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T. Buckingham Thomas:  A Personal Website


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84 Killed in Latest Violent Outbreak

A newspaper could print those tragic headlines every day.  Those are the average daily U.S. gun violence statistics, according to this from Tom Begnal.

That’s a major reason I don’t share some people’s love of firearms.  Another reason:  I’ve watched nature documentaries on TV.  They celebrate the lives of the wildlife with which we share the planet.

On one, an English barn swallow literally feathers its nest.  There are ducks in the barnyard, and occasionally a downy white feather is shed and the breeze carries it off.  In slow motion, we watch a swallow fly toward the feather floating in the sunshine, grab it in its beak, take it to its home in the rafters of the barn, and drop it into the nest.  So charming.

Or we’ve all seen scenes of bear cubs playing with each other.  Their mother comes by and starts to teach them how to catch fish.  So cute.  

Once, changing channels, I came across a scene of an adult bear standing up leaning against a tree, scratching his back.  Aaah, that feels good.  The bear relaxes, contented.  Suddenly, BANG!  The defenseless animal flinches, stumbles, falls to the ground, and dies.  We cut to two hunters with their rifles and sniper scopes, congratulating each other on the ambush murder they’ve just committed.  So disgusting.



Ages ago, CBS News introduced a series called 60 Minutes, anchored by Harry Reasoner and Mike Wallace.  They needed a graphic design.

The program was described as a “news magazine”:  three separate mini-documentaries within a single hour.  Therefore, the background simulated a printed news magazine like Time.  (The dark border around Harry’s head resulted from the primitive blue-screen Chromakey technique of the time.)  And to symbolize the passing of those 60 minutes, they added a ticking stopwatch.  The larger hand circled the dial once in a minute, the smaller hand once in 60.

I knew about stopwatches.  As a kid, I had one in my box of toys.

Later, as a manager of our high school track team, I used one of the school’s stopwatches to help time races on our cinder oval.

A standard stopwatch could resolve times only to the nearest fifth of a second, because 300 hashmarks were about the most that would fit around the circumference of the dial.  The times of horse races were measured this way.  Secretariat won the 1973 Kentucky Derby in a record time of 1 minute 59 2/5 seconds.

But in track and field, we needed to measure time to the nearest tenth of a second, so we used a special double-speed stopwatch whose hand circled the dial twice a minute.  Now the 300 hashmarks divided 30 seconds into tenths.  The red colors denoted Part Two of each rotation, so we could tell 32.7 seconds from 2.7 seconds.

On those occasions when we needed to record an official time for all eight runners in a short race, we had to deploy eight stopwatches operated by at least four volunteer timers (some with a watch in each hand).  Some tracks had a little portable staircase to nowhere.  They placed it next to the finish line, so all the stopwatch operators and judges could gather there and have a perfect viewpoint angle.

We added one of these unique German models to our collection.  It looked very cool in operation, because the “hand” for tenths of a second at the bottom of the watch was actually Y-shaped.  It flew across its window once a second.


Five years out of high school, during my brief stint as a graduate student on WAER in Syracuse, I experimented with using a stopwatch to become a smoother disk jockey.

Announcers often talked over the introductory portion of a record, “back-timing” their comments to conclude just before the vocalist started to sing.  Ken Levine posted this week, “As a former disc jockey, I still talk-up records in my car.  Right up to the vocal.  I’m a master at this.  It’s maybe my greatest skill ... which is unfortunate since it’s also utterly useless.  KHJ Boss Radio is not coming back anytime soon.”  Someone named Yekimi commented, “Holy crap! I thought I was the only one that did [that.  I only] get embarrassed when at a traffic light with my car windows down and someone pulls up alongside and looks at me like I'm a serial killer.”

To accomplish this trick, DJs need to know the songs rather well.  I didn’t.  So I used a stopwatch.

I’d start the record playing on an unused turntable and time the intro.  For example, suppose it was an unusally long 45 seconds before the vocals kicked in.  I then reset the stopwatch to a minute minus 45 seconds, or in this example 15 seconds.

When I actually played the record on the air, I’d start the turntable and the stopwatch simultaneously.  I could then make my inane comments, maybe promoting the shows that would be on the air later that night, until just before the second hand reached the top of the dial.  Then I’d shut up and turn the airwaves over to the singer.

That’s not me in the picture, by the way.  Real radio DJs wear headphones.

During the 1970s, digital stopwatches began to appear.  They’re smaller and easier to read, typically to a hundredth of a second.  (But can you push the button that precisely?)  Also, you don’t have to wind them, and you can more easily measure multiple events.

The old ticking analog stopwatches are obsolete nowadays, except on 60 Minutes.



Snidely has returned!  Hee hee!  

As you may recall, I have been monitoring the Twitter and covertly collecting comments posted thereon by one Eric D. Snider, humorist and film critic.

The summer edition appeared three months ago.  But now it is autumn, and it is time for Snidely Tweeting 2:  Electric Boogaloo.

A mere two days ago William Steven Humphrey, editor of the alternative Portland Mercury, posted this recommendation:  "The tweets of Eric D. Snider are a rapid-fire stomp through pop culture brimming with erotic candor and ennui."  I'm not sure what that means exactly.

Nevertheless, in my latest compilation you can read Eric’s opinions about noise pollution from leaf blowers and motorcycles, a crime wave in his neighborhood, Ansel Elgort, minding his brother’s kids, and celebrating his 40th birthday .  And more.

Peek, if you have the courage!



I used to visit an on-line discussion board for sportswriters where often a comment would begin, “I can’t believe what Le Batard wrote in his Miami Herald column.”

In French, “le bâtard” means “the bastard.”  Therefore I first thought the posters were being insulting:  “I can’t believe what that bastard said!”

But Dan Le Batard’s family came to this country from Cuba, where (fortunately) the family name has no meaning in Spanish.

Now I don’t watch ESPN’s televised talk shows, but via Sirius XM the other day, I finally caught the Dan Le Batard show on ESPN Radio.  Turns out he pronounces it LEBB-it-tarred.

And he does have proper parents, Gonzalo and Lourdes Le Batard.  In fact, “Papi” often joins his son on the air.

Therefore, never mind.  No son hijos de puta.



It was just past seven last Friday evening at Oberlin College in Ohio when I approached Finney Chapel, the largest performance space on campus.  As the sun was setting, students with tickets in hand were already gathering on the steps, though the doors would not open for another hour.  Eventually more than a thousand people would fill the building.

“Are you pumped?” wrote Ma’ayan Plaut, the college’s social media coordinator.  “I am pumped.  This is going to sound amazing.”

What were they about to hear?  A symphony orchestra concert?  A performance by a famous rock group?  No, something you probably wouldn’t expect.  Something that swelled with pride this physics major who once played with radio at the campus station.

I explain it all, as well as the ensuing football game, in my article about Homecoming Weekend 2014.



When I first went online with this website nearly 14 years ago, it was a collection of articles, some new and some from my archives, typically a couple thousand words in length.

That format didn’t allow brief items of a hundred words or less.  So when I wanted to express a short opinion, or when I found a short comment in my archives, I called it a C-Note.  (To maintain my self-imposed 100-word limit, I carefully counted words using the computer and deleted the excess.)  Once I had a dozen of these C-Notes, I compiled them into an article of respectable length and added it to the site.

The situation changed six years later, when I converted my home page (the one you’re reading now) into something resembling a blog, updated every few days.  Now there is a place for shorter items.

But the old C-Notes still are of interest.


We’re misinterpreting the refrain of “America the Beautiful.”

In school, students can already pray privately to their own gods, but fundamentalist preachers want to add public prayers of proselytization.

There’s a terrible women’s disease with life-altering effects that last for decades.

Some odd ideas could speed up sports, for example by eliminating overtime.

Why subject yourself to sitting through a trial as a spectator, just to see justice done?

Once we’ve done something about our pain, even if it’s a placebo like mommy’s kiss, the brain tries to shut off the alarm.

Dizzy Dean said slood, not sludd.

A hypocrite claims the real reason for his choice is some lofty principle.

Even a blind squirrel is right twice a day.

What do bosses really mean when they say something is unacceptable and they don’t want excuses?

I want to be labeled as a Speed Limit Observer.

During the seventh-inning stretch, Wrigley Field serenaded me.

Should we hold a grudge forever?  Then every small offense requires retaliation.


Those are some of the topics in this month’s “100 Moons” article.



The neighbor’s doggie was named Augie.  He was familiar with the old song, a novelty record from 1953 in ¾ time.  At a pet shop Patti Page sings:

I must take a trip to California
And leave my poor sweetheart alone.
If he has a dog, he won't be lonesome,
And the doggie will have a good home.

How much is that doggie in the window?  (Arf, arf)
The one with the waggley tail.
How much is that doggie in the window?  (Arf, arf)
I do hope that doggie's for sale.

One day, I heard the neighbor sing the first line of the refrain, “How much is that doggie in the window?”

Augie watched intently for his cue.  He knew his part well.  Right in tempo, he chimed in, “Arf, arf.”

I was impressed by this duet.  They proved it wasn’t a fluke by repeating it more than once.

There are more dog stories, and even a cat story, in the second of two articles on what I did this summer.  Last month, I told you about my July trip to New York State.  Thie month, I arrive at Syracuse in an article called ’Cuse Tales.



“You claim that people evolved from apes, millions of years ago,” says the creationist.  “But if the monkeys turned into humans, why are there still monkeys?  Huh?  Answer that one.  You don’t have an answer, do you?”

“No, I have another question.  If our family is descended from Scottish people who emigrated from Scotland to the New World two centuries ago, why are there still Scotsmen today?  Huh?  You see, some Scots became Americans, but not all of them.

“Some apes developed into humans, but not all of them.  Look up 'cladogenesis' in your biology textbook.  It's simple.”

Speaking of genesis, there’s a young-earth creationist group called “Answers in Genesis” that denies the facts of evolution.  They operate the Creation Museum in Kentucky and are trying to finance a replica of Noah’s Ark nearby.  AIG demands that all employees abide by their statement of faith, which among other things requires that employees believe:

The only legitimate marriage sanctioned by God is the joining of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union, as delineated in Scripture.  God intends sexual intimacy to only occur between a man and a woman who are married to each other, and has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.

Clearly, not only have the people at “Answers in Genesis” not read their biology textbook.  The people at “Answers in Genesis” have not even read Genesis!  At least they haven’t read it beyond the story of Noah’s flood.

Scripture clearly does not delineate God’s insistence on a single, exclusive union.

•  Abram, later known as Abraham, was God’s choice to become the father of His chosen people.  But his wife Sarai was infertile, so he took her slave girl Hagar as an additional wife (Genesis 16:3).

•  Later, Abraham’s brother Lot impregnated both of his own daughters (Genesis 19:36).  In his defense, he was drunk.  Both times.

•  Abraham’s grandsons Esau and Jacob each married multiple wives.  First, Esau wed two Hittite women (Genesis 26:34).  His mother didn’t get along with them and said, “If Jacob maries a Hittite woman like those who live here, my life will not be worth living” (Genesis 27:46).  So she sent her other son off to marry his cousin (Genesis 28:2).  Thereupon Esau took the hint and also married one of his cousins, Mahalath, who became his third wife (Genesis 28:9).

•  Jacob duly wed his mother’s niece Leah, but she wasn’t the pretty one, so he also married her sister Rachel (Genesis 29).  He eventually fathered twelve patriarchs:  six by his wife Leah, two by his wife Rachel, two by Leah’s slave girl, and two by Rachel’s slave girl (Genesis 35:23-26).

God did not condemn any of this.  He accepted these arrangements, and the men who made them were revered.

Therefore, “Answers in Genesis,” has God commanded his people to restrict their sexual activity according to the standards of 18th-century America?  The way you’d prefer?

No, he has not.  The answers are in Genesis. 

AUGUST 29, 2014

Years ago, I was struggling to type something on my keyboard when Mike Kobik asked, “Did you run out of E’s?”

Of course, he was just being silly.  There’s an inexhaustible supply of every character.  E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E.  See there?

Unless, that is, our low-tech message board still uses the 600-year-old technology of Gutenberg’s movable type.



(Lights flash)

Tom: “What is Korinna?”

Alex: “That is correct!”

Early in 1984, Betsy Overly and I were planning the graphics for Pittsburgh Pirates cablecasts.  We needed a fresh look and a new font style.

Chyron, the company that manufactured the character generator, provided a “font library” for their machine on 8-inch floppy disks.  A few dozen styles were available.  Some were offered in only one size, but there were several that came in five different sizes, providing flexibility.

One of those, called Korinna Bold, caught our eye.  It was a fresh, relatively new font; the modern version had been introduced only ten years before.  It had some flair, with the distinctive shapes of the P and the N and especially the U, yet it was sufficiently bold for sports television.  So we chose it to build the full screens and lower thirds that we’d need for baseball.  Our new look premiered on a road game on April 6.

Unfortunately, by the time the team returned to Pittsburgh, the network was out of business, and our graphics package was never seen again.  More details are here.

That same year, however, a long-running game show was being updated with a new host and a new look for syndication.  And the producers made the same Chyron choice that Betsy and I had made.

Thirty years ago next month, Alex Trebek introduced Jeopardy! with the clues given in Korinna.  The font’s still there three decades later.  You can’t keep a good idea down.

Here are some other notes.

• Korinna was also used for the intertitles and closing credits on the 1993-2004 comedy Frasier.

• Ken Jennings claims that when he had his winning run 10 years ago, the name of the show was still pronounced “jee-OP-ur-dee.”

• And why is it called Jeopardy anyway?  Alex could say, “I told you that on the very first program, when I explained how the game is played.  Weren’t you listening?  Do I have to repeat the rules every 30 years?”



Every live telecast has a “format” or “rundown,” a couple of pages listing the order of the various elements in the show and how many minutes each should last.

Years ago, cleaning up the studio after one such program, I retrieved a used format and discovered that one of the performers had not been concentrating totally on her performance.  Her mind was on her marriage.  She'd had a stormy relationship with her husband and had finally decided to give up, doodling these words in the margin of her format:  The End. The End.  The very very very end.  Eventually there was a divorce.

Later, that incident inspired me to put together a little libretto, a sort of Greek tragedy with two characters and a chorus.  I wrote the lyrics as if they were to be sung, including “The End” and some other fragments from correspondence of the time.  However, I made no attempt to compose the music.

“The Songs of Linda”  is this month’s “100 Moons” article.


AUGUST 13, 2014     R.I.P. MORK

Last month I quoted some of Eric D. Snider’s Twitter remarks, so it seems appropriate to pass on  his tweets from Monday:

Marin Co. Sheriff's Office reports that Robin Williams has died, apparently by suicide.  Very, very sad.

Suicide is devastating to those left behind, yes, but don't call it “selfish.” You don't know what it was like in that person's head.

Some of you know that I struggle with depression.  I wish that made me special, but the sad fact is that I have a lot of company.

Depression is a real illness.  It can be serious.  Please don't be afraid to get help if you need it.  Medication, therapy — whatever it takes.  And if anyone tells you anti-depressants are a crutch, or that needing them makes you weak, kick that person directly in his or her balls.

I've been thinking about it lately anyway because the 5th anniversary is coming.  Here's my column about depression.

Eric wrote this additional essay yesterday and linked to this story by Norm Macdonald.

Depression doesn’t mean sadness.  Many people’s first reaction was “Why was Robin Williams depressed?  He had everything.”  To Eric’s tweets, Damien Owens added, “Please remember that ‘What are you depressed about?’ makes no more sense that ‘What are you diabetic about?’”


AUGUST 11, 2014     IN N.Y.

A boy named Bob was born 181 years ago today in this unassuming little house hidden in the trees of a village in upstate New York.

Bob’s father was John Ingersoll, a Congregationalist preacher whose radical opinions forced him to move his family often.  Little Bob left the town of his birth at the age of only four months.

When he grew up, the boy became even more outspoken than his father.  His fame led to the preservation of his birthplace.  I made the pilgrimage last month.

You can read about my trip to the state of New York, which also included visits to a museum of early airplanes and a battleground for firemen, in my new article:  Be Happy Now – Wait Not for Heaven.

AUGUST 8, 2014     SEARCH ME

Years ago, when I needed to do some research as an Oberlin College student, I walked over the repository of all knowledge on the campus:  Carnegie Library.  There, working back and forth between the card catalogs and the “stacks,” I eventually identified two or three books that contained some information on my subject.  I carried them to a desk and turned the pages.  When I found something I could use, I transcribed it in my notebook.  Eventually these notes became the foundation of my little report.

But now there’s an easily available repository of all knowledge in the world:  the Internet.  And it’s searchable by keyword!  There’s no need to travel to a big library, no need to locate books using a card catalog, and no need to turn their pages.  I can’t get over how much easier this is.

This week, I was preparing an article that will appear on this website Monday.  A small part of it concerns an obscure 19th-century preacher named John Ingersoll.  He couldn’t hold a job.  None of his congregations liked him.  However, I discovered, he was associated with a more famous revivalist named Charles Finney.  And Finney later became the second president of my alma mater, Oberlin College.  I'd discovered a connection with personal relevance!

Consulting the Internet, I opened a lengthy biography of Finney and asked my browser to find all the appearances of the word Ingersoll.  And it did.  Besides confirming his incompetence, the bio mentioned that in 1840 Ingersoll actually lived in Oberlin.  Nothing was said of his activities there — he didn't seem to have a pastorate — but if he was in town, it seemed likely that at some point his friend Finney must have invited him to speak.

So I turned to the Internet again and searched for “John Ingersoll” and “Oberlin.”  As it turns out, Google Books has helpfully indexed a volume buried in the periodicals collection of the University of Minnesota.  The book consists of reprints of a semi-monthly newspaper The Oberlin Evangelist, beginning with the first issue on November 1, 1838.  Google highlighted my search terms.  Oberlin was highlighted on every page, but where was Ingersoll?  Did I have to examine the 224 pages of fine print?  No, I merely refined the search and found he was mentioned exactly once, on page 158.

September 23, 1840:  “ORDINATION.  At an adjourned meeting of the Lorain Association, held at this place on Thursday last, Mr. ROBERT COCHRAN was ordained to the work of the Gospel Ministry.  Sermon by Rev. John Ingersoll, from Jn. 15:6:  ‘Without me ye can do nothing.’  Reading the Confession of Faith, by Pres. Mahan.  Ordaining prayer and charge by Prof. Finney.  Right hand of fellowship by Rev. Ira Smith.  At the same time and place, and by the same body, Messrs. E.H. and J.H. Fairchild, members of the Senior Theological Class, were licensed to preach the gospel.”

Quickly checking my 1840 calendar (via an Internet application, of course), I determined that “Thursday last” would have been September 17.  So now I had the exact date of a sermon that Ingersoll preached at Oberlin — in Finney’s presence— as well as the text he used.

It would have been very difficult for me to unearth this nugget of history as a college undergraduate.  We had no Internet access in the library in those days.  We had only one computer, in a basement across the street.  Now I have a home computer, and I can use it to do the research in a few minutes!  I find this marvelous.



Excerpts of a blog posting yesterday from Frances McClure of Oxford, Ohio:

Last Friday, the House of Representatives went on vacation.  It is not the usual working man's vacation.  It is a vacation with only 12 working days scheduled between now and Election Day, November 4.  With an annual salary far above the average working man or woman ($223,500 for John Boehner and $174,000 each for the rest of the House of Representatives), this House of Representatives has been the least productive since 1947.  This is an annual cost of over $75,739,500 each year, plus benefits — our tax dollars spent for lots of vacation time and very little work.

I agree.  Excluding holidays and weekends, there are 250 days in a year, but since 1990 our Representatives have averaged only 112 days in session during the second year of their two-year terms.  They’re on vacation 55% of the time.

But let’s look at it another way.  Is it the goal of legislators to enact legislation, or is it to get re-elected?  I suspect that it’s the latter.  A Congressman’s job is to keep his job. 

Excerpts from David Boling’s piece in the Washington Post a couple of months ago:

My experience on Capitol Hill has taught me the ubiquitous term “call time,” the hours that members of Congress set aside to make phone calls for money. There’s always another election.  One’s skill at raising money has become more important than one’s skill at mastering policy issues.

Our politicians are not on vacation.  They’ve left Washington so they can devote full time to their true occupation.


AUGUST 3, 2014     WHO IS NORI?

Practitioners of every endeavor need to communicate using precise language.  If the necessary terms don’t exist, they have to be invented.

Terms.  Terms.  Elsewhere on this site you can find a chemistry spoof I wrote in high school. Complaining about contradictory terminology, I quoted an ancient Greek philosopher:  “As Plato said, ‘Kynosis anopodes acthykus!’”  Did Plato actually say that?  I don’t know Greek, so how could I have known the phrase?

After 50 years, I couldn’t remember the source of the quote, so I Googled it.  Google returned only one result — my own “scientific” paper!  So then I put the quote into a translation engine, and I discovered it was gibberish.  In the manner of Sid Caesar, this high school junior produced what only seems to be Greek.  So there.  Now I’ve set the record straight.

Anyway, let’s get back to real terminology, specifically involving motor sports.

In high-speed performance rallies like this, the navigator warns the driver about what sort of curve is coming up next, how many meters away, requiring what suggested speed and gearing.

I was a navigator for far less strenuous rallies (described here).  Nevertheless, I needed concise terminology to tell my driver Terry Rockhold where he was going.

Suppose my map revealed we were coming up to a situation like the one below.  Normally the first turn would be described as “right at T” onto Claibourne Road.  The next would be “left at sideroad” onto Snyder Road.  


But in this case, the rallymaster has covered these two intersections with a single instruction:  “jog right.”  That’s the correct term if the right and the left are less than a tenth of a mile apart.  The rallymaster wants the rallyists to ignore Snyder Road’s brief detour and resume the original heading on Snyder.

(Why is there a detour at all?  Back when the farms and fields were first laid out, they didn’t conform to a strict grid, so the roads that were later built between the fields couldn’t conform to a grid either.)

Now in the situation below, I needed to inform Terry that he would make a left followed by a right.  But this isn’t a “jog left,” because there are no other roads involved.  Concord Road swerves around the big field all by itself.  I invented a term for this:  NORI, for No Other Roads Involved.  I’d tell Terry he’d make a NORI left.  I also would warn him that soon afterwards he’d make a NORI right, lest he think he was supposed to continue straight ahead into the driveway.


And now, though no one knows what acthykus means, at least you know about NORI.




























































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