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AUGUST 30, 2017    CLUTTER

As I perform my morning home-office activities like check writing and Internet checking, I usually have my radio tuned to Pittsburgh's WDVE.  I only half listen, perking up when certain comedy routines come on.  I can ignore the radio much of the time because so much of it consists of advertisements.

This morning I decided to quantify this observation by keeping a log.  In the 6½ minutes before the 7:01 AM station ID, there were ten commercials back to back, as follows:




Steelers mobile app






Xfinity personal appearance by Josh Bell


Mattress Firm


latemodels4less.com (used cars)


ADT Security Services


Golden Oak Lending


Body by Cochran (collision service)

I'm reminded of my 1988 visit to South Korea.  I may not be remembering this exactly, but it seemed that their television stations didn't want to interrupt programs with advertisements, so they scheduled 22-minute programs followed by solid 8-minute blocks of commercials.  Whatever works.



All right, this is getting ridiculous.  A Major League Baseball player now wears a different uniform almost every game — home, road, national holiday, camouflage, alternate, throwback, Negro League, cancer awareness, and a special color for Sundays only.  Maybe in spring training they're even a-wearin' of the green on March 17.  This affords the merchandisers an opportunity to sell dozens of different jerseys to every fan.

On April 15 each year, every player's uniform number is 42 to honor Jackie Robinson.  These were the Pirates starters this year.

As a graphics operator who has to type up the lineup, I can tolerate this madness for one day.  All the familiar names are there, and on my computer each player's stats are linked to his everyday number.




























But now it's Players Weekend, “a first-of-its kind opportunity for players to show their individual flair and allow fans to get to know them better.”  In uniform, they look like softball teams.  Each player wears a Little League-styled jersey, and the name on the back is replaced with a nickname of his own choosing.




























This was Friday's Pirates lineup, as seen on TV.  I can't make heads or tails out of it.

Well, maybe heads.  True fans know that #6 is Starling Marte, for example.  We often do refer to Josh Harrison as “J Hay,” and Ivan Nova has been called “Super Nova.”  But who are the rest?

Some of the nicknames are even misleading.  “The Rook” is no longer a rookie.  In fact, he's celebrating his 31st birthday today.

But John Jaso is in fact an “easy” J.  Last month he was an easy out, with only one hit in 36 at-bats (.028) from July 3 through 26.  And Dave is in fact a human.  As the story goes, David Freese has a dog named Bob, and his friend Bob has a dog named Dave, so when the four of them get together they're Davehuman, Bobdog, Bobhuman, and Davedog.


AUGUST 26, 2007 flashback   21-DAY-OLD BREAD

I worked a minor-league baseball telecast on August 4.  The Washington (PA) Wild Things held a promotion that night, giving away loaves of Sara Lee bread.

The spectators numbered 3,527, including women and children.  And lo, they did partake of the bread that was given unto them.  And afterwards the disciples took up of the loaves that remained twelve baskets full.

"What ought we to do with these leftover loaves?" they asked each other.  "It would be sinful for us to waste them."  And behold, they offered them unto the workers upon the hill, including the television technicians who were putting away their equipment.

Now I'm not a cook.  I usually eat in restaurants, so I don't normally buy bread myself; maybe a package of sandwich buns now and then.  But this was free, and it was the healthy whole-wheat kind.  I took a loaf.

From time to time during the month, I opened the plastic wrapper and removed about four slices to make a couple of sandwiches for myself.  I noticed that the product was indeed "soft & smooth," as labeled.

I figured that since I wasn't consuming it very quickly, the bread would eventually become stale and I would have to throw the rest of the loaf away.  How soon this would happen, I didn't know.  My mother used to freeze bread to prevent staleness, unless we were going to feed it to the ducks.  I had heard that bakeries sell day-old bread at a discount.  Bread-Maker.net says that the shelf life of French and Italian bread is one day.  White, whole wheat, and sourdough are supposed to last two to three days, and ryes three to five.

But this bread, which I received on August 4, was labeled "Best if purchased by Aug. 16."  And every time I opened the plastic bag and removed some slices, they were still soft & smooth.  I didn't finish the loaf until yesterday (August 25), three weeks after the game.

Let's hear it for plastic bags and preservatives!


AUGUST 22, 2017    SHADING

You may have heard that there was a solar eclipse yesterday afternoon.  In most places, including Pittsburgh, it was a partial eclipse.  I've seen those before, so I didn't run outside to gape at this one.  I observed it from inside a TV truck at PNC Park, where we were preparing for that night's Dodgers at Pirates baseball game.

I've simulated above what I saw on one of our monitors while the eclipse progressed.  Unlike the eyes of the gapers, one of our cameras near a dugout was not being adjusted to compensate for the dying of the light.  Therefore, over an hour and a half, the picture gradually grew dimmer.  At maximum magnitude, 82% of the sun was covered by the moon.

Thirty years ago this afternoon, I grasped a control and partially eclipsed the entire CBS Television Network!  The story is this month's 100 Moons article.



It's been a rather mild summer here in Pennsylvania.  However, people living elsewhere have not been so fortunate.


Normally cloudy and rainy Portland, Oregon, went 57 days without precipitation.  Two weeks ago the thermometer read 105°.

Down in the desert Southwest, it was 119° in Phoenix on June 20.  Some planes weren't allowed to take off, and a sign for my namesake road began to melt.

And on June 29, the temperature in Ahvaz exceeded 129°, with a heat index over 140°.


Ahvaz is a city of over a million people in Iran.  Its official reading of 129.2° may tie the record for the highest temperature ever measured on Earth, according to the Washington Post.  "These temperature extremes are consistent with what climate scientists expect to see in a warming world.  A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change in 2015 cautioned that by the end of the century, due to climate change, temperatures in the Middle East may become too hot for human survival."


AUGUST 17, 2017    SINGLE IN THE '70s

The Reelz cable TV network will show a documentary on the late Mary Tyler Moore tonight.

When the Mary Tyler Moore show premiered in September 1970, I identified with the character Mary Richards.  That very month, I too was tackling my first job in local television.  And, like Mary, I was a single young professional.

Unlike Mary, however, I was still living with my parents.  I envied her studio apartment.

Other residents in the building were Phyllis and Rhoda.  Mary had to be polite to her landlady, the rather annoying Phyllis, who lived downstairs with her husband and daughter.

However, Rhoda lived upstairs, and in the beginning I actively disliked her.  She kept dropping in on Mary and disrupting her privacy.  What good is having your own apartment if you can't keep the neighbors out?

Veteran television writer Ken Levine remembers the actress Mary Tyler Moore.  "More than just a beloved entertainer, she helped paved the way for feminism in the 1970's.  She affected people's lives.  The Mary Tyler Moore show, in my humble old-school opinion, is one of the finest sitcoms ever produced.  It hit all the targets — consistently laugh-out-loud funny, characters you cared about, and groundbreaking subject matter that helped shape society in a positive way."

He gave some examples of that subject matter.  They reminded me of another young woman of the 1970's whose letters I quoted here last year.

"Storylines that were somewhat revolutionary back then — a single woman working, a single woman   spending a night at a man's apartment, a single woman on the pill, a single woman fighting for equality in a man's world — those stories no longer have the same punch.  The series feels and looks a little dated.  So the bottom line is you don't see Mary Tyler Moore in syndication as much.  It's on nostalgia channels and streaming services but you have to really seek it out.  By the way, it's worth seeking out."



Everyone's talking about observing the total eclipse of the sun next Monday.  If you can't watch it, I can show you news coverage of a similar event that took place before almost all of us were born.  I'll even throw in footage of a related event whose 92nd anniversary is only three weeks away.

This is Hangar No. 1 in Lakehurst, New Jersey.  The year is 1924.

On the far right: a German-built dirigible that recently flew non-stop across the Atlantic, then was renamed USS Los Angeles.  Alongside it: the first rigid airship built by the U.S. Navy, the USS Shenandoah.

The Germans filled their airships with hydrogen.  That would prove unlucky 13 years later when the Hindenburg caught fire and crashed at Lakehurst.  The Americans preferred helium, which was non-flammable but much more expensive at $55 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf).  Helium was so scarce that at one point the Shenandoah had to loan its 2,100 Mcf, much of the world's reserves, to its sister airship.

Fully gassed up, the Los Angeles took off to observe a solar eclipse on January 24, 1925.  (On the ground, the eclipse was total in Manhattan, but only north of 96th Street.)  Here's the footage.  The first minute shows a different airship, a blimp that appears to have been patched with duct tape.

The other dirigible, the Shenandoah, was refilled, and seven months later it headed west.  But it ran into bad weather over Ohio and crashed on September 3, 1925.

It seems there were a lot of destructive storms that year.  On a single day (March 18, 1925), tornadoes killed 747 people — 613 of them in Illinois.

Here's the musical story of how "the ship gave up the flight," and here's film footage of the aftermath.  Near the end of that newsreel, you can see men tearing off pieces of the airship's fabric covering and carrying them away.

As I wrote here, the scene was visited by two of my uncles.  (This photo shows two other guys.)  Jim Buckingham had just entered Byesville High School as a freshman, and his brother Ralph was a junior.  Having heard that an airship had come down not far away, they hopped in a car and drove ten miles south on the Marietta Road to see the crash scene.  They brought a piece home.  As a result, a scrap of the Shenandoah has been passed down to me.



The geography in our minds is simplified.  From my home (square at upper right), I often drive along the Allegheny River as it meanders southwest.  At Pittsburgh, it combines with the Monongahela to form the Ohio River.

I know the Ohio is destined to pass Cincinnati, 260 miles southwest, before joining the Mississippi, 550 miles southwest.

Therefore, I always imagined that the Ohio continues on the Allegheny's southwesterly heading.  I imagined the red arrow as its course.

Imagine my surprise to realize the Ohio actually veers off sharply to the right and turns north before reconsidering.



This building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright no longer exists.  But I went there anyway last month.

I also visited one of his famous houses.  Part of it was once torn down but has since been rebuilt.

And I stopped by one of his filling stations, which was never built at all until recently.

My Buffalo adventures are illustrated in an article called Reconstructing Wright.




We like to believe we remember everything that happens to us.  It doesn't always work that way.

I lived in Washington, Pennsylvania, during the 1970s.  Although we men did wear our hair longer then, I assume I had my hair cut at some time during those 6½ years.  But at what barber shop?  During the 1980s, I happened to ponder this question.  I could not remember where my Washington barber had been located.

Thinking further back to the 1950s, I lived in the village of Richwood, Ohio, within a mile of the school, for most of the time I was in kindergarten and first grade.  But how did I get to school?  Did I walk, or did my mother drive me?  I no longer recall.  Probably the latter.

However, I do remember that near the end of first grade we moved to a house out in the country.  Although it was still within a mile of the school, I was now entitled to ride the school bus.

I had never ridden a bus before.  I'd heard about buses.  One of them would stop near where you were standing, and a door would open on the right side near the front.  You'd go inside the bus, hand your money to the driver, then walk back and find a seat and sit there until the bus reached your destination.

However, I discovered that school bus drivers did not collect money from their passengers.  The service was free!

I would have been willing to pay for it.  After all, I paid my lunch money at the school cafeteria.  (It was 2½ cents, if memory doesn't fail me.  Or was that just for the milk?  Anyway, the lunch ladies made change by using scrip in the form of little square cards worth half a cent.)

Why don't we have to personally pay for our school transportation?  For that matter, why don't we have to pay for our schooling?  That responsibility has been assumed by the government, otherwise known as the taxpayers.  In this country, we have socialized education — although no one uses that term, because "socialized" is a bad word.

In his review of the Michael Moore documentary Sicko, Eric D. Snider points out "the reason a lot of Americans don't want universal health care:  because another term for it is 'socialized medicine.' . . .  The problem with that argument, as Moore explains, is many elements of American society already are socialized.  You get mail delivered to your house for free, you send your kids to school for free, you can call the fire department for free, you can borrow books from the library for free, you can call the cops to investigate a crime for free.  Everyone has access to those things, and no one has to pay for it, except through their tax dollars.  Socialized medicine works exactly the same way.  If we trust the government to hire teachers to educate us, and firefighters and cops to protect us (and there are private alternatives we can pay for if we don't), why don't we trust them to hire doctors to cure us?"

Good point.  Maybe the citizenry should keep America beautiful by providing socialized haircuts, too.



Students, our subject today is agricultural containers.

Medieval farmers realized that a mere "pound" wasn't large enough to describe an easily movable quantity of produce, while a "ton" was too big.  They needed to invent intermediate units of measurement.

It's possible that you've seen the musical Guys and Dolls, in which Miss Adelaide impersonates a farm girl to sing "I Love You a Bushel and a Peck."  But today I wish to speak to you about a bushel and a frail.

Here are two types of baskets.

The rigid bushel at the top is used for grain.  It's frequently made from thin pieces of wood stiffened with hoops like a barrel.

The more flexible frail at the bottom is used for dried fruits like raisins.  It's woven from rushes.

Thus "a bushel" might be forty pounds of oats, and "a frail" might be fifty pounds of figs.

However, in the early part of the 20th century "a frail" also meant something else.  And it could be rhymed.

For example, "The Birth of the Blues" was a hit tune in 1926.

And from a jail
    Came a wail
        Of a downhearted frail,
And they played that as part of the blues.

I also recall Cab Calloway's 1931 signature song "Minnie the Moocher," which he sang in the Blues Brothers movie.

She was the roughest, toughest frail,
But Minnie had a heart as big as a whale.
    Hidee hidee hidee hi!

Neither the unfortunate frail nor the rough tough one was a fruit basket.  I'm told that in those days, the word was slang for "girl."  The empowered woman of today would never stand for that usage.


AUGUST 1, 2007 flashback   WALLET FULL, MOUTH SHUT

Anyone who's explored this site knows that I'm a little different.  I admit it.

One way I'm unlike most people:  I carry a fair amount of folding money.

Last weekend, a guy started a thread on a message board I visit.  He runs a mom-and-pop business that doesn't accept credit cards, and he's discovered that many customers are unable to pay.  He asked online, "Doesn't anybody carry cash anymore?"

One poster said that his dad always carried $500, and he generally has $100 with him.  I'm in that category, along with a couple of other posters.  The currency in our pockets gives us the power to transact all kinds of business without having to rely on the availability of one of these newfangled gadgets like point-of-sale terminals or ATMs.  But the younger generation does things differently.

Five pointed out that if you have money in your wallet, you're liable to spend it on something foolish.  Or maybe you'll have it stolen.  (So if you carry only plastic, there's no danger of overspending or identity theft?)

Three said they carry only about $60 in cash, five $40, eight $20 or less.  (If I'm down to my last twenty, I get nervous.)

And twelve others said they "never" or "rarely" have any cash on them.  (I can't imagine deliberately being broke!)

Another thing that sets me apart:  There are days when I speak very little.

A research result recently reported by Matthias Mehl of the University of Arizona reveals that women actually don't talk more than men.  His team attached recording devices to some 400 college students and counted the words they spoke.  Men and women both averaged about 16,000 words per day.

However, there was wide variation among individuals.  One male student spoke 47,000 words a day; another, only 700.

I would suggest there might also be wide variation from one day to the next, depending on circumstances.  When I'm with my colleagues at work, I can be as talkative as the next guy.  But when I have the day off, it's a different story.

I live alone.  On many days, I don't need to use the telephone.  So there's no occasion for me to say anything, except when I go out to lunch and communicate with the restaurant staff in mostly three-word sentences like "iced tea, please" and "no, thank you."  Those days, I probably don't speak 100 words.

On the other hand, I generally type thousands of words daily.  Including these.