Thursday, December 15, 2011

Muse of the Week: Happy Olive Days

I had the best time watching the KPTV-12 Portland morning news in the fitness center yesterday morning. Nothing makes time on a treadmill more bearable than a good laugh, and the closed captioning provided this in abundance. Perhaps the best item of the morning was a piece on the recent troubles of former French president "Joshua Rock," but I also greatly enjoyed the "water cooler" story on a bear found in a New Jersey man's "salary" (cellar), the periodic "Czech" on the traffic and a topical piece on the "Olive Days."

Amusement value aside (and these were particularly bad captions... I wonder about the enunciation of those commentators), closed captioning is a tremendously valuable service for the deaf and hard of hearing. My own 95-year-old grandmother is one of millions, I'm sure, who find this service useful -- and probably gets the occasional laugh, too, that is lost upon us hearing folk who don't regularly read the captions.

All this led me to wonder about the history behind closed captioning. Evidently the service started in March 1980, although tests were conducted as early as 1971 to determine the possibility of using a portion of a network's broadcast signal to send captions. The process of working out the details was undertaken by the Public Broadcasting System and meanwhile, early permutations first ran on "The French Chef" with Julia Child. In 1979, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare established the National Captioning Institute, charged with performing the task of captioning. The closed-caption television service formally began on March 16, 1980 for prerecorded content, and by 1982 technology had been developed to allow for live, real-time captioning. By mid-1993, all televisions sold in the United States with screens larger than 13 inches were required to have closed-caption decoders.

Captioning continues to be undertaken by real people; live captioning, for example, is done using a computerized system based upon stenographic shorthand used by court reporters and other people who have to transcribe quickly. According to the National Captioning Institute, it can take up to a year to train even someone who already works as a court reporter to do captioning for live content. Live captioners must type at up to 225 words a minute, and the service strives to maintain a 98 percent accuracy rate (the folks I was watching this morning must really have been mumblers).

The National Captioning Institute has a Web site with much more information at Meanwhile, Happy Olive Days to all of you! Uncle Sam's Attic will take a week's break.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Webfoot Wednesday: Geography

On this day in 1898, the first steam locomotive pulled into the small eastern Oregon town of Moro. Completion of the Columbia Southern Railroad to Moro was occasion for celebration, connecting as it did the region's wheat farmers with shipping terminals on the Columba River and thence on to the wider world of commerce.*

We are perched upon the cusp of an interesting new era when geographic location may become less significant in mediating where we can live and work. Telecommuters can work from anywhere they have access to an Internet signal; data processing facilities for companies such as Google and Facebook, similarly unencumbered, seek geographic attributes far different from the transportation network links that once were so essential. Today, it is conditions like a mild, dry climate and favorable tax conditions that draw these corporations to formerly peripheral (but physically gorgeous) locations from The Dalles to Prineville.

One of the predominant narratives of the twentieth century was the enduring pattern of migration from rural areas to urban regions and the new sprawl of the Sunbelt. As someone interested in migration history, I am curious to see how the new geographic paradigm of the Internet age affects these processes. Will these conditions spell the salvation of the small town, or will lack of educational access and capital continue to spell the doom of rural and small-town America? The changing parameters of our relationship to the rest of the world are as potentially revolutionary as the steam locomotive that pulled into Moro in 1898.

* James Cloutier, This Day in Oregon (Eugene, Ore.: Image West Press, 1982)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Muse of the Week: Debates

I would like to officially record my delight that even some of the most stridently conservative individuals in the GOP presidential race have opted out of the farce masquerading as a "debate" that is sponsored by Newsmax and scheduled to be moderated by Donald Trump. Hooray for respect for the electoral process! Three cheers for decency!

Also, I just thought this was funny...

[Image credit]

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Webfoot Wednesday: Pearl Harbor

Today's Oregonian included news that the Pearl Harbor Survivor's Association will disband today, the 70th anniversary of the Japanese bombing that drew the United States formally into World War II. Such an announcement was only a matter of time; after all, the very youngest among the Pearl Harbor survivors will soon cross the threshold of 90. It brings me some sadness. My late Great Uncle Jens Peter "Cy" Simonsen was a Pearl Harbor survivor, and it was an event that defined his life. He was on the USS Maryland, which was hit but not sunk during the attack. He proudly joined the Survivor's Association, and he and Aunt Marlys attended gatherings locally and across the nation. He shared his experiences for the benefit of countless school projects. I still have a survivors' mug in my kitchen cabinet.

Some of the survivors profiled in the article were concerned society would forget about the events of December 7, 1941. These are observations that point toward the paramount importance of telling our stories -- of triumph, of pain, and of everything in between. When we share our stories, we weave a tapestry of shared memory from which we can draw, learn and define ourselves (both within and against) long into our future.

I won't forget, Uncle Cy.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Then and Now

Super cool Web site: Historical photos of various cities, juxtaposed with Google street view to present fascinating montages of then-and-now. Includes Portland and Los Angeles (which is especially interesting).