January 02, 2017

Horse 2207 - Why Cats Like To Watch Football

I want you to imagine for a second that you are a small cat. As a rather smallish killing machine, you have been perfected for looking at very small scurrying things at night. Not only are you incredibly agile and when you want to be, extremely quick but you also posses very pointy claws and teeth which are perfect for catching and killing those small scurrying things at night. You also happen to possess excellent night vision, on account of your very many rod cells in your eyes. Your ability to see colour however is nil.
If this sounds like a dumb and pointless exercise, bear in mind that up until about the mid 1970s, in mots countries around the world, this was exactly how people watched television. In Australia, colour television¹ didn't arrive until March 1st 1975. Colour vision however has still not arrived if you are a small cat; you will still continue to see the world in black and white.

The reason why I make mention of this, is because I happen to live in a house with two small cats. Yet again I was reminded of their inability to see in colour by a ball that Purranna was chasing merrily around the house. I was going to take a photograph but cats can not be controlled. Getting them to pose for you, is impossible.

The ball which Purranna is unhelpfully no longer interested in in this photograph, is a tiny representation of what I think is the über example of what a football should be. Even though I think that the Adidas Finale which has been used in the UEFA Champions League since 2000 is equally as excellent and the Slazenger Challenge 4-Star which was used in the 1966 FIFA World Cup final is famous because of its amber glow, it is the 32-panel truncated icosahedron Adidas Telstar which is the most iconic football of all.

- actual 1970 World Cup ball on Ebay.

The Adidas Telstar was introduced for the 1968 European Football Championship. Supposedly the black and white panelling was chosen because the ball could be more easily seen on television but having watched video of this, I don't know if it works as well as intended².

The name is supposed to be a pun on two fronts. Firstly, the name is a portmanteau of "Television Star". Secondly, the ball with its many panels, kind of resembles the Telstar satellite which carried the first live worldwide television signal on July 23, 1962. That first live worldwide television broadcast included an address from the then US President John F Kennedy, a baseball game and a lot of rather blurry black and white night time images from across Europe³.

It is the ball that I am interested for the purposes of this post though.

Although in full colour, the ball can be seen quite well, at full speed it still doesn't really cast enough contrast when moving to make all of the black and white panels visible on television. However, if you happen to be playing with it in person, out on the pitch it is one of the best footballs to play with because you can see exactly how its behaving as it spins and curls through the air. Play the film at 0.25x speed this becomes obvious.

Imagine that you are a small cat though. A high contrast black and white object which spins and curls, is very very easy to watch. Old analogue television was sent out at 25 frames per second in PAL or 29.97 frames per second in NTSC. If you are a small cat though, you have a persistence of vision which is running as high as 100 frames per second. This is the crux of this story.
I have seen this play out many many times before. When I am watching football on the telly, sometimes Purranna will pay attention to what is on the screen; not because she cares about the drama of two teams battling it out but because her favourite team is playing - Team "Ball".

As a rather smallish killing machine, you have been perfected for looking at very small scurrying things at night but when you don't have any very small scurrying things  to look at, then a high contrast black and white object like a miniature Adidas Telstar, is surely one of the funnest things to watch.


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