Monday, December 31, 2012

Talk More in 2013

This might come across as sarcastic given that I'm writing this on the Web but I hope we all make more of an effort to speak directly to each other in the coming year. Our growing use of text messages and brief status updates may be useful for sharing quick thoughts however it is not a replacement for talking to others.

The more we condense our ideas and feelings into bite-size electronic morsels, the less we share our emotive qualities. Furthermore, I believe we lose our sense of our responsibility for what we say when it's just a post or text. When you say something out loud you take ownership of your words, up or down, good or bad. If you feel strongly about something, lend your voice to it. It is not a reasonable expectation to be face-to-face with everyone you want to reach however phones are not just for texting.

Be safe in the New Year.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Love and the Holidays

I heard recently that the odds of finding romance improve during the holidays as people reassess their lives (probably while seeing family gathered together). I can see the rationale behind that notion; people want to share these special moments with someone and hope to be treated with mutual affection. Hopefully it's more than wanting a partner to show off at your side at the holiday dinner table (though I imagine some families apply pressure every year that seat stays empty).

On the flip side I think some of us might be afraid to start dating someone during the holidays because of the pressure. If you bring a new date around for turkey dinners, exchange gifts, and kiss them on New Year's Eve, does it mean they are "the one"? The holidays might chase people away from each other and that can be a shame as well.

Maybe the solution is to find a different season to emphasize the finding of a mate. A time of year that is also of serious importance though not at all festive.

So don't worry about mistletoe; look for someone who can help you survive tax season! :-P

Saturday, November 3, 2012

What I learned from Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy

As people across the region gradually put what pieces back together that they can, I've learned a few things from Hurricane/ Superstorm Sandy.

Our infrastructure is rather delicate. Some of the hardest hit areas have been difficult for repair and rescue crews to reach. In some cases, firefighters had to let homes burn down because there was no way to get the fires.

Though the shore areas took the brunt of this double-barrel shotgun blast from Sandy, falling trees and tangled power lines made a mess of the rest of the state. And frankly, if towns such as mine could find ways to recover on our own perhaps more energy could go towards the shore. My town has some damage but NOTHING on the scale of what happened at the shore. People here mostly needed gas and power but are otherwise OK. It would alleviate the tougher part of the recovery if there was a better way for people to fend for themselves or at least manage their local infrastructure needs.

In my area, roads were still largely driveable though toppled trees forced a few detours. People can get around but limited access to electricity and fuel created a whole host of problems. Simply put, without gas or power the bulk of our community was rather screwed. Most homes are not designed to be heated through other means. You might have a fireplace but that will only keep one part of the dwelling warm. Generators are not always an option.

If it was possible to use other means to at least heat homes, I think more people could fend for themselves. I'm sure the survivalists out there will say they prepared bunkers for such events. That is not what I mean. I'm talking about ongoing, individual sustainability not emergency situations.

We have structured our lives so that we are rendered impotent without gas and electricity. Is it even legal to use a firewood stove in your house?

Meanwhile those who live in less modern homes, such as the Amish, are probably going about their lives with little disruption. They had to weather the same winds and rains, possibly deal with damaged buildings (and hopefully no injuries). At the end of the day, they can put in some sweat equity and start to recover on their own.

As of now, the lack of power in my area is more like an obstacle you have to find a way around but cannot tackle directly. Which is why I have been at the local library getting work done on my laptop. Funny, though I come to the library often I have never seen so many people crowded in here before. I hope they pick up books and read while they charge up their cell phones.

I even have to chide myself as a writer. All my material is stored digitally. I can't work on rewrites of my novels without power.

Wireless phone service has been erratic at best, which is not a huge deal but when your landline phone is not usable either . . .

That probably is the biggest irony. Older phones that don't need external power would still function right now. Good luck finding one of those, no one makes them anymore. Even many corded phones require some sort of additional power for things like caller ID.

If I may make a Battlestar Galactica TV show reference, the Galactica escaped the sneak attack that destroyed the rest of the fleet because the Galactica used older hardware that the Cylons could not compromise. There is some real world logic in that. We need to rethink this infrastructure and stop tossing away mechanisms that are more reliable than our next generation innovations.​

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hurricane Sandy in my little NJ hood

We talked about it, watched weather reports in advance of it, but few were truly prepared for what Hurricane Sandy would do to New Jersey.

This was how it began for me.

Wind blasting through Monday night, knotting up power lines and flinging trees around. I was not prepared for the massive blue electric blast right outside my apartment so my apologies for not capturing the most visually dramatic part of  the evening. It was more than fireworks; the power grid snarled in anger at the disruptive storm.

The lights wavered in my apartment as the power grid got clobbered. I about jumped out of my skin when a transformer burst. Eventually, The Dojo went dark and I was running on battery-operated gadgets. In the morning I saw some damage but I've not seen the really devastating stuff.

At the moment I am writing this blog at JFK Library a few miles from my place. It's one of the few public places with power and Internet access. I got here a few minutes after 10AM when it opened and the place was already packed. If I need to return tomorrow I will have to get here even earlier.

Damage along the shore is the most severe from what I hear on the radio. Haven't had the chance to see images. Internet access is spotty and naturally there is no TV.

I have been working every day though. One way or the other I have reported and written news for Xconomy. Not a herculean feat thanks to the library being in a part of town that either never lost power or recovered quickly (not surprising since town hall is nearby).

It's all a matter of time and patience until the power is back for everyone. Repair work and human recovery for those affected the most are another matter entirely.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Catchy vs. Smarter TV Storytelling

Sometimes splashy ideas fail to make a splash (at least with me). I can see the intended concepts behind some of this fall's new television shows but the scripts are weighing them down.

666 Park Avenue--- I get the premise: a young couple eager to move up in life takes jobs as managers of a high-end, historic apartment building that hides a dark mystery within its walls. But how many times must Jane, the female protagonist, gasp in fright when someone surprises her in a dark hallway? Too much naïveté in a main character dulls my interest in a story. Has Jane never watched an episode of Scooby-Doo or any horror movie?

Here's an example: Jane goes alone with a flashlight down into the dark, basement where there is a door that had been ominously hidden behind a brick wall . . . she goes through the door, hears a noise, and proceeds to do what you should never, ever do in this kind of situation.

This is not a recipe for suspense.

When you cast Terry O'Quinn as an antagonist, the protagonists must be equally strong or he will crush them with his presence. All the typical elements of primetime soap operas (infidelity, ambition, murder) are here mixed with the macabre secrets of the hotel. But the storytelling doesn't challenge the viewer. I've seen other shows that smartly deal with everyday people thrust into crazy worlds they don't understand.

The writing on 666 Park Avenue does little to break cliches. I guarantee you won't gasp along with Jane when the walls start to bleed (Yeah, that happened).

Last Resort--- At first blush this struck me as a story told by someone who watched "Crimson Tide" but didn't really grasp what they were watching in terms of character development and tension. The diverse story lines are not playing off each other well. The central plot point that got this story started just doesn't hold up.

The show's premise is so left-field I can't fathom people really reacting this way. In fact some of the storytelling is insulting. Case in point: LT Grace Shepard, the highest ranking female character on the submarine, is portrayed as someone trying to shake off a "Daddy's girl" reputation because her father is an admiral. UGH! Do we need this kind of weak portrayal of a military woman? I wish Kara "Starbuck" Thrace from Battlestar Galactica would show up and whip Grace Shepard into shape.

The resort island setting feels gimmicky with its exotic and lusty lady bar owner who is developing a romance with a conflicted Navy SEAL.

Last Resort has some redeeming qualities. Serrat is an effective antagonist; he's a villain who thoroughly believes in his own perceived charm and greatness even when facing off with the captain of a ballistic submarine. With the flick of a switch his broad smile turns into a menacing sneer.Unfortunately he is not the primary antagonist at the core of the show's conflict. He just one of the obstacles in the way and that is a missed opportunity.

Revolution--- This one is slowly getting better. I can see the influence Hunger Games had on this show much the way Star Wars sparked the development of the original Battlestar Galactica. Young woman skilled in archery and hunting fights for her family in a place that use to be America. The details diverge from there but I think you get the point.

Revolution has several strong actors in the cast and that helps give it heft. Mark Pellegrino, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Jeff Fahey are alumni of "Lost". Giancarlo Esposito had an acclaimed run on "Breaking Bad". Kim Raver and Billy Burke put in time on "24". The rest of the cast is largely new to me but they do a fair job.

The show does need to move away from some overused tropes in its genre but the story is revealing some interesting facets. I am concerned that by being a network TV show, "Revolution"might not have much time to grow its audience.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We all live this day in different ways

Some will recall where they were and what they were doing back in 2001 on this day.

Some will go about their business, perhaps wanting to keep the memories quiet.

As for me, I will try to keep the details clear in case my young nephews and neice ever ask me what I remember. Over time reactions will evolve regarding 9/11 just as they did regarding the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

Future generations may look back and just see this day as another point in history. It's up to the people who remember to convey the emotion of what happened and make this moment more than a footnote.​

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Aurora, Colorado

As the country looks for solace in the aftermath of Aurora, I hear a number of my friends with opposing opinions trying to find a fast way to address the tragedy but there are no easy answers, no quick solutions (aside from the coward not doing it in the first place).

Some folks think that arming people in public might have ended the attack quickly. The overall logistics of how the ambush went down (he was covered in body armor, more heavily armed than someone carrying just a pistol) make me doubt it would be easy to halt the attack (it was a cold ambush) even if police were on duty among the crowd in the theater. Remember the North Hollywood shootout of 1997?

Some people think we need to remove all guns. That just isn't realistic or productive. The attacker got the weapons legally BUT the illegal gun trade is very active in this country and fueled by other criminal activity. We can't pretend guns are going to vanish from the hands of criminals and crackpots. That horse has already left the barn.

NO ONE wants to feel naked and vulnerable to some evil miscreant . . . yet I also hate to think of a day when I'm on a crowded subway surrounded by people who are all armed to the teeth but with unknown training or respect for firearms.

We are caught in an arms race against ourselves and I won't pretend there is an easy answer.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

One year older, 22 lbs. lighter, still cool as ever

I have learned over the past twelve months that I can accomplish many things through focused tenacity.

First there was work, turning a tough predicament into a chance to remake myself. I will never call it a blessing in disguise; I do not believe in such. This is a world full of chaos and opportunity. I got burned here in New Jersey but one year ago today, I got the offer to write news in New York. I may not be writing for TechCrunch or GigaOm but I am proudly competing with their reporters to deliver hot stories from Manhattan's tech scene.

Frankly, it is hard to top work nights that lead me through Times Square while I'm on my way home. There is something about the crush of activity happening there that gets me going. And then seeing the Empire State Building when I look over my left shoulder---well, it is worth the walk.

A couple of years ago I would not have believed I would be invited to a press conference with Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Google CEO Larry Page. I did not see myself as a reporter of such caliber. The world changes when you stop looking at your future through the biased eyes of others.

Then there was the matter of getting myself in better shape. I dropped a stone and a half over about three months, which I've blathered about before. Keeping the weight off required a commitment to my own health. It can be so easy to slip into overindulgence. No secret formula helps me maintain my weight. I just got into a routine and stuck with it.

Yet I still face my ongoing battle to get my fiction published. I sent Root Haven out to one editor who requested a look, I have another editor as well as a few agents to also run it past. Not going to lie, I thought Black Saturday would make the cut. It did get certain editors interested in seeing more of my work.
The focus for now remains on Root Haven but you have not seen the last of Black Saturday, I promise you that.

I'm too stubborn to give up, ya know?

So here's to my new year, 39 and counting.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Fifteen Years Well Spent

Fifteen years ago today when I began my journey in journalism I had little idea what I would eventually commit myself to. At the time I was in the midst of pursuing my bachelor's in English at Rutgers University. My exposure to the news world was limited to what I saw on television and read in the newspapers. I knew nothing about how this business worked from the inside.

George Taber and Donald Wilson gave me a shot as an intern at the newspaper they ran in downtown New Brunswick. Back then the office sat above the Starbucks Coffee shop on George Street. The proximity of the newspaper's front door in relation to the coffee shop created a strange phenomena.

Even though you had to walk up a flight of stairs to reach the office and the newspaper's name was emblazoned on the door, random Starbucks patrons popped in with confused looks on their faces. With a little guidance they found their way to the java but you still had to spell things out for some.

 "No, this office is not part of Starbucks. That is downstairs and next door . . . where you clearly saw people serving up coffee."

As I quietly celebrate this anniversary, the confusion of those lost patrons reminds of the necessity for journalists and news media.

Before I became a reporter I took for granted how I learned about the happenings in my community and the world. Family and friends might mention bits and pieces they heard but I never got any details unless I paid attention to the news. When you accept secondhand information as fact and don't make an effort to open your own eyes you end up in the wrong place like a lost coffee shop patron.

And I was clearly confused when I took those first fumbling steps in the news industry. I had no idea New Jersey had a long-running rodeo down in Pilesgrove or that prominent companies such as Toys "R" Us had their headquarters here. It did not really dawn on me until several years later that I simply never paid attention.

Through the guidance of my mentors I had the chance to grow professionally and moreover as a man. You cannot simply thank people who changed the way you observe the world. Those early days working for George and Don created a whole new future for me that I had never considered.

The news business changed considerably during my career most profoundly with the rise of the Internet. The startling truth is that the media industry spread the word about the Web yet did little to embrace the evolution the technology represented. Eventually we all became aware that this market had changed forever. The transition has been brutal at times.

Some news outlets found ways to adapt while others tried to ignore it. Publications went into survival mode. Newsrooms cut staff; print fell out of favor in the digital world. A dangerous notion emerged among the public that news should be available for free.

I can argue that journalists work hard to gather information and craft stories. And that social media spreads fragments of information, which people are prone to misinterpret when passed from friend to friend. In the end everyone must decide how much they care about details vs. a tweet.

While some readers do invest time to fully understand news there are those who think headlines are enough to stay informed. Such a pity.

In times of true crisis, the news industry stops some of its own bullshit and focuses on what matters. Unfortunately we drift back to coverage that "sells". This business is not perfect nor wholly altruistic.

The way I look at it the First Amendment is a responsibility not just a right. We have to both insist on spreading accurate details while also demanding such in return.

Imagine a world where no news companies existed. Not on TV, radio, print, or the Web. What if we only had banter from personal connections to inform us of what is happening in the world?

If you have read this far chances are you don't rely only on social networks for your information. However you likely know at least one person who does.

Just because it is difficult to get ahead in the news business these days it doesn't mean I want to give up or start taking shortcuts.

George and Don eventually sold the newspaper. I stayed on for several more years until the beginning of 2011 when there was a "parting of ways" with the new owners. Now I work solely on the Web. I have no fear of change.

(Sadly Donald Wilson passed last November).

My hope is the next fifteen years of my career includes a revival of the importance and relevance when it comes to news. Journalists must not put themselves or popular notions in front of the story. Otherwise we will all be lost like someone looking for the Starbucks next door.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Building a Better Me

It is funny how losing something teaches you to build something stronger in its absence.

Fortunately this time what was lost was just excess weight. Before I joined the better body challenge in January I noticed that while I had not necessarily put on extra pounds at that time, I was not carrying my weight well. As I get older so goes elasticity. That is just how your body works if you do not have a regular exercise routine.
Me in December 2011
A bit of context: In January I clocked in at about 204lbs. Compared with that period when I weighed 225lbs about six years ago, it did not seem so bad. However I was still overweight at 204lbs. when put in the context of various health metrics. And when I looked in the mirror I did see parts, especially around my neck, that were too loose for my taste.

The better body competition gave me a framework to rebuild myself. Coming out of it as the winner among the guys was a fun surprise. It was hard to get started having never before committed to a serious exercise and diet routine. Early frustration melted away as I found my rhythm. There was no one simple answer for me. I counted calories, watched my intake of fats, sugars, sodium, and cholesterol. Reducing the size of my food portions definitely played a significant role.

At the midpoint of the competition I clocked in at 190lbs. I had set 195lbs as my goal weight for the entire competition so I was kind of lost about what to do next. Winning was not as important as figuring out where I wanted to be in terms of fitness.
Me in April 2012
I made my new goal 185lbs. since that would put me more firmly in healthy weight-territory. I scaled back my exercise routine for a couple of weeks then kicked it back into gear for the home stretch of the competition. The morning of the final weigh-in I clocked in at 180lbs. at home but my official final weight for the competition was about 181lbs. (after getting dressed to be out in public).

I had to laugh when I realized I needed to buy myself a smaller belt. Switching from burning weight to maintaining where I am is an adjustment. This morning I weighed 183lbs. and I am cool with that. Trying to put on some lean muscle in place of the unhealthy pounds. Not really interested in getting big, just living well. And let's be realistic, I don't have the time to build bulging biceps like Khal Drogo. I am very glad I "lost that neck."

I do enjoy the occasional indulgence in comfort food but nowadays I make sure to couple that with extra effort when exercising and balancing the rest of my diet.
Looking back it makes me feel a little guilty about all the times I made double peanut butter brownies and doled them out like some kind of street hustler trying to hook other people on sugar.

This doesn't mean I have hung up my apron. There will be brownies, cookies, cupcakes, and the occasional crème brulee in ALL their delicious glory. When it comes to making such desserts I still believe in using all those bad ingredients you should avoid because to me that is the point in letting yourself indulge. However you won't see me making these items that frequently.

Flame and Bone

When I was made from fire
Poured into the tender vessel of caution
That keeps my smoke from rising
Quickly did I discover that apart from crisp drizzles or falling snow
The world chilled my touched
Walking the narrow cornered gap between girders and cut stone
One learns to tuck his shoulders in or risk
Jostling a neighbor passing by rapt with want
For a clear path without the distraction
Of another man's boiling eyes
The tip of a finger
That oldest of all weapons
Grown deadlier and pristine in its invention
Gathers a mote of a cinder on its bare flesh
And turns pondering how best to scratch the impious itch
Prying open the tender seam
Where the oil of thought dews
Offering a new wick to ignite
Squirming alive as a salamander of mischief
That yearns for a taste of air it is so ready to devour
The steam of breath betrays me
Before the glint of orange spreads
In popping bright waves
Eroding the fibers feeding it
Leaving naught but ash
As my shell of quietude falls away