Wednesday, December 30, 2009

NBC hoping Winter Classic includes 'at least some baseball or football'

"Correct dimensions ... check, boards ... check, goals ... check, ice ... oh crap."

Seeking to increase television ratings, NBC has asked the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers, opponents in Friday's Fenway Park NHL Winter Classic, to not play hockey. Instead, the network would simply prefer that the two hockey clubs play baseball (or football) in one of the sports most cherished stadiums on New Year's Day. "At the very least we would like to see the teams use a baseball or smaller-sized football instead of a puck if they do decide to play hockey," said Albert Zumos, an NBC executive. Whether or not the teams decide to play hockey, each club will take a televised batting practice before the game. "We're hoping it tricks some of the television audience that there is actually going to be a baseball game played at Fenway Park in January," said Zumos. "The batting practice will definitely increase the number of viewers early in the telecast." Also, if the game goes into a shootout, the teams will attempt to earn the extra point in the standings with a field goal kicking contest that NBC demanded to be part of the Winter Classic broadcasting deal.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

City removes every trace of snow from Delancey St, adds leaves to trees

Above photo: Delancey Street in Philadelphia only 23 minutes after a December record 23.2 inches of snow fell over the weekend in the Philadelphia area. The controversial, city-funded and operated Delancey Street Snow Task Force cleared last Saturday's snow in record time, utilizing its 350 crew members, 35 plows, 100 snow blowers and 700 hair dryers in the process. The task force was established in 1882 (photo below) to keep the street free of snow, by whatever means necessary, for its many influential residents. "The crew gets one minute to remove the snow for every inch that has fallen," said Susan Vern, a Streets Department representative. "We'd like to have a snow task force for every street in the city, but it's just not in the budget right now. It's just not."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gaga's 'Proper Yahtzee' song a tribute to dice game

The award-winning singer Lady Gaga (Stefani Gemanotta) claims that she owes much of her success to the popular dice game Yahtzee. So much, in fact, that the 23-year-old performer from New York City wrote a song about the game of chance titled "Proper Yahtzee."

Released in July, "Proper Yahtzee" still tops the charts in single CD sales and can be heard on countless radio stations around the world. It wasn't until recently, during an interview with Today's Matt Lauer, that the pop star revealed Yahtzee's personal connection.

"Yahtzee taught me many life lessons," said the singer. "My parents not only encouraged my siblings and me to play Yahtzee, but to play proper Yahtzee and follow all the rules and be very familiar with the hidden strategies of the game."

Deciding when to use a chance, three-of-a-kind, four-of-a-kind or even a small straight requires quick decision making and strengthens mathematical skills. Also, decision making is very important when choosing what die or dice to keep after a first or second roll.

One of the key reasons for Yahtzee having such a large influence in Gaga's life was that fact that her father, Joseph Germanotta, was a world-class Yahtzee competitor throughout the 1980's. "He traveled all over North America and Western Europe to play the game," said the singer. "So he would expect nothing less than proper Yahtzee from his children."

From an early age Gaga has vivid memories of placing the five dice in the red cup and recording scores on the child-friendly scoring sheets.

"I remember when I was about seven years old and we were playing Yahtzee in the kitchen and I used my chance too early in the game," recalled Gaga about the scoring option of adding any combination of dice. "And my father kept asking if I really wanted to use my chance. He kept saying, 'proper Yahtzee sweetie, let's think and execute proper Yahtzee."

So, remember when playing the game to always execute proper, proper, proper Yahtzee!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

City solves obstructed bike lane problem ... with ramps

Cycling along Spruce Street’s buffered bicycle lane last week I encountered several stopped automobiles on my westbound, cross-town journey. In only a few short months, this may no longer be a very frustrating occurrence for cyclists.

"There has to be something that can solve the problem," said commuter cyclist Ronnie Talbot. "Something that all interested parties will be happy with."

Most of the city’s bikers, including myself, are more than willing to share the road; however, when four, five or, even, six vehicles per block are parked or stopped in the designated bike lane it can be extremely dangerous for everyone involved. Soon, these stationary cars will no longer be a problem. In fact, autos may even be welcomed. Huh?

The City of Philadelphia can be credited for creating this dramatic turnaround in cyclists’ attitudes toward impeded bike lanes. Cyclists voiced their concern, the city listened and hit a home run with its solution.

Beginning in March of 2010 the city will adopt the country’s first bicycle car ramp program. What does this mean? The program, officially called Philadelphia Bicycle Ramp Pilot Program: A Bridge Over Obstruction, aims to provide cyclists with an easy way to traverse over the stopped or parked automobile blocking the outlined bike lane.

“It’s quite simple,” said Dan Yates, a Mayor’s office representative. “If you provide cyclists the means to pedal over the tops of cars with wide, comfortable ramps we think they will. And if motorists can easily set ramps up, they can remain stopped for hours … its win-win.”

I must give the city credit, after hearing the idea for this revolutionary car ramp pilot program last week, I was skeptical. My main concerns were the weight of the ramps, anti-theft devices for the ramps and possible tire damage to bicycles.

The Philadelphia Streets Department has announced that the program will be tested for two months on the new Spruce-Pine bike lanes beginning in March on the 2000 block of Pine St and the 700 block of Spruce St.

Up to ten ramps will be placed on each block in order for five motorists to legally stop or park in the bike lane area. Smart technology and Philadelphia Parking Authority cards will be used in order to give drivers access to the locked ramps located on the adjacent sidewalks. Rubber-coated magnets and clamps will keep the inclines in place on the backs and fronts of cars keeping paint and body damage to a minimum.

"It's a simple swipe of the card to unlock the ramps," said Mark Blanton, a planner with the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. "Each ramp also has a cable attached so motorist or pedestrians don't run off with them."

The slopes can be extended up to 40 feet, allowing all cyclists a more gradual climb to the top of the automobile. The elongated ramps will also better serve cyclists when riding over tall delivery trucks.

"Bikers will need to ride as fast as they can in order to build up enough momentum to scale the vehicle," said Blanton. "Pedaling hard, balance and modern helmets will be the key to the project's success."

The ultra-light aluminum alloy ramps can support over 400 pounds and, weighing nearly 20 pounds each, can be set in place and disassembled by most everyone in less than two minutes.

There is no cost to motorists to use the ramps, at least, for now. The City feels the free service will encourage the use of the ramps, even if a driver is stopping in the lane for only 30 seconds.

One cyclist, who learned of the program last week, tested the idea in a South Philadelphia parking lot on his own car and ramps.

"I felt a bit unsteady going up the ramp," said cyclist Tom Bridgeton, 45, of Old City. "But going down the front ramp was much easier and, actually, very enjoyable."

The program is attracting attention from across the country as city officials from Portland, OR, one the nation’s friendliest bicycling cities, have twice visited Philadelphia to study its objectives and officially endorse the project.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Beebe to loan Westbrook padded helmet

Retired NFL wide receiver Don Beebe has graciously decided to loan his foam-covered helmet to concussion-prone Eagles' running back Brian Westbrook. Beebe played in the NFL from 1989 to 1997 and spent most of that time with the Buffalo Bills, where he and teammate Mark Kelso popularized the top-padded head gear after sustaining several concussions.

"We contacted Don about two weeks ago regarding the use of his helmet for Brian," said Eagles' head coach Andy Reid. "Don was very receptive to the idea and said that he would check his attic and basement to see if he could find it."

"It took me about two hours to find, but it was in with my kids' Halloween costumes all the way in the back of the attic," said Beebe.

The ultra-light padding on the helmet is approximately one inch thick and is designed to absorb the impact of several hundred pounds moving at a high rate of speed. The gear served Beebe so well, in fact, that he would often wear it while biking, ice skating and, even, driving in airbag-less cars.

"I used the helmet a lot outside of football," said Beebe. "Doctor's orders."

The Eagles claim to be running out of options to protect their star player and that borrowing the Beebe helmet was "the only thing we could think of right now." At the request of Beebe the team will not paint or alter the head protector in any way.

"It'll be kind of weird wearing a Buffalo Bills helmet," said Westbrook. "But I'm itching to get out there and help the team during the stretch drive and this helmet is the key to that happening. Don's a great guy, we've talked several times in the past week about our [concussion] symptoms."

Out this week against the Giants, Westbrook hopes to return to play next Sunday versus the San Francisco 49ers at home after missing five games because of two concussions suffered in weeks 7 and 10. The team plans to fly Beebe and his family to Philadelphia for the game, where team owner Jeffrey Lurie will host the group in the owner's luxury box.

This is not the first time that Beebe has loaned his helmet to a Philadelphia athlete. In 2000, a retired Beebe granted Philadelphia Flyers center Eric Lindros (photo below) permission to use the custom-made protective gear during a playoff run.

"For whatever reason the helmet didn't offer the same protection on ice as it did on the field," said Beebe. "So BWest should be just fine."

Notes: The Eagles also contacted Mark Kelso about using his helmet, identical to Beebe's, for wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who suffered a concussion in week 12. The Eagles reported that Kelso did not return numerous calls. Jackson and Westbrook may share the gear depending on who is in the game. it is possible that the helmet may be large enough for the two players to wear at one time, something they plan to practice in pregame warm-ups.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Progress or laziness? Iconic museum steps to be replaced with giant escalators

"The new escalators will allow four to five times as many tourists to run, er, rather ride to the top of the steps per day," said Roger Dillon, the Philadelphia Museum of Art's executive director. "We can move a lot of people and because the escalators will only go up we're hoping some tourists actually make it inside the museum." Some were upset by the news of the plans to replace the world famous steps: "It's kind of sad," said Kelly Hinders, visiting from Michigan. "I guess you can still run up the moving escalators like at the mall or something. It won't be exactly the same, but it'll be close."