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ArchiveJANUARY 2020



Tired of shivering through winter yet?  In Scandinavia they must actually like it!  Finding that hard to believe, I've been inspired to illustrate an excerpt from a recent Jim Gaffigan routine.

In Finland I was invited to take a sauna.  I was also invited to go cross-country skiing.

And all I could think is, "Is fun illegal here?"

What kind of antidepressant
do you have to be on to enjoy cross-country skiing?

Hey, you know that awkward part in downhill skiing where you're trying to get over to the lift?  What if we just did that?  Whoo!  This is fun!

And to turn around —

you know what?  Don't turn around.

Let's go across the country!

People who enjoy winter seem mentally unstable.  Right?

Some of those winter activities should get you committed.

It's like, Look, we love you; we're just worried.

I mean, yesterday we caught you walking through the woods with tennis rackets tied to your feet.

This morning we saw you sweeping the frozen lake.

What's next?  You sitting in a sled being pulled by ... dogs

Get some help!!!



“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.  What’s 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.  It’ll 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?”


In general, yes.

It’s the same with windmills on the ground.  Dutch windmills had four blades.

But the windmill on Grandpa’s old farm had 18, to extract momentum from as many of the passing air molecules as possible.

“So on modern wind farms, why do the windmills have only three blades?  And skinny ones at that?  They’re letting a lot of wind go by unused.”

Uh, I know the answer, of course, but maybe you should figure it out yourself.  It’ll be a good learning experience.

JAN. 26, 2020    THE BIG ONE

Researchers say it happened in 1700, exactly 320 years ago tonight, around 9:00 Pacific Time.  Most members of a Native American tribe had gone to bed, but the chief was still awake when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck the subduction zone off the coast of present-day Oregon and Washington.  The land shook for several minutes, and it places it dropped more than six feet.

The tsunami crossed the Pacific Ocean and reached Japan as a 16-foot tidal wave.  The Japanese recorded its arrival, which is how we can pinpoint the time and date.

If such an event happened today, it would cause enormous damage to cities like Seattle and Portland.  And these earthquakes do generally repeat every 400 years or so.


JAN. 23, 2010 flashback   SIGN LANGUAGE

Signs must use as few words as possible to get their message across.  However, concise wording sometimes allows for multiple interpretations.  I’m sufficiently silly (some would say perverse) to deliberately misconstrue their warnings.

Perhaps, though not as readily as mud does.

But we're still permitted to pass it back, aren't we?

I thought law enforcement required cops on the ground.  How can aircraft do it?  Do they strafe the speeders?  Do they drop bombs on them?

I guess I'll have to go somewhere else to buy a shirt and shoes.  This place doesn't have any.  They don't even have anybody to wait on me.

(Another store's sign says "Shirts must be worn."  I can't go there either.  My shirt isn't showing any wear at all; it's brand new.)

I would gladly drop my safe, if I were carrying one.  But where is this USE that you want me to drop it into?

There, there, Door.  Don't be afraid.  I'd be scared, too, if I saw me coming.



In the early years of this century, it occurred to me that it made little economic sense for businessmen from Chicago, Boston, and San Diego to board three separate flights and travel to Fresno just so they could all sit around someone's conference table for an hour.

Why not construct a standardized TV studio in each of those cities, hooking them up to form a virtual conference table?  My proposal is this month's 100 Moons article.

Of course, in the 16 years since I dreamed up this concept, broadband Internet has eliminated the need for it.  Now those businessmen can hold virtual face-to-face meetings on their laptops.

I've participated in such a conference myself.  Most of it worked.

But the concept of simulating presence with mirrors has been finding some success in the field of entertainment, resurrecting deceased singers via on-stage “holograms” that aren't actually holograms in the technical sense.

Typically there's a half-transparent mirror suspended at an angle over the orchestra pit.  It should be very unobtrusive, but I've outlined it here in red.

On the floor of that pit, hidden from the audience, CGI footage of the performer is displayed.  It may come from a projector overhead, tinted here in green.  Then the mirror reflects the image toward the audience so the performer appears to be standing on the darkened portion of the stage. 

 It's an update of basic “Pepper's Ghost” theater magic that was developed in the 19th century.



While I'm using my computer I never doze off, because I'm constantly typing or mousing.

It's a different story while I'm passively watching TV.  Often, after half an hour or so, I'll begin closing my eyes and just listening.  Before I know it, I'm asleep.

This doesn't happen if I'm really interested in how the story turns out.  A fictional murder mystery usually won't do it for me, but being technologically minded, I am fascinated by those hour-long programs probing airplane crashes.  What happened?  Was icing a problem?  Where are the black-box recorders?

Usually a combination of factors turns out to be at fault.  But before the investigators isolate the true causes, they must rule out a number of red herrings.  Was it wind shear?  Did the spoiler actuators fail?  Is there a glitch in the autopilot software?  Did the ground crew load 8,000 pounds of fuel instead of 8,000 kilograms?  Was there poor communication between the pilot and the co-pilot?  (Some of this reminds me of problems we have inside a TV production truck.)

For example, when an American-built airliner flipped upside down and fell out of the sky, part of the mystery's solution turned out to be the “artificial horizon” or Attitude Indicator.  While flying through clouds, the distracted Russian-trained pilot must have glanced at his instruments and misinterpreted the AI.

If a plane is slowly banking more and more to the right, as seen from someone following along behind the plane, a Russian pilot would expect his AI to depict that view.

But on a Western aircraft, the AI simulates what the pilot would see through his windshield if there were no clouds.  The black airplane symbol doesn't rotate; instead, the blue-and-brown horizon symbol does.

A Russian pilot glancing at the bottom AI, where the black symbol remains level, might instinctively think that his actual plane is still in straight and level flight.

Each of these TV programs eventually tells what corrective actions have been taken to prevent future crashes.  Aircraft manufacturers, standardize your instruments!  Airlines, train your pilots better!  (Or, in many cases, go out of business.)  But those fixes are only revealed in the final 30 seconds, during the credits.

I've just run across a copy of a letter I wrote exactly 45 years ago, in which I reported that “I enjoy watching Nova on PBS because of the rapidity with which the viewer can follow through an investigation.  The program presents a puzzle, such as how do homing pigeons home, and then shows a series of experiments that have the puzzle mostly solved by the end of the show.  Very satisfying.”

Most other programs don't hold my attention like that.  Therefore, I have other tricks to stay awake.

For example, below and to the left of my main TV I have two smaller screens that can show different channels.  During dull spots or commercials, I check them out.  I can even channel-surf each of them independently from the main screen.  At least I'm doing something, even though it's only pushing a button on the remote.

Also, recently I've discovered that I will pay closer attention if I mute the sound.  To tell what's going on, I must read the closed captioning.

That extra task keeps me glued to the screen, eyes wide open, all the way to the end.


JAN. 16, 2020    MEMORIES

Ken Jennings is now officially the greatest Jeopardy! player ever, having won the recently-completed tournament on ABC-TV against two other celebrated champions.

Although I've never met Ken in person, he once sent me an autographed copy of his first book.  (“Best of luck in all your trivial pursuits” was the inscription.  There was a slight additional fee for this service, of course.)

I also listen to him with John Roderick on their Omnibus podcast, where it's obvious that Ken has a very quick mind.  But he's 45 years old now, and that quickness is beginning to fade!

“One of the reasons why I really wanted to enjoy this Greatest Of All Time tournament is because I don't think I have that many left.  I'm starting to see that I'm 15 years older than when I went on Jeopardy!  My recall is not quite as good as it was.  I find myself not being able to remember names as fast as I used to.  And Alex, he wants an answer now.  He'll give you a couple seconds, but then, he's not going to wait for you.”

I'm almost 30 years older than Ken, and my ability to recall names is also starting to slip.  Not long ago I had to ask a colleague for the last name of a long-time local newspaper sports columnist, white hair, humorous, first name Gene.  “Collier” was the answer.  I have no trouble remembering it now.  My brain has created an additional link to allow me to access it, as it's the same as the name of a township out near the airport.

Last week I briefly encountered the name of a late actor but then lost it again.  All I could recall was that there was a D in there somewhere.  Finally I pulled out my phone and said four words to Google Assistant:  “Cast members The Munsters.”  Immediately the Assistant mentioned a couple, one of whom was Fred Gwynne.  Aha!  Now if I want to recall his name I simply remember that his first name ends with D, and the rest of the letters pop in.

I'm going to have to keep my Assistant handy from now on.


JAN. 14, 2020    DO YOU SEE WINGS ON ME?

Elroy is a friendly young man with an unusual problem.  He's too kind.  For some reason, he's perceived to be a miracle-worker.

When Elroy meets a new person, the stranger sometimes thinks he's an angel of the Lord — or even the Lord Himself! 

He tells his story in Elroy Was Here.



Long ago when I was a freshman in college, if someone agreed with a statement they would often say “This is true.”  But nowadays I keep hearing “You are not wrong.”

I can't keep up with all these trendy changes to our language!  Whatever happened to “I concur”?  Or “True dat”?  Or “Yes indeedy”?



When I attended high school in Richwood, Ohio, our parquet basketball floor measured only 76 feet between the walls at either end.  That's eight feet less than a regulation high-school court.  After a basket, a red line temporarily shortened the layout to 70 feet so that an inbounding player would have room to stand.  His teammates, needing to cross the ten-second line, were required to bring the ball forward merely 31 feet — a 42-foot maneuver elsewhere.

As I wrote earlier, “our team got accustomed to the tiny backcourt.  When we had to go on the road and play on a full-size floor, it was tough to bring the ball all the way up across the midcourt line.  If the other team played a pressing defense, they could force the Tigers into a lot of backcourt turnovers.  Conversely, when Indian Lake High School visited our little gym, they ate it up.  They scored over a hundred points on us that night:  two quick passes and a shot, again and again.”

As soon as I graduated in 1965, my school was consolidated into the new North Union district.  Before long our Tigers (now the Wildcats) had a new building with a full-size gym.

Flash forward to the present day.  The North Union head coach, Brian Terrill, has a favorite sports movie:  Hoosiers.  In scenes filmed in 1985 at Hinkle Field House in Indianapolis (where I once worked a telecast for CBS), the fictional Hickory H.S. Huskers play for the state championship.

However, their small-town home court is represented by a tiny gym in Knightstown, Indiana.  Actual high school games were played there from 1921 to 1966, but the court is four feet shorter than Richwood's!  There's so little room on the sidelines that the team benches are located beneath the backboards.

Coach Terrill noted that the Hoosier Gym is available for rental and hosts 80 high school basketball games every year.  Yearning to coach there, he persuaded a nearby Union County rival to move their scheduled game into the next state.

Fairbanks High School opted to make the 150-mile bus trip on Saturday morning, December 28.  They played the game that afternoon and returned home the same evening.

But with classes not in session for the holidays, North Union decided to turn the adventure into a whole weekend.  They traveled Friday, stayed two nights, and returned on Sunday.

According to Tim Miller of the Marysville Journal-Tribune, “The Wildcats have become more of a defensive pressing squad than in previous campaigns under Terrill.  ‘We've been experimenting with different presses and seeing how they work against different breakers,’ he said.  ‘We've got the quickness and the depth to do that.’” 

Game photos by Sam Dillon, MJT

In the first half, Fairbanks (in white) had little trouble breaking the press.  But eventually North Union wore down the opposition.

“North Union's pressing defense began to cause a lot of problems for its southern county rival.  Fairbanks had trouble maintaining possession of the ball, and NU converted those miscues into transition baskets.”

Miller quoted Fairbanks coach Justin George:  “North Union played big and physical, especially during the second half, on a more compact floor.  That gave them the advantage with their press.”

North Union won 52-31, improving its record to 6-0.  Preston Crabtree and Zach Vernon combined for half of the Wildcats' scoring.


JAN. 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.

I’ve done it!  If you take the last two words of my post from New Year’s Day (enclosed in quotes to specify that the words have to appear consecutively) and Google that phrase, you get a single result.  I’m the only one in the world who’s ever put those words together!


JAN. 2, 2020    JANE A., JANE E., & ANOTHER A.

When the Little Women movie appeared recently, I was surprised to learn that it begins in New England during the Civil War.  It's based on a book which I had assumed was set in Olde England during an earlier social milieu.

But what did I know?  I'm a guy.  Never having read any 19th-century novels by female authors, not even Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818), I can't keep their fiction straight. 

I had confused these three:

Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen (1813)

   Jane Eyre
   Charlotte Brontë (1847)

      Little Women
      Louisa May Alcott (1868)