACING AHEAD

I've been watching auto racing since as far back as 1953.  Nowadays it's one of the few live sports on television, and I'm following it still.

A few decades ago, I worked telecasts with both of these announcers.

While we were preparing for a NASCAR event at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 1990, Mike Joy came into the TV truck to see what was going on.  I had prepared a full-screen graphic at the producer's request, but the format was unusual and when the chart popped up during the telecast, Mike might misunderstand what it was trying to say.  I called him over to show it to him.

Back then, as Mike recalls, “every network had always gone to break and come back from break with a leader board containing 5 or 10 drivers.  If your driver wasn't on the screen... that was your only way of possibly keeping up with where he or she was running.”

In the TV truck as well as the announce booth, we did have access to more information via Timing & Scoring computer monitors, but those were generally updated only after each lap.  If I hadn't been assigned to the leader-board graphics machine, I generally busied myself on the other machine typing minimally-informative lower thirds like the one below.

 
Thirty years later, I've been enjoying Mike's description of NASCAR events on Fox.  He's easy to listen to and knows the sport, including engineering details.

During Sunday's Pocono 350, one driver reported that his power steering was out and the engine was overheating although the oil pressure was okay.  Another complained that a wheel was vibrating, but it was unlikely to be due to an improperly tightened lug nut because the tires hadn't been changed for many laps.  Mike immediately diagnosed that parts probably had popped off:  (1) a belt and (2) a wheel weight.

Nowadays I'm amazed at how new technology enhances the TV broadcast.  In-car cameras are everywhere.  A drone camera flies around the site at 80 mph, revealing unique angles. 

An automated leader board shows the running order; the seconds behind the leader are updated continuously, not just at the end of the previous lap.  This is possible because each car carries a transponder to transmit its location on the track.

TV cameras also inform the computers which direction they're pointing and how far they're zoomed in.  Combining these two sets of data allows an arrow to be placed on the screen pointing at the image of an individual car, labeled with the driver's name and his instantaneous speed.  All this data is also linked to the replay machines via time codes, so when a replay is about to show a car losing control, an arrow can point it out in advance!  That's a big improvement over trying to identify the competitors by their colors.

At Pocono there was a crash for which the TV cameras picked up nothing but the crumpled aftermath.  What happened?  When the driver was interviewed later, he didn't want to assign blame.  But long before that, the video wizards had used transponder data to create a computer-generated virtual image of the critical instant:  two cars, both trying to lap a slower one on the inside, came together.  An hour later, video tape from another source became available and confirmed that's exactly how it took place.

Yes, we've come a long way. 

 

JUNE 26, 2010 flashback   ON HUMAN NATURE

At the conclusion of a conference in San Francisco, a charter was signed 65 years ago today by the United Nations, “determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”

How has that worked out so far?  We have indeed avoided another World War, but we have not prevented all armed conflicts.  That may never be possible.  It has always been human nature to resort to violence when there seems to be no other option.

It’s also human nature to consume the earth’s resources.  We want energy, so we burn whatever we can get our hands on:  wood, coal, oil, gas, biomass.

As we try to restrain wars through international agreements, we can try to restrain the burning of carbon through “green” initiatives.  But we can't change human nature.  While we Americans reluctantly take small steps to achieve better gas mileage, “in the developing world the use of private automobiles is escalating at double-digit rates” (Walter Hook, executive director, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy).

“The mood of Western civilization is Abrahamic.  The explorers and colonists were guided by a biblical prayer: May we take possession of this land that God has provided and let it drip milk and honey into our mouths, forever.  Now, more than six billion people fill the world.  ...The living world is dying; the natural economy is crumbling beneath our busy feet.  We have been too self-absorbed to foresee the long-term consequences of our actions” (Edward O. Wilson in The Future of Life).

Just as we can never prevent war completely, we can never do without combustion completely.  We have little realistic hope of reducing the level of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Therefore, as far as global warming is concerned, we’re going to have to turn our efforts away from preventing the inevitable and toward living with it.

We’re going to have to spend money, a lot of it, to relocate the world’s population away from the slowly submerging coastal regions and away from the increasingly torrid tropics.

The good news:  Humans are adaptable.  We’ll survive, though our numbers will be drastically reduced and we will become even more polarized.  I mean literally.

As the lower latitudes become uninhabitable in the coming centuries, half of our species will flee towards the North Pole to dwell on the balmy shores of the Arctic Ocean, while the other few million survivors will flee towards the South Pole to farm the valleys of Antarctica.

2020 UPDATE:  Those "balmy shores of the Arctic Ocean" are already becoming a reality.  I've added a blue X to the above map to indicate Verkhojansk, Russia, which is 70 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  This Siberian town has been called the Pole of Cold since it recorded a low of -90.0° F in January 1885.  But on June 20 of this year, the thermometer reached a record +100.4° F.

"This dramatic warming of the Arctic up to triple-digit temperatures was not expected to happen until 2100," writes Trevor Nace.  "But the reality of warming due to climate change has exceeded expectations."

 

JUNE 21, 2020    GETTING INTO THE GAME

I remember this box.  I don't know what's happened to it since, but I've located some nostalgic images online.  It dates to about 1954, when I was seven years old.  I might have unwrapped it as a Christmas present, or my mother might have purchased it for me to give on Father's Day.

Because my father was the local Chevrolet dealer, this three-dollar board game was especially appropriate for the Thomas family.  I played it with my parents.  But first I asked, “Daddy, what are ‘motor czars’?”

The term, of course, was a rhyming reference to automobile manufacturers.  The robust North American auto industry had produced over 6½ million cars in 1953, a mark that would be exceeded only once in that decade.  How did they do it?  By bringing the parts together on an updated version of Henry Ford's assembly line.

“Unlike other board games about cars that featured some type of auto race,” writes Jonathan Schmalzbach in Games magazine, “this game focused on the assembling of cars.  Who wouldn't want to run a car company or even be down on the assembly line putting these works of art together?”

But Assembly Line was less childish.  It required the parts to be assembled in a certain order.


Also, a spinner added complications like labor unrest, big sales, industrial sabotage, and so on.

Our family also had a game for putting bugs together.  Shown here on the left, it had been introduced a few years before.

 

The board represented four competing factories building Chevrolets, Fords, Plymouths, and Studebakers.

To start the game, a player would move one of his three plastic “frames” onto the assembly line, starting at the bottom arrow. 

He'd put three sets of wheels and steering posts into his parts manufacturing plant on his left, while motors and bodies went into the plant on the right.

These parts were bodies, although my mother simply called them “cars” because that's what they looked like.

 

The player rolled a die, then moved a part of his choosing that many spaces.  Subsequent turns would bring individual parts to their proper stations along the line.  When a frame was alongside a station, that part could be added to the assembly.

Completed cars moved into the large square.  The winner was the first player with three finished vehicles ready to be shipped to Vernon M. Thomas Chevrolet.

 

JUNE 16, 2020    THE YEAR WITHOUT A SPRING

It's been an awful spring in Pittsburgh, as the pandemic kept us at home and forced businesses to close.  But this sad season is soon to end!

Yes, summer officially arrives Saturday.

However, it won't be summer as we've known it.  Pittsburgh-sponsored youth baseball, concerts, and 5K races will not go on.  No fireworks will mark the Fourth of July.  City and county swimming pools are closed, causing one mother to lament, “What am I going to do with the kids all summer?  This is the thing they most look forward to.”  It's as though an entire season of life has been lost.

Have we ever lost a season before?  Several times.  The most memorable was in 1816, “The Year without a Summer.”  That trouble too originated in Asia, when an Indonesian volcano filled the atmosphere with ash.  (Similar eruptions in 536 and 540 in Central America darkened the sun for more than a year.  “Each day it shone for about four hours,” wrote Michael the Syrian, “and still this light was only a feeble shadow.”)

But staying in the house can be productive.  One bored teenager, trying to vacation near Geneva (marked by the gold star above), had a nightmare in the wee hours of June 16, when lightning lit up the lake momentarily “and the thunder came in frightful bursts over our heads.”  That was 204 years ago this morning!  She was inspired to begin writing a Gothic horror story, and Frankenstein became the very first science fiction novel.

 

 

In 1816, the ground froze in New York State on June 9 and crops had to be replanted.  European average temperatures were below normal by as much as 3.5°C (6.3°F), causing grain harvests to fail.

Incessant rain often prevented folks from venturing outdoors for days at a time.  It was like a social distancing lockdown.

 

JUNE 13, 2020    DIVING INTO GOD'S WORD

Evangelical preachers invoke the authority of Scripture to back up their assertions.  They are convinced that the Word of God is perfect:  infallible, inerrant, and non-contradictory.  Their favorite phrase is “The Bible says.”  And that settles it!

However, in one place the Bible commands “let your good works shine before men.”  Elsewhere it warns “don't do your alms before men; that's boasting.”  Which should we obey?

There are many similar examples.  Christians often choose to ignore one verse and quote another that they like better.

This situation led me to create an interactive Bible Quiz for this website in 2003, with questions such as “Does God ever change his mind?  Yes or no.”

Perhaps, rather than taking my quiz yourself, you'd prefer to watch two stick figures tackle the issues on a game show.

An Australian calling himself NonStampCollector put together just such a video in 2010.  Click the image, sit back, and be enlightened.

In 2017, after reading some of the same sources that NSC uses, I imagined St. Mark writing a letter complaining that his gospel stories had been altered by St. Luke to depict Jesus as kinder and gentler.

Why would Luke do this?  NSC points out that a confrontational and threatening Jesus would be unlikely to find acceptance from the Roman authorities.  In 2019 he posted another video.  You can click this image as well.

Great minds think alike.  I myself do not collect stamps.

 

JUNE 10, 2020   
COP'S CONVICTION OVERTURNED 

In the middle of the last century, law enforcement was notoriously corrupt in the Ohio city of East Liverpool, 40 miles west of Pittsburgh.  The police may or may not have been guilty of brutality, but they turned a blind eye to illegal gambling in perhaps two dozen different locations.

They also looted businesses.  Officer Louis Suttler, along with five other current and former policemen, was indicted in connection with various enterings and thefts.  Reports like this reveal that one such crime was discovered on Thursday, June 10, 1954.

The employees of Don Burbick's hardware and sporting goods store had locked their doors at noon on June 9.  (It was common practice back then for businesses to close on Wednesday afternoons.)

When the store reopened on Thursday morning, the employees found a broken skylight, and some of the merchandise was missing.  This wasn't the first such theft at Burbick Hardware; movie cameras and projectors had been taken two years before.

Investigators discovered a fingerprint just below the skylight, at least eight feet above the floor.  It belonged to Officer Stuttler.  He was charged and convicted of burglary, specifically “breaking and entering in the night season” under Section 2907.10 of the Revised Code of Ohio.

The cop's defense attorneys filed an appeal.  They disputed the fingerprint evidence.  More importantly, they questioned whether the crime actually occurred during the “night season” between sunset and sunrise.  (In the Ohio summer of '54, that meant the nine hours between approximately 8 PM and 5 AM EST.)  They pointed out that the store had also been unattended during eleven additional hours, so a daylight break-in was a possibility.

The jury used “the common experience of mankind” to conclude that the burglar probably did use the cover of darkness to avoid being observed.  However, the state Supreme Court ruled that “the jury may not be permitted to speculate.”  The time frame “must be established by direct evidence.”

Stuttler had been specifically convicted of burglary in the night season, a nefarious crime that carries a stiffer penalty.  Because the prosecution had failed to establish the “season” beyond a reasonable doubt, the conviction was overturned.

Here endeth the legal lesson.

 

JUNE 8, 2020    REMEMBER BASEBALL?

The year was 2000, the final season of Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium.  The Pirates were hosting the Montreal Expos, and I was on the TV crew working out of this mobile unit to televise that night's game on Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh.

While we set up, I played around with a little camera that took 3D snapshots.  Some of the pictures turned out okay (shown here).

However, others that I took from my seat behind the graphics keyboard weren't so great, so I stashed those photos away.  Here they are, for what it's worth.

 

Director Dennis Galloway
~

 

Font Coordinator Mark Vidonic
~


Audio Engineer Rick Kubia (back to the camera)
adjusts the intercom as Producer Tom Huet arrives


Replay Operators Tom Kotyk and Jerry Schad
receive their instructions

If baseball ever resumes, we'll need to become more socially distant.

Chuck Murr's prediction:  “Would you believe... font coordinators and operators go back to work like this.”

 

 

JUNE 5, 2020    CULTURE SHOCK

Many museums and other institutions in Kansas City have been temporarily closed because of the pandemic.  With no visitors, the inquisitive penguins at the local zoo have become bored.  Therefore, last month three of them were invited to come to a local art museum and take a private tour.

What did the penguins think of it?  Well, they declined to be interviewed afterwards, but it seems their taste ran to the Renaissance.  They preferred the Caravaggio paintings (circa 1600) to those by Monet (circa 1900).  Maybe birds and animals just have no appreciation for modern art.

I've seen this sort of thing before, in a way.  Decades ago in Columbus, Ohio, I visited a display by local artists and was amused by one object in particular.

It was a miniature model of an art gallery, consisting of a box about two feet square with an open top and a partition down the middle.  I don't have a photo, but let me describe it.

Patrons, depicted by a line of little statuettes of sheep, would enter the first room where traditional paintings and sculpture were displayed, old masters and the like.  They'd long been taught about these familiar images, and they calmly observed them through sophisticated monocles.

They then proceeded into a second room filled with non-representational modern works.  But when the lead sheep entered that second room, he slammed on the brakes.  Bracing his legs in front of him as his friends bunched up and cautiously peeked around the corner, he beheld the modern world in horror.

 

JUNE 2, 2020    SINK HIGH MONTHLY PAYMENTS!

The Chevrolet Motor Company was founded on November 3, 1911.  Fifty years later, the keychains shown below celebrated the golden anniversary.

Thank you, America, for 50 years of confidence.

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow:  Chevrolet, the symbol of quality.

In late 1961, the logos also appeared in a newspaper ad for a well-known dealership in Columbus, Ohio.  Excerpted on the right, the advertisement depicted the dealer happily firing upon another ship, the S.S. High Monthly Prices.

My father sold Chevrolets in the much smaller town of Richwood, 45 miles away.  I worked in the office during summer vacations.

How could Lex Mayers offer such low payments?  First of all,  the cars listed here were cheaper models.  In those days, ads sometimes boasted that a stripped-down car at least came with antifreeze.  And due to inflation, $49 in 1961 would be $423 today.

Also, I suspect he was spreading the auto loans over a 36-month term.  Our standard 24-month contract actually cost less in the long run, of course, because the purchaser paid less interest.

I recall that on at least one occasion, we did business with Lex.


Let's say that one of our customers wanted a dark blue two-door Chevy II with automatic transmission.  We did have such a car on the lot except it was white.  We could order a blue one to be built and shipped to us from the factory, but that would take a few weeks to arrive.

However, when we checked with Chevrolet we discovered that another dealership had a blue one in stock (#746 in the ad above).  Our office called Lex's office and arranged a trade.  One of our salesmen drove a much-in-demand Impala down to the big city and returned with the blue Chevy II plus a check for the difference, and our customer could take delivery the very next day.

I mention Lex because in Richwood we also watched the live weekend TV show that he hosted in Columbus.  It's described in this month's 100 Moons article.

 

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