Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

I realize a tweet is not a news report. I realize it is not an abstract, or a lead paragraph in a story.

But it is also not a container of clickbait. If you’re a news organization and you’re sending out tweets linked to stories, then you have a responsibility to tell enough of the story so the reader’s brain does not explode with “omg, where was this?”

Yesterday, ABC News tweeted:

DAM BURST: Residents who live along two lakes and a river in Michigan urged to evacuate after dam fails following days of heavy flooding across parts of the Midwest.

Two lakes and a river…in Michigan, a state with thousands upon thousands of lakes.

Later on the Twitter, we learned “a city was placed under an evacuation order.”

If I was the grizzled old man in the newsroom (and believe me, I’ve been working on my grizzledosity), I would walk up to the young underpaid person cranking out this handful of characters and yell “WHERE! WHO! WHAT! WHERE! WHEN!”

Specific place information should be in your tweet instead of a tease. A tweet should not be written as if Michigan is this far off abstract place that is being peered at from a great distance. People want to know. “A number were injured”—tell us that number or get as close as you can. “Opponents of the bill”—name them.

Specificity is part of the job. There are very rural places in Michigan. There are very large cities. Many of them are adjacent to “two lakes and a river.” One of them happens to be Midland, Michigan, a city I don’t know well at all except that I learned early on that the huge Dow chemical company was based there. And it’s located in central Michigan, close to where the thumb attaches to the rest of the mitten that is the mitten state.

Dangerous chemicals. A populous city that has a name. Y’know, ABC, there’s stuff to somehow get into your tweet.

It’s on the banks of the Tittabawassee River. And yeah, that is the city, the river, the chemical plant (a superfund cleanup site) and the dams involved (so far) were the Edenville and the Sanford.


I was happy to see this New York Times report had most of that in there, along with a lot of interesting detail. It’s very soggy in Michigan right now, and these were and are not the only dams at risk.


Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

A 1951 AAA Triptik at the Henry Ford Museum, photo by ‘Jasperdo’ on Flickr.

My dad always liked maps (as do I.) When we’d get ready for a particularly complex road trip, he’d go down to AAA and get us a TripTik. I know Sammy’s dad sometimes did much the same, because two or three of them survive up at her family’s cottage in upper Michigan.

These would always be a supplement to the reliable ‘big picture’ Rand McNally Road Atlas, and they really were a different animal—a series of spiral-bound vertical sheet maps upon which our route was set out by an expert employee with an orange highlighter. (I guess now you’d say the sheets were “portrait” aspect, like uh, our phones.)

Since a lot of our travel happened in the midst of the original construction of the Interstate Highway System, the route was often a patchwork: “you’ll be on the superhighway until Cartersville, and then it’ll dump you out onto old US 41 here, and there’s some construction that’ll really slow you down, and…” My Dad always said those AAA people really knew their roads—where the construction was, where you could find a top-rated motel, the name of that breakfast place he liked in Cordele, Georgia.

We’d end up with a super-customized map that had our specific route, and it was marked up with (by 1960s standards) very fresh information.

Nowadays of course our route (if we needed it) is displayed on a bright iPhone screen and is extremely up-to-the-moment—which places are ‘temporarily closed’ because of Coronavirus and even what the gas prices are at the next exit up the road.

Almost feels like cheating.


Monday, May 18th, 2020

Last week at this time I talked about clever coding I did to deliver up big batches of Instagram pics I had posted (totalling some 3250 over the years) and tonight after all the monday night chores (garbage, dishes, financial stuff) I just kinda looked at the screen and smiled as some of them rolled by, floating on the whims of random number generators.

Mostly because I feel kind of worn out and its almost midnight and I don’t have it in me to express outrage over pandemic mismanagement or any of that.

So instead. A toxic frog. A big chicken. A painted midwestern barn. A lighthouse from my childhood that now means potato chips. A logo I designed literally on a napkin for a TV station in Cleveland. And more.

Best wishes, good night!

Reduced pressure.

Sunday, May 17th, 2020

Our Sunday was outside the usual pattern, in that instead of walking the neighborhood, my partner suited up (notice the really fancy suitable for cleaning out the stables if we had stables british boots) and we applied water pressure to the front steps, the wall out front, and quite a bit of our two vehicles.

I did a little bit and served (as TV people would say) as her grip, keeping hoses and cables connected and more or less out of the line of fire and extended far enough that we could reach the targets.

And we did all that before the heat of the day, which did indeed arrive. Atlanta is drifting into its summer weather patterns.

Later, I chatted a bit with our neighbor (20 feet or more away on her porch) while I tried to vacuum out the car a bit. All in all, everything’s in better shape.

It kinda felt like a Sunday!

Saturday’s AJC.

Saturday, May 16th, 2020

I know I’ve been on some weekends looking at front pages from a half-dozen or more newspapers across the United States, but I thought Saturday’s AJC, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, kinda hit all the high points, at least from the perspective of, well, where I sit.

  • More Poultry Workers diagnosed. This story is centered in Hall County, just under an hour northeast of the Atlanta metro, and the center of Georgia’s poultry industry. The last time I took a Greyhound, a couple of years ago, from Greenville SC back to Atlanta, we stopped in Gainesville and a lot of my fellow bus travelers got off to get to work at one of the nearby poultry plants. They were, to a person, speaking Spanish.
  • Loeffler’s wealth could be a liability. Our appointed junior senator, staggeringly wealthy and married to a guy whose (Atlanta-based!?) company owns the New York Stock Exchange—he’s also super-rich—did some pretty darn suspicious trading in the early days of the pandemic. She is probably guilty and should be charged like her senate colleague Richard Barr. (In my opinion. But hey, you’re reading a blog here. There’s lots of my opinion.)
    Her fellow Georgia senator David Perdue is “poorer”, relatively speaking, but also a financial miscreant, from what I’ve read.
  • CDC has been sidelined. Yep. And you should probably read the entire editorial on The Lancet’s website. We have this great world-respected health resource, and we’ve just kinda pulled the plug and jammed a muzzle on it.
  • Arbery’s kin share memories at virtual town hall. And catch the AJC’s Saturday update, covering a large crowd, many wearing masks yet locking arms in solidarity, who marched in Brunswick to demand the resignation of the two South Georgia DAs. I couldn’t help but fear for the protestors’ health even as I saw some post-Covid precautions at the march. I also hope fervently that these protests will lead to legislative and systemic change, beyond this particular gruesome murder.

Well done, AJC.


Friday, May 15th, 2020

Sammy came downstairs for a few minutes and, after discussing the migration of the neolithic across Iberia and islands of the Mediterranean, asked if I’d been drinking enough water.

I allowed as I hadn’t really. Had coffee this morning. Did feel a little uncalibrated. So I got up and poured some ice into the tumbler I use for water and filled it up with Atlanta’s finest.

And darned if I don’t feel refreshed.

And then we sat in the sunset light of the dining room and FaceTimed with my brother and sister-in-law 70-some miles away and the four of us lifted an adult beverage to the end of the week, and it was nice to catch up with them.

And darned if I don’t feel refreshed.

Team building.

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

MSNBC screengrab from Joy Reid’s twitter feed. Interesting that Joe and her network’s logo is kinda drifting off the right side of the screen.

End of our day, and Joe Biden is live over on MSNBC proving himself aware that the United States is a country on the planet Earth, and that the way we work with others in the world affects our economy and how we address global problems like this coronavirus thing involves global wisdom and cooperation (as does, lest we forget, climate change.) He’s lucid and fervent and pretty darned informed.

I’d say let’s let this guy take over in November and bring in a team who can turn things on a dime. A really, really big team of smart people. And if Biden is smart enough to do that and take two ego-respectful steps back and let the aforementioned smart people get us out of the muck and mire, he will have earned a lifetime of thanks. And statues in front of hospitals.

And yes, I know that the administration doesn’t change until January 20th, but I know that the moment in November we have real numbers (and MSNBC’s other ‘town hall’ guest Stacey Abrams would very much like us to have real, hard vote numbers efficiently and safely), Biden’s team will assemble with an urgency and sense of mission that will make Tony Stark’s pals seem lethargic.


Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

We spent some time tonight watching the finale of the 40th season (2 per year for 20 years) of Survivor on CBS. This show is traditionally shot with a long lead time and then, months later, the winner of the show is revealed in a live extravaganza from Los Angeles with crowds and hoopla and, well.

ProbstgarageSo they had plenty of time in spring of last year to shoot and then edit the episodes, but this time the crowning of the winner happened from Jeff Probst’s garage with the three finalists in little pixelated boxes, as is the post-Covid fashion. He said the somewhat simpler backdrop was shipped in pieces to his garage with do-it-yourself assembly instructions. No word as to whether they were Ikea-style instructions.

Sam and I wondered how they would deal with shooting their 41st season, already delayed in production. Their very large crew from the US, Australia, and elsewhere could not obliviously descend on the tiny islands of Fiji and, well, think of the challenges in pandemic-land. But consider as well that this is a big budget prime time reality show on a (still) major American television network. Their solutions (if they come up with them) will be interesting indeed to see play out in a changed world.

Tests of our courage.

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

There’s a guy at the BBC, apparently “Operations Manager Cross Platform for BBC News”, named Robert Sharpe (on Twitter, @onetakesharpe). He tweeted this fine piece of PPE (shown above.) I presume he made this or got ahold of it somehow. In any case, well done, sir. I especially like that they’re SMPTE color bars (an industry-standard TV test signal).

There’s some other guy, an idiot not worth linking to, who says that men who are men do not wear masks, period. “The mask culture is fear driven,” he says.

He’s an idiot.

I deeply, deeply admire the courage of the men and women out there who are trying to tamp down the spread of Covid-19 with masks, tests, caution, wisdom, restraint, and social distancing. That’s the 21st century badge of courage in my book.

Filter, reduce, sort.

Monday, May 11th, 2020

Today, after grocery shopping during the geezer hour and after shipping off a nice clean version of an archaeology firm’s logo to central Georgia because they’re going to make a sign for their new headquarters, I spent some time unraveling some thorny coding problems that taught me about some functions that real pros use all the time, and for me it was try it once, nope, not it, try again, not quite, try again for the 37th time, ahhh, that’s the correct series of braces, brackets, and commas to make the software happy.

Functions, by the way, are mini-programs within programs. You could make a function where you hand it your birthday and it returns back to you how many seconds you’ve been alive, in a flash.

But this particular satisfying end result was a script where I could put two calendar dates in (or one) and bammo, a web page appears with thumbnails of all the Instagrams Sammy and I shot between those two dates. Both of our stuff, interleaved together, in fact, modestly color-coded so one could see at a glance who shot what.

Although…it’s fairly obvious to the two of us whose is whose, but the distribution! The “oh, you did this at the same time I was doing that” is kind of interesting.

So now we have just one more more-or-less hand-crafted tool in or computer toolbox. And I learned a bit more about filter, map, reduce, and sort, at least as far as Javascript interpreters know those words.


Sunday, May 10th, 2020

Last night before going to sleep and sometime this afternoon during our content-consuming marathon, Sammy and I were talking a while about how we, or how humans, or how some humans adjust to what is a very abnormal situation as the days parade by.

I’ve grown accustomed to this pace, it’s not quite like breathing out and breathing in, her smiles, her rounds for getting some steps in, her bandanna for going outside, ah, well, apologies to Lerner and Loewe—and Ms. Sam.

It is quite revelatory how the accustomization happens and how the brain, when you work on relaxing and short-circuiting loops of fretting, just kinda recalibrates and, just like when they moved the garbage pickup day from Monday morning to Tuesday morning (what.. 5 years ago?), without conscious rewiring one somehow rewires sufficiently not enough to forget the old pattern, but to make room for the new procedures, safety steps, rituals.

I think this “making room” at this point in May is good foundational work. I don’t think there will be a reversal anytime soon; it’s more likely we’ll have new ways of being awkwardly overlaid on the old ones.

People used to chain-smoke and accidentally knock over cans of Coke into multimillion dollar video equipment while paying $500 or so an hour for the privilege of waiting for huge machines wind tape to the very place you want an edit to occur. Almost all of that is now in the dustbin of…well, old TV memories, but like this other stuff, it’s not like I’ve forgotten how it smelled (rancid tobacco and overheating electronics is a very distinctive combo), I just made room in my world for a new way of creating and being, and I’m more careful when my coffee mug is near my computer keyboard.

Front page pain.

Saturday, May 9th, 2020

The unemployment numbers are the “worst since the Depression era”, the coronavirus spreads rampantly in long-term-care facilities, meatpacking plants, and prisons…and increasingly among White House staffers.

But in south coastal Georgia, two rogue white guys, one an ex-cop, one his son, are finally arrested for murdering an unarmed jogging black man, and the underbelly of racially unequal criminal justice gets just a little light shined on it.

So I’m going with just a little optimism tonight.

Friday feast.

Friday, May 8th, 2020

I can smell dijon chicken baking in the next room. And carrots and cauliflower. Wait, let me check.
[several hours later]

Yes, that was delicious. It was my intention to head into the kitchen and grab a quick shot of the chicken still burbling away in the oven, but Sammy surprised me and had everything out and ready to go, so it was dinnertime on a friday night!

Because it smelled so good, I didn’t have much forbearance to do anything particularly food stylist-y and make the arrangement of the chicken thighs on my plate just so or compose things for the perfect aspect ratio shot of all our things arrayed for us, I offer you instead this very vertical view of cauliflower and carrots right on the sheet pan from the oven, tomatoes for me and (not seen) cucumber for Sammy, and the chicken thighs with a dijon mustard and garlic and panko breadcrumb thing that is really quite yummy and one of my favorites. Click (I took the picture) and eat.

And it has one of the other characteristic we like during extended home stays, even not under pandemic conditions: it “makes good leftovers.”

It goes well with a modest dessert of Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate squares—just one or two—and a sip of bourbon. We’re fortunate more than I can say.

Closet update.

Thursday, May 7th, 2020

One of the things that has changed of late in television news or whatever it is exactly that cable news networks offer in the name of television news is that the idea of having lots of people at a very big desk thrashing over the ideas of the day is just too scary, too dangerous, just plain unsafe.

So now they are lots of heads in boxes in very different places. And in some cases, those places historically extend from a very small, very carpeted room in Midtown Atlanta.

When Ted Turner’s independent WTCG/WTBS was first getting ‘SuperStation’-y, cast into millions of cable-tv connected homes via satellite, part of the regular schedule were short news updates, largely rip-and-read wire copy affairs, broadcast in the SuperStation’s one and only tiny-ish studio on West Peachtree street. They tried taping a bunch of these in advance, because it was inconvenient to shut down production just to do a minute-long newscast and then yank equipment back to wrestling or car commercials or whatever else you might be doing. But news being news, y’know, tended to become superseded or obsolete when you’ve recorded a whole day’s worth first thing in the morning. You want fresh news, right?

So the idea came together to do the inserts in a very very small room walled off from the rest of the studio in such a way that they could happen simultaneously with other (more important? profitable?) stuff.

Anchor Tina Seldin, startled perhaps, but on the job reporting from the SuperStation WTBS News Closet™.

This room, which I am both proud and very embarrassed to say I had a big part in designing, came to be known as the News Closet, because really, it wasn’t very big. But I am kinda satisfied that an idea scribbled on graph paper became a functional solution. It was a big deal to get that RCA XL-100 color console TV there up on the desk—it was quite heavy (and deep, with a large picture tube), and back then shooting a TV screen with a huge studio camera was no trivial affair. The colors, the frame rate, ah, don’t get me started. And we worked out the odd angles of the desk so it would look larger than it really was on camera. And behold the fully carpeted walls! (The cleaning crew would vacuum them nightly.) The acoustics in that room were terrific, and you could barely hear wrestlers bellowing outside the door. And there was a totally useless outline of the United States! And a typewriter!

It did get a little warm, however.

Nowadays networks have these small studios, they tend to call them more professional things like “flash cam studios” but they have the same basic idea—a camera more or less in fixed position, a backdrop, and a place for an anchor to originate from. And now that it’s easy to put a big ol’ bright LCD screen right behind your head, the set background just has to come out of someone’s laptop. Same idea as the virtual sets for The Mandalorian, except not really and not nearly.

So in this age of social isolation, the vast majority of news faces you see, when not originating from their basements or their living rooms, are in what I would call a news closet.

And why not?

Waxing tonight.

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

It’s been windy all day, and when I went out to tuck the car in for the night, I couldn’t ignore the brightness of a very full moon just coming over the east corner of the house. Well, tomorrow the 7th is the actual full moonday, but I’m telling you, it has done some serious waxing this evening. It is big and round and very bright. It blasted my face like a light blue spotlight. And something felt cool, autumnal. Well, basically, it was cool, a cold front having successfully moved through here throughout the day.

My system was fooled by the cool air and the powerful moonlight, just for a second. Good thing I’m not a meteorologist.

But it’s not August 6th, it’s May 6th. We’ve got a summer to get through. We have more drama ahead. The general election is not right around the corner.

I’m telling myself all these things.


Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

What did I do while watching Rachel Maddow tonight with Sammy? I attempted to read Twitter out of the corner of my eye, and caught this:

A bar owner & protesters with weapons were arrested in #Odessa, #Texas today after the bar reopened against Governor Greg Abbott’s orders.

According to the Ector County Sheriff, the owner of #BigDaddyZanes was arrested for violating Gov. Abbott’s orders on reopening business.

And the Twitterverse was lighting up about this violation of constitutional freedoms. So I started typing.

jcb: Their actions go way way beyond private property. Their choices can and do infect others who have no choice. It’s way beyond selfish.

    @DLagarry It’s also none of your business.

jcb: That’s the thing. It’s a global pandemic. It is literally all of our business. The more we work together, THE FEWER PEOPLE WILL DIE. If you’d like to fold your arms and watch people die, please check out of the human race before you go.

    @Sittinduck21 We aren’t talking NY w/ high population density & public transit. In Oddessa are 84 people sick. If you assume there are just as many asymptomatic people about, that’s 168 people. Odessa has a population of 120,568. Each person you meet would have 0.14% of being infected.

jcb: That’s MORE than enough of a chance of infection where the SMART MOVE is to be a grownup & wear a mask and keep your distance. In Odessa. In Van Horn. In Presidio. In Marfa. And so on.

jcb: I’m not opposed to people doing dangerous, essential work, but when did we start campaigning for the god given right to be dumb? And to let our stupidity put others at risk?

    @Sittinduck21 It’s extremely low odds. While I agree its wise to to take precautions to avoid further spread, I also believe in treating the situation with the level of seriousness it deserves. In my area Lowes has allowed the store to reach max cap w/ ppl buying supplies for the same reason.

jcb: I know it feels good to think you, or the Lowes manager knows what “level of seriousness it deserves”, but truth is: nope. Let’s let the folks who study this, who prepare entire playbooks for the possibility of this, let’s let them take the wheel.

jcb: Again, you’re thinking Vegas odds and not thinking epidemiologically. You don’t weigh the odds in a global pandemic. You think of your fellow human and do the right thing, even if your brain tells you “waaah, this is no fun.” BE AN ADULT.

jcb: Your mission is not to avoid getting infected, it’s to avoid being part of the force that spreads it. We don’t have huge huge testing, so we have to do it this way. It involves discipline on your part and maybe a leap of faith. The lives you save may be in Ohio or NM or…?

    @Sittinduck21 Like I said, I’m not agreeing with what these guys are doing. I’m certainly not out there protesting restrictions. But I do believe rolling out there with armored vehicles and guns to break up a small grp of people when the odds if infection are low, is excessive.

    @Sittinduck21 Odds are used in medicine all the time. You know all the side effects for medication that are terrible? They prescribed regardless because the odds of those effects are low. CDC defines exposure as w/in 6ft for 10 mins. I’m not saying I agree w/ them.

jcb: We’re in this world where we set ourselves up as our own experts. The folks who are getting together unsafely in low population areas are planting dangerous seeds we will not see for 2-3 weeks. They’ve really got to join Team Human Beings.

jcb: With all due respect, you’re kinda saying “I think I can talk about the same things they do” and then you use “odds” in a way that is NOT the way pandemic experts talk about it. It takes courage to say “I’m going to go with what the scientists say” —but you gotta.

    @debjonesdj Aside from this one tiny bar & whether it should be open or not, we can’t stay shut down until a “cure” comes along. This pandemic is going to move through the population. People need to work. You probably have a source of income so its easy for you to tell everyone to stay home.

jcb: We’ve really developed a distrusting world—distrust of government, distrust of scientists—exactly when we need to let the people who study this for a lifetime do their jobs. And our job: believe them.

jcb: You have to stay home longer than your brain is telling you. It’d be great if we had a federal govt that made it possible for us to stay apart until the numbers say it’s ok. FEWER PEOPLE WOULD DIE. But we don’t just “reopen”—it will mean death, probably to people you know.

jcb: It’s not easy, and it’s not fun. And they’re not asking for you to shut down until “a cure.” They are asking you to be a grownup and take actions now that are NOT fun but will help people you maybe don’t even know. That’s being human, right?

At this point, my iPad typing finger started to cramp up, and besides, Maddow was through for the evening. And so, I think, am I.