Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fighting the good fight

When I covered environmental news at a paper in the Northeast, I spent a lot of time on the phone talking to people who worked for the government in environmental and fish & game agencies. On the whole, a good bunch - easy to talk to, not a lot of bullshit, pretty knowledgeable.

Once or twice, I had to deal with people in the Department of Health and Human Services. On the whole, from my tiny sample, generally not a good bunch - lots of bullshit, average levels of expertise and hard to talk to. This was because the DHHS had a policy that journalists were supposed to go through a public information office to get hooked up with sources.

So, supposing you were writing a story about arsenic in drinking water and you knew that Vaclav Pavlacek (with his medical degree and doctorate in geochemistry) was the guy you needed to talk to, you weren't supposed to call him, but instead contact Dudley Dinkus in the public information office. You'd waste time filling him on what you planned to write about, and Dinkus would then promise to put someone in touch with you, not necessarily Pavlacek.

Well, fuck that. I'd just call Pavlacek directly and ignore Dinkus. If Pavlacek said he had to check with the information office, fine, whatever, but I'd be god damned if I'd call them myself.

The people who invent these public-information hierarchies try to sell them to you, as a reporter, as a big help in your quest for information.

"We know who has expertise in what, so we can make your job so much easier!" they enthuse. Sure, OK. I think I'd be happier making that call myself. If I need help, I'll ask.

The deeper, darker reason why these systems are bad - not just for one story, but for our country - is that they hide public employees from public scrutiny. Look, I get why journalists don't get unfettered access to the president, but to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency? Or a veterinarian working for USDA? That is a different ball of wax.

Anyway, I make a living by not having hard feelings about things, which makes these fights fun in addition to worthwhile. I feel for the public-information officers, though, who are just trying to make a living... Nah, I take that back. We're all getting paid.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Post script on that snowy picture

I shot this photo on the route up to the summit of Mount Moosilauke about a thousand years ago (OK, like, 2003).

I believe that when my friend Brian and I arrived at the trailhead, the temperature was about 15 degrees Fahrenheit. The mountain is tall by New Hampshire standards, about 4,800 feet (I think the timberline is about 4,700, maybe a bit lower), so the summit was much colder. As you can see, snows occasionally falls in the area. The crust was so thick on the trees farther up that they looked like cauliflower.

Anyway, when we cleared the trees, the gale-force wind and the subzero temperatures made for a memorable experience. Cold, but gorgeous, with clear views for miles around. We didn't stay at the summit long. Even well-outfitted, I was cold for hours that day. We did see a group of moose on the way to the mountain, though, the only ones I saw walking around in the five years I lived in the state.

I don't miss the commute, or the endless winters, but I do miss the grim, foreboding mountains and the vicious weather.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Who knows Lisa Hannigan?

She is probably best "known" as the lady who used to sing with Damien Rice.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Keeping your images your images

So you're planning to sell an image online and you want to post it in a way that gives your customer a good look at it but can't just be downloaded and printed out without you getting paid.

Here's an easy way to go from
I like the subtlety of this mark. If you do, too, here's how to do it in Photoshop.

Open your image. For this effect, I use the horizontal type mask tool (which you can access by clicking on the little triangular tab in the lower left-hand corner of the type tool in the toolbar (it's the one that's a black T).

Now, you need to choose a font. I like typefaces like Minion, Caslon, etc. - serif faces. You can pick the typeface and size prior to typing, and you will probably want to go large. On the photo above, I used 96-point type.

Click your type cursor where you want to start typing. I'm not sure you can conveniently move the type around when you use the mask tool, so choose carefully. If you can, choose a part of your image that is largely light *or* largely dark, but preferably not running from one to the other.

When you click your cursor, the image will get a startling magenta mask. Don't worry about it. Type your word, then to adios the mask, click on any other tool in the toolbox. This will leave you with type that is marqueed (with a blinking outline).

Now, you will need to adjust curves (either command-M or through the Image drop-down menu, under Adjustments. When you adjust curves, you get a pop-up box that features a 16-square grid with a diagonal line through it. Click on the midpoint of the line and drag up or down to make the type lighter or darker. You will see the line on the grid becomes quite curvy.

When you're satisfied with how the type looks, release the mouse and click OK in the pop-up box. You will still see the marquee lit up around the type. You can make this go away by just saving and closing the photo or by some other, more circuitous routes.


Friday, October 19, 2007

A list of fall favorites

Just a few:
Spiced apple cider, warmed up on the stove.
Football (American rules), preferably a couple of no-name colleges on some ESPN derivative.
Clam chowder.
The World Series (of course, without the Cardinals, it isn't quite right)
Watching the wind blow the leaves down the street.

More later, perhaps.

Still in the Granite State, sort of

I realized this morning when I was asked for my phone number that I still have a New Hampshire area code, even though it's been almost three years since we moved. Three years! Freaky.

I like having the (603) at the front of my number - keeps people wondering.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Gifts for you!

I snagged this idea from the butterfly lady - should be fun!

**By the end of the calendar year, I will send a tangible, physical gift to each of the first five people to comment here. The catch? Each person must make the same offer on her/his blog.**

Leave a comment if you want to play along. We'll have to scheme some way to get in touch, too.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Electric countermeasures

Mama II posted a spiel about home energy conservation, and I was surprised to see she thought it necessary to spend big cash (i.e. thousands of dollars) to get Energy Star-rated appliances.

Since the butterfly lady and I moved into our home, we have had to buy a water heater, refrigerator, dishwasher, washing machine and dryer. We could use a new stove/oven, too. The only things we haven't had to replace are the air conditioner (but that was brand new when we bought the house and was included as part of the negotiation for the closing) and the furnace, which is not particularly efficient.

Our washer, dryer and fridge are all Frigidaire Gallery - the washer is an ultra-efficient front-loader (about $600). The dryer is your basic $279 model, but my research indicated dryers matter not for conservation. It works fine, though the starter knob was flimsy and has snapped. The fridge is fantastic, especially energy-wise. The piece of junk the seller left us with leaked and was a huge energy hog; this one barely registers on the electricity meter when it cycles on. It does not have an icemaker (isn't that what the little trays are for??) and it is your standard freezer-on-top sort, about $750, I think.

The water heater is totally run of the mill. Had I been building from scratch, I probably would have bought one of those snazzy tankless, on-demand heaters, but we probably will have to sell this house (and move) eventually, so why get something people around here aren't familiar with?

The A/C is a Trane. We mostly use a laptop for doing computer stuff. We don't watch a ton of TV (on our now-old-school Sony Trinitron, the last non-LCD TV I think we'll own).

What can I say? Our electric bills rarely go over $45 or $50 (I think that happened once, $50-plus), even in the 100-degree heat of summer. Most often, the power costs us about $35 or $40 a month.

The gas bill is another story. I notice that in the summer, the gas bill (when the furnace pilot is off) is $4.24, which is the basic rate. Just having the pilot on (as I did for one month the first year we lived here during non-furnace season) costs about $7 a month.

The gas company yaks a lot about how you should use gas to run the dryer and water heater. Wouldn't it be charming to get a gas bill that had $14 a month ($21 in furnace months) just in god damn pilot light costs?

Anyway, the gas bill runs from the aforementioned $4.24 four months a year to about $175 in the dead of winter. On the plus side, a significant portion of our house (one-third: the now fully occupy-able basement) is taken up by my studio, which means a small tax break on utilities. I think our anti-American Dream tax structure more than makes up for the small savings, but that is a topic for another post.

If I were building from scratch, you can be damn sure we'd orient our house to take advantage of the sun, use a ground-source geothermal heat pump, and have clotheslines in the loft of our home. But that is a topic for another day, too.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Performance enhanced

While I was reading a Marion Jones fallout story, I filled out the little poll USA Today provided. The poll asked whether her relay teammates (The Associated Press reports two of Jones' four teammates have since been caught using drugs to cheat) should lose their medals, too.

No-brainer: If your teammate is a cheater, you lose, too. So you didn't know? Tough.

All quiet on the front

I would call it the western front, but my father's definition of The West is west of Interstate 5, and the eastern front hasn't got the same ring to it.

Anyway, this is my way of saying, not a lot is going on in sunny Walla Walla. About the top piece of excitement just now is deciding what kind of casserole to make over the weekend. I want to do something new...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Eerie timing, but who knew?

My good pal Thom and I "lip-synched" the song below in the spring of 1991 as part of Greek Week festivities at our alma mater. I put the l-s in quotes because what we actually did was "sing" loudly over the tape - yes, tape - we put into the sound system kindly provided by... who knows where it came from. I put the sing in quotes for a reason you may be able to guess. If you can't guess, read the next sentence.

You will be shocked - shocked! - to hear we drank beverages containing hops prior to our performance, which thankfully was not immortalized in a way that could one day wind up on youtube.

Alas, we came in last, a feat we were able to repeat twice in the next three years of "competition." We did our best to do our worst, but one year we foolishly chose to actually lip-synch and came in third out of four or fourth out of fifth. You can't lose them all.

Anyway, it seems Richard Thompson was playing this very song, probably on a tour in support of my favorite album of his, in Seattle, just a few hours from our college. If only I had known!

and furthermore:

Keep hope alive

I don't think we're very close to the dream yet, but it is still worth dreaming.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Busy's a drag

For reasons not entirely clear to me, a recent re-org at work has resulted in a significantly heavier workload for yours truly. I mean, I know why we had the reorganization, and I know why *someone* had to take on the extra work, but I'm left wondering if maybe I had been perceived as someone with too little to do. Or as the person least likely to whine about the added work (which did not include increased pay, I notice).

I wouldn't say that of everyone in America, I have the most to do, but I don't have the least, either. Especially not now. Oh well, whatever.

Something I find interesting: Journalism has a reputation for skimpy pay. I'm not sure if it has always been so. Journalism also used to be the sovereign territory of men. I wonder if the low pay maybe coincided with the acceptance of women into the profession (by which I mean reporters and editors). That seems to be how it goes in other lines of work. All men = good pay. Let women in and you get a) a better product and b) lower pay.

I think, as the good reverend would say, the question is moot.

Speaking of which, here is an excellent appearance by man himself: