Jewish World Review Dec. 22, 2004 / 10 Teves, 5765

Jeff Elder

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Consumer Reports

Dodos; Why are green olives sold in glass and black olives sold in cans?; how closed captioning on TV works | Q: Was there an actual bird called the dodo? If so, when did it become extinct and why? Why do we call someone who is not too bright a dodo? - Melissa Henderson, Huntersville, N.C.

A: The dodo was a goofy-looking, flightless bird that lived on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, east of the southern tip of Africa.

It was an almost helpless bird, and the sailors who landed on Mauritius hunted it heavily. But what killed it off were the animals the Dutch brought with them when they colonized the island in 1644. Cats, dogs, swine and monkeys invaded the woods, devouring eggs and chicks. The dodo was extinct by 1681.

"Dodo" has become a synonym for dunce or klutz because the bird was reportedly quite clumsy and funny-looking. It was a large, plump bird with a plume of white at its tail. It had small wings, short stubby legs and a large crooked beak.

The word "dodo" is thought by many to come from the Dutch "dodoor," meaning sluggard.

The dodo was comical looking and perhaps even destined for extinction because its movements were so limited. But its extinction, like that of any animal, is nevertheless quite sad.

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Q: Why are green olives sold in glass and black olives sold in cans? - Bob Miller, Charlotte

A: Because the green olives are practicing for their careers in martini glasses.

Actually, black olives are cooked in the can, olive makers say. After they're packed in brine, they're slowly heated in the metal container.

Green olives are pasteurized. And sometimes later soaked in chilled alcohol. (Just in case.)

Q: How does closed captioning on TV work? How about live shows, such as news or awards shows? Is there someone who really sits there and types everything? (I wonder what their typing speed is!) Or do they have the script? - Michelle Summers, Concord, N.C.

A: Michelle, I can't tell you how many times I've wondered these same things while watching - and reading - TV in a crowded bar.

Oops. I mean airport.

For taped shows, transcribers type in a show's script, which is then added to the videotape with software. Experts say it can take 30 hours to caption a one-hour show. Among the challenges: Properly timing and pacing each line of dialogue. But it's well worth it for the networks and cable channels to caption programs, because about 24 million hearing-impaired Americans use them. Some people use them to learn English.

For live shows, someone often DOES type in at least some of the closed captioning as the show is being broadcast. The typists use a special keyboard like a court reporter's. In fact, many "stenocaptioners" ARE former court reporters - and they're the fastest of the fast. To keep up with a live show, they must type up to 250 words a minute in shorthand. A computer translates this into English, and the dialogue of the show is then shown at the bottom of the screen a few seconds after the words are spoken. Because this is done so fast, some wacky typos and errors occur.

But it's worth it to endure a few mistakes in order to caption important live programs like the news, presidential debates and MTV's Scuzziest Roadies Awards.

And there are other methods for closed captioning live shows. For some programs, the script is loaded in advance. Then an operator displays it a line at a time throughout the broadcast. Some local news broadcasts basically caption what is shown to anchors on teleprompters. And voice-activated technology, which appears to be the future of closed captioning, is being improved.

How can you tell when a super-fast stenocaptioner is typing in the closed captions during a live broadcast? Live closed captions jump across the screen a word or two at a time. Loaded scripts drop in line by line.

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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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