Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Homage to the 'Birdman'

“If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”

As the change of seasons continues to take shape in our area (we've already had our first human-caused wildland fire of the year), sometimes it's good to take a look around and get a closer look at those things that take a piece of our field of vision, but that we take for granted or just don't really notice.

Thanks to reporter Troy Sides of the Mesa State Criterion, we now know a little bit more about one of Grand Junction's most enigmatic personalities.

In a recent story and associated audio slideshow, Mr. Sides introduces us to the 'Birdman', AKA one Edward Gillman. A widowed California transplant with two grown daughters, Mr. Gillman stated he's been walking the same regular route between the college area and Downtown for the last 27 years, feeding the birds along his way.

Mr. Gillman said that he got his start when he took an injured sparrow home and it got better. Like with the famed Robert Stroud, an avian avocation was begun.

I see the Birdman at the Downtown Post Office in the late afternoons, before he walks east on White Avenue, flocks of pigeons and starlings following him. He lives in an apartment in town.

Seeing someone who is content with spending his days in this manner runs counter to the pulse of our society and culture, but I can sense that the Birdman has a good idea of what he wants to do, and is at peace with himself and his life.
He enjoys a freedom that few of us can comprehend.

Pax et Bonum.

Photo Credit: Troy Sides, Mesa State Criterion

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sensible School Safety

School District 51's desire to partner with the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center for emergency notification services, reported in yesterday's Sentinel, is a welcome development for those who desire collaborative partnerships across government boundaries.

During a time when the District is taking heat over some of its other ideas for cutting costs, this proposal makes sense, not only for sensible management of fiscal resources but also the effective management of official information and direction going out to parents, students, and others whenever an emergency situation occurs at a District 51 facility.

Coordinating access to the dispatch center's notification technology, when combined with processes that allow for proper authorization and authentication, as well as the training and orientation of personnel, will go a long way toward the dissemination of information in accordance with best practices. This means information that is concise, meaningful, and provides proper direction to those impacted by the emergency.

There are too many past examples of incomplete or conflicting information related to an emergency response coming from schools in this area and elsewhere. Centrally coordinating these notifications through our area's emergency communications professionals will help to assure that the dissemination of information trickles down from an established command structure, whether that information comes via text messages, phone calls, or the mass media.
Making the system accessible through local public safety will also likely assure that information is disseminated through a unified command, incorporating all community stakeholders that may be impacted by a school emergency.

District 51 Safety Coordinator Tim Leon, a former School Resource Officer with two Grand Valley police departments, was quoted as mentioning the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting incident as an impetus for the District's interest in a centralized means of generating emergency alerts.

That tragedy also galvanized America's university community in a way not seen previously, including Mesa State, which touts its own emergency notification system on its website. There was unfortunately no mention in the Sentinel story about the college's capabilities, and whether or not they have a similar partnership in place with public safety communications. Given that Mesa State's campus security services are provided by the GJPD, that's hopefully a good bet.

Best wishes to the parties involved for an uneventful transition to what will likely be a fine example of collaboration in action.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring 'Break' Travelogue

One week ago Friday I left the freezing rain and wind in Denver for the wind-driven snow of Omaha for a job interview. I was dutiful in arriving at DIA an hour and 45 minutes ahead of my departure time, only to be met by a mass of humanity comprised of two of the larger groups of travelers that still appear to be active even in this economy; spring break and collegiate athletes.

This wasn't the college-age spring breakers headed to Florida or Mexico; these were families with several groups of teens and tweens in tow, who seemed hell-bent on packing their entire wardrobes along with them. This made for an interesting combination with the men's and women's track and field teams from the Air Force Academy.

To make a long line short, myself and my luggage barely made it to the plane in time.

I spent a good portion of the day trying to familiarize myself with Omaha and its surroundings, should anything come of my interview, which seemed to go well. That evening I flew to Pittsburgh to spend some time with Leslie and check on my mother, who fell a couple of weeks ago and sustained a shoulder injury.

Leslie's daughter Michaela was looking well at the beginning of the week; she was talkative and somewhat more energetic than she had been in past visits. We enjoyed some springtime activities to go with the sunny, 60-plus degree weather, playing miniature golf and eating ice cream.

By mid-week, however, both the weather and her disposition had changed. Recurrent bouts of nausea and vomiting had us in the ER at Children's Hospital twice, primarily for IV fluids and anti-vomiting drugs to try to keep Michaela from becoming dehydrated. Near the end of the week, she started receiving these fluids and meds at home.

Michaela is due for a follow-up visit at Children's in Philadelphia, which will hopefully show that the MIBG radiation she had earlier this year is beating back the neuroblastoma that she has fought for over 4 years now. Your prayers and kind thoughts are welcome as always.

I was also at a local hospital with my mother, so that she could have an MRI scan of her injured shoulder. The concern here is identifying a need for surgical intervention, and if none is required how much rest and healing is needed before starting any rehabilitation. Either way, the goal is to preserve as much function of the joint as possible.

My Hometown.

Mom's convalescence was further complicated by some type of flu-like illness toward the end of last week. I made a couple of grocery runs for her, and when I left on Saturday she was starting to feel slightly better. I'm hoping that the trend continues for both her and Michaela, and as I make my way back again soon I'll hopefully be able to see some smiles again firsthand.


I extended my visit by a couple of days, and the clamor of Spring Break reared its ugly head again when trying to plan a return trip. In this context I really can't say enough about Southwest Airlines. Their method of operations, efficiency, and level of customer service really stood out on this trip, and they deserve some props for the way that they conduct themselves in an industry that is largely perceived as an essential but nonetheless unpleasant experience.

At a min
imum, you can change flights and use the same funds you initially paid without penalty. They charge no baggage fees in the majority of circumstances. If you book far enough ahead of time, their fares are hard to beat. One of their customer service reps spent a good 45 minutes on the phone with me trying to connect the dots from Pittsburgh to Denver without extensive layovers. She was patient, efficient, and knew her stuff.

Southwest's gate operations are as efficient as they can possibly make them. They turn an aircraft around and move people better than just about anyone. They do this with a pleasant disposition and even a sense of humor. An example is below, from a few trips ago:
(Upon touchdown) "And believe it or not, that was his first try..Ladies and gentlemen, we at Southwest Airlines would like to be the first to welcome you to Pittsburgh. Please remain seated, with your seat belts fastened, until Captain America brings us to a screeching halt at the gate."
People seem to get this about Southwest, because nearly every seat was full on every flight this time around. Nice job, folks.

Say what you want about the airline industry. Michael Moore made a few good points about that in his latest film. Yeah, I'm trying to find work in this business, and it's not easy. $10 and hour to dispatch planes in Memphis? How about I just flip burgers in GJ or Denver or Pittsburgh for 9?

And yes, it can be an unpleasant to be intruded upon by our security infrastructure and then stuffed into a 500 MPH sardine can. There are ways to deal with this (see Up In The Air - for more than just this reason), and it helps when simple human decency trumps the unpleasantness of the situation.

In fact, just about everyone I interacted with seemed to be quiet, pleasant, patient, and mindful of others, despite some of the circumstances they were encountering.

Well, not quite everyone...

Have a good week ahead.

Addendum, 3/29/10, 4:40 PM: Today's Denver Post featured a story on the Aircraft Dispatcher training program at Jeppesen that I attended last year. It's a great program, and appears to be available without costs for residents of several metro Denver counties. Reading this will give you an idea about the situation many older workers find themselves in.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sign O' The Times 5

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about neighborhoods and the spirit of cooperation they can engender when people reach out to each other. One idea that I mentioned was community gardens, and it looks like another one is just about to come to fruition in Downtown Grand Junction.

This sign has been up for a couple of months now, on a vacant lot at the southeast corner of 5th Street and Chipeta Avenue. The land is owned by the Mesa County Public Library District, and the project is being managed by the CSU Cooperative Extension office on Orchard Mesa.

I recently spoke with Curtis Swift of the Extension office. He stated that as the library district can't legally charge users of their land for a garden, they have asked his office to coordinate these efforts. He estimated that a 20 ft by 20 ft section of the garden would cost around $50 per season, primarily to offset the cost of an irrigation system and water.

Mr. Swift expected to have to conduct a lottery for available spaces, so if you're interested in being listed for one, it would probably be a good ideal to contact him at 970-244-1834.

Congratulations to all involved in working together to bring a valuable use to this vacant land.

To buy or not to buy, that is the question...

Wal-Mart, Grand Junction (West), 3/16/10

One thing I've noticed with increasing frequency is grocers more openly identifying the origin of the products they sell. This seems to be much more evident with regard to fruits and vegetables. I know several people that will not buy foreign produce under any circumstances, even though I think it's pretty difficult if not impossible to find an American-grown banana.

All of the produce on sale at this particular market had its country of origin clearly identified next to the price, as illustrated above. This is most likely due to pressure from consumers, and it's a good thing.

Eat your fruits and vegetables.

Have a great day.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Moore on a Roll

While I'm sure that some in our country would actually like to see Michael Moore on a roll in the literal sense, he does seem to be at his best (or worst) when he's pissed off.

With a post today on his website, Mr. Moore is re-injecting himself into the argument by juxtaposing the current health care debate with the subject matter of his last two films, Capitalism: A Love Story and Sicko.

Let's just say that he is less than pleased with the way things are happening:

But don't insult me and 300 million Americans by calling this "health care reform." At least you've stopped calling it "universal health care." We will not have universal health care or anything close to it. I wish the president and the Democratic leadership would just stand up and say, "We're sorry, America. We didn't get the job done you sent us here to do. We're weak and scared and unable to communicate the simplest of messages to the American people. Therefore, our bill will guarantee that 12 million of you will still have NO health insurance. And that's because we have decided to leave the greedy, private insurance industry in charge of our system. Forgive us for this and for continuing to allow profit to be the determining factor as to whether a patient gets the help she or he needs."
Mr. Moore will actually be allowed to populate the mainstream media today to bring some more of his assertions forward. While I've been writing this, I've been listening to him on the Diane Rehm Show on NPR. Ms. Rehm prodded him about his personal experiences, family, and health; the more he talks, the more he sounds like someone not too far removed from mainstream middle class America to retain some credibility with many, regardless of ideological differences or the attempts by conservatives to label him otherwise.

While Mr. Moore has at times pushed the limits of civility (his Oscar acceptance speech back in 2003 made me cringe), he seems to have found his voice more of late. He is easier to listen to, but is still managing to get his point across.

Mr. Moore tells his stories in a very accessible way. Last night I rented Capitalism: A Love Story and put it on while my son and his friends were here. The movie had their attention for at least a good half hour or more.

In his post today, Mr. Moore also related his experience with monitoring police radio frequencies online. His reaction to it was equally interesting, but not unexpected.

Mr. Moore will be on MSNBC and CNN later today, and also stated that he will be "...wandering the halls of Congress with my shillelagh and shamrocks, doing my best impersonation of St. Patrick as I try to drive the snakes out of Capitol Hill. Wish me luck.."

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Starving Artist's Political Sale

Chris Matthews has recently begun to offer commentary at the end of his Hardball program on MSNBC. Mr. Matthews specializes in somewhat rapid, terse analysis of a particular issue; his interview style also reflects this. He admits in promo ads for his program to thrive on searching for and exploiting the weak points of an argument.
His commentary seems to also reflect this terse, no-nonsense style. In contrast to the somewhat longer-winded Keith Olbermann or the calmly precise and analytical Rachel Maddow, Matthews gets his point across without a moment to lose. He's probably every network traffic manager's dream. I thought that Mr. Matthews' comment from this evening's program was worth sharing:

While listening, I was imagining our system of government as a landscape painting. The broad background, the foundation that the work springs from, represents the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the rule of law. The smaller brush strokes are made by our representatives in congress, with the majority party largely having control of the palette. The President largely defines the subject, and We the People are the critical eye.

This may be an overly simplistic description of our system of representative government, but it also provides a good metaphor for what shouldn't be able to happen. No one should be able to deface the painting with a big can of red or blue paint, with a knife, or by denying the artist access to the tools of his or her craft.

If indeed elections do matter in this country, then due diligence is necessary to assure that issues, not dollars, drive those elections. The recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporate contributors free reign in campaign spending stands to further exacerbate the tendency to evaluate a candidate's viability by the size of his or her campaign war chest. You'd have thought they would have learned their lesson after watching John McCain's campaign odyssey in the last presidential race.

Given the increasingly hyperbolic and even nonsensical nature of our political discourse these days, citizens need to remember that all of the phone calls and letters mean nothing if our representatives ignore the will of the people. This is not an easy thing to define, regardless of how hard some try to attach poorly-fitting labels to one ideology or another.

It's up to us to become educated, empowered critics of what substitutes for the art of politics on our fraying national canvas.

Have a good week ahead.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Public Safety Radio Changes

Mesa County's public safety agencies are making significant changes in how they communicate via radio. These changes will have an effect on anyone who listens to a police scanner locally.

Field personnel have been in training for the last several weeks in the operation of their new radios, which are integrated into the State of Colorado Digital Trunked Radio System, or "DTR" for short. This system is also used by most of the neighboring counties, as well most state agencies, including the Colorado State Patrol and CDOT.

For those interested, I will go into further detail on this in another post later. In the meantime, changes have been effected that will immediately impact the average scanner listener in Grand Junction and Mesa County, many of whom do not own a scanner capable of receiving channels in the 800 Megahertz band, using what is called P25 Digital Trunked Radio.

This system allows for numerous groups of users to share a pool of frequencies from a number of transmitters located across the county and the state. A computer controls the channel allocation. The user's voice is digitized as part of the process. This has been shown in most cases to enhance reception, and helps to facilitate encryption of the user's voice.

For the local scanner enthusiast, unless you already own a trunking scanner or actively monitor an online scanner feed, you'll be shut out of the bulk of the activity.

As of this writing, the Grand Junction Police appear to have switched all of their operations to the DTR. Their main VHF radio channel has fallen silent. The Mesa County Sheriff is using both the old and new systems in a simulcast configuration. Fire and EMS operations remain unchanged, but a changeover of some type is likely in the near future.

Here's some direction for local monitoring enthusiasts in the short term:

There are numerous models out there, and all of them carry a pretty hefty price tag. One radio that will still do the job locally (there are other issues related to monitoring on the Front Range) is the Radio Shack PRO-96/2096. It's been discontinued by the store chain, but is still available on places like Ebay. The scanner still enjoys extensive use in many areas.

There are other models with many more features and capabilities, such as the GRE PSR-500/600. These scanners allow for the monitoring of channels in the 700 Mhz band, along with the EDACS ESK trunked systems used extensively in Metro Denver. There is an excellent comparison chart that shows each unit's capabilities and price.

Also, if you end up purchasing one of these units, there is excellent programming software available from a company called Starrsoft. The software will also allow the remote monitoring and control of some of these scanners, including from some smartphones. Cool..

Online Monitoring: There is a very robust and knowledgeable hobbyist community in Mesa County and across Colorado. Combined with some very forward-thinking and entrepreneurial radio enthusiasts, an extensive network of online scanner feeds has been established through the comprehensive Radio Reference website. Feeds are available for most of Colorado's counties, with coverage within all 50 states.

Mesa County's online feed is available here. It is also available for monitoring from many models of wireless smartphones with Internet access. Using a service such as Moodio and this link, the audio stream is available via a standard music player. Additionally, the Emergency Radio app for the IPhone is very useful for keeping tabs on hundreds of scanner feeds around the country.
There are many encrypted channels on the new system, but most of the local traffic that interests legitimate users (law-abiding citizens, the media, etc.) is broadcast 'in the clear'.

The process by which public safety agencies utilize technology to accomplish significant goals, such as a transition to a new radio system, can be a daunting and exhaustive one. Having been involved in many of these processes over the years, I wish our local agencies the best for a smooth and uncomplicated move to this newer technology.

I'll have more to say later about the technologies and processes involved, and what they mean for the future of public safety communications, and the ability of citizens to follow the activities of their public servants.

Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


I turned 50 years old yesterday. I spent most of the day with my son, who took me to dinner and bought me a nice cake. He's a great kid.

I spoke with Leslie at length yesterday; I do a lot of days. I miss her. It would have been nice to share my day with her as well. Her birthday is later this month, and I think I'll be able to make it to share it with her.

My 50th birthday seemed ironically familiar to my late wife's 50th birthday several years ago. That day at work was tinged with the pain of loss; a co-worker had been found dead. I left there emotionally exhausted, and picked up my family for dinner
with several of Jan's friends.

Despite celebrating what has been a decent and fortunate life so far, my thoughts at times were away with her, even though she's been gone almost 3 years and I am moving forward with my life. My thoughts and prayers are also with fellow blogger Ralph D'Andrea and his family. Ralph's youngest daughter was found dead in her apartment last week. She was pregnant as well.

Ralph asked his readers and fellow bloggers for posts to keep things going, so I sent him one.
I think that I'll leave any further comment on that to those who knew and loved Carina.

Evan and I spent last evening watching the Oscars, which were somewhat enjoyable. I got the feeling that Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were walking on comedic eggshells, afraid to say something really funny for fear of bruising some of the famously fragile egos in the audience. One thing that stuck out was a return to using the phrase "and the winner is...", instead of the more recent "and the Oscar goes to...". All except a radiantly defiant Kate Winslet used it in their presentations.

Aside from all that, I now know that I need to catch up on my movies. I wrested The Hurt Locker from the Redbox tonight.

Gene Kinsey dismissed the show as "Hollywood narcissism", and it's easy to find examples of that throughout what passes for entertainment. I tend to look for the diamonds in the rough, those who raise themselves even above the extraordinary to display grace and humility while basking in the limelight.

Considering all of the emotions I was feeling yesterday, I can think of no better way to conclude than with a portion of Sandra Bullock's acceptance speech last night. She thanked her mother for "reminding her daughters that there's no race, no religion, no class system, no sexual orientation that makes us better than anyone else. We are all deserving of love".

Good night.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

March Miscellany

The arrival of moderating temperatures with the beginning of March was very welcome, but as appears to be the usual practice I've got a lot of miscellaneous things that caught my attention lately. This doesn't mean I'm completely scatterbrained; There are lots of big things awaiting approach clearance into the primary focus of my conscious mind, and it would seem that I've got to sweep these little cobwebs out like so much spring cleaning. Then (hopefully) the real work begins, after this weekend. More about that later.


I was somewhat impressed with the editorial board of the Daily Sentinel for choosing to opine further on the recent acquittal of former Grand Junction police officer Courtney Crooks on harassment charges that led to his resignation from the department last year. The paper at that time sharply criticized the GJPD and the City Attorney's office for refusing to turn over documents related to the Crooks investigation. This accompanied extensive coverage and other related editorial comment.

I was honestly surprised by the almost conciliatory tone of the editorial; it felt like the paper was trying to apologize for the manner in which it covered the story. The follo
wing passage stood out the most for me:

We hold police officers to higher standards than most people because they must enforce the laws, as well as abide by them.

But like all others accused of crimes in the United States, they must be presumed innocent until proved guilty. Courtney Crooks was found not guilty by a jury of his peers, and that is the only judgment that should matter in this country.

If those managing the Sentinel truly believe in the above statement, particularly the second paragraph, then I am tempted to ask why a statement of similar form does not appear as part of the Sentinel's Police Blotter feature. In this feature, the paper prints the names of adult citizens that are arrested or cited for criminal offenses in our area, and are thus presumed innocent until they get their day in court.

It's true that Courtney Crooks received a good deal more media attention than the average person accused of the same offense. However, if "all others accused..must be presumed innocent until proven guilty" and "that is the only true judgment that should matter in this country", then perhaps each person whose name appears in the Blotter should have the disposition of the charges against them published in a similar manner, when that disposition occurs.

At the very least, some form of the Sentinel's own words above should appear in each future edition of the Blotter as a disclaimer.


I don't watch Oprah that much, but I did take the time to look at her feature on film critic Roger Ebert that aired this past Tuesday. Outside of his web presence, Mr. Ebert has until recently been out of the public eye for quite some time. Along with the Oprah show and an excellent feature in this month's Esquire, we get to see the effects of Mr. Ebert's ordeal with cancer, and how he has met these challenges directly, and with a courage and honesty that is refreshing.
It's a shame to have to say that, though.

He has help. He has money. He has a devoted wife and partner. As I am painfully aware, not everyone has these advantages. Fortunately, Mr. Ebert sees these things as well, and they are reflected in some of his writing.

Ebert is a most excellent writer. His ordeal has made him more of one, in terms of volume and quality. He doesn't just write about movies, either. His blog is one of the best anywhere. Take some time to gain something from his insights. One of his most recent posts takes a good look at the true state of economic affairs, sparked by some questionable public safety practices.
Great stuff.


It looks like the City of Grand Junction is doing a great deal of belt-tightening, if today's reporting in the Sentinel is any indication of present and future adjustments to services in the wake of dwindling sales tax revenues.

I'm generally satisfied with the services I receive for the taxes I pay. As someone with a public safety background, I tend to bristle from both a professional and taxpayer standpoint when resources are put toward something that is largely preventable, or can be addressed in a more efficient way that is blocked by political or other illogical considerations. Continued annexation under the Persigo Agreement, especially in the current budgetary climate, is but one example.

Another example is when firefighting resources are needed to quell the effects of a 'controlled burn' that ceased to meet the definition of one. You see, March also marks the beginning of the first burning season in our fair valley. This year, both the GJFD and Mesa County, among others, are attempting to send a message to those seeking to burn off dead vegetation to make way for spring planting and irrigation water.

The message is: Burn responsibly, safely, and only when necessary, and consider alternatives to what is becoming a more archaic and risky practice as the valley continues to grow and develop.


Lots to do today and through next week, but there are already some good stories out there and in here that I've been pondering. Enjoy the spring trying to poke it's way through. Have a great day.

Photo Credit: Esquire Magazine - Ethan Hill