In A Basement At Yale

If there’s sainted work in the world that’s what Frank’s doing.

I headed to Yale earlier this afternoon. My friend Frank Clifford works there. You’ll never find his office by accident. It’s down hidden stairs then through narrow hallways in the basement of Sterling Library.

It’s worth the trip. If there’s sainted work in the world that’s what Frank’s doing. He is digitizing videos from the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies.

The survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust are diminishing in number. Each year their recollections become more important, but each year moves them farther away from the original experience. This gives special urgency to the effort to collect as many testimonies as possible – now.

At one point Frank put a video clip on his computer’s screen. A Belgian woman began to speak. She was attractive, probably in her fifties when the interview had taken place 30 or so years ago. As the camera locked in she told a chilling tale of her childhood.

The Gestapo had come to her town. As a Jew she and her family were their target.

I told Frank to stop the clip as she described the last time she’d seen her father. It was too sad, too emotionally taxing. It was impossible not to be touched deeply.

Frank is transferring analog video cassettes to a variety of digital formats simultaneously. The interviews are being carefully preserved as you’d expect in the research oriented atmosphere that is Yale. It’s all cataloged and documented in excruciating detail. The videos are worthless if their stories can’t later found later.

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy my trips on campus. This was no different. Sterling Library is exactly what you’d expect an Ivy League library to be.

I could explain, but this is one of those things better left to pictures.

I’m The Dumb Guy At The Smart Bookstore

Oh no! I knew times were tough in print magazines, but this is horrible.

Helaine and I were in Downtown New Haven this bitterly cold afternoon. First a little clothes shopping, then we headed to Broadway. Helaine had an errand to run for Stef and suggested I go to the Yale Bookstore. No objection there.

I enjoy bookstores a lot though this one always leaves me feeling a little inadequate! It’s a bookstore specifically set up to serve the brightest from Yale with esoteric titles you won’t find elsewhere.

Shhh. Don’t tell. Behind the learned collection it’s really a Barnes and Noble.

I headed to the back first and Starbucks. A little coffee, a little shmoozing (Michael Bolton’s sister stopped me to say hello) and then to the magazines.

Oh no! I knew times were tough in print magazines, but this is horrible.

The Yale Bookstore used to have hundreds of magazines. No more. The magazine rack has been pared like a half dead shrub you’re trying to save. Most of the interesting little titles are gone.

There are winners and losers in the digital era. Unfortunately when so many of these narrowly focused publications disappear we all lose right along with the publishers and staff.

I Should Have Gone To Yale

OK, they weren’t taking undermotivated, underfinanced, underachieving “C” students at the height of Vietnam, but I still ask.

On this reasonably beautiful night Ann and I went to dinner on Broadway in New Haven. Though school’s out for summer Broadway puts you in the middle of the Yale campus surrounded by its iconic buildings. There are worse places to go.

We hit a burger joint then walked down the street for some coffee. There’s a little place called the Blue State I like. Every time I walk in I ask myself the same question: “Why I didn’t go to Yale?”

OK, they weren’t taking undermotivated, underfinanced, underachieving “C” students at the height of Vietnam, but I still ask.

Students sit around tables in the back room. Many have laptops. Often discussions are taking place in front of the computers over cups of hot coffee. It’s what you’d expect from a coffee house in a college town. It’s right out of central casting.

There’s one feature of Blue State I like a lot. They donate 5% of the proceeds (not 5% of the profits) to charity. Four have been chosen. Customers pick up a little wooden token at the register then drop it in a slot representing where they want the money sent.

The coffee isn’t Dunkin’ Donuts worthy but the atmosphere is enough to keep me coming back.

I really should have gone to Yale. Can I get a high school do over?

Best Day For Bad News

When a company or governmental agency wants to bury some information they release it late on Friday. It then enters some netherworld where it’s exists, but quietly. If the news is exceptionally bad it gets released on or just before Christmas Eve! It’s Christmas. People’s minds are elsewhere.

When a company or governmental agency wants to bury some information they release it late on Friday. It then enters some netherworld where it exists–but quietly. If the news is exceptionally bad it gets released on or just before Christmas Eve! It’s Christmas. People’s minds are elsewhere.

With this in mind two stories that should be heard but were released to be buried:

From – “Wal-Mart Stores has settled 63 wage and class-action lawsuits, and just in time for Christmas.

The company expects the settlement to costs between $352.0 million and $640.0 million. “

The suits had to do with employees being required to work when they were “off-the-clock.”

Wal-Mart is fiercely anti-union. It closed one Canadian tire center when its employees voted to organize. Wal-Mart is not looking forward to the Obama administration.

Our other under-the-rug story centers on Yale University. You could shoot a cannon across campus the day this story hit–the 23rd.

From Yale Daily News – “Yale has agreed to pay $7.6 million for allegedly making false claims on federal research grants, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Haven said Tuesday, concluding a two-year investigation of Yale’s grant administration. ”

I’m sure there are other similar stories, but there’s just so much holiday cheer one guy can spread.

The Physics Olympics

Working down the street from Yale University must be somewhat like living next door to Jessica Alba. It’s easy to see what’s so special. You’re seldom invited over.

An exception was made Saturday. Dr. Steve Girvin, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics and Applied Physics&#185, asked me if I’d like to attend the annual Yale Physics Olympics. How could I say no?

Students from high schools in Connecticut and nearby states sent teams to Yale to compete in fun, though intellectually challenging, physics based games.

They built bridges, redesigned electrical circuits and tried to predict movement in a virtual stock market. I’m sorry – did you mention what you did Saturday?

If your local school board ever asks for a new facility to further education, send them to Yale. Sloane Physics Lab, where the competition took place, is an ancient building. The lecture hall we occupied was probably outmoded 50 years ago. It is still a center of exceptional education.

Education is dependent on an open exchange of ideas and knowledge, not furniture.

The kids who gave up their Saturday afternoon are the smart kids. Their intellect probably makes them socially awkward now, but they’ll be the one’s we’re all working for later. Think Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Mark Cuban.

I did a lot of helping out Saturday. I’m not sure they really needed me, but I was thrilled to be a part of the action. I poured liquid nitrogen (somewhere around 325&#176 below zero Fahrenheit) into a Styrofoam vessel for a demonstration on electrical conductivity, rode a bicycle powered by CO2, and a hovercraft lifted by a very noisy leafblower (as immortalized in the attached youtube video).

As someone who works in TV news, where the easiest way for a teenager to make air is to kill or be killed, this Saturday afternoon was a breath of fresh air.

&#185 – My knowledge of academia is limited, but I do know an endowed chair is a big deal… even bigger at Yale. As it turns out, he’s a great guy and not at all pretentious about the fact he can think us all under the table.

Classier Audience Than I Deserve

I look forward to some public appearances more than others. Tonight was a ‘look forward to’ event. I was asked to introduce an operatic performance on the New Haven Green.

Scratch the Green. Too chilly. The New Haven Symphony Orchestra doesn’t perform outside when the temperature drops below 65&#186. Can you blame them?

Unfortunately, that shrinks the house somewhat.

This was to be part of New Haven’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas. Though some ‘big’ commercial acts play, it is mostly smaller performances across many genres.

A crowd of thousands sees these opera performances on the Green. Tonight, we were moved inside to Yale’s University Theater – one of many performance spots on the Yale University campus. The theater sits a little over 600.

With my leg still sitting inside the Velcro fastened boot, I asked for special parking dispensation. The organizers of the event had no pull, but the Yale Police (yes, they have their own police department – guns and everything) was extremely helpful. A motorcycle officer blocked off a space right alongside the theater with a wooden sawhorse.

An opera crowd is quite eclectic. They are likely to know what they’re getting into. I sense there are few casual opera fans and many rabid ones.

By the time I arrived, a line had already formed, stretching down York Street toward Broadway. This part of New Haven, surrounded by the Yale campus is really beautiful. The buildings are very stately… very Yale.

As the crowd stood, a group of street performers from the Meter Theater began to put on a show. I was too busy taking pictures to really follow what was going on, but the crowd got into it.

Finally the doors opened and the crowd moved in. I headed backstage, standing with (but having no contact with) tonight’s performers. I knew who they were by the tiny stage mics which curled from their ears.

On stage the New Haven Symphony was tuning up. This is quite an accomplished orchestra and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy watching them get limber by playing exercises and running scales.

A live performance of classical music is so powerful, even someone who is not a fan will still enjoy. I can’t explain it, except to say it can be unexpectedly overpowering.

The curtain was scheduled for 8:00 PM, but as is often the case, it was held for 8:05. I walked to the front of the stage, crossed the apron and walked down a few stairs to the narrator’s microphone. There was a polite smattering of applause.

I welcomed them to Opera on the Green and then looked around at the surroundings. “Damn weatherman,” I said. Nice laugh.

I read a little from the prepared script I’d be given and then looked up for some remarks of my own. I don’t have my exact words, so let me paraphrase.

“I’m thrilled to be with you tonight, but I am a little embarrassed. I mean, it’s wonderful to see this great opera… but I accepted this thinking I was introducing Oprah.” Big laugh.

That little joke had been a bone of contention in the Fox house and at work where my friends and family were sure it would bomb. I told it anyway. I’m glad I did.

I did the rest of the intro for the performance. Most of it had been written by others, but I threw in a little mention of Milton Cross, who used to host the Texaco Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts, and who I knew this crowd would relate to. I also added some historical context to the actual operetta to be performed, “Orpheus in the Underworld,” which was originally panned by the critics back in 1858.

As I walked toward the back of the house, the actual narrator took his place and the orchestra began to play. Though the opera was written by Offenbach, a German by birth, it was written in French and first performed in Paris.

As the singers, all Yale students, performed, an English translation flashed on a huge screen behind the orchestra.

I’m not going to claim to be an opera fan. But, what I saw tonight was very entertaining, especially an amazing young soprano singing the part of Eurydice. I have searched everywhere, but cannot find her name nor the names of anyone in the cast!

With two more newscasts to go, I had to leave while the performance was underway. I was sorry to go… even if Oprah wasn’t there.

Best Of New Haven

Last night was the annual New Haven Advocate “Best of” awards. I was the emcee… though this year I wasn’t the winner in my category. My weather cohort, Dr. Mel Goldstein takes home the framed certificate.

Second isn’t bad, but from now on I will hold a cute puppy every time I appear on TV.

These ‘best of’ competitions are interesting, because it was years before I realized they were very much advertising vehicles for the publication that sponsors them. I’m too naive, I suppose.

The event was held at Anthony’s on the water in New Haven. It is a beautiful spot, especially on a night like last night. The water in the harbor was calm. The sun was setting in the distance. The night had all the promise of our summer to come.

I also like Anthony’s because they have really good Italian food – especially the seafood.

In order to be as inclusive as possible (remember – advertising) there are a zillion categories. Yes, there is a best place to buy a futon! There is also a best funeral home (whose owner admonished me not to say funeral parlor). I won’t be surprised if they introduce a best street between Whitney and State.

When you’ve got so many people, businesses and organizations to honor, you end up with the Yale University Art Gallery and an ‘adult entertainment facility’ getting a certificate within seconds of each other.

It is possible some facility workers go to Yale and some Yale workers go to the facility. That’s synergy!

When I go to this type of event, I love to schmooze. I am a good schmoozer.

I hope they ask me back next year.

I’m More Pessimistic About Hurricanes

Recently I was interviewed for an article in Business New Haven concerning hurricanes. I’ve linked to the text.

Over time I’ve become more pessimistic of what might happen in a repeat of the hurricane of ’38 scenario for Connecticut. There would be little time for warning and difficulty explaining where the damage might occur.

Even in 2005, a tragedy seems unavoidable. That’s not what I want to say, but it is a realistic expectation.

I’m glad to see, though Dr. Mel Goldstein and I were interviewed separately (I didn’t even know he had been interviewed), we are in agreement with our concern.

Unlike Katrina where good advice was ignored, I’m not sure what we could do today to help prepare us for a hurricane approaching us at 60 mph. The entire East Coast would need warning. What good would that do?

Continue reading “I’m More Pessimistic About Hurricanes”

Here’s What I Learned

There’s a project I’d like to take on. In that pursuit, I’ve been reading a lot about the atom and its nucleus, protons, neutrons and the electrons that orbit them all.

Part of the fascination has to do with the scale on which it occurs. For instance, the nucleus of an atom is roughly 1/10 of a millionth, millionth of a centimeter (10-&#185&#179 centimeter).

And, even though we’re talking about very tiny thing, all of it follows distinct laws of physics. That makes the whole a bit easier to explain and understand.

I had written a few weeks ago how I’m not being shy about contacting experts via email. This is a case in point. I’ve just spent over a half hour on the phone with an eminent expert from Yale University.

He had no clue who I was. It made no difference. He was learned and patient and I attempted my best sponge imitation. I don’t know what he knows, but I’ve now got a better foundation for continuing to study.

During our conversation he used a few analogies. Here’s my favorite, describing the size of the nucleus of an atom.

If the nucleus of an atom was the size of a fly, and it was sitting on 2nd base in Yankee Stadium, the electrons would be outside the stadium.

I’m still trying to get my arms around the astounding force necessary to hold those electrons in their place versus the relative size of the nucleus.

Anyway, it’s been an education and I really hope this project comes through.

Blogger’s note: Corrected an editing error thanks to Rod Richardson.

One More Planet – It Could Be Xena

Considering how long telescopes have been around and the limitations imposed by our atmosphere, it boggles the mind to think there are new discoveries – lots of new discoveries, from Earth based telescopes.

PASADENA, Calif.–A planet larger than Pluto has been discovered in the outlying regions of the solar system with the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory, California Institute of Technology planetary scientist Mike Brown announced today.

The planet is a typical member of the Kuiper belt, but its sheer size in relation to the nine planets already known means that it can only be classified as a planet, Brown says. Currently about 97 astronomical units from the sun (an astronomical unit is the distance between the sun and Earth), the planet becomes the farthest-known object in the solar system, and the third brightest of the Kuiper belt objects.

“It will be visible over the next six months and is currently almost directly overhead in the early-morning eastern sky, in the constellation Cetus,” says Brown, who made the discovery with colleagues Chad Trujillo, of the Gemini Observatory, and David Rabinowitz, of Yale University, on January 8.

Yale – wow! That means some of these discoveries are being made by people who work down the block from me. I decided to drop David Rabinowitz a congratulatory note.

Before we go on – I am not shy about using email to reach out, especially when there’s more information I want. I have corresponded with Nobel Prize winners, famous scientists and journalists, producers I’ve wanted to work for… even actor/lawyer/game show host/commentator Ben Stein&#185.

Hi David,

I just want you to know, every time I read about this amazing discovery, I am pleased to see there was a New Haven/Yale connection. Congratulations on your work.

When things calm down and you get a few minutes, could you tell me how this evaded detection for so long? I would have assumed there would be some gravitational component that was seen yet unaccounted for and would have led to an earlier search. Of course my knowledge of planetary physics leaves lots to be desired.

All the best,

Geoff Fox

A few hours later, there was a reply.

Hi Geoff. Thanks for the kudos.

It is amazing that this new planet, which I am still getting used to calling a planet, was not detected before. But it doesn’t have anything to do with the orbital dynamics. It is too small to have an effect on the orbits of the other planets. So it wouldn’t show up that way.

Really, the short answer is that nobody ever looked before. For the first time, we are using a large telescope and a large digital camera to search the whole northern hemisphere for distant planets. Building the camera was a major accomplishment – it was a team effort at the Yale Physics Dept and Indiana Univ. in Bloomginton IN. Called the Palomar-Quest camera, it is one of the worlds largest digital camera – 160 Megs. In combination with the special wide-field optics of the 48″” Samuel Oschin Schmidt at Palomar Observatory, we can search the whole northern hemisphere more efficiently than anybody else.

Now nobody ever though it would be very productive to search for distant planets far from the plane of the planets — the ecliptic plane. Our competitors, in fact, mostly search only within a few degrees of the ecliptic. But because we can search so much area with Palomar-Quest, we decided to search everywhere. We started at the ecliptic, believing this would be most productive. But strangely, the most intriguing discoveries have been out of the plane. We found Sedna 12 degrees below the plane, we found our new planet 14 deg below the plane. One of the new objects reported on Friday, called 2003 FY9, is the brightest (but not biggest) object in the Kuiper Belt. It is 30 degrees above the ecliptic plane.

What makes astronomy so exciting, there is so much out there left to be discovered. Building a new instruments helps. But just looking where nobody expects to find something, you can get lucky. We still have more area to search even farther from the ecliptic. So there could even be more exciting things to find.


David Rabinowitz

Basically, the team took a succession of photos and then analyzed them for movement. From our perspective, distant stars stand still while much closer planets (or asteroids, comets and meteors) move in the sky. Look for something moving like a planet and you just might spot a planet! Or, you might just be picking out some noise in the telescope’s sensors. That’s where astronomers come in.

The picture on the left represents what you would see, looking at the Sun from this distant planet. It’s just another very bright star in a very dark sky.

To me, the “magic keys” to this discovery are both the laser guide star adaptive optics, which allows astronomers on the ground to take images as sharp as the images from the Hubble Space Telescope and the ability to have much of the grunt work of comparing images done by computer.

In any event, as more and more objects are discovered, there will be more and more controversy over what exactly is a planet? Lots of astronomers don’t think Pluto is a planet! And this new sighting, though larger than Pluto, is in some ways similar – especially its orbit.

In the meantime, the word is the discoverers are waiting for approval to call this planet, “Xena.”

&#185 – After the “Deep Throat” unmasking, I wrote Ben to disagree with a commentary he had written. We went back through three or four sets of emails, airing our opposing views. I enjoyed the discussion, and was meticulous in sourcing my conclusions. Ben also seemed to enjoy the ‘fight’ and gave back without hesitation.

Though we disagreed strongly, I have a great deal of respect for him and was more than a little pleased he was willing to engage me in this manner.

How Tough Will Winter Be?

It’s that time of year. My email box overflows with people wanting to know what kind of winter this will be? Are they planning on leaving if my answer is too severe?

Lots of people make long range predictions – The Weather Service and Farmer’s Almanac to name two. I guess their forecast has value, but not to most ‘regular’ people.

We don’t live by the season. We live moment-to-moment. Trust me on this.

It could be unseasonably wonderful for two weeks, but if an Arctic blast comes, you’ll be feeling it and forgetting about that good weather in the rear view mirror.

So, as a rule I keep away from long term predictions. I’m thinking, maybe I’d be better concentrating on the next week, not the next two months.

Today, I got an email from someone asking about acorns. There doesn’t seem to be too many this year. Is that a sign?

Hey, if squirrels could accurately predict the weather, I’d be on the squirrel plan! I only stick with science because it works the best.

I wrote back saying acorns weren’t a predictor but actually a product of what has already happened. And then I realized, I don’t really know that. It sounds right – logical – but I really don’t know. So I scouted around.

We’re very lucky here in New Haven to have Yale University&#185. I checked their online directory and found the Director of the Forestry School. I was sure he’d know if acorns could predict the weather.

Yes you are completely right. the acorn crop is a reflection of past

weather. For the red oaks they take two years to develop – a poor

pollination period because of rain for a few days can mean acorn crop

failure two years down the road. Large acorn crops are therefore

unusual – once every ten years or so – and we think result when the

weather allows for it – “all the weather gods must be aligned”

Of course, it is part of the power of the Internet to be able to reach someone with so much knowledge, and then be able to pass it along. People might think I’m smart to know about acorns, but I’m just smart enough to ask questions.

Oh… there’s more to the story. I thought I was writing to him at Yale.

I am in Panama at present but if you need any further help give me a an

email buzz

We live in a wondrous time!

&#185 – I often wonder if the feeling is mutual, but that’s another story.

Higher Education

I’ve completed 5 semesters at MSU, now in the middle of the 6th, and I’m doing pretty well. Feeling kind of heady.

Some of what I learn is worthless – or sometimes even wrong (a bridge disaster that killed no people was credited with killing 50). Other times there is great insight which is helping me better understand some concepts that were muddy in my mind.

All in all it’s worthwhile.

Maybe just as important, it has shown me I can succeed in higher education. My first trip through college 35 years ago with an unmitigated disaster. And, as this blog proudly proclaims, there is a “Permanent Record.” The SATs I took in December 1967 and my 1.86 GPA from 68-69 are duly noted next to my 5 semesters of A’s.

Over the past few years I have pondered taking more courses, cherry picking subjects that entice me. I wouldn’t go for a degree, but would go for an education… or at least enlightenment.

Yale University, here in New Haven, has a program that seems to fit the bill: The Special Student Program.

Since 1977, the Program for Special Students has offered non-resident students the opportunity to enroll in most Yale College courses for credit. Special Students have used this Program to complete a Bachelor’s degree; to qualify for graduate or professional school; to launch, advance, or change careers; or simply to enrich their personal lives.

The Program for Special Students admits students either for non-degree or for degree enrollment. Yale seeks applicants whose academic background, work experience and community involvement are particularly suited to study at Yale.

All candidates must present evidence of high academic potential, maturity, and clear motivation for their proposed course of study.

I have read about this program and pondered applying for years. Yale is a very intimidating place. Our current president, the last president, and our next president (Kerry or Bush) are all Yalies. There have been others. There will be others in the future. It’s that kind of environment.

Any time I have done a story that touched the Yale student body or faculty, I have come away knowing what a special place it is. Everyone seems driven. Everyone seems challenged. Everyone is so damned smart.

Before applying, I thought it might be the right thing to meet with someone in the admissions office. Is this even a possibility? Today was my day.

It was raining, but I was able to get a space across the street on Hillhouse Avenue. It’s a one way street with mature trees. On either side are buildings that seem like – probably were – mansions.

I stood under my umbrella for a few minutes, looking up and down the block. It was a humbling experience. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on.

I walked into the office and met with the counselor. She told me we had met before. Her daughter and mine had played basketball together. Years ago, when her daughter said she liked my car, I had taken her for a spin through the parking lot&#185. The interview went well.

There are no guarantees, but I think they’d probably admit me as a non-matriculating special student. That would be fine. Now I have to decide if I want to do it now, or wait until my MSU obligations end, next year at this time.

Will taking meteorology courses, working and having a family make Yale too much? I just don’t know.

It is all so amazing to me. There are courses I want to take. Things I want to learn. And, to have the opportunity to learn them in this environment is much more impressive to this 53 year old than it probably ever would have been when I first went to college – when Yale would have laughed me off campus.

&#185 – Memo to self: be nice to everybody. You never know.

Best of New Haven

OK – it’s not the Oscar for Best Picture, but this is the ground on which I compete. I was thrilled to, again, win the “Best of” readers’ poll from the New Haven Advocate in the “Local TV Personality” category.

Best Local TV Personality

Geoff Fox

WTNH-TV, 8 Elm St., New Haven, (203) 784-8888

It’s raining, it’s pouring, Geoff Fox is winning the “Best Of” award for

Local TV Personality again. And why not? He’s been “local” for two

decades. He’s on TV, and he’s so damned personable. Whenever he walks

into a room, people want to chat with him, and not just about the

weather. Maybe about his incessant poker-playing, or his wife’s

obsession with soap-rocker Rick Springfield, or the computer he built

himself, or how he looks like he’s lost weight (He has–15 pounds, with

the goal of dropping 10 more).

Most of the time, Fox is the one starting the conversations, and he’s

out and about constantly–at charity events, school programs or holiday

gatherings. “I’ve probably spoken individually to every schoolchild in

Connecticut,” he grins. And they constantly come up to him to remind him

of those fleeting, yet important, encounters. Amid all this, he still

finds time to report the weather on Channel 8 weekdays at 5, 6, 10 and

11 p.m. , which makes his nice-guy-ness all the more amazing. (He

doesn’t go to bed until 3 or 4 a.m.)

This month marks Fox’s 20th anniversary with Channel 8. Before that he

worked in Buffalo, N.Y. a market where it’s pretty easy to predict the

weather, at least in the winter: SNOW. Geoff Fox is a guy who just keeps

shining and is never partly cloudy.

2nd: Dr. Mel (WTNH-TV)

8 Elm St., New Haven, (203) 784-8888

3rd: Ann Nyberg (WTNH-TV)

8 Elm St., New Haven, (203) 784-8888

Before anyone who was passed over, in any category, gets bent out of shape, let me point out that Quinnipiac University beat out Yale University for “Best Local 4-Year College.”

Blogger’s note: I am now down about 23.5 pounds and hoping to lose another 5 or 6 by July.

Very Special Burger

I work in New Haven, Connecticut. It is a smallish city – just a bit over 100,000 people. The downtown, though decimated by years of decay and neglect, is starting to show some bright spots, including restaurants and residents.

Yale University shares land with New Haven – not much else.

For a small city, New Haven has a lot of history. Our current president was born here (though he hides it well – claiming to be a Texan). He and his predecessor went to school here. The cotton gin, first assembly line using interchangeable parts, telephone switchboard and phonebook, Erector Set and Lionel trains all originated in New Haven.

However, if you were to ask a native New Havener which first was most important… it would be none of those. That’s because New Haven is the birthplace of the hamburger.

How weird is that?

There’s a legend… and it’s probably true… but I’ll leave that to the proprietors of the place where I had dinner tonight, Louis Lunch.

Louis’ (pronounced Louie’s) is a tiny place, so well hidden that I had driven by it hundreds of times over the last 20 years and had never seen it! The walls are brick. The booth I sat in was minuscule with carving on the wooden table (the same kind of carving often left by students on their schoolroom desks). Sitting against the outside wall I easily felt a cold draft against my legs.

The action at Louis’ takes place behind the counter, where burgers are broiled vertically, over an open flame, in three cast iron grills. The grills themselves are ancient – actually dating from the 1890’s!

You can have onions, cheese and tomato, but no ketchup! No French Fries either. At Louis’ it’s their way or no way, and that includes toast, not a bun.

There are two reasons Louis’ is still around. First, it’s the burger, of course. It is unbelievably tasty. Second, and more important, Louis’ is an anachronism. In this Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, world, Louis’ operates without consultants and accountants and p.r. flacks. There aren’t rounding errors or spoilage. Each individual burger counts.

I’m amazed it took me 20 years to get there.

Blogger’s note: I have no clue where, when, or even whether to use an apostrophe when referring to Louis’. If you’re an etymologist, my apologies in advance.

This is Jeopardy

The Jeopardy College Tournament is coming to Yale University, up the street from where I work. It looks like I will be doing some of the studio warm-ups. I’m really looking forward to it because I love working live. Stand up is something I seldom get to do.

It should be fun.

A week ago there was some doubt whether this would take place at all as much of Yale’s non-educational staff was on strike.