Why no man is an island

A new state law on July 1 requires children (those under 18 years of age) to wear helmets when riding in off-road vehicles.

The law has some upset because it applies to actions on private property.

Hoosiers are an independent lot, but the uproar doesn’t seem rational or logical to me.

First, people are complaining about the law on the DNR Law Enforcement’s Facebook page. This strikes me as odd. Judging from the comments, many forget the difference between those that write the law (the legislative branch) and those that enforce the law (the judicial branch). People should be voicing their concerns to their representatives in the legislative branch. Complaining on Facebook is not going to be effective.

Second, people are complaining that the new law is big government intrusion/overreach and taking away their “rights.” It’s worth nothing these individuals don’t specify what right. The right to be stupid? Laws don’t stop at property lines. It’s trendy to be self-righteous libertarians and complain about government intrusion, but most of the ORV accidents involving children happen on private property. Perhaps harshness is warranted to demonstrate the fallacy. Want Jill or Johnny to ride without a helmet? Fine. Sign a waiver and forfeit all services you and your child would receive if – God forbid — there was an accident. No emergency responders. No health insurance or public assistance to pay for the medical costs. No changes in education to help with your child’s disabilities. No disability for your children. Be truly independent. Bottom line

  • Your right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness doesn’t supersede that of your child or of other taxpayers.
  • Your actions on your own property can have negative impacts outside of your property. This is why laws extend to private property so people don’t murder, poach or pollute or harm others or themselves.

My take: Some of the comments being left are examples of why the law is needed. Common sense seems to have disappeared from many.

Yes, there is a discussion to have about government over-reach and the nanny state, slippery slope, yadda yadda yadda, but this particular situation isn’t the time.  When you place political ideology before the safety of your child, you look foolish and irresponsible. In the end, that’s why such laws exist.

Slower traffic keep right


Indiana legislators passed a law this year to allow the police to ticket drivers for camping out in the left lane.

Drive anywhere in this state and you will soon realize such a law is needed. Many have forgotten about “slower traffic keep right.” It’s a law that’s been on the books for years and covered in the state driver’s manual. Here’s Indiana Code 9-21-8-2(b).

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Some legislative ideas for government

I’ve often thought about running for office. I like public service, but not politics. I still believe government can have a positive impact on our lives. I’ve written to my legislators about the following ideas:

  1. I see many utility companies trimming and removing trees from power lines right-of-way. I don’t fault them for that. It must be done. I think it would be very neighborly of them, though, to do an equal replacement of trees in public spaces. Communities are strapped for cash, so often time tree planting doesn’t make the budget. I’ve contacted my state legislators to see if a state law could be written. Ideally, the utility companies should volunteer. I suspect many do, but you don’t hear about those efforts. Donating trees to be planted in a local park would be great PR for utilities companies.
  2. The Columbus Day federal holiday is a bit antiquated. Columbus didn’t discover America and it certainly didn’t end well for Native Americans. I propose turning Columbus Day into Explorer Day. Americans should celebrate our sea, land, air and space explorations. Let’s honor Earhart, Ballard, Armstrong, etc. Discovery didn’t start with Columbus and it hasn’t ended with him.

If you find validity in these ideas, I encourage you to make your voice heard to your legislators and governments.

Genetic testing: My $99 lesson

23andMe DNA testing kit. Photo from 23andme.com.

23andMe DNA testing kit. Photo from 23andme.com.

Last year, I participated in The Genographic Project, a DNA testing that identifies genetic ancestry. Much has been written about the perils of genetic testing, but the project has a scientific purpose and handles DNA results with appropriate privacy. I still recommend it to people.

Three months ago I became interested in 23andMe‘s DNA testing service. In addition to providing ancestry results, the test also included medical data on genes that could possibly cause health problems.

Having recently watched my grandmother decline from dementia, I began research on 23andMe. I encountered a few articles regarding privacy and accuracy concerns, but it appeared that if I discussed the results with my doctor, the test would be beneficial. I ordered a kit for $99.

I didn’t register the kit immediately after receiving it. I figured I would do it later. In retrospect, my procrastination may have been a good move.

FDA gets involved

On November 22, the FDA issued a warning to the company concerning the medical aspects of the test. It asked the company to stop selling the test. Apparently, 23andMe had ignored FDA requests for information about the service as far back as 2012.  According to media reports, even the company’s founders acknowledge there was a lack of communication with the FDA. Still, testing kits continued to be sold while the company touted the medical benefits.

Flash forward to Dec. 6. and the company has now stopped selling the kits.

If I hadn’t being paying attention to the news, I would have not known about the situation. The company did respond to the FDA’s letter on a blog post, but I did not receive an e-mail about the situation until today. There’s more detail on the company’s blog.

Mistakes we made
As I mentioned to the company on Twitter and Facebook, this whole situation has given me pause to go forward with the testing. Here’s why:

  • 23andme ignored FDA requests for a substantial period of time.
  • The company continued to market the kits after November 22.
  • It appears that 23andme hadn’t anticipated FDA scrutiny and action.

Thus, I’m left questioning the trustworthiness and ethics of the company. At the very least, that’s some poor business management. I don’t want to trust them with my DNA.

People are quick to blame the FDA for the situation, but that agency  appears to be doing its job.  Because of 23andme’s refund policy, I’m out $99. I chalk that up to a lesson learned.

I hope 23andme gets things worked out with the FDA. I see value in the service. Genetic testing can be helpful if you are comfortable with your DNA fingerprint being on file  and you consult a medical professional to interpret the results.

Genetic testing does raise valid concerns regarding accuracy, trust and privacy. 23andme’s recent missteps will not help to alleviate them.

Election 2012: We’re all in this together. Or, calm the frack down.

I rarely write about political matters on this blog, but I do feel the need to speak on this topic.

I’m sure we are all glad the nation’s crazy season is over, but the emotional responses to the outcome have sadden me. It is time to put our emotions and fear in check, dig deep and get things done. Silly signs, racial Twitter slurs, threatening people’s jobs, and talk about armed rebellions and seceding from the union are not going to solve our nation’s problems.

We need to discuss big issues and solve them with intelligence and compassion, not ideology and hatred. America can be sane and civil. Opposing viewpoints are needed moving forward, but they should be based on logic not fear.

I’m sure you are thinking “this is easy for me to write because my candidate won.” Honestly, I would feel the same way if the other candidate won. I would want either person to be successful as POTUS. In reality, both men would govern from the middle.

Bottom line, do something more than just express an emotional opinion and attempt to punish those that don’t think they way you do.

Start by seeing the Lincoln movie.


No more free ride: Local newspaper starts charging for online access

Screenshot from The Star Press
Screenshot from The Star Press

The Star Press has started charging for online access.

I’ve been following the outcry regarding the local newspaper’s efforts to charge for online access. The Star Press —  like all of the other Gannett-owned newspapers — started charging website visitors $10 a month to read articles.

Disclosure: I worked at The Star Press for about a decade as a graphics editor, copy editor, page designer and online editor before leaving in 2008. Although I have been critical in the past for the newspaper’s management and policies, this time I wish to applaud their courageousness.

Of course, people are displeased and venting on Facebook. The comments and entertaining and sad at the same time. Here’s the bottom line:

The cost for a digital subscription is about roughly 33 cents a day. That’s less than the newsstand issue (last time I checked, $1 daily and $1.75 on Sundays).

A visitor can view seven articles in a month before a subscription is required. That’s a little low for my tastes, actually, but access to the obituaries, home page, index page and wire stories are still free. If you subscribe to a print edition, you get online access for free. The other thing I noticed is that the digital subscribers get access to more online features (view them here). One can also create sub accounts to share access with fellow relatives or friends.

Here are some of the “best” comments on this situation from thestarpress.com Facebook page:

they already make money from the advertisements. Now the people that pay for those advertisements will not reach any where near the audience they did before. So the SP and their parent company will probably end up loosing money because if the Business are smart, they will realize that their adds are not reaching many people now.

Many are pretending to have insight on newspaper budgets. The individual above seems to forget the difference between receiving money and making a profit. The Star Press receives money for online advertisements, but it is not enough to cover web expenses and make a profit.

Other people are pretending to be experts in on what it takes to get a daily newspaper online and Facebook Terms of Service:

Perhaps you should read the terms of service for Facebook and make sure what you’re doing with your links is in compliance with the rules. I’d bet my pay check it isn’t. I have to pay for advertise my products through them, you should too

Someone should take that bet. Facebook’s Terms of Service has no such prohibition, nor is there any such stipulation in the advertising guidelines. Many businesses post links on their pages to products and services.

Facebook profile picture

Hint: Combining the international symbol for “no” with the word “free” means one is against free.

A few people are so annoyed that have created Facebook groups and pages in hopes of getting The Star Press to change the policy.  I’m amused by a profile picture from one of the groups. To quote a line from The Princess Bride, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I could go on with quoting more silly comments, but I chose not to spread ignorance.

Some commentators have expressed concerns about how advertisers are going to pull their online ads because traffic will now diminish. In reality, advertisers look for targeted, niche audiences. It’s not exposure they are seeking, it is an audience. If a person cannot spend $10 a month to read an online newspaper, I suspect that individual is not an ideal audience for any online advertiser. Those that subscribe have demonstrated — to some effect — that they have disposable income, are relatively interested in their local community and live in the area. That should get advertiser’s attention.

Sure, The Star Press could have done a better job of handling this change. A FAQ page and answering some common questions/clarifying the misinformation on the Facebook page would help. The business model could be tweaked. Some ideas:

  • Advertisers (including classifieds) should get free for specified amount of time.
  • The price should include unlimited access to the archives.
  • The price and login should work with all Indiana Gannett newspapers (Indy Star, Richmond Palladium-Item, Journal and Courier).
  • An option should be offered for daily and per article access. People could set up an account and use micropayments to view an article, say like 5 cents an article.
  • Charge people to comment on the articles. The Star Press could make a mint from some of the most prolific posters. And if they stop posting, it’s a win/win.
  • Add anniversaries, engagements and classifieds to the free areas. Obituaries, the home page, index pages and the wire pages are all free.
  • Increase the free view limit to 15 a month.

In the end, the free ride is over, folks, and this should be no shock. We have known that newspapers have struggled for years. Advertising and subscriptions have dwindled. There are more competing news sources. Expenses (people, ink, paper, fuel) have increased. The industry has done a ton of cost cutting, but now it is looking to raise revenue with its core product. Some may not find value for the trivial cost being charged, citing quality concerns. Keep in mind, thought, that giving a product away for free on a daily basis often results in lower quality and the company going out of business. Want better quality? Put your money where your Facebook post is.

Funny Internet saying.