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APRIL 29, 2022    A2 101

When I became involved with network-level television sports production 40 years ago, one of the first things I learned was the proper way for a pair of announcers in the booth to wear their headsets.  Each headset has two earphones, and the cord and the microphone are attached to one of them.  For a clean picture, that earphone ought to be on the hidden side, farther from the camera.

At Talladega last Sunday, both announcers wore it on their left ear.  In my opinion, “Junior” had it wrong.  We see the cord running across his collar, and with his mouth obscured, he might as well have been wearing a mask.

The audio assistant in the booth should make sure this detail is correct.  However, I quite often observe that it isn't.  So for all you A2's out there (assuming the announcer has good hearing in both ears):

This is the wrong way.  Remove the headset and flip it around so the cups are on the opposite ears.

One problem: now the mic is in back of the announcer's head, which is a bad location from which to hear him.  But its boom is on a pivot.

Use that pivot to rotate the boom up and over his head.  Now all is well.

Once the competition starts, the announcers will turn 180° to face the window.  If a camera at the window is going to be looking back at them, now their mics will again be hiding their mouths.  As part of turning to face the window, I think they should also flip their headsets around and swing those booms.  Always keep the cord and the mic away from the camera!


APRIL 26, 2012 flashback    SPRING FEVER

Ah, I remember the spring of 1970.  It was a great time for a 23-year-old male grad student like me to be on the campus of Syracuse University.  Miniskirts were in style!

A very attractive blonde, a tall senior, sometimes dined at the same cafeteria as I.  One day she came in wearing the latest fashion, a long-sleeved minidress, something like the one Abigail Clancy is wearing in the recent paparazzo photo on the left.  She and her friend got their trays of food and approached the table next to me.

As she leaned forward to set down her tray, the puffy cuffs of her sleeves brushed the edge of the table.  But her bare thighs also brushed the edge of the table.  “Look at that,” she remarked to her friend, marveling at how skimpy the dresses had become in the Age of Aquarius.  “My skirt is shorter than my sleeves!”

Then she sat down and crossed her long legs, which I spent the rest of my lunchtime discretely admiring.

Her skirt was shorter than her sleeves?  Really?  I kept these words and pondered them in my heart.  Does this really happen?  Can dresses be designed that way?

Forty-two years later, I decided to do a little research on the Internet.  I found plenty of examples of daringly high hemlines, but they almost never approached the level of the model’s wrists.

It would seem that if a girl wants the sleeve-lower-than-the-hem look, she has two options.


She can combine an indecently short skirt with super-long sleeves that extend beyond the wrist, covering her hand except for the fingers.

Or she can lower her shoulders, like my Syracuse coed bending over the lunch table.


Moral:  Don’t stand up straight!



In 1945 there appeared a 20th Century Fox motion picture called State Fair, set in bucolic Iowa.  It was based on a 1932 novel and a 1933 Will Rogers film of the same name.  The Technicolor version's release date was August 29, 1945 — barely two weeks after President Truman had announced Japan's surrender and the end of World War II.

My future father Vernon Thomas had been serving in India.  Waiting for him stateside in Cambridge, Ohio, was his wife of five years, my future mother Ann. 

By October 15 Vernon was on an airplane headed west, the first leg of his journey back to good old America.  Following his discharge from the Army six weeks later, he made it home to Ann and.his peacetime job at that small city's Chevrolet dealership.

Sometime that winter or the following spring, State Fair must have reached Cambridge, where it would have played just a block west of the dealership at Wheeling Avenue's glamorous State Theater.  It's not unlikely that my future parents went to see it.

By the following May (1946), their first and only child had been conceived.  That would be me.

Yesterday morning, while surfing through cable TV, I came upon the FX Movie Channel and saw the opening credits for State Fair.  I noticed that the songs were by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.  Because I was not familiar with this particular Rodgers and Hammerstein musical — which had been preceded only by Oklahoma and Carousel, also set far from the big cities — I sat back to watch.

As it turned out, the movie features just three tunes that I had heard before:  the waltz “It's a Grand Night for Singing,” the Oscar-winning romantic theme “It Might As Well Be Spring,” and a novelty which might as well be the Iowa state song.

Some slightly naughty plot highlights include the unrequited love between two hogs, the blue-ribbon-winning mincemeat spiked with excessive brandy, and a promoter accused of offering a bribe called “payola” to get his music performed.  (Until now, I thought that term hadn't appeared until radio's disc jockey scandals a decade later.)  Also, Harry Morgan, the future Col. Potter of MASH, shows up as a barker running a crooked carnival game.

There's a dance band performing at the fair, and the orchestra leader's name is prominently displayed above the stage.  That bandleader's name is not Lawrence Welk.  Nor is it Guy Lombardo.

To my surprise, he's a fictional character with my name!  Good old TT.

In later years I thought the precedent might have been my grandfather Hubert Thomas, who was known around his Kentucky hometown as “Tommy” (just as Lionel Smith might have been called “Smitty”).  But now I'm wondering whether the inspiration actually struck when my future parents discovered the future name of their future son sparkling at the top of the silver screen in their hometown State Theatre.

And now for the rest of the story.

I arrived in February of 1947 and turned out to be a boy, leading to the question of what I should be named.  As I heard the story later, Ann asked Vernon whether he thought “Thomas Thomas” would be silly and ill-advised, and he had no objections.  So she called me Tommy.


If the truck hauling a SpaceX rocket doesn't fit through the security portals, Elon elongates gates.

If he uses a smartphone to evaluate a new Tesla wage scale, his app appraises raises.

If he decrees when the raises will take effect, the man mandates dates.


If a prison inmate learning to be an electrician doesn't know his hardware, the con confuses fuses.

And if a sniffling sports star obtains remedies for his whole team, the pro procures cures.

(Punchlines from Michael Lieberman's New York Times Sunday crossword "Familiar Surroundings," June 27, 2021)


APRIL 18, 2012 flashback    FOLLOWING A LEGEND

For a few weeks in the summer of 1970, I was a disk jockey at WAER, the Syracuse University student radio station.

DDick Clark in 1954ick Clark, the longtime American Bandstand host known as “the world’s oldest teenager,” died today at the age of 82.  What was Dick doing long ago, when he actually was a teenager?  He too was a disk jockey at WAER!

Dick’s uncle Bradley Barnard owned WRUN in Utica, New York, which signed on as an FM-only station in 1946.  The next year Bradley hired his brother-in-law Richard Clark as promotions manager, and Richard hired his 17-year-old son Dick as a summer replacement in the mailroom.  Dick also read the hourly weather forecasts.  But it was time for college.  He had applied unsuccessfully at Yale, so in the fall of 1947 he enrolled at his father’s alma mater, Syracuse University.

At Syracuse only a few months earlier, in April, WJIV-FM ("Jive") had begun operations with 2½ watts of power.  That was enough to cover the campus, and Syracuse became the first college in the nation to have its own low-power FM broadcast station.  When the FCC amended its rules to allow special experimental licenses for up to 10 watts, "Jive" received one of these licenses, changing its call letters in July of 1947 to WAER (Always Excellent Radio).

Like me at Oberlin two decades later, Dick was only a freshman but could boast of his previous on-air experience back home.  He joined the staff of WAER.

By 1950 some thirty additional colleges had been granted low-power radio station licenses.  In September 1950 WAER raised its power to 1,000 watts — the first college station to broadcast at such a high wattage.  ...Dick Clark remembered the format as being “a little bit of everything.”  Classical shows were programmed alongside interview shows at the chapel with foreign-speaking students; the students produced and wrote their own dramas; and bands were brought in to perform.  It was, in the words of Clark, “like old-time radio of yesteryear.”  (From Syracuse University: The Tolley Years, 1942-1969, by Galpin, Greene, Wilson, Baron, and Barck.)

Dick stayed with WAER until graduating with a Business Administration degree in 1951.  And the rest is history.


For its annual auto issue this month, Consumer Reports asked 895 Americans to score 20 common driver gripes.  On a 1-to-10 scale, 1 means a behavior “does not annoy you at all” and 10 means it “annoys you tremendously.”

I noticed that these complaints tend to fall into two categories.  Some behaviors irk Type A drivers, who resent anyone who gets in their way and delays them for any reason.  For example, suppose a Type A is racing down a empty lane of the freeway.  Ahead of him, a car changes lanes, merging into the lane that the Type A thought was exclusively his.  Forced to slow down, the Type A screams, “He cut me off!” 

        Complaints from Type A:
8.3   Drivers who cut you off
7.3   Slow drivers dawdling in the passing lane
7.3   Jaywalkers stepping in front of your car
7.0   Slowing down to “rubberneck” at accidents
6.6   Drivers who are indecisive about where to turn
6.5   Slow drivers on a two-lane road who won’t pull over
6.1   Not going when the light turns green
5.8   Bicyclists who don’t let you by

Others behaviors irk Type B drivers, who follow the rules and resent a lack of courtesy — especially from a Type A who recklessly endangers their safety.

        Complaints from Type B:
8.9   Texting on a cell phone while driving
8.7   Able-bodied drivers parking in handicapped spaces
8.4   Tailgaters
8.2   Speeding and swerving in and out of traffic
7.7   Taking up two parking spaces
7.6   Talking on a cell phone while driving
7.6   Not letting you merge into a lane
7.6   Not dimming high beams when approaching
7.5   Not using turn signals
7.1   Excessive horn honking
6.8   Not turning on lights when it’s raining or at dusk
5.7   Cranking up the radio volume

I’m Type B myself.  If the impatient Type A drivers always know exactly where they’re going and think they own the road, perhaps they should be given their own private speedways where they’ll never have to yield or slow down for anybody else.

PANDEMIC UPDATE:  Despite relatively empty roads due to COVID-19 isolation, vehicle deaths per capita rose nearly 18% from the summer of 2019 to the summer of 2021, according to the New York Times.  Stanford's Dr. David Spiegel attributed this to aggressive driving:  “There's the feeling that the rules are suspended and all bets are off.”

The Washington Post quoted an AAA study of the small number of drivers (four percent of the total) who actually drove more than in 2019.  These more frequent drivers were apparently Type A.  Eleven years younger than the overall driving population, they presumably had less fear of the pandemic and likewise were more reckless on the road.  The group “tended to be disproportionately male and were more likely to speed, purposefully run red lights, read texts while driving, drive without seat belts, change lanes aggressively or drive after using marijuana or alcohol, the study said.”



On your piano keyboard, how many white keys are in an octave?

Eight.  “Octave” means eight.

Please start at middle C and begin counting the keys to the right.

Okay.  D is 1.  E is 2.  F is 3.  G is 4.  A is 5.  B is 6.  And C again is seven.

I thought you said there were eight notes in an octave, but you only counted seven!  Why?

That's the way everybody counts!  But I suppose if I started with middle C and called that the first key, then D would be the second and so on up to the next C which would be the eighth.

Exactly.  That's the way people often counted in ancient times, inclusively.


Including both the first item and the last item in a series.

Did “inclusive counting” sometimes cause confusion?

It did indeed.  Consider the matter of leap years.  When Julius Caesar was pontifex maximus, his astronomers recommended that each year should match the seasons by comprising 365¼ days on average.  Therefore Caesar reformed the Roman calendar by adding an extra day to ten of the months, thus bringing the total up to 365.

That was still a quarter day short, so he also decreed that there would be an extra “leap day” once every four years.  In B.C. terms, the leap years would be 44, 40, 36, and so on.  But later pontifices, counting inclusively, thought his decree meant once every fourth year, like 44, 41, 38, and so on.

The calendar slowly began to get out of adjustment again because each twelve-year span included one more leap year than there should have been, as illustrated here.


By 8 B.C., there had been three leap days added incorrectly.  And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should temporarily abstain from leap years.  Following a twelve-year interlude of adjustment, the Roman world finally adopted the correct Julian four-year cycle.

Interesting.  But I can't ponder all that today.  I'm in mourning.  Today is Bad Friday, a very sad Friday in history, the day that Jesus died.

Ah, but He promised that on the third day He would rise again.

Yes, he did!

Let me count the days.  After Bad Friday, tomorrow will be Saturday; that will be the first day.

Saturday will be the first day.

Sunday will be the second day.  And Monday will be the third day, so we may expect His resurrection on Easter Monday!

No, no, that can't be right.

Indeed, it isn't right.  Unlike you and me, people during Roman times would have used inclusive counting.  Today, Friday, is the first day.  Saturday will be the second.  And Sunday will be the third day.  That is when He will arise.

Aha!  Very interesting.



Some parents don't want their kids to go to public school, where they might be introduced to concepts like evolution and other races and religions.  It's dangerous, and in some cases illegal, to open young minds and expose them to facts and ideas that their relatives don't like.


Ms. Smith, about that bake sale with our mothers?

Florida teacher:

Yes, Emma?


Umm, Sophie brought two mothers.  Is that allowed?

Florida teacher:

I refuse to answer on the ground that it may tend to incriminate me.


PESSIMISTIC:  Today's Washington Post compared FBI data from 2015-19 to more recent data from 2021-22.  The conclusion: "In states that have passed laws restricting LGBTQ student rights and education ... the number of hate crimes on K-12 campuses has more than quadrupled," and "the upsurge in restrictive laws and in school bullying has left some LGBTQ+ students feeling under attack."

OPTIMISTIC:  A settlement of a lawsuit challenging Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law, announced yesterday, stipulates that public-school students and teachers are now allowed to talk about sexual identity and gender orientation and read about those matters in books from the school library, as long as the topics aren't part of formal classroom instruction.

So parents isolate their children at home and try to instruct them themselves, despite lacking the time and skills to do so properly.  The percentage of kids in home schooling has nearly tripled since mid-2019.

This month's 100 Moons article relates that from my parents at home, I learned about Santa Claus — but from my friends at school, I learned the truth.

About the time I wrote my article, Robert J. Elisberg did likewise.  See this post and this one.  Highlights:

“The public school system now is a propaganda machine,” said Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX).  “And they condition them to believe in so much which is totally un-American.”  Like, apparently, the Pledge of Allegiance.

For the past 60 years, conservatives have demeaned public education, pounding away that learning for the masses is a bad thing to be scorned and mistrusted.  The more that education is disdained, the less that inconvenient facts will be believed.  And so, instead, we get an attitude that challenges any assertion of education with a contemptuous, “So, you think you're better than the rest of us.”

These are the familiar rules that Republicans created:

|You Can't Trust Really Smart People
|Education Gets in the Way of Common Sense
|Science is the Enemy of Religious Faith
|College is for Over-Privileged Elitists
|Facts Matter Less Than What You Believe

When information is diminished, you need to have faith that others will lead you safely.  Indeed, it is no accident that conservative politicians court the religious right.  Religion is centered on belief, on unquestioning faith.  And that is the path to unquestioning faith in everything.

“All we want,” said Herman Cain, is “for government to get out of the way so we can educate ourselves and our children the old-fashioned way.”  Note: “the old-fashioned way” included one teacher for six grades in one room, few women and minorities, and teaching math with an abacus.  And that disaster is what conservatives have long wanted from education.  Like the Dark Ages.  Where kings and the aristocracy ruled.  And you peasants, obey thy overlord.

No need to learn anything.  No public education.  Just private schools and home schooling.

Private schools limit education to those who can afford it.

Home schooling limits education to families where one parent can afford to stay home, while hoping that the parent completed high school.

But for conservatives, that's okay.  The wealthy and privileged will get a great education for their children.  And the rest of America?  You're on your own.

APRIL 11, 2022    PROGRESS

Five years ago today I visited my old home town, Richwood, Ohio.  I found that Ottawa Street was being repaved.  At its intersection with Franklin Street, where a new curb and accessible sidewalk were to be installed, they'd torn up the old asphalt.  They'd even torn up the even older brick pavement underneath, all the way down to the original surface, dirt.

From this spot one can look up and down the two main streets of the village.  This was the location where once the police station stood (pictures here).  It was a miniature control tower with windows all around, so that the cop on duty could keep an eye on things in all four directions.

The police station was removed around the turn of the century, and I haven't been back to Richwood since 2017.  Probably by now there's a fleet of patrol drones watching over the village, right?



When I was a high school freshman around 1962, I had no trouble distinguishing a live or videotaped TV program, such as I've Got a Secret, from a show that had been shot on 35mm film, like Gunsmoke or The Beverly Hillbillies.  The filmed images were softer than the electronic ones.

Garry Moore, Colonel Harlan Sanders

Dennis Weaver

Buddy Ebsen

Electronic cameras were “standard definition” in those days, only 525 lines of resolution.  The black-and-white variety produced sharply enhanced edges and more extreme contrasts.  There were also artifacts like luminance overshoot, producing unnaturally darkened areas to the right of bright white areas like the Colonel's hair and jacket.  (By the way, now it can be told:  his blend of 11 “secret” herbs and spices reportedly included white pepper.)  I preferred the electronic images because they seemed more realistic, depicting events taking place in real time.

Let's move forward a couple of decades.  For example, take two comedies that debuted in 1982.

Newhart featured Bob as a Vermont innkeeper.  The first season was recorded on tape (above), and it looked too real to me, too brightly lit.  For subsequent seasons they switched to film (below), even though film is more expensive.  In this case, I preferred the softer movie-like appearance.  So did Bob, I understand.

Cheers was shot on film from the beginning.  Due to low ratings at first, Paramount feared they might need to cut costs to avoid cancelation.  One of the writers, Ken Levine, recently recalled that a test scene was shot with electronic cameras.  It looked terrible.  “All the warmth and depth of the set was completely obliterated. The rich colors became day-glo. And this dark, rich bar setting suddenly looked like a police station.”  The idea was quickly dropped.

Let's move forward another three decades.  Nowadays, the universal adoption of high definition means that electronic cameras are much improved.  Sitcoms and other shows that used to be shot on film have switched over, and I can no longer discern the difference.  Everything looks good.

Not long ago, idly scanning through the channels in the early morning hours, I saw much better images of Dennis Weaver and Buddy Ebsen than I remembered.  It turns out they were on 1961 episodes of The Twilight Zone.  But I wasn't watching the original 525-line telecasts; rather, the 35mm films had been rescanned and restored in high definition, which was how I was seeing them on the Syfy channel.

The shows were still in black and white, of course, but aside from that, I don't think I've ever seen anything more perfectly shot on a sound stage.  The lighting, direction, cinematography — all were beautifully detailed.  If our TV set had been HD back in 1962, I would not have ever turned it off.



Visiting a museum in an upstate New York town, I talked to the caretaker at the door.  Beside him, in a stacked pair of cages, were two beagles barking insistently at the stranger — me.  To stop the noise, I allowed the dog in the upper cage to sniff my fingers.  That quieted both of them.  I held my fingers in front of the lower dog, but he was no longer interested.

Walking along a sidewalk, my way was blocked by two serene gray Newfoundlands.  As I petted one, the other sniffed my shoes.  The first dog made no attempt at an olfactory investigation, and I was permitted to walk on.

Clearly, dogs have developed a method to avoid duplicating efforts!  They obviously have a secret way of signaling one to the other, “I checked this guy's scent, and he's okay.  Let him pass.”

But if you're interviewing a person who has a dog on a leash ...

and if you cleverly ask the dog whether he has any comments to add ...

and if you lower the microphone to him ...

and if the fuzzy-ball windscreen is right in front of his mouth ...

what do you think is going to happen?



As a high school freshman, listening to the radio late one night 60 years ago, I heard the startling news that Wilt Chamberlain had just scored a hundred points in a basketball game at Hershey, Pennsylvania.

I did not hear the game itself.  But now I can, thanks to nba.com.  From the sound of it, I'm guessing that a fan, realizing that history was being made, set up a tape recorder in front of the radio for the fourth quarter.

Listening to the tape, Keith Olbermann points out that the opposing team, the Knicks, didn't want to be embarrassed by giving up 100 to an opposing player.  On offense, they used up as much time as possible.  On defense, they kept the ball away from Wilt by fouling his teammates and sending them to the free throw line.

The announcer was Philadelphia's Bill Campbell.  (His sidekick spoke only at the commercial breaks.  That was the style at the time, even on my high school broadcasts.)  Campbell knew the importance of giving the score often — especially in this record-setting game, when it was changing every few seconds.

The climactic moment:

“In to Chamberlain.  He made it!  He made it!  He made it!  A dipper dunk!  He made it!  The fans are all over the floor!  They've stopped the game!  People are running out on the court!  One hundred points for Wilt Chamberlain!” 



A BBC report about trees in Switzerland, originally telecast on April 1, 1957, has now reached retirement age.  However, it has no intention of quitting.

Meanwhile on the campus of Syracuse University, where I earned my master's degree, a real tree is getting ready to bear many different kinds of fruit.  They'll ripen sequentially from July to October.  No foolin'! 

I remember this place outside H.B. Crouse Hall, with the Sacco and Vanzetti mural in the background.

The “Tree of 40 Fruit” in the foreground was created in 2008 by Syracuse art professor Sam Van Aken.  It was dedicated in 2011 as a symbol of acceptance and dialogue across differences.

Using a unique process he calls “sculpture through grafting,” over a period of maybe five years Van Aken can clone a tree that supports many varieties of stone fruit, such as plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, and almonds.

He says that he currently works with over 250 varieties, charting a timeline of when they blossom in relationship to each other.  “By grafting these different varieties onto the tree in a certain order, I can essentially sculpt how the tree is to blossom.”

Several other examples of the Tree of 40 Fruit, such as the one pictured at the right, have been placed with art collectors or in museums and public settings across the country.  Sheila Ward Grams brought this marvel to the attention of our high school classmates last year.