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30
Oct 13

Signs of autumn: The absence of summer

It wasn’t fall today. It was 75 and clear, which means it wasn’t summer, so it may as well be autumn. The maple in the front yard, already giving up the fight, right in the heart of the tree.

maple

The maples are always the first to quit, but they sometimes hang on a bit longer than some of the others in the yard. In the front yard we have this maple that goes yellow and a towering elm that flares yellow before burning out as a dry orange. In the backyard there is a southern red oak, a white oak and a few pin oaks — the oaks the rest of the oaks would disown if they had hardwood lawyers — another maple that turns yellow and a dogwood that will flame out as a defiant red any day now.

If you could get all of those in one spot they’d surely be a beautiful collection.

Had this in the office today:

Kisses

I’m not a big pumpkin spice fan, but if you like pumpkin at all, you should try the Hersey’s Kisses. Two was plenty for me, so no need to share. But you’ll probably want to keep them all for yourself.

Things to read …

Or watch. The BBC now has a hexacopter. They have one more copter than I do. Maybe one day I’ll catch up. But check out those shots. (I’d embed it, but the Beeb’s code is ridiculous.)

I was reading last night, in Rick Atkinson’s book, about Lt. Ralph Kerley at Mortain. He only appeared briefly, but it was enough to make me look him up. Whatever happened to that guy? The Internet suggests he mustered out a lieutenant colonel and died in his native Texas in 1967.

He also shows up in this column by The Oregonian’s Steve Duin, which should really change your opinion of the deceased author/historian Stephen Ambrose:

Weiss also was furious that Ambrose had described his commanding officer, Lt. Ralph Kerley, as — after four days and nights of fighting off the Germans — “exhausted, discombobulated, on the edge of breaking.”

Not true, Weiss said: “To the dishonor of the man. Kerley was one of the coolest, most fearless men I’ve ever seen. The way (Ambrose) footnoted that looks as if he got the material from me. If in that little bit of material he took from my book he created that kind of fiction, how many other times has that been done?”

Bob Weiss was a Portland, Ore. lawyer who served under Kerley. Weiss took exception to the Ambrose depiction and then had a nasty bit of correspondence with Ambrose over some other questions of attribution. But, mostly, Weiss was worried about the way Kerley showed up in Citizen Soldiers — which also sits on my shelf, though today I’m a bit reluctant about that.

Kerley earned the Croix de Guerre, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross. I was at Mortain for the exact same amount of time Ambrose was, which is to say not at all, which is also to say six days less than Weiss, Kerley and the 120th Infantry Regiment of the 30th Infantry Division. I just read the Ambrose passage again … given his history let’s just call it poorly-written narrative.

Anyway, local veterans are recalling their experiences in the military:

“I flew a B-25. That’s why I’m here,” Buford Robinson said, smiling. “I flew 43 missions.”

From 1944 to 1946, Robinson served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps. He fought in the Pacific Theater of the war and participated in the rescue of 500 American POWs at Camp Cabanatuan in the Philippines.

Thom Gossom, the first African-American walk on at Auburn and the first African-American athlete to graduate from the university, got a bit of publicity today. He’s an actor today (and author), charming and engaging and wholly approachable. Here’s a story he told at homecoming a few years ago:

Quick hits:

ObamaCare screw up sends callers to cupcake shop

From Buzzfeed: Things That Took Less Time Than HealthCare.gov

How the NSA is infiltrating private networks

Insurance Insiders ‘Fear Retribution’ from WH Amid Pressure to ‘Keep Quiet’ About Obamacare

Broadcast’s Commercial Brake

And there are two new things at the Tumblr site I forgot to mention yesterday, here and here.

Allie? She’s right here:

Allie


28
Oct 13

No pigs were harmed in this post; Ritz crackers damaged

Doctor’s appointment first thing. You arrive precisely at 8 a.m., you are seen right away. Didn’t even have the opportunity to get settled in the waiting room. Or in the examination room. Everything was … unsettled, then.

No. The doctor is a fine fellow, the very personification of sincerity. Firm hand, assuring tone, appropriate levels of sincere concern. We were in and out in no time. All things are proceeding accordingly, nothing to be concerned or alarmed about. All blue skies from here, as they say.

So the lesson is be the first appointment of the day, or you’re waiting for 90 minutes.

A grocery store run for provisions. This, too, is the time of day to be there. I found the crackers. Do you know how many varieties of Ritz crackers there are available to you today? I’ll document this on the next visit, as I was in a bit of a rush today, but there are more non-Ritz flavored Ritz crackers than there are Ritz crackers now. I just want a few sleeves of Ritz-flavored Ritz crackers.

That’s a problem of the 21st century, if ever there was one.

So while that was bemusing, the bread choices were underwhelming. We are a two-brand household. If it is on sale we get the Arnold bread, but it was not on the shelves and the buy-one-get-one signs were not on display. So I turned to the Nature’s Own, which has that comforting title and those marvelous symbols of Midwestern enterprise: wheat and a sugar jar. One loaf of that, one box of crackers, one box of Ibuprofen and (success!) I found English Teatime. Which means I should back up.

In the last half of the summer I cut way back on my tea intake. It turns out I can drink a lot of tea. So we’ve made exactly one large pitcher in the house since July. However, we’re enjoying more and more hot teas. We have an entire shelf in a cabinet stuff with packets we’ve purchased or picked up or been given over time. So there is a lot of sampling going on. Lately I’ve settled on three favorites (because I drink a lot of tea). The problem being I ran out of the preferred variety. I’d visited the giant box store with no luck, but now, at Publix, where shopping is a pleasure, I found the English Teatime again. So I bought a box today.

I’m trying to arrange the part of the day I would drink these in: English Breakfast, Mint and English Teatime. The mint is obviously an after-dinner treat. The Teatime varieties that I’ve had have, thus far, seemed strong than the Breakfast stuff. Though there are people who disagree. All of those reviews came from 1,367 reviews of the Bigelow brand on Amazon. Of those, 15 mentioned Teatime. If there’s one thing we’ve come to love, it is sharing our sometimes-insightful opinions with others. Here are a few more reviews. The downside, of course, being you don’t know what is going on with these folks, and how do you address the reviews that diametrically oppose one another? Of course the lay review is sometimes better than a professional effort, which can seem officious for tea.

Even better are the reviews on Steepster. There are some people in that community who are very casual with their reflections, and others who are trying a bit too hard. (Simply put, did you like it? Was it strong or weak? What was the flavor like? Let’s move on.) Some of them, however, offer incredible bits of biography into the things they write. Seule771, who has commented there 587 times, and presumably mostly about tea, writes:

This tea belongs to my mother-in-law yet, I help myself to a cup of this tea every now and again, as she takes notice of the tea bags missing. I take one tea bag and put it in my cup adding the boiled water to it. Tea colors right away to a pinkish dew, not dark red but more like mahogany; rose-wood red and smells very robust as fine black teas tend to. When sipping of the tea it is malty with creamy texture. This is a fine cup of tea and I don’t need to add a thing to it.

In all, this tea has a lovely color and aroma of a freshly brewed cup of tea; robust in texture and body with an invigorating aroma to waken or refresh one’s mid-day drawling of sobering thoughts. This is an ideal cup of tea for all occasions.

Makes you wonder what the mother-in-law thinks of the tea, and tea theft in general.

Steepster invites you to “dive into the universe of tea.” But they still don’t offer a simple chart that has “Ease into a restive night” on one end, “Tea for brunches sanguine or sublime” in the middle and “Pulls your taste buds through your eyelids with a domineering efficacy that will remind you of countries lax on human rights policies” on the other end.

This is a tea chart we could all use.

But I digress. Purchasing crackers, bread, Ibuprofen and tea I wondered what the cashier thinks when you checkout by the handful. No one ever gives a consideration to the idea that he or she is judging you when you have a great big cart full of groceries. “Restocking the shelves at home. Big weekend ahead, no doubt,” is about all that the unimaginative cashier could have for that. But when you bring up four items, you get judged, pal. “This guy is having cracker sandwiches. Guess he never heard of Atkins.” And from there that imagination really kicks in.

The great mystery of the day was also found at Publix, where the staff is under strict order to be conversant with everyone that it could be said made plausible eye contact. I guess they have meetings after hours and watch the camera footage. “Jenkins, you ignored two ladies on the canned veggies aisle. One more of those and you’re gone!”

An assistant manager, I saw him just enough to catch that part of his tag, did the standard hello and how are you today. He was walking one way and I was walking the other. By the time I’d given the expected reply he was already ticking off inventory on the cake aisle. Hard to see the point.

Class today featured profile features and editing and the great question “How do I find out about a person’s warts?” One student searched and searched and finally pronounced that Josh Groban, in fact, has no warts. He is, it was revealed, perfect in every way. So there you have it: Jesus and Josh Groban.

She did find a Groban wart — which sounds like an unfortunate looking thing that can be removed in an easy outpatient procedure — but then later conveniently discarded it. The previous narrative was better.

Also, in the class I discovered a book on the Three Little Pigs. This edition was a bit more detailed than I remembered.

It seemed the momma pig pushed them out. The first two got by on begging and convincing naive farmers to gimme gimme. Alas, the most jubilantly drawn wolf possible blew down their homes of straw and sticks. The pigs disappeared just in time, never to be seen again. (One had a racquetball tournament, the other a drinking problem.) The third pig won some bricks in a radio station contest — or stuck up a brick mason, I forget — and built Fortress Porcine. It could not be defeated without air superiority, of which the wolf had none.

ThreeLittlePigs

So the wolf went the other direction, guile. There are turnips nearby, let’s go get them together. This pig, smart enough to take out a loan from Freddie Mac to obtain bricks and mortar, went early and enjoyed the turnips. So tomorrow, the wolf said, let’s try this apple orchard. The wolf, wise to the pig’s game yesterday, also arrived early, but not earlier enough. An hour earlier still, because this pig has insomnia, the pig was up a tree. Never mind how that pig got there. He escaped by the ancient art of distraction and Canidae ADHD.

So the wolf later said, hey, I know this fair, only we have to go there at 3 a.m. The pig, desperate to watch another installment of Adam Levine on a late night Proactive infomercial, reluctantly agreed. But, again he went early. And, again, the wolf almost caught him, but the pig, remembering his ancient Greek — remember, this is the big that baked his own bricks and watches television and scales trees — hid in a butter churn and rolled home right past the antagonist. Porcum ex machina, if you will.

These are the geekiest jokes I’ve made in some time, no?

Recruiting calls into the evening. You leave a lot of messages, you slow down to say your phone number so it can be written down. You always are a little concerned that you might have transposed a few digits.

Occasionally they call you back. Every so often you catch a student at home and they are very excited about the prospect of talking to you. You get to tell this young person all of the cool things that are going on in your department. You mention the neat places students intern and the awesome jobs they get one day.

You forget entirely that, for some reason, there was a Three Little Pigs book in the classroom today.

Then a bite to eat and reading and writing this and doing other things that I couldn’t make into a silly play on words. It is a fine life.

Things to read

This story has the best quote about a silly adventure imaginable. People wobbled but the record didn’t go down:

“Everything that could go wrong went wrong between rehearsal and execution,” she said at halftime. “We had some folks to come late, we had microphone problems, we had sound and speaker problems, we had some timing problems. But it does not mean we’re going to give up.”

Not to worry, Gene Hallman, president of the Alabama Sports Foundation, tells us: “The Mayor will make sure the PA works properly next year.”

This is a great relief to everyone, except people holding the current Wobble record, one assumes. I’m uncertain what that number is, or if Guinness recognizes it. None of the stories I’ve read so far have addressed that angle.

Here’s one of those obvious stories that only clicks when it is actually written, and it has given rise to a terrific expression. The Information-Gathering Paradox:

The Internet industry, having nudged consumers to share heaps of information about themselves, has built a trove of personal data for government agencies to mine — erecting, perhaps unintentionally, what Alessandro Acquisti, a Carnegie Mellon University behavioral economist, calls “the de facto infrastructure of surveillance.”

This is interesting. There was an unfortunate bomb threat at Central York (Penn.) High School recently, but … Central York High School journalists tweeted live updates about the bomb threat:

Students turn to social media when something happens, and Fuhrman and Kristen Shipley, editor-in-chief of On the Prowl, the school’s entertainment magazine, began tweeting the news through @CYHSProwler.

They reported as the students moved from the football stadium to the baseball field and finally to the soccer field. They reminded everyone to remain calm. They informed students about when they could return to the school building to retrieve their belongings.

The student journalists also tweeted pictures from the scene and interacted with those on Twitter. They responded to questions, saying they would seek answers if they didn’t know.

Sounds like they handled it like pros.

Meanwhile, Old Meets New: Newspapers Take to Instagram:

Newspapers haven’t flocked to Instagram the way they have to Facebook and Twitter. Which makes sense. Instagram, unlike the other platforms, can’t drive people back to the site because the photo-sharing platform doesn’t embed live links. Also, they can forget about monetizing.

Still, some papers that do real journalism (and are looking to attract real readers) are on the photo sharing site, if only to have another venue to showcase their occasionally stellar photography – or, at the very least, remind the digital kids that they still exist.

What about that other shoe? Some health insurance gets pricier as Obamacare rolls out:

Now Harris, a self-employed lawyer, must shop for replacement insurance. The cheapest plan she has found will cost her $238 a month. She and her husband don’t qualify for federal premium subsidies because they earn too much money, about $80,000 a year combined.

“It doesn’t seem right to make the middle class pay so much more in order to give health insurance to everybody else,” said Harris, who is three months pregnant. “This increase is simply not affordable.”

[...]

Pam Kehaly, president of Anthem Blue Cross in California, said she received a recent letter from a young woman complaining about a 50% rate hike related to the healthcare law.

“She said, ‘I was all for Obamacare until I found out I was paying for it,’” Kehaly said.

The Los Angeles Times goes on to note that some of those who will actually benefit will do so because “the federal government picks up much of the tab” to demonstrate they couldn’t connect a straight line with a ruler and a dotted path.

Quick hits:

Census Bureau: Means-Tested Gov’t Benefit Recipients Outnumber Full-Time Year-Round Workers

America’s New Lost Generation, in One Map

Army Fleet Service at Fort Rucker to lay off 300 workers by year’s end

Hundreds attend vigil for shot Mobile bicyclist Joe O’Brien

Toddler battling leukemia crowned homecoming queen

Owing to the wise decisions of the good people at News 4 San Antonio I could not embed the video from that last story. That’s a beautiful little girl though. Here’s her homepage. That’s two leukemia stories I’ve seen in six days. Here’s the National Marrow Donor Program site, which explains the donation process and lists all of the drives going on around you.

More on Tumblr and plenty more on Twitter.


1
Oct 13

More open than DC

Someone wrote this on the floor-to-ceiling chalkboard in the Samford Crimson’s newsroom.

chalkboard

Lately the board has been filled with non sequiturs, cryptic notes or jokes. That’s fun. I’ve always wanted to draw football plays on it. One day I’ll quote some 13th century Chinese philosopher and see if anyone notices.

The government shut down. In pieces, full of the nonessential types, which are surely made up of people who find themselves and their salaries essential. You wonder how long the thing will last this time. You recall the 1990s and how a lot of people didn’t seem to notice. You wonder how long it would take for some of those unfortunate nonessential types to be considered truly nonessential.

But if there is one place that jobs aren’t fungible, you know where that is.

All that could be said about the government shutdown has been said elsewhere, or is perfectly capable of being digested in 140 character increments on Twitter, or tuned out with The Million Second Quiz. Mileage may vary, of course. I’m pretty certain we’ll come to the conclusion that no one is playing their parts especially well.

I swam 1.33 miles tonight, 2,400 yards.

I do not know what is happening.

It started out poorly. Oh, it ended raggedly, too, but at least it improved a touch. The first 400 yards, though, were such that I was questioning pretty much every decision of the day. I hadn’t slept enough. I hadn’t eaten enough. I shouldn’t have walked over to the pool. I shouldn’t have deleted that spam email about arm replacements and on and on. I started bargaining with myself about when I would hang it up, because this wasn’t a pleasant experience.

After a time, though, the laps started ticking off and the weak feelings disappeared.

I improved my freestyle. For the first 1,800 yards I was doing 150 in my tadpole breaststroke and then 50 free. In the last 600 yards I was doing 100 in the fake stroke and 50 free. So, over the course of the swim, that worked out to 650 yards of freestyle. Which, I guess, means I have to learn how to swim now.

Remember, this summer I couldn’t swim more than four or five strokes of freestyle, so this is grand progress.

Things to read which I found interesting today.

Wearable Computers Could Make Steep Inroads into Farming, Experts Say

Does the right to “inspect” public records include the right to Instagram them?

College football attendance drops 3 percent in opening month

Inside Nairobi’s Devastated Westgate Mall

I put this on Tumblr. There’s more stuff there you can scroll through. Find me on Twitter, too.

And now I’m being summoned into the newsroom … so until tomorrow, then.


26
Sep 13

A fast Thursday post

Wrote a long email today, in keeping with my email style. I went through it to edit and did manage to eliminate 42 words. I also used the word “countervailing,” which I felt like was a good reason to go for a bike ride.

So I managed to wrap up the day on my bike, catching the last few rays of sun from the saddle. It was late enough in the day that I didn’t even wear sunglasses, because that just made it look dark. As it was I found myself way over in the lane as I worked my way along shaded roads. No need to blend in, as Richard La China taught me:

I’d just started out and noticed my front derailleur wouldn’t shift. I could feel it in the shifter, and I could see it bolted onto the frame. I was in the big gear and it was staying there.

Everything was spinning, but I only had about six gears at my disposal. So I did a short, easy ride and stayed away from any hills. That’ll be something I get to look at tomorrow.

Things to read, which I found interesting today …

Speaking of riding the bike, here’s a local story from earlier today about the local bike scene. Hint: it ain’t bad.

The Garths scrimped and saved for two years before starting their tour in 2011 in Maine. After pedaling through 41 countries, the couple has experienced some of the best, and worst, areas for cycling.

“Our favorite place, as far as scenery goes, and natural beauty…was Patagonia,” Dave Garth said “For cycling, it’s terrible.”

He added Auburn is somewhere in the middle.

“Auburn is definitely getting better,” Garth said. “At this point, having been to some places that are really modeling this well…there is definitely room for improvement.”

Alabama currently holds the second-to-last spot in a nationwide ranking of bike friendliness by the League of American Bicyclists, coming in just above last-place finisher North Dakota. But with the implementation of Auburn University’s more pedestrian and bike friendly campus, the city as a whole is working to improve its biking infrastructure.

“Auburn is currently the only bicycle friendly community in Alabama,” said Brandy Ezelle, traffic engineer and bicycle coordinator for the city of Auburn. She added the city has received a bronze ranking in bike friendliness by the League of American Bicyclists.

Thomas McCrary, thought to be Alabama’s oldest farmer, dies 4 days before 102nd birthday:

Up until a year ago, when he was 101, Thomas McCrary drove a tractor around his 200-year-old farm, ensuring operations were running smoothly.

The humble man from New Market said in December he cherished the land that was settled by his namesake and great-grandfather, the first Thomas McCrary.

“It means a great bit to me,” McCrary said of the farm, which since its founding 203 years ago had been divided among family members.

Mr. McCrary died Monday.

There’s a book about that family, and that farm, perhaps the oldest one in the state, a decade older than the state itself. It was written by an old newsman, Joe Jones. About Thomas it says “he loves all and is loved by all.” He stayed on the farm his entire life, except when he was in Burma and China during the war. Here’s his obit, which is full of old-fashioned charm.

Thomas McCrary would have remembered his grandmother, who lived until his 18th year. She remembered the Civil War. A link just two generations removed is now gone. The first plane was flown in the state in March of 1910 by Orville Wright. McCrary was born 18 months later. Think of all he saw in his life.

And that’s what you lose when you lose a centenarian.

Sounds like a longform story, really. Here are some chat tips on one could do that:

It turns out that long and short writing are not necessarily in conflict. Think for a moment about your favorite magazines. Compared to newspapers, the long stories in magazines are longer, and the shorter pieces are shorter. It’s the combination of short and long that make a publication versatile for readers.

Although I’ve met some writers who tell me “I want to write shorter,” that is the exception. Most writers I know — including me — want to go longer. The daily beat reporter wants to do a Sunday feature. The Sunday feature writer wants to do a series. A series writer wants to do a book. The book author wants to do a trilogy.

And Twitter goes to emergency mode: Twitter Alerts: Critical information when you need it most:

We know from our users how important it is to be able to receive reliable information during these times. With that in mind, last year we announced Lifeline (a feature that helps Japanese users find emergency accounts during crises), and since then, we’ve been working on a related feature for people around the world.

If you sign up to receive an account’s Twitter Alerts, you will receive a notification directly to your phone whenever that account marks a Tweet as an alert. Notifications are delivered via SMS, and if you use Twitter for iPhone or Twitter for Android, you’ll also receive a push notification*. Alerts also appear differently on your home timeline from regular Tweets; they will be indicated with an orange bell.

You can see a list of participating organizations here.

More on the multimedia blog, Tumblr and Twitter.


25
Sep 13

There was no gold. I looked.

The newspaper industry, they gave it away online for a decade or more, suddenly decided to charge for it online and now, I’m sure, are stupefied by this news:

Now that roughly a third of the nation’s newspapers are charging for access to their web and mobile content, the early evidence suggests that digital audiences aren’t nearly as enthusiastic about paying for news as publishers are about charging for it.

Although digital-only subscribers make up 37.6% of the total circulation of the Wall Street Journal and 34.4% of the total readership of the New York Times, the number of digital-only subscribers at Gannett, the largest publisher of general-interest newspapers in the land, is 2.2% of its average aggregate weekday circulation of 3 million subscribers.

Notwithstanding the relative productivity of their paywalls, the paid penetration at the Journal and the Times pales in comparison to the success that Netflix, Spotify, Major League Baseball and other ventures have had in selling entertainment-oriented digital content.

Some of those entertainment and news comparisons stretch the bonds of credulity, but they do say one thing: People will pay for a service online, just not the news.

It is simple economic theory, really. You can easily charge for a scarcity. There is a great volume of news, analysis and information around us. Some of it isn’t worth the download to be sure, but a great deal of it is readily available.

You might say it isn’t the news they need. You might be right, to an extent. You might also be called an elitist gatekeeper for saying that.

At the end of the day your news seeker is a resourceful individual. He or she has plenty of options to find what they want, or at the very least, enough to make them feel they’ve gotten what they need.

So the search for a compelling and profitable news model will continue. Even as I remind you that news has always been a (civically minded) loss leader.

Speaking of losses … now you can find out how much the Affordable Care Act is going to cost you. Finally.

Also, my insurance is increasing, so that’s nice.

Our state doesn’t get the opportunity to brag about education frequently enough, but here’s one where we are on the top of the list: Alabama high school students lead nation in increase in passing advanced placement tests.

Reviewed the newspaper this afternoon. They are designing a sharp looking product — and they were only in the newsroom until 2:30 this morning, so that is an improvement. Today we talked about story selection and word use.

Pretty soon I’ll run out of things to find wrong and will simply be down to the very subjective things.

Here is the rainbow I saw on the way home this evening:

rainbow

One of the meteorologists said there was a storm in some little town, a wide spot on the road really, to my east. I was on the interstate about 20 miles away. I glanced up and saw the clouds. I looked back to the road. I glanced up again and saw the rainbow.

Here’s a post on the multimedia blog.

Here’s something from Tumblr.

There’s more on Twitter.