JANUARY 28, 2015 SCIENCE QUESTIONS
Mommy, you studied engineering. When I make a right turn on my bike, it leans to my right. When you make a right turn in your car, it leans to your left. Whats the difference?
When your bike turns right, you keep your balance by leaning into the turn. Inertia is trying to keep you going straight and seems to be pushing you > this way, so you lean and let gravity pull you < that way. But I can't bank my car, because it has four wheels on the ground. I have no way to offset what people call centrifugal force. Itll roll my car over onto its side if I take the corner too fast.
Oh. Another thing: I was looking at pictures of airplanes with propellers. All the way back to the Wright Brothers, the first props had two blades. Then they had three blades, four blades, and now even more. The engineers must have figured out that more blades are more efficient, right?
JANUARY 22, 2015 DON'T BELIEVE WHAT YOU HEAR
I keep hearing a radio commercial for a fancy local restaurant that has French pretensions. Sounds to me like theyre advertising their Winter Prefix dinner.
Thats nothing new; even the Bob Evans chain offers a 3-course dinner from a table d'hôte menu. I dont know about this $29.95 Winter Prefix, though. I think Id prefer the Summer Suffix.
But I digress.
JANUARY 16, 2015 THE TIMES
Tis the season to televise pucks and hoops. In my case in Pittsburgh, that means NHL hockey and college basketball.
One thing I like about hockey is that the game ends when its supposed to end. Unless an official blows a whistle, the action is nonstop. Substitutes enter while play continues. In the final minutes, a losing team cant delay the inexorable countdown. The coach can call a single timeout for a 30-second discussion at the bench, but only after the official has already stopped play.
In college basketball, however, each team can interrupt the action by calling five timeouts. The teams often use all ten opportunities. Also, late in the game, the trailing team can stop the clock another ten times or so by fouling an opponent. There seems to be a whistle every 1.9 seconds. Last month, blogger Bob Smizik reported, It took 14 minutes to play the final 34 seconds of the Pitt-St. Bonaventure game Saturday. There were no commercials during those 14 minutes.
If the game goes into overtime, another five minutes is put on the clock. I think thats longer than necessary, and three would suffice. (Five minutes used to be even more painful to watch before the NCAA adopted a shot clock in 1985. Back when I started, if a team got the lead in overtime and also got possession of the ball, theyd freeze it by standing there for the next four minutes until the trailing team was forced to foul.)
Televised college games are generally scheduled at two-hour intervals: the 7:00 game is followed by a 9:00 game on the same channel. Sometimes that works out, but often the 7:00 game drags on and on until 9:14. For those interested in the 9:00 matchup, nobody gets to see the introductory segment we TV types have lovingly produced (which frustrates us) and nobody gets to see the first several minutes of action (which frustrates the fans). I often think games should be scheduled 2½ hours apart so theres no overlap. However, that would create other problems, for the schools and for the networks bottom line.
The bottom line is all-important, of course. I read in the papers that ESPN is cutting costs by televising some college basketball without actually being present at the game.
The network does send half a dozen cameras and a few microphones, and they hire some local people to operate them. (However, local people like me miss out on our usual assignments for graphics, switching, tape replays, and the like.) The network may send a sideline reporter. Everyone else works out of the home office in Bristol, Connecticut. The pictures from the various cameras are transmitted back to ESPN, where a producer and director cut between them.
Graphics, replays, and other elements are created in Connecticut. Viewers dont care where that stuff originates, but they do assume that the announcers are actually witnessing the game in person. Theyre not.
There was also this comment: When the play-by-play announcer and analyst are at the game, There are things that happen, things you see, that happen out of camera range. For someone to think the quality of the broadcast is just as good, that's not possible.
Why do it like this? Travel has become more expensive and video bandwidth has become cheaper. It costs more to send a dozen highly-paid people to a college town for a day than it costs to transmit half a dozen camera signals across the country for a few hours. The times are moving on. (As are the times required to play a game.)
JANUARY 11, 2015 MAGENTA WORLD
JANUARY 5, 2015 GOOGLE ME
In the early days of Internet search engines, users vied to find a phrase that returned one and only one hit.
Ive done it! If you take the last two words of my post from New Years Day (enclosed in quotes to specify that the words have to appear consecutively) and Google that phrase, you get a single result. Im the only one in the world whos ever put those words together!
A sports headline told me the Panthers are playing the Cardinals today.
Are the Pitt Panthers kicking off against the Louisville Cardinals in another of those bowls? Or are the Florida Panthers skating into the St. Louis Cardinals ballpark for another of those outdoor hockey games? No, this is the National Football League, so its the Carolina Panthers against the Arizona Cardinals.
We need more uniqueness among nicknames. Coelacanths, anybody?
JANUARY 1, 2015 FOUR-LETTER MNEMONIC
DECEMBER 26, 2014 POINTS FOR KRE'8'IFFYTEY
In televising college sports, I often encounter first names, or spellings of first names, that Ive never seen before.
For example, on womens basketball teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference, there are players named Aaliyah, Arica, Ataijah, Ayisa, Brielle, Chanelle, Chania, Cortnee, Daneesha, DeAshia, Emiah, Emilee, Emmonnie, Erykah, JaeLisa, Jassany, JKyra, Kaela, Kalia, Karima, Kelila, Keyanna, Keyona, Khadedra, LenNique, Lyneé, MaKayla, Markisha, Millesa, Myisha, Mykia, Necole, Nigia, Nylah, Oderah, Roddreka, Shakayla, Shakena, Shawnta, Shayra, and Xylina among others.
Their parents gave them their unusual monikers. When you have several kids and every other family on your block has several kids, you dont want them to bear tired old names like Erica. You need to invent something distinctive like Arica or Erykah.
I think sometimes parents, particularly African-American parents, choose random euphonic syllables and then concatenate them to form a musically pleasing combination. Or they use existing names that fit that pattern. In many cases, its the middle syllable thats accented, as in Natasha and Malia Obama.
Mormons from Utah, on the other hand, don't go for poetic-sounding neologisms. They prefer to show how orthographically unconventional they can be. They're too clever, say I. We almost had a President named for a baseball glove.
DECEMBER 22, 2014 MY ANSWERS
Idiocy: When an egg falls in the forest, does the chicken make a sound?
Theodicy: Life is nonsensical. It isn't fair. So is anyone writing the script?
DECEMBER 16, 2014 TOUCHING THE STATE
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) has 12 geographic divisions. Its strongest division for football has always been the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL), comprising nine counties around Pittsburgh. ROOT Sports Pittsburgh televises WPIAL football. This year we saw Central Valley three times.
For one of our telecasts, the producer wanted to highlight how often Whitehead was involved in the action. One of the statistics I was asked to keep track of was his touches.
I wasnt sure what qualified as a touch. First I tried to figure it out using the English language. On any play when Whitehead made contact with the pigskin, he should be credited with a touch.
If that were the definition, the center and the quarterback should get touches on every play. If the quarterback put the ball in Whiteheads hands but then pulled it back out to carry it himself, Whitehead should get a touch, albeit a very brief one. If he attempted to catch or intercept a pass but dropped it, at least he touched it. If someone fumbled and Whitehead tried to recover but batted the ball away, at least he touched it.
However, I learned that incomplete passes and the like dont count. Also, interceptions are defensive plays. So I began listing touches as only rushes, receptions, and returns. But no, I was reminded, punt returns and kickoff returns are special-teams plays. It came down to only offense: rushes and receptions.
When I got home, I tried to confirm this by looking up touch in a list of football terms. It wasnt there. It isnt a football stat. Its a fantasy football stat, which is why I wasnt familiar with it. And touches do equal rushes plus receptions.
Pennsylvania has four classes for football based on the size of a schools enrollment. This year, our WPIAL champions in all four classes went on to win twice more, in the PIAA quarterfinals and semifinals, thereby reaching their respective state title games. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettes Mike White, this was the eighth such clean sweep for the WPIAL since the PIAA playoffs started 26 years ago.
All four of these WPIAL representatives happen to be public high schools, where athletes are required to live in their schools geographic district. Their opponents in the finals the best of the other 11 divisions across the state included one public school and three Catholic. Parochial schools can recruit any students they want, including athletes who live many miles away. St. Josephs Prep, in Philadelphia, has out-of-state players from New Jersey and Delaware. Theres some debate about whether its fair to make public schools, with their recruitment restrictions, compete against private schools.
Last weekend in the PIAA championships, one WPIAL school (South Fayette in Class AA) was able to play against another public school like itself. The WPIAL team won. But in the other three classes, the WPIAL representatives were defeated by Bishop Guilfoyle, Archbishop Wood, and St. Josephs respectively.
In Class AAA, the Archbishops defense held Whitehead to 34 yards on 13 carries. Central Valley finished the season as a state runner-up with a 15-1 record. They almost touched the trophy.
DECEMBER 11, 2014 DRESSED ALL IN FUR
Is Eric a bearded piano player? Why, yes; yes, he is. But two months ago today, he revealed two other personal characteristics both of which are big parts of who I am, he says. Neither is his Defining Characteristic, but they may be surprising to some of his readers.
What are they? Click on Snidely Tweeting 3 if you dare!
DECEMBER 6, 2014 WAY UP HIGH, SUDDENLY HERE AM I
Watching NBC's production of Peter Pan got me thinking. I imagined I was a youngster attending a live stage performance, with no prior knowledge of what was about to happen.
The play starts a century ago in a conventional way, with characters conversing in English accents about domestic matters. Then a strange boy enters through a window and tells strange stories about his home in a strange place called Neverland.
DECEMBER 4, 2014 HIS WIFE WASN'T MRS. RUTABAGA
From 1943 to 1947, Jimmy Durante teamed with Garry Moore (the nose and the haircut) on a radio show which I never listened to, on account of not having been born yet. Jeff Kallmans account is here.
However, I do remember each of these stars from 1950s TV, Moore hosting Ive Got a Secret and Durante performing his chaotic vaudeville routine at an upright piano. Stop da music! hed shout at any interruption. Stop da music! Everybody wants ta get inta the act! Im surrounded by assassins! Its a catastastroke!
Also in the 1950s, we elementary-school kids performed Frosty the Snowman for our beaming parents. Loudly we sang out, in even rhythm.
That brings us up to yesterday. The omnipresent seasonal background music included Frosty as performed by Durante, who was actually a talented musician who had helped popularize ragtime jazz in New York City as far back as 1908. Having no choice but to listen, I appreciated that he knew how to phrase the snowman's song more meaningfully than we schoolchildren did, delaying the in.
Thumpity thump thump.
I also remember an aging Durante singing September Song in the 1960s. The days dwindle down to a precious few: September. November.
And the Schnozzola had a funny-sounding pet name for the first Mrs. Durante, who died on Valentines Day in 1943. Thereafter when he signed off his broadcasts he waved goodbye and said Good night, Mrs. Calabash . . . wherever you are.
DECEMBER 2, 2014 PETER PAN
Last holiday season, NBC aired a live broadcast of The Sound of Music. This year theyre doing Peter Pan. It airs Thursday.
Of course, there have been many other versions of Pan over the 110 years since J.M Barrie first wrote a play about Peters adventures in Neverland. I remember especially the 1953 Walt Disney movie.