Of Chromebooks, convenience and ecosystems

Even though my name is Barney, I’m not really Barney Google (younger folk – look it up – especially the song;-)

I use Google a lot, but I am not neck deep in the Google ecosystem (docs, plus – still trying to make that work for me in a great way – etc.) — but I have to admit, the Chromebook I just got on a deal for under $200 is quite an amazing little wonder.

It’s sort of like the old netbook I love but has gotten … old. Or more like a phone with a big screen and keyboard. Instant on, and no Windows – but hey, install the Chrome Remote Dekstop and you can use your main PC with little or no lag time.

It can do 99 percent of what my 3-times-the-price big laptop does – and has about 3 times the battery life (8 hours or even more). What’s not to like, even love?

I wish it was cell and not just wifi, but wifi is becoming pretty darn ubiquitous, and more offline apps are being added.

Of COURSE the one I wanted was sold out, got a bit more expensive one but it was still under $200, a Samsung – and the very next day, learned Acer (maker of the cheaper one) has fast, better ones coming — that’s a fact of tech life, though not always within 24 hours. There are larger Chromebooks, but I LIKE a 10-inch screen compared to larger – again for 99 percent of things, the convenience makes up for any lack of room on the screen.

But it is true nowadays that you don’t just buy a product – you invest in an ecosystem. I find an iPad to be fun, but … I’m so in the Windows/Android world (and now Google) that there are just so many platforms one can juggle successfully. Or as I often say, spread yourself too thin and anyone can see right through you.

But my wonderful wife knows my ulterior motive for a cheap laptop that works so well – 1/3 the price, I can upgrade 3 times as often!

Yeah right;-)

Trial by (wild) fire: pride, weariness – and thanks

I have other things I could do – tons of pretty weekend sunset/other pics for example, but just wanted to thank all of our friendly loyal viewers and online visitors for your kind words over the past wildfire-ravaged week.

It means a lot. To all of us.

Our long hours are nothing compared to a) the backbreaking work done on the lines by firefighters (yes, they are paid – still, I’d never do it, so dangerous!) and b) the fear, concern and worry of those threatened by the flames – which so far have not included the heavily populated areas of the High Desert.

So far.

I just read a national story that 1 million acres are burning in the Northwest – the most at any single time in the region’s history. And it’s not even late July — what will happen when the traditional peak of the wildfire season hits in August?

I shudder to think – I don’t want to think. (And with the long hours, the thinking is a bit addled anyway;-/

Which reminds me – I tested something over the weekend, said so on Facebook – and those who weighed in gave it a thumbs up.

For much of the week, as the number of fires and their size grew, I tried to keep a roundup of them written, plus post the many great reporter stories from the lines, fire camp etc.

But it was getting ridiculous. So… while I do a LOT of cutting-pasting of well-written news releases on the Web in “normal” times — for Community Billboard, even top stories — I moved to doing so with the releases coming from the management teams on the various major fires.

They don’t all write, organize or format their releases alike, but they’re usually pretty good – and while I do skim and make sure things aren’t messed up, posting the releases in full DOES get the info out quicker – and makes sure that every closed forest road, trail, campground etc. makes it online.

Sure, InciWeb (a wonderful site even with its shortcomings) has most if not all of the info (plus maps etc.) – which is why we link to their info – but we also aim to be the place to turn for the latest info – so this is a happy medium between trying to rewrite a lot of already available info and just sending you off to somewhere else. Call it “semi-curated info,” or whatever.

While talking of burnouts ON fires – there’s the other kind of burnout this week could portend for the near future (we’ll be praying for rain if this keeps up – I’m sure some already are). So if we’re not quite as cheery as usual when we pick up the phone or respond to an e-mail, please understand that, while we’re not out there digging fire lines, we’re all trying to keep up with the constantly changing picture of our bad wildfire season, and bring it to you in as timely a manner as possible.

But I have to compliment my colleagues – veterans and new arrivals all – for some great fire coverage this week, from every angle. I’m sure they have more energy/stamina than older Yours Truly, and it looks like they’re going to need it:-/

And again, thanks for the support and kind words. I think we all hope for some “boring” news days soon. I know I do!

 

Tragedies on the road: Would self-driving cars do better?

It almost becomes mind-numbing for a veteran reporter: The weather warms, more people hit the roads and … tragedies result.

I’ve written far, far too many fatal traffic crash stories over the years. You’d have to be inhuman not to ponder, while waiting for the road to reopen and the tragic details to emerge: What if it were me, or my spouse or a family member or best friend?

I have a better what if. Scarier, perhaps, to some, but hopeful to others: What if our cars drove themselves? They couldn’t do any worse, could they?

Google is pressing ahead with its self-driving cars — the latest version doesn’t even have brakes or a steering wheel. Scary!

And yes, folks who have to reboot or kick their computers or trade in their phones for one that works right might say: Whoa, wait a minute, hold on!

And if Americans let cars do the driving — a big if, in some ways — and the inevitable computer-caused fatal crash occurred, would we revolt and flee back to our “safer” human-driven cars?

The armchair quarterbacks flourish in the wake of such vehicular tragedies, blaming everything imaginable. All too human a reaction in the wake of yet another lost life.

But seriously, think about it — if enough fail-safes and redundancy were built into these self-driving cars, wouldn’t they save lives? I guess it’s a huge neon “it depends” — how well we design them, how costly they are, if they also save us time or money or allow us to sit back, relax, stir our cappuccinos and enjoy a trip to work — with the advantages of private vehicles, but greatly reducing the dangers of distracted, drunk or unskilled drivers.

There are no “perfect” solutions, or infallible sets of technology. But as I sit and have time to wait for the details of the latest life taken all too soon – whether it’s their “fault” or someone else’s, or a blown tire or sun in the eyes etc. etc. — it does leave one thinking, couldn’t the self-driving car of the future do it better than we far more fallible humans do?

Two free, sure-fire social network ideas, ripe for the picking

As I try to decide how my book/blog/Website/workshop/consultancy/business should go (too many slashes, but I still believe it’s got plenty of potential), my blog posts have become a bit less regular than I’d like. And the apologies get old, but I will anyway. Sorry.

So let me throw out there two ideas I’ve been bandying about in my head, and the amazing potential they have — separately or, better yet, in sync with one another — and if someone takes the proverbial ball and runs with it, I just ask they remember who gave them the ideas. Preferably at Christmas, or in their will, whichever comes last. I’m a patient pan.

First up: PetPeeves.com — oh come on now, everyone has a whole herd of them. Or gaggle, or pick your favorite Animal Husbandry Grouping. You could even make it a voting deal, where the most broadly felt, frustrating pet peeves move up the list, and those as I’ve blogged about before (no big-size Kleenex boxes, really?) could still stand, just down, way down the list.

Advertising there might be tricky – but where there are eyeballs, there’s potential profit, right? (Maybe someone could even design a lil cutesy mascot – think Gremlins crossed with puppies — and call it a Peeve. Sort of like a Minion, but with definite attitude, sort of like a Jackson Galaxy-proof Cat From Hell.)

And then, on the other end of the “but of course! Why didn’t I think of that!” spectrum, there’s … Nicebook. (OK, it’d have to have another name – Msr. Zuckerberg likely wouldn’t take too fondly to that – but you get the drift.)

A social network where jerks are booted and signal-to-noise ratio is exalted. Two slogans: “Be nice or be gone.” And “Not Pollyanna, just less drama.”

It’d be pretty darn hard to keep things on the sunny side of life — as it is on Facebook, for sure — but wouldn’t you like to associate at least some of the time with nice folks, who in general would far rather share Cute Cat and Dog Videos or praise their friends then tell tragic tales of woe, or bitterly spleen-vent and argue, again, over … well, the usual — Obama, the 1 percent, how kids today have it too easy and Hey You Get Offa My Lawn!

Anyway, if the Nicebook folks get too ornery, you could just send them over to PetPeeves.com! And if — and granted, this is a ridiculously huge if — the folks get too nice on the Venting Mothership that PetPeeves.com would no doubt become, you could send them over to Nicebook and say “Be Nice over there!”

After all, each of us has some form of those proverbial (again with the proverbial) Devils on one shoulder and Angels on the other, trying to turn us toward the dark or light sides. And depending on your mood, you could hang out in one spot or the other that particular night.

The Yin and Yang of social media – no more one site trying to be all things to all people in all moods, good, bad, foul or happy as a lark!

So there you have it – the Next Facebook. Or two. You’re welcome!

Which reminds me, I’ve said before how many of us spent much of the ’70s and ’80s waiting for the Next Beatles, before eventually, sadly realizing there wouldn’t be one. But Facebook – teens are leaving it in droves, right? It’s becoming like an old shopping mall where only geezers such as myself shuffle along and post cutesy pics on our walls? No?

PetPeeves.com and Nicebook. Someone needs to create them – why not you?

Heck, if I were half as smart as some folks think I am – not many, but some – I’d have already snapped up both domain names and be willing to part with them for a few measly Numbers With Commas In Them.

Nah. Then I’d become someone else’s Pet Peeve, and might have to herd them over to Nicebook (Slogan: “Where Nice is Not a Dirty Word”) and tell them to zip it and Have a Nice Day!

Of ‘hybrid careers’ and thngs getting clear(er?)

Interesting article from the NY Times in today’s Bulletin about a Times reporter and new mom who decided to start a “side business” on Etsy.com.

It’s something my brain has been wrestling with for many a moon — the idea of doing some consulting, workshops and book-writing on the side about what I’ve learned in 40 or so years in the news media biz — about everything from how to write a good news release to how and why the media do what we do (and don’t do what we don’t do) and why – at the local level.

Of course, the trick is time management – isn’t that always the trick? And how to find time to properly do a side biz.

I bet I’m far, far from alone. I’m not about to give up my wonderful day (and night and weekend) job. But it is all-consuming — Deb and I refer to it as “the Vortex,” as the daily tide of news can suck me in and spit me out who knows when. It prompts a typical response like one e-mail reply late last night to me: “Do you ever sleep??” Of course I do, but I usually answer e-mails right away – not just to be nice, but because if I don’t I’ll forget! Such is life when one has no memory, only Google and archives — and they only go so far. (Have I said that here before? Probably. See what I mean?;-)

So while the idea of a little side business that can help people, and help us have a place for folks to turn for such advice … is very appealing, the balancing act is a challenge. Besides, who just works 40 hours a week any more? And who feels so comfortable in their job that they realize they can put all their eggs in one proverbial basket?

Then there’s which comes first – the blog, the Website, the consulting business, the workshops? All interrelated, but figuring out the methodical step-by-step process is both freeing and frustrating. I have started a second book via the great free site http://www.fastpencil.com — working title: “How the Media Works: A Reporter’s Guide to How and Why We Do What We Do, and How We Can Help Each Other..” (Who needs a cover photo with that long a subtitle?;-)

It’d probably be an e-book – they are cheaper, more convenient, easier to update (the Website and blog would make it a living book – I don’t want to buy books, I want to subscribe to them! Besides, I wouldn’t be in it just for the money, but to provide a service I want to see happen – and I see a real niche and need for.

So anyway, back to my point – and like Ellen, I did have one;-) Of course, like many, I have dreams — being a talking head on the networks (see other book-in-progress, ‘Rejecting the Blame Society’) – but know that it’s best to keep my nose to the proverbial grindstone, very glad to not just write news articles and help colleagues do the same, but answer people on Facebook etc. when they wonder why 5 cop cars just sped down their street on the way to something. I find out, tell them – and we each benefit from the exchange of information. Perfect!

That’s an immediate, helpful interaction I relish – even cherish. And I’m not about to give that up, no matter where my “hybrid career” dreams take me. One should feed off the other, and make it better.

How about you? I bet you have dreams, too – may they come to pass! And I hope my path gets clearer as I keep talking, and typing about it.

Riding the news tide: Crimes covered, or not

We get all sorts of news tips and comments, as you can imagine. Some, well truly deserve no reply, not even a thanks. Rudeness can know no bounds, as you might expect. But I’m thrilled in little ways when I can provide an answer, a direction to an answer, offer up what someone needs, shed a little light.

“I just completed grand jury duty and I am wondering why you report on certain cases and don’t report on others,” a lady recently asked.

Oh man, that could fill a book or 3. Maybe one day it will. But in the meantime, we had a nice, non-confrontational exchange – and toward the end, I wrote that maybe I should blog about it, and she said, yes, I should – ‘it is so interesting.”

Well, I think so too. Some times I really do think the anger or frustration people feel about institutions such as, say, government or the media come from a lack of knowledge or understanding. Not always, of course, and I sure don’t want to talk down to or call folks’ ignorant. But some just crave some insight – a peek behind the curtain, you might say.

So here’s some expanded thoughts on what I had to say to that really good, thankfully nicely put, curious, non-accusatory question;-)

There are a host of factors that go into what stories get covered or don’t — sometimes ‘equal’ crimes or crashes or fires or the daily grist of breaking news make it into a broadcast or onto the Website or not simply because we do or don’t know about them. Again, for a variety of reasons – it may seem someone asks us every time they hear a siren or see a police car speeding somewhere, but some times those trees just fall in a part of the News Forest where they don’t make a sound, and people assume/presume we know when we don’t. (Then there are those who think we know everything and are upset when we don’t. Sorry, folks – we’re human too.)

The first in a string of judgment calls involves whether police put out a news release. And they may or may not put one out on, say, a minor or non-injury crash, depending on the circumstances of that crash, fire or what have you — or because they are so busy moving on to the next first-responder incident they never get around to it.

But I also noted that some crimes — abuse comes to mind – are not always reported due to policies ranging from federal privacy rules to not wanting to cause added woes when it involves a family member, for example. When police are turning to the public for any other potential victims – or the case is particularly high-profile (a gymnastics coach, a teacher etc.) or severe/disturbing –again, all judgment calls that might be different from one day to the next, depending in part on how many other things are going on that day.

Oh, I should throw in here one response from my kind correspondent, who said that after serving on the grand jury, she “learned so much about the law and, sadly, about our community, living in Bend, seeing the news was the only crime I knew about, but it appears there is quite a bit more going on here than I ever could have imagined.”

A rude awakening, indeed, and bound to change your perspective on your community. Hopefully not to raise the fear level, but a real eye-opener.

I told her I was sure it was “a window into a sad, very troubling part of our community.”

And she said – in what I took as an honest misunderstanding — “I guess I just thought that if an arrest was made you were allowed to report on it. Interesting that you need permission to do that from the police department or the DA. … I am just trying to figure out how all this works.”

My journalistic senses bristled and I answered – fast — ‘No, no, I never said ALLOWED. It’s more like … well, look at the court dockets of dozens of cases a single day. We don’t ONLY report the ones police do news releases on, but those are the bigger ones – robberies, break-ins, murders etc.”

And my reply also included a long-standing line I use that can sound like a cop-out but is just the basic truth: “For every story (crime or otherwise) we get to, there are hundreds, if not thousands we don’t. There are investigative reasons police or prosecutors might not release some information before trial. And lots of other factors come into play.”

I … we should never ever assume people know all that. As for whether you/they believe it – that we don’t choose which stories to do based on who we know and are trying to hurt or curry favor with, as opposed to what’s the most interesting to any given reporter on any given day — well, we can only control what we report, not how it’s received. I often say I take 100 percent credit (or blame) for what’s on the lines I write. What people read between them often has far more to do with what views and other “baggage” they bring to a story than what we write or say.

The grand juror got what I was saying, adding that she’d always watched our news “and I feel better knowing that you all are ethical in your reporting. I hope that will continue.”

“And I also want to say that I was very impressed with the officers and the DA’s office. They are very professional and human and do a wonderful job in our community.”

And thus the exchange ended. And I was reminded that some times, folks just need a bit of explanation about how things work to overcome misconceptions, assumptions or just working in a knowledge vacuum that can lead to all sorts of negative things.

Not always, of course. Many people are dead-set in their bunker mentalities of the us vs. them, and believe everyone has an angle to make someone look good or bad, that we focus on the bad side of news to make a buck rather than it just being … the news (1,000 kids crossing a street safely isn’t news. One who doesn’t, is;-/ Or that we don’t do any(!) good news stories (oh man, stats to show otherwise apparently will never change some minds on that one, because the tragedies/problems are so … sticky and heavy, while the good news often feels like a lighter-than-air will o’ the wisp… fluttering off in the breeze.)

I hope this all came across as more of an explanation than a defense. And wasn’t an eye-rolling exercise in “oh, who doesn’t know all THAT.” Because I really believe there are many who don’t know, and won’t automatically distrust the answers because they come from the Big Bad Media in Cahoots with Big Bad Government.

I sure hope/pray so.

And your question about what we do/don’t do and why is? (And the tone of your question will no doubt play a role in whether I answer and how. Civility meets civility and all that;-)

Riding the news tide: Telling both/all sides

I think I’ll use ‘Riding the news tide’ as the name for blog posts where I try to explain a bit how us reporter-types work, in TV, online or anywhere else. It ties back to my way of telling that my job is “riding the tide of the daily news.”

Case in point: Tonight, a provocative story on a bobcat trapped close to a popular hiking tail. We were made aware, and tonight had that hiker’s side, and the side of those who wish to ban traps, along with info – but no on-camera interview – about the state rules that allow such trapping, but not within 50 feet of certain publicly used trails.

OK, our usual package – the reporter-tracked stories – is 1 minute, 30 seconds. That may sound like a lot, but try picking up any written material and reading it aloud for a minute-30 – see how far you get into the newspaper, magazine article or book.

When folks cheer that we tell both sides of a story, I say something like, “Well we were lucky — this time there were only two sides.”

On the trapping issue, just for example, along with the hiker worried about his dog getting snared in a trap and the folks trying to restrict trapping, there are: the sheriff’s office or OSP investigating the possibly illegal trapping method, the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife for perspective on trapping regulations and the role of trapping in wildlife management, and of course — the trappers themselves.

There are probably more sides I haven’t thought of, beyond the general public and their views, based on whatever facts or misconceptions you might see or imagine.

Now, get that all in a minute-30. That’d be like half a sound-bite per side. Without any reporter-provided facts, stats etc.

That’s our challenge. We only get to scratch the surface. We cannot really do Dateline NBC hour-long specials, or 20-minute segments. It’s just not what we’re able to do.

So hopefully, in this case, in the next few days, we’ll tell more perspectives. And those who see one piece or the other will be sure as heck that we’re slanted this way or that.

Or, as with many issues, we will try to tell several perspectives as we follow the path of a public debate over a period of weeks, months, even years. That’s a big-picture kind of balance that one might not see (or believe) looking at any one individual segment or piece of the puzzle.

Add in that many people watch or listen to the news out of the “corner of their ear” while doing other things that involve … living one’s life, and the “did you hear?” partially accurate versions of what we say that can get misunderstood in second- or third-generation retelling, and … well, the opportunities for unintentionally upsetting someone or other expand exponentially.

I’m blessed – or cursed – with an ‘infinite amount of rope to hang myself” (heh) on the Web, where space is, basically, without limitation. But time, and a reader’s willingness to keep going, are limitations that come into play on even the most fascinating (to me) online story.

All this is not meant as an excuse, or a defense of not trying to be objective in every outing. But it’s a bit of the reality we face – just an explanation of things that might not be obvious at first glance.

I have another one to write in a moment. But that’s why I often say – not, again, to get away with anything, but just stating the facts: that “there’s always more to the story.” Always!

The nice thing about that is, that means there’s always more to talk about the next time, whenever that may be.

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