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Dr. Caligari wishes to direct your attention to the mysterious markings discovered in 1878 on this ancient stone.

I reveal their meaning in my short piece of historical fiction entitled The Great Grave Robbery.  Step right up.  You may tremble.



After I bought this Subaru three years ago, I immediately began noticing all the other red cars on the road and in commercials.  It seemed that I had inadvertently chosen a very popular color.

Recently in a parking lot a mile and a half from home, I pressed the key fob to unlock my sedan and heard the answering beep beep.  I opened the driver’s door and started to get in, until I noticed unfamiliar objects on the seat.  It turned out that my car was parked a couple of rows away.  The vehicle I was trying to enter had been left unlocked.  It was identical to mine, even from the same dealership.  What are the odds?

From Google Earth:  Cars being parked at Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana.

The odds of finding a red car are actually down, according to a recent report from PPG Paints.  White remains the most popular color by far.  Worldwide, 38% of vehicles built in 2016 are white, up from 35% last year.  In fact, if we include the three next most popular shades — black (16%), silver (12%), and gray (10%) — more than three quarters of all cars lack any chroma at all!






Hillary Clinton may not face any charges.  Nevertheless, ambitious female politicians do sometimes get arrested — at least here in Pennsylvania. 

For example, four years ago the news in Pittsburgh was about the daughters of a devoutly Catholic local family who apparently turned to a life of crime.

Three Orie sisters, all Republicans, were convicted of using taxpayer-funded government employees in their offices to help them run partisan political campaigns.  Two of them were forced out of prestigious positions because of their felonies.

• Jane was a state Senator until she was convicted on 14 counts of forgery, conflict of interest, and theft of services.  She served 2½ years in prison. 

• Joan was a Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court until she was indicted for theft of services.  Sentenced to three years of house arrest, she had to send a hand-written apology to every judge in the Commonwealth.

• Janine worked for Joan at the Supreme Court until being sentenced to a year of home confinement on related state charges.

And then this Monday, former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane (right) was led in handcuffs to the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, pending appeal.  She had just been sentenced on felony charges for trying to damage a political opponent by leaking grand jury material to a newspaper and then lying about it.

The former AG could have been locked up for 24 years, but she got only 10 to 23 months.  Nevertheless, DA Kevin Steele said, “That is a significant sentence.  Nobody is above the law.”



Today is the big day!

Today we celebrate the 85th anniversary of the Teletheatre.

As H. Winfield Secor wrote in an 85-year-old article, “October 24, 1931, will undoubtedly go down in history as the epoch-marking day when the world first saw Television billed as a feature in a regular theatre program.  ...Theatre audiences, not to mention those in private homes, will consider television an everyday necessity, and expect to ‘see’ as well as hear the latest news, and such exciting events as foot-ball games, on the television screen, at the moment they are occurring.”

In those days the technology was limited to mechanical scanning.  A bright light, shining through a spiral pattern of holes in a rapidly spinning disk, scanned 45 vertical lines across someone’s face.  The reflected light was picked up by several photocells.  At the demonstration at the Broadway Theatre, their signal modulated the output of a backstage projector which threw stripes a couple of inches wide onto a 170-inch (diagonal) ground glass screen.  “An audience of 20,000, if the auditorium were large enough, could see this image distinctly.”

A 45-line mechanically scanned picture looks something like this, at best.  Probably not high enough definition for a foot-ball telecast.  Calling Philo T. Farnsworth!

By the way, the Broadway Theatre opened as the Colony in 1924 and holds 1,765 seats.  It premiered Disney animation including Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie in 1928 and Fantasia in 1939.  Then in 1952 another new form of projection was introduced there, Cinerama.



Fifteen hours from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, I discovered rows of stones.

What leech was responsible for this odd arrangement?

The explanation is to be found in Saltsburg.  That's the title of my latest article.




It was homecoming last weekend at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.  As previously mentioned in this space, my high school classmate Criss Somerlot was honored at the Alumni Awards Gala.

The dinner was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Baker University Center on October 7.  Four members were inducted into the Ohio Athletics Hall of Fame.  Criss received the Lifetime Achievement Award, partly for setting records with the Bobcats track & field team in the late 1960s but also for his subsequent coaching career, including the 2004 Olympics at Athens, Greece.

I wasn’t there, but I gleaned these pictures from the Internet — along with Zoe’s story about the event, on the left.  Congratulations, Criss!



Each year more than 40,000 new MDs seek to complete their education with a “residency” somewhere.  A non-profit organization matches each doctor with a position at a teaching hospital.  However, the hospital may not be close to the doctor's current location.

So it was that Jan Olson, an Easterner in only her second year of marriage, found herself (and therefore her husband) assigned to a Midwestern city.  Fortunately it was a city she knew well.  But the couple had to pack up and move all their possessions ... even the grasshopper and the great white whale.

It all worked out.  The residency at the new hospital turned into a happy lifelong residence in the new state, with children and everything.

That’s the story in Letters from Jan: Paired, my fourth installment of my late friend’s correspondence.

Along the way Jan will mention
non-postal stamps,
a 175-rod portage,
picking strawberries,
packing peas,
a lacrosse goalie who wielded a stick like this one,
and the first wife who declined to take her husband’s name.

And we’ll also wonder whether med students learn better when they’re exhausted.



Even those of us who work at Pittsburgh Penguins hockey games were caught by surprise this week when the team suddenly announced that its building, until now known as the CONSOL Energy Center, would henceforth be the PPG Paints Arena.

Consol is losing money in the coal and gas industry, so now PPG will promote its paints by assuming the honor of paying for the naming rights.  The structure which replaced the old Mellon Arena only six years ago is again getting new signage.

We’ve been referring to the building as “the Consol” for short.  We need a short version of the new name as well, because it would require too many syllables to say “I’m goin’ dahn to th’ Pea Pea Gee Paints Arena.”

Some fans suggested we could call it “the Paint Can” or “the Bucket.”  There’s little enthusiasm for either.  However, the PPG Paints Arena is now the only “arena” in town, as the college basketball teams play at “centers.”  We can refer to it as we did its predecessor!

Sorry, PPG.  We’re goin’ to call it simply “th’ Arena.”

Also Tuesday, Jack Nicklaus and many other friends of the late Arnold Palmer honored him at a memorial service in nearby Latrobe.  For some reason, that reminded me of 1960.

At that year’s U.S. Open, although the amateur Nicklaus was leading by two shots with six holes to play, the professional Palmer charged to a two-stroke victory.  However, my particular memory must have been from the Masters, which took place earlier in 1960.  Our TV would have been tuned to a Columbus, Ohio, network affiliate, and as a 13-year-old, I remembered this moment as an example of “local boy makes good.”

My recollection is that during the final round, the TV coverage jumped ahead to the 18th green, where a blond, rather overweight young man was lining up his putt.  The announcer said something like, “We’re going to cut away from the leaders briefly to show you this young amateur as he closes out his tournament.  He’s only 13th on the leader board, but he’s had a great week here at Augusta.  He’s 20-year-old Jack Nicklaus, from Columbus, Ohio.  He won the U.S. Amateur tournament last year, and people are calling him the best amateur golfer since Bob Jones.  And listen to that applause.  Remember the name: Jack Nicklaus.  You’re going to be hearing a lot more from this young man in the future.”



Yesterday Eric D. Snider tweeted, “Last time Trump paid taxes, a Clinton was in the White House, the economy was good, and Internet trolls didn't exist.  Make America great again!”

Of course, that’s not exactly what the famous baseball cap is trying to tell us.  What do you mean if you want to Make America Great Again?  You want to turn back the clock to a time when “real Americans” ruled the world.  When life was better — for people like you, at least.

How far back?  A good guess would be the middle of the twentieth century.  Say the 1950s.

On the satellite radio channel called “Willie’s Roadhouse” I recently heard some classic country music from that era, including the first two songs below.  They reveal that even in the twentieth century, people were dreaming of the good old days.  People were dreaming of the manly South of the nineteenth century.

                              Along about 1825
                              I left Tennessee very much alive.
                              I never would have got through the Arkansas mud
                              If I hadn't been a-ridin’ on the Tennessee Stud.

                              I had some trouble with my sweetheart’s pa,
                              And one of her brothers was a bad outlaw.
                              I sent her a letter by my Uncle Bud
                              And I rode away on the Tennessee Stud.

                              —“Tennessee Stud,” written by Jimmy Driftwood

              Back about eighteen hundred and some
              A Louisiana couple had a red-headed son.
              Thirteen years from the day he was born,
              Billy fought the battle of the Little Big Horn.

              One sad day Billy cried “Ho, ho,
              I can lick the feathers off of Geronimo!”
              He started off.  The chief got mad.
              This nearly ended our Louisiana lad.

              One day in 1878
              A pretty girl walked through Bill's front gate.
              He didn't know whether to stand there or run.
              He wound up married ’cause he didn't either one.

              —“Billy Bayou,” written by Roger Miller

Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train
’Til Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again.

In the winter of ’65, we were hungry, just barely alive.
By May the tenth, Richmond had fell.
It's a time I remember oh so well:
The night they drove old Dixie down.

Back with my wife in Tennessee
When one day she called to me,
Said “Virgil, quick, come see,
There goes the Robert E. Lee!”

Now I don't mind choppin’ wood,
And I don't care if the money’s no good.
Like my father before me, I will work the land,
Like my brother above me, who took a rebel stand.
I swear by the mud below my feet,
You can’t raise a Caine back up when he’s in defeat.

—“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” written by Robbie Robertson

In 1814 we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississipp’.
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans.

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’.
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago.
We fired once more, and they began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

—“The Battle of New Orleans,” written by Jimmy Driftwood


Mikki Brock (left) teaches history at Washington and Lee University in Virginia.  She tweeted this week that she’s “furious and ashamed that we are a nation torn between electing a smart, experienced woman and an incoherent, narcissistic racist.”

Suppose you're among the torn.  You’re still trying to decide whether to vote for Donald Trump.

On a sheet of paper you draw a vertical line to make two columns, pro and con.  You list the points in favor and those against, and you count them up.

But that’s simplistic, because not all the reasons are equally important.  Among the “cons,” the fact that you didn’t like his sniffing during the debate — even if you really really didn’t like his sniffing — should carry less weight than the fact that on many issues, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

This month’s 100 Moons article links to a little spreadsheet I designed to evaluate such lists.



As I grow older, I’m gradually retiring, and this year I’ve worked my fewest baseball telecasts since 1982.  However, this past weekend the Washington Nationals visited the Pittsburgh Pirates, and I was behind the graphics keyboard for more than enough pitches to make up for what I’ve missed.  (While I was at it, I heard the MASN announcers invent the words exuberation and analyzationThey also quoted the classic lyric from Ozzy Osbourne, “I'm going off the rails on a gravy train.”)

Friday’s game lasted 11 innings and took 4:36 to play.

Saturday’s game was relatively quick by today’s standards, requiring less than 3½ hours, but we stayed on the air an extra hour to interview the Nationals as they celebrated clinching the division championship.

Then yesterday we endured “a very extended nine-inning ballgame,” in the words of Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.  There was a benches-clearing fight, red uniforms scuffling with gold uniforms.  There were many pitching changes — frequently double switches.  The Nationals averaged one pitcher per inning (pulling their starter after 56 pitches), and they employed 15 other players.  Combined, the two teams used 17 pitchers, one shy of the Major League record for a nine-inning game, and a total of 45 players, also one shy of the Major League record.  And they were on the field for 4:01.  Pittsburgh’s loss once again dropped their record below .500.

Fortunately I did not work the telecast of the previous meeting between these two teams, an 18-inning marathon in Washington on July 17.  If you include that game and Saturday's spraying of the celebratory champagne, the last four meetings have averaged 12 innings and 4:43.  Enough!



Thirty years ago I got an urgent phone call.  “CBS has a big live awards telecast coming up this Sunday, from a theater on Broadway in New York City.  But they've got a problem animating their graphics.  And you're the only one who can save the day!”

Donning my imaginary superhero costume, that very afternoon I flew to Metropolis, where preparations were under way at the Minskoff Theatre on 45th Street for the 40th annual Tony Awards three days later.

Quickly I solved the difficulty by demonstrating my somewhat obscure techniques to graphics operator Barry Fialk.  I’d never met him before, but later he would book me for a couple of sports telecasts in New York.

We had to leave the mobile unit temporarily so our conversation didn’t bother the producers and director sitting in front of us.  Out on the street, Barry showed me the high-tech equipment (two separate trucks, for redundancy, because this was a prestigious prime-time special) that would transmit the live video all the way to the CBS Broadcast Center 15 blocks away.  Then he took me backstage, and from the fly loft I looked down on Bea Arthur rehearsing her presentation far below.

Similarly, Ken Levine took his readers behind the scenes, 31 years later.

Recently someone posted a tape of the Tony telecast to YouTube, so I can show you my work.  It appears in the medley of recent show tunes beginning at 1:34:45.

Very conventionally for 1986, the graphic font is merely Helvetica Bold with a four-line drop shadow.  However, the words are surrounded by an oval of twinkling chaser lights designed by me!

It wasn’t easy to achieve that animation on the rather primitive old Chyron IV.  Details are in this letter that I wrote at the time.



When the TV listings tell me there’s an episode coming up of a series I like, I set my DVR to record it.  Then if I don’t watch it live, I can watch it later.  However, there’s no urgency.  I find better things to do, and the recordings pile up.

For a given series, the DVR sorts all the episodes into a file folder.  Lately, with some of these containing 10 or more programs, I’ve been systematically paring them down by watching the oldest show from the fullest folders.  I’ve just cleared the seventh archived Big Bang Theory.  Now no folder contains more than six episodes.

But many contain exactly six.  To be precise, there are 29 such six-packs!  The oldest was recorded between June 24 and July 29, 2015.  I still have a lot of catching up to do.



They say that time passes more quickly as one gets older.  

It was only three months ago that Pittsburgh held a huge parade to honor the Penguins for winning hockey’s Stanley Cup.  But our brief summer hockey respite is already at an end.  It’s time to start making ice again.  The Consol Energy Center hosted a couple of World Cup of Hockey pre-tournament exhibitions last night, and the Penguins’ first preseason game is in Detroit a week from Tuesday.

Long ago when I was in high school, snapping whippers, our vacation time between athletic seasons was longer than three months.  It was nine months.  We never wearied of a sport.

Consider my classmate Criss Somerlot, a four-sport man.  In August, Richwood High School began practice for high school football, where he was a lineman and placekicker.  In November, we put away the pads and Criss became a forward on the basketball team.  In February, we put away the basketballs and he started tossing the shot and discus.  And in May, the track and field season ended and Criss headed to the baseball diamond.

Criss went on to specialize in “the weights.”  He set the Ohio University record in the hammer throw, a staple of the Olympics.  (And of frustrated dads, according to Captain Obvious).  Then Criss became a widely respected track and field coach.  Next month he’ll be inducted into the OU Athletic Hall of Fame.

Right now, many are growing tired of Major League Baseball — especially those of us who follow the Pittsburgh Pirates, losers of 13 of their last 16 games.  The season started with spring training seven months ago and isn't scheduled to end until Game 7 of the World Series on November 2.

Bad news:  I asked the groundhog whether autumn is just around the corner.  He glanced at his shadow and said no, we’re going to have six more weeks of baseball.



I’ve prepared another installment of letters written during the early 1970s by the young lady of my acquaintance who was enrolled in med school — and played the autoharp, went camping, and drew mermaids.

One highlight involved the wee hours of January 30, 1971.  After holding a party for 11 people, Jan and her roommate went out for a 2½-mile walk through eight inches of fresh snow.  Then the snow got heavier.  They decided to spend the rest of the night in a guy’s room.  Within two years, one of them had married the guy.

Other highlights from these letters:

I am now officially a junior member of the American Medical Women’s Association, Inc.  The official publication deals with issues such as how to combine doctorhood and motherhood.

We spend about 12 hours a week in lab dissecting our cadaver.  Each pair of students rooming together was given a box of bones to take home with them.

I have nightmares about the patients at the hospital.  Also, I sleepwalk.  A few nights ago Chris heard some “angry mutterings.”  She saw me crawling around on the floor beside my bed, talking.  I picked up my alarm clock, looked at it, and said, “Oh, my!” 

The times, they were a-changing.

Hooray for Women’s Liberation!  Hooray for the Equal Rights Amendment!  Hooray for very liberalized abortion laws!

Last week in my elective on Sex and Sex Ed., we talked to three members (two women and a man) from Rochester’s Gay Liberation Front.  Most interesting!  Homosexuals are not necessarily either criminals or sick.

I am a volunteer in a study of low-dose oral contraceptives.  The purpose of the experiment is to determine whether low dosages of progesterone and estrogen will prevent ovulation without causing changes in blood clotting.

And, in the fall of 1972, Jan announced her plans to be married.  Not to me, of course.  She and I always had been friendly, but we knew we weren’t “right for each other.”  Nevertheless, she took care to “let me down easy.”

You and I have done all right despite the fact that I seem to have been “going with” somebody other than you for most of the years I’ve known you!

This latest collection of correspondence is called Letters from Jan: Onward. 



A century ago, the game of football was played by college and high school students on autumn Saturday afternoons.  Then many high schools installed lights at their fields and began playing on Friday nights.

From the 1954 Tigrtrax, the Richwood High School Tigers kick an extra point.
The lights at Memorial Field weren’t very bright,
so the ball was white and the photographer used flash.

Meanwhile, professional teams claimed Sundays.  They eventually competed most of the winter as well, into February.  I grew up feeling this was the natural gridiron progression:  high school on Friday night, college on Saturday, pro on Sunday.

That natural order began to break down with the debut of Monday Night Football in 1970, and a gradual relaxation of standards continues even today.  This past Friday evening, there were five college games live on my cable TV — college games, not high school.


Kansas State








Michigan State


Colorado State






Arkansas State





Next Friday, two such telecasts are scheduled.  High schools managed to preserve their Friday monopoly for a long time, but fewer kids are playing football these days and their time slot exclusivity seems to have gone away.