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APRIL 15, 2014 flashback    SAY IT RIGHT

If you’re promoting an event to be held at the largest auditorium in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District, and you aren’t sure how to pronounce the name of the theater, don’t guess!  Ask someone.

Local residents know that in mentioning the Benedum Center, one should accent the BEN.  However, a radio commercial is currently running in which the obviously non-local announcer accents the NED.

The Buh-NED-um Center?  That’s just DUM.

 

APRIL 12, 2024   MY PERSPECTIVE

There was much anticipation for the heavily-hyped solar eclipse of 2024.  As seen from certain places on earth, the orbiting moon would slowly glide up and to the left, completely hiding the sun for a few minutes.

Beforehand, there was an expectation that millions of people would jam a few North American cities (as though there were no other places from which this miracle could be viewed).  Afterwards, there was much gushing from those millions about how it had been an amazing and life-changing experience.

I'm a level-headed loner, so I experienced neither throngs nor revelations.  Instead, from an almost-empty parking lot in northwestern Ohio, I awaited the big event under a slightly cloudy sky.  My story is called Solo Eclipse. 

 

APRIL 10, 2024   ROUND & ROUND WE GO

Driving back yesterday from watching the eclipse in Ohio, I had to negotiate a roundabout.  It required a few moments of intense concentration.  But these intersections don't necessarily have to be confusing.  On the right, a relatively new design is for major highways wide enough for five lanes.

A sign before the entrance instructs northbound motorists to choose one of three lanes, depending on their intention.  They can plan to exit the roundabout westbound (to the left), to continue straight, or to exit eastbound (to the right).

Because traffic in the circle has the right-of-way, the first two choices require a Yield to enter the circle.  After that, motorists can simply stay in their lane, which could even be painted.  Going straight?  Just take the green lane, merge at the Yield into an incoming green lane that has been hugging the island as it approached from the left, then keep following your merged green lane as it sidles up to another green lane coming in from the right.

To read more, click this box for a classic article I posted to this website more than a hundred months ago.

For this month's 100 Moons article, I visited another roundabout in Rochester, PA.

 

APRIL 7, 2024   ROBOT TALK

As an online subscriber to The Atlantic, I receive newsletters in their “Work in Progress” series.  One article this month quoted statistics from sources including the National Restaurant Association.  It seems restaurants are having a post-pandemic profitability problem:  they have to pay higher wages to employees, but customer revenues remain low.

But wait, there's more!  News Over Audio and ElevenLabs use artificial intelligence to recast these articles into podcasts of a sort.  It's a functional though monotonous recitation that requires at least twice as long to hear as to read.  Click the robot's picture to listen to the final three minutes of the article in question.

What's wrong?  Well, the voice ought to change its pitch and pace from time to time.  When starting a new paragraph, a pause should be followed by a bit more energy.  At one point the text encloses “quits rate” in quotes, but the voice doesn't raise its imaginary eyebrows; it plows through that uncommon phrase like any other.

It does know how to lower its voice slightly when it sees parentheses, but it sometimes misses the joke.  Apologizing to the state of New Mexico for mentioning a shortcoming, it should kiddingly say “Sorry, New Mexico,” emphasizing the first word.  Instead, it seems to be apologizing to the listener, as in “Sorry; New Mexico is what I meant to say.”

Another article included the number 16,000.  The robot dutifully observed the slight pause implied by the comma and voiced the number as “sixteen, zero zero zero.”

In retirement, a friend from my old college radio station has been recording for the blind, reading texts aloud.  But now even that sort of activity might be in danger of being taken over, for better or worse, by AI.

(Dangers do exist.  Caroline Mimbs Nyce wrote in The Atlantic that an Arizona mother picked up the phone last year to the sound of her 15-year-old crying out for her.  “It was completely her voice,” she said in one interview.  “It was her inflection.  It was the way she would have cried.”  The mother was asked to pay a $1 million ransom for her daughter's return.  In reality, the teen had not been kidnapped.  A scammer must have used AI to create a replica of her voice.  We might need to start demanding that callers confirm their identity with a secret code word or the name of their first pet.)

 

APRIL 4, 2014 flashback    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.

Here’s what I’m 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 here’s 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, we’re hoping for another mild day on Friday, when the high will be around 67.  But there’s bad news for Saturday:  We won’t even reach 50, and that night will be downright chilly.  I’m predicting Sunday morning’s 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 10-day 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.  It’s no longer presumptuous to draw a slender line passing exactly through 49°.

 

MARCH 31, 2024   AN EASTER STORY

My latest article is told from the point of view of a woman who is
comforted by Communing with Departed Loved Ones.

 

MARCH 29, 2024   POSCA FRIDAY

I find Gatorade rather blah, so lately I've switched to posca.  It's not the latest new beverage; far from it.  Gwynn Guilford writes for Quartz that as far back as 518 BCE, it was included among the rations issued to the Roman Republic's troops “along with grains and, very occasionally, meat and cheese.”

The generals drank wine, of course, but the lower ranks had to make do with posca.  It's basically leftover wine that has turned sour and become vinegar.  With 50 calories in a cup, that's still a cheap source of food value for the soldiers.

To make it palatable, the vinegar was diluted with maybe eight parts of water.  That also made the possibly-polluted water better because the vinegar killed some of the germs.

I've learned to top off a bottle of Gatorade with a bit of red wine vinegar for a little additional zest.  Tasty!

And now I can better understand verses 28 through 30 in the 19th chapter of the Gospel of John.

~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~
   ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~
      ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~    ~

Centurion:  Look at that poor man hanging up there, slowly dying.
The man on the middle cross.  He's suffering terribly.

     Decanus:  Why, I wonder?  For what possible sin?

          Jesus:  I'm thirsty!

     Decanus:  Is there any water around here?
     Can't we give him some relief?

Centurion:  Unfortunately, that would be against our orders.

     Decanus:  Look, sir!  A jar of posca!  You can pour
     a cupful of it and hold it up to his lips.

Centurion:  I can't hold a cup that high.

     Decanus:  Well, here's a stalk of the hyssop plant.
     It's long enough to reach his lips.

Centurion:  What good will that do?
The stalk is too flimsy to hold a cup.

     Decanus:  But sir, I have a sponge!
     Soak in with posca, stick it on the end of the stalk,
     and hold it up there.  You can squeeze the sponge
     against his mouth.

Centurion:  All right, I'll try.  ...Done!  Satisfied?

     Decanus:  I hope that's enough to relieve his thirst.

          Jesus:  It is finished.

 

MARCH 27, 2024   PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL NOTES

An issue in the National Basketball Association has been “load management.”  Players, including star players, can sit out games to rest and recover.  There are restrictions; for example, a player won't be eligible for post-season honors unless he's appeared in at least 65 of the 82 regular-season games.

It's been suggested that less time off would be required if fewer games were scheduled.  That's unlikely because it would reduce revenue.  A more practical fix might be shortening the games themselves, perhaps reducing the 48 minutes by 20% or so.  Of course, either change would mess up the comparison of historical statistics.

Apparently the British Basketball League, which seems to follow most of the NBA rules, has already trimmed its quarters from 12 minutes to 10.  I watched part of a televised game from Manchester last Thursday.  It was a weeknight, and the stands were not full.

I noticed other minor shortcomings from the NBA standards we've come to expect.  For example, at the start of that game, the shot clock was mistakenly set for 14 seconds instead of 24, and no one noticed.

The ball was tossed up for the opening jump, but there was an immediate whistle. Something was wrong with the ball.  Had it been under-inflated?  A new game ball had to be brought in.  (Way back when I was a manager in high-school basketball, I had to measure the air pressure in all the balls well before tipoff; can't the BBL manage that task?)

The “score bug” graphic was in the lower left corner of the TV screen, while stats and other graphics were displayed further to the right.  On the bug, the 24-second shot clock turned red when it dropped below 10 seconds, but during this telecast the digits disappeared and all we saw was a big red dot.  Another glitch.

However, I did like the fact that the bug remained on the screen at all times, including during replays.  In the U.S., the bug is often visible only during actual play (when our attention is on the on-court action), and it disappears during stoppages (which is the very time when we want to consult it).

The telecast went to a commercial with the score tied 12-12.  Coming back from the break, we were told that the score had been corrected to 14-12.  It was about at that point that I turned my attention elsewhere.

 

MARCH 24, 2014 flashback    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 it’s 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:  I’m told that my car’s 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 won’t 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, I’ve reached 65 mph, and it’s 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 21, 2024   ZOEY!

I've complained (on April 24, 2009) about podcasts and other audio discussions that mention a person, then continue commenting about them but never repeat the name.  They simply use a pronoun like “he.”  If we join the conversation a little late, we're frustrated.  Who is this “he” they're talking about?  We have no idea.

On the other hand, let me lodge a new complaint about scripted programs that repeat a character's name too often.  I'm thinking of scenes in which Zoey is in danger and Danny would like to rescue her, but he can't.  So he screams “Zoey!  Zoey!  Zoey!”

How does that help?  She knows her name.  She's aware that Danny is nearby, and she knows that he's desperately concerned for her safety.  We too are aware, and we don't need to be constantly reminded.

If he's going to yell something to her, it should be practical information like “There's a coyote stalking you!  Drop the briefcase and grab the rope!”  Instead, he just keeps uselessly repeating “Zoey!  Zoey!  Zoey!”  But I suppose that all the anguished shouting does add to the suspense.

 

MARCH 18, 2014 flashback    CRITIQUING A HOUSE

Pittsburgh’s 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 city’s leading modern architect.


1616 Powers Run Road

Katselas is a graduate of Carnegie Tech, now known as Carnegie Mellon University.

He’s designed numerous local landmarks including the Carnegie Science Center (1991), the Community College of Allegheny County (1973), the Allegheny County Jail (1995), and the Pittsburgh International Airport (1992).

The clean design of this $1.5-million home [listed for $2.2 million in 2018] is missing some details.  For example, there are no curtains on the windows.  That’s a contemporary feature, I guess.

Also, there are no handrails on the entry steps.  That’s a disadvantage for me; as a senior citizen, I’m less steady on my feet than I used to be.

The arched concrete ceilings were presumably designed to evoke the cozy security of being inside a sheltering cave.

The theme is continued throughout the house.  The rounded arches are even echoed in the shapes of some of the furniture.

However, those ceilings remind me of being trapped in a long line of automobile traffic inside one of the region’s notorious tunnels.

The screening room (below) has the same type of ceiling and brick walls.  This probably results in excessively “live” acoustics, so I hope the carpet is thick enough to absorb some of the reflected sound.

Other quibbles:  Without blackout curtains, the windows let in too much sunlight.  And in this photo, the 60-inch screen looks rather undersized.

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 there’s 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.  I’d display potted plants on each one.

 

MARCH 17, 2024   TWO-WAY SIGN

Four miles downriver from me, extremely close to Freeport Road (only eight feet from the curb), is an Irish restaurant called Killian's Hardwood Grill.  Reviewers compliment the friendly service and generous portions.

The sign includes shamrocks dotting every i.  And, so that drivers headed in either direction can read it, it's accordion-like.

Note the light above each pleat and the zigzag rain-drip stains on the sidewalk.

My first thought: drivers headed upriver, reading
the backside of each pleat, will unfortunately see
the letters in reverse order as 'S N A i L L i K.
Silly me.  I have to work on my spatial reasoning.

 

 

 

 

 

MARCH 14, 2024   THE GOOD SAM

I must confess.  For my latest article, I've copied a story that someone else has told (plus an image from an insurance ad).

However, I've retold the story from the viewpoint of the robbery victim rescued by an unlikely stranger.

 

MARCH 11, 2024   RUN!

A weird PG-rated 12-minute chase film, featuring Oberlin College locations familiar to me, was uploaded to YouTube on this date in 2006.  Most of it takes place at the Conservatory of Music.  There's a carjacking and a wheelchairjacking.  Once ye have seen it, as the Arch proclaims, ye are witnesses!


MARCH 9, 2024   
YOU NEVER TURNED AROUND TO SEE

To praise freedom?

To admit your sins?

To be on your own, with no direction home?

Expressed in mere words, even Bob Dylan's words set to music, these feelings typically lack a visual element.

In this month's 100 Moons article,
I suggested some ways to dramatize them.

To read more, click this box for a classic article I posted to this website more than a hundred months ago.

 

MARCH 7, 2024   NORTHERN SUBSTITUTES

Strikes in 2023 stopped production in Hollywood, so U.S. broadcast television had to fill its airtime with game shows and reality shows — not my cup of tea.

Scripted series are slowly returning.  In the meantime, to make up for the dearth of entertainment, I surfed through the cable TV channels and discovered some Canadian programs.  Those that I like are somewhat fresher than this 66-year-old effort from the CBC, for which a map lights up the locations of its transmitters.

For example, there's Murdoch Mysteries, a police drama set in Toronto around 1900.  It's now in its 17th season and is shown on the U.S. cable channel Ovation.

Detective Murdoch always crosses himself when he first sees a dead body, but he and his colleagues eventually solve the murder.

They encounter soon-to-be-famous 20th-century technologies like fingermarks [-prints] and soon-to-be-famous 20-century personalities like Frank Lloyd Wright, who designs Murdoch's house.

Other Canadian programs take place in the downtown harbor areas of far-flung cities like St. John's, in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Vancouver, in British Columbia.

These include the police procedurals Hudson & Rex on UPtv and Wild Cards on The CW, each of which features a present-day detective with a quirky sidekick:  an observant German shepherd — “what is it, pal?” — and an attractive young woman.

(The dog has no lines other than barking and occasionally whining.  But according to the credits he's played by a fine Canadian actor named Diesel vom Burgimwald, which translates to “Diesel from the Castle in the Forest.”  He's an honorary firefighter with the St. John's Regional Fire Department.)

St. John's is also the setting for a CW comedy, Son of a Critch.  The Critches don't live down by the harbor but rather in a modest house behind their radio station, VOCM, “Newfoundland's News Authority.” 

Emulating A Christmas Story, The Wonder Years, Everybody Hates Chris, The Goldbergs, and Young Sheldon, this story features occasional narration by the grown-up version of the lead character.  His crusty grandfather is played by Malcolm McDowell.  And the show seems more obviously Canadian.  For an episode set in 1988 when Mark Critch was a schoolboy, his voice-over begins, “The Provincial Drama Festival was the Stanley Cup for theatre nerds, and I wanted to be the Gretzky of the stage.”

 

MARCH 4, 2014 flashback    BRRRDWATCHING

I spotted my first robin of the season yesterday in Pittsburgh.  That’s normally a sign of spring.  This year, however, we’re seeing more gulls.

One wouldn’t expect seagulls this far from the sea, but it’s been a very cold winter.  The Great Lakes will soon break 1979’s 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.  There’s 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 can’t stand this any longer!”

Fortunately, the forecast is for a sunny 50 degrees by the end of the week.  The robin can invite some of his relatives to join him.

UPDATE, COMPARING
2014 TO 2024:

As we know, the weather does change.  The graph shows that in four of the last dozen years, including 2024, no more than 40% of Lake Erie has been covered by ice.  Perhaps as a result, I've seen only one seagull this year in the Pittsburgh area.  We've received a mere 12 inches of snow so far, less than a third of the historical average of 44 inches.  And many Midwestern cities have had their warmest winter on record.

However, a blizzard in California this weekend brought 190-mph wind gusts, and the Donner Pass was expected to be buried under 10 feet of snow.

  

 MARCH 1, 2024   "FINE" MIGHT MEAN MERELY "OKAY"


The word fine can denote exceptional quality.  Or it can describe tiny particles.  But I've noticed that there's also an informal meaning:  “acceptable.”

A movie reviewer sometimes expresses enthusiasm for a new film.  But more often, the film is rather ordinary, and he says “Well, it's... fine.  I give it a B-minus.”

Characters often disagree about something and state their reasons.  But the scriptwriter can't let the argument go on forever, so one of the characters quickly capitulates.  “Fine!  We'll do it your way.  However....”

Of course, the word can have even more meanings.  One example: after the “bridge” in a piece of music, the Italian notation Da Capo al Fine sometimes appears.  It instructs you to go back to the beginning or “head” of the piece and repeat the first part until you come to the word Fine, pronounced FEE-nay and meaning “the end.”

 

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