A power outage disrupted the Tourists opening game.

Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:

Question: Regarding the power outage at McCormick Field on opening night (April 6), what happened? Also, I’ve heard power trucks were working in that area for several days leading up to the game. Did anybody from the Tourists ask what they were doing? It’s just bizarre that the power would go out on opening day without any warning. It’s a miracle they were able to play the game. Did they have backup power? Will that be part of the improvements that are coming?

My answer: I don’t do this often, but I’m going to let Tourists Owner Brian DeWine offer the smart-aleck response, as it’s not bad. “This was all part of our master plan to make sure the ballpark renovation plan passed. I just forgot to call it off once it passed City Council,” DeWine said via email.

Real answer: If you haven’t been paying attention, the city, Buncombe County, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority and the Tourists came together with a financing plan to make renovations to McCormick Field. Major League Baseball has mandated many of the improvements, and the city was in danger of losing the team without the upgrades, so that’s what DeWine was referencing.

But the power outage on opening night had nothing to do with all of that.

“Duke Energy was not working at the ballpark prior to this and we did not see them in the vicinity that week,” DeWine said. “Approximately 20 minutes prior to first pitch on opening night a transformer blew outside the ballpark.”

Brian DeWine, president of the Asheville Tourists Baseball Club, which is owned by the family of former U.S. Senator and current Gov. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio). // Watchdog photo by Peter H. Lewis

The Tourists got an email from Duke Energy saying, “approximately one customer is affected at this time.” Guess who the customer was?

“The blown transformer resulted in losing power in most of the ballpark, but luckily not all of the field lights,” DeWine said. “At this time our backup generator kicked in, and it was able to power the concourse lights and a limited amount of essential functions.”

They also were able to “perform essential functions through equipment that had backup batteries and hotspots.” But the outage was a real pain in Ted E. Tourist’s rear, so to speak.

“The power outage that lasted the whole game and caused internet issues, the inability to scan tickets, the inability to to cook food in certain areas, the inability to take payments in many areas, and caused the scoreboard to not work at all,” DeWine said. “The direct result of this was long lines as we were not able to be fully operational.”

DeWine said Duke Energy arrived shortly after the outage and worked on it most of the game.

“The field lights did temporarily go out in the middle of the game as they were working on it,” DeWine said. “This caused the game to temporarily stop for about 15 minutes.”

The Tourists were able to get the whole game in, although they lost 10-0. Power was completely restored about midnight, after the game had ended.

Question: It doesn’t make sense that often when I see a politician giving a speech on television, that politician has a sign language person signing to people who can read sign language for the deaf. We have very good dictation software that can translate what our politicians say and put his words in a crawl at the bottom of the screen. That would benefit people who are hard of hearing, but who do not know sign language, and it would be just as readable to deaf people as the sign language that the sign language person is using. To make things even better, the use of that software and closed caption crawl is certainly much less expensive than the sign language person. My guess is that this is pure and expensive virtue signaling. Do you have an alternate explanation?

My answer: No, but judging from the accuracy of the transcription service we use for interviews, I’m going to have to beg to differ with you on how good dictation software is. It comes up with some truly colorful translations, especially with names, and “Asheville” always seems to come across as “Nashville.”

Real answer: When I’ve seen the use of a sign-language interpreter, it’s usually by the governor’s office during some kind of emergency such as a hurricane or flood. So I reached out to them.

Brian Haines, public information officer with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Division of Emergency Management, offered a solid explanation.

Haines first said he’s not an expert on sign language, but he does know “that according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, American Sign Language is different and distinct from English.” That’s because it “contains all the fundamental features of language, with its own rules for pronunciation, word formation, and word order.”

“For that reason, we cannot assume that all native users of American Sign Language are also fluent in English,” Haines said. “Providing live interpretation widens the audience that has clear access to the message being delivered.”

Haines also touched on the issue I brought up, about the accuracy of transcription services.

“Additionally, while captioning systems have improved over time, they are not as robust as they may need to be when remarks are being delivered live, especially during an emergency such as severe weather events,” Haines said. “This can lead to confusion for native ASL users who are receiving that information in their non-native language and must also keep up with the scroll of captions which can be inconsistent, especially with automatically generated captions.”

Accurate information is key during a crisis, “so during an emergency press briefing a sign language interpreter helps to deliver needed safety messaging more accurately to the deaf community,” Haines said. “Arguably, the best means of captioning an event in real time is using a trained captioner who uses special software.”

Haines pointed me to the  webpage of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, part of the National Institute of Health. It has a lot of good information, including a section on real-time captions, which are created as an event takes place.

“A captioner (often trained as a court reporter or stenographer) uses a stenotype machine with a phonetic keyboard and special software,” the institute states. “A computer translates the phonetic symbols into English captions almost instantaneously. The slight delay is based on the captioner’s need to hear and code the word, and on computer processing time.”

This real-time captioning can be used for programs that have no script, including live events, congressional proceedings and news programs. 

But they’re not perfect.

“Although most real-time captioning is more than 98 percent accurate, the audience will see occasional errors,” the institute states. “The captioner may mishear a word, hear an unfamiliar word, or have an error in the software dictionary.”

Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at  jboyle@avlwatchdog.org or 828-337-0941.

3 replies on “Answer Man: Tourists power outage explained? Sign language interpreter use by government “virtue signaling?” ”

  1. My smart-aleck response: Why are we subsidizing a team that loses 10-0 on opening night?? Step it up, Tourists!!!

  2. The graphic at the bottom contributes, unfortunately, to the common impression that signed language (e.g. ASL) is just “English on the hands”, or even worse, that it’s finger-spelled English. As noted in the story, signed languages are in general quite independent of the spoken languages of the surrounding communities, with all of the expressive richness and other properties of spoken languages — originating spontaneously in groups of hearing-impaired individuals all over the world, just produced and understood in a different medium from the spoken. ASL is part of a family of signed languages with some roots in a language that arose in 18th century France, and is quite distinct from British Sign Language, for instance. There is a very large literature on this in Linguistics, where the language-specific properties of signed languages have been extensively studied. For a survey, see the WikiPedia article on “American Sign Language”.

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