Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cheshire Butterfly

    Abby Scioto, the forensic specialist in the TV series NCIS played by actress Pauley Perrette, is one of my favorite characters in television fiction. She is described as holding a PhD in Chemistry, a subject I’ve been interested in all my life which adds to the attraction.

    Abby has chosen a Gothic manner of dress including Goth jewelry and tattoos. One of her fictional co-workers describes her as "a paradox wrapped in an oxymoron smothered in contradictions in terms. Sleeps in a coffin. Really, the happiest goth you'll ever meet.”

    Even though I am not now nor have I ever been into the Goth scene there is something so enchanting about Abigail Sciuto that her Goth-ness doesn’t subtract anything from her appeal.

    From little on up I was intrigued by Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland  —  “appearing from nowhere and disappearing just as quickly often leaving behind only a grin.” Alice remarked that, “she has often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat.”

    Well, I have met a Cheshire Butterfly. She tantalizingly flits about seeming to appear magically and then evanescently disappearing but leaving behind the memory of the smile on her face and an actual smile on mine.

    Amazing then that this Cheshire Butterfly should have chosen for a Halloween persona one of my favorite fictional characters, Abby Sciuto, and, like Abby, she works with chemistry.  I look forward to many happy atoms and molecules.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Christmas Warning

    On September 19, the Hallmark channel stated they would air Christmas-themed programming beginning November 9. During the last week of October, I saw a note on the Music Choice channel that they would begin their Christmas music programming on November 2.

    With the Hallmark channel that’s 46 days before Christmas; with Music Choice it’s 53 days.

    In case you haven’t heard The Little Drummer Boy a thousand times or more, now’s your chance to get the Christmas spirit — or grow weary of it before Thanksgiving.

    How is it that Muslims are satisfied with 29 or 30 days of Ramadan fasting -- like total immersion fasting -- food, sinful thoughts, bad behavior -- (Better quit here. I don’t wish to incur any Islamic Fatwahs. Perhaps they’ll let me slide for being an ignorant infidel.) and Jews are content with 8 days of Hanukah? Why does the Christian celebration require 46 or 53 days? It only took 40 days and nights of rain to accomplish the Great Flood.

            Frohe Weihnachten    Joyeux Noël    Feliz Navidad    Merry Christmas

What Time Did You Say It Is?

    In these last hours awaiting the arrival of hurricane Sandy, I’ve received several emails from alert.pa.gov based on information from the National Weather Service. Those alerts warn me of floods or high winds. They tell me the warning period will begin at a certain time and continue through 12:00 PM on a certain date.  

There is no such time as 12:00 PM.

    It's either 12:00 Noon or 12:00 Midnight. There’s no confusion about 12:00 Noon. That occurs at midday. To avoid confusion about which midnight is being referred to, it is usual to specify 11:59 PM on a specific day or 12:01 AM of the next day.
    Too many people blithely assume that everyone will know what is meant by "12:00 PM" when in fact it's impossible to know what the speaker intends. (In this case, the NWS message clearly stated "12:00 Noon" but the people at alert.pa.gov substituted 12:00 PM.)
    Why does it matter? Is this a grammar Nazi situation? Certainly not! After the obsolescence of sundials and the development of ever more precise methods of measuring time, it became desirable for people to have a standard by which to schedule activities.
    It was the railroads growth which led to the standardization of time zones. Before the railroad, local time was used and if every locality set their clocks to “High Noon” when the sun reached its highest point in the sky, each town would have a different time because for towns further west, the sun would be at its highest after the towns to the east.
    It was crucial for the railroads to have ALL their trains and personnel on EXACTLY the same time to keep trains from crashing in to each other. This led to the creation of the time zones we use today. It also led the railroads to adopt the practice of never having a timetable arrival or departure of 12:00 o'clock (as stated below in the Wikipedia reference)

 — The time was always either 11:59 or 12:01. Further, the times in Bold Face type were always the PM times.

        “The 30th edition of the U.S. Government Style Manual (2008) sections 9.54 and 12.9b
         recommended the use of "12 a.m." for midnight and "12 p.m." for noon
         totally contradicting their 29th edition (2000) which recommended use
         of "12 p.m." for midnight and "12 a.m." (formerly "12 m.") for noon.”

“While computers and digital clocks display "12:00 a.m." and "12:00 p.m." these notations provide no clear and unambiguous way to distinguish between midnight and noon. It is technically improper to use "a.m." and "p.m." when referring to 12:00. The abbreviation a.m. stands for ante meridiem (or before the meridian) and p.m. stands for post meridiem (or after the meridian), with the meridian being 12:00 noon. For this reason, neither abbreviation is correct for noon or midnight.[3] The length of the error is determined by the smallest unit of time: 12:00:01 p.m. would be correctly notated, as would even 12:00:00.00001 pm.”

The most common ways to represent these times are:
to use a 24-hour clock (00:00 and 12:00, 24:00; but never 24:01)
to use "12 noon" or "12 midnight", although unless the person is referring to a general time and not a specific day, "12 midnight" is still ambiguous
to specify midnight as between two successive days or dates (Midnight Saturday/Sunday or Midnight December 14/15)
to use "12:01 a.m." or "11:59 p.m." This final usage is common in the travel industry, especially train and plane schedules, to avoid confusion as to passengers' schedules [emphasis added]

—Wikipedia Noon

    Sometimes there really is a rhyme or reason for some things.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Theme Music Revisited

     In an earlier blog about Theme Music I spoke about filling in a musical crossword puzzle by discovering the names of memorable tunes I’ve enjoyed over the years. The pieces I mentioned then were primarily from radio serials or soap operas. I forgot to include Alfred Hitchcock’s famous theme by Charles Gounod, Funeral March of a Marionette and prolific Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges used as the theme for the radio show “The FBI in Peace and War”.

    Another rich source of memorable music is from commercials on radio and TV. As a beer drinker I quickly recognized the Rheingold beer jingle as being Waldteufel’s Estudiantina Waltz.

    Then there’s the Sprint commercial which used Shostakovich’s Waltz no. 2 (The Russian Waltz). This link will take you to a YouTube version of the music with no Sprint commercial which used light pens to draw images choreographed to the music.                               


    Recently, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf has been used in a TV commercial for a soft drink. Another of Prokofiev’s compositions, The Dance of the Knights (also called The Montagues and the Capulets from Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, scene 2) was used in a commercial for a car and also for Chanel perfume. I don’t remember the commercials but I definitely remember the music!


     A warehouse in New Jersey overloaded a trailer I was to deliver in Norfolk, Virginia and I didn't realize until I weighed the rig in Maryland how much overweight I was. It took me over an hour of weighing, sliding my tandems and re-weighing to get my trailer weight legal but I was still overweight on my drive axles. The solution was to take the long way to Norfolk so that the fuel use would lower my tractor weight to within legal limits before crossing a DOT scale. That's why I chose to use the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel. While I was on the bridge out of sight of land, this Prokofiev Dance of the Knights came on the radio. The sky was gray, the wind was brisk and there were whitecaps on the water everywhere. This music could give me chills anytime but this setting was perfect for this piece.

                                              I still get the chills.

#  #  #

Karaoke and Joyful Noise

    I’ve kidded people with my observation that the word “karaoke” was Japanese for the phrase “can’t carry a tune in a bucket.” Recently I’ve decided that karaoke is the response to Psalm 100 which exhorts us to “Make a joyful noise…”

    Initially I expected that the joyful aspect would have been for the recipient hearing the sounds; but, seeing the “joy” in the behavior of some of the participants it seems they are the ones doing the enjoying.

    And then, after the performance, there’s the almost unanimous applause from the crowd -- for some of the performers, the applause is for a good performance. For other performers (who confirm my original assessment of not being able to carry a tune in a bucket) the applause is because their noise was not joyful and they are now finished.

    I enjoy participating because I love music. And karaoke, being neither glee club nor church choir, has no obligatory practice nights or public concerts and I can choose to go or not go according to my mood.

    Karaoke is an unusual blend of those who can sing, those who could sing at one time in their life and those who can’t sing and never could. But, a good time is had by all.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ostriches and Center Lane Left Turn Only

    Many years ago when two lane highways expanded to three lanes, the center lane was used as a common passing lane for traffic in either direction. It was assumed, apparently, that drivers would be certain before attempting to pass that there would NOT be another driver approaching from the other direction also passing.

    Well, that was a bad assumption. Untold numbers of head-on crashes, many of them fatal, convinced the appropriate traffic agencies that a more reasonable use for that center lane would be to use it only for left turns. Still commonly used by drivers traveling in either direction but at a much slower speed if not stopped and at many fewer places since left turns are only required or possible at intersections or at an entrance to a business.

    Not a bad solution, actually. However, when municipalities and school districts decided that driver training in high school was too expensive or not pragmatically justifiable whole generations of young drivers grew up not being completely sure of the meaning of the sign “Center Lane Left Turn Only”.

    Which brings us to the ostrich. For years, people have been talking about escaping danger like “ostriches hiding their heads in the sand” in the supposedly mistaken belief that with their head out of sight, the rest of their body was, too.

    Today I saw a driver wishing to make a left turn into a driveway from a center lane and only the front wheels of the car were in the turn lane. The whole REAR OF THE CAR was still fully in the travel lane from which it had come. That driver seemed totally oblivious to the rear half of the car remaining prominently in harm's way. Immediately I thought of the ostrich story.

    The belief that ostriches actually bury their heads in the sand is only a myth. According to Karl S. Kruszelnicki (Doctor Karl of ABC Science) Dr Karl's Great Moments In Science, Pliny the Elder wrote (of ostriches) “…they imagine, when they have thrust their head and neck into a bush, that the whole of the body is concealed”. Historians assume that this single sentence is the root of the myth.

    Since humans are not ostriches and since such ostrich-like behavior is only a myth, GET YOUR WHOLE CAR into the left turn lane. (And don’t turn your wheels until you can completely make your turn. If you get hit from behind while waiting to make the turn and your front wheels are already turned, a hit in the rear will push you into oncoming traffic.)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Accidents or Crashes?

    During a recent deluge of such intensity and duration that I started counting down from 40 days and 40 nights I was amazed at how many drivers failed to turn their headlights on. I was carefully proceeding at nearly the posted speed -- faster than that would have been foolish. The rain was so heavy it created a nearly “white-out” condition yet drivers in virtually invisible white or gray cars, without headlights, insisted in pushing the envelope by passing repeatedly and with seeming disregard for any semblance of safe following distance. After passing me they disappeared into the evanescent unknown never to be seen again.

    Yet, if a car they were passing moved into their lane because they didn't see the unlighted car, a major crash could have occurred. The same would have happened if the car they caught up to and persistently tail-gated would have braked suddenly for an animal or other unexpected obstruction.

    The news of such a crash would have been covered by the local media and talked about as “an accident” on route 30 or wherever. After the initial spectacularity of the event in the news little more would be heard about it. Either the news people are not approaching the police agencies afterwards to learn about the post-crash findings or the police are reluctant to share with the media such information.

    For years, crashes have been referred to by almost everyone as “accidents” when, in fact, almost all such crashes could be avoided by a combination of common sense, defensive driving and patience -- emphasis on patience. If you have to arrive five minutes earlier, begin your trip ten minutes sooner. Don’t drive 80 miles an hour ten feet behind another car in the pouring down rain! You’ll only get there five minutes earlier -- if you get there. And turn your lights on.

    There’s nothing accidental about most crashes. Referring to crashes as accidents as though some Divine Puppeteer was pulling strings from above can lead one to believe in the inevitability of such occurrences. When people accept that they’re going to have an accident sometime, they probably will. They fail to realize that they DON’T have to have an accident; that their behavior can forestall such a tragedy.

    If post-crash follow-up information was publicized as thoroughly as the details about the occurrence, people might be able to learn how to avoid being involved in crashes. If you refuse to learn from what you see, you will become a victim.

    A company specializing in driver safety training doing business as the Smith System


                 touts five key points to assist in crash free safe driving:
    1) Aim High in Steering -Look at least 15 seconds ahead of you.
    2) Get the Big Picture - 360 degree panoramic awareness

    3) Keep Your Eyes Moving - Scan your mirrors every 5 to 8 seconds

    4) Leave Yourself an Out - Control the Space around Your Vehicle

    5) Make Sure They See You - When All See Each Other Conflicts are Avoided

    If you drive with the Smith System Key Points, you will actually be driving rather being a mere helpless passenger behind your own steering wheel.

    A note about following distance. The old guideline of one car length for every ten miles per hour is seriously out-dated. Better now to judge your following distance by the number of seconds you are behind another vehicle.

    If a car is 15 feet long, a following distance of 6 car-lengths at 60 mph would be 90 feet. At 60 mph you are covering 88 feet in one second. Do you really want to have only one second to see, to think, to react, to brake and to slow before crashing into the poor guy in front of you because he didn’t want to hit the dog that just ran out in front of him? I think not.

    If, however, you allowed a three second (minimum) following distance, you’d have a cushion of 264 feet. Even at slower speeds say 50 mph the old method would give you 75 feet of cushion, 73 of which you would cover in one second. Three seconds would give you 220 feet of cushion.

    It’s easy. Just watch the car in front of you. When it passes a mark in the road or a sign alongside the road or goes under an overpass start counting, “one-thousand one, one-thousand two, one-thousand three” and so on. If you reach the same spot, mark, shadow before you reach one-thousand three, you’re too close. In bad weather, five seconds is better.

    Of course, if texting or talking on the phone are more important to you than safe driving, you won’t have the time to follow any of these suggestions. Have a nice day.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Flash Mobs, Tea Dances and Noise Violations

    On the evening of Sunday, September 30, Don Blyler, event planner extraordinaire, foisted upon Lancaster’s downtown residents a Provincetown-like “Tea Dance” called Sunset Sundance from the top level of the Prince street parking garage.

    The featured music was presented by one of Washington D.C.’s finest DJ’s, David Merrill. A check of his Facebook page reveals that his specialty genre is Fire Island-inspired cutting edge beats as in “House, Progressive, Tribal, Trance and Electro-House” sounds.

    Unbelievably, as a practitioner of “cutting edge sounds”, David Merrill is cheeky enough to credit Nietzsche with the comment, “Without music life would be a mistake“. I seriously doubt that Nietzsche would have included the insistent, persistent, throbbing gay disco beat as required listening for a music lover.

    This “Happening” (as used to occur during the Beat generation years ago) was engineered like a Flash Mob occurrence of this generation -- the location was Secret until it was announced via Tweet or Facebook or eMail the morning of the event.

    Even if hobnobbing elbow to elbow with a dance floor full of men is your thing (this was a gay-ish event for the benefit of the LGBT community,) you had to be prepared with money. General admission was $55. VIP admission was available for $110. And for that Special VIP, “Priority” VIP admission could be had for $1100.

    Have you ever tried to listen to quiet music in the privacy of your own home? Have unwanted, unwarranted sounds invaded your home for more than a minute or two? Or ten minutes? Or FOUR hours?

    Well, thanks to our city officials, Lancaster has a noise ordinance designed to prevent invasive sounds from penetrating into your private, quiet space. Like the sounds emanating from the roof of the Prince street parking garage for the entire downtown neighborhood.

Yeah, sure.

    A police officer ticketing cars parked in a No Parking space nearby said when asked if the sounds crossed property lines, “I think they’re crossing half the city”. The officer called in and asked for information about the LOUD event and learned that a “variance” had been authorized for this event. With a variance you can make any noise you want to without fear of prosecution.

    A variance, when sought, has to be applied for and a notice of application must be published far enough in advance for affected people to express their feelings about the request. However, with a one-time event, a variance can be granted by a police officer appointed by the Chief of Police.  What seems to be missing here is that even a streamlined “express” variance MUST COMPLY with the stipulations set forth in the basic noise ordinance.

        Chapter 198 Noise Subsection 198-7 A(5) (pertaining to Variances)

        “In determining whether to grant or deny the application,                        
        the Board (Noise Control Review Board) shall balance
        the hardship to the applicant versus the adverse impact to the public health, safety and welfare
        and shall consider at a minimum the following conditions:

            (a)  The physical characteristics of the emitted sound;
            (b)  The times and duration of the emitted sound;
            (c)  The geography, zone and population density of the affected area;
            (d)  Whether the public health and safety is endangered;
            (e)  Whether the sound source predates the receivers; and
            (f)  Whether compliance with the standards from which the variance is sought would
                  produce hardship without equal or greater benefit to the public.

        “The Chief of the Bureau of Police or his designee may, upon application and guided by the
        standards for use as set forth in Subsection A(5) hereof, grant special variances
        for infrequent events or activities, including but not limited to band concerts,
        block parties, church carnivals or other performances or similar activities,
        publicly or privately sponsored and presented at any public or private space outdoors.”

    It seems in the case of this event, the Hardship requirement was never even addressed. The burden of proving hardship is on the applicant. The applicant has to prove that denial of the request would create a hardship on him.

    “Hardship” is defined as privation or suffering.

    “Privation” is lack of what is needed for existence.

    “Suffering” is enduring death, pain, or distress.

    I don’t understand how being denied the authority to make music loud enough to permeate an entire neighborhood disturbing the peace of all who wish to hear their own music in their own home could be considered a hardship.