Friday, January 28, 2011

Week in Review and
Recorder Ruckus

I spent the last week in Pittsburgh with Leslie, largely away from the TV and the computer, trying to get plans solidified for our wedding in March. There's still a lot to do - plot complications abound, but the path for me appears certain. This is paradoxical when considering that the path we may be called upon by God to walk appears by definition to be uncertain - walking by faith and not by sight. As one fellow blogger commented to me, "not easy" - and this hasn't been. All I can say is that I'm looking forward to the challenges ahead.

There were a few things I did hear about, aside from the awesome fact that the Steelers are headed to another Super Bowl. Keith Olbermann's departure from MSNBC seemed expected; despite his intelligence and eloquence, his somewhat mercurial and sarcastic manner could only serve to grate on even the most patient and appreciative manager. The big question here is not where Keith will wind up, but where does he have left to go? I kind of feel his pain..


I've spoken my piece about the Golfburger scandal, and despite the "emergency" meeting last week that got so much attention from local pundits and others, my focus remains on the provision of truly important services such as EMS. Gene Kinsey made one essential point in comment exchanges on our respective blogs that I must agree with; as insignificant as these types of services may be to some, the principles involved in procuring these goods and services apply equally to them. That being said, I still oppose bidding out essential public safety services.


The documentary categories at the Oscars have turned into a real source of interest over the last several years. There are so many good documentaries out there that it's probably one of the toughest jobs in this "business" to pick 10 for consideration as the "best" in full-length and short subject categories. Roger Ebert gave it a good try recently.

Gasland, the documentary about fracking, is apparently a provocative choice for an Oscar nod amongst activists on both sides of the debate on the subject. One thing is for sure; it's the only documentary being considered that had it's Director here in Grand Junction to answer questions after a screening.

The Sentinel seems to be content in reporting on the controversy now, but was conspicuously absent in publicizing the GJ screening last August. What gives with that?


What really caught my attention this week was a story in Tuesday's paper about the failure of recording equipment at the Colorado State Patrol's dispatch center in Montrose. I thought about the changes in recording technology over my career in public safety communications, and how those changes also reflect how much the industry itself has changed. These changes relate directly to the ability to digitize audio and catalog it, along with the quantum "leap" downward in the size and cost of storage media.

When I started dispatching, the best logging recorders had the capability to record up to 24 separate audio tracks, along with a time code reference, onto 1-inch wide magnetic tape that would cover one 24-hour day. Storing these 12-inch diameter reels for the required backup time (usually 90-120 days) took up a lot of space.

Transcription of the necessary audio required a separate reel-to-reel deck, and a cassette recorder. Often, two or more cassettes were required in the event that recordings of both telephone and radio traffic were needed, or the requested traffic was lengthy.

With the advent of digital recording came the ability to store this audio and the time/date references onto considerably smaller Digital Audio Tape (DAT) cassettes. This drastically reduced the space needed to preserve the required audio, and as a consequence many agencies began storing further into the past. This became important for the criminal justice system, as well as for the media in most states where these recordings are considered public records.

The problems with these devices, and their evolution up to this point, arise from the Single Point of Failure that can result from one recording component being dedicated to a certain group of audio streams, or from the failure of a tape cassette. Complicating things further was the proprietary nature of the recording equipment, format, and/or media being used.

Combining continued advancements in digital audio with the revolution in networking and connectivity, along with the continued explosion of inexpensive storage capacity, today's logging systems use redundancy at the server and storage drive level to collect, protect, and distribute audio as easily as other critical documentation.

While audio is being recorded to solid-state redundant hard drives, it is also being routed to a storage device, often off-site, for long-term archiving. Because the system uses standard computer and network components, a failure can be readily detected, off-the-shelf components can be used for replacement, and the impact to normal operations minimized or eliminated.

Authorized users and administrators can use this network architecture to identify and access the required audio, and place it in the desired order for distribution via any manner or format normally accessible from today's computer workstation, such as an audio or data CD, USB storage device, or even attached to an e-mail.

The advent of this type of technology had me scratching my head when I read the Sentinel story about the seemingly catastrophic failure at the Montrose CSP center. I wondered what kind of equipment was in use that would fail without notifying someone of the failure, but would also not need attention or "routine maintenance" for a lengthy period of time. Equally troubling is the nature of the outage where the exact time frame when recordings were not made cannot be readily identified.

I went so far as to contact Paul Shockley, the Sentinel reporter who wrote the story, to find out more. He was kind enough to reply with some additional details:
They continue to say they're still trying to determine to time (start of failure, end), but they're reasonably confident it isn't more than a month's period. The failed equipment in question was sent to CSP dispatch in Craig, where apparently they have people who can figure this out, per CSP.
Mr. Shockley also stated he's made additional inquiries to the State Patrol, and hopes to have additional information from them soon.

There's one other critical point about the advancements in technology as they relate not only to logging recorders, but to numerous other components that make up the infrastructure of 9-1-1 centers of the present and future. As computer networking, Internet connectivity, and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)-based systems become more commonplace, the technical skills to administer radio and telephone systems will also require much more of an IT background, and the various network and PC certifications, to properly install and maintain both back room and user equipment.

The ability to do vehicle installs, diagnose and repair electronic component problems, and climb towers is no longer enough. Conversely, the person that can do all of those things AND administer mission-critical network and radio infrastructure is a rare find indeed. I'm pleasantly surprised to actually know a few of them.

Technology, processes, and people combine to make it happen. Without focus on all three, any solution imposed on the problem is not going to sustain itself for long.

Have a great weekend.

Photo Credits: (reel-to-reel logger) (DAT tapes) (modern logging system)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Life-Savers and Golfburgers

I need to join the chorus of local bloggers who are featuring and/or praising the reporting of the Daily Sentinel's Amy Hamilton in yesterday's paper. Her front page story on the City of Grand Junction's procurement process as it pertains to the contract for food and beverage services at the City's two golf courses was comprehensive, organized, and easy to follow. The online version of the story included documents that Ms. Hamilton obtained from the City using the Colorado Open Records Act.

The Sentinel made a more effective than usual use of it's web presence by providing this information outside of their subscription paywall. Unfortunately, I was scratching my head on Tuesday as to why a story by Ms. Hamilton about the upcoming City ambulance service contract sat behind the paywall.

In this story, the controversy about the golf course food contract was referenced as perhaps having something to do with Council's decision to put the ambulance contract out for bid. A reference was also made to what was described as a "close and contentious" 4-3 vote by the Council in 2006, awarding the contact to the Grand Junction Fire Department. This contract also gets an occasional mention from some conservative citizens and pundits who see it as an example of a government takeover of a service that can be provided by the private sector.

At this point, I'm going to stop referring to the upcoming contract as an "ambulance service" contract and call it what it is - a contract for the provision of Emergency Medical Services (EMS). As such, I can only offer these thoughts:
  • I believe that EMS is a full part of the community public safety system.

  • I hope that the controversy over who flips burgers for golfers will not negatively affect the City's process in selecting who will provide Emergency Medical Services for the next 5 years. These services have been competently provided by the Fire Department, and their provision should remain with them.
  • I believe that the provision of EMS resides at an equal level with the provision of Police and Fire services. As such, all of these services must be provided in a way that is unencumbered by anything that impedes excellent service delivery and public accountability. In my opinion, these benchmarks transcend and exclude any profit motive.
  • The same principles used to decide who will flip burgers for golfers cannot be used to decide who will be saving the lives of those golfers that clutch their chests and drop on the 14th fairway. The latter bears no relationship to the former in terms of overall importance to the community at large.
Although I oppose the bid process for the provision of EMS, I'm looking forward to seeing the same kind of coverage from the Sentinel regarding the process that it devoted to investigating the golf course burger-flipping contract.

Full Disclosure: While I was a City employee, I participated in the development of specifications for equipment that were used to establish a sole source justification for purchase outside of a competitive bidding process. I believe that there are instances where this remains an appropriate activity, though in an age of increased emphasis on non-proprietary technologies and IP-based connectivity this need may be diminishing.

When I lived in Pittsburgh, I actively opposed efforts by municipal EMS agencies to have their respective municipalities designate them as essentially their "sole source" EMS provider. This would allow the designated agency to exercise control over non-emergency transportation in these areas, which was also pursued by numerous private ambulance services. Mesa County has roughly 10% of the population of the Pittsburgh area - the numbers for a strictly non-emergency ambulance don't stack up here like they did there.

It's indeed a fine line between providing comprehensive medical transportation services and unfairly restricting competition. That line has yet to be crossed in Grand Junction, and likely won't be for the foreseeable future. I hope that Council sees fit to continue the role of the Grand Junction Fire Department in providing these essential services.

Have a good week ahead.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sign O' the Times 11 -
Denver Restaurant Edition

The weekend before last, Evan and I took Leslie and Gianna to DIA for their flight back to Pittsburgh. After that, we decided to get some lunch, and check out a few things that you can't get or see in Grand Junction:

This is the Loco Moco from L&L Hawaiian Barbecue in Aurora. Evan had been here before.
This dish consists of two fried eggs and two hamburger patties atop a bed of white rice, covered in gravy. This is accompanied by macaroni salad. Sorry I didn't get a picture of their sign, but if you look closely you can probably make out the words WIDE LOAD AHEAD.
Unless you have the metabolism of a 19-year-old.

We actually have Hawaiian Barbecue in Grand Junction, down at Tropix on Orchard Mesa. It's comparable to L&L in quality and price. They had Loco Moco on the menu at one time, but it is inexplicably no longer available there. Hence it's inclusion here.

Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill is a Denver-based company, with restaurants along the Front Range. They were a favorite of mine when I went to school in Denver. The selections are varied and tasty, the quality consistent, and the prices reasonable.
You can't find this kind of food in GJ. The closest facsimile is the falafel and hummus at the Pita Pit on North 12th Street, which while kind of tasty is a bit pricey in comparison. Garbanzo has an active presence on Facebook, in case you'd like to give them a shout for expansion to the Western Slope.

The Ya Hala at Evans and Colorado in South Denver is a diamond in the rough for Middle Eastern food, no matter what the sign says. They're in a remodeled former gas station. I ate there a few years ago. The food was excellent, and the staff pleasant and welcoming. They're in an area with several local choices in mideast and Mediterranean cuisine, including the Damascus just down Colorado on the same side of the street.

T. Harris and H. Lecter, proprietors.
F. Dolarhyde and W. Blake, silent partners.
Unlike many of these similar places in Grand Junction, this one did not have a nail salon next door.

Evan and I took in Tron: Legacy at one of the IMAX 3D theatres in Denver. The movie was good, but wasn't enhanced by 3D the way that Avatar was. Judging from the trailers, the 3D movies made specifically for the IMAX format are extraordinary.

After the movie, Evan recommended Noodles and Company for a light dinner before heading back home. The concept of this Texas-based restaurant chain is noodle dishes with asian, mediterranean, or american origins, food cooked made-to-order with selection of meat and other options, and reasonably priced in a casual, comfortable atmosphere.
They have numerous outlets across the country, including several in both Metro Denver and Salt Lake City. Time to split that gap, Noodles folks.

In all fairness, Grand Junction is not a culinary wasteland. We've got some very good and very reasonable locally-owned restaurants (Conchita's, Suehiro, Blue Moon), as well as franchises such as Red Robin and Genghis Grill. Cafe Rio is the newest addition to this lineup, across Patterson Road from the Mall. Based in Salt Lake City with outlets in 6 western states, Cafe Rio specializes in freshly prepared Mexican dishes in freshly made tortillas. It drew crowds for its opening, but the staff was efficient and the food tasty. A little expensive, though.

Unfortunately, not all restaurants with a unique Denver presence seem to be able to survive here. Good Times at 23rd and North lasted over 10 years before shutting down recently.
When I lived east of the college on Elm Avenue, it was difficult to walk to Teller Arms without gravitating toward the smells coming from this place.
Christy Pennington, a spokesperson for the Golden-based company, told me that the Grand Junction outlet, which was a franchise operation, had "struggled long enough", and they hoped to be able to return to the area sometime in the future.

When reflecting on all of these places, I know that I'm better off staying at home and cooking my own food, especially when trying to eat healthy. Yesterday, Yahoo offered some interesting ideas on what to eliminate from the kitchen in order to eat healthier.

I've yet to perfect pan frying falafel and spinach in olive oil, but I'll get there.

Have a good weekend. Go Steelers.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reflections in a Tucson Eye

More than enough commentary has been put forward about the tragic events in Tucson this past weekend. Given that I want to emphasize more of a self-reflective tone as this year progresses, I have a few things to say about what happened.

First and foremost, change in our society and culture must come from within. No amount of finger-pointing and prodigious punditry will do anything at all unless hearts and minds are moved beyond words and toward personal action.

I have chosen to ignore the "blamethrowers" that seek to try to find some kind of barely plausible explanation for the actions of an irrational individual. These people spray the airwaves and cyberspace with their drivel, and leave a scorched, uninhabitable landscape of hysteria and hyperbole in their wake, much like their namesake in war. I'm pretty much fully aligned with Tuesday's editorial in the Daily Sentinel - all except the fact that it's paywalled.

That being said, I was largely unimpressed with what I saw on MSNBC Monday night. Keith Olbermann was a bit overblown, but brought some good points to the forefront. Now if only I could remember some of them. Rachel Maddow was focused on the NICS process for screening gun applicants, even in her Facebook posts before the show. I took the time to comment there:
I'm having a hard time seeing the point here. Absent of being convicted of a felony or a domestic violence-related crime, or being adjudicated mentally ill by a judge, Mr. Loughner's gun purchase was legal under the laws of the United States and of Arizona. Even tighter laws on gun purchases will do what, specifically?

As much as I agree that political histrionics may have something to do with Mr. Loughner's actions as a consequence of mental illness, I'm very hesitant to try to pin this on any one particular segment of our society. Sheriff Dupnik was right that free speech has consequences, but are we about to muzzle people as a result? Think along those lines before you start thinking about additional gun restrictions, or even worse, scrutinizing people for signs of 'mental illness'.
Ms. Maddow started her show by recalling and listing all of the major gun violence incidents of the last fifteen years or so. Like Olbermann, she also brought attention to the "gunsight" graphics now formerly a part of the website for Sarah Palin's PAC. Ms.
Maddow was focused on legal remedies to wanton gun violence. As Leslie is so fond of saying, blah, blah, blah..

The Sentinel editorial also briefly touched on this nation's cavalier approach to mental health treatment, and the stigma that still surrounds those who may have some form of mental illness that is not being treated. This includes a significant percentage of homeless individuals.

It's not just one thing that is setting people off - it's the manner in which our society glorifies excess, taking advantage of one's fellow man, the generally disingenuous approach toward living, and what constitutes success, in this purportedly Christian nation.

As much as I enjoy Internet discourse - sometimes to my detriment - I have to realize that there are people out there who take things too literally, and who don't understand sarcasm. The more misunderstandings we have, the greater the probability of negative reactions to them.

and Maddow continued down the same path on Tuesday evening. Keith reviewed previous presidential speeches in the wake of mass killings. He focused on President Clinton's speech to mourners after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing as an example of how President Obama needs to perform in Tucson tonight. I don't care much for this politically expedient line of thinking - it detracts from the respect we should be having for the mourners, and from the reason that the President is going to be there.

Rachel Maddow continued to focus on gun laws, specifically the assault weapons ban that was allowed to sunset in 2004, which if in place would not have allowed Mr. Loughner to allegedly purchase a 30-round clip for his legally obtained Glock 9mm pistol.

Knowing gun laws and the systems that support them, I'm not convinced that additional laws will have the desired effect, except to inflame those who are already a little paranoid about the government banning all guns - an extreme concept that for me has no sustainability in rational thought. But we're not talking about rational thinking when we talk about Tucson.

The question for me remains, how can our society readily identify someone who is mentally unstable to the point that Mr. Loughner allegedly was, and based on that how do we deny that person their rights under the Second Amendment, not mention the rest of the Bill of Rights?

The answer does not lie in more gun laws, but in caring for our citizens the way that they deserve to be cared for. That does not start with the government - it starts with you and me. Mental health services are part and parcel of health care. Instead of focusing on hasty new gun laws, perhaps Mr. Boehner and the House should be re-thinking the logic behind their hasty attempt at repealing "Obamacare".
    It's now Wednesday morning, and I've got too many other things to do. The Wall Street Journal reported today on Mr. Loughner's online rantings at gaming websites, in order to perhaps gain some insight about his state of mind. From what I've read there and elsewhere, his friends seem to pinpoint the end of a relationship in his teens as the beginning of changes in Mr. Loughner that may have contributed to some of his anger. A perceived snub from Congresswoman Giffords at an earlier public appearance may have made her the focus of that anger.

    Yesterday I rented The Social Network from the Redbox. Watching it again led me to to think about the film's portrayal of the impetus for the creation of Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg, as well as what may have motivated Jared Loughner to inflict such destruction on innocent people. Both were apparently rejected by a woman. This brings up another good self-reflective point - great successes are often the byproduct of great failure and hardship. What we do with the lessons of failure and rejection shape us, perhaps indelibly, and help to govern our future interactions with others.

    I'll conclude with the best thing I've read about the Tucson incident so far, by Georgetown University linguistics professor and author Deborah Tannen, writing for The Christian Science Monitor:
    Connection and opposition are both fundamental to human relationships. We approach others and define ourselves by asking, consciously or instinctively, “Is she like me? Am I like him?” Those whose words are broadcast across the public sphere – and the Internet makes it easier for words to spread widely and quickly – can take advantage of either impulse: awaken compassion by helping us see others as fundamentally like us, or instigate hostility and aggression by reminding us that we’re different. In the extreme, they can lead us to forget or deny others’ humanity entirely.
    "We will not walk in fear, one of another". Nor should we walk in hatred. When extremes come into the mainstream, there inevitably has to be some form of adjustment - either toward the extremist viewpoint or back toward a more stable, centered view of ourselves. There are many examples in history of the swing toward extremes, followed by the swing back toward reason. Hopefully we can have the foresight to avoid this pendulum swing, and stabilize ourselves as a nation and a society.

    Please join me in praying for the victims and their families, as well as for Mr. Loughner and his family.

    Have a good rest of the week.

    Friday, January 07, 2011

    MesaLeaks - H2O Edition

    The water line break and flooding at the brand new, $30 Million Mesa State College Center on New Year's Eve marked the third time in as many years that a major facility of a Grand Valley educational institution has suffered damage from interior flooding. In May 2009, a sprinkler activation caused by an electrical short caused significant flooding of the Mesa State Tomlinson Library. The weekend before Thanksgiving in 2007, a broken line in the boiler room at Grand Junction High School leaked over 250,000 gallons of water into the auditorium and other critical areas, resulting in the cancellation of nearly 3 weeks of classes.

    Aside from the damage, disruption, and cleanup issues, these incidents also have one glaring thing in common; the flooding was not mitigated until being discovered by staff personnel arriving for work. After the Tomlinson Library flood, which was caused as a consequence of a fire alarm system activation that was not sent to the Grand Junction Fire Department, I contacted both Mesa State and GJFD representatives regarding what types of monitoring systems were in place and/or required. Acting MSC spokesperson Kristi Pollard stated at the time:
    "Mesa State College does not currently have an automated system that will contact the fire department. However, during the summer (of 2009) MSC will be undertaking a controlled maintenance system project that will be updating all of MSC's aging monitoring systems with state-of-the-art systems that will all be linked together on the college's fiber network."
    This week I decided to re-contact those that I spoke with back then, and ascertain the status of these planned improvements, especially as they relate to non-fire related water leaks of the type that struck the College Center last week. I sent e-mails to MSC Media Relations Director Dana Nunn and Grand Junction Fire Department Public Information Officer Mike Page, asking about the status of the Controlled Maintenance System project, and what it's designed to do.
    Ms. Nunn replied:
    Yes, work was completed on Controlled Maintenance Project M06002, Campus Fire Alarms in June, 2010. Fire alarm systems are used to notify others (MSC, emergency services, etc.) in the event of a fire or if/when problems arise in the various sensors and annunciators within the building. These sensors were not triggered by the events on New Year's Eve. Cleanup and restoration of the facility is ongoing.
    The GJFD also received an extensive response from Kent Marsh, MSC Facilities Manager, that they shared with me. Mr. Marsh went into more detail about the nature of the incident, and the capabilities of the College's new monitoring system:
    Fire alarm systems are used to notify others (MSC, emergency services, etc.) in the event of a fire or if/when problems arise in the various sensors and annunciators within the building. Said incidents will ether notify College personnel (faulty annunciator, detector, etc.) or both College personnel and emergency services (fire, smoke, etc.) depending on the type of alarm / emergency detected. Unfortunately, the leak that caused all of the damage occurred within three separate heat pumps inside the building. Said heat pumps are not connected into the Notifier alarm panel in the building.
    The flooding that occurred in the College Center was in no way connected with the fire suppression systems within the building so neither emergency responders or MSC personnel were alerted. In addition, the building's Direct Digital Controls were not set up to monitor make up water in the building's geo loop. However, MSC has asked the same questions about the building's Direct Digital Controls and Notifier Alarm system to determine if either system has the capability of alerting MSC personnel in the event of a water leak inside the building.
    The College Center is served by an extensive Geothermal heating and cooling system that also serves several other MSC buildings. The heat pumps that Mr. Marsh referred to apparently provide heat to the building in the winter through water pipes that froze when three of the heat pumps failed. However, the failure and resulting flood went unnoticed because the College's new monitoring system isn't set up to look for such activity.

    This reminds me of other leaks that have been in the news recently. The lack of monitoring of the geothermal system at the College can perhaps be equated with a lack of actionable intelligence about the location of certain files on an unsecured Mesa County FTP server. In both cases, when a failure or error occurred, so did the leak, which went unnoticed because nobody was watching.

    The College is trying to make the necessary changes, and that's a good thing for everyone, especially the taxpayers that helped pay to build, and essentially own, these buildings. Even in the wake of the New Year's Eve incident, the improvements that MSC did make paid off last night, when the fire sprinkler system activated and put more water in the College Center. This tripped an alarm, which notified everyone necessary before significant damage could occur.

    Hey, it could have been worse. You could have been a guest at Main Street Suites last night.

    So the College has made significant progress, and stands to make more. Too bad that it took another unmonitored flood to spur them to action. What has School District 51 done to protect their facilities in the wake of the GJHS flood, which was probably more damaging to facilities and schedules than the two College floods combined?

    According to District Spokesperson Christy McGee, water detection sensors were installed in 17 district buildings (including GJHS) where the boilers are installed below grade. These sensors will automatically initiate a telephone calling tree of maintenance personnel when activated.

    People largely equate floods with natural disasters, but minimize the propensity of their occurrence when problems happen within plumbing systems. It's good that these government entities have chosen to provide for an alerting contingency when these types of problems happen, even if nearly catastrophic occurrences had to be the impetus for them to get started.

    GJFD's Mike Page also told me that both Mesa State and District 51 have been excellent to work with in these mitigation and protection efforts. It's good to see the spirit of cooperation working for the benefit of all concerned.

    Have a good weekend.

    Tuesday, January 04, 2011

    Hiding In Plain Sight

    When he's out and about near his Denver home, former Broncos quarterback John Elway has come up with a novel way to travel incognito—he wears his own jersey. "I do that all the time here," the 50-year-old Hall of Famer told me. "I go to the mall that way. They know it's not me because they say there's no way Elway would be wearing his own jersey in the mall. So it actually is the safest thing to do."
    - Dan Patrick, Sports Illustrated "SI Vault" Blog, October 11, 2010

    My only resolution for the New Year was to finish this post, which has been languishing for several months. I owe it to myself and to others to move on this and other things in my life.

    This past September marked four years of writing this blog. In response to that milestone of sorts, and taking into consideration what has happened to me and to our country during that period, I've been trying to engage in a little self-reflection.

    I believe this is important for me to do, as the significant changes in my life over these last four years are not over with. I lost a wife, jettisoned a career, and gained a bride-to-be that I love dearly but have difficulty relating to at times. This isn't helped by the reluctance of those around me to embrace my decision, along with my response to that reluctance and how those relationships have been affected as a result.

    In trying to think about what the future will look like for myself and my family, I was trying to think of what significant changes have come about over the last four years for our society and culture, and how we've responded to them. While the economy and the job market are clearly issues now, so is the proliferation of social media across all segments of our society. What started with MySpace is now being carried on by Facebook and others, and the number of participants has grown exponentially.

    This fact was not lost on me when Michaela passed away in July. A benefit was organized to help Leslie with expenses, and a Facebook page was quickly created. This helped the word get out to numerous people who otherwise would have not been informed. Lots of messages and comments expressing sympathy and support were generated.

    I compare this to the throng of people who lined up at the funeral home for visitation, and the conversations Leslie and I had with many of them. As much as the online exposure helped to get the word out, and helped those separated by the miles to express their sorrow, the face-to-face interaction seemed more meaningful and memorable.

    So as social media has the power to connect and mobilize us, it paradoxically adds to our collective isolation and separation, especially from those who feel that an email or a tweet can somehow be any kind of replacement for a warm embrace and tender expressions of love, concern, or sympathy.

    What I also find intriguing is how much one can structure their online appearance to represent something not at all resembling their real emotional condition, and in fact communicate in a way that their true feelings are only apparent to certain people. The social media researcher Danah Boyd identified some of these trends in an August blog post.

    Dubbing this practice "Social Steganography", Ms. Boyd explained how certain groups, in this case teenagers, engage in "communicating to different audiences simultaneously, relying on specific cultural awareness to provide the right interpretive lens". She used the example of the song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from Monty Python's Life of Brian, and how a hypothetical teenager used it to convey a message:

    Her mother wrote her a note saying that she seemed happy which made her laugh. But her closest friends knew that this song appears in the movie when the characters are about to be killed. They reached out to her immediately to see how she was really feeling.

    We've all got problems - My impression is that most people that have a group of close friends do not want their particular set of circumstances out on the Internet for all to see. One friend of mine had a long-term marriage come to an end this year; a former co-worker uprooted everything and everyone for supposedly greener pastures, only to return within weeks. I haven't spoken with these people in years, yet I know about these things because of Facebook. This helped to bring me to a true realization of the potential power of social networking to connect, as well as to conceal.

    The film The Social Network also helped to cement my opinion that reputation is an even larger consideration with many in our younger generations than it is with those who grew up in the 50's or 60's. Have the fictional towns, pristine houses and manicured lawns of John Cheever's writing been reincarnated in a virtual setting, to connect, mold, and at the same time isolate our future generations?

    The movie is rather good, by the way.

    This leads me back to my current set of circumstances. I've made a mess of my life in a lot of ways, and need to make some changes. Knowing the path is not the same as walking it, however, and I'm frequently reminded of my shortcomings by seemingly well-intentioned silence and avoidance on the part of others.

    This is the price of hiding in plain sight - by glossing over, being intentionally vague, and failing to address situations head-on, one becomes ill-prepared to deal with the negative consequences as part of the path toward improvement.

    I'm praying for the courage to face the fear of rejection, failure, and enmity, and move in the direction that I feel is the best for myself and my family, both old and new. This will hopefully culminate with a wedding in early spring, and the promise of building a life with Leslie as a pair through strength, not separation. I hope that somehow I can prove to myself and to others that this is much better than being alone, or by engaging in relationships that may have esoteric benefits, but are otherwise hollow and brittle.

    In the meantime, my attention to this blog will be less as these events and changes approach. I've taken to posting things on Twitter - yet another social networking tool whose potential I've yet to fully grasp - in order to pass along things of importance in less time than it takes to properly put together a post to this blog. My Twitter feed is available in the sidebar here.

    I've also discovered HootSuite, which allows for the posting of information simultaneously across multiple social networking platforms. If you're interested in social media, this is a way to better manage your virtual life in less time.

    In these and many, many other areas, I've still got a lot to learn. Thanks to Leslie for her support, admonitions, and patience. Thanks to Evan for being strong, smart, and a good kid.
    I hope that we can all be happy together for a long time.

    Below are two songs that were going through my head as I was gathering ideas and writing them down. Sometimes I think I should just build a separate Twitter feed just for the music playing in my head at any given time. These are older songs with new relevance for the times we're in:

    Notice how the camera zooms in ever so slowly, until at the end of the song we're right in his face. The feeling and the anguish of the lyric is there right in front of us. Is this something that a tweet can substitute for?

    This song came out during my senior year of high school. It carries a lot of meaning in retrospect; if we had voted on a "class song" like they do today, it could have been this one.

    May the year ahead bring with it abiding love and joy for you and those who are important to you.

    Saturday, January 01, 2011

    One Last Post for the Year

    While working on the 'Words' program for January, I found this piece of music that I am attracted to for the poignant and reflective nature of the lyric, and how it relates to my life over the last several years.

    As this year draws to a close, I am thinking about my future and that of my family, both of which stand to change significantly in the coming year.

    I will have more to say about this later, of course. Like so many things, words do not do justice where pictures can tell a story. This Christmas with Leslie and Gianna in our house has been special and enjoyable, but that does not do the experience justice. It felt like we all belonged together, and that's how it should be.

    Our best wishes for a happy, healthy and safe 2011.