Monday, December 29, 2008

Local TV vs Cable...We Lose

Over the last month, several of our Grand Junction TV stations have been placing a 'crawl' message on the screen, warning viewers that they could lose the station's programming if they receive it via certain cable TV systems.

This includes
Bresnan Communications, which provides cable service to the majority of the population of what is known as the Grand Junction-Montrose Designated Market Area (DMA). The DMA is the television market as defined by the A.C. Nielsen Company, and plays a large role in what we are able to see on TV locally.

The Sentinel's Mike Saccone did some cursory reporting about this last week, in
one story about Bresnan's lack of an agreement with KREX, and another about an agreement reached with KKCO for what is called Retransmission Consent, or to allow Bresnan the right to re-transmit the station's signal over their cable system.

This represents a change in strategy for these local TV providers, who previously gained access to the local cable system through federal regulations, administered by the
FCC, that require cable companies to grant access to their system to those local broadcasters who serve the DMA or local area in which the cable system resides. This regulatory strategy is called Must Carry.

The difference between the two strategies is that the station negotiates a fee for Retransmission Consent from the cable or satellite provider. This fee is what appears to have been a matter of contention between the stations and Bresnan, with the stations attempting to
leverage public pressure as the agreements approach expiration.

I spoke with General Managers Dana McDonald of
KKCO and Ron Tillery of KREX earlier this month. Ms. McDonald stated that they were asking less than 2 cents, per subscriber, per month from Bresnan. As Bresnan has approximately 28,500 subscribers in the Grand Junction area, this amounts to roughly "less than" $570 per month, or $6840 per year, just for Grand Junction.

I also contacted Shawn Beqaj, VP of Public Affairs for Bresnan, by email. He declined to comment on pending contract negotiations.

I question the accuracy of these numbers, because I can't see the logic behind either the local stations or Bresnan endangering their relationships with each other, or their customer and viewer base, over what appears to be a fairly small sum. The total amount including the Montrose cable system will undoubtedly increase, but I still wonder what other issues are festering along with this one.

Ms. McDonald told me that KKCO's pursuing a fee instead of Must Carry status is largely the result of a fundamental change in the way that network affiliates obtain programming from the networks they are affiliated with. Up until last year, the network paid the affiliates to assure that their programming reached a particular market area. Now it's the other way around, with affiliates paying the networks for access to their programming.

Mr. Tillery didn't disclose what fee that KREX was asking from Bresnan, but stated that their request for a fee extends only to their Grand Junction and Montrose stations, and not KREG in Glenwood Springs. KREG is on the
Comcast cable system up there through Must Carry, as Glenwood is in the Denver DMA.

By the way, Glenwood is a pretty nice place if you're a TV consumer; you can get two Grand Junction stations there, along with all of the Denver channels. Ahhh, choice; what a concept.

The local affiliates hold exclusive and rather jealous sway over their respective market area's access to network-originating programming, along with syndicated programming that the station buys (Oprah, Dr. Phil, Judge Judy) and the original programming (mostly news) produced by the station itself. Now that they're paying for the network programming as well as the syndicated stuff, it's not really surprising that the locals are pursuing revenue streams at every opportunity.

I believe that Bresnan will eventually relent and pay the fees. It's either that or watch the stations deny Retransmission Consent, and the programming disappear. Per Mr. Beqaj, the cable companies can't get the programming elsewhere without approval from the local market incumbent, so the network and other programming is lost to the subscriber. That won't be pretty if it happens.

I also believe that the local stations have held too much power in their respective market areas for too long. Must Carry gave KKCO the right to bump Denver's KUSA from the Grand Junction channel lineup after their inception in 1996. This brought about many complaints about the loss of superior statewide news coverage, as well as pre-season Bronco games.

To KKCO's credit, they have built an impressive local news division and web presence, and have worked with Denver stations in the past to get the Broncos in pre-season mode. This is evidenced by their position atop the holy scripture of TV success, the
ratings book.

Now that the local stations are foregoing the guaranteed access of Must Carry with the fee-for-service model of Retransmission Consent, their ratings and the public response to their crawl message probably got their agreement with Bresnan sealed. I still miss
9 News, though.

KREX and CBS were responsible for the removal of Denver's
KCNC "News 4" from cable a few years back. In response to an apparently significant outcry, we now get Denver news via KDVR "Fox 31", re-broadcast on KFQX, which is owned and operated by KREX. So if you like your Denver news, maybe it's time to pick up the phone and tell Mr. Tillery and his staff what you think of their gamesmanship.

Bresnan is by no means innocent in this process. They have positioned themselves and their network to be a provider of all manner of content, via several tiers of analog and digital TV service, and their domination of the broadband Internet market locally cannot be ignored. They're well positioned to continue to innovate for the mutual benefit of themselves and the consumer, and their rapid response to problems is impressive; witness their response to the
KREX fire earlier this year.

However, the placement of
NFL Network in a premium tier of sports channels, along with the absence of channels such as Sundance Channel in favor of a channel devoted strictly to the sale of jewelry, illustrate to me some questionable thinking as to programming choices.

Add to this the waste of scarce analog spectrum on two home shopping channels, and you start to wonder how much our current cable lineup is worth the money we pay for it every month.

One contributor to today's
You Said It made a very salient point:

It’s now been more than two years since my family dropped all satellite and cable TV services. What’s left is DVDs, free shows on the Internet and what little is worth watching over the air. You don’t really realize, until you do without, how much much living you can do when you’re not staring into television’s “vast wasteland.”

I don't know if I would go as far as this person, but I'm wondering if all of the digital channels, video on demand, and DVR capability are really worth it. Those who provide these kinds of services obviously think so, and are concocting all manner of services to leverage both cable and other information pipelines, such as fiber optic networks and even the Internet, to make sure we consumers are kinds of on-demand movies, services, and other programming.

These types of services are where the true profit potential of a cable company lies; not in re-transmitting local channels, providing public access channels and paying large amounts to carry popular cable networks like CNN, Fox News and ESPN. The revenue from local ad insertion may help as well, but not that much.

These developments also embellish the importance of a free, neutral, and unencumbered Internet, which ironically carries streaming versions of local and network TV programming to many consumers via the same Bresnan cable that is being argued over now.

I believe that it's necessary to have some form of local access to television, either over the air or via a local system such as cable. The upcoming
DTV transition will also play a large role in how the public interacts with its' local stations. I'm contemplating buying an HDTV, and with it an outside antenna so that I can pull in the local digital signals. It will be interesting to see what the locals do with the additional channels that digital modulation affords them; KKCO has already shown some initiative in this area.

I'm still disappointed in both sides of this debate, but from what I can find out I feel that most of the blame belongs to the local TV stations. Attempting to use access to their signal as a form of blackmail to grab more cash from the cable guys (and eventually the consumer) speaks poorly of how they are responding to their government-mandated commitment to serving the public interest. I intend to let them know about it, and I hope that many in our area will join me.

Have a great week ahead.

Friday, December 26, 2008


This was the humble display along part of my block on Christmas Eve. Not as magnificent and logistically challenging as the Mantey Heights display every year, which was on the front page of today's Sentinel. Nonetheless I thought it fairly successful for a first try at it. Note to self - use plumber's candles next year, or something else longer lasting. Tea lights don't last long enough.

I am a more conservative Christmas decorator. Aside from the tree, there is a flag of the Little Drummer Boy and one small door decoration. I would have put electric candles at every window had I enough of them. That's it.

The use of simple materials to symbolize the most profound message in human history has a distinct appeal to me.

I hope that your Christmas was filled with quiet joy and rest. Onward to the new year ahead.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Driving Through Junction on a Snowy Evening

(Apologies to Robert Frost.)

Whose car that is, I think I know,
it should be going forward, though;
not spinning 'round toward oncoming
traffic, then a bank of snow.

Being from the East, I think it odd
to see drivers sullen and downtrod.
Two inches here can cause chaos
on roads untreated and unplowed.

The traffic gives me time to think
on desert dwellers who seem to shrink
from snow that's not so bad - but wait;
4th Street looks like a hockey rink.

Alas, in my alacrity
I've slid - headlong - into a tree.
Let's see, should I call 9-1-1
or 263-G-R-E-G?

My seat belt, like a binding sash
prevented my impact with the dash.
I'm told by the Dispatcher I must
join the crowd of those who've crashed.

I wonder aloud, "Where are the plows?"
I'm sure they're trying to get moving now.
But Rush Hour's past, the damage is done;
waste not one's energy on a row.

I leave the car, and start to walk;
my house is just around the block.
With luck, the tow trucks are still out
and I'll find a driver who wants to talk.

The silence of a snow-filled night
brings with it an eerie, pleasant light.
I stand outside the house and dwell
on how such beauty can cause such fright.

P.S. I didn't really wreck the car last night, but I certainly feel for those who did, as well as the public safety and other government employees who had to deal with it. This is the most snow I've seen in Grand Junction at one time since I've lived here.

May your Christmas Week be a safe and joyous one.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Chamber Circles the Wagons

The Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce has taken some interesting steps in recent weeks, from intervening in the citizen petition challenging the Brady Trucking Rezone to tossing the Western Colorado Congress from its' membership rolls.

Chamber Executive Director Diane Schwenke wrote a guest comment in last Sunday's paper defending the Chamber's actions on behalf of Brady Trucking. She also went as far as to suggest that the rights of the people to petition the City of Grand Junction challenging an ordinance or other legislation were not in the best interest of business or economic development.

I was scratching my head about this assertion, particularly when these rights were conveyed to the people via the City Charter and Article 20 of the Colorado Constitution, which defines the existence and powers of Home Rule cities. These foundational documents of state and municipal government also reserve change in their structure or provisions for a majority vote of the people.

I'm curious what Ms. Schwenke thought she was going to accomplish with what appears to be a quixotic complaint at best. These provisions aren't new, and they aren't going away easily. They are therefore part of the cost of doing business in Grand Junction. City Market is all too familiar with this, through their struggle to make use of their land at 12th and Patterson.

Helen Traylor and Bennett Boeschenstein covered these and other areas in what is basically a rebuttal column (and a good one) in today's Sentinel.

Regardless of which side of the debate you find yourself regarding the future of the Riverfront, one thing that can be said is that the process is being fleshed out as it should be. I'll bet there are some members of City Council and administration who wish this would not have been dropped into their lap to begin with.

For me, this is just one more reason to re-negotiate the Persigo Agreement, which put Brady Trucking's development application for their property (then in unincorporated Mesa County) literally on the City's doorstep.

With regard to the WCC, I was always kind of surprised, in a pleasant way, to find them listed among the Chamber's members. I thought that even though they advocated positions that could be considered an impediment to local business development, their Chamber membership represented an attempt to understand both sides, and achieve consensus where possible.

So much for that.

At the center of the various reports about this dispute seem to be varying accounts of what WCC said or didn't say about a Chamber position at a particular hearing or meeting. Ralph D'Andrea is trying his best Paul Harvey to get 'the rest of the story' out there. Perhaps other local media will follow suit during the week.

It's disappointing to see as influential and important group like the Chamber engage in what seems to be a retreat into a defensive, almost reactionary posture. It seems that they may have
forgotten one of the more legendary quotations about strategic management, but as it happens they are planning a trip this April that may serve to leverage exactly that sentiment.

I will be interested in seeing what lessons they will bring back from China. From the looks of their recent actions, they may have the disdain-for-democratic-process and suppression-of-minority-viewpoints areas pretty well in hand.

Have a good week ahead.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Steve King's School Safety Bill

I sent the below e-mail today to my State Legislator, Steve King, regarding his proposed bill on school safety for the legislative session that begins in January. The annotations via web links were added by me after the fact.

In researching this, I found that there's a lot going on that is good to know about, and illustrates some of the thinking going on at the state level.

I'd also like to thank Jeff Kirtland at District 51 for speaking with me, and providing valuable information regarding the district's obligations to respect student privacy, and the required disclosure of information to law enforcement in emergency situations. These obligations are to federal law, and don't have a great deal of relevance to any state-initiated efforts to improve information sharing as it relates to school safety and incident management.


Rep. King:

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me earlier this week concerning your proposed bill for the upcoming legislative session, the Critical Incident School Safety Act of 2009.

As an interested constituent and parent with an extensive background in Public Safety and Emergency Management, I agree with your assertion that every educational institution, regardless of size or age group served, needs to be able to effectively implement an emergency response plan that addresses elements critical to maintaining security, accountability, and consistency in its' application.

You had stated to me in our conversation that you wanted your bill to achieve the following goals:
  • Become the first state in the union to require that the aforementioned safety strategies be applied across the educational spectrum, from preschool through higher education.
  • Facilitate the ability for teachers to be able to conduct a functional lockdown.
  • Require regular drills of the school emergency plan.
  • Be able to address an active threat through processes that would touch the entire campus of a school or university, over the entire day or time period that classes are in session.
  • Create a foundation of safety-oriented personnel and processes within all educational environments.
You stated that you wanted to keep the bill's requirements simple, so that they could be implemented with relative ease. You also stated that you wanted to avoid making the bill's requirements so cumbersome that they resulted in too large of a fiscal impact, or so onerous to administrators that they would resist these requirements.

After our conversation, I reviewed two bills signed into law by Gov. Ritter in the last legislative session that would complement some of what you are trying to achieve. One is SB-181, which you referred me to, which requires schools to integrate the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and multi-disciplinary stakeholders into their emergency planning and staff education processes.

The other is SB-001, which established the Colorado School Safety Resource Center (CSSRC), intended to be a clearinghouse for schools across the state to obtain and share information on school safety processes and strategies.

I believe that your proposed bill will help to assure that the efforts put forth by your fellow legislators in the last session can be applied on a uniform, coordinated, and practical basis. I would like to offer some additional suggestions that I believe will help to make the bill as comprehensive as possible without establishing requirements that are unwieldy, draconian or fiscally unsound. These are:
  • Mandatory Notification of 9-1-1: Should an emergency incident occur that requires an immediate response of resources over and above that which is immediately available on the school campus (including School Resource Officers), the school will report the incident and/or request those resources through the most simple, direct, and reliable way available; calling 9-1-1, and providing the necessary information (as available) to the professionals on the other end of the line. This helps to assure mobilization of resources in accordance with local emergency plans, notification of involved stakeholders according to plan, quick establishment of unified command, and written and recorded documentation of the public safety response.
In my career I have observed too many attempts by school personnel to mitigate emergencies by using surreptitious or 'back door' methods of notifying public safety personnel, in an attempt to keep the incident out of the public eye, thus avoiding media and/or parental attention. This has the unfortunate effect of distracting the focus of Incident Management efforts, and is a largely futile waste of energy, as any student with a cell phone is likely to succeed in communicating incident information to parents or others.
  • Best Practices sharing through CSSRC - As CSSRC begins its' programs through the selected pilot sites, collect information on Emergency Plan development strategies and other information that can be shared with districts across the state.
  • Drill / Incident reporting and compliance mechanism - Revise any existing statewide emergency incident and/or drill reporting mechanism to include documentation of successes, failures, and the incident management structure applied. State to compile data to monitor trends and compliance with the requirements of this bill, as well as the NIMS requirements of SB-181. Reports provided to the schools and the public on an annual basis.
Best wishes for making your proposed bill a viable and relevant component of achieving safe educational environments across Colorado. Please feel free to contact me with any additional questions or information needs. Thanks for your time and consideration.

John L. Linko

Monday, December 15, 2008

Quiet Weekend

- Daily Sentinel - Christopher Tomlinson

"My boss will like it that I got Sentinel Square in the background."
- Daily Sentinel photographer Christopher Tomlinson,
overheard shortly after taking the above photo

Friday night after work I headed Downtown to the Post Office. While going down Main Street, I noticed a lot more activity than you might expect on a winter Friday evening. Many stores were open, there were carolers singing, and there was a general feeling of the community being out for something special.

I found a big part of it in the 600 block of Main Street, as the statue of Walter Walker was formally unveiled. It was a very nice ceremony, and the sculpture and it's presentation are whimsical and impressive all at once. I particularly enjoyed the commemorative program that was distributed, a small 4-page tab produced by the Free Press that included many facts about Mr. Walker and his role in shaping our area. It also included some detail of the role of the Klan in Grand Valley politics. Fortunately, there were no protests at the ceremony.

In case you're wondering why the Free Press would print a commemorative program about the one-time publisher of the Daily Sentinel, here's a quick history lesson. Walter Walker's son Preston (also featured in the sculpture) owned the paper until his death in 1970, at which time he left it to employee Ken Johnson. Johnson sold the Sentinel to Cox Newspapers in 1979. They remain the owners to this day. Ken Johnson then partnered with others to start the Free Press in 2003. They sold the paper to Colorado Mountain News Media in 2005.

Mr. Johnson was also instrumental in having Mesa State's new soccer complex named 'Walker Field' earlier this year.

It turns out that Friday evening was also the annual Spirit of Christmas Walk, held along with the annual Chocolate Walk. I walked through the Main Street Shopping Park and surrounding areas, and found several interesting shops that I would otherwise not have noticed had they not chosen to be open that evening. Among them are:
  • Author's Gallery Bookstore, 537 Main St. Loaded (literally) with used books. One afternoon I am going to have to work my way through all the stacks and beef up my collection, as well as look for those special things that hide amongst the vastness of the ordinary.
  • Planet Earth and the 4 Directions Gallery, 524 Colorado Ave. For those into local art, vintage and imported clothing, antique and custom-made jewelry (with an artist in residence) and a taste of the generally eclectic and offbeat. The owner was going through some new clothing arrivals from Peru. I thought I saw a Raspberry Beret among all of the new stuff. It was a fun visit.
  • Triple Play Records, 530 Main St. Rock Cesario's place continues to carry some of the coolest stuff in town. I've got my eye on at least 2 or 3 CDs in there, and if I can get my turntable going again the vinyl section looks equally enticing.
Since I got back to the house on Friday evening I have not been outside, except to marvel at the snowfall on Saturday night, and the manner in which the ambient light reflects off of the clouds and falling snow to give an eerie but fascinating illumination. It was 3:00 in the morning, and it looked like twilight outside.

I've been fighting the lingering effects of a cold, while finishing some online Christmas shopping and cleaning up the house for my mother's arrival on Tuesday. She'll be with us through Christmas. About the only things I haven't done are get cards mailed out and put up the lights and the tree. These are things a teenager could help with. Hmmmm.....

I'd like to thank the Denver Broncos for quietly submitting to the Carolina Panthers today in such a quick fashion. This enabled CBS to fill the remaining time with the Steelers' excellent comeback against Baltimore. What's that? Just wait 'til the playoffs? OK then.....

I'm trying to keep the holiday rush somewhat subdued, at least as much as I can. Tomorrow I will venture outside to do some shopping, get a haircut, and hit the library for a while. I may also stop in at the City Council meeting tomorrow evening.

I hope that peace and joy are more prevalent for you than the hectic nature we humans make out of the season. Have a great week ahead.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I am a college dropout.

In the fall of 1979 I was into my second year at
Pitt when I basically became restless and lost focus on school. I discovered more fulfillment in the working world, and I had more fun working in the campus radio station and doing jobs related to that.

I quit school. I started working at a hotel in my hometown, driving guests to and from the Pittsburgh airport. I eventually got into the hotel business a bit more, which sustained me until my radio hobby gave me the bright idea to volunteer as a dispatcher for a suburban EMS agency. A career was born.

That was 25 years ago. As much as circumstances of late have given me reason to lament my choice back then, I really can't say that leaving school was a decision that I regret. After all, if I had never had worked at that hotel, I would never have met my late wife, who was a lifeguard at the hotel pool. If I had not worked in the hotel business in other places, I would not have had reason or occasion to visit a certain restaurant after work. That's where I first met Leslie.

A recent
Ed Quillen column in the Denver Post lamented what I have personally termed as "hypercredentialism", or the tendency among employers to make a college degree or other educational credential a prerequisite for any employment consideration.

Let's be clear that there are many situations where degrees and professional licenses are essential. But there are also numerous job postings out there that require a degree for no plausible reason. This unfairly discounts the value of practical job experience when considering prospective qualified applicants, and if you've got no experience it tends to be slim pickings beyond the service or energy sectors.

Mr. Quillen stated that the system that exists today prevents those with intelligence and skills used and learned outside the traditional post-secondary educational system from getting a well-paying job. He cites the following:

"For example, anyone who can pass the bar exam should be able to practice as a lawyer, rather than the current system that requires a college degree followed by law school. Clarence Darrow and Abraham Lincoln were both pretty good lawyers, and neither went to college, let alone law school.

Most newspapers require college degrees for reporters, but the main value of college in this regard is that it accustoms you to sitting through long, boring sessions while taking notes; H.L. Mencken, the patron saint of American journalism, never went past high school."
He goes so far as to suggest a need for laws that prevent employers from asking about formal schooling as part of the hiring process. He also accuses the system of higher education of functioning as more of a "gate keeper", acting in many cases as an unnecessary additional expense on the pathway to decent paying jobs, with costs that have been increasing at nearly 3 times the increase in median family income over the last 25 years.

As someone who has hit the "sheepskin ceiling" several times over the years, I sympathize with what Ed is trying to say. However, I don't think that the situation for older workers like myself is as grim as he makes it out to be. Many employers that require a degree for certain positions will also consider several years of job experience as an equivalent to a degree to participate in the hiring process.

What I've also found is that because most of my work experience in communications comes from a niche industry where degrees are typically not required, many employers who have interviewed me don't know what to make of me, or where to put me.

Over the last year or so I've had the same restless feeling that I had when I was in college the first time. I haven't been able to focus on any particular strategy to correct it, but it's becoming abundantly clear that more change is coming, and it's up to me to manage it if I'm to remain relevant in my work and responsive to the needs of those I love.

It appears that I'm going to have to go back to school, if only to make additional headway in other professions that interest me. I'm taking a good hard look at online learning, but it feels better to be interacting on a person-to-person basis. Perhaps this is a bias that may need to be un-learned.

In any event, it looks as if I'll have the opportunity to do this fairly soon, once my son is done with high school. If he goes to college locally, I'm sure he'll be thrilled with the prospect of having Dad on campus from time to time.

Have a great rest of your day.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Human Rights Day

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly.

Take a few minutes to read the declaration here. From an American perspective, this is pretty basic stuff. Things we as citizens should be able to take for granted, but unfortunately becoming
undermined more and more by fear and reactive behavior by many world governments, including our own.

The nations that worked to develop and adopt this document were coming out of one of the most violent conflicts in recorded history. They knew the costs associated with not only the oppressive nature of some governments, but also those who fight for the cause of freedom around the world. It remains the last global conflict, where most of the world's population shared in making sacrifices and suffering losses.

Whether or not we as a nation can and will honor the principles brought forth in this declaration, especially in the face of activities such as extraordinary rendition, waterboarding, and Guantanamo Bay, is one dilemma among the many that await Barack Obama on January 20.
Regardless of what our government decides to do, these principles are set forth and planted in the hearts and minds of every citizen. How we choose to apply them in our daily lives is what will continue to define us as a nation, and as citizens of the world.

Happy Human Rights Day.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Forgive Us Our Trespasses...

I believe I've passed the age
of consciousness and righteous rage,
I've found that just surviving was a noble fight
I once believed in causes too,
had my pointless point of view,
Life went on no matter who was wrong or right.

- Billy Joel, 'Angry Young Man'

Local activist Jacob Richards wrote a letter to the Sentinel over the weekend criticizing this week's dedication of a statue commemorating Sentinel owner and publisher, aviation pioneer, and local political figure Walter Walker. Mr. Richards cited several sources in highlighting Mr. Walker's affiliation with, and support of, a well-known organization given to racial and religious intolerance.

Throughout history, there are those that have distinguished themselves in the community or the world through their actions for the common good. These individuals, by definition, were all flawed in some way.

Walter Walker was one of these people. Like all of us human beings who make mistakes and do regrettable things, it is apparent through historical record that Mr. Walker did indeed embrace the Ku Klux Klan. He also backed away from that endorsement.

When the statue of Dalton Trumbo was dedicated last year, several in the community were critical of both Trumbo's alleged duplicity as a member of the 'Hollywood Ten' and his open embrace of Communism. Among many older, long-time Grand Junction residents, his skewering of early 20th Century Grand Junction in 'Eclipse' was also not forgotten.

Yet the community at large embraced Trumbo's considerable accomplishments as a screenwriter and novelist, and the now-famous 'bathtub' sculpture now sits near the Avalon Theater.

Mr. Richards' attempts to remind the community of Mr. Walker's less-than-admirable past associations is interesting, but not unexpected. It's also irrelevant to the task at hand, which is to honor Mr. Walker's contributions to the community, which far exceed his temporary lapse of reason that Mr. Richards brought attention to.

Mr. Richards will likely continue his efforts on the public stage later this week. I would hope that he will not endanger himself or others, and that he will exercise his First Amendment rights in a responsible manner. I would personally enjoy reading a special edition of The Red Pill dedicated to this issue.

I'm hopeful that Mr. Richards will overcome his tendencies toward self-righteousness and trying to bring attention to himself to understand the proceedings this week. I also hope that he will eventually learn the value of calm, reasoned public discourse, working with others across ideological boundaries, and achieving compromise for the good of as many citizens as possible.

Perhaps he will, and use his considerable intellect to achieve great things, for which future community leaders will erect a statue of him. It might be dedicated with hardly a mention of Sarah Palin's motorcade.

As High Country News contributor Michelle Nijhuis so eloquently wrote about Dalton Trumbo's tribute two years ago:
"In reprinting "Eclipse,'' and embracing the truths of Shale City, Grand Junction deals a blow to the blacklist mentality. It also shows that small towns -- despite their many faults -- can be generous of heart, and large of mind."
It sounds to me as if the community is about to do the same thing with Walter Walker, and that sounds good to me.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Death by JOA

"Give light and the people will find their own way."

- Motto of the former Scripps-Howard newspaper group
(now E.W. Scripps)

On Wednesday I did something uncharacteristic; I bought a copy of the Rocky Mountain News because it had a cover photo of some deaf children celebrating Christmas. It was an impulse buy, mainly because I know several deaf individuals in the Denver area and wanted to see if they were in the paper.

I don't usually get the Rocky because they are a tabloid paper, which is only to say that for some reason I prefer a broadsheet style newspaper. It was nonetheless distressing to see the announcement yesterday that the Rocky is for sale.

There's enough speculation out there about the reasons for the sale. This has a little more than passing interest to me because I'm from Pittsburgh, where both of our daily newspapers were separately owned with separate news operations, but shared printing, circulation and other operations via a Joint Operating Agreement (JOA).

In 1992, the Pittsburgh Press, owned by E.W. Scripps (the current owner of the Rocky), was sold to the parent of the competing Post-Gazette and shut down, even though it was the larger of the two papers in terms of circulation, prestige, and a Sunday edition. A labor dispute and strike that shut down both papers was the beginning of the death throes for the afternoon Press.

There has been speculation from several corners that the Rocky is not long for this world. The publisher of the rival Denver Post said as much yesterday, but there is also bad history with Scripps-owned papers operated under a JOA.

According to Wikipedia, only one Scripps paper, the Rocky, is currently operated under a JOA. There have been 5 JOAs involving Scripps papers that have terminated, all resulting in the closure of the Scripps-owned paper.

Should the Rocky shut down, leaving Denver with one major daily, I'm wondering what Scripps is thinking about with its' other Colorado holdings, which include several small town papers in places like Fort Morgan, Estes Park, Sterling, and Lamar, but most notably the Boulder Daily Camera and the Colorado Daily, which covers CU.

In Pittsburgh, billionaire and arch-conservative Richard Mellon Scaife morphed his Greensburg Tribune-Review into a daily covering all of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, to compete with the Post-Gazette after the demise of the Press. Scaife also owns numerous small community papers that cover the suburbs, including my hometown paper, the weekly Sewickley Herald.

I'm wondering if Scripps will consider leveraging its' resources in Boulder and elsewhere to provide a greater regional footprint from which to launch a new daily for the Denver market. Granted that it may not be the best of times to do this, but it will be interesting to watch.

Hopefully there won't be too much of the kind of sentiment expressed by the Assistant City Editor of the old Memphis Press-Scimitar, quoted by Time 25 years ago last week as the paper shut down after being folded by Scripps into its' other Memphis paper, the Commercial Appeal:

"By the way, will the last person leaving please turn out the lighthouse?"

Best of luck to the Rocky and its' staff. Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Techie Trepidation - Part 2

Cell Phone Jamming

Imagine that you and your significant other are enjoying a well-deserved night out at the movies. The babysitter has been given both of your mobile phone numbers (in case the battery should notoriously tank on one of them), and you have dutifully put them both on vibrate so as not to disturb the other moviegoers.

The movie is great; as you exit the building you are enjoying a lively comparison of each other's thoughts about the film when both your phones start buzzing. As you look at them, they show multiple missed calls and voice mails from the babysitter, who says that Junior is on the way to the ER after taking a tumble down the basement steps.

Depending on the type of building and the type of cell service you have, this is a plausible scenario right now. What would you think if you found out that the theater operator had a device installed and running inside the movie house that overrides the signals from a phone or nearby tower sites, thus rendering the phone useless inside the building?

In the US and most North American countries, these devices are illegal, and we are fortunate to have an enforcement arm at the federal level that aggressively pursues those who attempt to even advertise them for sale here.

The ubiquitous nature and proliferation of cell phones across our society and culture has altered the fundamental conduct of our lives, as well as added an extra layer of access and accountability to those lives impacted by cell phones.

Essential to the public safety, as well as the credibility of the wireless phone industry, is the ability to use these devices in a manner unfettered by man-made technical issues, at least in those areas where the provider deems it profitable to provide coverage.

While a family of 4 driving on Grand Mesa this week found that out the hard way, the amount of reliance that many of our citizens place on cell phone coverage in more densely populated areas requires the kind of diligence that the feds are displaying, even if it's being done to benefit the members of the cell phone lobby as much as the customers using the phones themselves.

Still, there have been legitimate concerns expressed by at least one segment of government that the use of cell phones may truly be placing the public at risk, and at least one state decided to do something about it last week.

Prison officials in South Carolina and Texas have expressed interest in having federal regulations changed to exempt correctional facilities from prohibitions on jamming equipment. There appears to be some good reasons for their concerns; cell phones have been smuggled into prison cell blocks and allegedly used to conduct criminal activity on the outside, including at least one homicide and threats against journalists and public officials, and their families.

After meeting initial resistance from the FCC and a large amount of pressure from the CTIA and private land mobile dealers, South Carolina got a commitment from the feds to 'work with them' and conducted a successful test of a cell phone jamming device at one of their prisons. Texas now wants to do the same.

This makes sense, but it starts us down a slippery slope that must be closely monitored by those in other public safety sectors, including emergency management, as well as the cellular industry. Some would say that cellular jamming in other environments may be beneficial to keeping disruptions to a minimum in schools, certain entertainment venues, courthouses, and other places.

I'm sure there are even more reactionary elements that would love to have a jamming device ready to deploy for lawful protests, in an attempt to disrupt any smart mob organizing activity, or the distribution of audio and video by citizen journalists.

Deploy one or two of these in a college classroom building or a concert hall, then see what happens when an emergency alert goes out to the rest of the campus, or when Junior takes a tumble and the babysitter has to call. See where one 'common sense' application can potentially lead us, especially without a short regulatory leash?

The cell phone is not only an electronic tool (or tether). It is a little commerce engine. It facilitates the sharing of information and opportunity, and the ability for those with the knowledge to capitalize on that opportunity.
It serves as a plot device in most motion pictures set in the present day. It connects social groups to the Internet and to each other in ways that are changing faster than Sarah Palin in the leather section at Saks.

Prudent use of regulation to facilitate effective wireless service, especially in rural and even remote areas, combined with a common sense approach to deny access to those who shouldn't have it, is the best way to preserve the potential for this technology without endangering the very public that relies on it.

And just because one federal agency is diligent about certain things doesn't mean that other government forces are doing the same. For example, today's story about the White House rejecting an FCC rulemaking that would have required all cell towers to have at least an 8 hour backup power source. Kind of puts the "lame" in "lame duck"...

Now hang up and drive.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Styrofoam Blessings and Tupperware Karma

“Cooking is at once child's play and adult joy. And cooking done with care is an act of love.”

Evan and I started out our Thanksgiving Day by delivering meals made by our church to several addresses in Clifton. It was good to brighten the day of someone in need or alone.

I was impressed with the manner in which over 600 meals (according to Bob Clifford, who directs Canyon View's Servant Evangelism program) were prepared, packaged, loaded, and delivered within 2 or 3 hours' time by church staff and congregation members.

The level of participation and organization was particularly impressive. We came in to the church's office section and were directed to a table where the addresses for meal delivery were organized by ZIP code. Each address had the name of the recipient, number of meals needed, contact phone number, and an Internet-produced map with directions.

We were then directed into the fellowship hall, where several people were taking turkey, stuffing, and other items and packaging them into Styrofoam containers and shopping bags. Another group had loaded non-perishable food items such as Ramen noodles and Mac and Cheese into smaller bags. These were then placed on tables for the delivery volunteers to load into their cars and proceed into the community.

We had a total of 6 meals to deliver to 3 houses, and it took us about an hour. We went back to the church to get more and were told that everything had been sent out. This was a great experience not only because of the feeling that God's work was being done, but that this task was completed with joy and efficiency by a competently-led group of volunteers. Well done.

We were also invited by some longtime friends, Jim and Sue Nall, to have dinner with them and their sons, Anthony and Aaron. We have known the Nalls since Evan and Tony were about 5, and were playing organized soccer for the first time.

After dinner and a little bit of TV, the boys all wanted to go somewhere else, which I suppose can be expected from high school seniors with drivers' licenses. True to their excellent gastronomic timing, they made it back just in time for dessert, then headed out again.

I left with several containers of leftovers. Sue had made us soup and pie a couple of weeks ago, so I had brought those pots and pans back with me, and was now returning them in exchange for more containers.

Evan mentioned to me something he had heard of which basically went like this; if you give someone food in containers, and the person you gave it to makes food for someone and uses those containers, then you will eventually receive more food, and thus more containers, than you gave away.

He called this 'Tupperware Karma", and I've only been able to find a few mentions of it online.

The one that seemed the most original distilled it down to this:
"Only when you are able to give generously without expectation of reciprocity will the universe reward you with more plastic ware."
If I cooked more often and gave food to people, I would probably understand this better. I'm no Gene Kinsey, but I can cook when properly motivated. I can read a recipe, and have made several for baked goods from scratch, including a cheesecake that Evan and I made that came out quite well, even without a springform pan.

We inherited some great cookbooks, and there is a lot of joy and love in them.

We ate all of the turkey, but there is still stuffing and potatoes left over, yearning for a good hunk of roast gobbler and a jar of Heinz gravy. I'll get the containers back to their owner, with great amounts of gratitude and appreciation for the skill and love that went into the meal.

Perhaps one day some Tupperware will make its' way from our home to someone, and perhaps the karmic cycle of plastic ware can begin in earnest.

I hope that many of you were able to successfully navigate, survive, or avoid the annual after-Thanksgiving convocation of The First Church of My Stuff, and that you will have a steady and blessed journey through the last month of the year.

Have a good week ahead.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Justice Ploddingly Served...

In a follow-up to a post from February, the local woman convicted of vehicular homicide in a 2005 crash had charges against her for violating her probation dismissed.

Christy Buescher pleaded guilty to killing a mother of two while driving with a fair amount of alcohol and drugs on board. She was sentenced to one year in jail (suspended) and ten years' probation. What appeared to be a contributing factor in her sentencing was her being afflicted with Huntington's Disease.

My earlier post had to do with Ms. Buescher, described this week by one Deputy DA as "too sick to handle at the jail", being hauled back into the local lockup from Boulder for an alleged probation violation. Seems that she assaulted a fellow resident, got kicked out of the private care facility she was living in, and failed to report her address change to the appropriate authorities.

Nine months later we have finally arrived where anyone with a shred of common sense probably thought we would a long time ago. Christy will be committed permanently to some type of mental health care facility. Given the debilitating and destructive nature of her disease, the physicians involved believe that her stay won't be very long.

District Attorney Pete Hautzinger: Was it really necessary to formally charge this woman with a probation violation to accomplish this logical end? Was the full fleshing out of the process, including the requisite media attention, taxpayer expense, and involvement of the victim's family, really required to get to this conclusion? If it was, then how all this transpired appears to me to be symptomatic of greater ills within the criminal justice system.

From my perspective, God had a handle on this a long time ago. As with anything else, true peace and 'closure' will come from an authority much higher than any prosecutor or judge.

...and Just Plain Stupid

My son informed me Tuesday afternoon that the bulk of his school day had been canceled because someone called in a bomb threat at Grand Junction High School.

It sounded to me that the District and local law enforcement applied a greater sense of urgency to this latest scare, perhaps because it was actually called into the 9-1-1 center, instead of the school itself.

This happens frequently in lots of schools around the country. That's not to say these threats shouldn't be taken seriously, and the school did the right thing by responding the way they did.

I hope that they track down the idiot that did this, and I think the possibility exists that the perpetrator may not be a student. One back story to this that was reported but not expanded upon was that a 'media event' was scheduled for about the same time as the suspect stated the bomb would go off. This 'event' was a ribbon cutting and dedication for upgrades to the school's existing track and field facilities.

The project was part of an agreement between District 51 and Mesa State to accommodate the women's track team while also providing enhanced facilities for District 51 students. Mesa paid for the work on District 51's land, perhaps as an offset to District 51's contribution toward the new soccer facility last year. On the surface this sounds like a win-win proposition in resource sharing, but there are many in the community who reacted negatively.

Hopefully not negatively enough to engage in an ill-conceived, essentially juvenile action that put hundreds of students at increased risk just by the action of having to move them into designated locations in the evacuation plan. This includes my boy, and while he's pretty good at taking care of himself, I join many parents, administrators and public safety officials who are not amused.

If the jerk du jour is a student, you did your thing one day early to obtain an extended Thanksgiving break. This lends a little more credence to the possibility that someone with a more sinister motive is behind this, in this case disrupt the dedication of the new track facility. Besides, I don't know that many teenagers who are crazy or stupid enough to call a threat into the police department.

Either way it was a stupid move that put people at unnecessary risk and made the job of our educators just that much harder.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

We Gather Together

We gather together
to ask the Lord's blessing;
He chastens and hastens
His will to make known.

The wicked oppressing

now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His name,
He forgets not His own.

Adrianus Valerius, 1597
translated by Theodore Baker, 1894

Monday, November 24, 2008

Techie Trepidation - Part 1

It's exciting and scary at the same time to watch new products and systems sprout up that are related to wireless connectivity and Radio Frequency (RF) technologies. Equally intriguing are the way that these wireless systems interface with legacy networks such as the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), and use the Internet to connect wireless devices to all manner of communications systems and computer networks.

There were a few stories in the news this past week that drew my interest, not only for the innovations involved but the implications to our ability as citizens to travel and communicate freely without undue restrictions, or having to endure intrusive monitoring that can be used against us in the future.

This isn't a fictional horror story; it's happening in many places, and future possibilities have been discussed in technical forums across the country. Civil liberties organizations such as the ACLU and EFF have expressed concerns, and are calling for regulatory oversight in many cases.

On the other side, there are legitimate public safety and security uses for some of these gadgets. Achieving a balance between these useful purposes and those that infringe upon our freedoms is something that the regulators will need to become adept at.

I get the feeling that the soon-to-be Obama administration will need to develop a keen sensitivity to both sides of the argument when it comes to dealing with these kinds of technological advances. I'll be posting about these over the next week or so, starting with...

RFID: The Mark of the Beast?

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips have been around for a while, and are used extensively in lots of fairly useful applications, from inventory control to security access to highway toll collection.

They are becoming more ubiquitous to everyday lives; this year alone I have acquired three RFID tags, in two ID badges and my passport. Many credit cards that allow the user to just pass their card in front of a reader to pay for an item, with the necessary data being transmitted via a very short range RF link. An RFID-equipped ID badge uses the same low-range transmission to gain access to a secure area, or punch in and out on a time clock. A longer range transmitter allows drivers in many states to zip through a highway toll gate at highway speeds, with the toll being charged to the driver's bank or credit card account.

Significant concerns have been expressed about the proliferation of tagged merchandise, and the ability to track the item after it leaves the store's inventory. The hacker community has figured out ways to receive and record the data coming from an RFID-equipped "smart cards" and ID badges in order to clone these items for illegal purposes.

Now there is an RFID tag now FDA-approved for use in humans and livestock. The company that makes it touts it for infant and elder protection and tracking, as well as patient identification in the health care environment and prisoner tracking in correctional facilities.

As you can imagine, there are pervasive arguments by civil liberties groups and other organizations against the use of RFID in humans, especially without knowledge or legal consent.
The civil liberties implications are somewhat chilling; think of the retinal scanners in Minority Report.

As it happens, there are several Christian organizations who have mounted challenges to RFID technology, equating it to the "mark of the beast" referred to in Revelation 13:16-17, and thus a step toward control of the movement of individuals and their ability to participate in commerce or other activities.

Some Amish farmers in Michigan have filed suit against the USDA objecting to its' RFID tagging program for cattle, as well as state requirements to use the technology that conflict with the religious beliefs of the farmers, many of whom have stated they will stop farming if ordered to use the tags in their livestock.

Focus On the Family has no information at all on this topic; I wonder why.

I believe that private institutions that wish to secure their facilities and monitor access into secure areas have the right to do so. Can an employer monitor employee movement within a facility with this technology? What are an employee's expectations of personal privacy in the workplace?

There is lots of information online about the advantages, innovations, and threats presented by the proliferation of RFID and other technologies that impact all of our daily lives. The best advice is to be mindful of what's out there, ask questions, and express concerns when you feel that your rights are being compromised.

Have a great week.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ready Reticence

When words are many, sin is not absent,
but he who holds his tongue is wise.

Proverbs 10:19 (New International Version)

This is today's Daily Bible Verse (featured in the sidebar of this blog), and I guess I've been taking it to heart because I've painfully little to say, especially after immersing myself in words and output last week.

It's been an interesting few days. I worked the last two days, and over the weekend I went to church..twice. I'll have more to say about that later.

I spent the latter part of last week editing one of my posts down to less than half its' original size, so that it would meet the size limitations that the Sentinel had placed on me to get it in print as a guest commentary. I didn't quite get there, but it still made it into print in Sunday's paper.

I'm brooding about a lot of things lately, but that isn't necessarily translating into something relevant and illuminating to say. The loss of Cinema at the Avalon begs some kind of response; I was a member for the last two years, and went whenever I could. I'll miss it, but I'm more interested in what the future holds than lamenting about the past or affixing blame.

Pick up the pieces, regroup, and move on. I'm there, wherever you go.

Speaking of movies, the newest iteration of Star Trek has me interested. The trailer did its' job; now hopefully the movie will stand up to the hype.

I listened to an interesting report on NPR today about the proposed bailout, and an experiment amongst a group of graduate economic students that lent great credence to having the process be transparent and accountable, as opposed to what appears to be happening.

The professor coined this "Crony Capitalism", which without a great deal of words tells some of the story of the last 8 years pretty well.

I'm taking an Incident Command class at the Sheriff's Office later this week. It should prove to be a good mental exercise, and I'm looking forward to it.

Speaking of exercise (mental and otherwise), my friend Linda Bowman is just about to complete the Police Academy. Best wishes to her as she tackles her final on Friday.

I'll be busy tomorrow with household-related stuff and lots of phone calls to make on what is really my only day off this week. Hope the rest of yours is a good one.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bresnan Sued in Nebuad Fiasco

In a follow-up to posts I wrote this past June and July, several news sources, including the excellent Threat Level blog at Wired magazine, report that NebuAd, the company that developed some questionable web-use monitoring products, is being sued for allegedly violating privacy and hacking laws. Also being sued are the ISPs that tested the product without the knowledge or consent of their subscribers. This includes two telecom companies with a presence in Mesa County.

Bresnan Communications, Grand Junction's sole Cable TV provider, along with CenturyTel, which provides local telephone service to the Collbran and Mesa areas, were among several ISPs sued along with NebuAd by 15 end users, who are requesting class action status on behalf of all subscribers to the Internet service of the providers named in the suit.

According to a copy of the complaint, NebuAd worked with the ISPs to test a device using a technology called Deep Packet Inspection to monitor the Internet traffic of users, and use that data to select and send targeted advertising to those users when they surf the web.
For example, an Internet user doing a search on City Council member Doug Thomason may be targeted with embedded online ads for anger management training. ;-)

All of the involved ISPs stopped their testing around June in response to public outcry and congressional scrutiny.

The plaintiffs claim, among other things, that this practice violates the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and several other federal and state statutes. They are asking for up to $5 Million in damages.
NebuAd's CEO resigned in September.

Bresnan and CenturyTel, according to their own admission, tested the NebuAd technology in portions of small markets in Montana. That could still make for a pretty substantial group of plaintiffs if the court grants them class action status.

I contacted
Bresnan Vice President of Public Affairs Shawn Beqaj (pronounced buh-KAI) today requesting comment about the suit. He stated that they have yet to be served, and declined to comment on pending litigation. I didn't attempt to call CenturyTel. It's unclear if Internet services are even available through them in Collbran and Mesa.

While there doesn't appear to be a chance of Grand Junction area subscribers being included in the class, I will keep an eye on developments in the case and post anything significant.

This is proof that not only are there insidious attempts to capture what you do online in an attempt to profit from it, but there are also serious civil liberties issues involved. Luckily, there are legal remedies in this country that will hopefully serve to protect citizens from online eavesdropping and monitoring in the future.