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T. Buckingham Thomas:  A Personal Website

ESTABLISHED BY TOM THOMAS (AS GEOCITIES.COM/TBTHO) OCT. 25, 2000

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APRIL 19, 2014     BLACK SHEEP OF THE FAMILY

Jesus had four brothers.  They’re listed in the Gospel of Mark and also in the Gospel of Matthew.  However, John 7:5 tells us that “even his own brothers didn't believe in him.”  They suspected that Jesus was out of his mind.

Because even his own Christian followers may be unaware of these facts, I’ve assumed the persona of one of the neglected brothers, Simon of Shimron, for another of my rewritten Bible stories.

 

APRIL 15, 2014     SAY IT RIGHT

If you’re promoting an event to be held at the largest auditorium in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District, and you aren’t sure how to pronounce the name of the theater, don’t guess!  Ask someone.

Local residents know that in mentioning the Benedum Center, one should accent the BEN.  However, a radio commercial is currently running in which the obviously non-local announcer accents the NED.

The Buh-NED-um Center?  That’s just DUM.

 

APRIL 13, 2014     DISTINGUISHED VISITOR

I took this picture 58 years ago this month.  A luncheon was being held in the basement of the First Methodist Church in Richwood, Ohio; that’s the kitchen in the background.

The guest of honor was a friend of my family:  Rev. Byrappa Rathman Isaiah, the superintendent of  Methodism's South India Conference.

The Thomases had a connection to India, where my father had served during World War II.  Our 2,000-rupee donation helped build a village church, and for the past three years we had been corresponding with Rev. Isaiah.

He had come to this country for the quadrennial global meeting of Methodists, the 1956 General Conference, which was going to be held in Minneapolis.  The World Wide Web tells us that the two delegates from South India were Rev. Isaiah and Jambayya David, a teacher, from the state of Hyderabad.  When the Conference began on April 28, they were seated in section A, row 10, seats 7 and 8.  (Isn’t the Internet wonderful?)

The rest of the story is in this month’s “100 Moons” article.

 

APRIL 7, 2014     TIME TRAVEL

After six months with my new car, I’m starting to figure out one of its features:  HD radio.  I’ll limit my remarks to FM stations that use this relatively new technology.

You probably didn’t know that a station today delays its audio by eight seconds before transmitting it.  This particular delay has nothing to do with giving the station a chance to bleep out obscenities before they’re aired.  No, it’s a requirement for HD.  (In this case, HD does not stand for High Definition.  Some say it means Hybrid Digital.)

When I first tune to a station, I hear (via the regular FM analog signal) what the announcer said eight seconds ago.  Meanwhile, my receiver starts collecting digital bits to assemble a cleaner version of what he’s saying now.  It takes about eight seconds to get enough data, allowing for brief dropouts should I drive past a building or something.  After this “latency” period, the receiver switches over; it stops playing the delayed analog signal and starts playing the digital version that it’s created.  The analog signal I heard first was delayed so it would sync up with the digital signal I’d hear later.

The digital quality is supposed to be better, although in the somewhat noisy environment of my car I have a hard time hearing any improvement.  If I listen very carefully, after eight seconds I notice the bass is slightly stronger.  This leads me to wonder about the point of the whole exercise.  (However, digital transmission does allow the station to broadcast additional channels like HD2 and HD3, plus brief text annotations.)

But sometimes on Pittsburgh’s KDKA-FM, a sports talk station known as 93.7 The Fan, the switchover is very obvious.  A couple of days ago, the analog delay wasn’t working, so when I first tuned in I heard eight seconds of live analog followed by the digital version of the same eight seconds.

Had I tuned in as they started broadcasting the Gettysburg Address, I would have heard something like this, with the switchover from undelayed analog to digital occurring at the word “four”:

Seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated....

That’s amusing, if it only happens once.  But when I drive more than 25 miles from Pittsburgh, sometimes the station’s signal falls off the “digital cliff.”  When no digital version is available, my receiver automatically returns to regular analog FM.  And if the regular analog FM isn’t being delayed, at the switch I seem to jump forward in time.  I miss a sentence or so.  Before long, the receiver reacquires the digital signal.  Eight seconds after that, I jump backward in time, hearing again the sentence that I just heard.

I first noticed this while trying to listen to a college football game last fall.  Apparently the delay wasn’t working then, either.  As you can imagine, the random cutting back and forth was rather confusing.

And there’s the kickoff, and it’s going spotted on the 25-yard line, where Pitt will have the ball first and 25-yard line, where Pitt will have the ball first down and ten.  Let’s see if they can over right tackle for a gain of maybe two yards to the 27.  Making the tackle was John Smith, the inside linebacker.  So we’re looking at second down 27.  Making the tackle was John Smith, the inside linebacker....

Yesterday I was planning to e-mail a TV engineer I know at KDKA to have him check with his radio colleagues about this.  But apparently they were aware of the problem, and they got the delay working again.  Everything seems fine for now.  Cross your fingers.

 

APRIL 4, 2014     THERMAL GRAPH IDEA

Weathermen usually give us the temperature in digital form, but it might also be helpful to study an analog graph.  We could visualize the actual hourly temperatures for the past couple of days plus the forecast for the next week.

Here’s what I’m talking about, using actual numbers for Pittsburgh as of April 2.  (The temperature records are from the National Weather Service and the predicted temperatures are from Weather Underground.)

And here’s how the meteorologist might describe the graph.  “Right now on this Wednesday morning, we have a temperature of 43 degrees.  It was a beautiful day yesterday with the high getting up to 77, but today will be more seasonable, with a high of 60.  Looking to the week ahead, we’re hoping for another mild day on Friday, when the high will be around 67.  But there’s bad news for Saturday:  We won’t even reach 50, and that night will be downright chilly.  I’m predicting Sunday morning’s low will be a freezing 32.”

 

APRIL 1, 2014     TO END A LONG STORY

The CBS comedy How I Met Your Mother concluded its final season last night.  For more than 200 episodes, Ted Mosby’s teenage daughter and son have been patiently sitting on a couch.  We’re told the year is 2030, and they’re listening to their father spin an extremely long tale about his adventures over the years until he finally met the woman who would become the kids’ mother.

In the next-to-last scene, we see not only the teenagers on the couch but also Ted behind a desk, wrapping up the story.  Since it's 2030, he's now made up to look older.  But why do the kids appear to be the same age as when we first met them nine seasons ago?  Their part of this scene was shot way back in 2006, before the young actors grew up!  That footage was intercut with new footage of Ted..

I’ve read several online complaints that this scene was poorly edited.  Personally, I thought the editing was fine, but the staging made it seem artificial.  When three characters are conversing, we expect to see occasional “establishing shots” of all three of them, to indicate they’re in the same room.  We never had that in this scene, which jumped back and forth between two static shots:  Ted at the desk, the kids on the couch.

Of course, it’s difficult to show people in the same frame if they’ve been filmed in different decades.  But there are some simple tricks that could have been employed.  Consider this:  We open on a wide shot of the room.  On the far side, Ted is standing beside his desk, talking to the kids while pulling out the desk chair to sit down.  On the near side, the kids are sitting on the couch, but because we're seeing mostly their backs, the original actors can be replaced with doubles in this brief shot.

We cut to 2006 footage of the kids listening, with the 2014 out-of-focus back of Ted’s head superimposed as he moves sidewise into the frame before dropping down into the chair and out of the frame.  I've simulated that in the image on the right.

Now we can cut back and forth between face-on shots of Ted and the kids.  Problem solved.

My bigger complaint:  When the 31st of womanizing Barney’s most recent conquests becomes pregnant, we never see her, but suddenly nine months later we see Barney holding his newborn baby.  Supposedly a changed man, Barney promises to love his daughter forever — in the same words he used in the vows of his earlier wedding, which soon ended in divorce.  We have misgivings about that promise.

 

MARCH 29, 2014     ART ALL THY BOROGOVES MIMSY?

Methinks this slithy little creature is a tove.

It’s part of my latest bit of nonsense, which explicates the beginning of a Lewis Carroll poem ... and submarine races as a spectator sport ... and a defunct newspaper in Columbus, Ohio ... not to mention whether the former Secretary of State should be “Mrs. William J. Clinton” instead of “Hillary.”

The article, of course, is called Beware the Jabberwock.  ’Tis bryllyg!

 

MARCH 24, 2014     WHY LONG RUNWAYS ARE GOOD

Slow starts, part 1:  When I used to fly several times a week, I noticed that on takeoff, a jet airliner rolls down the runway forever.  I know it’s gathering speed, but I don't feel my seat moving and the engines' roar is unchanging, drowning out any sounds from the wheels.  The plane is accelerating so smoothly and gradually that it seems to me to be rolling at a constant speed for half a minute.  Then it finally changes its mind and decides to lift its nose and switch to flying.

Slow starts, part 2:  I’m told that my car’s four-cylinder engine is capable of getting me from 0 to 60 mph in nine seconds (almost 1/3 g).  I can spare an extra half-minute, however, so I prefer to drive gently.  For you calculus students, I keep the second derivative of X comfortably small.

A certain expressway in my area has on-ramps nearly a third of a mile long, including the merging lane at the end.  If traffic is light and I won’t be blocking any other drivers by doing so, I use this technique:

After I turn onto the ramp, I engage my cruise control at 30 mph.  Then I hold down the “accelerate” button.  The cruise control gradually increases my velocity by about one mph per second (which is an acceleration of less than 1/20 g).  Half a minute later, I’ve reached 65 mph, and it’s time to merge into the traffic lanes.  No accelerator mashing and engine racing — just a smooth, gas-saving, almost imperceptible climb to freeway speed.

 

MARCH 18, 2014     CRITIQUING A HOUSE

Pittsburgh’s WTAE-TV recently highlighted a five-bedroom home in the wealthy suburb of Fox Chapel.  Featured on realtor.com, the residence was built by Tasso Katselas, the city’s leading modern architect.


1616 Powers Run Road

Katselas is a graduate of Carnegie Tech, now known as Carnegie Mellon University.

He’s designed numerous local landmarks including the Carnegie Science Center (1991), the Community College of Allegheny County (1973), the Allegheny County Jail (1995), and the Pittsburgh International Airport (1992).

The clean design of this $1.5-million home is missing some details.  For example, there are no curtains on the windows.  That’s a contemporary feature, I guess.

Also, there are no handrails on the entry steps.  That’s a disadvantage for me; as a senior citizen, I’m less steady on my feet than I used to be.

The arched concrete ceilings were presumably designed to evoke the cozy security of being inside a sheltering cave.

The theme is continued throughout the house.  The rounded arches are even echoed in the shapes of some of the furniture.

However, those ceilings remind me of being trapped in a long line of automobile traffic inside one of the region’s notorious tunnels.

The screening room (below) has the same type of ceiling and brick walls.  This probably results in excessively “live” acoustics, so I hope the carpet is thick enough to absorb some of the reflected sound.

Other quibbles:  Without blackout curtains, the windows let in too much sunlight.  And in this photo, the 60-inch screen looks rather undersized.

Like the entry steps, the interior stairs are designed for beauty, not senior-citizen stability.  Look at the flight of steps on the right below.  The thought of climbing them is absolutely terrifying.

I hope there’s a safer alternative route to the level at the top of this curved wall.  If I lived here, I would declare each of these glass platforms to be not a step but a shelf.  I’d display potted plants on each one.

 

MARCH 12, 2014     MUST THE UNIVERSE EXPAND?

I've been told we shouldn't try to fix something that ain't broke.  But that's not the way corporate people think.  Their company can't just happily hum along, with contented workers conducting business as usual.  The firm must always be growing!

Some thoughts about the steady state vs the big bang are in this month’s "100 Moons" article.

 

MARCH 6, 2014     GRAPPLING FOR A STATE TITLE

It’s under way:  the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association’s annual high school wrestling tournament!

Six mats are in use today at the Giant Center in Hershey.

On Saturday night,  the PIAA individual high school champions will be crowned there.

Nearly 40 years ago, when this wrestling tournament was held at State College, we taped it for cable TV — and I brought my movie camera with me.

Yes, it's time for more stills from my home movies!  The article is called Super 8: State Wrestling.

 

MARCH 5, 2014     SO BARBARINO MESSED UP?

Theo Thompseen here — no, I mean Tom Thomas.  As I sat watching the Oscars, it didn't ring any of my alarm bells when Idina Menzel was introduced as Adele Dazeem.  I'd never heard of either of her, so both names sound equally improbable to me.

 

MARCH 4, 2014     BRRRDWATCHING

I spotted my first robin of the season yesterday in Pittsburgh.  That’s normally a sign of spring.  This year, however, we’re seeing more gulls.

One wouldn’t expect seagulls this far from the sea, but it’s been a very cold winter.  The Great Lakes will soon break 1979’s record, when they were 94.7% ice-covered.  That deep freeze has forced some Lake Erie gulls to migrate south to find a little open water on our Three Rivers.  A small flock is hanging out at a nearby mall, perching atop the light poles in the parking lot.

Like our Laridae visitors, we year-round residents have had quite enough of winter.  Last night the temperature dropped to three degrees above zero.  There’s not a lot of snow on the ground, but almost every day it snows.  Almost every day the plows and salt trucks have to clear the roads.  Some towns have run out of salt.  McKeesport declared a state of emergency yesterday because it could do nothing about its ice-covered streets.  More than one commentator has said, “I can’t stand this any longer!”

Fortunately, the forecast is for a sunny 50 degrees by the end of the week.  The robin can invite some of his relatives to join him.

 

MARCH 1, 2014     TWO WAYS TO TELEVISE A BAND

When I made a brief visit to England in August of 1992, I noticed that my hotel in Kensington was within walking distance of the famous London concert venue, the Royal Albert Hall.  I had one free hour, so I walked over there.

Of course, I couldn’t enter the big round building, but I did walk past the BBC “outside broadcast” TV trucks, which were parked where I've indicated behind the arch in this 2005 photo.  I knew why the mobile units were there:  It was the middle of Proms season, when the BBC televises several programmes a week from the World's Greatest Classical Music Festival.

The people who work inside those OB units have a complex and difficult job.  Way back in 1970, I had learned how much planning is required for an orchestra telecast.  The aim is to show that moment's featured musicians, not the ones who are playing in the background or waiting for their next entrance.  Fortunately, all orchestral music is fully scripted.  By studying the “score” in advance, the director and assistant directors can plan every camera shot and pass those plans on to the camera operators.

I tried my hand at this sort of thing using only two cameras in 1974, with mixed results.  For the way it should be done, click on the picture for a link to a recent BBC Proms telecast.

This piece was only one portion of that night’s live programme.  I’m awed at how flawlessly the production crew was able to televise it.  “Okay, let’s look at the score, measure number 52 [or whatever corresponds to 1:41].  While the trombones are playing the melody of ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin,’ the concertmaster plays a four-bar countermelody.  We’ll use Camera 2 on a closeup for the first two bars of this violin solo, and then we’ll cut back to Camera 6 on the trombones for the other two bars.”

I was also awed, by the way, at the Fox coverage of the recent Seattle/Denver Super Bowl.  During the first half, when I was actually still paying attention, it seemed like every shot and every replay was perfectly executed to show me what was happening on the field, clearly and quickly.  And there weren’t any distracting cutaways to irrelevancies like American Idol contestants.

Of course, there’s more than one way to televise a performance.  Click the next picture for an example from Scott Bradlee’s “Postmodern Jukebox.”

This was recorded with only a single stationary camera.  You get the feeling that you’re sitting in a single stationary chair, in your own living room, with a New Orleans jazz combo performing just for you.  The horns are standing back in the corner near the window; never mind that the vocalist is blocking your view of the trombone.  Miche Braden is standing on your carpet, looking you directly in the eye, belting out a Guns N’ Roses song like Bessie Smith.    In high-def this all feels very real, as though you’re right there with the band.

I’m a fan of both techniques.

 

 


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