Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Media Matters, Harmon Division

Yesterday was an atypically crazy day at work, starting with critical medical calls, a barn fire, numerous wrecks from slippery roads, a house fire, a SWAT callout for a homicide suspect, and culminating in the rescue of two snowmobilers from the Uncompahgre Plateau.

It was tough to wind down after getting out of there; I had a nice conversation with Leslie that helped a lot. There's something to be said about the power of a loving voice and a hug, even if it is a virtual hug from 1700 miles away.

The last incident was made all the more difficult because they were two guys that I know. I stayed well past the end of my shift, helping to handle communication to and from information sources, associates, and family members until the word came down that both of them were OK.

I found out that they both have a Spot Satellite Messenger device, which allows them to send one-way messages through a satellite network to friends, family, or an emergency call center, depending on the circumstances. The call center fed us their GPS coordinates after they pressed their help buttons when their snowmobile finally became inexorably stuck in an area with no wireless phone service. Search and Rescue found them in the snow cave they had built not too long afterward, but it was 3 1/2 hours that I bet they won't forget soon, given the precarious position they found themselves in.

Speaking of precarious positions, it was a little more difficult to wind down last night after reading Gary Harmon's blog post from yesterday. Seems like he was trying to draw a parallel between Ted Kennedy's endorsement of Barack Obama and the unfortunate events at Chappaquiddick nearly 40 years ago. From what I can gather, Gary saw the initial reaction of certain officials of NOW to the endorsement as akin to what happened to Mary Jo Kopechne on that fateful night.


To be nice, that's a stretch, especially given the position of National NOW on the endorsement, which carries a good deal more civility. Then again, Gary's blog isn't really about those kinds of things. Gary seems to specialize in single-paragraph, from-the-hip sniper attacks that may be entertaining for a second or two but can be significantly off the mark. He apparently saves the better-researched vitriol for his weekly column.

Gary's post of January 24 had similar problems. Gary referenced an excellent article from Wired about the potential for water supplies and small communities to be threatened by the rapid emphasis on crops that can be used to make biofuels such as E85 Ethanol and Biodiesel.
He attempted to label this as an additional unseen cost of Hybrid Vehicle technology.

Oh, really?

First, the article was based on information from a UN summit held in Thailand, with a specific focus on Asia and the Pacific. I'm not sure that these concerns translate so well to the high desert of Colorado.

Secondly, I think that Gary confused hybrid technology in vehicles with the alternative fuel technology that the crops are produced for. I’m no expert, but I did enough research to know that hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius can largely power themselves a lot of the time through technology such as regenerative braking, and can burn standard gas when needed.

Aside from the costs associated with replacing and recycling spent batteries, the lower operating cost and lessened environmental impact associated with hybrids is impossible to ignore. Gary's all-too-brief assertion to the contrary amounts to a misrepresentation of the linked article (which makes good points), and an unjustified bad rap on hybrid technology.

From a local standpoint, wouldn’t it be interesting if a re-commitment of some of the Grand Valley’s shrinking agricultural land base to bioenergy crops struck a balance with oil, gas, and shale production and their associated environmental impacts? At the same time, we could be revitalizing our local agricultural economy and holding off unwanted sprawl. Could be a win-win for our area.

I don't know if that's a "dose of reality", but I believe it's a good shade closer than what I've been reading under that tagline of late. I guess it's a good thing that Media Matters is busy enough with other local stories.

Count your blessings, and have a great day.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Reflective Moment

If you're old enough to have been around or to remember what happened 22 years ago today, do you remember where you were when this happened?

I was asleep after having worked a night shift at Magee in Pittsburgh. Jan was at work, and called me. I basically flew out of bed and turned on the TV in the living room. Didn't move much from the couch until after President Reagan gave his speech, and so eloquently invoked High Flight. The Great Communicator, indeed. Great speechwriters, too. I guess it's a good thing that White House speechwriters don't belong to the WGA, especially given the tenuous eloquence of the current occupant.

The lessons from this tragedy have been learned and re-learned by our society (Don't take anything for granted, and don't think it's not important enough or let CNN handle it for you, among many others).

Putting those things aside, let's take a moment and reflect on the lives of those involved, and how they ended or were indelibly changed by this event.

Have a blessed day.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Do The Math

This is the intersection of First Street, Grand Avenue, and US Highway 6 and 50 in Grand Junction. No, the town wasn't named for it. It's the intersection most in need of a roundabout. Just give me a few months of vacation when they do it.

I didn't mention before that I'm a big fan of roundabouts. Having spent a considerable amount of time in New England, I can attest to their efficiency and safety, as long as they're built correctly. Think 24 1/2 Road and G Road, but not 12th and Horizon.

The interesting thing about the picture isn't the traffic, but the gas station signs on either side of the intersection. This picture was taken on Saturday afternoon, and the prices had been in place since at least last Wednesday. Don't worry, I can't read them either.

Wow, free coffee with a 10 gallon gas purchase.
Gotta be a great deal, right?

Well, maybe.

OK, so if I get 10 gallons of regular gas at the place on the left, I'll spend $1.20 more and get a free cup of coffee. If I go to the other place, I save $1.20, but no "free" coffee.

I didn't check how much a coffee was at the place on the right, but I'm guessing (because I'm not a coffee drinker) that it's less than $1.20.

Anyway, the disparity in prices between one station and another is what's really interesting to me, given that these places supposedly sell gas from the same oil company, and thus have the same supplier, right? Maybe. Granted, the stations are run by different companies, but for some strange reason I feel that the cost of coffee isn't what's behind this.

In any case, it's a moot point now. As of Saturday night BOTH places were selling regular gas for $2.89. I guess someone didn't get the memo. Yet another example to me of the curious way that gasoline is priced, here and elsewhere. If anyone with more expertise in the industry can help explain this, please do.

Speaking of energy, I think when I have more of it I'll talk about that. I'm kind of tired but happy, having just returned home from an excellent benefit concert for KAFM at Boomers. John-Alex Mason gave a great performance. Judging from his website, he splits time between Memphis and various locations across Colorado.

Until tomorrow.

Update 1/27: At 25 Rd and F Rd at 11:00 Sunday morning, regular at the Bradley Sinclair was $2.75, while the C&F Conoco on the opposite corner was $2.89. Caveat emptor.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Starting Off Again

After my last post, I received emails from the editors of both Grand Junction newspapers. Josh Nichols thanked me for what he called an "eloquent" defense of his publication in my comments on Denny Herzog's recent post about media coverage of the KREX fire.

Denny asked me to give him a call, and when I did he had some explanations as to what were behind some of his comments. He then asked if I would be interested in having this blog included as part of the Sentinel's list of community blogs on

Denny said that he enjoyed reading what I wrote, even if he didn't agree with most of what I had to say. Even though I was very gratified by his offer, I couldn't help thinking that I was listening to Lou Grant channeling Voltaire.

Today the link was posted on the Sentinel's website, so in advance of this I decided it was about time to move the blog to a more robust hosting service. As a result the web address has changed, but so has the layout. Nicer colors and bigger fonts, also more storage space for pictures and other multimedia.

In recognition of this, I felt it appropriate to reprise my first post, with some a
dded information and a chance illustration or two. That way many of you who may be visiting this site for the first time will have some idea of who I am, where I've been, and what to expect.

Starting Off

I think I was called to start this blog because I seemed to be gathering experience in being able to express myself in writing, and have been feeling an innate need to share, if for no other reason than to help myself and others. Here's the brief scoop:

I live in Grand Junction, Colorado.
I am a native of the greater Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. Go Pens.

I am recently widowed. My late wife Jan fought lung cancer for 19 months before passing away last April. It was tough before she left us, and it's been tough since. More about her here.

We have a teenage son, Evan. He's had a rough time of it as well, but he seems to be doing better. He attends Western Colorado Community College and Grand Junction High School. He aspires to be a filmmaker, and he's big on cats. More about him here.

I have a girlfriend, Leslie, a single mother of two daughters who lives in the Pittsburgh suburbs. We've known each other a long time. Despite the distance and
other issues brought on as much by my
self as anyone else,
we have managed to see each other quite a bit and
are trying to keep it together. More about her soon.

My mother, Barbara, has been staying with us since Jan's death. It's hard to work shifts and keep tabs on a teenager, and she's been a big help with the house and some small projects we've been doing. Here she is with Evan.

We have two cats, Smokey and Bandit. The names were coincidental; I'm not a fan of Burt Reynolds' extended adolescence in the 1970's. They kind of mimic the current household members in appearance and attitude.

I work in Public Safety Communications. Not to sound trite, but my work number is 9-1-1.
I am also active in several professional organizations and publications.
I attend Canyon View Vineyard Church in Grand Junction. Being there has helped.

I volunteer at KAFM Radio, an excellent community radio station. I co-produce the
Words program there. It is tedious at times, but also a lot of fun. KAFM is a shining example of how community media can work at any level.

My hobbies include:
Frank Lloyd Wright.
Mass Media.

Public Safety radio monitoring and Amateur radio.
Politics as it relates to the First Amendment, Civil Liberties, and Freedom in Cyberspace.
I am a big fan of Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion.
Movies, TV, obscure pop culture references, literature, and other things. Leslie calls me "Mr. Trivial Pursuit". I auditioned for Jeopardy in Denver late last spring. Haven't heard anything yet.

And onward we go. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Phoenix of New Media

I took this picture of KREX-TV burning this morning. I also took some video, using the same fairly cheap digital camera, and uploaded it to YouTube:

The video was taken from northwest of the fire. The house in the foreground is that of the late Rex Howell, the visionary founder of what Ralph D'Andrea today called a "great uranium-boom experiment, a TV station in the middle of nowhere". KDVR has some great raw video on their site, which shows the building from close up, the impressive destructive force of the fire, and the considerable smoke that it generated. Ralph went on to say:

"Much, if not all, of that history took place in an odd little building in the Hillcrest neighborhood whose architecture was a strange mixture of 1930s Art Deco and 1950s kitsch. Originally built in 1931 for radio...that odd little building, an important piece of Grand Junction history, is now gone...As a community, we're a little smaller today with the loss of that odd little building on Hillcrest".

Agreed. The amount of remodeling that little building underwent to accommodate a modern day television presence likely contributed in part to its' demise. Listening to GJFD attack the fire this morning lent some credence to my theory. They weren't in the building but 5 to 10 minutes before the Safety Officer pulled all of them out and called for defensive operations. Some of the crews were reporting backdrafts, possibly because of numerous concealed spaces created by false ceilings and other byproducts of multiple renovations and additions to the structure.

While thinking about Ralph's comments, it occurred to me that this event was a local benchmark of transition from the traditional way we think about the media to the possibilities that the Internet and other technologies provide to a free society in the documentation and distribution of information.

Thanks to the alert staff of the Daily Sentinel, the KREX fire was on the Internet within 45 minutes of the call going out for firefighters, complete with pictures and some raw video (it does help if the Editor lives down the street). KJCT posted viewer photos on its' web site. Links to the local efforts were on most Denver media outlets within another hour or so.

I thought about the digital content that I had. While certainly not broadcast quality, today's events show that there is an emerging marketplace of ideas that is looking for this kind of stuff. Not the sensationalistic or pandering kind of place, but local outlets, be they local mainstream media, blogs, or message boards. With my camera and laptop I can transfer the video, edit it, toodle by my local Starbucks and use the free Wi-Fi to send it anywhere, all within a very short time. If I have a PDA or smartphone with an integrated camera, one device can collect, edit, annotate, and send it from anywhere, within minutes.

The potential for these capabilities to provide a comparatively inexpensive means of forming a new, community-driven local media is pretty mind-blowing. The effects of the digital revolution on the music industry have been well-documented; what's next for the information industry?

Perhaps its' time for more local media players to embrace the concept of citizen journalism and public access. There is a provision in the City of Grand Junction's franchise agreement with Bresnan Cable for a Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access channel, in addition to Mesa County's Channel 12. All the City has to do is ask for it.

The kinds of information collection and dissemination used today could be leveraged to help create content for a diverse and vibrant community television outlet. We've got plenty of local expertise in all facets of a best practice, that being technology, processes, and people. What's holding us back?

My condolences go out to the KREX staff. Best wishes to them as they begin rebuilding. Given the growth being experienced in this media market, KREX is unique in its' historical position in this media market, as well as its' recent history of listening to the desires of many for Denver TV news. It seems well-positioned to take the quality of local programming yet another step further.

Like the mythological bird, what kind of new commitment, capabilities, and renewal will rise from the ashes on Hillcrest? It's all dependent upon the imagination and drive of those who choose to be involved, and are willing to open their minds to the possibilities.

We've got what it takes here. Rex Howell knew that. Here's to the future.

P.S. Big-time kudos to Bresnan and KREX management for making it a priority to get the CBS and FOX network feeds back on the cable system. Definite customer-oriented thinking there.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Sign O' the Times

This billboard faces east along North Avenue in Grand Junction, just west of the intersection with 5th Street, atop a two-story commercial building. It's often been utilized as a "message" billboard by groups with a political or social agenda. This message has been up since the Christmas holidays. When the lease runs out on this one, there may likely be a response message, or maybe something different. I'll keep an eye on it. It's actually hard for me to ignore, as it's about a block and a half from my house.

For those of you in the Pittsburgh area, these types of displays here are not as quirky, poignant, or ubiquitous as "WHY CAN'T LANSBERRY GET MAIL?", but they are fun to see nonetheless.

On a more somber note, my thoughts and prayers go out to the victims
of the disastrous tour bus crash in southeast Utah on Sunday night, along with their families. The Sentinel did an excellent job at covering the story from many different angles, most notably for me the most complex effort of mustering numerous ambulances to a very remote and unforgiving area, especially in the absence of any air medical transport due to bad weather.

Several media outlets noted the absence of cell phone coverage in the immediate area of the crash. You'd be surprised what areas don't have coverage, especially here. They say it's coming soon, though. Hopefully with more than just one carrier. This is long overdue in anyone's book.

Rick Wagner's blog is certainly entertaining, among other adjectives that others have volunteered in conjunction with his Sentinel column. I have found irony; Rick's blogging moniker that is attached to his posts is YOUR PLACE TO BE HEARD, but he offers no opportunity for comments from readers, nor any link to an email address. Whose place to be heard?

The compulsive proofreader in me also needs to point this out; Wall Street Journal Op-Ed.
Also, perhaps mercifully, his links to Al Jazeera and Ann Coulter, among others, are typos and don't work.

Keep up the good work, Rick. Lord knows that one side of an argument gets boring after a while.

Godspeed to Rick and to the rest of us. Stay safe in your travels.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Happy New Year

Denny Herzog recently wrote about the music associated with New Year's, particularly Auld Lang Syne.

While I'm not hardly a traditionalist, I do remember those old broadcasts with Guy Lombardo at the Waldorf-Astoria. How distant they seem now. Denny provided an interesting link to some commentary on the song's history, along with some alternatives that are out there.

I help to produce the "Words" program on KAFM Community Radio, along with Linda Skinner.
In working with about 200 children a year, it's fun to be able to schedule children's words that fit in with certain holidays, and associate music with that word that is reminiscent or serves as a message about the day in question.

For this reason I would personally resist playing Auld Lang Syne behind the word for New Year's Day, simply because it's too obvious, almost to the point of being trite. The same goes for U2's "New Year's Day", which I like a great deal, but in general would prefer to avoid the easy, obvious selection.

Luckily, for the last two years kids have picked words that have played well with the spirit of New Year's Day. Last year a student at Columbine Elementary picked "tintinnabulation", for which we chose the section of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture with all of the bells pealing in the background.

This year two students at Loma Elementary chose words that lent themselves to both New Years' Eve ("Segue", set to the Beatles' "A Day in the Life") and the beginning of what we can only pray for to be a gentler, more civil New Year, or at least until election season kicks into high gear.

The word for New Year's Day was "Daybreak". You can listen to it here. The program typically airs Monday through Friday at 7:30, 4:30, and 7:30 PM on 88.1 FM or online. The music is Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam performing a traditional Christian hymn. The contrast illustrated there, as well as the message of the song, is highly appropriate to a spirit of renewal and understanding in these challenging times.

Praise with elation,
praise every morning,
God's recreation
of the new day.

Happy New Year ahead.

Sorry, couldn't help myself.