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AUGUST 29, 2014

Years ago, I was struggling to type something on my keyboard when Mike Kobik asked, “Did you run out of E’s?”

Of course, he was just being silly.  There’s an inexhaustible supply of every character.  E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E.  See there?

Unless, that is, our low-tech message board still uses the 600-year-old technology of Gutenberg’s movable type.



(Lights flash)

Tom: “What is Korinna?”

Alex: “That is correct!”

Early in 1984, Betsy Overly and I were planning the graphics for Pittsburgh Pirates cablecasts.  We needed a fresh look and a new font style.

Chyron, the company that manufactured the character generator, provided a “font library” for their machine on 8-inch floppy disks.  A few dozen styles were available.  Some were offered in only one size, but there were several that came in five different sizes, providing flexibility.

One of those, called Korinna Bold, caught our eye.  It was a fresh, relatively new font; the modern version had been introduced only ten years before.  It had some flair, with the distinctive shapes of the P and the N and especially the U, yet it was sufficiently bold for sports television.  So we chose it to build the full screens and lower thirds that we’d need for baseball.  Our new look premiered on a road game on April 6.

Unfortunately, by the time the team returned to Pittsburgh, the network was out of business, and our graphics package was never seen again.  More details are here.

That same year, however, a long-running game show was being updated with a new host and a new look for syndication.  And the producers made the same Chyron choice that Betsy and I had made.

Thirty years ago next month, Alex Trebek introduced Jeopardy! with the clues given in Korinna.  The font’s still there three decades later.  You can’t keep a good idea down.

Here are some other notes.

• Korinna was also used for the intertitles and closing credits on the 1993-2004 comedy Frasier.

• Ken Jennings claims that when he had his winning run 10 years ago, the name of the show was still pronounced “jee-OP-ur-dee.”

• And why is it called Jeopardy anyway?  Alex could say, “I told you that on the very first program, when I explained how the game is played.  Weren’t you listening?  Do I have to repeat the rules every 30 years?”



Every live telecast has a “format” or “rundown,” a couple of pages listing the order of the various elements in the show and how many minutes each should last.

Years ago, cleaning up the studio after one such program, I retrieved a used format and discovered that one of the performers had not been concentrating totally on her performance.  Her mind was on her marriage.  She'd had a stormy relationship with her husband and had finally decided to give up, doodling these words in the margin of her format:  The End. The End.  The very very very end.  Eventually there was a divorce.

Later, that incident inspired me to put together a little libretto, a sort of Greek tragedy with two characters and a chorus.  I wrote the lyrics as if they were to be sung, including “The End” and some other fragments from correspondence of the time.  However, I made no attempt to compose the music.

“The Songs of Linda”  is this month’s “100 Moons” article.


AUGUST 13, 2014     R.I.P. MORK

Last month I quoted some of Eric D. Snider’s Twitter remarks, so it seems appropriate to pass on  his tweets from Monday:

Marin Co. Sheriff's Office reports that Robin Williams has died, apparently by suicide.  Very, very sad.

Suicide is devastating to those left behind, yes, but don't call it “selfish.” You don't know what it was like in that person's head.

Some of you know that I struggle with depression.  I wish that made me special, but the sad fact is that I have a lot of company.

Depression is a real illness.  It can be serious.  Please don't be afraid to get help if you need it.  Medication, therapy — whatever it takes.  And if anyone tells you anti-depressants are a crutch, or that needing them makes you weak, kick that person directly in his or her balls.

I've been thinking about it lately anyway because the 5th anniversary is coming.  Here's my column about depression.

Eric wrote this additional essay yesterday and linked to this story by Norm Macdonald.

Many people’s first reaction was “Why was Robin Williams depressed?  He had everything.”  But depression doesn’t mean sadness.  To Eric’s tweets, Damien Owens added, “Please remember that ‘What are you depressed about?’ makes no more sense that ‘What are you diabetic about?’”


AUGUST 11, 2014     IN N.Y.

A boy named Bob was born 181 years ago today in this unassuming little house hidden in the trees of a village in upstate New York.

Bob’s father was John Ingersoll, a Congregationalist preacher whose radical opinions forced him to move his family often.  Little Bob left the town of his birth at the age of only four months.

When he grew up, the boy became even more outspoken than his father.  His fame led to the preservation of his birthplace.  I made the pilgrimage last month.

You can read about my trip to the state of New York, which also included visits to a museum of early airplanes and a battleground for firemen, in my new article:  Be Happy Now – Wait Not for Heaven.

AUGUST 8, 2014     SEARCH ME

Years ago, when I needed to do some research as an Oberlin College student, I walked over the repository of all knowledge on the campus:  Carnegie Library.  There, working back and forth between the card catalogs and the “stacks,” I eventually identified two or three books that contained some information on my subject.  I carried them to a desk and turned the pages.  When I found something I could use, I transcribed it in my notebook.  Eventually these notes became the foundation of my little report.

But now there’s an easily available repository of all knowledge in the world:  the Internet.  And it’s searchable by keyword!  There’s no need to travel to a big library, no need to locate books using a card catalog, and no need to turn their pages.  I can’t get over how much easier this is.

This week, I was preparing an article that will appear on this website Monday.  A small part of it concerns an obscure 19th-century preacher named John Ingersoll.  He couldn’t hold a job.  None of his congregations liked him.  However, I discovered, he was associated with a more famous revivalist named Charles Finney.  And Finney later became the second president of my alma mater, Oberlin College.  I'd discovered a connection with personal relevance!

Consulting the Internet, I opened a lengthy biography of Finney and asked my browser to find all the appearances of the word Ingersoll.  And it did.  Besides confirming his incompetence, the bio mentioned that in 1840 Ingersoll actually lived in Oberlin.  Nothing was said of his activities there — he didn't seem to have a pastorate — but if he was in town, it seemed likely that at some point his friend Finney must have invited him to speak.

So I turned to the Internet again and searched for “John Ingersoll” and “Oberlin.”  As it turns out, Google Books has helpfully indexed a volume buried in the periodicals collection of the University of Minnesota.  The book consists of reprints of a semi-monthly newspaper The Oberlin Evangelist, beginning with the first issue on November 1, 1838.  Google highlighted my search terms.  Oberlin was highlighted on every page, but where was Ingersoll?  Did I have to examine the 224 pages of fine print?  No, I merely refined the search and found he was mentioned exactly once, on page 158.

September 23, 1840:  “ORDINATION.  At an adjourned meeting of the Lorain Association, held at this place on Thursday last, Mr. ROBERT COCHRAN was ordained to the work of the Gospel Ministry.  Sermon by Rev. John Ingersoll, from Jn. 15:6:  ‘Without me ye can do nothing.’  Reading the Confession of Faith, by Pres. Mahan.  Ordaining prayer and charge by Prof. Finney.  Right hand of fellowship by Rev. Ira Smith.  At the same time and place, and by the same body, Messrs. E.H. and J.H. Fairchild, members of the Senior Theological Class, were licensed to preach the gospel.”

Quickly checking my 1840 calendar (via an Internet application, of course), I determined that “Thursday last” would have been September 17.  So now I had the exact date of a sermon that Ingersoll preached at Oberlin — in Finney’s presence— as well as the text he used.

It would have been very difficult for me to unearth this nugget of history as a college undergraduate.  We had no Internet access in the library in those days.  We had only one computer, in a basement across the street.  Now I have a home computer, and I can use it to do the research in a few minutes!  I find this marvelous.



Excerpts of a blog posting yesterday from Frances McClure of Oxford, Ohio:

Last Friday, the House of Representatives went on vacation.  It is not the usual working man's vacation.  It is a vacation with only 12 working days scheduled between now and Election Day, November 4.  With an annual salary far above the average working man or woman ($223,500 for John Boehner and $174,000 each for the rest of the House of Representatives), this House of Representatives has been the least productive since 1947.  This is an annual cost of over $75,739,500 each year, plus benefits — our tax dollars spent for lots of vacation time and very little work.

I agree.  Excluding holidays and weekends, there are 250 days in a year, but since 1990 our Representatives have averaged only 112 days in session during the second year of their two-year terms.  They’re on vacation 55% of the time.

But let’s look at it another way.  Is it the goal of legislators to enact legislation, or is it to get re-elected?  I suspect that it’s the latter.  A Congressman’s job is to keep his job. 

Excerpts from David Boling’s piece in the Washington Post a couple of months ago:

My experience on Capitol Hill has taught me the ubiquitous term “call time,” the hours that members of Congress set aside to make phone calls for money. There’s always another election.  One’s skill at raising money has become more important than one’s skill at mastering policy issues.

Our politicians are not on vacation.  They’ve left Washington so they can devote full time to their true occupation.


AUGUST 3, 2014     WHO IS NORI?

Practitioners of every endeavor need to communicate using precise language.  If the necessary terms don’t exist, they have to be invented.

Terms.  Terms.  Elsewhere on this site you can find a chemistry spoof I wrote in high school. Complaining about contradictory terminology, I quoted an ancient Greek philosopher:  “As Plato said, ‘Kynosis anopodes acthykus!’”  Did Plato actually say that?  I don’t know Greek, so how could I have known the phrase?

After 50 years, I couldn’t remember the source of the quote, so I Googled it.  Google returned only one result — my own “scientific” paper!  So then I put the quote into a translation engine, and I discovered it was gibberish.  In the manner of Sid Caesar, this high school junior produced what only seems to be Greek.  So there.  Now I’ve set the record straight.

2020 UPDATE:  Also, the Hanukkah song “Huhach Togavish” isn't Hebrew.

Anyway, let’s get back to real terminology, specifically involving motor sports.

In high-speed performance rallies like this, the navigator warns the driver about what sort of curve is coming up next, how many meters away, requiring what suggested speed and gearing.

I was a navigator for far less strenuous rallies (described here).  Nevertheless, I needed concise terminology to tell my driver Terry Rockhold where he was going.

Suppose my map revealed we were coming up to a situation like the one below.  Normally the first turn would be described as “right at T” onto Claibourne Road.  The next would be “left at sideroad” onto Snyder Road.  


But in this case, the rallymaster has covered these two intersections with a single instruction:  “jog right.”  That’s the correct term if the right and the left are less than a tenth of a mile apart.  The rallymaster wants the rallyists to ignore Snyder Road’s brief detour and resume the original heading on Snyder.

(Why is there a detour at all?  Back when the farms and fields were first laid out, they didn’t conform to a strict grid, so the roads that were later built between the fields couldn’t conform to a grid either.)

Now in the situation below, I needed to inform Terry that he would make a left followed by a right.  But this isn’t a “jog left,” because there are no other roads involved.  Concord Road swerves around the big field all by itself.  I invented a term for this:  NORI, for No Other Roads Involved.  I’d tell Terry he’d make a NORI left.  I also would warn him that soon afterwards he’d make a NORI right, lest he think he was supposed to continue straight ahead into the driveway.


And now, though no one knows what acthykus means, at least you know about NORI.



“I like to pay taxes,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.  “With them I buy civilization.”

I agree.  It’s part of the social contract, an obligation that we owe to our fellow Americans.

Diane Lim Rogers writes, “Taxes are collected for a reason:  to provide vital public services such as a strong defense, homeland security, healthcare, retirement and income security, education and training, and disaster relief.”

But taxes come out of our pocketbooks.  Although we all benefit from government, some of us think government is the enemy.  We prefer to keep our pocketbooks closed, claiming the economy will benefit if  more money remains in the private sector.

A new article called Paying Our Dues argues against this selfishness.



A local furniture store is closed today.  They say they need the time to prepare for their “biggest sales event of the season!”

Let’s consider the implications of that phrase.

For there to be a “biggest event of the season,” the season must include at least three such events.  (If there were only two, the sale that starts tomorrow would be the “bigger” of the two, not the “biggest.”  I assume this business establishment scrupulously follows the rules of grammar.)

There are four seasons in a year.  In the retail world there might be a dozen, for all I know:  Halloween season, Thanksgiving season, Christmas season, President’s Day season, Valentine’s season, and so on.  But let’s say there are four.

So at a minimum, the store has 3 x 4 = 12 sales events per year, or one every month.  Rarely do they retail a recliner at regular price.  I’m reminded of those “going out of business” clearance sales that last a decade.


JULY 20, 2014

On private property like the Pittsburgh Mills mall, maybe the provisions of the Motor Vehicle Code don't apply.

Nevertheless, folks are still reluctant to use this parking space.



I must confess that I myself do not communicate via the Twitter.  Nevertheless, I have been covertly collecting comments from the Twitter.  Hee hee!

Specifically, I have been monitoring the remarks of one “Eric D. Snider,” humorist and film critic.

For example, after the host team Brazil was routed last week in the semifinals of the World Cup soccer tournament, losing to Germany 7-1, Eric joked insensitively:

You might say the expense of hosting the World Cup turned out to be a real hollow cost.

I mean, *I* wouldn't say that, but you might.

Brazil's newspapers give the impression that yesterday was their 9/11.  Brazil hasn't been this humiliated since the last time there was a news story about Brazil.  Good thing Brazil has all those other things they're great at besides soccer to fall back on.

In the summer edition of Snidely Tweeting, you can discover Eric’s opinions about living in Oregon, silly names, being Christian without obsessing over gays or evolution, and paying freelancers.  And more.  Peek, if you dare!



Publisher Charles Ollier (not shown here) wrote in 1855, “My son William has hit upon a new method of spelling ‘fish.’”

He explained that by taking advantage of the orthographical oddities of the English language, one can combine the gh sound from ‘enough,’ the o from ‘women,’ and the ti from ‘action’ to spell ‘ghoti.’  (This joke was later attributed to playwright George Bernard Shaw.)

It turns out the shushing sound can be spelled in even more ways than ti.  For example, in French-derived words like ‘Cheryl’ or ‘Chevrolet’ or ‘Chicago,’ we find ch.  And now I’ve discovered we can also use tr.

There’s a website for booking hotel rooms called Trivago.  In their commercials, spokesman Tim Williams inexplicably slurs it into Sheevago.  At least that’s what it sounds like to me — and to other online commentators.  It’s like ‘Chicago’ with the k sound in the middle replaced by a v.  Or it’s like ‘Dr. Zhivago’ without growlingly voicing the zh.

It’s the company name, Tim!  That word above all others should be distinctly enunciated.  Treetr!



Things I learned today:

I’ve more than once seen a film clip of Bob Dylan early in his career in which the interviewer asks whether we should refer to him as a folk singer or a protest singer or something else.  Having no definitive answer, after a pause Dylan jokingly replies, “I’m just a song-and-dance man.”

That makes no sense to me.  Dylan doesn't dance.  Then I discovered this morning that he was merely repeating a decades-old self-deprecating quote from Mr. Yankee Doodle Dandy himself, George M. Cohan.

Dillon could also have used this George M. Cohan quote:  “I don't care what you say about me, as long as you say something about me, and as long as you spell my name right.”  (See what I did there?)

Things I learned growing up:

Sixty years ago, Dwight Eisenhower surrendered our nation’s independence.  The President signed a bill subordinating the United States to God.

This was during the Cold War, of course.  The young evangelist Billy Graham had told the Altoona Mirror in 1949, “American guns cannot stop the philosophy of communism.  The only hope for America and the western world is an old-fashioned revival of religion.”  And many in Washington had come to agree.

Congress inserted “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance.  This was a violation of the First Amendment, which says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”  So writes the former Human Rights Commissioner of Traverse City, Michigan, M’Lynn Hartwell.

“The point of the bill was to promote religion.  The legislative history of the 1954 act stated that the hope was to ‘acknowledge the dependence of our people and our Government upon ... the Creator ... [and] deny the atheistic and materialistic concept of communism.’

“In signing the bill on June 14, 1954, Flag Day, Eisenhower delighted in the fact that from then on, ‘millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town ... the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.’  It seemed to escape the president that the nation, constitutionally speaking, was in fact dedicated to the opposite proposition.”

My 2002 comments on the Pledge of Allegiance are in this month’s “100 Moons” article.


JULY 2, 2014     NIGHT WATCH

Alongside the alley near my apartment, there's a little enclosure where the neighbors and I deposit our refuse.  It's collected when the sanitation trucks come around before dawn on Thursday mornings.  Today was a muggy Wednesday, so I waited to take out my trash after sundown.

It's dark back there by the alley.  I recognized an opportunity to use my lantern, which looks something like this.  It's a decorative reproduction of the kerosene-powered lamp that my grandparents would have used a century ago, except this one uses battery power and LEDs.

With the lantern swinging from my belt, I wasn't sure what the neighbors thought, but I felt like Granddad Buckingham going out to the barn to check on the animals before bedtime.