On-the-job sports training.

Monday, September 14th, 2020

WTCG Studio Control, image ©2020, John Christopher Burns

This is where I sat, in front of the Vidifont, that double keyboard in the foreground, the thing that put the words up on the screen, on long nights when we put the replay of that night’s Braves Baseball game on the air at the superstation. We had a full crew in the control room because we aired different commercials on the late night replay than on the live show. Braves Baseball! brought to you by Dante’s Down The Hatch, Slim Whitman, and the Ginzu Knife! This was in seasons in the late 1970s and early 1980s where the instances of the Braves actually winning or doing amazing things were few and far between.

This is where I was often smart enough to shut up and learn from Kris and Jan and Joan and Don and Ron and Bruce and Russ and Troll and Mike and Stan. Amazing education in television, in how baseball worked, in how to be a good member of a team, an education for which I was paid pretty much minimum wage.

Skyline, with cranes.

Sunday, September 13th, 2020

The view from our neighborhood, but a bit above the trees.

Our city, well into the year of the pandemic, looks at a distance a lot like it always does. Especially notable: lots of construction cranes. And faithful to a more unsettling Atlanta tradition, at the end of last week there have been a couple of construction accidents—concrete parking deck sections pancaking down under cranes—in Midtown, right where (I believe) Emory is building a large expansion of its Midtown hospital. Two sections, two different days.

I think their inspectors have to look way, way more closely at this structure this week.

I feel for the guys and gals who have to work under these stresses, and under reduced Federal inspection and oversight.

More pendentives, fewer squinches.

Saturday, September 12th, 2020

I’ve been squinching around in the muddy fields of grammar, annoyed with reports that the people at the Associated Press stylebook now are kinda “whatever” about the correct usage of “fewer” and “less.”

Just for the record: it’s not difficult. If you can discretely count the individual whatevers, you use fewer, and if it is an aggregated whatever, you use less.

  • Fewer people attended the concert.
  • Less electricity was available than last summer.
  • Less tear gas hung in the air because fewer canisters were thrown.

This is what I worry about: when enough people start using what can (and should!) be precise usage in a fuzzy or sloppy way, then it’s easy to say “oh, usage has changed.” Like hell it has.

At any rate, while I was doing this Very Important Web Work, Sammy was examining the details of architecture in Spain several hundred years ago, and she said she came across a word new to her: pendentive. Huh! New to me as well. Turns out it’s fairly foundational—it relates to the ways builders of arches and domes connected their dome-y shapes to the squared-off support structure underneath.

I came across this article on Squinches and Pendentives in Architecture as I texted with her. It’s got a couple of great diagrams and photos that made things quite clear to me. Both those words have, to my extremely untrained ear, a certain “naah, that can’t be what you call it,” but indeed, it is.

I think I was especially suspicious of “squinches” because we’ve used it a lot around here onomatopoeically to describe the sound Sammy’s footwear made when she first installed the custom orthotic that is a lasting part of her life post-2017-foot injury. She’d be squinching around here like crazy until she found the correct powder to use.

Sensitive day.

Friday, September 11th, 2020

Before Trump, before the pandemic, September 11th was one of those days I turned away from broadcast media (and now, social media) because there are just so many people out there who want to focus on the tragedies in New York, DC, and Pennsylvania and how it (very possibly) changed their lives.

I really have no sense at this precise moment whether people will have those moments for, I dunno, all of 2020 and maybe beyond when they commemorate the pandemic and the brave health care workers’ response to it and our crisis of leadership from Washington.

I guess I should give history a couple of years to sort it all out.

For contrast, or just to steady my sense of being, this afternoon I watched the end of 2017’s The Post, a story that affirms what it means to be a journalist and to put what you have behind the strength of the First Amendment and do the right thing.

There’s a coda in the film where actress Carrie Coon, playing The Washington Post’s Meg Greenfield, is powerfully relaying the words of the concurring decision of Judge Black to the newsroom at large, which were, in part:

“The founding fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.”

No prior restraint. An essential role. Get out there and do the honorable thing(s).

September 10th.

Thursday, September 10th, 2020

Four years ago on this very day we were at the Atlanta Botanical Garden and Piedmont Park. We had a nice walk through the park, the garden, the orchid rooms. Had a lovely lunch at Longleaf, the fine restaurant there.

Our ABG membership expired this spring sometime, and the folks at the Garden have very aggressively been pursuing our renewal (emails! print pieces! phone calls while we were in Michigan!) and we certainly want to get back to having a place to stroll through and just relax and let the stresses of the day drift away amidst the beauty of growing stuff…

But it just doesn’t seem like this is the right time yet. Not just yet. The folks at the Garden assure us they have all sorts of procedures in place, but to me, the stress level is still too…there.

I can only imagine what it’s like for folks who run the ABG to try and rebuild their membership base. And then I think about the folks who fork out big dollars for football, basketball, or soccer season tickets.

It’s gonna take a while.


Wednesday, September 9th, 2020

There are days that I play music that I first met on the jumbled shelves of a tiny radio station in Plainfield Vermont. WGDR! At the time, 10 big wobbly watts of FM broadcasting. Two turntables, no waiting. Serving East Montpelier, North Montpelier, but not Montpelier. On some nights, the line-of-sight frail signal skipped over mountain ranges and down to river valleys quite a ways away.

Today is one of those days.

Todd Rundgren, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Yes, Led Zeppelin, Donald Byrd, Eric Dolphy, and somewhat more anachronistically, Kathy Mattea, Tracy Chapman, and the haunting, fog-piercing weather theme from WOUB, Athens, Ohio, where they next allowed me to do a tiny bit of radio. Once, long ago.

That big old vertical picture above? Take a deep breath. I can smell this picture, always could. Vinyl and asbestos tiles and just a hint of residual marijuana.

Newsstand eyecatchers.

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020

After paging through decades of TV Guide covers, it only seems right to look at a few that don’t feature fictional characters that light up a glowing late 20th century content delivery box.

There was a time when the impact of a cover on the newsstand—all three of these publications were (are?) national weekly print publications—there was a time when a large, distinctive photo or illustration conveyed a sense of where the collective American mind was from one week to the next.

Now, we can go back to the same place on the internet and find that the powerful image—the “cover”, so to speak—has evaporated and been replaced in the big scroll by the next gripping image of the moment.

Trouble is, many of these images don’t quite live up to that esteemed billing. They’re crappy stock images, bad Photoshop retouchings, or simply mistakes—images that have nothing to do with the story but the desk was in a hurry to post and, well, it’ll evaporate soon anyway.

Guide to content.

Monday, September 7th, 2020

I spent some of today skimming through TV Guide’s online collection of their covers, nicely curated, evocative little snapshots of what came through into American living rooms when the conduit for content was much, much smaller.

We were presented with a much narrower view of a very diverse and complex country. One of the TVG headlines read “What Negroes Want From Television.” I’m guessing: to see themselves and their stories represented honestly and in abundance. Same thing we all want.

Meantime, I would have paid extra to have seen political coverage delivered by the floating disembodied heads of Brinkley, Cronkite, et al.

Happy Labor Day Eve.

Sunday, September 6th, 2020

Photo from Kheel Center at Cornell University via Flickr.

Support union labor and the fight for a living wage with marches, your purchases, your political choices, and yeah, sure, your social media emissions.

Hey, why Labor Day?

Saturday, September 5th, 2020

The Department of Labor website says:

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

The Wikipedia entry tells you more about the origins and also discusses the whole Labor Day vs May Day thing, which intersects even more workers’ celebrations and the push for an 8 hour day.

Me, I’d like to see a push for a living minimum wage tied to Labor Day as opposed to this weekend’s celebration, which in many places seems to be “let’s just pretend that ol’ pandemic isn’t there any more.”

Spoiler alert: it is.

A strenuous denial.

Friday, September 4th, 2020

The New York Times (mostly in the persona of Maggie Haberman, who co-wrote this piece), gave Trump one of the most charitable interpretations of his reactions to Jeffrey Goldberg’s piece in The Atlantic, which quoted him as saying America’s fallen servicepeople are “losers.” (And much more. You’ve heard the quotes.)

“He strenuously denied it.”

strenuously | ˈstrenyo͞oəslē |
in a way that requires great physical exertion: drink more if you’re exercising strenuously.

Yeah, that seems like a dubious word choice to me.

This very Times article “reports” “Moreover, people familiar with Mr. Trump’s private conversations say he has long scorned those who served in Vietnam as being too dumb to have gotten out of it.”

Meanwhile, reporters for AP and Fox News (so far) have independently verified most of the quotes in the Goldberg piece. This is not a small thing. It is, however, a small but telling look into the very messed up brain of a very small man.

Speaking from the 404.

Thursday, September 3rd, 2020

I was reading a little piece that covers the humble HTTP status code, the code that is returned when something goes wrong…or right in the process of transferring the stuff that makes up a web page from point A to point B.

200 OK

That’s the one that gets sent from the server when everything has gone just right, or right enough. There’s lots of them…

301 Moved Permanently
307 Temporary Redirect
401 Unauthorized
402 Payment Required
414 URI Too Long
500 Internal Server Error

And then there’s the one which shares a number with Atlanta’s longtime area code:

404 Not Found.

That means you’ve asked for a page and this server does not have anything at that address. The spec says you return ‘404’ and ‘Not Found.’ So many web-connected Atlantans grimace when they see gigantic ornate or elaborately animated 404s on websites which would like to entertain you in addition to supplying basic server information. We know exactly where the 404 is! You’re soaking in it.

But I guess this sort of cross-numerology could have different contexts if you lived in, say, Maryland, the 301 area code…moved permanently?

Or out in Wyoming…temporary redirect?

By the way, there is a site ‘devoted to the history of telephone service in the Atlanta, Georgia area.’ It’s a safe bet serving web pages via HTTP and HTTPS will not be covered at all.

Wednesday afternoon.

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020

I just got back from errands outside in the heat, and am happily settled in my cluttered office, with various spinning-platter hard disks making noises and the sunlight coming and going outside through the clouds.

(Wow, that paragraph represents a general upbeat tone that somehow seems to evaporate with the sun as the day draws to a close. Hi. It’s several hours later. Nighttime!)

Maybe it’s my (careful, discriminating) perusal of the headlines of the day. Look! More behaviors you can’t control, except, of course, by voting in 60 days or so.

We had soup for dinner this evening. It manifested no threat to local law enforcement. I think if we hurled it at them, the tofu would cushion the blow.

Oh, and I did come cross one tweet from former NPR host Todd Zwillich, who managed to distill the challenges of 2020 election coverage and the stand-up. open way to deal with it into a tweet:

News outlets covering election night live should tell viewers/listeners/readers in advance how they plan to handle it. What the standards will be; how they’ll treat premature victory claims; or claims of fraud w/out evidence; when they’ll call a state. Transparency & expectations


Sigma September.

Tuesday, September 1st, 2020

We started this year visiting Seattle’s Living Computers Museum. It subsequently closed during the pandemic lockdown and remains “closed for now,” an apparent victim of the economics of pandemics.

The letter Σ (sigma), can be, in mathematics, a symbol for summation.

Σ[1,2,3,4,5,6] = 21.

Wikipedia of course has all kinds of arcane uses for sigma.

Σ is the capitalized Greek letter, by the way. The lowercase one is apparently σ but ς in the final position of a word. I really never want to learn Greek.

9, of course, can refer to the ninth month of the year. We’re starting it now! Last chunk of 2020! We can do this!

This particular computer ran for years handling medical billing, well into the era of the personal (desktop) computer. It’s very very large and very very heavy and who knows where it will end up now.