Threads: The Nineties (2 of 2)
Sunday, October 11, 1992
Obviously, this is not "a postcard from London." I was in fact there for the WWF SummerSlam on pay-per-view. Went to London, did the wrestling show, came right back. Didn't have much time for anything else.
To be precise about it, as I generally am, in 81 hours beginning on the morning of August 27 I spent:
hours traveling between home and the London hotel;
In that one hour I took a brisk walk from the hotel (in Cromwell Road, Kensington). I passed a few landmarks: the Royal Albert Hall, the edge of Hyde Park, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. I got within sight of Harrod's, but unfortunately not of Big Ben. Maybe next time.
I hope there is a next time someday. The tiny slice of England I saw seemed very pleasant, and the people were civilized.
Of course, they have their economic problems; news stories kept referring to "redundancies" or layoffs. And prices were about twice as high as they should be; the numbers they quoted seemed about right until I reminded myself that they were quoting pounds, not dollars. But at least on this trip, I had to spend very few pounds. There wasn't time for shopping, and all our meals were catered.
Well, almost all. After the show the caterers had gone home, so the lighting guy Ferd and I went over to a concession stand next to the stadium and bought their last hot dog. Enclosed is the 20 pence change.
Back in this country, as I write this the Pirates are on the verge of losing their third straight National League Championship Series. I hope this doesn't sour the city on the team. "Why should we root for them in the regular season? Even if they win the division, they'll fold in the playoffs." But I'm a little out of touch with opinions about the Pirates, since our newspapers have been on strike for almost half a year now.
Baseball now being about over for the year, I'm working on the telecast of Pittsburgh's Columbus Day parade tomorrow (no Native American disruptions expected locally). Next weekend, I join Ann Crago and others for an auto race in Nashville.
And I've scheduled a return visit to Chyron School. You may recall that I'm an alumnus of the Class of '83, majoring in Model 4000. This course the first week in December will introduce me to the Infinit. Gotta keep up with the ever-changing technology.
Monday, November 23, 1992
Two FM stations in my area are identifying themselves to their listeners by using other stations' call letters.
WSHH in Pittsburgh and WWKS in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, refer to themselves as "Wish" and "Kiss" respectively. Each station uses its proper call letters for legal ID's on the hour. But several other times during the hour, between songs, they spell out the words W-I-S-H and K-I-S-S as though those were their call letters.
They aren't, of course. The real WISH is an Indianapolis TV, and the real KISS is a San Antonio FM. Granted, those cities are far enough from Pittsburgh that listener confusion is not a major problem.
But the long-established concept of identifying stations by a unique set of letters, already weakened by the widespread practice of substituting slogans like "Variety 96" whenever possible, has suffered another indignity: substituting another station's call sign. Is this prevarication to be permitted?
Friday, December 18, 1992
I'm writing this letter in the showroom of the local Oldsmobile dealership, as I wait for my car to be serviced. These notebook computers sometimes come in handy.
Much like the economy, life has been in a mild downturn lately, but now we're starting to see some optimistic signs.
All I have to worry about is getting to the airport or the arena a couple of times a week, and if someone else on the TV crew doesn't do her job, that's not really my problem. So I'm fortunate.
Apparently one way I've been dealing with what stress I have, which seems more like nervousness, is to grind my teeth while I'm asleep. I've never noticed myself doing this, of course. After all, I am asleep at the time. But the back teeth in my lower jaw have become worn down. So I'm in the process of having eight crowns put on. By the time I'm done, I'll have spend about a thousand dollars per tooth.
Earlier this month I had another major expenditure, a week-long trip to the Chyron Corporation factory on Long Island for instruction in their latest machine for television graphics, the Infinit. (They like to spell it iNFiNiT! but that's too hard to type, so I'll eschew the fanciness.) The Infinit makes noticeably better pictures than the older Chyron IV that I usually use; but it costs a great deal more, so most of the broadcasters that I work for don't own it yet. But the major networks have gone to it, ESPN will have it by about 1994, and the small networks and individual stations for which I usually work may follow eventually. So this training should be a good investment for the future.
At the moment, though, I don't have any Infinit work scheduled, just a couple of possibilities. And until recently, even my Chyron IV schedule had a lot of holes in it, there being no baseball telecasts at this time of year.
I'm not used to that much exercise. And we aren't used to that much snow around here, as the past several winters have been very mild.
But then things started to get better. Some more basketball games have been added to my schedule in cities I have not yet visited, cities with names like Normal and Evansville and Terre Haute.
So life is back to normal: some ups, some downs, a little drizzle. Season's greetings!
Wednesday, March 24, 1993
KDKA-TV is using a fairly complex Chyron system for baseball this year. It's designed to give the 4100 some of the advantages of the Infinit while still allowing speedy use by an operator who's had a chance to learn the complexities (usually me).
But now apparently you, dear reader, have been called in off the bench to operate this system. So let me try to explain the tricks.
First copy a message disk into Drive A. Our usual message disks are marked X, Y, and Z, and they represent the last three shows we've done (not necessarily in that order).
Also restore two MGM graphics to the hard drive, called MARCH*25 and PORCH*2.
There are two flavors of system disks: W-3 and W-4 are used when the Pirates are playing an opponent from the National League West, and E-3 and E-4 for the East. On each flavor, seven different font IDs each contain the large logo of an opponent.
Once your fonts are loaded, select Drive A and read 250, which sets your edges and reads the MGMs.
What you see on the screen is MARCH*25. It's the only MGM background you'll be using, you've just read it off the hard disk, and that should be the last time you'll have to do that. So there's no need for the waiting associated with "control-record-G."
MARCH*25 is manipulated in position, size, and color to produce the various backgrounds we need in the show. At the top is a diamond-and-shaded bar construction which will be used with most lower thirds. Below that are scattered tiny flickering grids, which will be magnified 4x for use.
Here are autodisplays to manipulate the MGM.
For example, try 35. The diamond bar is now at the bottom of the screen.
Try 36. A grid of nine rectangles has been magnified and placed center screen.
Try 37, 38, and 39 as well. Each of these is used with various forms of scoreboard.
But the colors aren't right. Here's where we use the Palette Animation autodisplays, which call up the proper "frames" from PORCH*2.
Now read 17. The black bar now does reach the bottom of safe area, and two rows of text can go on it.
In a worst case, in addition to calling up the appropriate text you'll have to use all three levels of MGM manipulation. For example, 125 is the text for the players remaining on the Pirates bench. 36 postions the MGM, 27 colorizes it for seven green bars, and 1 makes it visible.
But that's a worst case. Most of the show is less complicated, and certain autodisplays called "beta calls" perform all of these functions at once.
Most information about individual players goes into a full-screen "file," stored at address 1PN0, where PN is a two-digit player number. For Pirates with uniform numbers under 60, the PN matches the uniform number. Opponents have PNs from 60 to 99.
Autodisplays called "getters" simplify the manipulation of these files. The notation ^ denotes an autodisplay that expects a PN.
For example, 5^ waits for two keystrokes for the PN, erases the screen, calls up address 1PN0, and positions the cursor to update the batting average.
Among the "getters," autodisplays 11^ through 13^ produce lower thirds for various situations. In the case of 11^, you're asked for the player number and then for a third digit, also on the address keypad, to indicate the position at which the substitute is entering the game (for example, 6 for shortstop).
Beta call 89^ gives the pitcher's stats with a fade down/fade up effect [shown above]. It's all automatic, including the MGM part.
Saturday, May 22, 1993
While you've been not driving, I've been traveling all over. Baseball season started in April, and pro basketball and hockey moved into their post-season playoffs, so there's been lots of work for an electronic graphics operator who doesn't mind being away from home.
On the day your shoulder became sore, I was on my way to San Diego. I spent nearly a week in California doing baseball, then eight days back home doing four baseball games and two hockey. Then I went to Atlanta for one baseball game, from there to Houston for three more, and from there to Los Angeles for two NBA games. A baseball game in Pittsburgh on May 8 was followed by four games in Chicago (two NBA, two baseball) and an NBA game in Cleveland May 17. Over 36 days, I worked 21 events, spent six other days traveling and five off days between events, and had just four free days at home to take care of such chores as laundry and picking up my mail. That mail included your letter of May 10, which is why it's taken me nearly two weeks to reply.
As you probably heard in one of Mr. Weinstock's physics classes, the British pronounce the last letter of the alphabet as "zed." We, of course, call it "zee." This set me to thinking.
The names of the letters were apparently chosen arbitrarily, or at least under several different procedures. Most consonants are named by taking the consonant sound and adding a vowel, but which vowel? And before or after? The letters we call "dee" and "eff" could just as logically have been "edd" and "fee." And this rule was not followed at all in naming "wigh" and "dubbulyoo."
Well, if the names of the letters are arbitrary, why not change some of them? Let's do it in a way that gives the alphabet a 26-syllable metrical structure, including a rhyming pattern. Children could learn such a poem more easily than that silly "ABCDEFG" song.
During last year's election campaign, a "return to traditional values" was much touted, especially for "urban areas." In particular, this meant that the family unit should be a mother, a father, and their children, all living in one house. But whose tradition does this represent? European farmers? Isn't it possible that other ethnic groups, in particular hunter-gatherers such as the Plains Indians, had other traditions? Maybe the children were raised by their mothers and grandmothers while the menfolk spent much time away from the village waging war, hunting food, and so on. Might this have been the tradition for some African families? Then whites kidnapped the Africans, abolished family life by enslaving them for a couple of centuries, and made them second-class citizens for another hundred years. Isn't it being Eurocentric to expect their family traditions to nevertheless match those of Europeans?
Anyway, I'll be getting myself aboard a plane tomorrow for a two-day trip to Baltimore. Then it's three games in Pittsburgh before I set off next Sunday for Denver, San Francisco, Miami, and St. Louis (11 games in 16 days).
I think you've been here before; this was my first trip. We had a day off today between our telecasts from Denver and San Francisco, so four of us from the Pittsburgh TV crew drove the Trail Ridge Road. We saw moose, elk, bighorn sheep, numerous chipmunks, and other fauna, and reached 12,304 feet the last 200 on foot (puff, puff) on a path over the still-partly-snow-covered tundra, as a little graupel began to fall from the rapidly-changing sky.
Monday, June 14, 1993
As I continue to travel around the country with the Pirates, I've caught up with your May 27 letter inquiring about accommodations for Thursday evening, August 5. Unfortunately, at that time I'll be en route from Chicago to New York, so you'd not find me at home. That's probably just as well. My apartment is sized for one, not six, and setting up your tent on the sidewalk probably would not be practical.
Monday, December 20, 1993
I don't blame you for letting the Macintosh print out your holiday notes, so that you had to write them only once. Putting 1993 on one sheet of paper makes it sound like quite a year, indeed.
As a non-medical person, I get a little uncomfortable hearing about all this pain; I like to forget that such things happen, so that I can pretend that nothing similar will ever befall me.
That goes for the resignation, as well. For 17 years I was an employee; in the background there was always a fear that my boss, for whatever reason, could make a decision that would adversely affect me. Now for six years I've been self-employed, working for a number of different clients. Of course, I could still have a falling-out with one client, or another could have to cut back on expenses; but no one boss has total control of my livelihood.
We like to believe we're invulnerable. We know better, of course, which is why we take precautions; but we can't spend all our time worrying about the various parts of our bodies that might break or swell or otherwise malfunction. So we believe that everything's going to be just fine, although we know that there's a chance something will go wrong.
A recent example: a PBS documentary on "facilitated communication." Facilitators earn their living by showing parents that if they hold their autistic child's hand, the child's finger can be made to point to letters which spell out meaningful words. The parents are thrilled to tears. They have always wanted to believe that their child, this miniature of themselves, does think and feel like any normal child but is unable to express those thoughts due to something like insufficient muscle control. So when they hold their child's hand and the child's finger spells out "I love you, Mommy" or even writes a poem, nothing can shake their belief that these thoughts do come from the youngster. But in reality, it's the "helper" whose eyes are on the letter-board, while the autistic child looks blankly in another direction. If different objects are shown to helper and child, it's the name of the helper's object that the child's finger spells out. As with a Ouija board, it appears that the helper is guiding the pointer without even being aware of doing so. Yet the parents desperately believe that this is not so.
[See also this letter.]
When you were in Pittsburgh last summer, you may have noticed our local family restaurant chain, Eat 'N Park. (These restaurants were originally drive-ins with carhops; they were going to call them Park & Eat, but that name had already been taken.) Eat 'N Park has been running a certain commercial at Christmas time for probably 20 years now. It's a simple 30-second piece of animation, but it's a local classic. Although it could be understood as a theological parable, it's more of an inspiring little fable.
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