Thursday, June 28, 2012

How I learned to Swim (Intro):

I want to tell you how I learned to swim, but first I shall invoke some memories of where I learned. The date was 1950 or 1951, and around this time – there were polio scares every summer – we did not go to public pools. We spent some time at the bay beach near Jones Beach Stadium (Long Island), where I generally played in the sand. But when we visited Grandma Paula, we swam almost every day.
Her farm was in the lower Catskills near the Ashokan reservoir. We usually went to the “Cold Spot” or to the “Spillway pond”. The Spillway pond was the preferred place, but its water consisted of runoff from the Ashokan, and in dry years there was no pond at all. In wet years, the pond was deep and its current too fierce.
The Cold Spot was always the same, wonderfully swampy with water spiders, wasps, and reeds in many different clusters and shapes. After we swam there, our parents carefully plucked the leeches from our bodies.
Rarely, we swam at “The Weir”, a great expanse of shallow water. I'm not sure why we generally avoided the Weir, but perhaps the reason was a retaining wall of the Ashokan that loomed fifty feet above, shutting out the sunlight on even the brightest afternoons.
I learned to swim at the Spillway, rather suddenly, and tomorrow I plan to tell you about it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

One, Two, Three, Many (on the radio):

I usually organize and broadcast a 2.5 hour radio show of classical music, every Tuesday morning. This week I subbed for the DJ with the 8:30 slot, so I had a five hour program. (I shall do the same on the 26th. You can hear me at, 6:00 a.m., EDT, Tuesdays.)

For 6/19/12, I had an unusual idea for a show. I called it “One, Two, Three, Many.” And here's what I did: I played a solo piece, then a duo, a trio, a quartet and so on, right up to a nonet. And then I completed the show with Mozart's Gran Partita for 13 instruments. (You can hear part of that piece near the beginning of the movie Amadeus.)

The incredible thing is that I had to do very little time management. The program fit exactly into a five hour period. Wow!

All the music was terrific. The composers were Bach, Mozart, Bartok, Haydn, Hindemith, Schoenberg, Berwald, Schubert and Martinu. You can check out the actual playlist here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Email was not invented in the 1970's:

VA Shiva Ayyadurai claims to have invented Email in the early 1970's. Nonsense! In 1968, I joined a Princeton, NJ company called Applied Logic Corporation (ALC), which offered nationwide timesharing to its customers. In addition to using compilers and various applications, all customers could exchange Email, using a mail program with "To", "From" and "CC" capabilities. The mail program was in place when I arrived, in January of 1968; it had been written even sooner.

The mail program may have been developed by ALC, but it may also have been offered by the developer of the hardware and system software: DEC, in their PDP 6 operating system. We developers at ALC used email heavily to control our specs, share modules and cooperate on testing. We thought it was absolutely wonderful to have Email.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Garry Moore (2):

Garry Moore was exceedingly popular for about one year during the run of his TV show. It was produced in Manhattan, and during that year he learned never to stop moving on the sidewalks. If he stopped to chat with an admirer (he was often recognized), a crowd would form, making progress impossible. When greeted, he learned to say something brief, perhaps add a handshake, and move on.

One night he left the studio late and met a fellow on one of the empty side streets. The fellow spoke some sort of greeting. Garry brifely clasped the man's arm, said “You betcha,” and moved on.

At the end of the block he realized what the man had said:
“This is a stickup.”

He looked back. The man was standing in mid-block, staring. After a frozen moment, the man turned around and ran away.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Garry Moore:

Garry Moore was one of the first TV show hosts I truly enjoyed. He was much more low-key than modern talk-show hosts. The talk-show had not yet been invented, so his show was Variety, complete with a small orchestra and a regular singer, Peggy King. When it was time for her number, he might say, “Sing, Peggy King.” Occasionally he said, “Sinj, Pejjy Kinj.”
Although I remember many hours of gentle amusement, I remember very few specific gags, but here’s one to share with you. He held up what I hesitate to call a pair of glasses. There was only a single lens, centered in the frame. The live audience tittered.
“These seem to be lost,” he said. “But there’s a name: ’A Cyclops.’ Mr. Cyclops, you can pick your glasses up after the show. Please be sure to bring some identification.”

Thursday, June 07, 2012

One Towel Only, Today:

The fitness center where I swim provides a towel service. The towels aren't large but they are good enough to save me, and many appreciative members, the trouble of managing our own towels. My fitness center is almost the only one in our area that provides towel service. They ask us to limit ourselves to two towels per visit, because the service is so expensive. They have to buy towels and pay people to wash them, dry them, fold them and move them from place to place.

Last Monday a sign said: Temporarily, please use only one towel. There will soon be more towels.

That was a challenge for me. I need a towel to keep me from freezing in the A/C when I return to the locker room; that same towel to sit on in the steam room; a towel to dry with, after I shower; and a towel to step on so that when I change into my socks, I need not stand barefoot on the locker room floor. (Fungus, anyone?)

I can make two towels suffice for all this. That one-towel limit was onerous, but I managed.

A short, Spanish-speaking attendant came into the locker room to remove the bin of used towels. I wondered if he knew what the problem was. My brain told me not to bother. He wouldn't understand my question; I wouldn't understand his answer; he wouldn't know the problem. But I have gotten so used to chatting with strangers lately (at my 50th Reunion) that I plunged right in:
“What's the problem with the towels?”
He stared at me and said, “Dryer is broken.”

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The General Trauma of Backwards Shirts:

When I was a kid, I utterly failed to master the art of putting shirts on frontwards. Undershirts, Tees, anything without buttons was hit-or-miss for me. I can't recall how my parents felt about it, but if they corrected me, they were kind and gentle.

If they hadn't been kind and gentle, I would remember, the way I remember being at summer camp when I was ten, mercilessly teased for wearing shirts backwards. A counselor took me aside and told me the sure-fire trick: Lay the shirt on my bed, front-side down. Then lift it up and put it on, and presto! It would go on the right way.

I carefully followed these instructions for three days; three horrible days of being told my shirt was backwards, and going back to the bunk until in desperation I got it right. On the fourth day, I tried to be analytical. That counselor had given me the solution! I must be doing something wrong.

Once again I laid the shirt on the bed, front side down. Then I watched myself like a hawk, as I reached out with my arms crossed and lifted the shirt. As I uncrossed my arms, the shirt twisted around backward. WHY HAD I DECIDED TO CROSS MY ARMS???

I got through the rest of camp with my shirts properly on.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Men's Undershirts:

I'm growing old, and I have not mastered the art of putting undershirts correctly on. Almost always, I make sure to turn them right side out. Then there is the issue of distinguishing between front and back. The collar at the back is usually higher and thicker. Why? If I put the shirt on backwards, I have to take it off and try again. Why can't the front and the back be the same? In fact, why can't the inside and the outside be the same? We're talking about a garment that is normally invisible.

My occasional ineptness isn't the only reason that undershirts bother me. I'll tell you about the traumatic side tomorrow.

Monday, June 04, 2012

"Preaching" to the Choir about double quote marks. Again:

I know I'm preaching to the choir, but, hey, Choir: maybe some of you can preach to the perpetrators. Double quotation marks have several uses: to show that someone is speaking; to show that a few words have been quoted verbatim; and to show that the words so-called are implied.

I shall give an example of the latter: I believe that these two sentences have almost the same meaning:

We sell so-called fresh shrimp.
We sell “fresh shrimp.”

Sadly my favorite supermarket thinks that the second sentence means:

We sell remarkably fresh shrimp.

Languages evolve. Even punctuation evolves. The trouble with this new use of quote marks is that it directly conflicts with an existing use, and for those of us aware of the contradiction, it fails to accomplish its intention. For example, I find it hard to believe that my supermarket's shrimp is really fresh; too bad I will never find out. I also think the realtor who brags like this on his billboard fails to convince me:

I “sell” homes.

I find it hard to stay off land when I'm asked to do so in double quotes:

“Stay off the grass.”

And I am not attracted to a restaurant whose billboard says:

“We serve vegan food!” (Who said that?)

This new use of double quotations could be welcome in English as soon as we expunge all of the directly conflicting usage. Which of course will never happen.