OCTOBER 31, 2009 HALLOWEEN SCARE
As I drive up and down the hills of Pennsylvania, sometimes a frightening thought occurs to me. I've titled this little fantasy To Boil a Frog.
OCTOBER 30, 2009 IN MEMORIAM
OCTOBER 26, 2009 NEWSPAPERS AND ME
When I worked for local cable TV, the local newspaper was a key resource: the Marion Star, the Washington Observer-Reporter, the Valley News-Dispatch.
I also subscribed to a newspaper from the big city nearby. I remember coming home one evening, seeing the Pittsburgh Press on my doorstep, and learning from the huge headline that the Supreme Court had voted 8-0 to order President Nixon to turn over his Watergate tapes. That would have been July 24, 1974. Sixteen days later, he was out of office.
In the Eighties, I began traveling more, and I didnt want have to deal with a carrier. This week, please dont deliver on Tuesday, Friday, or Saturday. And next week I'll be in California, so don't come at all. Therefore I no longer subscribe. Whenever I'm in town, I buy a paper at a drugstore. Or I use one of those coin-operated boxes, which continue to frustrate me.
Nowadays, I often dont even bother to buy a newspaper. I can find everything I want for free on the papers website. (The free part isnt the main attraction. I wouldnt mind paying if the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette started charging me a subscription fee to access its online edition. They do offer a plus service with additional on-line features for a fee, but none of that content interests me.)
Thus I have devolved from a regular subscriber, to a frequent purchaser, to an infrequent purchaser. Apparently many others have been doing likewise. An Audit Bureau of Circulation statement to be released tomorrow will show the Post-Gazettes daily circulation has declined 9.5% from a year ago.
Newspapers are in trouble. Will they have to cut back on gathering news?
Maybe so, judging from their coverage of high school football games. In researching our telecasts, I check past editions of the local papers to find out what the teams and their star players did in previous weeks. A couple of years ago, there would be at least a paragraph about every game. Thats no longer necessarily the case.
Last month one of the larger local schools, Gateway, defeated Baldwin but had to put an apology on the school website. Note: No news articles after the game; this game wasn't covered by reporters, so there aren't any articles. We'll have photos and sideline video up by Monday.
So now the newspaper industry cant even afford enough sports stringers? What is the world of journalism coming to?
UPDATE: Newspaper delivery shrinks from seven days to two.
OCTOBER 22, 2009 IT'S HALFTIME!
I have a plan that would solve two problems with postseason baseball. All times are Eastern.
Problem one: the Three Rivers Stadium effect. That ballpark hosted the first night game in World Series history in 1971. Since then, baseballs "Fall Classic" has become an exclusively prime-time event, featuring titanic marathons that often are not decided until after midnight. Last Saturdays ALCS contest at Yankee Stadium (not even part of the World Series) wasnt decided until 1:07 AM. Thats well past the bedtime of many young fans. Old-timers like me wonder why some Series games cant be played in the afternoon, at least on weekends, as all the games were when we were kids. Of course, the answer is money. But we can dream. The sun ought to shine on part of the Series.
Problem two: the Koufax/Drysdale effect. In 1965 the Los Angeles Dodgers had two ace pitchers, Sandy Koufax (26-8, 2.04 ERA) and Don Drysdale (23-12, 2.77 ERA). Nowadays, two pitchers in a five-man rotation start only 40% of the teams games. Back then, Walter Alston used a four-man rotation and managed to assign 51% of the Dodgers starts to his aces. And he gave them 71% in the World Series, as Drysdale took the mound for games 1-4 and Koufax for games 2-5-7. The Dodgers won in seven games, demonstrating how in a short playoff series with several off days a team built around a couple of dominating starting pitchers has the edge over a team (in this case, the Twins) that might have been better during the everyday grind of the regular season.
My plan: schedule some World Series games as split day/night events. Each ticket consists of two parts, one for the day session and one for the night session. A fan might choose to attend only one session and give the other half of his ticket to someone else, someone who might not otherwise have been able to see the Fall Classic in person.
The on-field ceremonies commence at 1:30 in the afternoon. Network TV coverage begins at 2:00 with a quick preview of the matchup, and the first pitch is thrown at 2:08.
At the conclusion of the fifth inning, maybe around 4:30, its halftime! The grounds crew goes to work as if it were a rain delay. The players leave the field, the network signs off, the fans leave the ballpark, and everyone has a nice supper.
If a Koufax or a Drysdale started the game, theyve thrown five innings, enough to qualify for a win. But now they have to cool off during a long halftime break. The way pitchers arms work, they wont be able to go back out there tonight. Someone else will have to take the mound for the sixth inning. The pitching duties are spread around the staff, thereby lessening the unfair advantage of the Koufax/Drysdale effect.
Network coverage resumes at 8:00 with highlights of the first five innings. Celebrities are introduced, the National Anthem is sung, and lots of prime-time commercials are aired. The sixth inning begins at 8:38.
OCTOBER 21, 2009 MONDAY CURMUDGEONITUDE
Magazines have always been printed and distributed before their cover dates. (Mark Evanier explains the reason here.) However, nowadays things are getting out of hand. Here it is only the middle of October, and already Ive received the December issue of Games magazine with its Santa-themed puzzles. And three weeks from now I expect to find the January 2010 issue of American History Illustrated in my mailbox.
I suppose it could be worse. When I was a lad, I thought it strange that the newly-crowned Miss America 1960 and the newly-redesigned 1960 Chevrolet were both introduced in September 1959, nearly four months early. What does a year mean, anyway?
OCTOBER 18, 2009 THE LIONS BATTLE THE ORANGEMEN
Kids grow up so fast! its said. Compared to the events of an adults life, they certainly do.
It seems like yesterday, but actually it was 22 years ago today that the company I worked for went out of business. I was out of town that Saturday morning, working the telecast of the 65th renewal of the Penn State/Syracuse football rivalry, when the office gave me the news in a phone call: Unfortunately....
That was the last time I had a full-time job. Since then, my employment has been exclusively on a freelance basis.
Much has happened since then, but there have been no dramatic changes. I still live in the same place. I still work with many of the same people.
OCTOBER 14, 2009 A BIT OF FICTION
Buzz the engineering student was home for the weekend. His cousin, still in high school, invited him to the homecoming football game Friday night at Ourtown High.
Youll have a blast! Cuzz enthused. Theyve installed all new seats in the stadium, and I can get us a spot front-row center!
When they arrived at the field, Buzz had to admit the refurbished stadium looked good. On both the home and visitor sides, there were twenty rows of seats between the 30-yard lines. Buzz did a quick calculation and estimated the maximum capacity at about 3,600 fans. It was hardly the Rose Bowl, but it was the perfect size for their high school.
Cuzz was true to his word. He led his cousin to two seats on the home side of the field, and they were in the very front row.
Couldnt we see better, Buzz asked, if we were up higher? How about those seats back there?
Nah, Cuzz scoffed, the upper half is the parents section. Old folks sit up there. Were down here, right in the middle of the action!
Pretty close to it, anyway, Buzz admitted. But he had an engineers compulsion for precision. Actually, we arent exactly in the middle. Were on the 46-yard line. Those kids eight seats to our right, theyre on the 50.
But this is plenty good enough. Look, you can almost lean forward and touch the players.
It was true. The front row was unusually close to the sideline, though five feet higher. The wall was padded for the players protection, all the way up to the railing in front of the fans. When a player stood behind the bench, Buzz and Cuzz could have kicked his helmet if not for that padded wall.
In most stadiums, the cheerleaders would have been deployed between the bench and the stands. But there was no space for them here; the players claimed the whole sideline between the 35s. The cheerleaders split into two groups, Left-End and Right-End. They stood on the sideline near each 30, where the seating section ended. Theyre going to be lonely down there, Buzz thought.
The teams took the field for the kickoff. Ourtown High would receive and defend the goal to the left.
Buzz felt his seat shudder slightly. At first he thought the fans were standing up in anticipation of the start of the game. But no, his seat and 900 others were actually moving to the left!
Whats going on? he asked.
Didnt I tell you this was going to be great? Cuzz replied. Were dropping back to receive the kickoff!
Buzz realized that their half of the home section was on rails, and an electric motor was trucking it to the left at two miles per hour. Across the way, the lower half of the visitor section was also on the move.
The kickoff was returned to the 33-yard line, and when the seats came to a stop after about 15 seconds, Buzz and Cuzz were sitting on the 32! They were as close to the action as the head coach was.
Ourtown methodically moved the ball down the field, and with each play the section of seats followed along at one yard per second, always centering itself three yards beyond the ball.
That meant that when Ourtown was on offense in the first quarter, Buzz and Cuzz found themselves one yard behind the line of scrimmage. When the visitors took over and started driving from right to left, their seats were now five yards ahead of the line, alongside the cornerbacks.
Ourtown got the ball back and completed a 40-yard pass play down to the 6. The seats traveled much slower than the receiver They arent allowed to go any faster, because of safety, Cuzz explained but they had almost reached their new station by the time the next play was run. The Right-End cheerleaders welcomed the fans arrival, then turned to cheer the Hometown touchdown.
Wasnt I right? Cuzz shouted over the din. Arent these seats great?
Buzz had to admit they were. Whose idea was this, anyway?
Oh, said Cuzz, I think Coach heard about it several years ago. It was on a website page by some guy named Tom Thomas.
UPDATE: 3-D TELEVISION AGREES THESE SEATS ARE GREAT
OCTOBER 10, 2009 LETTERBOXING WON'T BOTHER DANNY
A couple of years ago, I explained various methods of making television pictures look good on both newfangled wide screens and oldfangled squarish picture tubes. Now a cable channel has adopted the "letterboxing" method fulltime. Using the Whole Screen will be the standard for all their programs.
OCTOBER 7, 2009 WHERE HAVE ALL THE COLORS GONE?
As an member of AAA, I recently was e-mailed a little feature claiming to describe What Your Car Color Says About You.
I currently drive a blue sedan, and both of the blue descriptions fit me. But my previous car was dark red, and I definitely am not a stereotypically aggressive red-car driver.
Ive also owned a green car and a gold car. Where are those hues? And where are other possibilities, like purple and orange and yellow and brown and pink and turquoise? Those were available when I was growing up in the Fifties.
PPG Industries confirms my observation. The paint company reports that silver has been the No. 1 color for nine straight years. It now accounts for 25% of vehicle paint choices in the United States. White and black get 18% and 16% respectively, while red is in fourth place with 12%.
Apparently most drivers have become elegant and fastidious and only one in eight is speedy. That does not square with my actual experiences on the highway, but color choices don't lie, do they?
OCTOBER 4, 2009 ERRORS? WHAT ERRORS?
The Pittsburgh Pirates wrapped up their baseball season today, a dismal year in which they barely avoided 100 losses. However, there was a bright spot: they set a franchise record by playing 101 errorless games.
If your defense rarely makes any errors, does that mean it's good? Not necessarily. The Pirates were ranked only 23rd among 30 teams in Defensive Efficiency Rating. I suspect the lack of errors and of passed balls, for that matter is due to causes other than defensive excellence. See my little essay on T-Ball Scoring.
SEPTEMBER 30, 2009 THE SECRET OF UNHAPPINESS
I know very few people, says Betsy Stevenson, who would tell me they wish they hadnt had kids.
However, thats at odds with her Wharton School study called The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness. She was quoted in Maureen Dowds column earlier this month. And what were her findings?
The conclusion applies universally. Its true whether youre wealthy or poor, if you have kids late or kids early, Professor Stevenson says.
The one thing in life that will make you less happy is having children.
SEPTEMBER 29, 2009 TROLLING FOR HUSBANDS
Early in the autumn of 1883, according to a contemporaneous account in the Richwood Gazette, a train stopped at a neighboring Ohio town.
On board that train was a wealthy passenger. He spied a young lady walking near the station and "was struck with admiration over the tender manner in which [she] led her grandmother along a path near the track." The "man of riches" asked to be introduced to the young lady, and after a short courtship, he married her.
claimed a few weeks later, "every time the train pulls in that
burg, at least a dozen maidens can be seen trotting their old
grandmothers up and down the track."
SEPTEMBER 20, 2009 THE LINEUP
Forty years ago this month, we TV-Radio graduate students at Syracuse University stood in front of wood paneling to have our pictures taken. Click the sample below to see the whole Sequence 22.
SEPTEMBER 16, 2009 IS YOUR MIDDLE NAME JEROME?
I was just reviewing tomorrow nights starting lineups for the Latrobe High School Wildcats. According to the official roster, the defense includes nose guard Thomas Dovie and strong safety Donato Lonigro. However, theyre better known as T.J. Dovie and D.J. Lonigro.
Many young men these days call themselves something J. Can we assume J is their middle initial? Does J stand for Joseph or Jefferson? No, more likely J stands for Junior.
A couple of years ago, T.J. Beam pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates. His formal name was Theodore Lester Beam, Jr., so he should have gone by T.L. instead of T.J. But I suppose his father was known as Ted, so people called the new little boy Ted Junior. That soon became T.J., and that stuck.
Among Juniors, this is still a fairly limited phenomenon. Otherwise, we'd have celebrities like K.J. Griffey the baseball slugger, V.J. McMahon the wrestling entrepreneur, and D.J. Fairbanks and L.J. Chaney the late movie stars. Famous racecar drivers would include D.J. Earnhardt, A.J. Unser, and A.J.J. Foyt. In the Seventies, our President would have been J.J. Carter. President J.J.? That would have been dyno-MITE!
SEPTEMBER 13, 2009 RETURN TO CRAWFORD COUNTY
What did I do last night for the first time in 34 years? Check this update.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2009 THAT'S NOT HOW IT WORKS
Many car keys come attached to a fob containing a little radio transmitter. At the press of a button, you can remotely unlock your cars doors.
Shut your mouth. Radio waves dont behave like that. They don't bounce off your body; they are absorbed by it. They dont reflect off anything inside your mouth (except your dental fillings, which only scatter them in random directions). Instead, they soak into your head, as we've learned from the alarmist warnings about cell phone radiation.
Yet some people insist that their fobs work better at chin level. Could this be? If so, is there a non-bogus explanation?
To automobile stylists, the beltline is the base of the windows. Above the beltline is the greenhouse mostly glass, through which radio waves easily pass. Below the beltline are fenders and door panels mostly steel, which radio waves dont penetrate.
But if you hold the fob at your beltline, as the man is doing with his left hand, youre holding it below the cars beltline. The radio waves dont have a direct path to the receiver. (Nevertheless, theyll probably get there by a roundabout path if youre not too far away. Maybe theyll first reflect off the underside of the cars roof and then bounce around the interior for awhile.)
Take it from a physics major: your mouth can redirect sound waves, but not radio waves. Unless you're an android, of course.
SEPTEMBER 5, 2009 CRIMSON AND GOLD
Classes have resumed at my alma mater, which means that it's time to link to an article I wrote a couple of months ago about the True Colors of Oberlin College. They're not quite what I had thought.