Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Out with the Aughts

I'll toast the end of 2009 tomorrow night, and I'm quite ready to do so. This has been a challenging year, and as I type that, I realize it's a matter of perspective. When I look at what others face, I quickly realize that, well... “I ain't got it so bad.”

Besides the end of year, it's also the end of the decade. Has it actually been ten years since we held our collective breath while the clock struck midnight on December 31, 1999 and waited for the entire information platform to collapse? While the world was watching it happen to the nanosecond, I was fortunate enough to be standing next to Old Faithful waiting to welcome in the new year, decade, century and millennium within fifteen minutes of midnight, give or take, with the eruption of the world's most famous geyser. Time really is relative.

To my great fortune, I had good health through the decade and no tragedies... other than the national one we shared on September 11, 2001. Ironically, a plane-related attempted terrorist attack is ushering out the aughts. Thankfully, the operative word in this case is “attempted.”

The war on terror as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan marked the decade. Political divisiveness seems to have become as bad as I've seen it in my life. I pray the “teens” see an end to both. Steroids invaded baseball; there continued to be no Triple Crown winner; and the Miami Dolphins perfect season record still stands. Mark Spitz's long-time record for most gold medals in a single Olympic Games finally fell. Ken Jennings set a record for consecutive wins on Jeopardy that may never be equaled.

The global warming debate raged on, and in the waning hours of the aughts, there's question as to the accuracy of the data. I don't debate the existence of climate change; however, I think we need more information regarding its cause. Whether or not human activity impacts climate change, we've done a poor job as stewards for the environment and the planet. Hopefully the “teens” see an improvement on that front as well.

Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast as well as parts of Florida before it arrived in New Orleans. The 2005 hurricane season was one for the record books. Storms were named with Greek letters by the end of the season. To my personal disappointment, Hurricane Wilma devastated the Dolphin Research Center. To my deepest admiration, they fully recovered.

We bid good-bye to countless famous and infamous folks throughout the aughts. My extended family endured a loss, and with it, there is a bit less laughter and the Nittany Lions lost a staunch fan. Sadly, I bid personal farewell to my beloved Siamese cat, Nike... often referred to as “the little brown beast from hell.” Despite my sorrow, I know I was lucky to share my life with such a pet for nearly twenty years.

And to my deepest dismay, I saw the demise of my long-time company toward the end of the decade. Not only was I faced with a career crisis, I watched a great team of colleagues be dismantled. The result forced me and many friends into joblessness. Some have recovered; some are still searching. I'm on a new path now, but full success is yet to be realized. And the person most important in my life also unexpectedly ended up in the unemployment line. Happily, he's bounced back and is on a new and challenging career path.

With that said, I realize that, for me, the single greatest event of the decade occurred just after my return from watching Old Faithful blow in the aughts and new millennium. I crossed paths with the person who's become most important in my life, and we've shared a great decade. That's the ray of sunshine I'll keep in my heart while toasting away 2009… and the aughts.

Bring on the teens…!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dolphin Dialogs and Whale Wonderings

One of the age-old questions is whether or not the end justifies the means. Are there points at which we accept questionable means in order to reach lofty ends?

I recently heard Paul Watson speak. Watson is the controversial star of Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars,” co-founder of Greenpeace, and founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. TIME Magazine selected him as one of the Environmental Heroes of the 20th Century. Neither Watson nor any member of his crew has injured a single person or been convicted of a felony in their activist attempts to put an end to whaling and seal hunts. He contends, “I uphold international conservation law; I don’t break laws, unless I have to.”

That’s one approach, and the only one Watson would have you believe is effective. About the time Watson founded Sea Shepherd in 1977, another man, Jean Paul Fortom-Gouin, purchased a facility in the Florida Keys and re-named it The Institute for Delphinid Research (now The Dolphin Research Center). His goal was to convince the world to stop whaling by proving cetacean intelligence in the smaller cousins, bottlenose dolphins. He achieved his mission with science rather than force when the International Whaling Commission adopted a voluntary moratorium on whaling in 1983. Japan, Norway and Iceland are the holdouts and have not abided by the moratorium. Those are the countries in Watson’s literal crosshairs.

He’s as entitled to his opinion and actions as I am to mine; however, in listening to him speak, I found his antagonistic nature and approach to detrimentally overshadow his message. And his message consisted of countless statistics rattled off without taking a breath… or more importantly, without substantiating them. In a packed auditorium, predominantly populated by college students, sadly, I think an important message was lost. Any questions posed that took issue with his means were answered with a confrontational attitude and more unsubstantiated claims.

Watson claims his objective is to make sure whalers (specifically the Japanese fleets at this point) don’t make any money. Now that’s an approach with which I agree. And I agreed with that same approach to end the slaughter of dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific by tuna fleets. That effort succeeded and was driven by consumer boycotts rather than ramming tuna boats. When the market dried up, fishing techniques were altered, and as importantly, a compromise was reached that enabled fishermen to maintain their livelihoods without dolphin deaths.

Fishermen are the ultimate bad guys according to Watson. I certainly agree that we’ve globally overfished, and Watson and I agree that an expanding population is a root cause for many, if not all, environmental problems. Reality is: there are a lot of people, and people need to eat. His claim: “You can’t be an environmentalist without being a vegan.” Well, I’m an environmentalist… and I’m an omnivore. Watson claims that beef production causes greenhouse gas and that 35% of the fish take goes toward feeding pigs and chicken. I haven’t researched those claims and won’t disagree with them out of hand; however, the question becomes: Where do we get all the land we’ll need to support the agricultural demands if we all opt for veganism? And if that’s the route we should take, then maybe global warming is a good thing. We’ll have more arable land.

As with every environmental issue, there are shades of gray, and compromise is sometimes the answer for long-lasting solutions. No doubt an opinion with which Watson heartily disagrees. His end is admirable; it’s his means I’m not so sure about. So does one justify the other? That’s the age-old question… and one we’ll debate forever.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Homeward Bound

The USS New York sailed “home” on Monday. It arrived from a Louisiana shipyard and sailed into New York Harbor. It stopped in front of the section of skyline that used to include the World Trade Centers. A 21-gun salute commemorated the moment. I don’t care to meet the American who isn’t moved by those images or in fact, by the very thought of this homecoming.

You see, the bow of the USS New York is built from 7.5 tons of steel from the fallen World Trade Center towers. A foundry manager is quoted as saying, “I could feel the power…when I touched the hull, every hair stood up.” If there was ever a phoenix to rise from its ashes, this is it.

Technically, the warship is a San Antonio-class amphibious dock vessel. The ship is 684 feet long and can carry as many as 800 Marines. Its flight deck can handle helicopters and the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. It would be powerful without the emotional aura tied to the origin of its steel.

Families of 9/11 victims and first responders were on hand Monday to salute the USS New York… and remember. I hope the nation took a few minutes to set aside World Series fever and remember as well. I recall thinking on that fateful evening that these attacks would be the “Pearl Harbor” of the current era, but the world is a different place and moving at a far different speed than it was in 1941.

The Greatest Generation and its offspring still seem to bear deeper wounds from that attack. I sense our current generations have healed more quickly after 9/11. I won’t say “we’ve forgotten,” but if we were to return to 1950 and discuss the Pearl Harbor attacks, I believe its remembrance would be far fresher. Other than chalking it up to “the world being a different place and moving at a faster speed,” I’m not sure why that is.

The USS New York will remain in its namesake, appropriately, until Veterans’ Day. Let’s not forget our veterans or 9/11, and let’s hope the full force of the USS New York is never brought to bear. I’m certain its power far exceeds its technical specifications.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Social Media Mania

I joined a social media site recently… the one originally developed for college students that now, to their dismay and that of teens, is being overrun by Baby Boomers. There are a number of former colleagues / friends on the site, so it provides a forum to keep up with what everyone’s doing. I like that aspect of it.

Now I’m not sure about how anyone else feels about this, but it’s a tad disconcerting to me when “friends” are suggested. While it might be a benefit and provide an “oh yeah… I know that person and want to keep in touch” moment, I can’t get past the 1984 aspect of the whole thing. In fact, when I first signed up, upon entering my e-mail address and nothing else, I was immediately presented with two people I might know and wish to friend. (And yet another noun transforms into a verb.) Yes I did know them and spent several minutes wondering what information existed in cyberspace that enabled the cross reference since I use a few different e-mail addresses. Ah, I.P. address. Like I said, I found it disquieting and quite possibly am the only one on the site affected by it. If Big Brother isn’t watching yet, he’s surely got the means to do so. Then again, I’m sure it’s been that way for quite sometime… the social media site merely drove the point home. As far as I can tell, no one else is worried.

Businesses are embracing these sites for their marketing value. I know a teen who “fans” several sites a day… not sure why. I guess it’s cool. I asked what she did about all the advertising that ended up on her home page. She hides it. I imagine she’d have to since she’s “fan’d” 78 different sites in the fifteen days since I’ve been on otherwise she’d rarely see anything other than ads. So much for marketing efforts.

Getting fans and followers is now a goal for businesses. I read an article in the Washington Post recently about airlines getting in on the Twitter rage. It’s gone too far. In July, a spokesperson for Virgin America “...recounted how a passenger Twittered in-flight about attendants ignoring him. ‘We sent a message to the plane and alerted the crew – and he was served.’”

Let me understand this: a passenger sends a “tweet” to Virgin America’s administrative office regarding the need for attention who then in turn notifies the cabin attendants that the guy in seat 17C at 30,000 feet needs something? Does anyone else appreciate how ludicrous this scenario is? As far as I can recall (let’s say 45 years), there’s been a little button over the row of seats on the plane. It’s got a stick-figure depiction on it. When you press it, it alerts the cabin attendants that you need something. Isn’t technology amazing?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Worth the Price of Admission

Like many others, I’m glued to Ken Burns’ The National Parks, America’s Best Idea and am enjoying it immensely. Knowing the histories and back stories gives me a greater sense of appreciation for the locations and the preservation efforts… as if having a greater appreciation for them is possible for me.

I’ve been lucky enough in my life to visit many of them and some of them more than once. My experiences there have never failed to exponentially exceed the price of admission. Never. Some of my most favorite vacations involved trekking through a National Park. And I’ve got the photos to prove it….

I recently learned that the U.S. Mint is going to launch another quarter series based on our fabulous landscapes. To my dismay, they’re not simply minting a coin for each of the 58 parks. Apparently, someone decided it would be unfair not to include each state and territory. Well sorry, Delaware and Rhode Island that you have no land managed by the Department of the Interior and that California and Alaska would each be represented eight times based on my idea. I’d still prefer to see each park rather than each state represented in the “America the Beautiful” quarter series… but hey, that’s just me.

I’ve often wondered if I could pick a favorite National Park, and I can’t. There’s something special about each, and each has a certain feel to it. While the grandeur of the Big Ditch (aka The Grand Canyon) can’t be captured in words or photos (at least not by me… I’ve tried), I can’t say I’m more awed by it than by its spectacular neighbor, Zion, or by the whimsy of the geology found in Bryce. Yellowstone is beyond compare both in its unique thermal features and abundant wildlife, and I’ve got this incredible memory and photo of a wall of flowers at Glacier. Nope… no favorite except that if I've got one, it's simply the next one on my “to see” list.

Do yourself a favor. Visit a National Park if you haven’t, and don’t dismiss the idea because you’re not into camping and roughing it. Some of the most fabulous lodges I’ve stayed in and some of the best meals I’ve enjoyed… accompanied by a fine bottle of wine… have been in the National Parks. Hey, I’ll hike all day, but at the end of it, I’m one for a hot shower, cold beer and soft bed. So plan to go, but remember, thanks to Ken Burns, so are a lot of other people.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thoughts in the Shadow of the Capitol

I found myself literally in the shadow of the Capitol a few days ago. Admittedly, I’m always a little awed by the building… both by its architecture and by everything it represents. The crowds always appear on the west side, so I wandered around to the east side where there were very few people. Away from the chaos of tour bus drop-offs and repeated photo ops, and literally in the shadow, I was left to ponder politics.

It’s been nine months since the inauguration, and it’s been a wild ride. The president’s popularity has fallen. He seems to revel in campaign-style speeches, but the campaigning is long over and it’s time to do the heavy lifting.

During the debates about health care reform in the town-hall meetings over the summer, far too many people were effectively told to “sit down and shut up.” Okay, not always in so many words, but disagreements with proposed reform made that message clear. People are angry… as were our Founding Fathers. And those men didn’t sit down and shut up. Even Jefferson and Adams agreed to disagree. So should we.

The ongoing tea parties epitomize what those early American heroes stood for and believed in. Now the opposition suggests they’re staged… they’re not being attended by Americans who simply want to make a public statement,,, who want to take their government back from the grasp of too many politicians… who want to stand against big government.

And if there were ever two words sewn together in a sentence that will capture the current climate, they would be, “You lie.” I don’t personally know Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Representative who yelled those words during the president’s speech to Congress when Obama stated that illegal aliens would not be eligible for health care benefits, but I suspect he’s an upstanding guy who was angered to the point of blurting exactly what he thought. He rightfully apologized afterward.

But now it seems anyone who disagrees with the president is a racist. Or at least if any Caucasian citizens disagree, they’re deemed racists. I think we’ve all lost our collective minds. The right to disagree and speak your mind about your government is the very foundation of these United States. It’s exactly what Jefferson and Adams argued about time and time again nearly two hundred and forty years ago. So no offense Mr. President, but if I disagree with your policies and politics, I’ve got every right to speak out without being accused of harboring a white hood and robe in my closet. And I’m offended that a former president would make such a suggestion.

Wilson’s comment was disrespectful to the office of the president. Regardless of what you may think of the man, you must respect the office. I certainly agree with that; however, when the president appears on late night television imitating David Letterman, isn’t he adding some degree of disrespect to the very office he holds?

Just a passing thought while in the shadow of the Capitol.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Passing Icons

Two American icons died recently. How similar their fame; how different their lives. These summer months saw the deaths of Michael Jackson and Walter Cronkite. One died “unexpectedly” at the young age of 50 while the other died at the age of 92 after a lengthy illness.

Both captivated and defined their corners of American culture. One in music, the other in news. Both achieved notoriety. One was famous, the other, infamous. I’m struck by their professional parallels and wildly disparate personal lives.

Cronkite was the first TV newsman to be honored with the title of “anchor.” Jackson, on the other hand, deemed himself “king of pop.” Cronkite reported the moon landing; Jackson “moon walked.” The most memorable image of Cronkite could be that of him removing his glasses and announcing the death of JFK. No doubt the most memorable image of Jackson is the Thriller video. While Cronkite was referred to as “the most trusted man in America,” Jackson battled charges of child molestation. While one led an exemplary life, the other… well, did not. Blame early stardom, blame a stolen childhood, blame false accusations, blame whatever you’d like. In the end, the result’s the same.

I don’t know about you, but in retrospect, I found the coverage of their respective deaths and funerals a bit disquieting. I can’t help but wonder what it says about American society in general that the coverage of Jackson’s death and funeral went on endlessly for weeks, while Cronkite garnered, by comparison, a passing mention. My hometown paper had stories of Jackson’s death on the front page every day until his memorial… and then that took over. Meanwhile, the story of Cronkite’s funeral was covered in two paragraphs in the “national re-cap section” on page A-4.

The circus that surrounded one memorial service continued to move from the sublime to the ridiculous on a daily basis. In fact, two days after Jackson’s funeral, I figured the morning news shows could not possibly lead with a story about it. Wrong. The lead story was that his casket was “missing.” It had not been publicly seen since pall bearers carried it out of Staples Center. Conversely, Cronkite’s funeral was held in his long-time church with the stately tradition you’d expect. Clearly the ceremonies and coverage of them reflected each man’s professional and personal life. I suspect each would have approved of the way in which they were memorialized and remembered.

No argument that they each changed their respective industries. No argument that they’ll each be remembered for a few generations. I simply wish that an upstanding life of integrity meant more in our society. This summer’s events lead me to believe it does not.

Friday, June 19, 2009

It’s a fly!

So President Barack Obama swatted and killed a fly this week during a televised interview… and the whole country seems to have gone absolutely bonkers about it.

The liberal media showed the interview and replayed it ad nauseum in the subsequent days. Somehow this is supposed to be an impressive quality in our commander-in-chief? I think there are more important aspects of his presidency and administration that need our attention and should be headlining our papers, broadcasts and the Internet. Not the fly swatting thing. But hey, that’s me.

I’d like to see him swatting a few terrorists, the budget deficit, and just for a few grins, Nancy Pelosi. But it seems the pedestal upon which he’s been placed was raised even higher because he swatted a fly. I appreciate that folks clamor to see the personal side of this president, but then focus on his interactions with his wife, kids or dog rather than the lowly fly.

And to make the whole situation even more ludicrous (which in my estimation was nearly impossible to begin with), the folks at PETA have gotten in on the act. I’m a long-time environmentalist and believe in treating animals ethically, but this organization is over the edge. Their defense of the fly is another ridiculous stunt in a ridiculously long line of them. I think PETA is consistently more interested in bringing attention to itself than the cause it espouses. ‘Nuff said.

So, I’m not terribly impressed that Obama swatted a fly. Maybe I should be… it’s a talent I lack. When I attempt the feat, the fly remains unscathed while whatever it was perched upon is usually broken. But I take heart in that result: at least I won’t have the PETA folks protesting me.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How To "insert anything here"

In my writings, I’ve stumbled upon and have written for whose tag line is “How to do just about everything.” First, let me assure you that I’ve only opted to author articles that I know something about. And secondly, the articles are reviewed by an editorial staff prior to their publication online. So someone’s checking although I’m not certain to what extent they’re fact checking or simply checking to determine that the submission meets their style guidelines (i.e. every sentence starts with a verb... creative writing, it is not).

I’m still on my soapbox about participatory journalism, so, please, allow me to cite a few examples. I recently saw the following titles as available assignments for members who have signed up to write for the site.

“How to make a stapler” which leads to my next question (probably yours too): Why would anyone want to? I can write that article in one sentence, starting, of course, with a verb: Go to your office supply store or the stationery aisle of any department store and buy one.

“How to build a house on piers.” Now I can appreciate that someone with coastal property might want to build a house on piers. The interesting spin on this title was its category. It was listed under “careers and advancement” and not “home improvements.” I suppose if you were in the construction business, you might consider the ability to build a pier-supported house a career advancement. I’m certain it takes more skill than building a house on a regular foundation.

“How to build a bowling alley in your garage” listed under “business.” First of all, I haven’t seen any garages in my life that are the length of a standard bowling alley. Have you? I guess if I extended my garage to accommodate a bowling alley, I’d want to make some money to recoup the expense thereby putting this title in the business section.

“How to create a nursing certificate.” Seems fishy to me right off the bat. To make it more suspicious it was listed under “crafts.” It's crafty all right.

Here are two of my favorites:
“How to make an ankle holster for a gloc” and “How to make a taser gun out of a lighter.” With a tip of my hat to Dave Barry: “I swear I’m not making any of this up.”

Finally, I saw this title: “How long does an arrest warrant stay active?” Probably longer than you’d like. I wonder if the person requesting this title read the two before it, and that’s when the trouble started.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Who’s in Charge, Anyway?

It’s time to circle back to where I started with this blog and question the value of all this online content other than providing me and anyone else with a very public soapbox. As long as we all grasp that idea, it’s fine. Truly a global sharing of opinion.

Got that? O-p-i-n-i-o-n! Maybe there are some facts thrown in, but you can’t really count on it. And I fear there’s too much acceptance of most of what’s found on the internet.

Here’s a scary phrase that I saw the other day: “participatory journalism.” Getting news that’s relevant to you. To me, that’s just this side of being oxymoronic. For starters, relevant, schmelevant. First, I want to know: is it accurate? The fact that it’s participatory makes me question how true it may be. Accuracy first, please; then I’ll worry about relevant. I don’t know about you, but if I had to pick one or the other… please, give me accurate and let me worry about what I may or may not find relevant.

Besides, the news is news. How sheltered would I be if I only received articles that I pre-determined to be relevant by subject or location? The search engine that makes that determination is still artificial intelligence and lacks judgment. How much would I be missing? How much would any of us miss? How many participatory front pages would consist of: who’s voted off American Idol, booted off the island, found on Lost, and the local weather?

At least with traditional media, I believe there’s some foundation based in fact… that some editor somewhere is reviewing stories and information for truth and demanding that journalists have solid, reliable sources. Although that said, I’m sensing that foundation is starting to crumble or, at the very least, crack. Too often, the grammarian in me sees misspellings and other errors in assorted publications. I hope we don’t get to the point where texting abbreviations and emoticons become the norm in our news stories.

No one’s got to cite a source to publish online, and good copy can persuade some folks to believe just about anything. I suppose Wikipedia is the ultimate participatory information experience, but it’s a little frightening to me. “He’s like Wikipedia: he’s got all the answers, but they’re not always right.” Can Wikipedia change reality? It’s got the potential to change history, so why not?

Even a good journalist has to fight the urge now and then not to let the facts get in the way of a good story… so what’s to stop me or any other blogger out there from convincing the world of our expertise on anything or everything? The answer’s simple: not a thing, my friend, not a thing.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Carbon Confusion… Carbon Corruption

Oh, where to start? Let’s start with one fact: the planet is warmer than it was 200 years ago. That’s about where black and white ends and innumerable shades of gray begin.

The next question, the big, gray one is: Why? Two very mainstream and respectable content providers, National Geographic and The Associated Press, recently asserted:

”Scientists have reported recently that the world is heating up even faster than predicted only a few years ago, and that the consequences could be severe if we don't keep reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are trapping heat in our atmosphere.” National Geographic, April 2009
“Carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – is the chief cause of global warming.” The Associated Press as published in the Reading Eagle, May 1, 2009

But what about that big, yellow thing in the sky? Doesn’t that contribute to climate change? What about the scientific thinking that climate change is a normal planetary trend occurring every 1500 years? And what about the evidence that the warming trend we’re in right now began about 1850 and that Earth is starting to cool again? Why don’t I ever see that in the mainstream media? If we can all agree that there was an ice age, why did it end? Wouldn’t the end of the ice age have been caused by planetary warming? If it happened a million years ago, why can’t it happen again?

Those are just a few of my questions, so I’m not buying the out-and-out assertion that fossil fuels and human impact are the sole causes of global warming. Don’t get me wrong: I think we’ve done a ridiculously poor job of caring for our environment. As a society, conservationists we are not. And what we have done is downright shameful. I’m simply not convinced that what we’ve done is the sole cause of climate change.

The National Geographic quote above came from an article which included a carbon footprint calculator:
100 cubic feet of natural gas = 12 lbs. of CO2 emissions
1 kWh of electric = 1.5 lbs. of CO2 emissions
Each gallon of gas = 19.6 lbs. of CO2 emissions
Because, apparently, I have nothing else to do, I calculated my carbon footprint based on those three categories and determined that I output 10.78 metric tons of carbon annually. Sounds like a lot, but the average is 19. Granted, I’m a household of one and occasionally two… less than the average as well. And admittedly, I did not factor airplane travel into my calculation. I’m good for a couple flights a year.

Now, I could feel even better about my carbon footprint if I purchased carbon offsets. Buying carbon offsets? That’s right, I send my money to some organization who promises to invest it in reforestation, renewable energy R&D, etc. and that relieves me of my guilt about emitting too much CO2. I checked and for $11.33, I can be guilt-free about my flights earlier this year.

I’m all for reforestation and renewal energy, but have we all lost our minds? The first time I heard about buying carbon offsets, I immediately thought about the parallel between that and the corruption in the early church surrounding the selling of indulgences. Indulgences replaced the severe penances of the early church and were granted for specific good works and prayers. So someone figured out, human nature being what it was (and still is), that you could make a buck by selling an indulgence rather than requiring good works and prayers. Cash to the easy route of forgiveness. Seeing the similarity to selling carbon offsets yet?

Now might be a completely worthwhile and above-board organization. I don’t know. But I do know that “there’s a sucker born every minute”… and snake oil salesmen abound. As for me, I’ll keeping turning off the lights, turning down the heat and doing everything possible to reduce my consumption on every level. As for my monetary contributions, they’ll continue to go to the Dolphin Research Center and the Nature Conservancy – two organizations I know are doing good things for the planet. And I have to get my sweatshirt. It feels chilly to me.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Talkin’ Trash

According to the EPA, from 1960 to 2007, the amount of ‘stuff’’ Americans threw in the trash nearly doubled from 2.7 pounds per person per day to 4.6 pounds per person per day. How much do you put in the trash on a daily basis? Have you ever even thought about it?

To make that statistic a tad more frightening, nearly a third of what we put in the trash is paper and paperboard… generally lightweight stuff. So now imagine converting that 4.6 pounds per day to volume when over a pound and a half of the total is paper. No wonder our landfills are filling up. There are now 1,794 landfills in the United States, down from 20,000 in the early 70’s. You can work out the math if you’d like, but a simple overview says it all: We’ve nearly doubled output and cut the place to put it to less than ten percent of what it was. Think that’s a problem?

Granted, we’ve learned a lot and have made great progress during that same timeframe in recycling. Aluminum recycling has become streamlined to the point that we shouldn’t need to mine any more bauxite. Ditto on newspapers and paper products. (Of course the internet is slowly tolling the death knell for newspapers, so maybe we won’t have to worry about them clogging our landfills in the future, but that turn of events is fodder for a blog on another day.) Unlike aluminum which can be recycled indefinitely, paper can only go through the process until the fibers are unusable, and each generation of recycled fiber creates a lesser product. Simply put, you start with clean, white office grade paper and end up with toilet paper or pressboard. You can’t recycle paper ‘up’ the quality chain, but the process is certainly worthwhile. Glass is another trash component that can be recycled indefinitely.

Besides saving space in our increasingly scarce landfills, recycled materials use less energy to manufacture new products. Recycled aluminum uses 95% less energy to make new cans than its virgin ore counterpart. Recycled glass melts at a lower temperature and uses 50% less energy in the process. Recycling one ton of paper saves 7000 gallons of water. Energy savings and landfill savings make it seem like a no-brainer to me. To you?

In much the same way that the economic downturn has forced folks to buy less, it will also be a boon to reducing trash and improving recycling. As much as I’d like to see a return to economic stability, the conservationist in me is smiling at the inversely proportionate nature of cash and trash. I’ve long been a proponent of usage-based trash collection. Today, I put out recycling, but not trash… just didn’t have enough of it. My neighbor put the maximum amount of trash allowed at his curb. We pay the same. We’re only going to really cut trash when the price goes up. And at the rate at which the landfills are filling up, I suspect that painful increase is right around the corner.

We need to take responsibility for our trash and reduce it. “Throw it away.” Where’s “away” anyway? Away from our homes, our streets, our neighborhoods, but it’s never away from our planet. Less in, less out… it’s that simple.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Good News / Bad News

It was bound to happen. From my soap box speeches about conservation over the years, I’ve always preached that ‘going green’ meant saving ‘green’ too. I held up my grandparents’ generation, those that endured the Great Depression, as the model to emulate. They were pressed to save money as their lives depended on it, so nothing was ever wasted. Nothing. Time and again, I cited examples of the things they did as environmentally friendly. They were way ahead of the concepts of reduce, reuse and recycle. I suspect that they didn’t really care about the impact of their actions on the planet so much as they cared about the impact of their actions on their wallets.

Just a year or so ago, I was pleading with my audiences to think ‘green’ and act ‘green’ to improve the health of our environment, and, oh by the way, they’d save a few bucks along the way too. Do right by the planet and your wallet will be a sidebar beneficiary.

Enter the bad news: the economic downturn. Suddenly, conspicuous consumption is being seen for exactly what it is: egotistical waste. Unaffordable waste. And the number of folks who can pony up has fallen faster than the Dow Jones average. (I believe much of it could never be afforded in the first place, but that’s a blog for another day.) Conversely, saving and scrimping are now the new chic to say nothing of being compulsory for an awful lot of folks.

And there’s nothing wrong with it. Turn down the thermostat and bundle up – save money (and energy); combine all your errands into one trip – save money (and energy); turn off the lights – save money (and energy); buy Energy Star appliances – save money (and energy); buy locally – save money (and energy)… you get the picture. With the economy in tatters, I believe folks are seeing the stuff they buy as just that: stuff. Stuff that, as often as not, simply ends up in our overcrowded landfills, so why buy it in the first place? Why, indeed.

Enter the good news: doing right by our wallets has allowed the environment to become the sidebar beneficiary. The lessons our grandparents learned have come full circle. History’s repeating itself as it always does. We’re saving energy and conserving on all fronts. It’s a shame the economy had to take such a beating before the conservation light bulb went on for most of us. I only wonder now how long it will stay lit.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Ubiquitous Cell Phone

What is it about cell phones? And in seeing them put to use in every conceivable fashion as I go through my day, I can’t help but wonder, “HOW did we ever possibly survive without them?”

I’ll state for the record right now that I fully appreciate and use them for their convenience … not only as a communication device but as a calendar, calculator, alarm, stop watch (and I really have used that function on mine) and clock, to name a few. The next advance of web access and gps functions certainly lend to their value. My question and curiosity surrounds the seeming need for some folks to talk on them incessantly. I mean really, have you ever listened in on someone’s conversation only to determine in five seconds that it was so much blather? And I’ve really got to wonder if the recipient of the call is thinking the same thing.

If you’re in the grocery store and need to verify your list or check the status of an item in your pantry, go ahead and make the call. If you’re running late or will be delayed, go ahead and make the call. If you decided to order take out on your way home, go ahead and make the call. If you’re just calling to chat, I’d say make the call as long as you’re not: driving, walking in a crowded store, standing in line for any reason, within earshot of others who have absolutely no interest in your conversation, or participating in any activity that requires a modicum of your attention.

I believe I’m not the only one who gets a little annoyed when chatting cell phone users block store aisles, hold up the line, fail to look both ways as a pedestrian, mishandle a turn while driving because one hand’s on the phone, or exhibit any other rude, inattention-driven activity. It’s more annoying when it’s a disruption of solitude and concentration. There are certain places where and certain situations in which a ringing cell phone is, in my book, just this side of a cardinal sin. Church, for instance. Have we so abdicated decent manners that preachers and church bulletins have to remind us to turn cell phones off?

I was lucky enough to view the Grand Canyon from the North Rim recently. My appreciation of its grandeur and all that’s spectacular about our natural world was disrupted in less than two minutes by, you guessed it, a ringing phone… and an irritating ring tone at that. I’m happy to report that I was able to curtail my urge to grab the phone and heave it as far into the canyon as I could… what with littering and all.

I’m not comfortable using a cell phone in public, at least not within earshot of perfect strangers. Maybe I’m not that chatty. Verbose, yes; chatty, no. Besides, my personal business is just that. I was recently in the toothpaste aisle and could clearly overhear the conversation of a woman on a cell phone near me. I was stunned at the incredibly personal details she was discussing about a legal case in which she was involved. I admit: I continued staring at toothpaste and simply eavesdropped. When my significant other found me and asked what was taking so long, I nodded my head toward the woman and said, “Sssshhh. I’m listening. I think she’s about to reveal where they hid the body….”

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Long Distance… huh?

I received my phone bill yesterday, and it got me to thinking about the concept of long distance.

Since my cell service serves me in that capacity, I no longer carry a long distance connection on my land line. (Yes, I’m a bit of a dinosaur insomuch as I still even have a land line, but it’s one step at a time for me in this digital revolution.) It really wasn’t that long ago that land lines were required to have a long distance carrier. And the breakup of Ma Bell generated the advertising storm of switching services and cents per minute that fueled the broadcast media and direct mail for years. And that spawned the calling cards and the “dial 10-10…” numbers.

I remember learning to use the phone as a kid. Our exchange included letters. Maybe you remember that too. Ours was “Clifford 7” or “CL7” as I learned it. Numeric references took over by the time we moved when I was eight, and I learned my new phone number as “678” as opposed to its original “Orchard 8.”

Additionally, whenever I asked to make a call, it was always met with the query: “Do you have to dial a ‘1’ first?” Ah, the concept of dialing “1” for long distance…. It’s quickly becoming a fading memory. And the thrill of receiving a long-distance call! And running to get it. “Hurry, it’s long-distance!” The arrival of push button phones was cutting edge, and the families of the cool kids had them first. I remember wondering what the * and the # were for, and was told they’d be used for ‘something someday’ although no one could define what and when that would be over thirty-five years ago. In the meantime, they seemed to simply serve as symmetric placeholders for the dial pad.

Now we can’t live without * and # and there’s no more need to hurry for a long distance call. A minute is a minute is a minute. No longer does it cost more to call across the country than across the state, and in all likelihood, the phone is ringing right on your hip or in your pocket. And so long-distance calling quickly joins the memories of “touch tone,” dialing, party lines and switch board operators.

We proceed on through the 21st century.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Where Am I?

I used a GPS system for the first time last week. That may seem like a so-what comment, but those that know me will react with surprise. For most of my friends and those closest to me, I’m the only person they know who orienteers. The sport of orienteering, for those who aren’t familiar, is one of navigation that’s founded in the ability to read a map. Therein lays the surprise. Well that coupled with my suspicious perspective of technology. But the GPS came with the new cell phone, and, hey, it’s a free trial.

It’s got its pros and cons. On the bright side, if you’re hopelessly lost, GPS can pinpoint exactly where you are, and if you know where you are, you can figure out how to get where you’re going. The basic tenet of orienteering is to always know exactly where you are on the map. Although I sometimes struggle to find an orienteering control, I rarely “loose contact with the map” meaning I can always point to exactly where I am. So that GPS pinpoint can be a God-send, but at the same time, I find it a bit frightening. 1984, anyone?

Another benefit is that it’s small… no unwieldy road map to unfold, and then re-fold if you can. However, I find that to be a simultaneous detriment. I get the bigger picture with the road map, and what’s more, I can study it before I depart and keep the full map image in my head. Admittedly, my mental map (either road or orienteering type) fails me at times, and I think, “This is not how I pictured this….” That’s usually followed by a navigational error. So GPS could be the rescue.

And GPS talks to you, so you don’t need to take your eyes off the road. At the same time, there are several features on the screen that are helpful: mileage to next turn, total time left to reach the destination, the 3D view showing the road and the bends and turns that are approaching, and the identification of the next crossroads. All great stuff, but on a two-inch square screen, it takes more than a second to see it, so I’d rank it equal to the old-fashioned map in the time needed with eyes off the road.

The talking is okay. I’ve got a friend who refers to hers as “Sally Big Mouth.” My GPS also features a woman’s voice. Maybe they all do, but with all that technology can do, why can’t I choose the gender of the voice? I’d prefer a male voice… nice broadcaster type. Maybe that’s sexist, but it’s my preference, and I know I’m partial and biased.

So while I was driving, GPS spoke up and said “Severe traffic congestion ahead. Expect a four-hour delay.” Could that be true? The time-left indicator had, in fact, added four hours to my time of arrival. I debated finding an alternate route presuming the interstate had been closed with no opportunity to exit. Enter my suspicion of technology, so I kept to the known route. At no point did I encounter a delay, and noticed the arrival ETA stripping the hours and minutes off my time. GPS did not speak up at any point to correct itself. I figured it should, ala Gilda Radner of the old SNL skit, say: “Never mind.”

I used it again for the trip home. I live on an “avenue”; however, GPS refers to it as a “street”. About two miles from my home is a road of the same name designated as “lane.” I entered my address as “avenue”. As I approached the last crossroads before my street, GPS told me to turn the opposite way, presumably to take me to the “lane” location. When I pulled into my own driveway, GPS suggested I “make the next legal U-turn.” It was still making that suggestion as I walked into my kitchen.

Suspicion of technology continues.

Friday, February 6, 2009

There’s Still No Free Lunch

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. There never was. There never will be.
Right? Right.

But the internet seems to have erased or, at least, blurred the concept. There are tens of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of sites that seemingly offer something for nothing. You’ve probably been on a thousand of them yourself. “Click here for your free <insert whatever here>.”

Free? Hardly. You’ve got to enter your data, at the very least your email address, to get what’s being offered. That was your payment: your contact information for future marketing efforts. Hey, if you’re really interested in the product, it’s a deal! And it’s a deal for the marketer because they’re after the data in the first place, and the more they can collect the better.

That concept, “click here for your free…” has altered our concept of getting a free lunch. It certainly seems free and has raised expectation that "free" reigns online.

I recently followed a chatroom string in which folks were trashing an online job posting board because the site took (wait for it…) a fee from every transaction. That’s right a fee from every transaction! Heaven forbid! A fee! On the internet! It was obviously unthinkable to them.

I wanted to chime in: “Someone has to work to keep the site operational and write all the code that makes the thing work in the first place (and work very nicely, if I might interject). You don’t work for free. Why should they?” But I kept quiet and clicked off assuming it would fall on deaf ears (or should that be “blind eyes” now?).

Oh sure, there are some whoppers out there that are free: Google, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, to name a few. Make that seemingly free – they’re selling ads (not unlike broadcast media) and collecting valuable data.

But for the most part, online business is just that: business. I’ve got a product or information that’s got some value to you. I’m going to charge you a fair price. It’s the foundation of capitalism, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. If you don’t like my price (or that fact that I’m going to charge you in the first place), by all means, search Google to see if you can find someone who’ll part with it for free. And good luck to you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Whole New Vocabulary

Language evolves. It’s that simple. Despite my disdain for misuse of the English language, I know that. But think about the whole new vocabulary we’ve created through this digital revolution.

Let’s start with the obvious: Google. In case you didn’t know, besides being the premier search engine, it’s a term for ten to the one-hundredth power; that is: a ten with a hundred zeroes behind it. A big number. To its credit as jargon, Google entered as a verb. “I Googled it.” It took Xerox years to move from noun status (I need a Xerox [instead of the generic “copy”]) to that of a verb (I’ll Xerox it). Google – a big number and a powerful verb.

Text has also earned verb status: “I’ll text you.” It took a tad longer to get to that point than Google, but it’s certainly there now. No one questions it. And now we blog and we Digg and we Skype. Bad guys phish. User names and passwords abound. I recently saw “mouseover” for the first time and knew exactly what it meant.

Faxing and its related jargon are quickly heading for the museum if they’re not fully on display there already. Remember FedEx’s “Zap Mail”? When overnight wasn’t fast enough and we all scratched our heads and wondered how. We’re now texting all those folks we used to fax.

And in talking about big numbers, megs and gigs are commonplace. Anyone old enough to remember the start of this revolution and the advent of the digital age knows the whole thing is based on ones and zeroes. Bits and bytes. Even from the beginning they were measured as kilobytes, but megabytes? Wow, that was a big file. Moving it from one place to another could take hours. I now have a 4-gig flash drive smaller than my thumb, and I got it in a Cracker Jack box. It wasn’t long ago that four gigabytes of information ran on mainframes and even those guys were awed by the size. Do we still even have mainframes?

A friend commented that our communication has become very Star Trek-ish, and it’s true. In the not too distant future, we’ll all be tapping our lapel pins to chat with one another. I only wish food preparation technology was moving at the same speed. Let’s face it, microwaves haven’t changed much, if at all, in a quarter century. I’d like to have a food replicator soon. I’ve got all the communication technology I need for now. But a food replicator? Now we’re talkin’. “Tea. Earl Gray. Hot.” Or “Beer. Imported Ale. Cold.” Yeah. Now we’re really talkin’.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Change. A New Era.

So we inaugurated the forty-forth president and the first African American yesterday. Historic implications aside, I’m always a little in awe of the event. To be quite specific: the peaceful transition of power, regardless of party affiliations. It renews my respect and admiration for our founding fathers. It took incredible vision and effort, as well as literal blood, sweat and tears to launch this country.

I’ve read the stories and quote upon quote about a new day dawning, needed change at hand, the positive electricity elicited by this new administration, the next American Camelot. And what’s to become of all that?

If we, the people, don’t do anything, this new administration will idle in neutral and trillions more of our tax dollar spiral down that drain. It’s up to us, as citizens, to roll up our sleeves and get the job done. No handouts, just hard work. The government does not owe anyone a living. Not in this country.

I read this comment today about the inauguration: “For the first time, thousands of Americans are ready and willing to pick up a shovel and do their part of the work.” I gotta ask: Why weren’t they willing to do their part of the work yesterday or the day before that or the day before that? Or even years ago? Seems sad to me that thousands haven’t considered it until yesterday. I suspect our founding fathers would also find that sentiment disappointing, at best.

In looking for a bright side to that comment, I’m hoping the thousands, or even maybe millions, who were moved yesterday “for the first time to pick up a shovel and do their part of the work” do just that. And that they keep doing it even when they get tired of doing it. That we all keep doing it even when we all get tired of doing it. And even if it means we have to shed some blood, sweat and tears in the effort. If you need a role model, crack open a U.S. history book. Look up Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Hancock, Lee, Bartlett, or any other signer of the Declaration of Independence. Then go to the chapter about drafting the U.S. Constitution.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Another step taken in the 21st Century

Admittedly, I think I was the last one to jump into digital photography. At the very least, I was way behind the curve. I’ve been a self-proclaimed purist all my life, and when the digital realm invaded photography, I was having none of it. Oh, it was fine for snapshots and everyday photos, but I was still quite attached to my 35mm even for snapshots and everyday photos.

“When there’s a digital equivalent to my 35mm, I’ll think about it.”

Then I began reading that many professionals were making the switch, so I investigated their thoughts on the pros and cons. Not that I’m any where near that level, but I figured they were purists just like me. Some loved it, some hated it. I talked at length with the owner of my local photo store about her thoughts. I waited.

Soon, an issue of photography’s flagship, National Geographic, showed up in my mailbox with references to images on their pages being created with digital cameras. Okay, I’ll bite.

Then I saw the price. So I waited some more, and saved, and waited and saved. I researched the camera that would be the closest digital match to my 35mm… and I saved some more.

In the spring of 2006, I took the plunge. I can’t say “I never looked back,” but it certainly has its advantages. Everyone proclaimed unlimited shooting as the biggest advantage. Hey, that never stopped me with film. In my mind, it was always “just another frame.” I always knew out of every roll, there’d be one shot, maybe two that were winners. Nothing’s changed with digital. A poor composition is still a poor composition and bad lighting is still bad lighting.

Granted, the mistakes don’t cost as much any more, but they’re by no means free. Quite a lot of time is spent downloading, editing, cataloging and archiving. In retrospect, some days it really was easier just to drop off a canister (or, in my case, canisters) at the photo store and wait for the results.

For me, the biggest advantage has been getting through airport security. No more insisting that my film be hand-checked and arguing with TSA staff to heed my request because the ISO was below 800. I guess they were often put off by the quantity despite the fact that I had all rolls out of their containers and in a clear bag.

So with a nod and tip-of-the-hat to another facet of the digital revolution, even I don’t use the adjective “digital” any more when referring to my camera. In fact, quite the opposite: My older one is now called my “film” camera. Another forward step in the 21st century.

So with all that said, I’m taking the liberty of posting my favorite shots from the year just passed. Maybe you’ll enjoy them, maybe you won’t. And the internet is just like TV: if you don’t like what you see, change the station… or turn it off.

Cactus at Zion; effervescent happy hour; Angel's Landing trail
Note: Seems "Blogger" doesn't allow me to post as many as I'd like, so for the rest, click the link to Flickr below:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

39 Days and counting....

I heard a countdown today: “Only 39 days until…” and immediately looked at the calendar. It’s January 8th and the inauguration’s on the 20th. Hhhmmm…? Far fewer than 39 days.

“… the end of analog television.” Ah, the end of television, not the peaceful transition of government upon which our great country was founded. “And the Consumer Union is lobbying Congress to delay the February 17th deadline as they’re convinced millions of households are going to be left without television.”

Congress began a new session this week. A new party comes to power. Both Minnesota and Illinois are without junior Senators. The country’s still facing economic turmoil, recessions, a possible depression, record unemployment, bailouts of Wall Street and Detroit, consumer fear and ongoing arguments over stimulus packages, just to name a few minor problems. Seems to me that the 111th Congress has more important issues to legislate than the end of analog television. Then again, it was Congress that mandated it in the first place.

Why are we switching? According to (a website by the Federal Communication Commission and available in 21 languages, thank you very much): “An important benefit of the switch to all-digital broadcasting is that it will free up parts of the valuable broadcast spectrum for public safety communications (such as police, fire departments, and rescue squads).” Seems fair. Public safety and all.

“Also, some of the spectrum will be auctioned to companies that will be able to provide consumers with more advanced wireless services (such as wireless broadband).” Okay, there’s the rub: the cash: “auctioned.”

My question really isn’t about whether or not we need to switch or who gets rich because of it. It’s about the supposed millions who are going to be left without television. Haven’t they been watching for the last year or two? Haven’t they seen all the commercials and newscasts about the switch to digital TV? Could they possibly be unaware that if they don’t take action, they’ll be left without beloved television? As I figure it, they only way they could have missed this would be if they weren’t watching in the first place. And if that’s the case, they probably won’t miss it after February 17th. Right? A perfect Catch-22.

And for those with older TV’s who might be learning about the switch to digital by reading this blog, here’s a note: through a government-established program, every household is eligible for $40 coupons toward the purchase of a converter box so you can still see TV programming. And hey, you can get two of them.

Makes me wonder if the 111th Congress is going to send eighty bucks to those people who don’t watch television in the first place….