Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rocks and Hard Places -
The Movie

Evan got back into town on Sunday morning, and that afternoon we headed over to the Regal to take in 127 Hours. We had been waiting, with varying degrees of patience, for this acclaimed independent film to arrive in Grand Junction, which is also where Aron Ralston arrived in May 2003 after amputating his own arm with a dull multi-tool to free himself from a boulder that had trapped him in Blue John Canyon near Moab, Utah. 127 Hours is the dramatization of Mr. Ralston's story, based on his book Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

I remember when this happened. The story started spreading around the GJ public safety community not long after Mr. Ralston was transferred here from Moab. The media picked up on it shortly thereafter, and soon there were satellite trucks in St. Mary's parking lot, and Mr. Ralston and his parents gave numerous interviews from outside the building. There's even a Pittsburgh connection to all of this; Mr. Ralston went to college at Carnegie-Mellon.

The film is excellent. A strong performance from James Franco as Ralston, and a solid script makes what is essentially the story of one man's struggle to free himself interesting and compelling throughout. A friend on Facebook saw something that I did as well; the depiction of Mr. Ralston's descent into near-delirium as dehydration and the other effects of his plight began to take their toll, and how this also represents a deconstruction of Mr. Ralston's character. This is especially evident as Mr. Ralston is depicted going through different stages of regret over becoming estranged from family members, losing a relationship, and most significantly not telling anyone where he was going.

For me, an essential message of the film was the need for and power of interdependence, even in the face of fierce independence and a solitary struggle for survival. I can identify with this because I've enjoyed being alone at times in my life, but always had someone to lean on when I needed to. Reaching out and connecting with others who care about you, even when it's perceptibly easier not to, can be difficult but is no less important to our well-being as individuals. I have yet to read Mr. Ralston's book, but it will probably end up in my pile before long.

The film was featured at this year's Telluride Film Festival, and opened on November 12th at the Mayan Theater in Denver, with Mr. Ralston present for questions and answers after the first showing. It took until the 24th to open in Grand Junction, and will open in Aspen (where Mr. Ralston lived at the time) this coming Friday. The film has yet to open in Moab, the closest populated area to where all this happened.

I guess that the economics of movie distribution don't always take into account the local interest that a film might generate, at least in the case of a smaller independent film like this one.

In any event, it was worth the wait. Hopefully it will stick at the Regal for a while.

Have a good evening.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


I hope that you and yours had an enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday.

The more that I think about the recent elections, the more I think about how polarized we can be as a nation. One thing that I'm thankful for is seeing people on both sides of this political divide express a deep distrust of the current state of Washington politics, and how the change in control of the House with many new members who thus far have not toed the line of their particular party may prove to pay dividends that we have yet to foresee.

One of those dividends will hopefully be some changes in the manner of conducting business that tends to rear its ugly head when those trying to bring something unsavory to the floor think that we're distracted. This practice is not limited by ideology or political bent; for example, this past week a rather egregious assault on civil liberties in cyberspace made it through a Senate committee.

The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, or COICA, was introduced into the U.S. Senate by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), and passed unanimously through the Senate Judiciary Committee a week ago. The act is intended to stop online copyright infringement and/or the sale of counterfeit goods, and would authorize the Attorney General to effectively shut down any website whose activities it determined were "designed primarily to offer goods or services in violation of federal copyright law".

Numerous online civil liberties groups have raised their voices in protest, spearheaded by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose concerns focus on the overly broad language of the bill and its potential effects on those who do not facilitate online piracy, but whose sites may feature discussions or links regarding such activity. Quoting the EFF:
If this bill passes, the list of targets could conceivably include hosting websites such as Dropbox, MediaFire and Rapidshare; MP3 blogs and mashup/remix music sites like SoundCloud, MashupTown and Hype Machine; and sites that discuss and make the controversial political and intellectual case for piracy, like pirate-party.us, p2pnet, InfoAnarchy, Slyck and ZeroPaid. Indeed, had this bill been passed five or ten years ago, YouTube might not exist today. In other words, the collateral damage from this legislation would be enormous.
What concerns me the most about this bill is from where it originates; Some cyber-freedom sites and blogs are citing the contributions made by the entertainment industry, including the RIAA and MPAA, to Sen. Leahy's campaign coffers, and how this overly broad legislation is likely payback for those contributions. Quoting one of these sites:
"COICA is a unconstitutional bailout of our freedoms and Internet civil rights for a specific industry that has troubling implications for everyone. And it's a demonstration of just how dangerous the intersection of corporate lobbyists and politicians can be. Some conservatives believe that supporting capitalism means blindly endorsing any corporate action. It does not. When corporations subvert public representation and harness government force for their own benefit, then they act like a part of the government."
What is particularly troubling is the seeming abandonment of civil liberties principles by those who have previously espoused them, and carry with them the seeming support of that constituency. Of particular concern is the 'yes' vote by Minnesota Senator Al Franken to move COICA out of the Judiciary Committee. Senator Franken must have caught some heat in the form of calls and e-mails (which included one from me), and attempted to clarify his position as a result.

I'm also concerned that among the cacophony of comment from many groups that advocate for online freedom and due process, the ACLU seems to be notably absent from this most recent debate. I've asked the national ACLU office for comment; I'll post whatever I receive back. Hopefully, they won't try to sit this one out like they did with anti-cyberbullying legislation brought by a Democratic congresswoman from California last year.

Closer to the root of this argument, in terms of bad law and/or policy, is ACTA, which I've written about before. Like many others that follow civil liberties issues, I remain very concerned about the potential for the stifling of expression, debate, and innovation through these thinly-disguised attempts to protect the profit margins of a few media and entertainment conglomerates.

Senator Franken stated in his reply that he thought it "unlikely that this bill will come to the floor of the Senate before the end of the year". This delay has been assured thanks to a promise by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon that he will place a hold on the bill to prevent any attempt to sneak it through the Senate before the end of the year.

Thanks to the due diligence of groups like EFF, this attempt did not go unnoticed, and like the furor over the then-secretive ACTA, the attention drawn to these types of attempts to compromise online expression in the name of protecting commerce will hopefully result in their being kept at bay from passage or consideration for the foreseeable future.

Have a good week ahead.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

TSA - Other Voices, Other Ideas

As people scramble to make their way somewhere to spend the Thanksgiving holiday, I thought I would highlight some online commentary that relates to the recent controversies involving airport security, but in different ways than have been blast across the mainstream media. These writers impressed me with their world view, subject matter expertise, and their ability to look at the larger picture. Enjoy -
"The TSA can conduct a full-body search, prison-style, on everyone who gets near an airport: we can lock down the country, and treat everyone like a potential criminal, conducting random searches on the streets like they’re already doing in New York City. We can turn the country into one big prison yard, and still the terrorists will get through, eventually.

They’ll get through because we’re creating new enemies every day, many thousands of them, as we extend our perpetual "war on terrorism" to new regions, and claim more blood sacrifices on the altar of our new god, Revenge. The conduct of our foreign policy for the past decade or so ensures that the supply of terrorists will be endless, as the relatives and loved ones of our victims come gunning for us. By hook or by crook they will get us – unless the cycle of revenge is stopped."

Bruce Schneier, writing in the New York Times -

"There are two basic kinds of terrorists. The are the sloppy planners, like the guy who crashed his plane into the Internal Revenue Service building in Austin. He’s going to be sloppy and stupid, and even pre-9/11 airplane security is going to catch him. The second is the well-planned, well-financed, and much rarer sort of plot. Do you really expect the T.S.A. screeners, who are busy confiscating water bottles and making people take off their belts — and now doing uncomfortable pat-downs — to stop them?

Of course not. Airport security is the last line of defense, and it’s not a very good one. What works is investigation and intelligence: security that works regardless of the terrorist tactic or target. Yes, the target matters too; all this airport security is only effective if the terrorists target airports. If they decide to bomb crowded shopping malls instead, we’ve wasted our money."

And finally, the venerable George F. Will - The T.S. of A Takes Control -

"Enough trivializing important values - e.g., air safety - by monomaniacal attempts to maximize them. Disproportion is the common denominator of almost all of life's absurdities. Automobile safety is important. But attempting to maximize it would begin (but by no means end) with forbidding left turns.

Again, (William F.) Buckley: "Every year, whether the Republican or the Democratic Party is in office, more and more power drains away from the individual to feed vast reservoirs in far-off places; and we have less and less say about the shape of events which shape our future."

The average American has regular contact with the federal government at three points - the IRS, the post office and the TSA. Start with that fact if you are formulating a unified field theory to explain the public's current political mood."

Best wishes to everyone for safe and uneventful travels, and a pleasant and fulfilling Thanksgiving holiday.

Public Safety Lightning Round

It's good to see the City of Grand Junction move forward in selecting an option for new public safety buildings, and secure the financing to build them.

I was out of town for last Monday's City Council workshop on the options available for new public safety facilities, the open house to solicit public comment, and the workshop for Council the following day where the final option was chosen. The City issued a press release later that day announcing the release and purchase of Certificates of Participation (COP's) to fund the chosen option.

Wow, that was fast.

Let's review - The open house started at 5:30 PM on Monday the 15th, followed by the workshop at 7:00 PM. Per City Communications Director Sam Rainguet, the online survey was up on the City website from "shortly after 8 AM" the morning of the 15th until about 10:00 PM that evening. The workshop where Council was to receive the survey feedback, and make a choice from the options presented, occurred at 11:30 AM on Tuesday the 16th. The COP's were sold at public auction to a company with a phone number in the 212 area code (New York), which means the sale likely had to be completed prior to close of business there - 3:00 PM here.

The entire process took less than 24 hours to complete.

I did manage to review some of the options presented on the City's website and submit some comments to the online survey. I checked online for the summary of comments the next day, and couldn't find a link to the survey results. I left a message for Sam Rainguet, and yesterday she provided me with the few comments that were made over that short time frame. These comments can be reviewed here.

The comments I made were regarding some of the rankings of the options as they related to fire response time estimates, and the proposed (now approved) location of the 9-1-1 center in the heart of Downtown. As I've stated previously, the location of 9-1-1 in the same area as the State Office Building represents too much critical infrastructure in close proximity to one another, not to mention the potential hazards inherent to a location near major traffic and rail corridors.

Comments posted by others related to another recurring theme - consolidation of public safety agencies and their resources, and moving toward metropolitan government. I've written about this previously, along with others that have much more experience in government. I asked Sam Rainguet for comment from the City on whether these concepts have ever enjoyed discussion among City leadership, and what the consensus among those leaders was to such a process. I received the following reply:
"I spoke with Chief (John) Camper and he provided me with the following:

This type of model has been proposed here before and has been adopted in a few major metropolitan areas in the country, such as Miami/Dade, Las Vegas Metro, etc. Closer to home, Broomfield combined into a City/County, but that involved more than just police services...it was the entire city and county government.
I haven't personally researched it, but I don't know that combining police and sheriff's departments has necessarily been a tax savings for those communities. Such mergers do provide some efficiencies in terms of cutting back on duplication, but frankly we already do a pretty good job of that in this valley. The Grand Junction Regional Communication Center is the best example of that collaboration, but other examples include the Drug Task Force, the Auto Theft Task Force, and the Bomb Squad. We have had ongoing discussions about the potential of combining Records now that we will be operating off of the same Records Management System, and we have had periodic discussions about the possibility of combining School Resource Officer programs and Victim Advocate Programs. The point is, where there are obvious opportunities to combine resources and save money, we have already done that and continue to evaluate it.
One of the advantages that Miami/Dade and Las Vegas Metro had is that their agencies are truly policing a 'metropolitan' area. That is not really the case here. There are significant differences in how you police a rural vs. an urban area, and a Sheriff's Department has responsibilities over and above what a police department has, to include Search and Rescue, Jail Services, etc."
I greatly appreciate Sam Rainguet and Chief Camper taking the time to reply.

As much as the City tried to make the entire process of securing these improvements as inclusive as possible, the last stages of it were conducted in an uncomfortably rapid manner.

Don't get me wrong - I'm very pleased that these much-needed facilities are finally going to be built, and understanding of the limitations that the City is under to get these facilities underway in a more fiscally responsible manner than they initially did in 2008. Best wishes to the City for a construction process unencumbered by further complications.

Have a good day.

(UPDATED 11/24/10 9:45 PM - Reply from the City)
(UPDATED 11/29/10 6:00 PM - Clarification of Online Survey uptime)

Monday, November 22, 2010

What Makes a Local Business?

First off, congratulations to the Colorado Rapids on their first MLS Cup championship. It was a hard-fought overtime battle, and as much as I'm happy that the Rapids took the title, I feel for FC Dallas defender George John, from whose right thigh the ball deflected into his own goal, representing the margin of victory.

The "word of the day" today on KAFM was Kinescope, defined as a film of a broadcast television program. I produced today's segment, making it a montage of old TV show themes and historical audio from news and sports events, separated by the sound effect of changing the channels on a older TV set. Included among the snippets was Walter Cronkite's announcement of the death of President John F. Kennedy, 47 years ago today.

Ralph D'Andrea remembered where he was on this day in 1963. I was only 3, and don't remember it.


Whenever I travel and am looking for a place to eat, the best bet is typically the place that the locals gravitate to. This strategy usually does not disappoint. Most memorable for me in recent years is Becky's Blue Hereford in Ford, Kansas.

Over the years that I've lived in Grand Junction, I've enjoyed the occasional breakfast or lunch at Good Pastures restaurant, attached to what is currently the Quality Inn on Horizon Drive. There are lots of locals who do the same. The place had a genuine feel to it - good food, quickly prepared, with a friendly, knowlegeable and competent waitstaff that made you feel welcome and comfortable. There's a significant senior citizen clientele for which the business accommodated with smaller portions and discounts.

Good Pastures was a place that sustained the heartbeat of the community. When the long-time owner sold the business recently, it made a bit of a blip on the local business news scene. Quoting the Grand Valley Business Times story, previous owner Richard Tally said:

“We also want to thank our employees who have worked hard to deliver the quality of food and service our customers deserve. We will miss them. They have been like an extended family.”

Yesterday, a good portion of that extended family was outside carrying picket signs.

According to a KREX story from yesterday, it seems that the new owners, Raul and Cathy Wolf, saw fit to keep the existing staff long enough to train new hires, and then let them go. The fired staff claimed that their age and experience were factors in their dismissal. The response from Mr. and Mrs. Wolf to this was reported as follows:
"The new restaurant owners didn’t want to go on camera but they tell NewsChannel Five they can hire and fire who ever (sic) they want."
While this statement is essentially true, it seems to me that the new owners are somewhat tone deaf to a large portion of the restaurant's appeal. The same thing that keeps people coming back to the same lunch counter for years is what Good Pastures just destroyed. For better or worse, either for themselves, the community at large, or both, this was their legal choice to make.

The few comments that appeared on the KKCO website seemed to side mostly with the staff that was let go. Not being privy to what really happened, people will make their own choices in response to this. Life will go on.

Unless circumstances change, I think that my life can go on without any more meals from Good Pastures.

Have a good evening.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Prurient Pat-Downs, Soccer Supremacy

I knew that the TSA controversy would not be complete until SNL got to weigh in on it.

This fall it's probably fair to say that the best professional Football being played in Denver isn't being played at Invesco.

The Colorado Rapids will be playing this evening in the MLS Cup championship in Toronto against FC Dallas. Soccer is a great game, and the Rapids have really ramped things up in the playoffs.

Best of luck to the Rapids tonight.

Have a great Sunday.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Backscatter Blues - The Sequel

One of the two main security screening areas at Denver International Airport.
There appear to be two Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) scanners in place.
This configuration is the same at the other security checkpoint in the terminal.

Leslie and I spent a few (too few) very pleasant days together this week, and I flew out of the Pittsburgh airport Thursday evening. There are two AIT scanning units in place at PIT's only security checkpoint, and I again did not have to make the scan-or-grope choice.

When I got back to Denver around midnight, I got the above look at a checkpoint with no one there. Two of the AIT units are in place at this checkpoint, along with two at the second terminal checkpoint. There are obviously numerous magnetometers in place that continue to screen passengers, and that only a percentage of the traveling public, if not a minority, are subject to the advanced screening at present. I obviously don't know what the ratio of advanced units to the old-style magnetometers is at major airports across the country, and I doubt that TSA would volunteer this information.

Based solely on my experience at two airports this week, and given the short time frame before the Thanksgiving travel rush, I don't believe that TSA will be able to, or even wants to, put their draconian screening agenda in place before next week. This could be in response to the public outcry, or perhaps to try to deflate protests such as National Opt Out Day.

It's quite possible that additional advanced scanners could be deployed before the Christmas holidays; more reason for those who oppose their use and/or the more aggressive pat-downs to maintain due diligence. So far, it appears that there is
plenty of hue and cry despite polls that say otherwise. But like anything that catches the attention of a fickle 24-hour news cycle, staying power without provocative storytelling or visuals can be a hard thing to come by.

I have personally struggled with the concept and execution of this program, especially when I read internationally recognized security experts panning the TSA's efforts. However, I am equally concerned with surreptitious activities that could be much more damaging to the fabric of the American way of life than backscatter X-Rays or a screener getting a little too familiar with your private parts.

While the egregious nature of these gropings in the name of security theater seem to be easily monitored, documented, and reported, increased profiling, data mining, and threat assessment activities are not. Many of the media articles regarding the TSA controversy reference the airport security procedures utilized by El Al, the Israeli national airline, which include interviewing every passenger. The airline suggests that passengers arrive three hours before departure.

Several commenters have favored this type of interpersonal screening over a technology-based effort that seemingly has to change with every new way that someone tries to blow up a plane. On the other side of the equation, civil and religious liberties groups have concerns about profiling associated with this method of screening.

The recent debacle in Pennsylvania involving a private, US/Israeli-owned concern identifying lawful association and protest activity as "threats" further underscores the need for close regulation and monitoring of any activity of this type.

So it appears that we have a choice with how to deal with security while flying; endure scanning or search procedures that are intrusive and infringe on cultural and religious expectations for privacy and modesty, or allow unrestricted information gathering and possible profiling which can be used to gather and store information on the lawful activities of private citizens, whether or not it involves traveling by air.

Without assurances that constitutional protections are in place for the latter, I would prefer an occasional particle beam or grope than the unfettered expansion of a surveillance society.

I will have loved ones flying over the holidays; Evan will travel to see his aunt and uncle in Oklahoma over Thanksgiving, and Leslie and Gianna will be here for Christmas. I want to make sure they are protected by a system that is responsive, effective, and fair.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving week, wherever your travels may take you.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Human Services Transition - Part 2

Last weekend I had the opportunity to speak with the outgoing Director of the Mesa County Department of Human Services, Len Stewart. Our conversation centered on his departure this week from that position (story paywalled), in the wake of disagreement with the Mesa County Commission on reductions in the department's budget for the upcoming year.

This significant loss of another key county official now seems all but lost in the latest cacophony surrounding Mesa County's Commissioners and changes in County administration that began earlier this year with the departure of Jon Peacock, the firing of Robert Edmiston, through
Meis-Gate to Mr. Stewart's departure, and continuing with the controversial hiring recruitment of Mr. Peacock's replacement.

Nearly three and a half years ago,
I wrote about Mr. Stewart's arrival in Mesa County after many years of service in the human services arena on Cape Cod. At the time, I found it interesting that someone from Massachusetts could find a home in Western Colorado, with its political environment and system of government so different from where he came from. Mr. Stewart told me something that I didn't know before; he worked for Senator Gary Hart , and developed an affinity for Colorado that eventually drove him to return.

For my post in 2007, I researched reporting on Cape Cod that suggested Mr. Stewart's departure from his Human Services position in Barnstable County was also fueled by disagreements with that county's Commissioners. Mr. Stewart was deferentially diplomatic when asked which of these two groups of Commissioners were the most difficult to work for. On his most recent departure and the circumstances surrounding it, Mr. Stewart would only say that "you have to be ready for this sort of thing when you work for elected officials".

Mr. Stewart went into significant detail on the nature of the department he led, and his role in administering it. He described the role of DHS as "the administrative arm of state government", and that typically the department's funding consisted of 20 percent from the county, and 80 percent from the state. A significant portion of the state money comes from the federal government, including funds to administer Medicaid and Food Stamp programs. So in actuality DHS administers aid funding from local, state, and federal sources.

I wanted to clarify that the disagreements between the Commissioners and Mr. Stewart that led to his departure centered on only 1/5 of the department's total funding; Mr. Stewart stated that the county's actual contribution for last year amounted to just 17 percent of its total budget.

Considering the penchant of at least two of our current Commissioners for petulance, arrogance and/or micromanagement, is it any wonder why they would choose to jettison Mr. Stewart over this comparatively small amount of the total funds that Mr. Stewart was charged with administering? For lack of a better analogy, it sounds to me like cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

Mr. Stewart was gracious enough to provide some insight into this thinking, by relating that he and his department were the subject of weekly performance audits by the Commissioners, but daily reviews by the state. He equated this to a "tightrope dynamic", especially when the county is in disagreement with the state on many issues related to these programs. See the previous paragraph for a related question.

Mr. Stewart may have helped answer this question with another comment he made; that despite the budgetary difficulties affecting all levels of government, there have been no real, significant dollar cuts related to the service delivery of Human Services. Mr. Stewart credited the administration of Governor Ritter for accomplishing this.

As it happens, Mesa County's loss is the state's gain, as Mr. Stewart has joined
Governor-Elect Hickenlooper's transition team as part of a Human Services workgroup. This group, comprised of 15-20 people, includes representatives of the administration of Denver Health, the Denver Housing Authority, a major charitable foundation, and members of advocacy groups for the disabled and mental health communities.

Mr. Stewart stated that his experience thus far has shown him how much those from the largest metro area in the state impact the allocation of resources. He also stated that Governor-Elect Hickenlooper "really wants to do something different". Perhaps that includes reaching across ideology and politics to develop solutions for our state's problems, something that might have been an interesting exercise in a Tancredo, Maes, or McInnis administration, or even a Beauprez/Rowland administration in 2006.

I hope that Mr. Stewart can continue to be a force for change and innovation in the Grand Junction area. If not, the experience and expertise that brought us
Bridges out of Poverty will hopefully bring his passion and professional experience to a statewide footprint, which stands to help even more of our citizens in need. Best wishes to him.

Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Backscatter Blues

Transportation Security Administration

I got dem backscatter blues,
it's not just "take off your shoes",
but now they blast me with electrons
to see me in the nude,
Oh yeah, I got dem backscatter blues..

Leetsdale, PA - I drove from Grand Junction to DIA yesterday morning to take advantage of some very nice week-before-holiday-craziness airfares, and spend a few days with Leslie. The passes on I-70 were a bit interesting with the snow, but it took only an hour longer than usual to get to Denver.

Once I got to DIA I started looking for signs of discontent with the new Advanced Imaging Technology body scanners that TSA says are in Denver and a number of similarly-sized airports. These have been causing quite the ruckus among some travelers, travel industry lobbying groups, airline employees, and civil rights activists.

The scanners (they look like the one pictured above) were in use at one of the two large security checkpoints inside the Jeppesen Terminal that I got to look at. There was a fairly long but well-moving line of people, and I didn't notice much wanding or patting down. Some travelers were going through the old magnetometers, but a good portion were getting their altogether analyzed by a couple of someones in a nearby office.

I'm sorry, but having engaged in Dispatcher humor over the years I know a job is a job and human nature is human nature. I can't help but imagine comments like "Hey, Charlie, get a load of these!" floating around occasionally.

Because I was flying out of the A Concourse, I chose to use the smaller checkpoint located just before the bridge that connects the main terminal to the gates and airport offices at this concourse. I did not have to make the fateful "porno-scan or pat-down" choice that many travelers have had trouble with of late. There were two AIT machines in place, but neither of them was being used. I whisked through one of the four magnetometers in use, and was at the gate with time to spare.

The TSA personnel that check IDs and boarding passes were going out of their way to say "hello", and ask "how are you doing today?". To an semi-educated non-expert like myself, this felt like one of the most innovative and non-invasive screening processes that the TSA could employ on a regular basis. Most Americans will respond positively to pleasantries, especially in the regulation-regimented mundane environment that is the flying experience today. Anyone who doesn't would probably stick out.

Is being unsociable probable cause for more intensive scrutiny? I personally doubt it, but with TSA trying to re-write the rulebook for civility and civil liberties in the age of "security theater", just about anything is possible. This is why due diligence and common sense need to be the order of the day, not more ridiculous rules that frustrate the flying public even more than flying does already.

The scanning of pilots was evidence that not a lot of foresight was going into the processes that TSA uses. As the pilots' unions and several aviation experts have pointed out, why would a pilot need to be scanned for a box cutter when he is eventually going to be placed at the controls of the most deadly terrorist weapon in recent history - a fully-fueled jet airliner?

For me, it appears that the TSA is treating the average, law-abiding citizen like the proverbial frog in the pot of water on the stove. How high will "Big Sis" (TSA Secretary Janet Napolitano) turn up the heat, and will citizens jump out in dismay, or sit there and be poached?

Have a great evening.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Big Brother in Denver - My 'Frivolous' Offense

This is a picture of me breaking the law.

In late September, I drove overnight to Denver to catch an early morning flight back east. I arrived at the parking garage for the old Stapleton Airport, which normally serves as a park-n-ride for the RTD Skyride bus to DIA. It's much cheaper than parking anywhere near DIA, and the bus only takes about 20 minutes to get there if it's not rush hour.

To my chagrin, the old location was closed and moved to another location nearby. In trying to follow the signs to the new park-n-ride location, I stopped at this red light beyond the white line. The strobe lights coming from all directions were an immediate indicator of a future issue.

The issue came in the form of a mail notice of violation from the City and County of Denver. The choices were stark and clear; pay a $75 fine, or plead not guilty by appearing at Denver County Court. There were photos from two directions, including close-ups of the plate of my car and me in the driver's seat. There was even a link to video of the egregious violation occurring.
Paging George Orwell...

Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis would just love photo traffic enforcement. There is no discretion for the out-of town traveler who is largely unfamiliar with the local area, a little unsure of where he's going, and who managed to stop at the signal but not within the exact letter of the law, with one other car in the vicinity and no other traffic around in the middle of the night.

I wonder if these facts would classify me as one of Mr. Meis' "responsible majority", who should not bear the brunt of those regulations written for those who are irresponsible; not enlightened, empowered individuals such as Mr. Meis.

With the Sentinel's report today that Mr. Meis may have tried the "Don't you know who I am, and who I know?" ploy on the ranger that cited him, the controversy surrounding his actions has been elevated from the sublime to the ridiculous. By now, it's been well-established that Mr. Meis is a difficult person to work and/or interact with. The impact of this incident on his credibility may indeed be negligible, owing either to his standing on the political side of things, or that he may have very little credibility left.

As for my photo red light ticket? I paid it, of course. What else was I to do? The cost of fuel for the round trip to Denver would have rivaled the fine, and besides, I did what they accused me of, the evidence was clear, and there was likely no 'discretion' forthcoming.

This week I'll be in Denver again, and will get a first-hand look at another intrusive technology that has been making some serious headlines of late. We'll see how it pans out.

Have a good week ahead.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Roger Ebert - American Man of Letters

A good many of us are familiar with Roger Ebert the film critic through his long-running PBS and syndicated TV show, partnered first with his fellow Chicago-area critic, the late Gene Siskel, and then with Richard Roeper. Others may be more familiar with Mr. Ebert through his recent medical struggles, including numerous cancer surgeries that have left him without a lower jaw and unable to eat, drink, or speak. His efforts to regain a "voice" through the use of a speech synthesizer were well-documented by Esquire Magazine and Oprah earlier this year.

Roger Ebert is much more than just a film critic. He is a highly skilled, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer on all manner of topics, well illustrated not just by his film website, but even more so by his award-winning blog. He has leveraged his understanding of electronic publishing into a sort of critical mass of the blogosphere, replete with his extraordinary writing and some of the most thoughtful reader comments you're likely to find on a single blog site.

It was in Roger Ebert's Journal that I found his latest post, something that spoke to me in ways that I've struggled to express about myself. His topic was loneliness, the desire to be alone, and the desire or need to connect with someone or something:

Lonely people have a natural affinity for the internet. It's always there waiting, patient, flexible, suitable for every mood. But there are times when the net reminds me of the definition of a bore by Meyer the hairy economist, best friend of Travis McGee: "You know what a bore is, Travis. Someone who deprives you of solitude without providing you with companionship."

What do lonely people desire? Companionship. Love. Recognition. Entertainment. Camaraderie. Distraction.Encouragement. Change. Feedback. Someone once said the fundamental reason we get married is because have a universal human need for a witness. All of these are possibilities. But what all lonely people share is a desire not to be -- or at least not to feel -- alone.

This snippet really doesn't do the post justice. You have to read the whole thing. Go to All the Lonely People. I'll just include one more paragraph that speaks about me as much as it does about him:

I've never understood this bittersweet narcissism within myself. I love to wander lonely streets in unknown cities. To find a cafe and order a coffee and think to myself -- here I am, known to no one, drinking my coffee and reading my paper. To sit somewhere just barely out of the rain, and declare that my fortress. I think of myself in the third person: Who is he? What is his mystery? I have explained before how I'm attracted to anonymous formica restaurants where I can read my book and look forward to rice pudding for desert. To leave that warm place and enter the dark city is a strange pleasure. Nostalgia perhaps."

Mr. Ebert's blog, and the online community that flows through it, have gone so far as to cross the boundary from the online to the literary, with the publication of The Pot and How to Use It, a homage to the versatility of the rice cooker. The book originated from a single post, and the comments that came after it formed the foundation for a comprehensive treatise on sustaining oneself with an often underutilized kitchen appliance. I would probably get more use out a rice cooker than the food processor, blender, and slow cooker taking up space in my kitchen at present.

Mr. Ebert will hopefully be around a lot longer to defy the ravages of his cancer, and inform, delight, and enlighten the thousands who watch him on television or appreciate him in print.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hands-On with the Home Patrol

Last month I wrote about the debut of the Uniden Home Patrol scanning radio, which brings all kinds of user-friendly functionality to the monitoring hobby.

Recently I had the opportunity to get a pretty good look at one, courtesy of my friend Tom. A picture of it in action is above. I apologize for not having something else in the picture to illustrate the unit's size to scale; it's about 7 inches long by 5 inches high and about 4 inches deep.

This is by no means meant as a technical or specialized overview. I approached this based on what I value in a radio, and the way someone for whom it is being marketed to would.

  • The functionality of the radio makes it exceedingly easy to operate and understand. The touchscreen controls are easy to use, whether you want to adjust the range (in miles) of what the automatically loaded frequency database will retrieve for monitoring, set a channel as a favorite (priority) or to avoid (lock out), or manually hold the receiver on a specific frequency or talkgroup. The Replay function plays back the last transmission received, and the Record function records all traffic received to an installed micro SD card.

  • One thing absent from the internal software is the ability to program frequencies into the database. You can directly input a single frequency to monitor, but can't make it part of the scanning database. This database is addressable via the included software and PC interface cable, and the Radio Reference database integral to the radio is updated at least once a week. It's probably a good idea to update the unit through your computer along the same time frame.
    I verified this via the Home Patrol website, which you can query by zip code to see examples of what the unit will receive. I sent updates to
    Radio Reference last week for new 800 Mhz frequencies now in use at Grand Junction Regional Airport, and they appeared on the Home Patrol website. Sweet.

  • The GPS functionality relies mostly on a "hockey puck" type GPS receiver and interface cable marketed specifically for the unit. As I mentioned previously, GPS receivers that communicate coordinates via the NMEA 0183 protocol will talk to Home Patrol, but connecting them is cumbersome and expensive. You do have options, however. The unit will accept manual GPS coordinate entry to program via the internal database.

  • The unit is not ruggedized. Care needs to be taken to avoid damage by impact or vibration.

  • The audio quality and volume is adequate for a home environment, but not hardly for the restaurant we were in, and ditto for a vehicle, office, or area with higher-than-usual ambient noise. My PRO-96 put it to shame in terms of volume.

  • Like just about any scanner, the provided stock antenna leaves much to be desired. My friend Tom had a more professional grade multi-band antenna that needed two adapters, one from BNC to SMA, and a 90-degree elbow so the antenna was positioned properly. The difference in reception quality was worth it, however.

I like this receiver, but not enough to spend upwards of $600 for everything I want to do with it. I'll wait for future iterations of the Home Patrol to do even more interesting things. Also, the hobbyist and programmer communities are likely developing software applications that will maximize the ease of updating and operating the unit.

The influences of things like online scanning via dedicated websites, IPhone or Android apps, and now dynamic updating of internal databases in receivers such as Home Patrol stands to re-energize the monitoring hobby in ways we have yet to understand and cannot predict.

As the old Chinese curse says, "may you live in interesting times". In more ways than this, to be sure.

Enjoy the rest of the week.