Thursday, November 29, 2007

DASHing through San Jose

We know something's amiss when the driver of DASH shuttle #7018 makes an unscheduled stop at Third and San Carlos. Sometimes they'll pull over between stops if someone flags them down. But there was no one waiting at the corner that we could see.

The driver turns off the engine, grabs a briefcase, mumbles something about being just a minute, and gets out. He trots across the street, pausing a moment on the median strip for a couple of cars to pass, leaving us sitting in the dark. It's 5:43 p.m.

"Where's he going?" one passenger asks.

"You think he's going for a burger?" another asks, pointing to the McDonald's across the street.

"He can't be going to McDonald's, can he?"

"If he goes to the drive-up window, I'm gonna report him."

As we watch, the driver goes inside McD's.

"Maybe he's asking for the bathroom key," someone suggests.

"I can see him," says the woman in the front seat. "He's standing by the register."

"I can't believe this," another passenger says.

"We're not going to make the six 'o clock train," says a man, shaking his head.

We sat quietly in the darkened bus for a bit, then someone says, "We should report him to the VTA."

"Yeah," says another passenger, grabbing a VTA brochure from the rack behind the driver's seat. She finds the VTA's phone number, pulls out her cell phone, dials 321-2300, presses a few buttons, waits. "All I'm getting is a recording," she says.

"Here he comes!" the front seat passenger cries out.

"Look, he's got a McDonald's bag in his hand!"

"Forget it," says the phone woman, hanging up. "I'll call from the train station."

All eyes follow the driver as he crosses the McD's parking lot and pauses at the crosswalk, waiting for the "walk" signal. He's a big burly guy, top-heavy, with skinny shanks. We can tell because he's wearing shorts.

"Do you think he'll say anything?"

"What do you think we should we say?"

"Maybe we should ask him if he brought us anything."

"Let's wait and see what he says."

The light changes. The driver crosses the street, walks alongside the shuttle and opens the driver's side door. He climbs in, puts his burger bag on the dash, stows his briefcase beside his seat, starts the van and pulls out. Not a word is said. It's 5:50 p.m.

"Do you think we'll make the six-o-five train?" one brave soul asks.

"Should be there in five or six minutes," the driver mumbles.

We look at each other, shake our heads. Not likely. It's gonna be close.

We're moving fast down San Carlos; the shuttle bus rattles and shakes. We pass the next two stops, then the driver hits the brakes. A book bag slides off a seat and hits the floor with a thud.

"Oh, Almaden," the driver says. He cranks the wheel hard to the right and hits the gas. The shuttle lurches onto Almaden Boulevard.

A couple more stops, another set of lights, and we're almost at the train station. We bounce along, zipping past another DASH shuttle that's stopping at the Light Rail station at Delmas and San Fernando.

When we reach Diridon Station, our path is partially blocked by a badly parked VTA bus. Its electronic readout flashes "out of service."

Our driver grumbles. "What's wrong with them...?" He stops, backs up a bit, turns the wheel hard, and squeezes by the darkened bus. He stops the shuttle at the regular drop-off spot, and pops open the door.

It's 6 p.m. and we rush to get off. We walk quickly through the train station, some pausing to purchase or punch a ticket on the way to the platform. One train is waiting, doors, that's the 6:25 Baby Bullet.

A moment later, we see a headlight approaching from the south -- it's the 6:05 train. We made it.

Friday, November 02, 2007

iMovie and classroom buddies!

The most wonderful thing happened in class the other day, right before my very eyes...learning, yes, learning!

For their final project for the broadcast segment in my Journalism 61 (beginning news writing) class, I asked students to rewrite one of their news stories or campus event blog posts for broadcast. Their task this week: Bring their broadcast script to class, record it using iMovie, upload it to the web (ya gotta love You Tube and!), and post it to their blogs.

As they started recording, an interesting thing happened: They started rewriting their broadcast scripts. All around the room, I could see students crossing out a phrase here or adding a word there to improve flow and clarity. They scribbled notes between the double-spaced lines of their scripts (yes, there is a reason for that double-spacing!); they tweaked and they polished. A few even said, "I need to start over," and did a total rewrite before continuing with their recording.

One student, who'd knocked off her broadcast quickly during the first of this week's lab session (and who'd stuck around during the second one to help other students upload and link), came up to me at the end of class and said that she wasn't really happy with how hers had turned out and she was going to do it over. Yes!

It was great! I was so proud of them!

So here's what I learned: You can talk to students about the need to make broadcast writing more conversational; you can preach broadcast style and urge them to read it out loud to make sure it works...but nothing beats seeing yourself on screen and hearing your own voice reading your own script...and realizing that it doesn't quite cut it. That, and the realization that it'll be online for all the world to see, proved to be powerful motivators this week, so I'd call this assignment a success.

If you'd like to cruise over to my Journalism 61 class blog and check out the links to my students' blogs, here's the direct link:

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What I can't least not yet

I recognize that vacant look. I've seen it before -- on my mother's face. It's the look of Alzheimer's.

Instead of grading student papers tonight, I'm watching "The Forgetting: A Portrait of Alzheimer's" on PBS...again. I've seen it once before, but that was three or four years ago...before my mother went into an Alzheimer's care facility.

During the program, a man talks about losing his wife to Alzheimer's. What he misses most, he says, are the conversations they used to have. Sometimes now she doesn't even recognize him. It makes me think of my father, who cared as best he could for my mother and kept her at home...until the point when she started leaving home because she didn't like "that strange man" who kept talking about marriage.

In another scene in "The Forgetting," two daughters visit their mother, who is in a nursing home. She is largely unresponsive, doesn't seem to recognize them. They speak to her in cheerful voices, patting her hand, her hair. Been there, done that.

Later in the show, the daughters talk about how long it's been since their mother was diagnosed -- 13 years -- and how they know it could go on like this for another five, 10 or even 20 years. It seems endless, they say. They wonder what they will do if she gets pneumonia -- treat it, or let it run its course? I've had that conversation too.

It is nearly 10 years since I first realized something was wrong with my mother. As the out-of-towner in the family, I was the first to notice the changes. Mom had stopped doing needlepoint, which she'd loved. She'd stopped cooking; said she'd done enough of it. She'd stopped cutting her hair; said she liked it longer.

Later, I found that her last completed needlepoint was dated 1997. My brother looked back through his photos and saw that 1998 was the year she let her hair go.

We've now had a decade of living with Alzheimer's and watching our mother slowly disappear. There's no knowing when it will end...or if it will end with her.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Journalism: Form or content?

As I was standing at the head of a classroom yesterday, watching Michael Wesch's Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us for the umpteenth time, I had a minor epiphany.

It was about halfway through, when you see on the screen [Title] does not define the form. It defines the content.

And I thought, you know, it's the same with journalists. It's what you do that makes you a journalist, not who you work for, or where your work is published or broadcast, or how it's distributed.

I'd just been talking about this very issue with my colleague Steve Sloan, a fellow blogger and my co-presenter at yesterday's JACC Norcal conference at SJSU (that's him at left). The night before, we'd both heard veteran broadcaster Sam Donaldson "diss" bloggers as he spoke at the RTVJ 50th Anniversary Reunion dinner.

Blogging is just opinion, Donaldson said, and without editors, how do you know if it's fact or fiction?

But when Donaldson offered his definition of a journalist, he didn't say anything about editors. He said, "We try to present our readers, our viewers, with things we believe to be true." Sometimes you make mistakes, he added, but if you do you correct them.

I didn't hear anything in that definition that would preclude a blogger from being a journalist, Sloan said.

And some of the mainstream media aren't exactly doing a great job of reporting the truth these days, I added. Does this mean they're not really journalists?

So in the middle of our JACC presentation on Podcasting, Blogging and New Journalism, as I listened once again to the Web 2.0 video, it hit me: [Journalism] does not define the form, it defines the content. It's what you do, not who you work for.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Going to the dogs

Ever wonder what kind of dog you'd be...if you were a dog, that is? Well, now you can find out. Just go to the Dog Trivia page of the Dog Show USA web site, and you too can find out what kind of dog you'd be.

The trivia page also includes a "who owns who" quiz to determine what kind of dog owner you are, and a dog trivia quiz (I failed...miserably).

What a good way to direct traffic to a site! And what a good promotional tool for the site sponsor, Purina.

(What kind of dog would I be, you ask? A Golden Retriever. And in case you're wondering, no, I don't have a dog, though we did have a Golden Retriever as the family pet when I was a kid.)

Direct link:

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The dreaded "L" word

Someone finally said it. Someone in the news media...on air, and for the record.

Yes, it's the dreaded "L" word...and perhaps not the one you think. Not liberal, not lesbian. LIE. LIAR.

"We are surrounded by people who lie to us," said Daniel Schorr, NPR senior news analyst, in his Week in Review on NPR this morning.

And then he pointed to President Bush, who keeps saying that Americans don't torture people, even as his recently revealed memos make it clear that we Blackwater, whose representatives keep saying they don't kill Iraqi civilians, even as recent news reports and congressional reports make it clear that they do...and to Olympic gold-medal winner Marion Jones who recently confessed that she lied when she insisted -- repeatedly and publicly -- that she had not used steroids to win.

After years of beating around the bush, it's about time people in the media started telling it to us straight, instead of using "give-'em-a-pass" euphemisms like "misspoke." After all, a lie is a lie is a lie. And those who tell them are liars. Even when that person happens to be the president.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Another Bush speech, another slogan

So now it's "Return on Success," a slogan vague enough to need it's own official government fact sheet.

"The principle guiding my decisions on troop levels in Iraq is 'return on success,' " Bush said in his televised speech last night. "The more successful we are, the more American troops can return home."

Judging by our level of success to date, that won't be anytime soon.

"Return on Success" replaces a long list of previous upbeat slogans, including "Victory," which replaced "Plan for Victory," which replaced "Stand Up, Stand Down," which replaced "Freedom is on the March," which replaced "Stay the Course," which replaced our all-time favorite, "Mission Accomplished." Nothing like a good slogan to get the patriotic juices flowing.

Of course, I'm sure a missed some of them. There have been so many. These days, it's as hard to keep up with Bush's changing slogans as it is to keep up with his changing missions in Iraq. The more recent ones seem less memorable, probably because they're running out of ways to rephrase the same old, same old.

In last night's speech, Bush also described our mission in Iraq as "evolving" interesting choice of words, I thought, for a guy who doesn't seem to believe in evolution. But if he's looking for signs of "intelligent design" in our Iraq policy, I think it's safe to say he might as well give up.

As Peter Scheer notes on the blog, TruthDig, "The mission is “evolving” because it is the best way to conceal that there is no longer a coherent mission, if there ever was one."

While the president keeps changing his slogans and redefining our mission in Iraq, one thing doesn't change: his determination to keep us mired in Iraq through the end of his term in office...what better way to postpone the day of reckoning for his many failures and to try to blame the mess he's made on someone else.

Oh, and if you're wondering who he plans to blame next...just look in the mirror. You've heard the recent rumblings about the only way we can lose in Iraq is if Americans give up by giving in to their frustrations and impatience with the war? Well, I know a set-up when I see one.

P.S. If you're actually thinking maybe we should just be patient just a bit longer, I urge you to review this War Room blog post, and to remember the Iraq War is costing us approximately 100 U.S. lives and between $2 billion and $3 billion per week. Yes, you read it right -- that's per week.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Old Neocons never die...

They just get appointed to the Hoover Institute, a conservative think tank at Stanford University. That appears to be the only possible explanation for the appointment of Donald Rumsfeld, the totally discredited former Secretary of Defense, as a visiting fellow there. According to this article in the SF Chronicle, Rumsfeld will "participate in a task force examining national security and world peace in the post-Sept. 11 era."

Friday, September 07, 2007

Framing Science

I got an email from an editor last spring, asking if I'd be interested in writing an article on framing for Science & Spirit magazine. Oh yeah, definitely!

Actually, S&S Editor Larry Witham first contacted me several years ago, when he was still a freelancer and I had just started teaching, asking to use some material from my graduate thesis in a book he was writing.

I was happy to oblige...I mean, how often do you get readers for something titled Framing Reality: Shaping the News Coverage of the 1996 Tennessee Debate on Teaching Evolution? (Well, a condensed version was published in the Journal of Media and Religion in 2003, which I thought was seriously cool, but that's it.)

And that would have been the end of it...except in April Science magazine published a provocative article on Framing Science by Matthew C. Nisbet and Chris Mooney. That article prompted a lot of debate and discussion, both on the Science site and on Nisbet's Framing Science blog.

It also prompted Witham, who had just joined S&S as editor, to remember me and ask me to write an article on framing for them. And that's how I ended up spending the week after the end of the spring semester writing a magazine article.

My article, The Power of Framing: Pitching Science in a Mass Media Age, appeared in the July/August issue. I wish I could link to it, but it wasn't one of the articles they chose to post online. Rats! So the best I can do is show you a picture...yes, that's it -- that's my article!

500 days

The Bush countdown has reached a landmark: just 500 days left in office.

Of course, it's daunting to think how much he can still screw up in the next 500 days.

Too bad we couldn't just move up the election to this fall and get on with it. The 2008 presidential campaign is in full swing already, so what have we got to lose?

P.S. Thanks to Dona for giving me this nifty keychain so I can track the countdown.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Taking it online

Whew! It's been a busy couple of weeks, what with the start of classes at SJSU and adding a third class that I wasn't originally scheduled to teach.

This semester is an interesting experiment. I'm teaching two sections of Journalism 61, with one regular "on ground" section that meets twice a week and one fully online class. The class I added is Mass Comm 100W - Writing Workshop, which I'm teaching as a blended class, meeting once a week with about half of the assignments being blogged. Ought to make for an interesting comparison.

I'm running all three of my classes through WordPress blogs (gotta love that "pages" feature for syllabi and such) at (both Jour61 sections) and

Normally, online classes at SJSU are administered through a system called WebCT, based on Blackboard. I spent some time this summer talking with the WebCT folks on campus and came to the conclusion that it didn't have a lot to offer. WebCT probably works OK for lecture classes with multiple choice tests, but it's not set up to accommodate writing classes. So I said to hell with it and decided to use blogs instead.

Each student in my fall classes is required to set up a blog, even those in the on-ground section (though they won't post as many assignments on their blogs as students in the blended and fully online classes). I've subscribed to my students' blogs to more easily track their assignments via Google feed reader. That seems to be working well.

I'm also posting one lecture a week from the "on ground" class as a podcast -- the jury's still out on how well that's working, but at least I should get better at podcasting by the end of the semester.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

News junkie riddle of the day

Q. How can you tell when your newspaper of record has lost its way?
A. When it thinks it's a quiz-style game show.

Word to the wise #1: Newspapers work better when games like this stay in the Arts & Entertainment section.

Word to the wise #2: It's best to avoid the irony of a "soldier's death" headline underpinning a cutesy game on what's supposed to be the front page.

Word to the wise #3:
Games like this work better when the illustration doesn't give away the answer.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sally gets wacked

Sally is one of my all-time favorites, but I had to wack her anyway. What could I do? She was blocking my view.

No, I'm not talking about a criminal act...though I guess you could call it a gardening crime.

You see, it's "Sally" as in Sally Holmes, one of the most lovely climbing roses ever. She has clusters of sweet apricot buds that open up into large, loose, single blush-white blooms, each topped off by a golden buss of anthers. A prolific bloomer, Sally starts with a big flush in the spring and reblooms in smaller bursts all summer and into late fall.

Sally is vigorous shrub. Once she gets settled in, she grows...and grows...and grows. And therein lies the rub.

It's my fault, really. I planted Sally in what seemed like a good spot against a bare wall outside the living room windows in my back garden. Everything was fine for the first several years, but recently we've had problems. She's overgrown. Her arching canes keep obscuring the small oakleaf hydrangea at her feet and blocking the entry to the crawl space.

Plus, Sally's supposed to be thornless, but her latest canes sport bright red thorns. Ouch!

Sally was out of control. Something had to be done. So I got out the pruning shears.

Actually, I got them out last winter and wacked Sally back pretty good. But by mid-summer, you could hardly tell. So this weekend, I wacked her again.

Now I'm considering a more permanent solution...yes, it may be time for Sally to join the relocation program. It would take a prodigious amount of digging, and I'd have to wack her back to the nubs, but it could work.

Now if I can just figure out a place in the front yard where the deer won't chomp on her....

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

So long, it's been good to know you (not!)

Here's the chorus from an old ditty to commemorate the impending resignation of Karl Rove.
A-rovin', a-rovin', since rovin's been my ru-i-in
I'll go no more a-rovin' with you fair maid.

See related article: "We'll go no more a-Rove-ing" on

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Statistics, lies and damn lies

Think things are looking up in Iraq because of the surge? Think again. As Juan Cole reports in "A Surge of Phony Spin on Iraq" in today:
...the reporters and editors who gave U.S. headlines such as "U.S. Death Toll in Iraq in July Expected to Be Lowest in '07" (New York Times) were being assiduously spun....

The dip in casualties is always substantial in July, since guerrillas usually prefer not to operate with heavy explosives when it is 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade.

And as a tally noted on Foreign Policy magazine's blog, the number of U.S. troop deaths in July, compared with previous years of the war, is anything but a turn for the better:

July 2003: 48
July 2004: 54
July 2005: 54
July 2006: 43
July 2007: 80
Meanwhile, the statistics for the hapless Iraqis themselves are no less discouraging. According to, the Iraqi civilian and military death toll from political violence in July 2007 was 1,690, a 25 percent increase from the July 2006 number, 1,280.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Elizabeth Edwards at BlogHer

I've always been impressed by Elizabeth Edwards. Seeing her at BlogHer last weekend was a treat.

She was interviewed in the closing session by Lisa Stone, one of BlogHer's founders. One of Stone's first comments to Edwards got a rise out of the crowd. Stone said, "You asked Ann Coulter to stop the personal attacks. Many women here have dealt with trolls."

"They don't go away if you ignore them," Edwards said, adding that "trolls are cowards" and the only way to make them go away is to "out them."

Edwards writes a diary for her husband John Edwards' campaign blog and comments on several other blogs. She said she views blogging as "the new town square," and as one of the "more intimate ways we can engage with voters." Blogging provides a venue for candidates to have an honest conversation with citizens, "not have some press person writing it for you."

One attendee asked how her many people review her blog posts before they're posted?

"That's an easy question," Edwards said. "Zero."

Edwards noted, "I write my own. I'm a nut about grammar. My blood pressure stays better if I write my own."

After the session, Edwards joined BlogHer attendees at the closing reception, where she spent 30 or 40 minutes talking with people. (That's where I took this photo.)

You can find more coverage of Elizabeth Edwards at BlogHer here and here.

BlogHer - techie highlights

If you couldn't attend BlogHer '07, or couldn't get to all the sessions that looked interesting (and, hey, who can be in two places at once?), the good news is that you can tap into the live-blogged coverage of the sessions here.

I attended several BlogHer sessions with a technical bent, including:

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Car dreams

I like cars. In part, it's probably the influence of my sister and brother-in-law, who have amassed a small collection of cars (the ones they drive regularly, plus an MG Midget, a restored Toyata Land Cruiser, and a soon-to-be-restored round-shouldered 1956 truck).

Their two young sons started down the car-collection road early. By the time he was 2, the 8-year-old could identify practically every make and model on the road...from a distance...and by the headlights alone at night. Yup, he's a car prodigy. He has hundreds of Matchbox cars, and his younger brother, now 4, isn't far behind.

I'm more of a wanna-be car lover. I learned to drive on my mother's 1966 VW bug, a great little car. After she'd had it a few years, she put some daisy decals on it (hey, it was the '60s!) and eventually let me paint it with flowers and vines.

When I was in high school, I wanted (but never got) one of those rounded 1960s Volvo sedans as my first car. In college, I lusted after an MGB-GT (the one with the hatch...I do have a practical streak). Instead, my first car was a 1972 Subaru FF-1 wagon, the first front-wheel-drive vehicle from Japan. It was a nasty gold color (my grandmother once described it as "shit brindle"), certainly not the most attractive vehicle I've ever owned, but eminently practical. I used it to haul bags of grain for my horse, and to move all my college-era belongings from one apartment to another. It was not the most reliable vehicle I've ever owned...but that's another story.

After that, I owned a string of cheap, (mostly) small cars...a Datsun (210?) hatchback that rode like a duck in choppy water, a couple of Mazda GLC hatchbacks (the first one got totaled, so I bought another), and a 1987 Nissan Stanza that was so underpowered it could hardly get out of it's own way, followed by a used Madza 626 with the same problem (you'd think I'd learn!). Now I drive a 2001 VW Golf 1.8 turbo, an antidote to all those years of anemic autos.

I'm considering getting a Mini Cooper S...which, come to think of it, looks a bit like an MGB-GT. (The more things change, as the saying goes, the more they stay the same.)

I guess you could consider this my mid-life crisis car...not that I'm having a mid-life crisis, mind you. But now that I'm in my mid-50s, I figure it's probably my last chance to own a really fun, peppy little know, while I can still get in and out of it without requiring assistance.

So lately I've been looking at car stats and reading reviews in Consumer Reports and elsewhere...which is what prompted this post. The immediate impetus: reading a fun review of the Scion XB, a homely little vehicle I have no desire to drive, in this morning's SF Chronicle.

Now you probably don't think of car reviews when you think of great writing, but this review by Dan Neil of the LA Times is masterfully written and highly entertaining. Here are the two opening paragraphs (once you get started, I'm sure you'll want to read the rest):
I suppose others have a more highly refined sense of aesthetics, but I just can't get behind the debate over the old vs. new Scion xB, the funky five-seat space wagon sold by Toyota's Gen Y-oriented brand. Aren't they both ugly?

Really. If you're serving, say, warthog for dinner - juicy, succulent, fall-off-the-tusk warthog - do you fret the relative pulchritude of warthog A compared to warthog xB? So it hardly matters if the redesigned car is more or less visually appealing than the original (model years 2004 to 2006). They both make babies cry. (Click here to continue reading....)

I'm not the only one who thinks Neil is a good writer. In 2004, he received a Pulitzer Prize for his "his one-of-a-kind reviews of automobiles, blending technical expertise with offbeat humor and astute cultural observations." If you love cars, or even if you don't, check it out.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Can you ID this hawk?

My husband and I have been watching hawks, and we're perplexed. Perhaps you can help us identify our mystery hawk.

We live on a suburban cul de sac on a hilltop in the Bay Area; the other side of our street borders an open space area. Besides a major updraft from the steep hill, there's one other factor that draws hawks to our neighborhood: quail...lots of them.

Several years ago one of our neighbors released some quail into the neighborhood. They thrived. They prospered. And, boy, did they multiply!

Now, we have mobs of quail. (I know...groups of quail are supposed to be called coveys, but I swear we have mobs. If you don't believe me, you should see my front yard garden...or what used to be my front garden, until the quail pock-holed it with their dusting craters and ate all my thyme and all the other small-leaved edgers. Now I tell people it's not so much a garden as great quail habitat.)

We really enjoy watching the quail, so I guess the garden damage is a fair trade-off. And, honestly, if it's not the quail destroying my garden, it's gonna be the deer, the rabbits and the gophers. This is tough territory for gardeners.

The hawks, though, are a bonus. What I really like is seeing a hawk first thing in the morning, perched on the railing of our back deck or in a nearby tree, just waiting for the quail to make their daily migration over our roof to the shelter of my shrubby front yard.

I've never seen a hawk catch one yet, but I have seen tell-tale clusters of quail feathers on the ground in my front yard. No wonder they're so flighty.

My husband and I have consulted multiple bird books and a couple of web sites, but we're still not sure what kind of hawk it is. Our best guess is a juvenile Goshawk (apparently the juveniles have yellow eyes; adults have red eyes), but it could also be a Cooper's Hawk.

If you think you can identify it, please leave a comment.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Good to be home

It's only been a week and a half, but it sure feels good to be home. I woke up early, got a cup of tea and sat looking over the Bay.

The early morning light in Northern California has a luminous quality I've never seen anywhere else. Something about the way low-in-the-sky rays of sunlight beam through the morning layer of fog that so often enshrouds the Bay. The plants in my back pocket garden look their best in this soft, low light, and I can't resist taking a few photos.

My robust clump of Miscanthus senensis Morning Light, is, as the name implies, perfect in this soft light. It highlights the white edges of each blade of grass and makes the clump almost glow. Beside it, Oriental lilies are blooming, with a few buds still coming on. They'd just started to open when I left town to visit family in NH and attend the BlogHer conference in Chicago, and I was afraid I'd miss them all. Should have known better.

My husband did a good job of watering the plants in pots while I was gone. The tomatoes are a tangle of leafy stems, yellow buds and little green tomatoes. A low-hanging branch on one cherry tomato has a cluster of ripe, red fruit. That's the one branch that didn't get chomped by marauding deer earlier this summer when I put the tomato pots out on my sunny front stoop. So it goes. After a stint of trying to surround the pots with chicken wire barriers (real attractive!), I moved them to the slightly less sunny but totally deerproof back deck. They've all recovered, but tomato production has been delayed a few weeks.

In my back garden, I see the Sally Holmes rose is trying to take over the world again. It leans over the Peewee oakleaf hydrangea, shading it, and mostly obscures the entrance to crawl space under the house (a good thing, unless you need to use it). About time for another round of pruning. But I can't bring myself to do it while it's still blooming...and Sally Holmes blooms all summer and into the fall.

A gold crocosmia, the one I relocated last year because it clashed with the pink flowers in my front garden, is starting to bloom. It's looking fine against a backdrop of hydrangea. A neighboring beebalm, Raspberry Wine, towers above it, happy at last to be in a spot that gets afternoon shade. The white anemones beside them, now coming into bud, are looking kind of puny -- either water-starved or gopher-bit, I'm not sure which...maybe both.

Over the Bay, the sky is clearing, the morning fog is's another beautiful day in Northern California.

I find myself humming an old Simon and Garfunkel tune:
"Gee but it's great to be back home, home is where I want to be."

Oh, yeah.

Friday, July 27, 2007

BlogHer: We are all press here

"We are all press here."

That was the reminder BlogHer organizers gave to all assembled for the opening session of BlogHer 2007 today at Chicago's Navy Pier.

Everything related to the media is changing, especially traditional concepts of who's a reporter and who's the public. In a crowd of bloggers, it pays to remember we are all the media.

Monday, July 16, 2007

How the News Works?

Cartoonist Tom Tomorrow's take on How the News Works is a little too close to the truth for comfort.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Happy birthday Patrick Stewart!

Today is Patrick Stewart's 67th birthday.

I'm a long-time fan, and I still rue the day the Star Trek TV franchise ended. I don't go to Star Trek conventions or dress up like a Klingon at Halloween or anything -- I'm not that kind of a fan -- but sometimes I just wanna watch an episode of Star Trek. Fortunately for me, Spike TV, the "macho guy" channel, offers afternoon reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

What's the appeal? Can't be that bald dome...though my Dad was bald...hmm. Maybe it's the British accent and the fact that we both enjoy a nice cuppa Earl Grey (or at least his character, Captain Jean Luc Picard, did).

A couple years ago in Las Vegas, I ran into Patrick Stewart. He was gracious enough to let me get this souvenir shot. If he appears a little stiff, there's a reason: we were at Madame Tussauds.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Peter Pan politics

John McCain says we can't leave Iraq now. Referring to Vietnam, he says he's "seen this movie before."

So have we. Maybe he forgot the ending?

Of course, this is the same guy who, after losing some key campaign staffers because he's out of money, says, "I'd describe the campaign as going well...I think we're doing fine."

Yeah, right.

Reminds me of a couple other big-name politicians who are in denial. First, there's Joe Leiberman, who's still running around saying we're winning in Iraq (what's he been smoking?).

Then, of course, there's the irrepressible George W., who's now taking a "Peter Pan" approach to the war...if he just "believes" hard enough (and gets the rest of us to say we believe too), his "Tinkerbell" war will come back to life...and he'll be remembered as a war hero, not as "the goat."

Fat chance. Baah!

Wanna read more?
SF Chron: Bush fights growing chorus for exit
NYT: McCain campaign drops top aides; new doubts rise

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The dead

It was 22 names this time, the most ever. This morning our minister read 22 names. That's how many American soldiers died in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past week.

Each Sunday we hear the names and acknowledge the loss. They are men and women unknown to me who have died fighting on behalf of my country, in a mismanaged war based on lies. Seven were from California. Some were old enough to leave behind families...wives, children, maybe even grandchildren. Some were so young they probably never had a chance to find love and marry.

This week's dead are:
  1. Jason Dale Lewis, 30, of Brookfield, Conn.,
  2. Robert Richard McRill, 42, of Lake Placid, Fla.,
  3. Steven Phillip Daugherty, 28, of Barstow, Calif.
  4. Scott A.M. Oswell, 33, of Washington.
  5. Andrew T. Engstrom, 22, of Slaton, Texas.
  6. Steven A. Davis, 23, of Woodbridge, Va.
  7. Christopher N. Rutherford, 25, of Newport, Ohio.
  8. William C. Chambers, 20, of Ringgold, Ga.
  9. Jeremy L. Tinnel, 20, of Mechanicsville, Va.
  10. James L. Adair, 26, of Carthage, Texas.
  11. Juan M. Garcia Schill, 20, of Grants Pass, Ore.
  12. Raymond R. Buchan, 33, of Johnstown, Pa.
  13. Michael L. Ruoff Jr., 31, of Yosemite, Calif.
  14. Victor A. Garcia, 22, of Rialto, Calif.
  15. Jonathan M. Rossi, 20, of Safety Harbor, Fla.
  16. Robb L. Rolfing, 29, of Milton, Mass.
  17. Shin W. Kim, 23, of Fullerton, Calif.,
  18. Michael J. Martinez, 24, of Chula Vista, Calif.,
  19. Giann C. Joya Mendoza, 27, of North Hollywood, Calif.,
  20. Dustin L. Workman II, 19, of Greenwood, Neb.
  21. Cory F. Hiltz, 20, of La Verne, Calif.
  22. William W. Crow Jr., 28, of Grandview Plaza, Kan.
And since those 22 names were read this morning, the Department of Defense has announced six more American deaths (five men, one woman) on its news release web page:

  • Thomas P. McGee, 23, of Hawthorne, Calif., died July 6 of wounds sustained when his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in Wazi Khwa, Afghanistan.
  • Michelle R. Ring, 24, of Martin, Tenn., died July 5 of wounds sustained from enemy mortar fire in Baghdad.
  • James M. Ahearn, 43, of Calif., and Keith A. Kline, 24, of Oak Harbor, Ohio, died July 5 when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in Baghdad, Iraq.
  • Christopher S. Honaker, 23, of Cleveland, N.C., died July 5 of wounds sustained from enemy small arms fire and indirect fire in the Watapor Valley of Kunar Province, Afghanistan.
  • Joseph A. Miracle, 22, of Ortonville, Mich., died July 5 of wounds sustained from enemy small arms fire and indirect fire in the Watapor Valley of Kunar Province, Afghanistan.
According to reports on tonight's news, the U.S. death toll now tops 3,000. And, of course, that's not counting contractors...or the estimated 160,000+ Iraqi civilians who have died since we invaded Iraq.

But there is a glimmer of hope...another Republican senator, Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, has come to grips with reality and broken ranks with the president on Iraq, calling for a pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq. And in one of this Sunday's editorials, The Road Home, the NYT editorial board finally stated the obvious:
It is time for the United States to leave Iraq, without any more delay than the Pentagon needs to organize an orderly exit.

In the eye of the beholder

How do you define beauty? How have our ideas of what is beautiful changed over time? Over generations? Over the centuries? The video "Women in Art" explores that question, showing 500 years of portraits of women by Western image morphing into another, one era into another, a changing portrait of beauty.

If you'd like to see more YouTube videos by "eggman," here's the link:

P.S. Thanks to Steve Greene for passing on the link to this video.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The court's circular logic

Let me see if I've got this straight...the Bush administration's NSA secret wiretapping program is so secret that nobody can find out whether or not they've been secretly spied on, or prove whether or not they've been injured by being secretly spied on. That's the reason two of the three appeals court judges gave for dismissing the case, saying none of the plaintiffs has grounds to sue.

Sounds like circular logic to me.

Link to NYT coverage of this decision.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Are you "Sicko" yet?

I just sent this letter (without the graphics) to both of my senators:
Yesterday I went to see Michael Moore's film, Sicko. I left the theater wondering why -- if America is the smartest, richest, most innovative and powerful nation in the world -- we can't figure out how to provide good health care to all Americans.

If the Canadians, the British and the French can do it (to say nothing of the Cubans), why can't we?

For example, did you know that in Great Britain, doctors get bonuses based on the improved health of people in their care? If their patients stop smoking, lower their blood pressure, etc., they get a bonus. In the United States, doctors get bonuses for seeing the most patients per day, for not making referrals, and for denying requests for treatment. Our insurance companies reward doctors and other employees for denying coverage and courses of treatment -- for limiting costs, not for helping people. We've got it entirely backwards.

It is clear that our national priority has been to make health care profitable for PPOs, HMOs, insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies, not to care for people. This has to change. We need to put people first, not corporate profits. We need to make health care a national right, not a profit center.

I think it's time to refocus the health care debate...away from incremental and useless changes like requiring people to buy insurance (so are they supposed to stop eating to pay for coverage?), or funding some coverage for poor children (at least until those funds run out -- tonight I watched NOW's Insuring the Children on PBS; it talked about how the State Children's Health Insurance Program is running out of funds and what that means to children can't get the Georgia girl who is likely to die without her diabetes meds).

Frankly, health insurance is not the answer. It is no guarantee of health care, not when insurance companies focus on making profits by denying claims and coverage.

One of my friends, a woman in her 50s who recently changed careers, is deeply worried about losing her job. Loss of income is bad enough, but the thing that really keeps her awake at night is the fear of losing her health insurance. She's got a health problem and she's worried that it will become a "pre-existing condition" and she'll won't be able to afford to get treated. And if she can't get treated, she won't be able to work.

In other developed countries, people can focus on doing their jobs, living their lives and caring for their families. They don't have to worry about being bankrupted by an illness or injury. They don't have to worry about dying because some bureaucrat denied them coverage or a needed treatment.

I want what other developed countries have. I want the security of knowing that if I get sick or am injured, it won't bankrupt my family. I want to know that if I get a serious injury or illness, I won't be allowed to die so some insurance executive can get a bonus. I want to know that, should I be unfortunate enough to end up with Alzheimer's like my mother, my family won't go have to through hell and destitute themselves trying to care for me.

National polls now show that health care is a top concern of a majority of Americans. That's because even those of us who have insurance know we are just one job and one claim away from denial of treatment or loss of coverage.

Please, it's time to change the debate on health care. It's time to make health care a basic right, not another privatized profit-making venture. Please do something.
If you want to do something, you can start by writing your representatives a letter too. Feel free to recycle parts of mine, if you like. And go see Sicko. See through the propaganda we've been fed all our lives, and see how the other half of the developed world lives.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Patriotic garden?

My garden...blooming in red, white and blue.

Happy July 4th!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Killing with kindness, musing on memes

I almost skipped it.

I was skimming the Books Update email from the NYT Sunday Book Review when I noticed a review of The Edge of Evolution by Michael J. Behe. His name sounded familiar, but I couldn't quite place it.

The promo blurb said, "In his second book, Michael Behe turns to genetics to poke holes in Darwin’s theory." That's when I noticed the reviewer: evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

Oh my, I thought, this is gonna be good.

It was. It's one of the kindest but most totally decimating reviews I've ever read. You can read it here.


One thing I hadn't realized is that Dawkins is the guy who coined the term "meme" to describe (as noted in his Wikipedia entry) "how Darwinian principles might be extended to explain the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena."

One of the most thought-provoking books I've ever read is Thought Contagion, a book about memes and the transmission of ideas by Aaron Lynch. I read it at about the same time I read another influential book, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

Both Lynch and Gladwell consider how ideas, beliefs and even new products or fads are spread through society. That is, they try to explain why some ideas, beliefs or products catch on and become popular, while others -- that seem equally viable -- simply don't.

In Thought Contagion, Lynch identifies several "propagation advantages," which is how he describes the characteristics that tend to encourage people to pass on or "propagate" a specific idea or belief. In The Tipping Point, Gladwell looks at the factors that make ideas or products "sticky" and more likely to catch on with the public.

Both of these books could be helpful to folks in the advertising, marketing and P.R. professions -- to anyone who's in the business of persuading others, for that matter -- as well as to journalists and others who need to better understand the factors that shape society and debates on public issues.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Pointers on writing for the web

You'll find some good pointers on writing headlines and copy for the web in Who Needs Headlines? at A List Apart, a blog on "the design, development, and meaning of web content."

As Shaun Crowley, a freelance copywriter and author of 100 Copywriting Tips for Designers and Other Freelance Artists, notes:
People often go online for quick, easy guidance. Headlines like How to…, 10 reasons why…, and 50 top tips for… promise the reader valuable tips, and they help you to highlight the key benefits.
I also like Crowley's suggestions to...focus on the product's unique selling point...use a quote...start a story. All good advice that works just as well offline as on.

Also check out Human to Human Design, an article by Aussie web design consultant Sharon Lee, who says, "A good website is built on two basic truths -- that the internet is an interactive medium and that the end user is in fact human." It's always helpful to remember there are people on the other side of what you write.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Sisyphean PR and other follies

And you think you've got a PR problem! Consider the uphill battle faced by Price Floyd, a U.S. State Department official charged with improving our nation's image in the world.

As reported in Slate, Floyd pointed to our rejection of the Kyoto treaty, dissing of the International Criminal Court, revocation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and the scandals at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and said, "What we don't have here is a failure to communicate."

"These actions," Floyd wrote in a recent op-ed piece in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "have sent an unequivocal message: The U.S. does not want to be a collaborative partner. This is the policy we have been 'selling' through our actions." As a result, our words are ignored or dismissed as "meaningless U.S. propaganda."

As marketer Chris Houchens noted in a recent post in his Shotgun Marketing blog, this is what happens when you try to "REBRAND" through words and not actions. It's a Sisyphean exercise.

By the way, wondering how Floyd got away with making such pointed comments in an administration known for lock-step message control? Well, Floyd recently quit his State Department job. 'Nuf said.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Improve your webcam picture

Wanna make your webcasts and computer videos look better? My friend Pam in KC tipped me off to this helpful post on the Strobist blog: How to Improve Your Cheapo Webcam’s Picture Quality.

webcast lighting

The Strobist blog also includes a “lighting boot camp” and “lighting 101: learn the basics.”

Friday, May 18, 2007

Podtech CEO's predictions for PR

"The press room of the future is going to be driven by broadband."

That's one hint about the future of public relations from a guy who ought to know...because he's one of the folks who's changing it.

John Furrier, CEO of, spoke last night about the future of PR and press rooms to a group of about 50 PR professionals and other interested folks at the Third Thursday social media meet-up in Palo Alto. The discussion was moderated by Giovanni Rodriguez, principal of HubbubPR.

Third Thursday focuses on the use of social media in marketing and PR.

Furrier started out as a tech guy, not a PR guy, and he didn't intend to change PR. He just wanted access to a decent press room at the big Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a space where he could quickly upload his podcasts and videos.

Hey, it's timely info, and people are why would you want to wait until you got home (or could find a local Starbucks with a good wifi connection) to publish it? News ought to get out fast!

So in January, for this year's CES, Furrier decided to create his own press room...a couple of rooms actually, at the Bellagio...with wireless, of course, mega broadband access, plus some plasma screens... and food, lots of it, because he noticed the food at the official CES press room tended to run out fast. He called it the Bloghaus. It was open all three days of the CED, 24/7.

CES opened its traditional press room to bloggers this year, was crowded, the food ran out and the wifi crashed. So a funny thing happened...a lot of the bloggers, podcasters and video bloggers started hearing about this swell place over at the Bellagio and migrated to the Bloghaus.

Soon, Furrier had a full house. And the Bloghaus was operating more like a studio than a traditional pressroom, with bloggers and video bloggers conducting interviews and uploading them right away. By the end of the three-day show, 750 video clips on CES had been uploaded from the Bloghaus.

Even some mainstream media (MSM) folks showed up to check it out, like Stephen Levy of Newsweek and John Markoff of the New York Times. A few savvy CEOs showed up too, and gained some street cred for being willing to talk to bloggers one-on-one. Maybe they'd figured out this was a way to reach millions of people within a few hours.

One thing Furrier noticed is that bloggers and video bloggers tend to work a little differently from mainstream media (MSM) reporters...they talk to each other more, they collaborate. He described it as "conversations among influencers who form opinions."

"It dawned on me that this is the press club of the future," Furrier said. "I think you're going to see more of this...we are in the early stages of a transformation."

What's changing is the relationship between traditional and emerging media, he said. It's getting more symbiotic. MSM reporters are recognizing that bloggers can simply get a lot of information out faster. Also, they're recognizing that communities of bloggers who focus on specific issues can uncover good stories...and help them percolate up into public awareness. Then, as Furrier put it, "the mainstream media comes in and fossilizes the story for the public."

Coming up next in my next post: Furrier on the death...and rebirth...of the VNR.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Who's a loser?

Sit through about 30 nausea-inducing seconds of Lindsay "I support the surge" Graham and...wait for it, wait for comes Barbara Boxer!

You go girl!

Okay, now that I've got that out of my system...what an interesting use of a video news clip to frame a point of view, promote a candidate, and raise funds.

More on censorship

For another view of the Pentagon's recent decision to limit web access for troops stationed in Iraq (see my previous post), here's is a panel from Don Asmussen's (a.k.a. "Bad Reporter") latest strip.

The targets of these new Pentagon restrictions? Subversive social media sites like MySpace and YouTube. No, I'm not kidding!

For the rest of Asmussen's strip, found in the SF Chronicle, click here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Censoring Iraq

If it starts to seem as though things aren't going quite so badly in Iraq, for a change, maybe it's because of Bush's surge...

...or maybe it's because Iraq's interior ministry "has decided to bar news photographers and camera operators from the scenes of bomb attacks," as noted in this ABC News Online article.

...or maybe it's because the Pentagon is now limiting web access for troops stationed in Iraq, as noted in this AP news story by reporter Lolita A. Blador. (If our enlisted men and women can get to an internet cafe, they're okay, but they can no longer use the Defense Department's computer network to access sites like MySpace and YouTube.)

If you want to get a more accurate picture of the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, one good place to start is the news releases link at the Department of Defense web site.

Here's what I found today:

Here's a link to the news release at the top of the list -- it announces the death of "Spc. Rhys W. Klasno, 20, of Riverside, Calif., [who] died May 13 in Haditha, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle."

And, as you can see, there's lots more where that one came from.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Sun, sky, water

I meandered over to a flickr page, on a link from a link from the MultimediaShooter blog, and found some fabulous photos by "thepres6." This is someone who clearly loves photographing sky, clouds, water and reflections...and who is clearly a much better photographer than I am.

Be sure to watch thepres6's "sun, sky, water" slideshow.

Then again, even us amateurs get lucky once in a while. Here's one of my favorite water reflection shots:

This pond is in New Hampshire near my sister's house. I've enjoyed it in many seasons, but it was the water lilies that finally made me stop to shoot some photos.

My visual DNA?

Whatever that means...but, hey, it's kinda fun!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Video blogging is wide open

I was fortunate to have two local video bloggers, Ryanne Hodson and Jay Dedman, come to my journalism class last week to talk to my students.

Ryanne has developed some great online tutorials for aspiring video bloggers at She is the co-author (with Michael Verdi) of Secrets of Video Blogging. Jay is the co-author (with Joshua Paul) of Videoblogging.

“There’s definitely a need for quality content,” Ryanne told my students. “It’s great to come from a place like CBS or CNN…and now we’re producing our own content.”

“It’s so exciting now because it’s so wide open,” added Jay, noting that it’s still fairly easy to get attention for your videos because there are so few video blogs out there.

Jay’s advice to my students: Start making videos, do it consistently, focus on the kinds of stories you like (not the kinds you think might be popular), have fun…and do it because you really love it. He says he only wishes video blogging had been around when he was a little younger so “instead of forming a rock band I could have formed a video band.”

Ryanne added, “Your blog becomes a resume.”

Jay & Ryanne’s Video Blogging Resources

(Note: The content of their RyanIsHungry vlog was recently licensed to the PodTech Network for broader online distribution.)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Vlogs, blogs and scholarships

Gawd, what a busy week! It had everything from dental work to scholarship awards to faculty workshops....

I got drilled Tuesday morning, in preparation for getting a crown. That afternoon, I finally set up a video blog (McVlog), and uploaded a little multimedia project I've been playing with for a while.

Wednesday, in addition to teaching two classes, I attended a STEM session on getting started with Flash...and listened to a few songs by one of my favorite indie groups, The Dimes, who were playing on campus (I 'd forgotten they were going to be there, but I heard them playing as I was on my way to my evening class, so I took a short detour).

Thursday, I helped another prof set up a blog, and then helped present scholarships at the JMC Academic Achievement Awards Reception. What a pleasure that was!

I got to hand out scholarships to a couple of my favorite former students (you know who you are!) and one of my current favorite students. I finally got to meet a student I only know through her entertaining and well-done slide show (created for another section of the new media class). I got to meet several proud parents and scholarship donors. And I got acquainted with a wonderful young broadcast student who told me she was inspired in her career choice by people like Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Barbara Walters.

I mean, how can you not have a good time at an event like this? The students are happy, the donors are happy, my boss is happy, I'm happy.

I wrapped the week up with a Friday morning faculty workshop on making slideshows and videos in iMovie, co-taught with my frequent partner in crime, Steve Greene. I brought some photos I'd taken at the scholarship awards reception; Steve brought a video camera and ambush-interviewed each of the six participants as they entered the room: "Do you know any students who won scholarships?"

We showed them how to make a quickie slide show in iPhoto, then jumped into doing the same in iMovie. An hour later, each of them had created a short multimedia presentation using still photos, video clips and music. One even added a voice-over. They were pleased. We were pleased. Another day, another bunch of happy people. I like that.

Fortunately, I had some really fine guest speakers in both of my classes this week (Carol Welsh of Cisco in my PR class and video bloggers Ryanne Hodson and Jay Dedman in my new media class). That cut down on some of the usual class prep. And I guess I'm getting used to not getting enough sleep.

There'll be time enough to sleep in mid-May, after the end of the semester.