Monday, August 27, 2007
Happy 7th Birthday, Christian!
Before I go any further, please change my email address to firstname.lastname@example.org ... yes, that's right ... I'm going to finally abandon AOL. And, yes, I can hear some of you saying that it's about time. What can I say. As the Amy Grant song goes "It takes a little while, sometimes, to turn the Titanic around."
Which is a whole 'nother subject. One I'll not explore today.
Tomorrow I head to Jacksonville -- Alabama, not Florida -- for a City Finance Committee Meeting where they will discuss the Utility Department budget. Now, before you yawn and roll your eyes, you need to know that at the last two meetings I've covered, the financial discussion has proven unexpectedly newsworthy. At one, the discussion was on changing banks ... which sounds dull, but when you think of how much money flows through a school system's bank accounts and then imagine that money flowing through another bank's accounts, the meeting transaction suddenly acquires interest ... puns intended. At another, the board spent two hours ... TWO HOURS ... discussing whether to accept a precedent-setting ruling from an administrative judge as to whether a copy machine company should be disqualified from a particular bid. Again, sounds soporific rather than sensational, but we're talking millions of dollars for the contract and somebody's salary somewhere down the line on the line.
All of which to say that the futility of utility is not a given.
Actually, it's part of our first assignment. We're not to actually report on the meeting, but to analyze how the meeting could be reported.
Check out the pictures above to see some of my fellow Fellows. I have another slide show I'll load in soon that was of our trip to Tuscaloosa.
And...last chance to vote on whether to Blog or M'log! (See survey in right hand column)
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Yeah, it was almost that bad.
They issued us these lovely MacBooks (laptop computers by Apple) loaded with all kinds of software and I took it with me to the first session, planning to use it to take notes. That's one thing I learned during my internship this last three weeks. I may never take manual notes again unless....unless what happened this morning happens again.
So I take my MacBook with me. And I open it up and start it and it kind of sits there while we're going over stuff. Nothing I really needed to take notes on for the first hour or so. So I put it in sleep mode to save the battery because there are no plugs on these tables--which I had thought a bit odd because this is a really high-tech room designed for all kinds of presentations. But I'm not worried because, after all, my Dell will run a couple of hours or more on the battery and this one shouldn't be that much different.
Except that I'm noticing the battery indicator seems to be showing less than a full charge. I'm thinking, "OK, during the break I'll slip back and pick up my old-fashioned college-ruled paper notebook just in case." Except there wasn't really a break.
And then we get to a point where I really do need to take notes, so I wake up Mac and try to open Word and the little W at the bottom of the screen just keeps bouncing up and down, but it won't actually do anything. Neither will my cursor do anything because it seems the computer is frozen. So I gratefully--humbly--accept an offer of paper from a fellow Fellow (nothing like showing up really prepared on the first day, is there?) and turn my Mac off and make the best of it.
Learned afterward that the plugs are in the floor. I hadn't thought to look there.
Two tech calls later that afternoon, I've got my printer on the right network and printing and I'm thinking this is a really impressive start to the year. Yikes!
However, I'm using Mac to deliver this m'log/blog, so we're at least on speaking terms this evening.
Speaking of m'log/blog, you have something like 11 more days to vote on whether it should be a m'log or a blog. To vote properly, you should go to my blog site at justthewritetouch.blogspot.com and look for the survey on the right hand side. There's a picture there and I think the colors are nice. But I am accepting absentee ballots by email. If you've forgotten the debate, you can read my previous posting. That is one advantage to the blog format.
Next time, pictures!
Monday, August 13, 2007
August 13, 2007
Our oldest son, the IT expert, says I can't call it a blog if I'm not really posting to a Web log site. He has a point. 'Blog' is supposed to be short for 'Web log.' Especially as I'm supposed to be about the business of printing accurate information, he says I should be more careful about the terms I use. I concede.
However, I hesitated at the thought of actually creating a blog. It seems somewhat pretentious. It requires, I think, an extra click (extra work) for someone to actually go and read it. I much prefer sending an email containing my cheery, newsy letter that people can just read or delete without having to click on the link to my blog.
The advantage to a blog is that people can read each other's responses...which, of course, presumes there will be responses and that people will be moved to comment upon them. But I did receive some nice replies to my previous emails and I think others would have enjoyed reading them. Most of them, anyway.
So I'm compromising. I've decided to call it a m'log, as in e-mail log. M'lady's m'log, if you will. Just remember that when this term finally makes it into Webster's, you saw it here first!
And I've created a blog. If you really want to read my past postings and see a picture or two (when I figure out how to post them), you can go to justwritetouch.blogspot.com and read all about it. And if you go there, you can also vote as to which format you prefer. But then the results are going to be skewed because only people who bother to go to the blog and bother to vote will be counted. Ah, statistics.
There. My conscience is clear.
Tomorrow is my last day as an intern. I'm finishing up an article about students in Calhoun County schools who speak little or no English. Can you believe Alabama has had a 336 percent increase in such students in the last decade? Probably true for most of the South, but for the U.S. as a whole the increase is about 65 percent. In the same time period, Alabama's total enrollment only increased 1.5 percent.
Wednesday I officially become a Knight Foundation Fellow. They wine us and dine us on Thursday—a bus tour of Calhoun County and a BBQ at the Star—and Friday—orientation in Tuscaloosa. We have meetings on Monday and Tuesday, and classes begin on Wednesday, August 22.
It has been 100 degrees or hotter the last few days. No rain. Just hot, hot, hot.
Those of you wanting to learn more about Anniston might want to read Dennis Love's My City Was Gone: One American town's toxic secret, its angry band of locals, and a $700 million day in court. As a narrative writer, he's quite good. Just be aware that Love provides little or no documentation and that some of those angry locals are angry at him because of what he didn't say and because of how he (mis)represented the town.
You'll also learn some local history and that I wasn't kidding in my last posting about a possible but, we're told, “unlikely event” making my life expectancy about three minutes. Mine and everyone else's here. But all America, indeed, all regardless of nationality who have bought into the philosophy that more is better and that science is the answer, is and are responsible. Why should any of us avoid such places while others live under this pall? Ultimately, why should I be afraid? “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord.” Romans 14:7
In any case, this is where I am. This is where I'll be, God willing, for the next year. Let the classes begin!
August 1, 2007
First off -- Most of you asked that I stay in touch during this year of graduate work in Alabama. But some of you may not have meant that you wanted to receive my periodic ramblings. That's OK. Just email me and I'll take your name off the list.
Second -- Don't feel you have to reply. Although, if you do, I'll relish hearing what you've been up to. I may or may not be able to answer. Can we both be OK with that, knowing that some communication is better than none.
So this morning's Star carried a feature story – front page first section – about the local bookmobile. Written by one of my fellow interns. She rode the bookmobile Monday and wrote about her experience. Described the bookmobile librarian in this manner: “She's spry at 56.”
Now I don't know about you, but “spry” is a word you use to describe people who are 96 and still maneuvering on their own two feet. Being only a couple of years shy of that ancient age of 56, I'm trying not to totter too much in the newsroom.
As you may have guessed, my fellow interns are mid-20s. Matter of fact, so are most of the staff writers. My editor is 31. One nice young man who asked me today about freelancing is in his “second career, too” – he recently got out of the Marines. Yes, I'm bemused by it all...and enjoying every minute. Each of these young people are not only intelligent, they're also skilled at dealing with people. The future is in at least as good hands as it's ever been.
So far I've written about teen museum volunteers, weather-related traffic fatalities, a police academy graduation, a three-part series on Calhoun County libraries, two stories on a local charity golf tournament, a school board meeting, and am working on dress code changes, a 5K run, and an AIDS event. Plus a couple of other shorter write-ups. I'm learning to deal with photographers who have their own policies and procedures, with the phone system, with computer routing my stories, and with deciphering various accents.
Outside of work, I'm fairly settled. Still don't have much in the way of furniture, but it makes it easy to vacuum. No TV, but I don't miss it. Have gotten a couple of movies from the library and watch them on my laptop. Banks and libraries close early around here. Other than that, there's a 24-hour WalMart not far up the street.
Got a letter from the local Emergency Management Association. And there was a note taped to my door about free tone alert radios. They warn in case of tornadoes. And there's a siren that has malfunctioned at least once since I've been here – for two solid hours between 1 and 3 a.m. warning of a non-existent disaster in the making. The other time the siren would go off – there are four different tones all together – is “in the unlikely event” of a catastrophic event at the Anniston Army Depot where they are in the decade-long process of incinerating hundreds of thousands of chemical weapons. I think my life expectancy in such an unlikely event is about three minutes.
Aside from that, the area is quite beautiful. The Star's offices have lots of windows. My desk when I am a student will look out toward a woodsy area. I'm told the deer come up to the windows sometimes. Hope to do some exploring soon and take some pictures.
Some of you may not have gotten my new address:
P.O. Box 4005 /Anniston, A 36204-4005
Phone is 256-xxx-xxxx
I love and miss you all.
July 21, 2007
Arrived a bit later than expected due to solar flares and uncharted asteroid belts, but safe and sound. Am mostly settled in and am finding my way around town. Worked on Friday. The three guys I had talked to when I was here last were all out of town, so no one was expecting me. Managing editor very graciously allowed me to follow him around and learn--which I did...LOTS!
I had gone in prepared to pitch a couple of story ideas, and he sent me out on one. Came back with photos and a story...and it ran on this morning's front page! Go to www.annistonstar.com -- it's the Close Encounters article. Can't go wrong with a story about kids and animals. Plus I was given another task in the morning which I also completed...whew! Glad to have my first day behind me and not feel like a blithering idiot. Monday will be a bit different, I'm sure.
Anyway--my phone number is 256-xxx-xxxx (cell phone -- no land line). Email address is same, but won't have access at home until Friday. Am using public access computer at library today.
Address is: PO Box 4005, Anniston, AL 36204-4005.
Love to all--