Jewish World Review Dec. 9, 2004 / 25 Kislev, 5765

Jeff Elder

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Consumer Reports

That yellow line on the field during televised football; flushing a live fish; When was a dollar worth a dollar?; more | Q: How do they make those electronic first-down lines on TV during NFL games? - John Adams, Indian Trail, N.C.

A: They do it with technology that hustles more than a crazed Ray Lewis in the fourth quarter.

The yellow stripe is created by a video system called 1st & 10. It examines every frame from every camera 30 TIMES A SECOND.

1st & 10 gathers precise information about each camera's view, tilt and angle, and monitors which camera is on the air. It then uses a 3-D model of the field to map the line.

Another part of 1st & 10 breaks the colors of the video broadcast into two palettes: One for the players, and one for the field. The colors for the players (their uniforms, shoes, skin) is never drawn over by the yellow line. The colors for the field are drawn over by the yellow line. That's how the first-down marker never obscures a player, but is always where it should be on the grass.

Finally, a computer in a truck outside the stadium gathers all these readings and geometrically calculates which pixels in the video frame should be yellow. The first-down line is then drawn into the video 60 TIMES PER SECOND.

One last little wild card: The whole system has to also account for the fact that NFL fields are not perfectly flat. They slightly crest in the middle and slope down toward the ends and sides, allowing rainwater to drain off. (This drainage doesn't always work to perfection.)

No wonder 1st & 10 has won two Emmys.

As football fans know, it's extremely handy in showing us where the first down is. Even if, as announcers often remind us, "The yellow line is not official."

Source: Sportvision

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Q: What happens when you flush a live fish? - Name withheld by request

A: Some experts describe it this way: "Grinding Nemo."

The shock of being swirled around the toilet bowl probably kills most fish on the way down, experts say. If that doesn't, they have to pass through whirling turbine blades in the sewer.

And the sewer itself is no bed of roses.

In other words, it's not the magical journey portrayed in "Finding Nemo," the animated film that suggested the fishy notion that "all drains lead back to the ocean." (Nemo went down a dentist's spit sink.) This sentiment prompted dozens of American kids to liberate their finned friends with a flush of freedom. Bad idea.

"Don't flush the fish!" Disney, fish experts and plumbers proclaimed in a combined statement before the movie was released internationally.

If a flushed fish DOES somehow survive into local waterways, it can hurt the environment. That fish doesn't belong there, and can introduce new diseases to the indigenous species. For this reason, it's also a bad idea to dump your pet fish in a pond or stream.

So what should you do if you can't take care of your fish? Ask a fish shop, another fish owner or fish club if they'll take it.


Q: When was a dollar worth a dollar? - Nancy Smaragdis

A: Whenever you got your first paycheck, because that's how you'll always think of money. In other words, it's all relative. There is no baseline for the actual worth of a sawbuck. That's what Federal Reserve economists told me.

But if you wonder how much a dollar from your youth would buy in goods and services today, you can easily find out. There's a cool consumer price index calculator at the Federal Reserve site online at Just punch in an amount, a year from the past, and 2004.

Here's what bucks from past decades would be worth today:

_What $1 bought in 1920 costs $9.47 today.

_What $1 bought in 1930 costs $11.34 today.

_What $1 bought in 1940 costs $13.52 today.

_What $1 bought in 1950 costs $7.85 today.

_What $1 bought in 1960 costs $6.40 today.

_What $1 bought in 1970 costs $4.88 today.

_What $1 bought in 1980 costs $2.30 today.

_What $1 bought in 1990 costs $1.45 today.

_What $1 bought in 2000 costs $1.10 today.



On real cool cats ...

1. Who was the famously finicky cat that worked for 9 Lives cat food?

2. Who was Bill Clinton's cat?

3. What comic strip cat (who occasionally appeared dead) was famous for saying "Ack! Phht!"?

4. Whose former Key West, Fla., home is famous for its dozens of six-toed cats?

5. In what movie does the character Holly Golightly leave her stray named Cat in the rain?



1. Morris

2. Socks

3. Bill The Cat, from Berke Breathed's "Bloom County"

4. Ernest Hemingway's

5. "Breakfast at Tiffany's"

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Jeff Elder is a columnist for The Charlotte Observer. Comment or try to stump him by clicking here. If you send him a great question, he'll send you a Glad You Asked T-shirt.


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