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Don’t bet on Birmingham, either.  But I do need someone to venture some money on the bay.  Someone?  Anyone?

I’ve written a rambling gambling piece about the 19th century in my home town plus a certain song.  It’s called Essex Racetrack Four Miles Long, and you’re invited to click on that title.


FEB. 20, 2014     TEA TIME

At least once a week, I conduct a ritual that I’ve come to call my Japanese tea ceremony.  I bring out this bamboo serving tray and fill it with all sorts of goodies.  The sides of the tray keep things from accidentally escaping.  Then I take the tray to my desk, where I will spend several minutes in deep concentration, transferring small objects from one container to another.

The bottles at the top of the picture hold my medications and supplements, prescribed (among other reasons) to keep various numbers from getting too high:  in particular, my cholesterol and uric acid and blood pressure.  Fortunately, I have Medicare Part D, and most of these cost me only 30¢ per pill.

The colorful plastic box has four transparent lids for each day of the week.  During the ceremony I fill these compartments according to the formula I’ve taped to the corner of the tray.  (Once I could remember what goes where, but it’s become too complicated as I have now reached the age of 67.)  (Today’s my birthday, by the way!)

Then I ingest the contents of each compartment during the scheduled daypart:  morning, noon, evening, and bed time.

Why are my keys also on the tray?  For the noon meal I usually find myself at a restaurant.  I don’t have the colorful plastic box with me, but I do have my car keys.

Notice the aluminum cylinder.  Each day I transfer the noon pills into the cylinder and screw it onto its cap, which dangles from the key ring.

Notice the copper coin.  It’s a 10-yen piece that I brought back from Tokyo.  I put it in the now-empty noon compartment to indicate that its pills have been loaded into the cylinder.

Now I’m ready for lunch.  Kenko!



An NBC television graphics specialist at the Olympic Games complained he was misled about the living conditions he'd find there.  "The brochure described the accommodations and amenities at the Press Village as equal to or better than that of a hotel.  However, the hotel they surveyed was located in Tijuana.  The bedsheets in the Press Village are paper, the towels non-existent, safe deposit boxes and closet space inadequate."

Another gripe about Sochi, right?  No, this was a quarter of a century ago in Seoul.

It was the first of my three Olympics, and it brought me an Emmy Award.

The story is this month’s "100 Moons" article.


FEB. 10, 2014     CLOSE, BUT...

In cleaning out my files recently, I found a unique envelope I saved five years ago.  It’s from Reason magazine.

Having identified the name and address of a potential subscriber, Reason used a Google Earth picture of the area to print this arresting personalized warning about “them.”  (The letter inside described “them” as surveillance staters, busybodies, and “control freaks who want to run your life and spend your money.”

So do “they” really know where I am?

I do live within the highlighted circle, though not in the center.  Nor am I at the spot to which the yellow arrow points.

Note this closeup of that spot.  If the busy bodies go there looking for my body, they’ll find it buried under a tree in Prospect Cemetery.


FEB. 5, 2014     THE 969-YEAR-OLD MAN

Methus’lah lived nine hundred years;
Methus’lah lived nine hundred years.
But who calls dat livin'
When no gal will give in
To no man what's nine hundred years?

I’m preachin’ this sermon to show
It ain't necessarily so.
The things that you’re liable
To read in the Bible,
It ain't necessarily so.

— Ira Gershwin in Porgy and Bess

To be precise, we read in the Bible that Methuselah lived 969 years.  Apparently some gal did give in to him when he was only 187, because that’s when his first son was born.

The ages of the men in Genesis are obviously exaggerated.  Can we make sense of them if, for example, we divide the numbers by ten?  No, because dividing them all by ten would imply that some of these men became fathers at the age of three.  No other simple correction seems to work, either.  So how did the Biblical writer come up with these impossible lifespans?

I propose in a new article how the Genesis Years could have been computed.


JAN. 31, 2014     HOOPIN’ IT UP

Needless to say, televised sports have changed since I was in high school 50 years ago.  Back then, we could watch college basketball on different TV channels, but not every night.

Channel 4 in Columbus televised most Ohio State games.

Channel 6 aired the syndicated Big Ten Game of the Week around suppertime on Saturdays.  This production actually used a third camera (at floor level on a pedestal at one corner of the court), but they hired only one announcer (Bill Flemming).

Then in March, there were the nationally-televised NCAA and NIT tournaments.

I can’t recall any other college basketball games on the tube in the early Sixties.  Nowadays?  Tomorrow is a typical Saturday on my Pittsburgh-area cable system, and I’ll have the opportunity to see thirty-five games in a single day!

11:00  Coastal Carolina at Campbell
11:00  Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth
12:00  #24 Ohio State at #14 Wisconsin
12:00  Georgia Tech at Wake Forest
12:00  Maryland at Virginia Tech
12:00  Seton Hall at Xavier
12:30  George Washington at Dayton
12:30  Marquette at St. John’s
  1:00  #11 Kentucky at Missouri
  1:00  N.C. State at North Carolina
  1:00  Toledo at Ohio
  2:00  Baylor at #8 Oklahoma State
  2:00  #22 Memphis at Southern Methodist
  2:00  Providence at DePaul (1-hr tape delay)
  2:30  George Mason at #19 Saint Louis
  3:00  Evansville at #4 Wichita State
  3:00  #7 Michigan State at Georgetown
  3:00  Clemson at Florida State

  4:00  #6 Kansas at #25 Texas
  4:00  #9 Villanova at Temple
  4:00  Duquesne at La Salle
  4:30  Drexel at Towson
  5:00  Arkansas at LSU
  6:00  #21 Massachusetts at St. John’s
  6:30  #17 Duke at #2 Syracuse
  7:00  Colorado State at #5 San Diego State
  7:00  Wright State at Green Bay
  8:00  Boise State at UNLV
  9:00  Central Florida at #12 Louisville
  9:00  Penn at Harvard
  9:00  Tennessee at Alabama
  9:00  UNC Wilmington at Delaware (9-hr tape delay)
11:00  St. Mary’s at BYU
11:00  UC Irvine at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo
12:00  #11 Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (women)

Those who subscribe to special sports packages or satellite hookups probably have even more TV choices.  And innumerable other games will be available on the Internet, on sites like ESPN3 and the webcasts of individual schools.  For example, among the small Division III colleges, Jerry Schad’s alma mater DePauw visits my alma mater Oberlin.  That showdown will be on the web at 3:00.

You wanna watch hoops?  We got hoops! 



You may have seen this questionnaire about dialects that came out last month.  Because different regions use somewhat different terminology, you're asked which word or pronunciation you use for water fountains and other things, such as “lightning bug” versus “firefly.”

(I thought I might see “baloney” vs “bologna” vs “jumbo.”  As a native Ohioan, I’d choose “baloney,” but when I moved to southwestern Pennsylvania I found a lot of locals calling it “jumbo.”  The local yinzers also said “gum band” instead of “rubber band,” which wasn’t a questionnaire option either.)

Each choice corresponds to a map, and when all the maps are added up, the program tells you where you’re from.  My most similar city seems to be Shreveport, Louisiana.  I must protest!  I talk nothing like Terry Bradshaw!

The map does get it partly right, however.  My parents both came from reddish-orange areas.  I went to school in the orange, and I now live in the amber.


Maybe I can slow down
               If I shift down
To a somewhat lower gear.
Give me four more years!

I’m happy to report that time has passed, as it does, and the panicky dreams I sometimes experienced around the turn of the century have been replaced by a different set of nightmares.

But the little verses that those panicky dreams inspired are in this month’s "100 Moons" article.

JAN. 20, 2014     ZERO-SUM LOSERS

As a white person on this Martin Luther King Day, I pose this question:  If the Constitution’s “blessings of liberty” are extended to our fellow citizens, does that mean we must surrender those blessings ourselves?

Some Americans fear it means exactly that.  They think liberty is limited:  more freedom for you means less freedom for me, so the net sum of any changes is zero.

Most of these zero-summers are white Christians.  As the unchallenged majority, they’ve been accustomed to doing things their way.  Now that others can share their privileges, the zero-summers gripe and moan and selfishly complain that they're losing privileges.  They resent the intrusion of diverse cultures into the life they have always known.

When Americans try to respect even non-Christians by wishing customers “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” or by singing “Frosty the Snowman” in public schools instead of “Away in a Manger,” the zero-summers call it a War on Christmas.

When gays try to obtain the same benefits of matrimony that straights have long enjoyed, the zero-summers call it a War on Marriage.

When shooting survivors try to increase their safety by regulating handguns and assault weapons, the zero-summers claim they need unrestricted arsenals for their own safety.

When two Hebrew speakers in Wisconsin are thought to be conversing in Spanish, a zero-summer beats them up for not speaking English.

When blacks use affirmative-action programs to overcome longstanding bias against their race, the zero-summers call it reverse racism.

A 2011 research paper quantifies the latter situation.  Although those surveyed agreed that blacks in the 1950s and 1960s were very much the targets of racism, the whites in the study felt that the balance has now shifted and they are being persecuted for being white!  “By the 2000s, some 11% of Whites gave anti-White bias the maximum rating on our scale, in comparison with only 2% of Whites who did so for anti-Black bias.”  Co-author Dr. Samuel Sommers comments, “It’s a pretty surprising finding when you think of the wide range of disparities that still exist in society, most of which show black Americans with worse outcomes than whites in areas such as income, home ownership, health, and employment.”

Stop whining, paranoid zero-summers!  Life is not a zero-sum game.  When a door is opened to welcome Muslims and gays and shooting victims and Latinos and blacks, that does not mean a door has been slammed in your face.

The way to insure domestic tranquility is not to draw a circle that keeps the others out; it’s to draw a circle of love that takes them in — promoting the general welfare, for all of us. 


JAN. 18, 2014     UNCLES JIM

The PBS series Nova aired a documentary this week about Zeppelins.  Germany flew these hydrogen-filled dirigibles on night bombing missions over London a hundred years ago, during World War I.

Investigating the technology involved was Dr. Hugh Hunt, an engineer from England's Cambridge University.

The Cambridge man learned during his research that his great-uncle James Buckingham was a part of the story.

Jim was a car manufacturer at the Buckingham Motor Company of Coventry.  As part of the war effort, he invented an incendiary machine-gun bullet.

We see it here in flight, photographed by a high-speed camera.  Spewing flaming phosphorus, it was designed to ignite the hydrogen in a dirigible's gas bags and bring it down.

But it didn't work at first.  The hydrogen couldn't burn because there was no oxygen in the gas bags.  So the Buckingham Bullet had to be fired alternately with an exploding bullet that could rip the fabric wide open.

Now it so happens that I too had an uncle named Jim Buckingham!  I've mentioned him on this website.  In the state of Ohio, he lived near Cambridge!  At the age of 15, he visited the crash site of a downed dirigible and brought back a piece of the fabric!  Then during World War II, he went to England to fly bombing missions over Germany as the armorer on a B-17!  Later, he sold cars for my father!

Could all of these connections be nothing more than mere coincidences?

Yes.  Yes, they could be mere coincidences, and yes, they are.

But I did learn a couple of other interesting facts from the show.

After hollow Buckingham Bullets were filled with phosphorus, the holes were sealed with a lead/tin alloy called solder.

The Brit who was explaining this pronounced the word, very properly, to rhyme with “bolder.”  Here in America, the L is silent and the word rhymes with “fodder.”  I know not why.

Football telecasts nowadays employ audio assistants on the sidelines to pick up distant sounds, such as a quarterback shouting “Omaha.”  They accomplish this with parabs.  These are microphones mounted in front of bowl-shaped parabolic reflectors, which focus and amplify the sound waves coming from one particular direction.

During World War I, the British needed advance warning of the nighttime approach of the Zeps across the North Sea.  But radar hadn’t been invented yet, so they built giant parabs out of concrete.  One of these “sound mirrors” still stands on the Yorkshire coast.

An operator positioned a pole, holding the horn of a giant stethoscope, to pick up the drone of Zeppelin engines 20 miles away.  The other end of the pole would point toward the source of the sound (red arrow).  The operator could even track the invisible airship across the dark sky.  Clever!



The movie HER opened this weekend.  According to Entertainment Weekly, it depicts “a recently divorced loner who falls in love with his phone's latest operating system. That the OS, which he calls Samantha, has the sultry, pack-a-day voice of Scarlett Johansson only heightens the case for why a man might fall for a piece of software.”

The fictional Samantha is an advancement over Apple’s personal-assistant application called Siri.  And Siri is an advancement over Eliza.

I remember Eliza.  She's a very simple computer program written half a century ago.  (The dream of communicating with an intelligent robot has been around a long time.)  In 1980, when I bought a Radio Shack TRS-80 home microcomputer, I keyed in a version written in BASIC.

When you run the program, you seem to be using a teletype to consult a psychologist.  You type in your complaints, and the shrink employs Rogerian therapy to help you understand them.  Often this consists of merely echoing your words, changing your first-person pronouns to second person, and asking “why” like an inquisitive little kid.  For example:

Hello, I am Eliza.
> Hi.  I am the walrus.
How long have you been the walrus?
> Since the Beatles sang about it.
Come, come, elucidate your thoughts.
> I tell you, I am now a large marine mammal.
Do you believe it is normal to be now a large marine mammal?
> Most people are not.
Say, do you have any psychological problems?
> I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.
Perhaps you would like to be he as I am you and we am all together?
> Yes!  We am in agreement.
I see.

You can be the walrus yourself at sites like this one.  But don’t be fooled.  You are not actually communicating with a human being.  Do not fall in love.  



Corporations want to improve their image among the common people.  Big Oil is airing radio commercials voiced by ordinary hard-working Americans.

A hard-working BP supporter says the company has been helping the golfer cover.

Meanwhile, a hard-working Chevron supporter touts the virtues of a competitor, Shell Oil.

If these ads had been voiced by hard-working professional announcers, it would have been clear that BP’s goal is “helping the Gulf recover.”  And Chevron is actually promoting “shale oil.”

But nobody would have believed polished professional announcers, I suppose.  They’ll say anything you pay them to.



When I’m driving my red car in the right lane, dutifully observing the speed limit, I don't want to swerve into the left lane and cut off a speeder who's overtaking me.  I keep a close eye on my mirrors.

The inside mirror shows me traffic that’s at 6:00 from my perspective, such as the green car.

Some people also adjust their left outside mirror to show them 6:00, but I know the mirror should be angled out to see the “blind spot” at 7:00, such as the gold car.

For me, 8:00 is also a blind spot.  As I grow older, I can’t turn my head as easily to look in that direction.  However, when the blue car reaches that area I can still see its rear in my left outside mirror, and I can see its front with my peripheral vision.

But that 8:00 blind spot sometimes does come into play if I’m trying to merge onto a highway from a short but “helpfully” angled ramp.  I’ve developed a couple of little S-shaped tricks to compensate.

Here, as I approach the intersection from the southwest, I can’t see the heavy traffic approaching from the west because it’s at my 8:00.

So I turn sharper than necessary, deviating from the painted lane and taking to the shoulder (A).  With my car at the same angle as the approaching traffic, I can see it at my 7:00, and I can wait for a chance to merge.

In the second example, as I approach from the northwest I can’t see the traffic coming from the northeast.

Again I take to the shoulder briefly (B) and then turn towards my left, coming to a stop at a proper 90° angle to the main road.  Then I can check my 9:00 before continuing with my right turn.