FEBRUARY 27, 2015 THE NEW ORANGE
The Cleveland Browns are being ridiculed again. This week, people have been joking about their announcement of a brand new logo (left) thats only slightly different from their old one (right).
Another detail: Because the teams name is not the Red-Oranges but the Browns, theyve painted the face mask brown. As though anyone will notice.
That brings me to a recent quote from Stephen Hawking.
FEBRUARY 23, 2015 THE MORNING AFTER
Most Oscar acceptance speeches used to be cut off by wrap-it-up music, and I used to think the orchestra waited too long. We dont need to hear thirty seconds of the winner's self-conscious giggling and false modesty and hurried personal thanks to everyone from hairdresser to high school drama teacher.
But at the Academy Awards last night, many of the speeches had actual content, such as Patricia Arquettes call for equal rights for women of the United States of America!
And then there was Graham Moore:
And finally there was Alejandro González Iñárritu:
Let me also comment on the music. Ive been out of touch. I havent really paid that much attention to popular music since the last time I worked on MTVs Spring Break telecast nearly 30 years ago.
Nowadays I hear celebrity news about female singers like Beyonce, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Jessica Simpson, or Lady Gaga. Usually the news is something outrageous. Also, I get the impression that their performances are typically loud and aggressive and aimed at energetic young folks who like to dance. That description doesnt include me, so I dont listen.
However, my cable system has forty audio-only Music Choice channels, and one night I happened to stop on channel 420, Love Songs. I heard all six of the previously mentioned artists singing melodic tunes that I didnt mind listening to. It turns out that they all have talent!
This was demonstrated last night when Lady Gaga amazed all of us with a medley from The Sound of Music.
Local movie reviewer Sean Collier tweeted, In her most shocking move yet, Lady Gaga wears a normal dress and sings regular-type. Piers Morgan commented, This is, to my utter astonishment, fabulous. And Patton Oswalt said, Um... Lady Gaga is completely, unarguably, nailing it. Sorry; I know Im supposed to be snarky. But that's what's happening.
Also, last nights Best Original Song came from the movie Selma. Id heard the name John Legend but had never listened to him or Common perform, until their powerful rendition of Glory.
And the previous Sunday, during the Saturday Night Live celebration, the usually controversial Miley Cyrus covered Paul Simons 1975 hit 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover with a smoky countrified rendition that I for one enjoyed. I also like Mileys performance of Jolene, a 1973 hit written by her godmother Dolly Parton.
FEBRUARY 18, 2015 FEBRUARINESS
Here in Pittsburgh, were enduring a couple of weeks of snow and subzero temperatures. (At least were not in Boston!)
I worked a basketball telecast Saturday. Afterwards, during the four minutes it took to walk from the TV truck into the arena, snow blown by strong winds covered the front of my coat and ski mask. The same squall caused a white-out on a two-mile section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, resulting in three pileups involving a total of 20 cars.
(If screaming fixed the trouble, leave a note for the chief engineer.)
When I was in college, dozens of us had two-hour weekly shifts at the student radio station. We were all brilliant scholars, of course, but we were amateur disk jockeys. Very few had ever encountered an audio control board. Each of us had to be helped through our first show, then given a refresher course when we returned the following week.
For situations when no experienced engineer was around, the station actually provided a users manual, half an inch thick.
For example, because classical music has great dynamic range and listeners turn up their volume to hear the quieter passages, the announcers voice should also be quieter. For popular music, however, everything including the announcer is always at maximum loudness.
Even back then, I was aware that professional broadcasters frequently changed stations. As a later sitcom put it, they must have got kind of tired packing and unpacking, town to town and up and down the dial. Or, as the late DJ Lee Baby Simms put it, Forty years in the business. 25 markets. 36 stations. 41 jobs. Fired 25 times. I loved every minute of it.
Each time a DJ arrived at a new station, he confronted an unfamiliar set of controls. I wondered what kind of training program he had to go through before being trusted to solo on this 747. But I guess after youve seen a few boards, youve seen them all.
Thats not true of every business. Yesterday, when I visited the doctor, there were three office workers trying to learn the health systems new computer setup, plus three tech support people trying to teach them. I think it was the third day for the IT people. Why did it have to be so difficult? Couldnt they simply convert their old database into the new format somehow?
Well, it turns out they had done that. But they also had to adapt to a new computer screen layout, with functions concealed within new menus and submenus. There was a lot of note-taking going on. Also, the system now demanded digital images of my insurance card, my drivers license, my signature, and my face. And there were glitches. For some reason, entering Thomas Thomas took them to the top of the patient list (which is where I belong, of course), and they had to scroll all the way down through the alphabet.
My daily newspaper also has converted to a new computer system. Around Thanksgiving, they warned subscribers that Customer Service would be essentially unreachable for the entire month of December. It must have taken them most of January as well. Only this week did I finally receive my annual renewal bill for the year that will begin more than six weeks ago, on December 28, 2014.
Computers are great, but switching from one to another can be a real pain. Thats one reason I havent even considered migrating from Microsoft to Apple.
FEBRUARY 7, 2015 TOM VISITS TOM'S BIRTHPLACE
FEBRUARY 3, 2015 ONE-SIDED COMMUNICATION
At five oclock the other afternoon, a waitress came up to me and began talking about an unfortunate incident involving a little boy. I couldnt catch everything she was saying, as she was speaking loudly and urgently and rapidly. Apparently this boy had become separated from his parents. Gesturing to the far side of the restaurant, she told me, You can see the youngster sitting there, or something like that. Ironically, he lives only a few blocks away.
Okay, I said, I guess I can give him a ride home. She explained me a few more details about what had happened. Thats too bad, I remarked. She kept on talking. Fine, I said, Ill go over and introduce myself. Whats the boys name? But she didnt answer me. She kept on talking. What is his name? I repeated. The waitress told me her name! And then she went away!
What is the boys name? I called after her. No response. What is his name? I shouted to no one in particular, and no one in particular responded. I had a powerless feeling, as though I didnt exist. All the other restaurant patrons were staring numbly at a television set, from which I heard other voices speaking about other things.
I got up and walked over to the big table on the other side of the room. There sat several adults and at least two kids who could have been the little lost boy. I asked whether somebody needed a ride home. There was no reaction. They were all glued to the big screen, where a weather report was now in progress. We were warned of sub-zero wind chills overnight.
JANUARY 28, 2015 SCIENCE QUESTIONS
Mommy, you studied engineering. When I make a right turn on my bike, it leans to my right. When you make a right turn in your car, it leans to your left. Whats the difference?
When your bike turns right, you keep your balance by leaning into the turn. Inertia is trying to keep you going straight and seems to be pushing you > this way, so you lean and let gravity pull you < that way. But I can't bank my car, because it has four wheels on the ground. I have no way to offset what people call centrifugal force. Itll roll my car over onto its side if I take the corner too fast.
Oh. Another thing: I was looking at pictures of airplanes with propellers. All the way back to the Wright Brothers, the first props had two blades. Then they had three blades, four blades, and now even more. The engineers must have figured out that more blades are more efficient, right?
JANUARY 22, 2015 DON'T BELIEVE WHAT YOU HEAR
I keep hearing a radio commercial for a fancy local restaurant that has French pretensions. Sounds to me like theyre advertising their Winter Prefix dinner.
Thats nothing new; even the Bob Evans chain offers a 3-course dinner from a table d'hôte menu. I dont know about this $29.95 Winter Prefix, though. I think Id prefer the Summer Suffix.
But I digress.
JANUARY 16, 2015 THE TIMES
Tis the season to televise pucks and hoops. In my case in Pittsburgh, that means NHL hockey and college basketball.
One thing I like about hockey is that the game ends when its supposed to end. Unless an official blows a whistle, the action is nonstop. Substitutes enter while play continues. In the final minutes, a losing team cant delay the inexorable countdown. The coach can call a single timeout for a 30-second discussion at the bench, but only after the official has already stopped play.
In college basketball, however, each team can interrupt the action by calling five timeouts. The teams often use all ten opportunities. Also, late in the game, the trailing team can stop the clock another ten times or so by fouling an opponent. There seems to be a whistle every 1.9 seconds. Last month, blogger Bob Smizik reported, It took 14 minutes to play the final 34 seconds of the Pitt-St. Bonaventure game Saturday. There were no commercials during those 14 minutes.
If the game goes into overtime, another five minutes is put on the clock. I think thats longer than necessary, and three would suffice. (Five minutes used to be even more painful to watch before the NCAA adopted a shot clock in 1985. Back when I started, if a team got the lead in overtime and also got possession of the ball, theyd freeze it by standing there for the next four minutes until the trailing team was forced to foul.)
Televised college games are generally scheduled at two-hour intervals: the 7:00 game is followed by a 9:00 game on the same channel. Sometimes that works out, but often the 7:00 game drags on and on until 9:14. For those interested in the 9:00 matchup, nobody gets to see the introductory segment we TV types have lovingly produced (which frustrates us) and nobody gets to see the first several minutes of action (which frustrates the fans). I often think games should be scheduled 2½ hours apart so theres no overlap. However, that would create other problems, for the schools and for the networks bottom line.
The bottom line is all-important, of course. I read in the papers that ESPN is cutting costs by televising some college basketball without actually being present at the game.
The network does send half a dozen cameras and a few microphones, and they hire some local people to operate them. (However, local people like me miss out on our usual assignments for graphics, switching, tape replays, and the like.) The network may send a sideline reporter. Everyone else works out of the home office in Bristol, Connecticut. The pictures from the various cameras are transmitted back to ESPN, where a producer and director cut between them.
Graphics, replays, and other elements are created in Connecticut. Viewers dont care where that stuff originates, but they do assume that the announcers are actually witnessing the game in person. Theyre not.
There was also this comment: When the play-by-play announcer and analyst are at the game, There are things that happen, things you see, that happen out of camera range. For someone to think the quality of the broadcast is just as good, that's not possible.
Why do it like this? Travel has become more expensive and video bandwidth has become cheaper. It costs more to send a dozen highly-paid people to a college town for a day than it costs to transmit half a dozen camera signals across the country for a few hours. The times are moving on. (As are the times required to play a game.)
UPDATE: I've learned that this technique is called REMI.
JANUARY 11, 2015 MAGENTA WORLD
JANUARY 5, 2015 GOOGLE ME
In the early days of Internet search engines, users vied to find a phrase that returned one and only one hit.
Ive done it! If you take the last two words of my post from New Years Day (enclosed in quotes to specify that the words have to appear consecutively) and Google that phrase, you get a single result. Im the only one in the world whos ever put those words together!
A sports headline told me the Panthers are playing the Cardinals today.
Are the Pitt Panthers kicking off against the Louisville Cardinals in another of those bowls? Or are the Florida Panthers skating into the St. Louis Cardinals ballpark for another of those outdoor hockey games? No, this is the National Football League, so its the Carolina Panthers against the Arizona Cardinals.
JANUARY 1, 2015 FOUR-LETTER MNEMONIC