Feb 14

I’ve been needing to get this off of my chest

Before it was a commercial …

It was a movie …

And before it was a movie it was graffiti …


And also, apparently, a rather famous poem.

This has been troubling me for a while. Mostly, I just wanted to let you know about the high quality of scrawls on the restroom walls on campus.

Jan 14

First day of classes

As I got out of the car we were in the process of temperatures dropping from the low 60s into the low 30s. It isn’t usually as noticeably dramatic as all that, but I can say that after class I went from my office to the gym and from the gym to my car and it was dramatic.

And by the time I made it from the car to the restaurant it was cold. In the restaurant the staff was quoting Coming to America.

So I quoted it with them, which they found amusing. And then a lady asked me if I knew the name of the elephant in the movie. Like everyone knows the name of an elephant in a quarter-century old movie. I said as much online, where I soon learned that everyone knows the name of the elephant.

First day of class today. I had notes and had practiced the syllabus speech and all of the opening day material, as I always do. It never plays out in the classroom the way it does in my mind. So maybe I should just develop the syllabus and wing it from there.

It is a fun class, though. We take field trips. I always enjoy this one.

It is really cold now. The weather moves in tomorrow. Are you ready?

Jan 14

Mugshots liked on Facebook

Overcast this morning. Clear in the afternoon. The high was in the mid 40s. It was the kind of day that suggested a feeling that implied what flirting with spring might, one day, be like.

The forecasts call for another cold snap in a few days, making it our second of the year, meaning we’ll have an extra one that no one ordered. We’ll convince ourselves that, somehow, this means we’re going to have an incredibly nice spring.

Hit the pool, swam a mile. That makes three times in a week. Suddenly, I feel like I can breath in the pool again. That’s always a nice comfort-level skill to have. I’m a very bad lap swimmer, but I only kicked the lane lines twice today, so there’s that, too.

Appropos of nothing I came home the other night from somewhere and The Yankee was watching City of Angels. I remember seeing this in the theater, it was probably the perfect late-90s date movie, after all.

So we ended up watching the whole thing, because she likes the movie, and I can make Nick Cage jokes. And then, toward the end, at the climactic scene:

She yells at the television screen, “Wear a helmet!”

It has just become a reflexive thing, at this point.

Things to read … no helmet required.

The New New “it seems like every time you turn around there’s a new”

I remember when I first subscribed to Newsweek. It was the 7th grade. It was a class assignment. I was never that big of a nerd. We had the same English teacher four times in junior and high school and she gave us writing assignments out of the old magazines. Those were my first, real, writing assignments, summarizing news copy each week, every week, for four years. It was a decent start on learning the craft of writing. I remember when I finally dropped Newsweek, when they were running wildly divergent covers for different parts of the world. What you saw from one to the next was so different as to be insulting. And if that wasn’t insulting the American copy got the job done. I doubt I’ll be subscribing again anytime soon, despite new editors and a third round of new owners and so on, but having more publications out there is never a bad thing.

Survey: Obamacare worries Hill aides:

A vast majority of top congressional aides say in a new survey that they are concerned about the effects of Obamacare on their staff, ticking off worries about changes to their benefits, higher costs and whether they’ll have access to local health care providers.

Ninety percent of staffers surveyed for a report released Monday by the Congressional Management Foundation said they are concerned about benefit changes under the health care law, while 86 percent are anxious about the financial hit and 79 percent cited worries to access.


“The elimination of staff’s traditional health care has been a complete disaster,” one aide said in the survey. “If you wanted a legislative branch run by K Street lobbyists and 25-year-old staffers, mission accomplished.”

Guess you should have had your bosses read the bill before they passed it, huh?

What Secrets Your Phone Is Sharing About You:

Fan Zhang, the owner of Happy Child, a trendy Asian restaurant in downtown Toronto, knows that 170 of his customers went clubbing in November. He knows that 250 went to the gym that month, and that 216 came in from Yorkville, an upscale neighborhood.

Businesses are tracking their customers and building profiles of their daily habits using a network of startups that have placed sensors in restaurants, yoga studios and other sites. Chris Gilpin, founder of one such site, Turnstyle, joins the News Hub.

And he gleans this information without his customers’ knowledge, or ever asking them a single question.

Mr. Zhang is a client of Turnstyle Solutions Inc., a year-old local company that has placed sensors in about 200 businesses within a 0.7 mile radius in downtown Toronto to track shoppers as they move in the city.

The sensors, each about the size of a deck of cards, follow signals emitted from Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones.

Whenever I talk in class about how we’re going to be leveraging technology in the near future — which is here, now — this is the one that always makes the students squirmy. You can see why.

This is the best story of the day. I have a feeling no one will mess with Jeanna Harris anymore, except maybe reporters, to whom she gives great quotes. Woman with shotgun chases away burglar:

Jeanna Harris, of Decatur, said the man she woke up early Tuesday to find rifling through her bedroom belongings is welcome to come back and try to steal from her again.

“He better be glad I had my nightgown on. The Lord’s hand was on him,” said Harris, 43, who armed herself with a 20-gauge shotgun and chased the intruder from her home. “I’m waiting on him, and I will not have on my Victoria Secret nightgown. I will have on my running shoes. It didn’t scare me; it made me mad.”


Harris said she’s glad she didn’t fire, partly because “it could have been a very dirty mess to clean up.

A suspect was arrested. And, Decatur, where this happened, puts mugshots on Facebook. People comment. “They” would do that without booking information being published online, but fewer people would hear about it. In some circumstances that could be a good thing.

Dec 13

Smaug the Stupendous

Oh just a fine day. We caught a matinee of the new Hobbit movie:

Better than the first Hobbit movie, with fewer plot elements that were recycled from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But if the existence of them annoys you, sorry. (And don’t pretend like you didn’t notice.) There were drunken elves. Legolas and friends had a fine, running fight among the barrels. Loved the barrel chase. Hated the spiders.

The elvish love triangle is boring, and surely directive from some studio suit. Legolas seems like a different character. Older and harder, though it is the better part of a century before the other movies. This is another way prequels (let’s call the Hobbit a series of prequels) are difficult to swallow.

I’m sure it abandoned Tolkien — I don’t care; I read the Hobbit years ago and found it tedious and not worth my time, feel free to leave now if this is what you judge people against. — but it also gives you Martin Freeman, who is better than you realize. And Smaug is a grand visual thing. It takes a lot to visually impress us in movies these days, but the dragon should.

I wanted Smaug to be Benedict Cumberbatch, but this is a dragon, and they’ve modulated the voice so much that it isn’t Cumberbatch, which is fine. I’m ready to be free of the mercurial dwarves.

But a good movie. It cost $8 per ticket. This was a matinee. Back in my day, and get off my lawn.

We had Mexican with our friend Sara, whom we have not seen in a long while. We had cookies after that. We watched a comedian perform on Netflix after that. It was all a very fine day.

Things to read … These first few are submitted without comment or, simply put, have a nice day:

Capitol Hill Reacts to Judge’s NSA Phone Surveillance Ruling

Expanded Medicaid’s fine print holds surprise: ‘payback’ from estate after death

In Alabama, car insurance premiums jump an average of 22 percent after 1 claim, study finds

Sometimes I think the people in Washington over-complicate things. (Which is a naive way of suggesting that they’re actually doing things without grand and sweeping ulterior motives, but we all know better.) So allow me to simplify this. Let’s keep the obligations we have to those with whom we’ve obligated ourselves. Sen. Jeff Sessions: Leave military retiree pay alone, close tax loophole for illegal immigrants:

Sessions said lawmakers should “scour the federal budget for other available savings,” before cutting veterans benefits.

“America’s service members have already sacrificed so much on our behalf and Congress should not put additional burdens on them even as it spares federal civilian workers from the same treatment,” Sessions said. “Removing this unbalanced treatment of our military retirees ought to be one of the key actions we should take before this legislation moves forward.

Disregarding veterans is no way to run a government. You could put a lot of things in as the subject of that sentence. You’d be right. I feel like this is one of the important ones.

This is neat: The story of Bud, the Toomer’s Oak offspring that refuses to die.

Some of these I wouldn’t have put on such a list, but there are some real gems here: 54 Reasons to Love Photography in 2013. That will just make you want to click the shutter button a few hundred more times.

Speaking of photos, the next several days here, at least through Christmas, will likely be just that: snapshots. Come for the ornaments, and come back to see whatever surprises turn up.

Dec 13

No title Monday

I’m thinking of using that headline every Monday. I don’t know what it is about the day, but they never lend themselves to anything insightful, curiosity-inducing, oblique or funny. TDoesn’t matter if they are busy days or quiet days or anything. They all seem to exist in the category of “They just are.”

And if that is the extent of your Monday problems, well, just try to keep it together, would ya, bub?

I took the opportunity for a quick ride this afternoon. I was going to go farther, but I started too late in the day. I was going to try a new route, but it seemed wise to get home in the daylight rather than the twilight.

Besides, I was just trying to stretch my legs and clear my head.

Which had a soda cup tossed at it. So that was charming.

That’s never happened before. But the best part was that I almost caught up with the guy in the white pickup, license plate redacted to protect the owner in case the truck was stolen for a joy ride by a guy with a taste for Sonic, at the next stop sign.

I’d decided I’d stop right by his window and nicely say “How awkward for you.”

But he got through the intersection before I could catch him. So that’s a good reason to get faster.

Things to readRobot Writers and the Digital Age:

The printing press put a generation of scribes out of a job, and the telegraph sent couriers scurrying to find new employment.

Could software robots do the same for reporters?

That’s one of many questions raised by the emergence of Narrative Science and Automated Insights, two startups that have developed sophisticated computer programs that analyze large amounts of data and automatically generate news stories.

Someone told me once, when I was first starting out, this could never happen. She no longer works in news, but for different reasons. That story does a nice job identifying a lot of the interesting work done in automated/robotic/AI reporting. In the short and middle distance we’ll see a place where programs do some really awesome augmenting and complimenting the work of human reporters. In the long term? Don’t bet against this stuff. Or someone might refer to you vaguely, as I did to start this paragraph.

Once again, this was all foreseen by Back to the Future II. Though they’ve yet to deliver on the hover boards.

I wonder if robot reporters would accept so many “anonymous sources” as their human counterparts are doing as of late. Anonymous sources are increasing in news stories, along with rather curious explanations:

“Frankly, this kind of sourcing is ridiculous,” says Alicia Shepard, a journalist and NPR’s former ombudsman. She adds: “I get it that [news organizations] are trying to be transparent, but it doesn’t enhance the believability of the anonymous quote. The only thing worthwhile about the convoluted sourcing explainers is how funny they are.”

In fact, such descriptions can do more harm than good, says Matt Carlson, an associate professor at St. Louis University and the author of “On Condition of Anonymity: Unnamed Sources and the Battle for Journalism,” published in 2011. Rather than enhancing a reader’s understanding, the descriptions used by reporters can be disingenuous and misleading about a source’s affiliation or motives, Carlson says.

Using anonymity in reporting has a venerable place in the craft, but it is becoming a crutch.

I read some wire copy today that five times (five!) referred to unnamed sources. How many reporters, branded or generic, do you trust that you’ll, as a reader, allow five references to anonymity and no names on the record?

By the way, that was a sports story.

Related only in that these are stories and they are about sports: perhaps you’ve seen the Together We Make Football promos on television? Well, the finalists include some incredible tales.

Here’s a quote: “It took me a while to realize I was still alive. I thought, ‘This is what it feels like to be dead.’”

Now go read the story.

This video is of mom recording her son receiving his acceptance letter to Samford. Fun stuff:

In a somewhat similar vein, this reporter covered a story and then got involved personally. Two years later and the Boston Globe’s Billy Baker is updating the tale on Twitter, where it was a huge hit today. Now it is a story in the traditional format. Two critically poor kids. VIetnamese parents. Dad killed himself. Kids struggle. Reporter comes along and gives them a nudge here and there. They scrape and save, these kids. They worked hard:

In the fall, Johnny left for his freshman year at UMass Amherst.

As college application time rolled around for George a few months later, we knew he was in a good position. His grades were outstanding. He had a compelling story. And so he aimed high. Very high.

These boys are the nearest I’ve come to that thing we call the American Dream. But when George texted me on Monday evening …

Well, just go read the thing.

Take a tissue with you.