5 for Friday: Go Ask Daddy About Camera Interference, Bar Codes, and Sittin’ on the Dock of a Bay


It’s in the grocer’s freezer, ma’am. Mmmhmm.

Go Ask Daddy: Open for business.

The kids don’t ask me about the fiscal cliff, or General Petraeus, or even what the heck the BCS is going to do if four schools remain undefeated. Nothing heavy, you see.

No, the questions come out of what’s in front of them. The grocery store. Storms. Sports.

Long after I exhaust the list of blog topics, there’ll still be the questions.

For that, I’m eternally grateful.

So let’s get to it, shall we? My Google’s all warmed up.

1. How does the scanner scan our groceries?

Back in the day, they had to type in all the prices, and add them up. Weird, huh? In the 70s, a store called Kroger introduced this fancy thing called a scanner, designed to eliminate that wait time in line. (In the 70s, we didn’t have smartphones to play on while we waited.)

What we call UPC codes today (which stands for universal product code) were referred to as bull’s-eye codes. Now, customers in Harris-Teeter wait in line even though the self-scan is wide open with four registers, just so they can have someone else do the dirty work of scanning UPCs for them.

The register shoots out these high-tech laser beams that read the black bars hundreds of times in a less than a second. All the while, the white lines in the code are reflecting light back to the laser, and the black lines are absorbing it, so that every time we buy a fun-sized bag of Cheeto’s, we’re generating the same laser power that took down the Death Star in the first Star Wars movie.

It’s a tiny exchange of ying and yang technology that culminates in a loud beep and more money taken from my debit card.

This scanner, though, does nothing to keep my sourdough bread from being bagged beneath my bottle of Coke Zero. Some things are left to God.

2. Who invented football, and why do they call it football?

Speak softly, and carry a big kick.

Football originated from college life. Crazy college kids. Maybe they didn’t have any disc golf courses around back then. “Football” grew in popularity, and included several dozen players trying to kick a round ball across the opponent’s goal line, but you couldn’t throw or run with the football.

It was soccer, without the goal nets, copious hair product and incessant flopping. It probably looked like the opening moments of Black Friday at Walmart, but less violent.

After Rutgers and Princeton bruised their way to a 6-4 final in the late 1800s in the nation’s first football game, the school cancelled all games because players neglected their studies (a precursor to the modern game).

Harvard and Canadian college McGill also floundered around with the sport until Walter Camp, a player at Yale, put down his pate and took the initiative to formulate rules and a points system.

It took President Theodore Roosevelt to save the sport in 1905. The flying wedge – a formation in which a group of blockers ran around a ball carrier and leveled anything in his path, not unlike the current-day celeb posse – left far too many young men in traction, so Roosevelt urged a movement toward player safety that led to banishing the wedge and the introduction of helmets.

This led to the advent of the forward pass, Thanksgiving Day football, quarterbacks who lick their hands before every play, and eventually players who wear pink cleats in October, in roughly that order.

Aside: Maybe they still call it football today because on the first play, you kick it with your foot. This has no logical value whatsoever. We should then call basketball Tipoffball and baseball Pitchball. Plus, “mostly handsball, but sometimes football” would make the NFL the NMHBSFL, which is cumbersome to paint on the 50 yard line.

3. Speaking of football, has anyone ever hit one of those power cords that hold the TV cameras?

Nah, brother. We hang those puppies from cables, right over the players’ heads.

Those TV cameras – known as SkyCam – would distract me if I was an NFL star. Imagine me streaking down the sideline en route to a 101-yard touchdown run, having that puppy slide up above me as I ran. I’d probably turn to look at it, then trip, tumble, stumble, then fumble the ball to a place on the field where the other team could scoop it up and run in for a score.

There are no incidents of the ball hitting the camera nor the cord, on official record or the first two pages of Google searches. The NFL, with the greatest athletes in the sport and the most cutting-edge technology and a commissioner and players union all relegating the game, would defer to one of the oldest rulings in sport should the ball hit a power cord or the actual TV camera (or a yellow-eyed penguin, meteorite or James Harden’s beard, actually):

They’d call a do-over.

I’m serious.

Check out what happened with the SkyCam during an SEC game once. Maybe God doesn’t want the BCS championship games dominated by SEC teams after all:

4. How do they take those pictures of lightning?

This takes rare talent, and a quick trigger. All photographers who capture lightning on film (as opposed to a bottle, which is where the world of commerce would like it) are direct descendants of Wild West sharp-shooters – well, the shooters who didn’t end up looking at the sky with lead in their belly on a dusty western street.

This explanation is so complex it makes my mustache ache. You need a real camera – not the one on your tablet or mobile phone – a tripod, 100 speed film (I’ll explain what film is someday, girls), and a locking cable release.

Set the focus on infinity, the shutter speed at B, and open the shutter for 15 seconds to 2 minutes. You might have to do this more than once. Oh, and you’ll need someplace dark. And lightning, preferably.

The challenge is getting close enough to the storm for a sick shot, but far enough away that you and your tripod don’t get barbecued. If you do this when you’re all grown up and don’t have to listen to me anymore, don’t go all Ben Franklin on us, OK?

5. Why did that guy not get to finish writing his song?

(This one was asked while we listened to Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay.”)

Otis died in a plane crash Dec. 10, 1967 – three days after he recorded this song, and six weeks before its release. His star was just on the rise. He’d just moved to Sausalito, near the San Francisco bay. At age 26, who knows where his career might have taken him.

When I hear this song, I feel an equal dose of gratitude/solitude, and remorse/regret. It probably depends on where I am the moment it comes on the radio.

The whistling? Otis and his producer, Steve Cropper, didn’t have the last verse written, so Otis whistled in its place. He’d finish writing it when he returned to Memphis, he said, but it never happened. His producers left the whistling in, and really, it fits the song pretty well, doesn’t it?

Sometimes, whistling’s better than words, anyway.

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28 thoughts on “5 for Friday: Go Ask Daddy About Camera Interference, Bar Codes, and Sittin’ on the Dock of a Bay

  1. I wish I had a dad like you when I was a kid. You are just the COOLEST and most AWESOME-EST dad in the WORLD! I could just picture your girls asking you questions through out your day or week or month, and you come up with these answers like no one can. Your answers make me want to ask even more questions…because they are just THAT good…and entertaining!! :)

    • I keep waiting for the day I get the question about General Petraeus or Boy George or why Hispanic guys can’t dunk. The kids are starting to call me out for having to google so much, though. I’m supposed to be an encyclopedia wrapped in a newspaper dipped in the sauce of knowledge, apparently.

      I have a couple of doozies coming up in the next coupla weeks. Stay tuned! Thanks Chris!

  2. Wow. I LOVE that song, but I had no idea of the story behind it… Thanks for the Otis education.
    My four year old once asked me, “Mum, before all the people were here, where did all the people come from?” I delighted in giving him a lengthy speech on science vs religion lol

    • You’re welcome. We’d talked a little about it, and that is one of the girls’ favorite songs, too. Who know what kind of a star he could have become?

      Love that you got an opportunity for Go Ask Mum, too! They often think up the questions we’re too “grown-up” to muster. I’d love to read a post about your answer, actually! Wanna guest post?

  3. I love love love this entry! Kids ask us so many things.
    I have always wondered about the whistling …glad to know you’ve just explained it.

    Kids always ask a million questions. Just now, did a little Thanksgiving grocery shopping and my son asks me “What’s omega-3?” Why do they assume we know EVERYTHING! lol
    Great post!

    • Thanks! Love the chance to answer the questions, as soon as it’s apparent it isn’t about the birds and bees. I’m glad that anytime I want to hear that Otis Redding song, and I have to do now is go to the post.

      Ha! Omega-3 … you should write a post on that answer. I’d read it.

  4. I have HAD all these questions (and then some!!) at some point (especially the Otis Redding question oddly enough). As far as the barcodes, I have one of those readers on my iPhone. Talk about playing at the supermarket…. I think I am a store manager’s nightmare!

    • Do any grocery stores in your area have those little carts for “shoppers in training”? I am always afraid I’m going to run over a kid pushing one of those if I’m too keyed in on getting to my tortillas and Coke Zero.

  5. I love it! I was definitely one of those kids that asked my parents EVERYTHING and more. Nice blog style… I found this information more entertaining than others regarding random facts.

  6. very intresting–I happen to ask my Dad the same question about the cameras on Thanksgiving—his answer wasn’t as informative as yours =)

  7. I want to send my kids over to you to answer their questions. From me, they get, “That’s a good question. Let’s talk about that when we get a second, okay?” And then I run to Google.

    • the girls are onto my googling. Sometimes, I’ll make a guess (like with the one I’m about to post), then follow it up when I have research. I’m kind of like news sites that publish quick and check facts later.

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