Newspapers are on my mind

Last week, HBO’s John Oliver offered some insightful commentary on the state of newspapers. I think many missed the point, but it was actually a love letter to hard news print journalists.

In an open letter called Newspaper Association of America President & CEO David Chavern to John Oliver: Newspapers Need Solutions, Not Petty Insults and Stating the Obvious, Chavern writes:

More particularly, he spends most of the piece making fun of publishers who are just trying to figure it out.

And…

The fact is that we are in a transitional phase within the entire industry.

My reaction, based on years working in the newspapers industry, is that when you constantly throw spaghetti up on the ceiling to see what sticks, you wind up with a mess. Further, newspapers have been in a transitional phase for at least two decades.

People often tell me newspapers are dying. They are struggling, but not all the blame can be place on the internet. Some wounds are self-inflicted.

Here’s an example: Two weeks ago, I got motivated to support the local newspaper — a former employer — and decided to buy a digital subscription. My former colleagues — many still friends — do good work.

I tried for two weeks to buy a digital subscription, but the online payment mechanism was broke. I sent a note to Gannett’s customer service department and tried the online chat. Alas, nothing worked. Finally, I contacted my friends at the newspaper to get the problem solved. It still took a few days, but all seemed well.

Until my wife’s online access was interrupted.  She’s been getting the Sunday paper for years with a separate account. Something got confused, though. Now we have a mess with credit cards and I suspect one day the paper may stop coming. There will be hell to pay.

This is not the fault of the local journalists that work hard for little audience and even smaller pay. It’s very aggravating to them when their organization poorly handles customers and circulation issues. I know.

In an effort to further sort things out, I called the subscription customer service number.

Another mistake.

I struggled with a non-intuitive automated voice system. Finally, after entering information and going through voice prompts, I waited for five minutes. The customer service person was helpful and hopefully we’ve sorted the problem out.

And then I went and did something really dumb. I attempted to get a print subscription for my father. To do this, I would have had to cancel my current digital print subscription and eat $10. Sorry, no refunds. The company was unwilling to give me a $10 discount on the new subscription.

So, I declined. I can afford to eat the $10, but I shouldn’t have to. I’ve already been frustrated and inconvenienced with this business relationship.

This is why the local newspaper lost out on a new subscription. They wouldn’t refund $10. Mind you, the print subscription was $24 a month.

My point is this: Newspapers companies need to make it easier for customers to buy products or they will not survive. Gannett has undergone a lot of consolidation during the last 20 years. Circulation, copy editing, digital web production, printing, design and layout wire news editing are all outsourced to “centers of excellence” in other cities as far away as Louisville.

One company that is doing this is The Washington Post. About a month ago, I also subscribed. It was easy and hassle free. I got six months free because I’m a Amazon Prime member, then something like $9 a month after. One click and done.

Perhaps Gannett could learn something from Jeff Bezos.

A busy healthy past few weeks

I survived. I never thought I would finish.

Since losing about 60 pounds, I’ve attempted to remain active and take better care of myself.

Two recent accomplishments:

I'm now trained in First Aid, CPR and AED use.

I’m now trained in First Aid, CPR and AED use.

I’ve received my first aid and CPR certification from the Red Cross. I was a student in a class taught by one of my colleagues at work. I volunteered, since I usually sit next to the AED. I had first aid classes when I was a Boy Scout. Much has changed. But now I have a shiny new card good for two years. The State of Indiana also requires CPR certification when renewing a teacher’s license.

On July 4, I participated in my hometown’s 4 mile run/walk event. My wife put me to shame, but she’s a speedy walker. I go slow and steady. I would have never attempted such an event at my earlier weight. I finished in about 1 hour 30 minutes. Hey, I finished! I felt fine. No aches or pains, no muscle soreness the next day. My only major problem were big blisters on the balls of my feet. Ouch. Next time I’ll wear running socks and make sure my shoes are better laced.

I survived. I never thought I would finish.

I survived. I never thought I would finish.

 

But blisters on both feet. I had to drain one. Ouch!

But blisters on both feet. I had to drain one. Ouch!

 

Here's my race result. I listened to music during my walk to get me into my zone.

Here’s my race result. I listened to music during my walk to get me into my zone.

 

I continue tracking my exercise with a variety of technology devices, including my iPhone, a Fitbit One, and an Apple Watch. My goal is to exercise twice a week on my recumbent trike. I usually do about 4 miles in 30 minutes around the nearby trail loop. I’ve been documenting my rides with Strava.

How Netgear and EyeFi have angered loyal customers

This past week, I’ve received “wonderful” news from EyeFi and NETGEAR:

  • EyeFi is discontinuing support and service for their Eye-Fi X2 and earlier generation wireless camera cards.
  • Netgear is shutting down the VueZone home wireless video surveillance system.

Both companies want to EOL the technology and associated services to put more resources into the newer products.

Basically, loyal customers are now left with junk.

Thanks.

Neither company is helping loyal customers transition to the new product offerings.

  • EyeFi is offering a discount on their newest generation of wi-fi camera cards, but I found a better price on Amazon.
  • Netgear is not offering any discount for Arlo, their newest wireless home video system.

I was quite happy with VueZone. I had two cameras outside (with weather enclosures and brackets), and five internal cameras. One was in night vision mode to monitor the sump pump. All together, I’ve spent about $600 on the system, not counting the $79 annual subscription fee for cloud storage. The VueZone service is only about five years old.

I get that old products need to go away so innovation can continue. I have no beef with that. However, when the transition leaves the consumer with junk, that’s a problem. Worse, the newer products often cost more, are less reliable, and have fewer features.

What should NETGEAR and Eye-Fi have done differently? It doesn’t take an MBA to figure it out that e-mail with false platitudes won’t keep the customers happy. Instead, offer an exchange program or at least a fifty percent discount off the newer products.

I’m not inclined to spend more money with either company. Eye-Fi and NETGEAR may pull the same stunt again.

Exhibit A, e-mail from Eye-Fi:

To Our Eye-Fi X2 and Earlier Generation Product Customers:

This message is for customers that purchased an Eye-Fi Pro X2 or earlier generation products prior to March 2015.  Effective today, June 30th 2016, we will no longer be offering support for our legacy product lines, a complete list of which appears below.  This notice formally begins the final stage of the “end-of-life” (EOL) process started in mid-2015 for the affected products.  It’s very important that customers cease using these products no later than September 16, 2016 as some key services these products rely on will be shut down at that time.    All customers who have a Mobi or Mobi Pro products purchased since 2013 are not affected by this announcement.

We began EOL on these product lines in 2015 largely driven by technological obsolescence of some of the key technologies included in these products.  The primary technologies relate to Internet security and authentication mechanisms that were state-of-the-art in 2007 when we built them into our products but have since proven to be vulnerable.  Since mid-2015 we have been offering migration services free of charge for Customers who have paid Eyefi Premium accounts.  We will continue to offer this service migrating your Eyefi View data to Eyefi Cloud. You can request a migration here. For those customers that wish to use an Eyefi Mobi Pro card in place of their earlier generation products, we have also made a limited quantity available at a deep discount, see details here if you wish to take advantage of this offer.

Please note that we will maintain our customer service Web site and content for all customers.  The support site includes detailed explanations for how to accomplish migration to Eyefi Mobi/Mobi Pro and Eyefi Cloud services.  We are grateful to all the customers around the world that used Eye-Fi products in the past as well as for our newest customers.  The EOL of a product line is always difficult and we have made every effort to minimize the impact of this change on our customers.  Thanks for your loyalty and understanding.

Exhibit B, e-mail from NETGEAR:

Dear Valued Customer,

This letter serves as formal notification that NETGEAR, Inc. will be discontinuing the VueZone Services on December 31, 2017. We will continue to support the VueZone Services until this date in order to allow for future planning by our VueZone customers.

After December 31, 2017, the following will apply:

–    All VueZone hardware products including base station and camera will cease to communicate with the VueZone back end

–    Any videos and photos you have saved in the VueZone cloud will not be retrievable

–    Access to the VueZone web application (my.vuezone.com) and to the VueZone mobile applications will be unavailable to all customers

–    VueZone service plans will no longer be supported and no service plan fees will be charged after this date

–    NETGEAR Customer Support will no longer provide technical support for VueZone products

For more information on the discontinuance of the VueZone Services, including a step-by-step guide on how to retrieve your videos and photos from the VueZone cloud, please visit our FAQ page.

We know this may come as disappointing news to our VueZone users, but discontinuing VueZone and allocating VueZone resources to our Arlo Smart Home Security System is consistent with NETGEAR’s practice of providing cutting-edge networking products that connect people, power businesses, and advance the way we live. NETGEAR appreciates and values our customers, and we are eager to supply your future product requirements with our world-class quality product lines.

Best Regards,
NETGEAR, Inc.
July 1, 2016

How Yellowstone National Park’s social media staff is handling a crisis

Bison.

Bison at Yellowstone National Park. Photo from YNP Facebook page.

The staff at Yellowstone National Park is handling a public relations problem concerning a bison calf and doing it rather well. You can see the evidence for yourself on their Facebook page.

To recap, two tourists spotted a starving and weak bison calf in the park and  loaded it into the back of their SUV rental in an attempt to find care for it. The problem is such an act of compassion is against law, park regulations and common sense.

Because the calf — abandoned by its mother — had imprinted on humans, the park staff had no choice but to put it down.

This action has resulted in a social media firestorm on the YNP Facebook page.
Folks, keep wildlife wild. I know it is tough at times, and it just hurts us to see animals suffering, but that’s nature. Bison newborns are sometimes abandoned by their mother and herd. The poor critters die, but then the coyotes and wolves and eagles can feed their newborns. Look up “circle of life.”
I urge those passing judgment on YNP staff to consider the following responses left by the park’s social media team on Facebook. They are a great example of communicating natural resource issues to a public that may be ignorant and hostile.
In order to ship the calf out of the park, it would have had to go through months of quarantine to be monitored for brucellosis. No approved quarantine facilities exist at this time, and we don’t have the capacity to care for a calf that’s too young to forage on its own. Nor is it the mission of the National Park Service to rescue animals: our goal is to maintain the ecological processes of Yellowstone. Even though humans were involved in this case, it is not uncommon for bison, especially young mothers, to lose or abandon their calves. Those animals typically die of starvation or predation.
We do not have a rehab center, nor is it our priority to rescue individual animals. Our mission is to preserve the ecological processes of Yellowstone, and even though humans were involved in this case, it is not uncommon for bison, especially young mothers, to lose or abandon their calves. Those animals typically die of starvation or predation.
Since Yellowstone bison carry brucellosis, federal and state laws prohibit their shipment outside the park. This calf would have had to go through months of quarantine to be monitored for brucellosis, and no approved quarantine facilities exist at this time.
Rangers tried for two days to haze the bison away from the road and toward other groups of nearby bison, but were unsuccessful. The calf had fully imprinted on people and cars.
The management of wild animals sometimes requires decisions that may seem harsh if you focus on an individual. But when you focus on populations of animals, and the ecological processes that sustain them, things like a bison losing or abandoning a calf is part of the fabric this ecosystem. It’s unfortunate that these visitors intervened: the calf may have been found by its mother, but it’s also likely that the calf would have died naturally of starvation or predation.
The bison calf was not removed from the landscape: it was left out of sight where predators, scavengers, and other animals could take advantage of it.
YNP staff is not getting defensive, just explaining the reasons for the action. I applaud their courage in responding to some of the posts on the page. This is a teachable moment. Of course, there are those that will never accept the word of government employees regardless of the facts. Unfortunately, comments have denigrated into name calling, insults and flame wars. YNP generally is letting people rant. I’m sure the staff is getting death threats. I’ve been in similar situations before. My heart goes out to them.
Four lessons I wish people to take away from this post:
  1. Keep wildlife wild. Leave it alone. It’s hard to do, I know, but it must be done.
  2. Visiting a park? Leave no trace. Learn and know the rules.
  3. Before passing judgment, get the facts and give the benefit of a doubt to folks even if they work for government.
  4. If you don’t like a government action, it’s okay to be critical and voice displeasure. Just do so without name calling and vitriol.

About that Sleepy Hollow season three finale…

SLEEPY HOLLOW: Tom Mison in the“Ragnarok” season finale episode of SLEEPY HOLLOW airing Friday, April 8 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Tina Rowden/FOX

SLEEPY HOLLOW: Tom Mison in the “Ragnarok” season finale episode of SLEEPY HOLLOW. Cr: Tina Rowden/FOX

FOX’s Sleepy Hollow has been an entertaining diversion for me for three seasons. The show – about a Revolutionary War solider appearing in present day America to battle demons – has filled a niche missing since The X-Files and Fringe went off the air.

Essentially a supernatural police procedural,  I found the historical aspects of the show intriguing. It tickled me to see how the writers worked in American history to explore the idea that the nation’s founding fathers were battling demons and the British during the birth of our nation. And, of course, there was the Headless Horseman.

Tom Mison was excellent in his performance in the role of Ichabod Crane. He and Nicole Beharie (Abigail Mills) had tremendous on-screen chemistry. Even when the writing was sub par, their acting chops carried the show.

Season three has been a bit uneven and audience has dwindled since the first season. The last two episodes of season were a downer. Both contained major character deaths. In the series finale, Mills died, leaving Crane to face new challenges alone. I barely recognized the show from the finale. Too many threads were trying to be resolved in 42 minutes.  Supporting characters barely got a chance to say bye.

It is doubtful that the series will get renewed.  After watching the season 3 finale, that may be for the best.

Imagine if The X-Files killed off Scully?

Still, if Hollow does get renewed I will turn in just to see Mison’s performance and how his character moves forward. For those that have not seen the series, I urge you to give it a shot even though you might be disappointed at the end.

These days, there’s not many supernatural scientific procedurals left. Perhaps I should catch up on Grimm…

Celebrating fifty years of Star Trek music

Video montages from all of the Trek series and movies were displayed on the 40-foot screen and time to music being performed by a symphony orchestra.

Video montages from all the Trek series and movies display on the 40-foot screen and were synchronized to music from a symphony orchestra.

For my belated birthday gift, my wife bought tickets to the Star Trek Ultimate Voyage Tour. We attended the concert at the Old National Center in Indianapolis on Friday, March 18.

The event featured music from fifty years of the Star Trek, spanning both the TV series and movies.  The scores were performed by a live symphony orchestra and timed to video being projected on a 40-foot screen.

The concert was a treat for the ears and eyes.

The orchestra highlighted the nuances often found lurking in Trek scores. While everyone knows Trek music can be “in your face” — the fight theme from Amok Time comes to mind — the elegant violin and trumpet solos of later Trek music are often overlooked.  The soloists brought the stately and sweeping motifs to life.  The trumpet soloist on the Deep Space Nine Theme was particularly notable.

The digital projection of the video was pretty much flawless, too. The production used remastered and digital copies of the source material. Colors were vivid and scratches and grain were absent. Even darker scenes displayed well, such as those set inside a Klingon ship.   Editing was polished. Instead of lifting entire chunks from the source material, the production combined visual effects sequences, action scenes and dialog into a seamless montages focused on a central themes such as “villains” and “captains.” Michael Dorn, Lt. Worf from The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, provided a recorded introduction narration for each.

The audience for the event was an older crowd, mostly middle age. There weren’t a lot of costumes, but many had t-shirts or lapel pins. The audience was enthusiastic, especially after one clip from the original series episode The Doomsday Machine in which Kirk finally defeats the planet killer.

The experience rekindled my love of Trek scores, many of which I have on CD. I’m more fond of music from the later years of Trek. James Horner’s score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn  (KAHHHHHHNNNN!), is a masterpiece. Jerry Goldsmith’s theme for the first Trek movie is better than the movie itself. I’m glad it became the main theme for Star Trek The Next Generation.  Also among my faves are the opening themes for Deep Space Nine and Voyager. And yes, I did like Faith of the Heart for Enterprise, although it is sappy. If you get a chance, check out Archer’s Theme on the Enterprise soundtrack. This was the original theme for that series and is on par with earlier opening themes. Other movie favorites include Generations and First Contact.

Star Trek Ultimate Voyage Tour is visiting 100 cities this year. If you are a Trek fan, I recommend it. It’s a great way to celebrate fifty years of Trek music.

2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen. The real big screen.

Original promo for 2001: A Space Odyssey features artwork of Space Station V by artist Robert McCall.

Original promo for 2001: A Space Odyssey features artwork of Space Station V by artist Robert McCall.

Last week I had the rare opportunity to view director Stanley Kubrick’s classic space film in 70mm at the Indiana State Museum’s IMAX theater. The screening was part of IndyFilmFest’s Roving Cinema series. The film played to an at-capacity crowd of mostly film buffs and college students.

Yes, it was an intellectual nerd fest.

2001 (1968) was originally filmed in 70mm, a common film size in the 1950s and 60s. The 70mm “flavor” for Kubrick’s work was Cinerama. You can learn more about the specific format here. This particular print was a restored version struck in 2001.

Most movie theaters today screen films in digital format, even the IMAX theaters. That technology continues to mature, especially with colors and brightness. Analog film and projectors still offer superior image quality, but the technology is expensive and rapidly being replaced.

This print was not a true IMAX-optimized film, just 70mm. Still, the image was 70 feet wide. The film did have some artifacts such as grain and scratches and a few slight audio pops, but overall it was in good shape and played well on the IMAX’s six-story screen.

Director Kubrick was known for his attention to details, and this was clear in the 70mm version. The space station docking and lunar shuttle sequences were especially stunning. With 70mm, it was easier to see the people in the windows of the station and the moon base. Set detail — especially warning labels and company logos — were also more obvious. It was a good display of Kubrick’s world-building skills. One could even read the instructions for the zero gravity toilet on the lunar shuttle.

And seeing the monolith on a six-story screen was pretty intimidating, too.

For me, the greatest strength of 2001 is the craftsmanship. I found the plot thin and slow, but I realize Kubrick wanted to make space travel seem boring and monotonous. I’ve got several books about the film’s making, including the latest from Piers Bizony.

The film – and its under-appreciated sequel 2010: The Year We Make Contact — are among my top favorite movies. A small monolith and moon bus model sits atop my DVD collection.

The Indianapolis State Museum IMAX is one of my favorite IMAX theaters. Comfortable seats and often less crowded, there’s little comparison to the “IMAX light” digital theaters in Indianapolis suburbs. Indy IMAX uses the original analog IMAX projectors. The theater is 20 years old. As of Jan. 25, the theater was undergoing renovations to add digital equipment for more screenings of modern films (press release).

Automatic for the people

Automatic Adapter plugs into the OBD-II port in your car.

Automatic Adapter plugs into the OBD-II port in your car.

Vehicles manufactured after 1996 have an OBD-II (on-board diagnostic) port. Wikipedia has a great explanation about the connector. The port, usually found near the steering wheel, is used by mechanics to diagnose car trouble. In addition to troubleshooting, many consumers use the OBD-II port to tune their vehicle’s performance and keep track of teenage drivers.

I’ve been using a OBD-II gizmo called Automatic ($99) for more than a year.  The device plugs into the OBD-II port and pairs via bluetooth to a smartphone. A companion app collects trip data from the vehicle, including location, distance, mileage, time. It’s like a black box for the car. This data is displayed on a map in the app and an online dashboard. One nice feature about Automatic is that it determines the dollar cost and efficiency of each trip. It’s pretty spot on, too. My previous car — a Sonata Hybrid — was always scoring high. My current Hyundai Tucson scores well, but not as as good as the hybrid.

Here’s an demo example of how data is displayed:

The dashboard for the Automatic service displays trip data.

The dashboard for the Automatic service displays trip data.

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Why your fitness plan may be a losing game

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 8.06.28 PM

Employers are pushing fitness plans to lower insurance costs. Mine is no exception. Last year, I was invited to “invest in my health” by implementing a plan with a website that set health goals and recorded fitness activity.

I did so, and received an $1,000 discount off my family health insurance policy for achieving my goals.

This year, I’ve had to learn a new system. It has been a frustrating experience.

The trend in the health industry is to “gamify” fitness. That’s a good method to get people motivated, but this means implementation of arbitrary rules. Game theorists (i.e. a four-year old child) will tell you that arbitrary rules can be negative reinforcement to game participation.

This is what I am currently experiencing with this year’s effort.

Example: One goal is to “gradually lose weight.” I have lost 19 pounds. The standard for awarding points for the goal (set by the website) was to lose 20 pounds by a specific date. Unfortunately, nineteen pounds wasn’t good enough. There is no partial credit. There are no points awarded for the attempt. Once goals are set, they cannot be adjusted.

To truly be a fair game, the system should have awarded 95 percent of the total point value for the goal. 

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Awakening: Thawing out the themes of Buck Rogers

Opening sequence to Buck Rogers featuring NASA footage of Apollo missions.

Opening sequence to Buck Rogers featuring NASA footage of Apollo missions.

Universal Studios originally planned Buck Rogers in the 25th Century as a series of TV movies. After the Battlestar Galactica TV pilot became a hit movie overseas, the studio chose to launch Buck into space with a theatrical version. The movie was successful and made about $21 million in North America, according to Wikipedia. Networks took notice, and soon Buck Rogers made the jump to a weekly TV series on NBC.

To start the series off, the studio fleshed out the theatrical  version into a two-part pilot episode, Awakening. The differences are minor, however, and the same themes are woven throughout both stories.

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