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ArchiveDECEMBER 2021


DECEMBER 31, 2011 flashback   ON INCREDULITY

In sports, as in life, sometimes an unusual event occurs.  But overenthusiastic reporters often can’t believe it.

“That was an unbelievable catch!”  What?  You don’t think he actually caught the ball?  Was it some sort of magician’s sleight-of-hand trick?

“They’re behind by ten; if they manage to win, it would be incredible.”  What?  You’ll refuse to accept the result because of its alleged impossibility?

Extraordinary catches and comebacks might be rare, but we shouldn’t doubt that they can and do happen.  We can call them “remarkable.”  But “unbelievable”?  “Incredible”?  I’d reserve those terms for events that are truly beyond belief.

What might those events be?  Well, baseball announcer Jerry Coleman once described an attempted catch by Dave Winfield in which he accidentally decapitated himself.  “Winfield goes back to the wall.  He hits his head on the wall, and it rolls off!  It's rolling all the way back to second base!  This is a terrible thing for the Padres.”

Or for another example, suppose a sportscaster describes the quarterback impaling the football on the point of a javelin, sprouting wings like an angel, flying downfield at an altitude of 20 feet, and using the spear to deliver the ball to a receiver in the end zone.  I might consider that unbelievable.


I'm amazed by crossword constructors like Peter Gordon, whose “New Look” puzzle appeared in the New York Times for September 26, 2021.  Somehow he found these six phrases to serve as answers in the Sunday crossword.

The hint was fresh pair of eyes.  “Eye” of course refers to the letter I.  Each answer is derived from a more common word or phrase to which a fresh pair of I's has been inserted near the end.

But how did Mr. Gordon locate six sets of words with this extremely unusual property?  After an appropriate amount of pondering, I've realized that his computer could considerably reduce the possibilities by scanning the dictionary and eliminating every word that doesn't contain two I's. 



From the remaining double-eyed words like Taipei and idiots and pianist, the computer could strip the I I and test whether the result, like tape or dots or panst, is also in the dictionary.  If so, the two versions could go into two columns, sans and avec.  (I'm going to pretend that panst is another word for trousers.)







Now Mr. Gordon could inspect each row, trying to think of a word or phrase that, by stretching logic, could go in front of both the sans word and the avec word.

Hmm:  Tape and Taipei?  Books on tape and books on Taipei, of course.  Dots and idiots?  Polka dots and polka idiots, I suppose.  Panst and pianist?  Cargo panst and cargo pianist ... probably not.

I suspect that after finding half a dozen logical possibilities, he called it quits.



When the Constitution of the United States was drawn up, Article I specified that the Congress would be divided into two co-equal parts, so that neither large nor small states could feel disrespected.

In the Senate, each state regardless of size would have exactly two delegates.  But in the House, according to Section 2 (excerpted here), the more populous states would have proportionally more Representatives. 

The decennial enumeration, or census, would determine how many Representatives each state could elect.  States then divided themselves into districts, each electing one Congressman.  But as early as 1810, politicians began “gerrymandering,” drawing district boundaries to the advantage of their own party or race.

Now we jump ahead more than a century.  Following World War I, soldiers returning from France no longer wanted to live down on the farm.  The 1920 census confirmed that agricultural states were losing population while urban states were growing.  And rural Congressmen refused to give up their seats to those citified folks!  They defied the Constitution and blocked any reapportionment from taking place at all.  Finally, by the end of the decade, a bill was enacted calling for automatic reapportionment beginning with the results of the next census.

Government agents came knocking on doors in April 1930, when both of my future parents were living in small towns.  Twenty-year-old Vernon was a bookkeeper in Falmouth, Kentucky, while 17-year-old Anna (whose family had left the farm only six years before) was a high-school junior in Byesville, Ohio.  The ever-helpful ancestry.com has provided me with images of the relevant Population Schedules carefully filled out by enumerators Paul G. Browning and Alice Sutton respectively.

Armed with this information, I now know my future parents' 1930 addresses!  This was eight years before they met, ten years before they married, and seventeen years before I was born.  And I even know the name of my father's 63-year-old landlord and how much my grandfather the dairyman was paying for rent.

Maybe I'm the only one who cares about this, but for the sake of completeness, I've obtained aerial and streetside views of those addresses from Google Earth and added them to existing articles here on this website.  Click my parents' names below.  (You're allowed to peruse the rest of those articles as well.)



When I got into road rallying with my former high school classmate Terry Rockhold around 1967, we learned that one of the more successful competitors called himself Frodo Baggins.  I was pretty sure that wasn't his real name, but I failed to get the reference.

I mentioned this to my college classmate Jan Olson.  Smiling, she informed me that “Frodo Baggins is a hobbit.”  Ah, a hobbit.  That explained it, kind of.  I had heard of hobbits, though I had never read Tolkien.  Still haven't.

Some eight years ago I began to see mentions of a hobbit movie called The Desolation of Smaug.  The title reminded me of The Wrath of Khan.  However, this wasn't a Star Trek movie; it was from the Lord of the Rings franchise.  Once again I failed to get the reference.

What or who is this “Smaug”?  Is it a kind of air pollution, a combination of smoke and faug?

Is it a ruined village — poor desolate Smaug, with all the Smaugians suffocated?

Or is Smaug the name of the villain responsible for the destruction?

Jan isn't around to ask, so I've finally given up and looked it up on the Internet.

Apparently Smaug is a winged dragon, and Lake-town is the place it desolates.  Now I know, I suppose.

DECEMBER 21, 2011 flashback   ONE YEAR LEFT

“There will be a great disaster next week!”


“The end of the world!  It's coming, a week from Sunday!”

So soon?

“I have proof!”

You do?

“Look at this calendar!  After Saturday, December 31, the next page is blank!”

So what?

“There’s no Sunday!  It’s the end of days!  We’re doomed!”

Silly, on Sunday we’ll simply start a new year.  Look, I bought a 2012 calendar just last week.  See here?  Sunday, January 1, 2012.  Monday, January 2.  And so on.

“Oh.  —Well, forget about that.  But there definitely will be a great disaster one year from today!”

One year from today, huh?

“It will be the end of the world!  I have proof!”

What proof?

“Look at the Mayan calendar!  Scholars have figured it out.  According to the Mayan Long Count, the thirteenth b'ak'tun of the current era will end on December 21, 2012.  And that will be the end of civilization!  We’re doomed!”

Silly, the Mayans never said there won’t be a fourteenth b'ak'tun.  We’ll just start a new period of another 5,126 years.  As Sean Sturgeon writes,

The Mayan Long Count calendar is built in great long ages and the last one they really bothered with just happens to end (maybe) in December of 2012. They never got any further because they were too busy having their culture wiped out.

All such numerology is false; even if nature could care about our days and years, it would not. Every human calendar is just that — human — and no more predicts the end of planets, stars and civilizations than the lyrics to “MacArthur Park.”

We shouldn’t worry that the sun will explode or tidal waves will wash over the Himalayas.  However, we should worry that fanatics, in their misguided religious belief that Armageddon is at hand and there will be no 2013, may take reckless actions in 2012 that will destroy civilization.

There may never be an apocalypse.  If it does come, it will also be a human event — humans being killed by humans who, in the words of PZ Myers, “really believe in an apocalyptic messiah and are wishing the world would end in a catastrophe before they die.”



“Saturday Night Live” seemed rather somber last night.

Several Broadway shows were forced to cancel performances this past week due to positive Covid-19 tests among the cast or crew.  Yesterday, the state of New York set a record for the second day in a row with more than 21,900 reported daily cases — a warning of what may be to come elsewhere.  The numbers in Ohio and Illinois were not far behind.

Some SNL pieces were prerecorded a day or two in advance, but with multiple cast members reportedly testing positive for the coronavirus, changes had to be made.  On Saturday afternoon, NBC announced, “Due to the recent spike in the Omicron variant and out of an abundance of caution, there will be no live audience for tonight's taping of 'Saturday Night Live' and the show will have limited casts and crew.”  Scheduled singer Charli XCX tweeted that “my musical performance will no longer be able to go ahead.  I am devastated and heartbroken.  I am currently safe and healthy but of course very sad.  Please look after yourselves out there.”

So at 11:30 pm, we saw a truly cold open.  Tom Hanks came out to explain that there was no audience.  He was joined by fellow “Five Timers Club” member Tina Fey and new inductee Paul Rudd along with Kenan Thompson, who's been a cast member since 2003.  These veterans introduced the pretaped segments and some classic holiday sketches that the staff had hurriedly dragged out of the vault to fill the air time. 

It was kind of funny, but kind of sad, like a memorial service for a beloved comedian.

The band consisted of one sax and one keyboard.  Michael Che joined Tina to deliver a few “Weekend Update” jokes without the usual set and over-the-shoulder graphics.

But the electronic graphics department (my old job description) did have time to add the credits for the recorded segments into the very long credit roll at the end.

Carol Collings — that name is familiar.  I worked with her once, on a 1994 basketball telecast from the birthplace of the sport, Springfield, Massachusetts.  It's strange the details one recalls.  Carol and I ate lunch together that day; I had a New England specialty, a lobster roll, but she was reluctant to try anything that exotic.

Here's a snapshot of Carol in David Letterman's guest chair in 1990, back in the days when she typed his Top Ten Lists on the screen.  Behind the desk is another of my former graphics colleagues, Lisa Cirincione, who shared this photo.

Carol has been on the crew of NBC's late night shows at 30 Rock since 1985:  Letterman, Conan O'Brien, and now Jimmy Fallon, as well as more than 190 episodes of “Saturday Night Live.”

Keep typing, Carol!

As Paul Rudd said at the end of last night's program, “I know it wasn't the Christmas show that you expected, but that's the beauty of this place.  Like life, it's unpredictable.”


DECEMBER 16, 2021    WHO AM I?

I recognize this comic actress, but when I was trying to fill in her name to answer the crossword clue “2020 Emmy winner for her Kamala Harris impression,” I drew a blank.

The name didn't come to me until other words in the puzzle had given me a few of the letters as hints.  I'd never bothered to really look at her last name and associate it with a reindeer.

Connections and cross-references are the keys to memory!


Earlier this year, I received an email from a woman in Columbus, Ohio.  She had come across an article on this website mentioning Ed Paulin (right), including three minutes of his radio broadcast of a lopsided high school basketball game.

You made my day!” she wrote.  “Ed Paulin was my great uncle whom I loved very much.  He and his wife Micki raised my dad.  I have been searching for recordings of any of his announcing, but have been unsuccessful.  As a kid, you don't think about what an awesome job he had and how good he was.  Now, as an adult, I wished I could hear some of his work.  So thank you for posting the audio that you did.   I downloaded it and that recording will be treasured.  Thank you so much!”

The story she mentions is this month's 100 Moons article.


DECEMBER 10, 2011 flashback   NOËLCO

About 55 years ago, I was visiting my grandparents in Kentucky when I saw a strange object like this in the bathroom.  Upon inquiry, I learned it was my grandfather’s electric shaver.

Almost all other men shaved with Gillette razor blades, but H.F. Thomas explained that because he had a skin condition, he had been advised to use this newfangled Norelco rotary-blade device from Holland.

A few years after that, when I became old enough, my father showed me the standard shaving procedure — the one that H.F. had taught him when he was a boy.  I had to fill the bathroom sink with hot water, wash my face, smear my face with shaving cream, scrape the cream and the whiskers off with a razor, then remove the remaining cream from my face and neck and shirt.  Finally, I had to stop the bleeding from numerous small cuts with the momentarily painful application of a styptic pencil.

I was dissatisfied with this messy ritual and asked if I could try a Norelco like my grandfather’s.

This was much better:  no water or foam required, no washcloth, no towel, no cleaning up afterwards, and never a single cut.  Shaving required only about one minute instead of five.  The result may not have been super-smooth, but it was good enough.

I’ve been a loyal Norelco user ever since.  My previous model having slowed down and lost battery capacity over the years, this week I bought a new 8240XL.  I recommend it without reservation.



On a science webinar this evening, Candice Basterfield and Shauna Bowes pointed out that smart people sometimes believe dumb things; for example, Isaac Newton also dabbled in alchemy.  A possible pitfall is using intuition to jump to conclusions rather than actually taking the trouble to figure them out.

If a ball and bat together cost $1.10,” one presenter asked, “and the bat costs a dollar more than the ball, how much does the ball cost?  Most people say ten cents.  But it's actually five cents.”  And then she never explained why!

How could the ball cost five cents?!  I was puzzled, along with much of the audience.  I speculated that sales tax must be involved.

Ball "L"

$  .05

Bat "T"



$  .05



No, look again.  She said that the ball and bat together cost $1.10.  In symbolic notation: 

L + T =


But she didn't say the bat costs a dollar; she said the bat costs a dollar more than the ball.  In symbolic notation: 

T =

$1.00 + L

We can subtract the second equation from the first, thereby eliminating the T and changing the sign of the second L.

L       =

$  .10 L

Then we add L to both sides

L + L =

$  .10

and divide both sides by two.

L =

$  .05

Aren't you glad you paid attention in algebra class?  We've learned that the true situation is this:

Ball "L"

$  .05

Bat "T"






One of my seasonal decorations is a short battery-powered string consisting of multi-colored plastic shells with lights inside, powered by a pair of AAA batteries (totaling 3 volts when they're fresh).  The weird thing is that as the batteries start to give out, the blue and yellow and red bulbs dim, but the green ones remain glowing brightly!

When the string is down to nothing but green lights, I should replace the batteries.  Last New Year's Day, as an experiment, I didn't.

After taking this picture on January 4, I decided to leave the string of lights switched on around the clock to see how long the greens would endure.  They glowed throughout the month.  I finally put the decorations away on Valentine's Day, after more than a thousand hours.

What's going on?  My guess is that there are green LEDs inside the green-tinted shells but white LEDs inside the others.  Each white LED requires a full 3.0 volts to glow (VF tvp).  A more efficient green LED will continue to glow brightly when powered by only 2.2 volts, and dimly even longer.  Science!



     Should we send
a message? 
     It's already sent.

     Should we spend
more money?
     It's already spent.

     Should we blend
this smoothie?
     It's already blent.

     Should we amend
the old charter?  
     It's already ament.

     Should we defend
the accused man?
     He's already defent.

     Should we suspend
the bad student?
     She's already suspent.

               On what will
          these answers depend?
               They've already depent.

               And when will
          this nonsense all end?
               As of now, it has ent.

DECEMBER 3, 2021   

Last month I was driving along Hulton Road in Oakmont, Pennsylvania.  Except for the nearby Pennsylvania Turnpike, the bridge is the only route over the Allegheny River for six miles in either direction, so the road carries a lot of slow-moving traffic.

To avoid further impeding the drivers' progress, there's no traffic light at the intersection I've marked with red arrows, only a pair of stop signs on Third Street.

The buildings on the left of this picture are Riverview High School and Oakmont Bakery, each generating considerable foot traffic at certain hours.  School students are urged to “cross at the light,” but here there is none.

However, as I drove toward the intersection, brilliant amber lights began flashing and a couple of folks strolled across in front of me.

It turns out that instead of waiting for a Walk/Don't Walk Light to change, the occasional pedestrian can trigger an attention-grabbing Walk Light on demand.

This arrangement seems like a great idea which I'd never noticed before!

Dissenting opinion, from the Valley News Dispatch:  Oakmont Bakery owner Marc Serrao doesn't think the crossing lights have worked out well.  "Very often, the lights flash and cars fly through the intersection, anyway.  I believe it's actually more dangerous because the pedestrians are more confident crossing Hulton when the lights are flashing."

Could we mention this to the people downstream in the town of Rochester?

As a pedestrian, I once was hesitant to cross a street next to Rochester's free-flowing roundabout.  A flashing light would have given me more confidence that an uncertain driver, trying to decide where he should exit from the loop without stopping, wouldn't suddenly swerve to the right and fail to see me in the crosswalk and run me over.

Images originally from Google Earth


I work on sports telecasts, but not often at major events.  I’ve never done a Super Bowl or a World Series, for example.  And I’m actually happier working minor events like a Friday-night high school football game.  The pay rate is the same, and there’s much less pressure.

So I was surprised to read this column from the Los Angeles Times, in which Mike DiGiovanna lists eight of the Biggest Upsets in Sports History.  I was actually on the broadcast crew for 25% of them!  Namely, yours truly worked Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson in 1990 and Appalachian State over Michigan in 2007.  That’s more than my share.