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ArchiveMAY 2020

MAY 27, 2020    MY ALTER EGO

So I took a quick personality quiz online, estimating where I fall within a 28-dimensional attribute space.  The results:

“The best match between the self-assessment you provided and the profile of a fictional character as rated by other people who have taken this survey is the character Leonard Hofstadter (The Big Bang Theory).”

I'll accept that.


MAY 24, 2010 flashback   

Authors of “historical novels” develop fictional characters and imagine them interacting with actual historical personages and events.

For example, the Whitman Publishing Company released this book in the “juvenile fiction” category when I was ten years old.  My uncle Ralph, a Whitman executive, sent me a copy.

Alternatively titled A Boy Sailor with John Paul Jones, it was written by H.C. Thomas (no relation).  I clearly understood that the young Noah, the Yankee firebrand, was invented by the author and inserted into the real American Revolution.

But sometimes the author gets too clever, and readers think his creations really existed.

A friend of mine last week reported that his kids had discovered a Victorian-era mechanical man called Boilerplate.  It was featured in one of their robotics magazines, and they found more details on a website.

According to the story, Boilerplate was introduced to the public in 1893 at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  The automaton went on to explore the polar regions and to serve as a soldier in the Spanish-American War and World War I.

My friend was puzzled by technical questions.  Without a gyroscope, how did Boilerplate balance on two skinny legs?  How did he run?  Where are the blueprints showing how his joints were articulated?

I also was puzzled.  If a robot participated in Teddy Roosevelt’s famous charge up San Juan Hill, why had this remarkable detail been omitted from the history books?

It didn't take me long, via an Internet search, to establish that Boilerplate is a fictional character.  The contraption was invented in Portland, Oregon, in 2000.  The photos are of a 12" model.

Two years later, a U.S. News & World Report special edition on “The Art of the Hoax” included this picture.  Thomas Hayden wrote, “The robot is fake.  Fake, fake, fake.  Yet folks want to believe, says artist Paul Guinan (in uniform).”

Interviewed by John Dooley of the Portland Mercury, Hayden observed, “Boilerplate works because of people's gullibility rather than Guinan's guile.  ...It's immediately obvious that the site is a joke. The amazing thing is that some seemingly intelligent people believe it anyway.  ...The first clue that something might not be true is the reaction, 'Oh my god, that is so freaking cool, I can't believe it's really true!'  If it seems too good/cool/weird to be true, hey, big surprise, chances are it is.”

Guinan estimates that about a third of his site's visitors are taken in by the spoof.

My friend felt violated.  He had been the victim of a hoax.  Admitted, he and his kids had learned some real history, such as the story of the Buffalo Soldiers.  But, he asked, shouldn’t it be illegal (or something) to deliberately disseminate outright disinformation like Boilerplate?

All I could answer was, “Don’t believe everything you read.”



If I need to enter a password on my smartphone, as I did this morning before depositing checks, I must concentrate.  It's quite easy to accidentally touch a part of the screen I didn't intend to touch.  Pressing a virtual “key” with my finger is not precise enough, and using my thumb is even worse (it could cover a dozen keys).  Password comes out Paaadqprrf, which gets rejected.

Therefore, I use a stylus.  I carefully hover it over the character I wish to type and hold my hand very still.

Then I shift my gaze to the row of dots in the window where the character will appear (red arrow).  I touch the stylus to the screen and the character does appear, but for only one second!  I whisper it as confirmation that I've typed it.

At this point, if I've made a mistake I can backspace, which will no longer be an option once my password has become nothing but a secret row of dots.


MAY 18, 2020   

I have no idea where this sticker was originally displayed.  I suspect it once included a final D.

For years now, it's been affixed to a trash receptacle at a nearby shopping center.

Surprisingly, as far as I know, the invitation has not led to an increase in vehicle thefts.


In this month's 100 Moons article, a 1952 television sketch and a parody of it 40 years later lead to a reminder that not all sources of information agree.

I've imagined that even in prehistoric times, people assumed there was a cause for everything.  Random chance couldn't possibly be involved.  See this month's 100 Moons article.




As we know all too well, the lingering COVID-19 pandemic still requires everyone to observe social distancing.  Some sports leagues are hoping to resume play a few months from now, but they'll probably have to do it without spectators in the stands.  Missing will be the roar of the crowd that mutually inspires the fans, not to mention the teams themselves.

Jay Busbee reacted to the recent telecast of UFC 249:  “The palpable emptiness is what will characterize all of sports that return without fans, and that ambience is impossible to replace.”

Well, maybe not.  I've heard that football teams, when preparing to play before a hostile crowd, sometimes simulate game conditions by piping in distracting noise via loudspeakers.

I suggest that a team could invite its supporters to not only watch its games on TV but also participate via the Internet.  They'd pay a small fee, thereby replacing some of the lost gate revenue.

Fifteen fans might fill a screen, where they could interact with the others in their “section.”  It would be like a luxury suite!

If all the audio from this group were mixed together and added to 50 others, plus another 50 groups supporting the opposing team, we'd be able to flood the field with the roar of 1,500 people chanting and booing and cheering.  Copy that audio a few times with slight delays and pitch alterations, and we could make the crowd seem even more numerous.

The sound quality would be less than desired, but PA announcements and fight songs could be added to keep the enthusiasm level high.  The fans, plus cheerleaders and mascots, could be flashed onto big-screen monitors in the front row of the stands to be glimpsed by TV viewers as well as the players.

A similar technique might work for other big events.  Why not give it a try?

UPDATE:   You know how TV sportscasts enhance the picture with "virtual" things that aren't really there, like names and stats and starting lineups and yellow first-down lines?  And sometimes sound effects are included?  I just heard that Fox Sports is planning to add virtual fans to its NFL telecasts, hiding the empty stands with images of artificial people making artificial noise.

The TV pictures would look better than they would in my plan, and maybe that artificial noise could be pumped into the stadium to urge on the players.  However, Joe Buck remarks, "I think whoever is going to be at that control is going to have to be really good at their job and be realistic with how a crowd would react depending on what just happened on the field."  That wouldn't be a problem with my plan, Joe.

SECOND UPDATE:   They're actually trying my idea in Aarhus, Denmark.  Apparently the sound in the stadium may not be that bad.  However, there's a big problem:  The fans at home will see the action several seconds after it happens!  That's due to digital encoding delays inherent in cable and satellite and streaming systems.  Some have greater delays than others.

So a big play happens, and there's no immediate reaction from the fans on the screens; then a few see it on their home TVs and cheer, while the others in their section wonder why; then a few more see it on their smartphones and cheer; and so on, spread out over the better part of a minute!  Ak, det vil være en katastrofe.

My suggestion:  In addition to the fans, log onto every section's website with Megafan, a laptop computer located inside the TV production truck.  To avoid filling the stadium with TV talk and commentary, mute Megafan's microphone.  In place of its webcam, patch in the TV program video before it's transmitted to the various distribution systems.

Let Megafan have a larger image moving around the screen, hiding a few faces at a time.  Now the game appears on all the fans' screens with no more delay than their own webcams.  We're back in sync!

Of course Megafan's definition via the Internet isn't very good.  Don't worry; a few seconds later, when the real TV signal arrives at peoples' homes, they can watch the same action replayed in 4K on their 60" screens.  Hurra!  Vidunderlig idé!



We often see scary headlines like this one:  Pennsylvania tops 3,000 virus deaths!

That's unfortunate, but is it really news?  A similar story is reported every day, because the cumulative total has nowhere to go but up.

The statistic to watch is the top one on this KDKA-TV graphic:  New Cases.  That number may never reach zero, but we do want it to shrink every day, because one of the criteria for “reopening” requires new cases to trend down for 14 straight days.

How can new viral infections be minimized?  Paraphrasing Erin Bromage, who was on MSNBC last night:

“It depends on Exposure x Time.  Social distancing is really to protect people from brief exposures.  In a grocery store, the low density of people along with the restricted time you spend in the store means that the opportunity to receive an infectious dose is low.

“However, in an indoor workplace where you spend a lot of time, even a low dose of the virus in the air reaching you can spell trouble.  A single sneeze releases about 30,000 tiny droplets at up to 200 miles per hour.  Most droplets are small and travel easily across a room.”

That's another reason why, for the foreseeable future, even wearing a mask, I will not be taking part in televising a seven-hour baseball doubleheader from inside a compartment of a mobile production unit.

Adapted from photo of a replay room
in TV on Wheels by Boston & Hoover



If baseball had not been suspended, today might have been my final telecast.  I was originally scheduled to provide graphics for the Philadelphia feed of the Phillies at Pirates weekend baseball series, including this afternoon's Mother's Day finale, with no further sportscasts on my calendar.

Why so few bookings?  As I explain in a new article, my career has been steadily tending toward retirement for the past eight years, gradually slowing to a non-traumatic stop — a Soft Landing.

Fifty years ago this afternoon, “as a memorial to those who died for peace” at Kent State six days before, a quickly-assembled 250-member orchestra and choir from Oberlin College performed to an audience of over two thousand in the nation's capital.

In “Oberlin Remembers Kent State,” the Conservatory's online Stage Left program revisits that performance of Mozart's Requiem at the National Cathedral.



USA Today reports that there are “signals in the economy” that are very slowly improving.

Spending is ticking higher after plunging 30% at the start of the lockdown, as consumers buy more clothing, gasoline, and restaurant meals.  I concur.  Now that I have a face mask and I've discovered local restaurants with take-out options, I'm daring to burn a little more gas, venturing out for more than merely groceries.

The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index has rebounded 22% from its March 23 low and is now within 15% of its Feb. 19 record high.  I concur.  My personal investments, evaluated monthly, have rebounded 7% from the end of March and are now within 11% of the end-of-January record high.  But what goes up can come down again.

Initial applications for unemployment insurance have decreased five weeks in a row.  That's another good sign, right?  Well, I'm not so sure.  A large number of layoffs occurred in March, so people filed for unemployment then.  But in April, with empty workplaces and fewer workers available to be laid off, fewer initial applications were filed.  The situation isn't getting better, it's merely leveling off in a depressed condition.  Unemployment currently stands at 14.7%.  The last year the rate was higher was 1939.

Stay tuned for further developments.



Three years after Jenny Wagner graduated from college, she wrote to me, “I don't deserve such a thoughtful friend.”  Writing to her two years later, I quoted two letters I'd received from other young ladies:  “Don't worry about me please, I am really not worth the trouble” and “I don't deserve the people I know.”

Jennifer wasn't worthy?  That's hard to imagine.  “I can't believe,” I confessed, “that all the women with whom I correspond are so undeserving of me.  What's really happening, most likely, is that I'm being over-friendly, in one way or another.”

In Jenny's case, my particular excess consisted of sending quirky little birthday and/or Christmas gifts.  She thought she urged me several times to stop, but I didn't receive the message, as you can read in the final installment of our correspondence.  It began in 1969-70, and this fourth chapter covers The Next Few Years You can even listen to one missive.



A couple of times a week, it's been my habit to choose a fast-food restaurant for lunch.  Of course, with social distancing, I'm no longer allowed to dine inside.  Wearing my face mask, I pull up to a drive-through menu board and speak into an intercom.

I visited this McDonald's recently.  As I approached (Driver Z), there were half a dozen cars ahead of me (6 through 1).  The line would have spilled out onto the road, and I might have turned away to go elsewhere, had there not been double ordering lanes.  Drivers 1 and 3 chose the outer lane; 2 and 4, the inner one.

Why are there two places to order?  Although the line will move quickly past Windows A and B to pay for the food and receive it, the preceding step — placing a complicated request — might take twice as long.

However, which lane should go first when they merge at X?  What's the sequencing etiquette?  There's a danger of road rage.

Driver 1:

I told her what I want first!

Driver 2:

Yeah, but I pulled away first!

Driver 1:

You cut me off!!!


Suppose impatient Driver 2 floors it and arrives at the windows before Driver 1, who actually ordered first.  Will Driver 2 be handed Driver 1's food?

I went online to investigate the procedure.  I needn't have worried.

McDonald's worker Kaitlyn Abernathy has explained:  “There are cameras above each of the lanes.  Then on the cashier's screen there are pictures of all the cars with their order numbers.”

Another employee, Natalie Harper, adds:  “It is policy to always read the order back to the customer before they pay to make sure we have selected the correct order.  We ask also at the second window where food is received.  That way if there was a mix-up, we can solve it before the customer drives away.  Of course, sometimes mistakes can happen, but our method is pretty fool-proof.”

“It doesn't matter at all in what order the cars approach the window,” concludes Denise Neil of the Wichita Eagle.  So take it easy, everyone.


MAY 4, 2020    FIFTY

During an ongoing demonstration 50 years ago today against President Richard Nixon's expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia, Kent State University students were fired upon by Ohio National Guardsmen.  Four were killed.

When the news reached Oberlin College 50 miles to the west, the campus mourned.  Students and faculty turned their attention to anti-war activities, and the final two weeks of classes and exams were canceled.  Three weeks later, the scheduled Commencement did take place, but without caps and gowns.

College had ended far differently than expected for Oberlin's Class of 1970.  They hoped to celebrate their 50-year reunion later this month, as I had with my class in 2019.

Marc Krass '70 had been known by a stage name on our campus radio station.  For one of his reunion's events, a dance party, he selected 50 tunes from college days.

After songs from the British Invasion, Motown, R&B, hippie culture, and more, Marc's three-hour playlist concludes with “Four dead in Ohio.”  And “Give peace a chance.”  And “In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”  Then there's a bonus track.

However, events have intervened once again.  On-campus classes and exams have been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the Commencement/Reunion Weekend has been tentatively rescheduled for May of 2021.

Although the party has been postponed, you can click here and dance!  (You might have to sign up for Spotify, but it's free.)  Mike Rogan '70 and Jane Katz Field '70 posted on their reunion website, “Thank you to Marc Krass for all his hard work in putting this list together. Enjoy it and stay safe. We look forward to enjoying this music together when we actually meet to celebrate 50-plus years.”


MAY 1, 2010 flashback   CIRCLE OF SEASONS

“First Saturday in May!  What a glorious, glorious day!”  As a high school student, I rhymed that couplet in honor of what always seemed to be the first really nice warm day of the year.

Having finally gotten rid of April’s cloudy, rainy weather, we could look forward to about six weeks of pleasant conditions before the arrival of summer’s oppressive heat and humidity.  If I remember correctly, the first Saturday in May was celebrated by a morning bus trip to Otterbein College for the state scholarship tests, followed by the televised Kentucky Derby in the afternoon and our own Richwood Relays in the evening.

Consider the year as a circle of twelve months.  It turns out that there’s more than one way to divide it into four seasons.  I’ve made the diagram below and colored winter blue, spring green, summer red, and autumn gold.

The colors on the outside of the black circle represent our standard calendar, in which the seasons begin on the December 21 winter solstice, the March 20 spring equinox, the June 21 summer solstice, and the September 23 autumn equinox.

Today, May 1 or Beltane, is the middle of springtime.  It's one of the “cross-quarter” days that fall halfway between an equinox and a solstice.  In early August, Lammas or Lughnasadh is in the middle of summer.  On October 31, Halloween or Samhain marks the midpoint of autumn.  And on February 2, Groundhog Day or Candlemas is the middle of winter.

However, some cultures deem these cross-quarter days not the midpoints but the beginnings of seasons.  As indicated by the colors inside the circle, their seasons start six weeks earlier than ours.

For example, on Groundhog Day, which we consider the middle of winter, spring is actually right around the corner — according to the Celtic calendar.  Nevertheless, if the weather on February 2 is dominated by a cold high-pressure system, the groundhog will see his shadow and switch to our standard calendar, thereby postponing the start of spring for six weeks until the Ostara equinox arrives.

Today, May Day, marks the end of the Celtic spring and the beginning of the sunny Celtic summer.  The middle of summer will arrive about six weeks from now on June 21 — truly Midsummer, as dreamt by Shakespeare.