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ArchiveOCTOBER 2022

 

OCTOBER 30, 2022
THREESCORE FOR FOURSCORE

Thirty-three years ago on this
weekend, more than 60 of my father's
friends gathered for a surprise party
in Richwood, Ohio, to celebrate his
80th birthday.

My aunt and uncle from Kentucky were there, and so was I from Pennsylvania.  It was quite an afternoon!

The picture story is this month's 100 Moons article.

To read more, click this box for a classic article I posted to this website more than a hundred months ago.

 

OCTOBER 29, 2022    MEMPHIS NEEDS PA. RAIN

The Mississippi River is shrinking.  This week, it dropped to 10.81 feet below the historical average at Memphis, Tennessee.  That's a new record low.

Tom Russell of Russell Marine Group reported that towboats are moving slowly everywhere, usually one-way traffic operating during daylight hours only.  Barge capacities have been limited to about 70% of normal.  “The ability to navigate tows is literally determined on a day-to-day basis,” said Russell.  “The system needs 40-60 days of usual rainfall to replenish.  At this point every little bit will certainly help.”

Where is the water supposed to come from?  Mike Connell writes, “If you travel upriver from New Orleans and always take the largest branch (as measured by average flow), you eventually reach Potter County, Pa., in the far northeast of your map.  It is the fountainhead of the continent.”

That fountainhead is a place called Cobb Hill.  It's the source of the Allegheny River, the water of which flows within 3,700 feet of my apartment on its way to the Ohio and then to the Mississippi.

Moral: we need more rain up here in Pennsylvania!  (And elsewhere.)


 
OCTOBER 27, 2012 flashback    AIMING FOR THE HORIZON

It was the spring on the plains of Union County, Ohio, back in the early Sixties.  As managers for the school’s track and field team, David and I were preparing the high jump.  Was the crossbar level?  The two standards that supported either end — were they adjusted to the same height?  I sighted from the top of one to the top of the other and observed that the horizon was directly behind the far top.  Yes, they were the same height.  I was quite proud of my clever surveying.

Flash forward fifty years.  There was not a cloud in the sky this past Thursday afternoon.  It was about 12:45, and our TV crew was setting up for a high school football game, due to kick off shortly after 7:00.

Where should we put our on-field cameras?  Sometime after 6:00, we would be taping our announcers on the sideline for the first segment of the show.  We were concerned about the lighting.  We didn’t want the setting sun to be directly behind them.

So which way was west?  A couple of the guys pointed to a hill looming behind the pressbox.  The hill would block the sunset from our view, and there would be no problem.

That didn’t seem right to me.  I had seen an aerial view of the field, and I thought west was on the opposite side.  It was time for some cogitation.

“We’re on daylight time,” I said, “which means that the actual sun time is not 12:45 but closer to 11:45, almost high noon.  At noon, shadows point north.  Look at the shadow of the goalposts.  North is over that way, so south is back this way behind the hill, and west is over there.

“But it’s late October.  At this time of year the sun is lower in the sky, and it doesn’t actually set in the west.  More like west-southwest.  That way.”  I pointed at the horizon.  “I say the sun will set just to the left of that cell phone tower.”

The others weren’t convinced, but as the afternoon wore on, the sun dutifully arced across the sky toward the place I had pointed out.  And it set just to the left of the cell phone tower!

I felt like Christopher Columbus predicting a lunar eclipse to the Jamaicans.  My friends were impressed.  They’ll never doubt me again.  It feels good to be right.  And it feels good to see a scientifically-derived prediction confirmed.  Science rules!

 

OCTOBER 24, 2022    MUSICAL U-8 CHAIRS

Here's an inquiry I'd never before heard posed to restaurant customers:  “Is everyone still in the same seat as when they ordered?”

And the answer was a unanimous “no!”

The diners were the members of an under-eight-year-old hockey team, the Pittsburgh Yetis.  These noisy first-graders were hopping about at the kids' table.

At the adjoining adults' table sat an equal number of coaches and chaperones, contributing their own yakking to the general ruckus.

The waitress had noted the boys' seating locations while writing down their orders.  But then later, the manager tried to help by delivering a number of plates of food.  Perceiving that the hyperactive kids were unlikely to have stayed put for the last ten minutes, he wisely asked the question.

Fortunately, the waitress returned and straightened everything out.

 

OCTOBER 22, 2022    YOU'RE ONLY A SINGLE VOICE

Usually I'm unfamiliar with the candidates for the state legislature, so I do my own research.  I'm looking for an intelligent person, familiar with the workings of government and willing to examine fairly any policy questions that arise.  I'm looking for someone I can trust to make a wise decision on the merits of each case.  I'm looking for someone whose integrity is respected by all, like George Washington.

However, politics is polarized nowadays.  The only candidates able to win nomination from their party are those who have decided the issues in advance, and nothing will change their minds!  One party mostly supports the positions I agree with, while the other is opposed.  Therefore, this year's research was cursory.  I simply voted for candidates from my favored party and mailed in my ballot.  I hope my choices will end up in the majority, allowing them to enact measures I endorse.

(That's still better than the British system.  As I understand it, due mostly to the Brexit campaign, the Conservative party currently has the most members of Parliament and gets to choose the Prime Minister.  Knowing this, rich folks become dues-paying Conservatives.  Those 172,000 dues payers, comprising just 0.2% of the population of Great Britain, are the only ones who are allowed to vote when the new Prime Minister is chosen.  It's not surprising that they pick someone who would drastically cut taxes on the rich and thereby crash the economy.)     

One person's vote may not make a difference, but at least you can tell yourself you made an effort.

Mark Evanier, who lives in the Democratic stronghold of Southern California, recalls when a Republican campaign worker knocked on his door.  “She admitted her efforts wouldn't change the outcome but explained, ‘I just couldn't sit and do nothing.’  In other words, she was standing on my welcome mat, not so much for the nation's benefit as her own ... and y'know, I could almost respect that.  She's not going to swing the election but she might make herself feel a little better for having tried.”

Also, though you can tell yourself you made an effort to change your organization's financial choices, that may not make a difference.

Like most institutions, Oberlin College has invested its endowment in stocks of various corporations including oil companies.  Recently, activists from the Class of 1968 have been urging the college to get rid of those particular stocks, for the good of the planet.  Robert Baker writes, “Oberlin should not be making money from fossil fuels!  That's why I divested my personal shares in Exxon and Chevron.  Those earnings can be made elsewhere.”  But John Henretta counters, “It is much more effective to stop using fossil fuels.  The College has made a major commitment in that direction with its geothermal project and similar actions.  As long as the oil companies are very profitable, divestment simply means changing private owners and has only weak symbolic effect.”

 

OCTOBER 19, 2022    WHO IS PLAYING WANT? AND RANDI

Pennsylvania's Lieutenant Governor, John Fetterman, is running for the U.S. Senate against former television presenter Dr. Mehmet Oz.  Unfortunately, Fetterman suffered an ischemic stroke four days before the primary election in May.  He's mostly recovered but still has an auditory processing problem.  Functionally, he's partially deaf; he can hear speech but has trouble interpreting it as words.  He says, “I sometimes will hear things in a way that's not perfectly clear.  By January, I'm going to be much better.  And Dr. Oz is still going to be a fraud.”  Of course, with the state of politics today, Oz commercials are likewise calling Fetterman a fraud.

In the meantime, when the two candidates meet for a televised debate next Tuesday, Fetterman will use a closed captioning system to read what his opponent and the moderators say.

This may or may not work smoothly.

The other day, I was idly watching and listening to one TV while searching on another for something more interesting.  I was channel-surfing with the sound off.  On the Pennsylvania Cable Network, I came across a PCN Tours documentary about an industrial facility downriver from Philadelphia.  It's where Braskem America makes polypropylene pellets, later to be turned into plastic products.  The pellets are loaded from silos into railroad cars.

An employee was describing what we were seeing.  However, the closed captioning was gibberish.  I rewound the DVR and saved the captions, a portion of which are shown on the right.  I don't know whether the fault lay with voice recognition software or an incompetent human transcriber, but the result didn't make a lot of sense.  Fragments seemed to come from sports or politics, so maybe there was some sort of crosstalk.

The captioning improved when the documentary's location shifted to the company's Innovation and Technology Center in Pittsburgh, where new products are developed.  Around here we always believe we do things better than Philadelphia.

  BEAT HIM DOWN THROUGH THE
  BOTTOM OF THE SILO INTO A
  SLIDER.
  WENT TO A SPREAD, THE FELLAS
  OUT FOR US. CROSS OFF HER CAR.
  THERE'S AN EXAMPLE OF ACTION
  SLINGER. IS THIS BATTLE?
  I FELT IT COMING DOWN WHEN
  TRUMP WILL FORCE THEM OUT OF
  THE WALLS OF THE TOP, OF
  COURSE, OF THE EVENLY
  THIS IS SIMILAR TO SPLATTER ALL
  WERE YOU? THE SPREAD WAS READ
  IN PART A LOT. JOHNSON.
  THEREFORE THE LOAD AND TO OFFER
  CAR. EARLY VOTING UP.
  O FOR 4 MONTHS BEFORE.
  WE MEET OUR TARGET AWAY.
  WHEN YOU PUT OUT YOUR COST
  WE PUT IT IN PERSPECTIVE.
  WE PRODUCED 12 IN THE TOP OF
  CARS A DAY.
  THE TOPIC ARE HOLDING UP UNTIL
  ROUGHLY 3 MILLION DIAPERS.
  WE'RE 5 MILLION CUPS. A LOT
  OF US ARE.
  WHO IS PLAYING WANT? AND RANDI

 

OCTOBER 16, 2022    ARE YOU TRYING TO GET ME FIRED?

Today is October 16, so it's Boss's Day!  Because this is Sunday, we can wait until tomorrow to pass out the "World's Best" mugs honoring good bosses — while holding our noses (and ears) and pretending that bad bosses don't exist. 

One Hollywood writer described a director on a power trip, “finding fault with perfectly fine performances just because he could.  The late Lennie Weinrib told me, ‘He's perpetually mad that he can't do what we can do, so he takes it out on us.’”

I recently exchanged emails with a different Hollywood writer, recalling another bad boss from San Diego whom we each had to endure.  Read about the infamous Cigarman and listen to a minute of his bad bossing.

 

OCTOBER 14, 2022    WHO ARE THESE GUYS?

I traveled to Pittsburgh Pirates away games from 1987 to 1993, working as a freelance graphics operator for KDKA-TV.

Somewhat to our surprise after the embarrassing 1985 season, the team actually improved to win the National League East in each of the first three years of the 1990s.  One day my producer and I, leaving our hotel, saw first baseman Sid Bream standing there looking for a taxi.  We gave him a ride to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

But when Sid's contract came up in 1990, he wanted more money than the Pirates were willing to pay, so he left for the Braves.  That was a bad sign.  His slide at home plate on this very night 30 years ago kept the Pirates from advancing to the 1992 World Series.

By the next spring, the Pirates had also lost Barry Bonds (right) and Doug Drabek.  Unable to afford stars like that, they never had another winning season for the next 20 years.

During that stretch, I noted that diehard fans continued to come to the games.  Our baseball players based in Pittsburgh may have been pathetic losers, but that didn't mean that all Pittsburghers were losers.

Now it's 2022.  In the just-concluded season, the Pirates were barely able to keep PNC Park's lights on.  Average attendance was 15,772, down 14% from three years before.  With a 62-100 record, the team suffered triple-digit losses for the second straight season, something that hadn't happened in 68 years. 

The fielders committed 121 errors, by far the most in the majors.  The hitters struck out a franchise-record 1,497 times (including 20 K's on September 18) while posting the National League's worst batting average (.222) and OPS (.655).  The pitchers fared only slightly better; their 4.66 ERA was fourth worst in the NL.



Rarely does a baseball game have a lopsided final score.  On the right I've histogrammed the winning margins of the Pirates' 62 victories, almost all of which were by at most +6 runs.  Just two were by a “touchdown” (+7 or more).  We refer to such easy wins as “laughers.”

But on the left I've graphed their 100 losses, of which 17 were by -7 runs or worse.  One loss was by three touchdowns: 21-0 to the Cubs on April 23.  Fifteen losses were by shutout.  The team wasn't good at many things, but they did excel in disheartening their fans.

 

In August, when the Red Sox paid a rare visit to Pittsburgh, Boston broadcaster Dennis Eckersley contemplated the unknown rookies on the field.  The average age of the hitters was 26.3; the pitchers were a year older, but both were the youngest in the National League.  During the season, 14 Pirates made their major-league debuts.  Only seven players on the roster have as much as three years service time, according to baseball-reference.com.  It's practically a minor-league ball club.  Any talented young players leave for good teams as soon as they can.  Eckersley portrayed Pittsburgh's perplexing pack of prospects as “a hodgepodge of nothingness.”

As they have for the past three decades, fans continue to criticize the club for not spending enough to sign and retain better talent.  Local writer Virginia Montanez rhetorically asked Pirates owner Bob Nutting, “Are you proud that the Pittsburgh Pirates have gone from ‘We Are Family’ to ‘a hodgepodge of nothingness’?  This is a team that no longer cares about baseball or winning this season, so much so that they've got cell phones flying out of their pockets during play or are taking breaks mid-play to root around in a bag of sunflower seeds.  Are you proud that we are laughed at?”

 

OCTOBER 11, 2022    DATSYUK DECIMAL SYSTEM

Suppose the Detroit Red Wings are visiting the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Wings have scored three times with the man advantage.  Is their power play always this effective on the road?  Your friendly TV graphics guy (who used to be me before I retired) could instantly display a panel comparing their home and road power play percentages.  I would have punched in 1009701 on my keyboard and pressed READ.

How do I know this?  I filed away my paperwork after each season, including a chart I prepared 16 years ago today.  The details are probably different now.  (You didn't think I did all the typing from scratch by myself, did you?  I might have implied that, because it was once the case.  Things change.)

Back then, a Los Angeles data firm called STATS LLC maintained a “STATS Graphics Library” for major sports like the National Hockey League.  Before each game we'd log onto the Internet and download the appropriate SGL file into our Chyron graphics machine.  Magically, there would then be hundreds of up-to-date stats already prepared for our telecast!  There were full pages and side-screen slabs and lower-third strips, all designed for the “look” of our particular network, Fox Sports Net. 

At the start of each season STATS published a booklet listing four-digit codes for the various statistical categories that they'd be following.  But it ran to more than a dozen pages — very difficult to flip through during fast-paced in-game action.  And the labels were repetitive, as you can see here.

The only shortcut they provided was a note that the four digits should be preceded by 100 for the road team, 200 for the home team, 300 for a full-screen list (including other teams), and 400 for a smaller slab.

Realizing that further compression was possible, as was my wont I abbreviated the whole thing into a single page that I could print and post near my keyboard.

That's an image of the page on the left, and the upper right corner of it on the right.  But let's take a closer look at the upper left corner, shown below.

Suppose that Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit (road = 100), the player wearing #13 (XX = 13), has been sent to the penalty box twice tonight.  What are his totals for this season, including not only Goals and Assists but also Penalties In Minutes?  1001314.

Oh, you want it to include his Games Played, for comparison?  Good idea, since he's been out with an injury; make it 1001316.  Now you want it to describe his entire career1001306.  But only against the Pens1001346.

That's all encoded in this section of my chart, along with the 1009701 that I mentioned earlier.

Ah, the memories of telecasts gone by ... when such facts, often of little significance, were easily accessible at my fingertips.     

 

OCTOBER 8, 2012 flashback    WISHBONE DETOUR

Road construction projects around here often force the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to temporarily close one of a highway’s lanes, forcing two lanes of traffic to merge into one.  I’m glad to see that the orange signs they post in such cases, USE BOTH LANES TO MERGE POINT followed by MERGE HERE / TAKE YOUR TURN, are gaining wider acceptance.

Seven years ago, I praised them in this note.  Today, Jon Schmitz reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Several studies have determined that the zipper merge, which was pioneered by PennDOT and now is used in several other states, improves traffic flow by 15 percent to 20 percent. That's nine to 12 minutes off of an hour-long delay.

Traffic engineers also say it improves safety and reduces the possibility of road rage incidents. When drivers merge too soon, one lane backs up and those in line grow frustrated with anyone using the open lane to get ahead of them. Some will even straddle both lanes to block those trying to advance, creating a volatile situation.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation notes that zipper merging also eliminates the speed differences between the two lanes, something that can be hazardous.

But hold on.  “That's nine to 12 minutes off of an hour-long delay”?  Do we really delay traffic by as much as an hour merely by closing one lane of a highway?

Around here we do, especially if the remaining lane of traffic then has to leave the highway and negotiate city streets and stop signs before getting back on.  This will be the case at the notorious inbound Squirrel Hill Tunnels for the next two weekends.  “At times it was up to two hours on the detour in the last two weekend closures,” PennDOT spokesman Jim Struzzi told the newspaper. “We definitely want people to consider alternate routes.”

Normally it’s about 15 miles west from Monroeville through the tunnels (a big red X this weekend) to downtown Pittsburgh.  One of the alternate routes being suggested seems outrageous:  29 miles northwest on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, then looping back to travel another 21 miles south via Interstates 79 and 279.  That 50-mile detour will take more than an hour to drive, “assuming no congestion along those routes.”

But one hour is better than two, and motorists won’t have to deal with bumper-to-bumper conditions.  Considering some of the construction delays we have to endure around here, the long detour is not really that outrageous.

 
OCTOBER 5, 2022    PERSONNEL NUMBERS?  TIME TRAVEL?

I've experienced confusion lately about NFL football.

I'm starting to hear of offenses employing “11 personnel.”  Of course, I reply; that's what the rulebook specifies.  There should be eleven players on offense:  five interior linemen, five eligible receivers, and one quarterback.

But then I hear about “10 personnel.”  We need to have another guy run out there, right?

And then I hear about 12, 13, 21, and 22 personnel!  Those would be blatantly illegal, right?  Too many men on the field?

No, it's been explained to me that the numbers should be understood as a pair of digits, shorthand for how many Running Backs and how many Tight Ends are in the formation.  Any of the five remaining eligible receivers not accounted for are “wideouts.”

RB

TE

WR

PURPOSE

1

1

 3

Balanced for run or pass

1

0

 4

Forcing the defense to spread out

1

2

 2

Power with a single running back

1

3

 1

One TE retreats and goes in motion

2

1

 2

NFL teams rarely use a fullback

2

2

 1

For short-yardage situations

Some defensive coaches use flip boards to signal what personnel the opposition has in the huddle — how many RBs and TEs — so that their defenders can deploy appropriately.

Okay, I guess I get it.  My old junior high school used 31 personnel in a “T formation.”

Now here's another problem.  My living room has three televisions that can show me a Pittsburgh Steelers football game.  But I prefer to listen to the familiar voices of the local radio announcing team.  Can I bring one of the TVs into synchronization with the radio?

A tackle is made at the goal line, though I'm not aware of it yet.  CBS sends the video to New York and then back to Pittsburgh.  KDKA-TV encodes it digitally and transmits it to my antenna, which feeds TV set #1 in high definition.  By the time my TV decodes the antenna's picture and shows it to me, the time is 13 seconds after the actual event (I'm guessing).

The radio station seems to be using a half-minute delay, so it's not until 17 seconds later that I hear Bill Hillgrove describing the event.

After another 12 seconds, cable television finally comes through, and TV set #2 shows me cable's SD (standard-definition) version of KDKA's picture.  After another eight seconds, TV set #3 does the same for the HD version.

I'd like to synchronize the audio with one of my three versions of the video.  However, my only time machine is the DVR in the cable box, and all it can do is further delay one of the cable versions (in orange).  That would only make the mismatch worse.                        

I'm trying to learn to close my eyes while listening to the radio description, then open my eyes to watch cable's HD version 20 seconds later — as if it's a replay of what actually happened almost a minute before.  Or I can watch the antenna version, then listen to the radio replay just before the antenna shows me the next snap.  Or I can give up and simply listen to the CBS announcers.  It doesn't really matter.  Either way, the Steelers usually lose.

 

OCTOBER 3, 2022    GOOD NEWS FROM NORTHERN OHIO

I attended a webinar this afternoon presented by three fellow alumni of Oberlin College & Conservatory:

Upper left:
George Preston '82
general manager of WFMT,
classical music in  Chicago

Upper right:
Robert Sims '88
lyric baritone specializing in spirituals

Lower center:
Charles Floyd '80
Grammy-winning conductor/
pianist/composer

They discussed the importance placed on African-American music as a beacon for freedom by two historic voices for emancipation:  Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass (be watching PBS tomorrow night and the following Tuesday).


Last month Oberlin welcomed the largest incoming class in the school's history, with 894 students enrolled!  (At one time or another there were 532 members of my own Class of 1969; 441 of us received diplomas.)  The applicant pool exceeded 10,000 — also the largest ever.
 

The Class of 2026 boasts an exceptional weighted-average GPA of 4.0.  The students represent 53 different countries and 42 states.  Two-thirds come from public high schools, 29% identify as students of color, 13% plan to participate on Oberlin's athletic teams, and 8% are the first in their family to attend a four-year college.

We don't call these new students “freshmen” anymore, because 58% are freshwomen.  The gender-neutral term is “first-year students.”  Most have enrolled in the College of Arts & Sciences (88%), while the remainder are entering the Conservatory.  There are 41 students in Oberlin's innovative Double Degree program, which could require a fifth year; for example, someone working towards both a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Music might be majoring in both environmental studies and violin.

Manuel Carballo, dean of admissions and financial aid, spoke to the new Obies.  “When we select a class, we look for students who will shine in and out of the classroom, who will challenge and support each other, and who, because of their unique experiences and backgrounds, will learn from each other and enrich our community, providing us the diversity of thought that is so special about the liberal arts experience.  We know you are up to the task.”

 

OCTOBER 1, 2022    HOLIDAYS

Some special days are deemed so very meaningful that their observance requires multiple days.

  A wedding day is usually preceded by many days of preparation known as “engagement,” during which gowns and cakes are procured and bridal showers and bachelor parties and rehearsal dinners take place.

  8  The second or third day of Tevet is preceded by seven additional days collectively known as Hanukkah.

 24  Christmas is preceded by Advent.  In churches, a candle is lit on each of the four Sundays after Thanksgiving.  In homes, on each of the first 24 days of December a child opens a little door on an “advent calendar” to reveal a tiny present.

 40  Easter is preceded by 40 days of Lent.

 45  And the most anticipated holiday of all — Hallowe'en or All Hallows' Evening, the last night of October — now is observed throughout the month and even earlier. 

 

On my neighborhood's Broadview Boulevard, ghosts and giant purple spiders and pumpkins began stacking up over a week ago.

All this anticipation could be getting out of hand.  As I recall, we started to look forward to Election Day 2024 some four years in advance!

 

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