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ArchiveMARCH 2022


MARCH 29, 2022    FADE TO BLACK

Late at night, I'm idly watching The Office on Comedy Central.  Suddenly I'm watching Married with Children.  The picture has cut instantaneously from Michael Scott's office to Al Bundy's couch.  What happened?

No, I didn't accidentally switch channels.  Apparently The Office reached a commercial break, which in this case began with a promo for a different program on a different Paramount service, Logo.  But there was no warning, no indication that we were breaking away for commercials — only an abrupt cut.

This is forbidden, or at least it used to be, on children's programs.  We don't want the kids to confuse ads for cereals and toys with the entertainment show they think they're watching, so we have to make an announcement:  “We'll return to Fantastic Fuzzies in a few moments after these messages.”

It is tradition, or at least it used to be, that program elements are separated by a second or so of black.  Fading to black can alert viewers that Act II of the show has concluded and now it's advertising time.  (Maybe nowadays those seconds of black are too valuable to waste.  Delete enough of them, and you can squeeze in an extra commercial.)

As a 1968 summer replacement for the Smothers Brothers, Glen Campbell hosted several weeks of a variety show on CBS.  My recollection is that the various elements were separated by fading to a newly invented gadget, a color background generator.  As I've depicted below, a skit would end, then during the applause the picture would dissolve to a full screen of cyan or whatever, and then it would dissolve to a song.  They avoided going to black until it was actually time for commercials.

But this innovation was apparently abandoned when Glen got a regular program of his own, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.  Now the picture conventionally faded to black during the applause (as though all the lights on the stage were being brought down) and then immediately faded back up.

 
In the NTSC video world where I grew up, “black” didn't imply a complete absence of video.  “Black” included sync and color burst but no picture information.

Therefore, switching to it didn't cause TV sets to lose synchronization.  It merely filled their screens with a uniform very-dark gray — as might be obtained from a color background generator.

If none of the cameras are usable, a technical director theoretically can always “go to black”; in this example, by pulling the lever down.  He doesn't just pull the plug.  There's actually a video source labeled BLK, which mimics a capped camera.  Usually it's the first button on a switcher — and the most important one?

 

MARCH 26, 2022    BETTY LOU!  ALWAYS MAKING UP STORIES!

As a high school student, I portrayed John Maxwell, the head of a family of five.  The occasion was my senior class play, performed 57 years ago tonight.

My fantasy-prone teenage daughter (center) confided to her diary that her sister was eloping and her brother was in trouble with a gangster.  Worse, she wrote that I'd embezzled from my boss.  When the diary was discovered, comedic confusion ensued.

 

In this month's 100 Moons article, I recall the production with extensive quotes from the script, plus dress-rehearsal photos and a bit of music.

 

MARCH 24, 2022    ARPEGGIO MOLTO SCHERZANDO

As a youngster I learned a bit of Italian as part of my pianoforte lessons. Classical composers traditionally use that language to tell the performer how certain passages should be performed.  For example, subito più pesante (suddenly heavier) or poco a poco rallentando ma non troppo (little by little slowing down but not too much).

When Italian doesn't suffice, however, American composers must write instructions in plain English.  Here's a fragment of a frantically-paced song that Eric D. Snider wrote in 1996 to lament the loss of his friend.  (In those days, BYU students were expected to start good Mormon families as soon as possible, replacing friends with fiancés.)  If you listen, during this arpeggio at 1:56 you'll hear Eric's tentativo imbarazzante.

 
MARCH 21, 2012 flashback    THE CRYING TOWEL

Tomorrow night in the regional semifinals of the NCAA basketball tournament, the Ohio State Buckeyes will face the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Way back in 1921, Ohio State lost to Cincinnati 33-17 in the sixth meeting of their series.  Since then, however, although the universities are only two hours apart, the Buckeyes have refused to schedule the Bearcats.  Therefore, aside from one neutral-court game in 2006, this will be the first time these two teams have met in half a century!  And that meeting fifty years ago was in the national championship game.

1962:  I remember the title game.  It was played at Freedom Hall in Louisville.  My parents and I lived just 40 miles from the Ohio State campus, so we were Buckeye fans, and we watched the telecast from a Columbus TV station that Saturday night.  When OSU lost, 71-59, of course we were disappointed.

But we had seen this fish before.  We weren’t as stunned as we had been the previous season, fifty-one years ago, when the same two teams also met in the national championship game!

1961:  The week before the Final Four, we watched the Mid-East Regional from Freedom Hall.  My recollection is that it wasn't televised nationally or even regionally, but the Columbus station that regularly aired Ohio State games (NBC affiliate WLWC, now WCMH) dispatched sports director Jimmy Crum to send the Buckeyes' two games back to Ohio on channel 4.  On Friday and Saturday nights, our heroes eliminated both hometown favorites, Louisville and Kentucky.

Now the Bucks had cruised into the title game in Kansas City ranked #1 with a perfect 27-0 record.  As the defending champions from 1960, they had a shot at a second straight NCAA crown.  The opponent would be Cincinnati.  We didn’t know much about the Bearcats — Ohio State hadn’t played its “in-state rival” for 40 years — except that Oscar Robertson (career 33.8 points per game) had graduated.

 
I experimented with taking Polaroid pictures of our TV set during basketball games.

Left:  Oscar Robertson’s pro team, the Cincinnati Royals, against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in a national telecast, Saturday afternoon, February 3, 1962.  (This was the 1925-1968 Garden, not the present building.)

The shot clock, which the NBA calls the 24-second clock, was not above the backboard as it is nowadays; it was on the corner of the hardwood, where both players and TV cameras could see it.  Walt Frazier claims that having the shot clock on the floor enabled him to make many of his steals.  When his opponent glanced over to the corner, Clyde would grab the ball.

In another sport, hockey scoreboards nowadays keep a count of each team's Shots On Goal.  Hockey people call this display a “shot clock,” though it has nothing to do with timekeeping.

Right: there’s no note on the photo, but I think this is from the local WLWC telecast of an Ohio State home game, probably that same night vs Northwestern.

When the NCAA national championship telecast came on the air on March 25, 1961, the announcers apologized because there were two unexpected teams on the floor.  In those days the title game was preceded by a consolation game between the other two Final Four teams, the winner receiving a third-place trophy.  Unfortunately, St. Joseph’s and Utah were in double overtime when we tuned in.  Then they went to a third overtime, then a fourth.  St. Joseph’s finally won the marathon 127-120, and the matchup we really wanted to see could finally begin, about an hour late.

The chronicles indicate the attendance was only 10,700.  OSU made 15 of 16 free throw attempts, the only miss being Larry Seigfried’s.  Jerry Lucas led the Buckeyes, as usual, with 27 points and 12 rebounds.  However, I don’t actually remember much about the game except the incredible outcome:

Ohio State lost.  For the first time in 33 games.  The score, in overtime, was 70-65.

It must have been about midnight by then, and we sadly switched off the Sylvania and went to bed.

Later in the newspapers we saw a photo of a sobbing Siegfried, a towel over his head.  And it was reported that “John Havlicek sat in his hotel room in his sweat-soaked uniform until 4:00 in the morning, unable to believe that the game was over” — as well as OSU's perfect season.

 

MARCH 18, 2022    REMEMBERING SLUSH SEASON

I don't want to sound like an old codger, but every winter here in the Pittsburgh area we used to get five or six feet of snowfall.

Salt trucks would drive up and down the streets spreading chemicals and cinders, and homeowners would spread salt on their sidewalks — all in an effort to melt the snow and ice.  But due to the cold temperatures, it wouldn't melt completely.  Pedestrians trying to cross a street would have to slosh through the dirty slush accumulated in the gutters.  Ah, wintertime in Pittsburgh!

In the spring of 2018, as the last of our five feet of snow was slushifying, local country singer Molly Alphabet wrote a seasonal tune.

In 2019, I heard her perform it on a local radio station, and it appeared on her album Broken Record.

I was planning to feature it on this website when the snow turned to slush in 2020, but we had less than two feet that year.

In 2021, I forgot.

Now it's 2022.  We got seven inches of snow last week that didn't melt until Monday, but then the thermometer reached 70º yesterday.  Nevertheless, I can't wait any longer.  It's time at long last for “Salted People.”

You can listen here.  I've added historical illustrations from various Pittsburgh Post-Gazette photographers.

Every year you get a little older.

Every year, until the year you don't.

I'll see you in summertime, God willing.

God ... He will, until He won't.

 

And it's springtime in Pittsburgh!

All the snow has turned to slush.

And the streets have never looked worse:

Full of potholes.  Salted sidewalks,

Salted people.

 

MARCH 15, 2012 flashback    THERMOMETER UP, MANOMETER DOWN

Warm weather has returned, and it’s doing wonders for my blood pressure!  True, my doctor has also made a small adjustment to my high-blood-pressure medication, but I think the real driving force is the temperature.  I’ve noticed for years that my BP tends to be lower in the summer. 

This is not a new medical breakthrough.  For example, a 1993 study in the United Kingdom of people aged 65 to 74 “showed that there was a fourfold increase in the proportion of subjects with blood pressures > 160/90 mmHg in winter compared with in summer.  Regression analysis revealed highly significant seasonal differences.  A 1 degree C decrease in living-room temperature was associated with a rise of 1.3 mmHg in systolic blood pressure.”

A 2008 study in three cities in France “found a strong correlation between blood pressure and outdoor temperature in a large sample of the elderly.  Average systolic blood pressure was 5 mmHg higher in winter than in summer.”

What’s the mechanism behind this seasonal effect?  The French think it might be related to sunlight and vitamin D.  Or perhaps people exercise more in warm weather.  I don’t think either explanation is particularly applicable to me; I’m an indoor cat, spending little time outside in any season.

Now I have numerical data of my own.  After my air conditioner started giving me trouble, I wrote down the indoor air temperature whenever I took a blood pressure reading.

Over the past year, I took 14 readings between mid-November and early March, while the furnace was warming my apartment to a steady 68 degrees.  Good news:  As a man of Northern European ancestry, I like it cool.  I feel alert and energetic and simply put on another sweater.  Bad news:  My average BP was 133.0 (minimum daily average systolic pressure).

During the same twelve-month period, I took 19 other readings when my air conditioner was struggling to keep the temperature in my apartment between 71° and 78°.  Bad news:  I don’t like it warm.  If the thermometer rises into the high seventies, I start to estivate, feeling sluggish and lethargic.  Good news:  When this torpor sets in, my blood pressure goes down.  My average BP was 121.7 — more than 11 mmHg lower.

What should I do next winter?  Maybe I should turn up the thermostat, thereby turning down my BP, even though I’m also turning up my fuel use and turning down my personal energy.

Or maybe I should just try to get more vitamin D.  More exercise?  Aside from shoveling snow, that’s out of the question.

 

MARCH 13, 2022    SUNRISE, SUNSET

When does Monday end?

According to ancient Jewish tradition, Monday ends at sundown.  That's when Tuesday begins.

However, as a practical matter, modern artificial lighting allows us to continue our Mondays well into the hours of darkness.  We eventually retire to bed, but Tuesday doesn't really begin for us until the alarm clock goes off at its customary hour.

Ben Franklin and others noted that we ought not to wait until a certain hour to get up.  Like the rooster, we should rise as soon as the sun does!  But no, in the summer we waste several hours of daylight by indolently remaining in bed until the clock reads 8:00 or whatever.  To solve the problem and to “save” an hour of that daylight for evening use, we could reset our alarms to an hour earlier.  But no, changing our routines would be too much trouble.  Instead, we reset our clocks to an hour later.

So when does one day officially become the next, at sunset or at dawn?  We've decided to split the difference.  For Gentiles, each new day begins neither at sunset nor at sunrise but halfway between, at the totally illogical time of midnight.  Thus the Tonight show starts on Monday night and ends an hour later on Tuesday “morning.”

If I were establishing a new civilization, I think I'd ditch the midnight concept and begin each day at dawn.  Also, I think I'd convert to metric time, dividing each day not into 1,440 minutes but into 1,000 millidays (MD).  This has been tried before, from French Revolutionary Time in 1793 to Swatch Internet Time in 1998, but the idea never caught on.

In my system, we'd set our alarm clocks to buzz at 000 MD when the sun rises.  Then they should read 250 MD at noon and 500 MD at sunset, right?  Twelve hours of daylight?

Not usually.  It depends on the season and your location.

Below are numbers for a couple of cities if we were to define their local sunrise as 6:00 AM or 000 MD.  The pie chart illustrates the Chicago times.

If you had a traditional “9:00-to-5:00” job, you'd have a generous three hours of daylight to get ready for work, which would begin at 125 MD and end at 458 MD.  After work, the Chicago chart shows that you'd have more than four hours of summer daylight remaining (even without “daylight saving”).  In the winter, unfortunately, the sunshine would quit two hours before you did.

A milliday equals 86.4 seconds, or almost 1½ minute.  However, the 990th through 999th millidays (just before dawn) would need to be adjusted according to the time of year.  For example, in late March when dawn arrives a little earlier every day, we'd have to reduce each of Honolulu's final ten millidays to 77.2 seconds; Chicago's, to only 69.7 seconds.  That way, their clocks could reach exactly 000 MD by the moment the sun comes up.  Clocks would need to know their geographical location in addition to the date.

And then, because in Omaha the sun doesn't rise until half an hour later than it does in Chicago, we'd have to reconsider the Central Standard Time zone et al.  Is this perhaps getting too complicated?

 

MARCH 11, 2022    WHAT COLOR'S UNDER THE FROSTING?

Not that I've been invited, but no, I will not attend your “gender reveal” party for your first child.

1)  It's just an excuse for you to be the center of attention at yet another big shindig, after the wedding reception but before the baby shower.

2)Whichever biological sex the prenatal testing indicates, your kid might grow up to adopt the opposite gender.

3) Chances are, you will eventually have children of both genders.

4)When the pink or blue is revealed, all your friends and relatives will excitedly celebrate as though their number has just been drawn in the lottery.  “Oh, a little girl?  That's so precious!”  “Oh, a little boy?  That's so wonderful!”  As they imagine the newborn bundle of joy, their reaction will be the same no matter whether it's pink or blue.  So it doesn't really matter, does it?

 

MARCH 8, 2012 flashback    COAL MINERS' STATUE

Pittsburgh Penguins hockey legend Mario Lemieux was honored yesterday with the unveiling of a large statue outside the Consol Energy Center.  Everyone had good things to say about Mario, but I must admit I don’t much care for the sculpture.

It depicts this thrilling instant from a game in 1988.  Lemieux has just “split” two Islanders defensemen by carrying the puck between them.  Now they're colliding with each other, and he's free to score a breakaway goal moments later.

Hockey is a kinetic sport, and a great play takes place over a span of at least a second, so it’s difficult to capture the essence of the play in a single still frame.  But in this color photo, it’s fairly easy to see what’s happening.

However, that’s not the case when the frozen frame is translated into 4,700 pounds of bronze.  The uniforms become featureless loose gray garments, and the faces take on the same tone.  If the lighting is just right, maybe you can make out the “66” on Mario's back.

The colorless scene reminds me of hard-working miners, covered in coal dust, ignoring each other, bent over their individual picks and shovels in a narrow passageway. 

Here’s my suggestion.  We’ve all seen the marble sculptures of ancient Greece and Rome, such as this bust of Caligula.

What many of us don’t realize is that before the paint wore off, the sculptures were originally in full color, as in the reproduction on the right.  Color makes them much more lifelike.

I think the Lemieux portion of the statue ought to be painted.   As it stands now, we see three men with their backs to each other.  It's hard to tell who they are supposed to be.  Their heads are down and they're struggling, all skating in different directions, poking at the ice with sticks.

Let's restore Mario's colors.  I’ve taken the liberty of demonstrating how this might look.

Wouldn’t it be better to see an instantly recognizable giant hockey player in front of the arena?

After all, there is precedent for painted Mario statues.

 

MARCH 7, 2012 flashback    GRANDMA MARY COMES TO ME

Some 40 years ago, I was living at home and working 15 miles away in Marion, Ohio.  Each morning when we woke up, our family would listen to the sound of Marion’s WMRN-AM, “the friendly neighbor station.”

The records they played were not so much the usual hits about lovesick teenagers.  More often, they were pop songs with an optimistic message.  My mother, who was almost 60 and sometimes brooded about her everyday troubles, must have found some of these lyrics especially evocative.

For example, in 1972 Johnny Nash had a #1 record with a bouncy reggae tune that WMRN played almost every morning, regardless of weather.

I can see clearly now!  The rain is gone.
I can see all obstacles in my way.
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind.
It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day.

I think I can make it now!  The pain is gone.
All of the bad feelings have disappeared.
Here is the rainbow I’ve been prayin’ for.
It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day.

Look all around!  There’s nothin’ but blue skies.
Look straight ahead!  Nothin’ but blue skies.

I can see clearly now!  The rain is gone.
I can see all obstacles in my way.
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day.

 

And then there was the following song, which must have reminded my mother of her grandmother.

Born in 1851, Mary Buckingham (left) lived until 1937 when my mother was 24.  When Ann Buckingham was growing into a young woman, she must have received much wise advice from Mary.  “Don’t worry about it; everything will work out in the end.”  And perhaps she still dreamed about her grandmother more than thirty years later.

The 1970 record begins with a solemn piano introduction, then a male singer backed by voices and a Hammond organ.  There's a guitar solo near the end, but otherwise it sounds very much like a hymn.

When I find myself in times of trouble,
Mother Mary comes to me,
Speaking words of wisdom:  “Let it be.”
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me,
Speaking words of wisdom:  “Let it be.”
Let it be, let it be.  Let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom:  “Let it be.”

And when the broken-hearted
People living in the world agree,
There will be an answer:  “Let it be.”
For though they may be parted,
There is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer:  “Let it be.”
Let it be, let it be.  Let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom:  “Let it be.”

And when the night is cloudy,
There is still a light that shines on me.
Shine until tomorrow, let it be.
I wake up to the sound of music.
Mother Mary comes to me,
Speaking words of wisdom:  “Let it be.”
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be.
There will be an answer:  “Let it be.”
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom:  “Let it be.”

My mother enjoyed listening to these calming words a number of times before she discovered that they were sung by that long-haired hippie rock band, the Beatles.

 

MARCH 4, 2022    MAKING QUALIFYING WATCHABLE

When I was a graphics operator on TBS telecasts of NASCAR races, there was at least one occasion when our TV crew covered not only the race itself but the qualifying session on the preceding day.  That occasion probably was at Charlotte on Saturday, May 26, 1990, the day before the Coca-Cola 600.  Each car in turn circled the track to earn its starting position for Sunday's big race.  Ken Schrader's speed of 173.963 miles per hour won the pole.

I must confess I always find the 600-mile main event somewhat boring, 4½ hours of going around and around with only a few out-of-the-ordinary moments of excitement.  But qualifying is even less interesting.  There's only one car at a time on the track, going once around followed by an announcement of its time.

Three decades later, graphics has come to the rescue.  Not the static titles that I had to type, but computer-generated displays relying on telemetry from the cars.

On this screen shot from Fontana last Saturday, the bottom half shows a live picture of Daniel Hemric's #16 negotiating Turn Three, while the top half depicts the same car in a virtual view.  The ghost car just ahead of it represents where Joey Logano's #22 was located during the same instant of his run.  Logano has posted the best time so far, and the computer image shows that Hemric is only a few feet behind that standard.  Viewers can imagine them dueling side by side and sometimes even overlapping.

Or viewers can watch the left side of the screen.  The top three cars to qualify so far are Logano, Denny Hamlin, and Alex Bowman, but if Hemric can keep up the pace for the remainder of his qualifying lap he'll move into second place, just 0.092 second behind Logano.  The yellow “16” slides up and down the blue bar to give an instantaneous indication of his likely position.

A new car takes its turn every minute.  And like a video game, this display provides enough to watch — including current speed and RPM plus throttle, brake, and steering wheel positions — to hold even my interest.  I'm just glad the computer does the work; I'd hate to have to type all that in real time.

 

MARCH 1, 2012 flashback    NO DOUBT ALLOWED

Here's movie critic Eric D. Snider, writing about “Johnny,” the cursed title character of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

He runs into Moreau, a priest from an obscure religious order, who says there's this boy who's been taken by bad guys, and if Johnny can save him, the Ghost Rider curse will be lifted.  Johnny ... is pleased to accept this task, though it's curious that he does not first ask for some verification that Moreau can actually deliver on his promise.

No, Eric, that's not curious at all.  When a religious leader makes a promise, people always believe him.  To seek a second opinion would betray a sinful lack of faith, would it not?

 

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