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ArchiveJANUARY 2024

 

JANUARY 31, 2024   I KNOW THAT PLACE

Last week a small TV truck and a trailer and a generator were backed up to the open gym door of the high school that's located six blocks up the street from my apartment.  They were there to telecast the Hampton at Highlands basketball game live on WPNT-TV, the Pittsburgh CW affiliate that calls itself “22 The Point.”  As it turned out, Hampton won by two points in overtime.

High-school games require much less broadcast equipment than NBA games.  I know, because I've covered events from this very gymnasium — not on a real major-market TV station but on our local Cable TV-3, using a single camera.

This article includes pictures from that era.  In the intervening 40 years, Joe Falsetti and Bob Tatrn have passed away and Bob Rowe and I have retired.  But the youngsters, Rick Rhodes and Mike Weaver, are still in the business of broadcasting sports, now on a higher level.

 

JANUARY 30, 2024   SPECIAL DELIVERY

“Parcel Post” began in the United States on January 1, 1913.  It was an instant success, leading to the rise of the mail-order industry.

In southern Ohio, towards the end of that month, a couple of Beagles took advantage of the new Post Office service.  They swaddled their son, addressed him, affixed 15 cents in stamps, and handed the baby to their friendly rural mail carrier to be delivered to nearby relatives for a visit.

The newspaper item on the right (minus the cartoon) was published one hundred eleven years ago this week.

The day before, my future mother had been born in southern Ohio.  I don't think she was ever mailed anywhere!

However, if you click the item you'll discover additional clippings.  An eight-year-old girl from Germany once arrived at the New Lexington, Ohio, post office.


Other children were mailed from California to Arizona and from Florida to Virginia.  This was controversial.  Sadly, in 1920 the Postmaster General ruled that the Post Office would no longer transport human parcels.

 

JANUARY 29, 2014 flashback    UP NORTH, Y’ALL CALL IT A BUBBLER

You may have seen this questionnaire about dialects that came out last month.  Because different regions use somewhat different terminology, you're asked which word or pronunciation you use for water fountains and other things, such as “lightning bug” versus “firefly.”

(I thought I might see “baloney” versus “jumbo.”  As a native Ohioan, I’d choose “baloney,” but when I moved to southwestern Pennsylvania I found a lot of locals calling bologna “jumbo.”  The local yinzers also said “gum band” instead of “rubber band,” which wasn’t a questionnaire option either.)

Each choice corresponds to a map, and when all the maps are added up, the program tells you where you’re from.  My most similar city seems to be Shreveport, Louisiana.  I must protest!  I talk nothing like Terry Bradshaw!

The map does get it partly right, however.  My parents both came from reddish-orange areas.  I went to school in the orange, and I now live in the amber.

 

JANUARY 26, 2024   80% OF THE CHILDREN ARE ABOVE AVERAGE

The world of higher education is fretting about an epidemic of grade inflation.  The New York Times reports that of the grades given to Yale undergraduates last academic year, nearly 80 percent were A's or A minuses.  The mean grade point average was a remarkably good 3.7 out of 4.0 (which happened to be my GPA after my junior year at Oberlin).

“The findings have frustrated students, alumni and professors.  What does excellence mean, they wonder, if most students get the equivalent of ‘excellent’ in almost every class?”

Well, not every class.  In English, African American studies, and the humanities — softer subjects with no “wrong” responses — A's and A minuses actually represent more than 80% of Yale's grades.

But in mathematics, economics, and chemistry, the fraction is below 65%.  Why?  Those disciplines are more rigorous, and students are forced to come up with actual correct answers.

 

JANUARY 24, 2024   KEEP A TALLY

Last night I was puzzled by a minor basketball mystery.  While watching the Pitt-Georgia Tech game on ESPNU, I was listening to the familiar hometown announcers on 93.7 FM The Fan.  Bill Hillgrove, who has been broadcasting Pitt games on the radio since 1969, was doing his usual competent job.  But then I noticed that he was giving a different score than the TV screen was showing.  It was crediting Pitt with one more point than Bill was.

Surely he could see the scoreboards in the arena, as he frequently referenced the time and the shot clock and the team foul totals.  Were the arena scoreboards wrong, or was the TV graphic wrong?  In either case, someone should have noticed immediately and made a correction.  But this discrepancy continued for what seemed like ten minutes in real time, including a commercial break.

At one point color commentator Curtis Aiken mentioned a score that matched the TV screen.  Shortly afterward, I heard Bill say, “The Panthers lead twenty-one 18.  Twenty-two 18.”  He'd realized his mistake.

The only explanation I can imagine is that 55 years ago he began keeping his own scorebook, marking off each point on the appropriate team's page, and he'd seen no reason to change.  Out of habit, he must still read the score off his own trusty tally, ignoring the scoreboards.  And at some point he'd missed a point.

Broadcasters are capable of handling two tasks at once, you know.  I myself did double duty about 45 years ago on low-budget local cable TV.

At one high school game, I remember holding a clipboard while calling the play-by-play.  Each time a player took a shot, I wrote his number on a diagram of the court, circling it if the shot went in.  Thus I was able to quantify a Washington High School star's remarkable hot streak.  You see, there were no official monitors showing stats, so I was keeping a shot chart just as I had done when I was a team manager in high school.

And at one small-college game, our cameraman was late, so I operated the camera while calling the play-by-play.

 

JANUARY 23, 2024   LAMA SABACH-THANI?

As a college sophomore I wrote a cantata-like lyric.

In panic we cry out
to Him who created us
                    to help us.

But there is no reply.

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

Nevertheless (I continued),

When gladness has a chance,
         we cannot stifle it,            ,
for then we stifle life itself.

 

JANUARY 20, 2014 flashback    ZERO-SUM LOSERS

As a white person on this Martin Luther King Day, I pose this question:  If the Constitution’s “blessings of liberty” are extended to our fellow citizens, does that mean we must surrender those blessings ourselves?

Some Americans fear it means exactly that.  They think liberty is limited:  more freedom for you means less freedom for me, so the net sum of any changes is zero.

Most of these zero-summers are white Christians.  As the unchallenged majority, they’ve been accustomed to doing things their way.  Now that others can share their privileges, the zero-summers gripe and moan and selfishly complain that they're losing privileges.  They resent the intrusion of diverse cultures into the life they have always known.

When Americans try to respect even non-Christians by wishing customers “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” or by singing “Frosty the Snowman” in public schools instead of “Away in a Manger,” the zero-summers call it a War on Christmas.

When gays try to obtain the same benefits of matrimony that straights have long enjoyed, the zero-summers call it a War on Marriage.

When shooting survivors try to increase their safety by regulating handguns and assault weapons, the zero-summers claim they need unrestricted arsenals for their own safety.

When two Hebrew speakers in Wisconsin are thought to be conversing in Spanish, a zero-summer beats them up for not speaking English.

When blacks use affirmative-action programs to overcome longstanding bias against their race, the zero-summers call it reverse racism.

A 2011 research paper quantifies the latter situation.  Although those surveyed agreed that blacks in the 1950s and 1960s were very much the targets of racism, the whites in the study felt that the balance has now shifted and they are being persecuted for being white!  “By the 2000s, some 11% of Whites gave anti-White bias the maximum rating on our scale, in comparison with only 2% of Whites who did so for anti-Black bias.”  Co-author Dr. Samuel Sommers of Tufts University comments, “It’s a pretty surprising finding when you think of the wide range of disparities that still exist in society, most of which show black Americans with worse outcomes than whites in areas such as income, home ownership, health, and employment.”

Stop whining, paranoid zero-summers!  Life is not a zero-sum game.  When a door is opened to welcome Muslims and gays and Latinos and blacks, that does not mean a door has been slammed in your face.

The way to insure domestic tranquility is not to draw a circle that keeps the others out; it’s to draw a circle of love that takes them in — promoting the general welfare, for all of us.


JANUARY 18, 2014 flashback
UNCLES JIM

The PBS series Nova aired a documentary this week about Zeppelins.  Germany flew these hydrogen-filled dirigibles on night bombing missions over London a hundred years ago, during World War I.

Investigating the technology was Dr. Hugh Hunt, an engineer from England's Cambridge University.

The Cambridge man learned during his research that a part of the story involved his great-uncle James Buckingham.

Jim was a car manufacturer at the Buckingham Motor Company of Coventry.  As part of the war effort, he invented an incendiary machine-gun bullet.

We see it here in flight, photographed by a high-speed camera.  Spewing flaming phosphorus, it was designed to ignite the hydrogen in a dirigible's gas bags and bring it down.

But it didn't work at first.  The hydrogen couldn't burn because there was no oxygen in the gas bags.  So the Buckingham Bullet had to be fired alternately with an exploding bullet that could rip the fabric wide open.

Now it so happens that I too had an uncle named Jim Buckingham!  I've mentioned him on this website.  In the state of Ohio, he lived near Cambridge!  At the age of 15, he visited the crash site of a downed dirigible and brought back a piece of the fabric!  Then during World War II, he went to England to fly bombing missions over Germany as the armorer on a B-17!  Later, he sold cars for my father!

Could all of these connections be nothing more than mere coincidences?

Yes.  Yes, they could be mere coincidences, and yes, they are.

But I did learn a couple of other interesting facts from the show.

After hollow Buckingham Bullets were filled with phosphorus, the holes were sealed with a lead/tin alloy called solder.

The Brit who was explaining this pronounced the word, very properly, to rhyme with “bolder.”  Here in America, the L is silent and the word rhymes with “fodder.”  I know not why.

Football telecasts nowadays employ audio assistants on the sidelines to pick up distant sounds, such as a quarterback shouting “Omaha.”  They accomplish this with parabs.  These are microphones mounted in front of bowl-shaped parabolic reflectors, which focus and amplify the sound waves coming from one particular direction.

During World War I, the British needed advance warning of the nighttime approach of the Zeps across the North Sea.  But radar hadn’t been invented yet, so they built giant parabs out of concrete.  One of these “sound mirrors” still stands on the Yorkshire coast.

An operator positioned a pole, holding the horn of a giant stethoscope, to pick up the drone of Zeppelin engines 20 miles away.  The other end of the pole would point toward the source of the sound (red arrow).  The operator could even track the invisible airship across the dark sky.  Clever!

 

JANUARY 16, 2024   THANKFUL FOR SMALL FAVORS

This low this morning was nine degrees.  The forecast for tomorrow morning calls for a wind chill of five below.  But I won't be experiencing those temperatures.  I've resolved to stay inside my apartment, where I won't have to do a thing to remain comfortable night and day.

That's because the robots are on the job.  Namely, the little round device on my wall is instructing the gas furnace to maintain the living room at a constant 73°.

Kevin Flatley tweets, “When people complain too much about Frst World problems, I like to remind them of how fortunate they are to have a thermostat.  It may sound strange, but think of the luxury of making your home the exact temperature you want, compared to just a few decades ago.”

“A few” decades ago?  It was seven decades ago that my family rented this house on Hoskins Road east of Richwood, Ohio.  That's my father waving from the front walk, in more clement weather than today.

Our Craftsman-style home apparently was built in 1912.  It lacked modern amenities like insulation and storm windows.

Notice the brick chimney.  It wasn't for a fireplace, because we didn't have one.  No thermostat, either.  The chimney was for the coal furnace in the basement, which occasionally needed to be resupplied.   A driver would back his truck into our driveway, open the basement window, lower a chute (depicted here by a red arrow), and dump chunks of coal onto the basement floor.

On the main floor, a large grate set into the carpet allowed heated air to rise.  Looking down through the grate, we could sometimes observe the top of the furnace glowing red-hot.  That glow warmed the living and dining rooms, plus the nearby kichen and bathroom and guest bedroom for my grandmother.

My parents and I, telling each other it was “a good night for sleeping,” would retire to the otherwise unheated bedrooms on the upper floor and huddle under the quilts and blankets.  We had to make do with whatever warm air rose through this staircase.  (That is I at the organ.)

On frigid mornings, when the alarm went off, one of my parents would head downstairs to stoke the furnace so their little boy could get up to a somewhat warm house. 

Sometimes I was the one who had to descend two flights of stairs, open the iron door, and toss another few lumps onto the fire.  I shiver to recall it.

 

JANUARY 15, 2024   BK: I HAVE IT MY WAY AGAIN

When I moved to this town in 1980, there was a Burger King conveniently located just half a mile up the road.

Coincidentally, my high school friend Terry Rockhold was employed by Burger King at their home office in South Florida.  When I talked to him, I complained about my local BK franchise's leaky roof.  Rainwater must have gotten in and soaked the ceiling, because one day while I was dining there, I heard a big kerflop.  A damp piece of ceiling tile — a real whopper — had hit the floor nearby.  Terry could only shrug.  Franchisees, right?  What are you going to do?

That location later was torn down, and for years I had to drive farther if I craved a Whopper.  Finally, in September 2017, Burger King reopened in a newly constructed building.  The Valley News Dispatch reported that drive-through traffic was backed up along Freeport Road for the first few days.

Last fall, however, that business also went out of business.  There was little or no warning.  The sign out front became a big blank circle.

But now the doors are open again under new management!  That management happens to be the world's largest Burger King franchisee: Carrols Corporation, which operates over 1,000 Burger Kings and 55 Popeyes restaurants in 23 states.


Louis B. Ruediger, Tribune-Review

Carrols is headquartered in Syracuse, New York.  I was a graduate student in that city in 1969-70.

I often visited this shop at 133 Marshall Street, located a block and a half below Newhouse 1 — the building on the university campus where many of my classes met.

Yes, Carrols has served me hamburgers before!  


Herb Slotnick, who was the first guy to bring the modern version of “fast food” to Syracuse, recalled that “hamburgers were 15 cents, milkshakes were 15 cents, and French fries were a dime, so it was 40 cents for a meal.”

I think I usually splurged on the 65-cent Club Burger with Royal Dressing.

However, Mr. Slotnick couldn't keep up with the competition.  Therefore he cut a deal in the mid-1970s to transform his Carrols restaurants into Burger Kings.

And now my formerly hearty triple-decker appetite can't keep up with advancing age.  Therefore I cut a deal in the mid-2020s to transform my flame-grilled burger of choice into the Whopper Junior.  (Minus tomato, please.)

 

JANUARY 12, 2014 flashback    HER IS MUCH SMARTER THAN ELIZA

The movie HER opened this weekend.  According to Entertainment Weekly, it depicts “a recently divorced loner who falls in love with his phone's latest operating system. That the OS, which he calls Samantha, has the sultry, pack-a-day voice of Scarlett Johansson only heightens the case for why a man might fall for a piece of software.”

The fictional Samantha is an advancement over Apple’s personal-assistant application called Siri.  And Siri is an advancement over Eliza.

I remember Eliza.  She's a very simple computer program written half a century ago.  (The dream of communicating with an intelligent robot has been around a long time.)  In 1980, when I bought a Radio Shack TRS-80 home microcomputer, I keyed in a version written in BASIC.

When you run the program, you seem to be using a teletype to consult a psychologist.  You type in your complaints, and the shrink employs Rogerian therapy to help you understand them.  Often this consists of merely echoing your words, changing your first-person pronouns to second person, and asking “why” like an inquisitive little kid.  For example:

Hello, I am Eliza.
> Hi.  I am the walrus.
How long have you been the walrus?
> Since the Beatles sang about it.
Come, come, elucidate your thoughts.
> I tell you, I am now a large marine mammal.
Do you believe it is normal to be now a large marine mammal?
> Most people are not.
Say, do you have any psychological problems?
> I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.
Perhaps you would like to be he as I am you and we am all together?
> Yes!  We am in agreement.
I see.

You can be the walrus yourself at sites like this one.  But don’t be fooled.  You are not actually communicating with a human being.  Do not fall in love.

 

JANUARY 10, 2024   LET'S PLAY FOR THREE!

I have one weekend's experience with telecasting women's hockey.  It was nearly 23 years ago.  I was the graphics operator for three collegiate games in Minneapolis, the inaugural NCAA Women's Frozen Four, in March of 2001.

But now there's a new Professional Women's Hockey League, which began competition on New Year's Day with six teams:  Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Minnesota, Boston and New York.

The PWHL was organized in only six months.  One decision was to base their standings on a 3-2-1-0 point system.  That differs from the more famous men's professional circuit, the National Hockey League.

When the NHL was founded in 1917, it consisted of four teams from one nation, namely Canada.  The standings were arranged so that each game was worth two points to the winner, none to the loser.

If the 60 minutes of regulation time expired and the teams were tied with the same number of goals, the two points were divided equally:  one for each team.

But ties are unsatisfying.  It wasn't long until the NHL began resolving them by playing extra periods (overtimes and eventually shootouts).

If one team decided the issue in extra time, a third point was awarded starting in 1999.  The eventual winner claimed that point, giving it a total of two.  The eventual loser kept the one point it had earned by tying the game in regulation, which became known as the “loser point.”

The PWHL has a better idea:  award three points for every game.  In most cases, the winning team gets all three and the losing team none, but in overtime or shootout games, the points are split two and one as in the NHL.

On New Year's Day, PWHL executive Jayna Hefford told Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, “I think most all believe that a regulation win is worth more than an overtime/shootout win.”

LeBrun has written many times on this topic.  “Part of the explanation I got over the years,” he says, “is that the league feared three-point wins in regulation would create too big of a gap in the standings and some teams would be completely out of it by Christmas.  I never believed that would be the case.  Three points for a 60-minute win would better compensate the better teams in the NHL and let the cream more accurately rise to the top.  Forever, I've argued to go to a 3-2-1-0 points system, and now the PWHL has wisely adopted just that.  Good on the PWHL!”

The next day, I had some free time to play with a spreadsheet and decided to apply the two scoring systems to the current standings in the NHL's Metropolitan Division.

As it turns out, the same two teams rise, with the New York Rangers in first place and the Carolina Hurricanes second.  Their separation is essentially the same:  compared to the Rangers' point totals, the Hurricanes are approximately 85% of the way from the top.

However, as predicted, the Columbus Blue Jackets would be completely out of it by now.  The last-place team has 63% of the leader's points in the NHL but would have only 48% in the PWHL.

There are some other differences under the PWHL system.  With three more regulation wins than its pursuers, Carolina would open up some distance from them, four points rather than one.  Likewise, regulation wins would boost New Jersey from a lower clump of contenders to a higher clump.

Under the current system, do NHL teams play it safe in the closing minutes of a tied game?  They know that if the game remains tied, they'll get a point, after which they can take more risks and go for a second point in overtime.  But as Ian Mendes mused for The Athletic yesterday, “if the possibility of a three-point swing exists during a regulation-time victory, perhaps teams would be more aggressive in their tactics and strategy toward the end of a tied game in regulation.”

Will the National Hockey League change its ways?  Don't hold your breath.

 

JANUARY 7, 2024   WE HAVE TO ... UH ... BE BETTER

As 2023 drew to a close, the men's basketball team from the University of Pittsburgh paid a visit to my grad-school alma mater, Syracuse University.  Pitt lost.  They committed 15 turnovers and shot only 46% — from the foul line.

After the game, coach Jeff Capel was asked about missing 13 of 24 free throws.  What was his response?  “We have to make them.  It's nothing that I can do or any coach can do.  We can practice them, which we do.  We have to be able to have the necessary strength to step up and make free throws in situations that extend the lead, to cut into a lead, to stop a run, things like that.” 

What could be learned from the loss?  Noah Hiles of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette gathered quotes from Capel and from forward William Jeffress, who mostly parroted his mentor.  Hiles noted that they had “no shortage of takeaways.”

 Capel:

 Jeffress:

 We have to be stronger. 

 We have to be tougher.

 We have to be able to be resilient
 collectively as a group.

 We have to be more resilient.

 We have to value the basketball more.

 We have to pay more attention to detail.

 We have to defend every possession.
 And we have to finish possessions.
-

 We have to make free throws
 and limit turnovers.

Are there specific tactical changes they have to make?  It doesn't sound like it.  The team leaders sound like politicians criticizing the deficit without offering a workable solution.

 

JANUARY 5, 2014 flashback    EIGHT O'CLOCK MANEUVERS

When I’m driving my red car in the right lane, dutifully observing the speed limit, I don't want to swerve into the left lane and cut off a speeder who's overtaking me.  I keep a close eye on my mirrors.

The inside mirror shows me traffic that’s at 6:00 from my perspective, such as the green car.

Some people also adjust their left outside mirror to show them 6:00, but I know the mirror should be angled out to see the “blind spot” at 7:00, such as the gold car.

For me, 8:00 is also a blind spot.  As I grow older, I can’t turn my head as easily to look in that direction.  However, when the blue car approaches 9:00 I can still see its rear in my left outside mirror, and I can see its front with my peripheral vision.

That 8:00 blind spot sometimes comes into play if I’m trying to merge onto a highway from a short but “helpfully” angled ramp.  I’ve developed a couple of little S-shaped tricks to compensate.

Here, as I approach the intersection from the southwest, I can’t see the heavy traffic approaching from the west because it’s at my 8:00.

So I turn sharper than necessary, deviating from the painted lane and taking to the shoulder (A).  With my car at the same angle as the approaching traffic, I can see it in my mirror at my 7:00, and I can wait for a chance to merge.

In the second example, as I approach from the northwest I can’t see the traffic coming from the northeast.

Again I take to the shoulder briefly (B) and then turn towards my left, coming to a stop at a proper 90° angle to the main road.  Then I can look to the left and check my 9:00 before continuing with my right turn.

 

JANUARY 2, 2024
H.S. MUSICALS

When your friends and family are on stage in a big production, you can't wait to see the Musical Tonight!

My latest article looks back at Richwood High School 1961-65 (with black-and-white photos) and at Freeport High School 2023 (with a link to Freeport's video).

 

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