Tag Archives: TCA

Parents aren\’t supposed to act this way

There’s an episode of “Everybody Hates Chris” where a thug tries to get Chris to start stealing gold chains for him. Toward the end, Chris’ dad finds out, confronts him, and says that if he goes near Chris again, “You won’t go to jail. I will.” Chris’ dad then goes on to tell the thug exactly what he’ll do to him. And that was the end of it.

That’s how parents handled things in the ’80s. My dad did something similar when I was in 7th grade.

I guess today, some people set up fake Myspace profiles. Don’t read the story (or what follows here) if you’re easily upset.Megan Meier had an on-again, off-again friendship with a girl who lived down the street. After she ended the friendship for good, she started turning her life around.

Megan’s mother had banned her from Myspace because she and her ex-friend had created a fake profile with a photo of an attractive girl and used it to talk to boys. Soon before she turned 14, Megan’s mother lifted the ban.

Soon after, Josh appeared, wanting to be added as a friend. So began a six-week acquaintanceship. Megan was on cloud nine — she finally had a boy who she thought really thought she was pretty.

Then came an abrupt message: “I don’t know if I want to be friends with you anymore because I’ve heard that you are not very nice to your friends.”

It was all downhill from there. The next day, more disturbing messages followed. And Josh was sharing her messages with others.

A day later, Megan was dead by her own hand.

Josh had inside information on Megan and her relationships. Sort of. You see, Josh didn’t really exist. He was a fabrication of Megan’s ex-friend’s parents, created to see what Megan was saying about her former friend, and, obviously, to mess with the sensitive 13-year-old.

The thing that bothers me the most about this is the total lack of remorse. The mother said she heard at the funeral that Megan had attempted suicide before, so she felt less guilty. As an ambulance came down the street for Megan, the mother told one of the other people involved that she probably shouldn’t mention the Myspace account. And after Megan’s parents found out about the hoax, they destroyed a foosball table they had been storing for their so-called friends and dumped the pieces on the lawn. The hoaxers had installed a security camera–I wonder why?–and caught the incident on tape. They had the gall to press charges.

One family loses a daughter. Another loses a foosball table. The family that lost the foosball table is the one pressing charges. Megan’s father’s hearing is on Thursday.

Adults ganging up on a 13-year-old is not appropriate behavior. Thirteen year olds do a fine enough job of ganging up on one another and messing with each other’s minds. They don’t need adults–who are supposed to be role models and authority figures–jumping in.

I have firsthand experience in this. When I was 13, I was living in a little redneck town, attending a small school. I was ambitious and a deep thinker, and my classmates didn’t know what to make of someone like me. The way to get to be somebody in my combined 7th/8th grade class was to go to convenience stores and steal dirty magazines. Since I didn’t steal dirty magazines, I didn’t listen to Michael Jackson, and my dad drove the wrong brand of pickup, I quickly became an outcast.

Mostly they messed with my mind, but on three occasions it actually turned violent. The third time, happened during a softball game in PE. A kid named Joey–Someone I thought was my friend–bulldozed over me as he ran past second base.

I told my dad. Dad said he didn’t know what he was going to do, but he’d do something.

A few days later we had a softball game against another school. I was starting in left field. Joey started at third base. As he took his position, Dad walked up behind him.

“Hey, that was really cool how you mowed down David the other day, wasn’t it?”

Joey turned, grinning from ear to ear, until he saw that it was my Dad talking to him. The look on his face told Dad all he needed to know.

“I’m gonna have a lot of fun beating the [expletive] out of you, kid.”

Dad didn’t actually lay a hand on Joey. He made him a deal. If Joey left me alone for the rest of the year, Dad would leave him alone.

Joey made good on his end of the deal. I lived to see June, we moved away over the summer, and I never saw him again.

I’m not entirely convinced that the way Dad handled this was appropriate. But this was the third time something like this had happened and it was obvious the school authorities were unwilling or unable to put an end to it themselves. Dad’s confrontation with Joey happened during a softball game, in full view of our teacher (who was also the coach) and principal. Dad had Joey so rattled that he committed errors in the first inning, and when Dad started jawing at him again in the second, neither of them asked him to leave.

As inappropriate as Dad threatening Joey with bodily harm might be, it was a whole lot more appropriate than messing with a 13-year-old girl’s mind for six weeks, impersonating an interested 16-year-old boy, and sending a hormonal teenager on an emotional roller coaster ride before pulling the rug completely out with a final message that ended with the words, “the world would be a better place without you.”

Dad’s intervention was swift and clear. By the third inning, it was over, and with no lasting damage. About 10 years ago I heard Joey was going to college in Kansas City, which was quite a bit better than how some of our other classmates turned out.

I’ve seen a lot of outcry to unmask the identities of the people behind the forgery. I believe I have a pretty good idea who they are, but I don’t want to print something that might be incorrect. By searching public records I was able to locate a couple who fit the profile in the story. I believe the ringleaders are now age 40 and 38–certainly old enough to know better, and I would think old enough to have better things to do than harass 13-year-old girls.

The Meiers have said they won’t file a civil lawsuit against the couple who ganged up on their daughter and drove her to commit suicide. They want laws changed so that what they did would be illegal.

I disagree with that. I don’t know how you make what the Meier’s neighbors did illegal, and even if you did make it illegal to create a fake Myspace account for the purpose of harassing teenagers, the law would be impossible to enforce.

This is the perfect situation for a civil lawsuit. File a wrongful death lawsuit, saying that the family emotionally harassed their daughter for six weeks and drove her to suicide, and sue them into bankruptcy. You can’t send them to jail and you can’t bring their daughter back, but you can take away their $200,000 home and with it, much of their ability to do the same thing to someone else in the future, and, perhaps most importantly, you get them out of your neighborhood.

The Meiers probably don’t want the money. No amount of money will bring their daughter back. But this legal tactic is probably the only way they can get the one thing they do want–for their neighbors to leave. Not only that, it sends a message to people everywhere: Do not act inappropriately on Myspace, or there will be severe consequences, up to and including losing everything you’ve spent your career working to accumulate.

If there’s money left over after paying the lawyers, I’m sure they could find some worthy cause that could use the money to make the world a little bit better place.

And with those neighbors gone, Waterford Crystal Drive in Dardenne Prairie, Missouri would undoubtedly be a better place.

Aliens on my train layout

I bought a couple of aliens for my train consist today. At the annual TCA Ozark Division train show at Lutheran South that happens every December, I spotted some lonely American Flyer bodies sitting neglected on a table. There were two steam locomotives, a gondola, a boxcar, and a caboose. I looked at the locomotives but there wasn’t any way I could remotor them with parts I had available. I did buy the boxcar, and then came back for the gondola.

I spent a total of $3 for these artifacts from 1958. Not bad.The problem for me is, they’re from 1958. American Flyer was doing S gauge in 1958. I’m into O gauge.

But that’s OK.  S gauge is 1:64 scale. O27 (which is the flavor of O I like, because it’s what I grew up with) is supposed to be 1:64 scale. Hold an American Flyer S gauge gondola up next to a Lionel or Marx O27 gondola, and they’re awfully close to the same size. Sure, there’s some difference, but when you look at real trains, not every boxcar is exactly the same height, and not every gondola is exactly the same height and length either.

K-Line took some criticism when it dusted off the old Marx O27 molds, outfitted them with S gauge trucks, and tried to market them to S gaugers because the Marx boxcars are taller than the American Flyers, and when you measure the Marx car with a scale ruler, it’s a funny length. But most people don’t notice. When I put a Marx O27 boxcar next to my Flyer 805 with O27 trucks on it, the difference wasn’t as pronounced. You can tell the Flyer is shorter, but something about the O gauge trucks makes the difference harder to notice.

It took me about 10 minutes to outfit the Flyer gondola with some spare Lionel trucks I had kicking around. Then I decided I wanted a conversion car, so I put a Marx truck on one end and a Lionel on the other. It looks good with my Marx and Lionel gondolas.

It took me considerably longer to get the boxcar in running order, since I had to fashion a frame for it. So I grabbed a bunch of junk from the scrap box and I fashioned a frame. That ended up taking me a couple of hours to do (I can do it a lot faster when I’m doing several at once and I have all my tools and materials in order). For what I make per hour, I could have bought several nice boxcars, I know. But this was more fun than what I get paid to do, and besides, nobody was offering to pay me to do anything today. And besides, rescuing a lonely boxcar off the scrap heap is a whole lot more meaningful than just plunking down some cash.

Once it was all together, I grabbed Dad’s old Lionel 2037 and put it on a loop of track on the floor with the Flyer 803 and 805 and a Marx boxcar that I rescued from a similar fate about a year ago. I had to work out a few kinks of course, but it wasn’t long before the consist was running smoothly.

I know a lot of people who run 1950s trains tend to do so homogeneously. It tends to be all Flyer or all Lionel or all Marx. But all of them have their strengths. For one, all of them did cars that the others didn’t. While American Flyer’s locomotives are amazingly smooth runners–even their cheapies–I don’t think American Flyer made anything that has all of the positive attributes of the Lionel 2037: It’s no slouch in the smooth running department itself, it’s a great puller, it’s reliable, and it’s common as dirt so you can easily find a good one for around $70. And as much as I like Marx, Marx never made anything quite like the 2037 either. The Marx 333 can’t pull with a 2037, it’s nowhere near as common, and these days it’s more expensive too.

But Marx and American Flyer made plenty of cars in plenty of roadnames and paint schemes Lionel never made. And when they did overlap, there tended to be some differences, just like you see in real life. So turning some dilapidated American Flyer cars into O27s was a nice way to add some unique rolling stock to my roster.

I’m happy. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for more American Flyer cars that need running gear.

I helped my girlfriend move this weekend

It’s been a long weekend and I’m exhausted, but I like the situation my girlfriend finds herself in now. She has an apartment in the Holly Hills neighborhood in south St. Louis.Holly Hills is a pretty swanky place to live, if you have a house. The apartment situation is a bit different. A comparable one-bedroom apartment in the working-class suburb where I live would cost about $200 a month more than what she’s paying, and some of her utilities are included. You won’t find that in Mehlville. What you’re more likely to find is an apartment like the one where I lived for nearly five years, which was in a fairly safe neighborhood, but the building was about 20 years old and was falling apart, in spite of them wanting $550-$575 a month for a one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen so small you couldn’t have both the fridge and the oven doors open at the same time.

And I noticed, as I looked down Gravois Ave. towards Holly Hills Ave. from Loughborough, that this neighborhood still has class. A block up the street is an old sign that reads 4 Sports & More. Twenty years ago, that was called The Baseball Card Store. The name of the guy who owned it escapes me, but I remember going there frequently to buy baseball cards. He retired about 10 years ago. Under the new ownership, the shop didn’t last long. It’s a shame, really.

Next door is what used to be a Rexall drugstore. I don’t know if the Rexall was still there 20 years ago. It’s a payday loans place now, a sign of the times. It wasn’t as easy to get a credit line 20 years ago, so it wasn’t as easy to overextend yourself.

On the end of the strip is an old-fashioned hardware store. The couple who own it are getting up in years so I don’t know how long it’ll still be there. It’ll be a shame if it closes. It’s not like those big box stores. Those two know exactly where everything is in their store, and they can tell you exactly what to do with it. No, I’m not being impolite. The two of them really are handy. And from what I can tell, she’s the handier of the two.

Across the street, there’s Elicia’s Pizza. It’s a local chain that serves up St. Louis-style pizza. It’s ultra-thin and sliced square. As far as famous St. Louis chains, it probably ranks fourth, and it may be a distant fourth, in numbers and fame. Quality-wise, I’d rank it second behind Fortel’s. We ordered pizza from there on Saturday. I kid you not, they had it ready in less than 10 minutes flat.

I have no idea what the proper name for these things are, but there’s a big clock on a pole on the street, too. It looks like the ones you see in a movie, or on a train layout or one of those ceramic villages. And it works.

It’s obviously not the bustling commercial district it once was, with about half the storefronts closed up, but it has charm and character. Who’s going to get nostalgic at the sight of a strip mall in Mehlville or Oakville?

Closer to her apartment, it’s a residential district. On the way there, you can see $200,000 homes and you can see a handful of $500,000+ homes. It’s near a big city park. The homes are old, so the trees are mature. One of the streets is even split to allow more trees to grow in the middle. It’s a gorgeous sight in the fall.

I’m happy for her. She has a nice apartment. She’s free from a very overbearing roommate. Her utility bills are about to take a dive. She has three grocery stores within two miles. And the neighborhood looks like a postcard.

I wish I’d known about the place when I moved back to St. Louis six years ago.

The unheralded bargain in O gauge trains

Toy trains are a funny thing. Vintage Lionel trains are almost a status symbol, and their value has almost taken a mythical quality. Marx, on the other hand, was the working class brand in the 1950s, the company that had something for you no matter how much you had available to spend.

For the most part, today’s prices reflect that. Lionels are expensive and Marxes are cheap.

Sort of.If you read the various pages on the Web, that’s certainly the impression you get. But for whatever reason, Marx prices seem to be rising. Search on eBay and you see inflated prices. Maybe the secret’s out.

Let’s get a disclaimer out of the way. I don’t recommend toy trains as an investment. Yes, vintage trains are almost certain to hold their value. Yes, many will increase in value. But their values tend to be more unpredictable than stocks, and certainly less proven. This is true of all collectibles. Your investment money needs to go to the bank or the stock market. Spend entertainment money on collectibles. They’ll retain more of their value, on average, than CDs and DVDs will, and they’re almost certainly worth more than empty beer cans or movie ticket stubs.

End disclaimer. For whatever reason, Marx isn’t the value that it used to be. Maybe it’s because Marx made so much other stuff and has a large collector following, causing Marx prices to rise along with the values of its other toys because of its appeal outside of train fans.

So where do you go for a bargain these days?

Lionel.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Lionel made starter sets. Unlike their higher-priced items, these didn’t have operating couplers, and sometimes they were made of cheaper plastics. In 1969, Lionel Corporation went bankrupt and sold its tooling and licensed its name to General Mills, whose subsidiary Model Products Corporation manufactured and marketed Lionel trains. MPC cut a few more corners, and the trains manufactured by MPC from 1969 until the mid-1980s are cheaper still.

They do have a collector following, but the following is much less than that of Lionel of other eras, or Marx, or anything else for that matter. And the prices reflect that.

I bought a box of junk this weekend for $35. Inside was a figure-8 of slot car track, some pieces of old slot cars, a few random pieces of Lionel track, and a Lionel Scout set from the 1962-1966 time period. Included was a Lionel 2-4-2 steam locomotive (model number 242, appropriately) and corresponding tender, a flatcar, a hopper, a gondola, and a plain red unlettered caboose.

While the writers in the train magazines dismiss Lionel’s cheap Scout locomotives as junk, I’ve found them reliable and, additionally, they’re more tolerant of bad track than the more expensive offerings. I can see how they’re more difficult to fix, and maybe they don’t hold up as well when they’re run for hours at a time, but when they’re worth between $10 and $15 I don’t see much room for complaint, either. If the motor dies in a few years, buy another locomotive and keep the old one for parts. Maybe you’ll find a deal on a mechanically sound Scout with a bad body.

As for the cars, they have a bit more plastic shine than I’d like. But at $5-$10 a pop, why complain? K-Line sells new box cars for $10, but you can’t get new freight cars for much less than $20. Given the choice between a $20 K-Line or Industrial Rail hopper or a $5 Lionel hopper from the ’60s or ’70s, I’ll take the Lionel every time. The Lionel isn’t going to decrease in value. The others will. The Lionel may not hold the track as well, but that $15 savings will more than pay for some upgraded trucks (wheel sets) if it needs them.

Meanwhile, the equivalent Marx hopper will probably cost you $12.

Don’t get me wrong. I won’t pass up a nice Marx, but if I’m looking for cheap cars to pad out a long train, Lionel’s offerings from its darkest hours are the better bet.

Slashdot just located another sleazy spammer

The Dayton Daily News ran a story today about another sleazy spammer. Naturally, it took Slashdot mere hours to dig up an address, based on clues from the article.
The guy leads a lifestyle even more over the top than that described by R. Collins Farquhar IV and Jacques Pierre Cousteau Bouillabaise de Raunche de la Stenche: Sleep until 1, work for five hours cluttering your inbox and mine while holding a brandy snifter and wearing a silk kimono and leather slippers, then go out for a night on the town.

If you’d like to, oh, I don’t know, send him a postcard from your hometown voicing your appreciation for what he does, click on the Slashdot link. Do a search for “Dayton.”

Don’t even think about DogDoo.com. That’s harrassment.

Rethinking Movable Type and b2

A very interesting discussion today made me re-think the importance of a content management system such as Movable Type or b2.
I was talking with two people whom I expected would be among the last to even consider dropping their long-standing practice of creating their daily writings with FrontPage and moving to a CMS approach. (Saying their names would be name dropping and it’s irrelevant.) Their questions made me really question what the advantages to this system are. That’s good.

Products like Radio Userland and Trellix are really just a step beyond FrontPage, in my estimation. They’re designed for journals, rather than general purpose Web design, which probably makes them faster and easier to use and certainly cheaper. But you still get flat, static files. Radio will allow readers to navigate by date, so they can quickly get to last Tuesday’s entry–assuming that for some reason they already know they want to read last Tuesday’s entry. (Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t.)

Manila and Blogger move all of Radio Userland’s work to the server and gives you an integrated search engine, which is one more step in the right direction.

But a true content management system takes a reader’s daily entries, stores them in a database, and then when a reader asks for the content, generates HTML to send them. Movable Type does this generation in advance; b2 does it on the fly. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches; it’s not worth dwelling on.

What b2 and Movable Type give you over static pages is significant. Maybe you like what I wrote Thursday about video editing and you want to read more stuff like it. Well, I happen to have a category called video. Click on it and you get everything I’ve ever written and put into that category. When I post new content, I just tell the system what category to put it in, and it does the rest of the work for me.

Also, b2 and Movable Type make it significantly easier to gain traffic from search engines like Google. Once an entry falls off the current front page (usually set to show a week’s worth of entries), it gets its own page for time and eternity. One day’s entry is much easier for a visitor to make sense of than seven days’ worth. Individual entries can be titled appropriately, which makes Google rank it higher than pages that aren’t titled. Both of these make a reader more likely to visit.

Since b2 and Movable Type use databases, it’s easy to query the database for similar content. It’s easy to display current content. When someone visits this page, even if they grab a story that’s four years old, they get the same sidebar as my current page, which contains recent stories of note. If one of those stories grabs the visitor’s attention, I’m more likely to turn that visitor into a regular reader.

It’s also fairly easy to make b2 or Movable Type display links to the last few entries in the same category at the bottom of an entry. (I really need to implement this.) Imagine if someone likes my video editing story, gets to the end, and sees links to five more stories like it? Do you think the reader is more likely to click on one of those links than s/he is to go looking for something else like it? If the reader has to go looking on his or her own, I’m probably out of the picture. It’s easier to go back to Google. But if the reader reads another story or two of mine, I get more chances to get my hook in.

One advantage for me–this was a terrible turn-off for one of the others, as he keeps tight control on other people’s content on his site, and that’s one of the things his readers really like–is the comments system. I like leaving all of my content open to all for comment. I get very little e-mail and sometimes other people answer questions for me. That’s not necessarily a plus. At least it’s easy to turn off the feature entirely.

There are some less-obvious benefits as well. Both b2 and Movable Type offer newsfeeds–small, downloadable XML files that programs can download and use to display headlines off your site, complete with links to the full story. News aggregators are becoming popular among certain segments of the Internet community; already a significant portion of my traffic is newsfeed-related. This allows people to keep my newest stuff on their desktop or display it on their own Web pages–almost like the ill-fated PointCast, only this time likely to succeed just because there isn’t a necessary business model. This feature makes keeping up with my site, or a large number of sites like mine, trivial.

One advantage to me since I spent a weekend or so setting up a CMS for the first time has been that I don’t spend any time editing HTML anymore, short of inserting hyperlinks and inserting emphasis. I write, and that’s it. Some days I can write my entry in 15-20 minutes. On those days, I spend about 15-20 minutes on my site, unless it’s been a heavy comments day, because I just write in my preferred tool of the day, copy and paste it into b2, click a button, and within a few seconds, my new stuff is live.

Another advantage to me is traffic. Having entries small enough for people to link to and small enough to facilitate locating search terms quickly, Google treats me very well. This month, over 26% of my total traffic is coming from Google. (By comparison, 31% of my traffic comes from bookmarks.) And I’m not even doing everything I can–yet–to kiss up to Google. And since there are plenty of links on the sidebar to content that’s either fresh or compelling by some past measure, chances are someone will click on at least one other entry here, which gives me two chances–not just one–to turn that visitor into a regular reader.

If you’re currently using a tool like FrontPage or Trellix or Radio Userland to create your daily journal/blog/whatever you want to call it, you ought to give a full, complete, content management system-type program like Movable Type or b2 a look. Movable Type is easier to set up, but if you have programming ability, b2’s setup will allow you more flexibility on your site output.

Migrating a lot of existing content can be a pain. You can look at doing what I did–operating the sites in parallel, leaving the old content up and running but putting the new content in b2/Movable Type–or you can try to enlist some help in getting the old content moved in. Even if the old content stays put, it remains no less accessible than it is now. The new content just becomes much easier to navigate and cross-reference and mine for the juiciest bits.

But no matter how painful the changeover, I believe the categorization, the dynamic nature of the front page, and the ease in finding older content of interest will only increase your readership. It certainly has for me.

Planes, trains, and computers

Planes. I’m not as big of an airplane fanatic as my dad was, but no one is. It’s too bad he didn’t live to see the Web come of age, because I found some sites that would have made him want to use a computer. Aviationarchaeology documents military crash sites in the United States. It’s not complete (I know of an F-86 Sabre crash site in a remote site in the Southwest that it doesn’t document) but cool. I found another similar page.
And then there’s Urban’s military aviation weblog, which is a links collection that just has to be seen to believe.

Trains. Gatermann sent this link to a streetcar, built in 1910, for sale on eBay. I asked him if he thought Metrolink would mind if we used it on their tracks. He said he didn’t think so.

Having a restored streetcar would be almost as cool as having a private Tu-144… And a whole lot safer.

Automobiles Computers. The P2 shell I ordered last week arrived yesterday. It was surprisingly well constructed. The motherboard and floppy drive were installed, and all cables were present, making it really easy to construct a complete system from it. I plugged in a 128-meg stick, attached a CPU fan to a Celeron-366 in a slotket and plugged it in, then I raided an old 486 for a video card, NIC, hard drive, and CD-ROM drive. The HD in the 486 had Debian 2.2 installed, so no further work was necessary. I plugged it in, turned it on, Debian booted, and it was fast.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen a P2-class machine with ISA video and network cards, but this thing’s going to be a low-volume Intranet server. Why waste a decent video card on it when the only thing it’s ever going to display is a logon prompt? Back before Microsoft brainwashed the world into putting GUIs on their servers, it was common practice to put ISA video cards in servers to conserve PCI slots for important things, like network cards and SCSI cards.

A Pentium-75 would do this job nicely, but I had a slotket, a CPU, and a 128-meg stick, and the barebones system cost $40 delivered. I’d have needed 32 megs of 72-pin memory to bring up a Pentium-75 to do this job, and it would have cost more than that.

At any rate, if you want to build your own dirt-cheap P2, you can get the case/ps/mobo/floppy combo for $20 and a P2-233 for $17 at Compgeeks.com. As for hard drives, a 2.5-gig job will run you $26 and it goes on up from there. They don’t have any dirt-cheap video cards there, unfortunately. You can go to Computer Surplus Outlet for that. I wouldn’t trust either place’s memory, so go to Crucial for that. If you have some parts laying around from upgrades past, you can have a complete system cheap. If you don’t have parts, you’re better off just buying a complete P2. You can get a Dell P2-233/32MB for $79, including CD-ROM and NIC.

I’m really curious how a lab full of P2-233s running Linux as one big OpenMosix cluster would perform…

And baseball. Can’t leave that out. I just read that Cookie Rojas is coaching for the Toronto Blue Jays. So when are the Royals going to get rid of Tony Loser and put Cookie at the helm?

As for Stinky the Frenchman’s comments the other day comparing rooting for the Royals to rooting for the cars at a monster truck rally, does anyone else find it ironic that a supposed French nobleman would talk with an air of superiority about “American Cricket,” then go compare my favorite team to a monster truck rally? How does he know about monster truck rallies?

What the press doesn’t want to tell you about Kaycee

Dan Bowman forwarded me a string of e-mail yesterday that raised a number of questions about the press. Apparently there is at least one reporter trying to find out how many people gave gifts to “Kaycee,” and that’s raising some concerns. Why? And why does the reporter want names and phone numbers? And how do you know if the guy’s legit or if he’s making some kind of sucker list?
Being a former reporter myself, Dan solicited my opinion. Maybe he figured a former reporter would recognize one of his own. And I do.

One concern was the reporter’s apparent use of a free e-mail address. This doesn’t cause me any great concern. Not all newspapers have a mail server because not every newspaper can afford to pay a mail administrator–or maybe they’re just not willing to justify keeping a full-time IT guy on hand who’d make more than the editor in chief. Plus there’s the portability issue–use a free, Web-based mail service, and you can read your mail from anywhere with Web access. No need to mess with VPNs or direct dialins or any of that nastiness.

Another concern is why does the reporter want a phone number. Practicality is one issue; a five-minute phone conversation can glean far more information than a mail conversation that takes all day. And the reporter probably wants to hear your voice; the sound of your voice tells a lot. The reporter can’t print that information, usually, but that gut feeling provides valuable guidance. Plus the reporter needs to verify that you really exist, which is something that anyone who had any contact with “Kaycee” will understand.

But if the reporter were any good, he’d be able to track you down, right? You bet he could. But that’s ruder than establishing contact via e-mail. You want the source to be as comfortable as possible. Plus it takes time to do that. In something like this, you’ll cast a wide net as painlessly as possible. If I were writing this story, my very first step would be to go to Weblogs.com, do a search on “Kaycee,” and when I find sites that mention her name a lot, I’d read the posts to get an idea of whether there was any relationship, and if I find any indication, e-mail that person. I may e-mail 100 people. But it only takes three sources to make a story.

Will the reporter honor your wishes, like not printing your full name, or your real name? Quite possibly. I know MSNBC’s Bob Sullivan knew Julie Fullbright’s identity. (Bob taught one of my journalism classes way back when, back when he was a grad student at the University of Missouri. I e-mailed him after his story hit the Web.) He didn’t publish her name–he said her identity couldn’t be confirmed at press time. A white lie? Kind of. But I know Bob didn’t knock on Julie’s door and confirm it. I don’t know whether he called her on the phone and asked if the pictures were her yet still chose to say her identity was unconfirmed. Bob said he wanted to protect her privacy, and knowing Bob, I take him at his word on that. If this was going to turn into a three-ring circus in the press, Bob didn’t want to be the ringmaster. Once her identity became common knowledge, you started seeing her mentioned by name in the news too, and not just on the Weblogging sites.

Chances are very good that the reporter(s) will talk to dozens of people and probably run the best quotes he gets from some of them. For example, I found a nugget in one of Dan Bowman’s messages: “Shelley would really like to know who ate her cookies.” Yes, on one level that’s funny. But baking cookies for someone is a fairly universal act of love, and just about all of us–even baking-challenged superbachelors–can understand the feeling of betrayal when you bake up a batch of cookies and send them to someone, then find out they never got to that person. And if that person didn’t exist at all, it hurts even more.

If you feel like you should give the reporter a piece of information but don’t want to be quoted, use the phrase “off the record.” Most reporters honor that. If you can give them someone else who’ll corroborate what you say, the reporter is even more likely to honor it. Even if that someone else wants to remain anonymous, once three people say something, a reporter can pretty much count it as fact. And since there is some danger of retribution, a reporter will honor that. Most reporters have a soft spot in their hearts for people in danger.

I know you’re nervous about talking about this with a reporter, because I was a crime reporter. Being taken for money is one thing. People don’t like to talk about that because they don’t like to think of themselves as suckers. I know that. Any reporter you’re likely to talk to knows that. But being taken for love is entirely different. People are far less likely to talk about that. Any reporter you’re likely to talk to knows that too. All too well. He or she isn’t likely to do anything to hack you off when good sources are hard to find.

Why is the press taking this angle? Well, the root word of the word “news” is “new.” This is a very old story by news standards. This is the only angle left to take, and the national media has probably stopped caring. If it turns out that more than $1,000,000 worth of gifts were sent to Kaycee, then it’ll become a national story again. If a few hundred people sent postcards and cookies and trinkets, I doubt you’ll hear about it anywhere but in Kansas and Oklahoma newspapers. But in rural Kansas and Oklahoma, anything new that comes about in this case is news.

Why can’t the reporter just read your Weblog? There’s a decent chance s/he already has. But the reporter will want to know how you feel about this now. (That “new” thing again.) And no one wants to print exactly the same quote some other paper did. If you interview the person yourself, your chances of having verbatim quotes lessen.

Is the reporter in cahoots with the FBI or local law enforcement agencies? Probably not. That would be a conflict of interest. It crosses the boundary between reporting news and creating news.

And how can you tell if a reporter is legit? Do a Web search on the reporter’s name. Chances are it’ll show up somewhere. I did a Google search on the reporter’s name in this case, and the first hit had his name, his employer’s name, his editor’s name, and his newspaper’s phone number. If worse came to worse, I could call that number and ask for him. If he’s not there, you can ask whoever answers the phone if the reporter is working on a story along those lines. There’s no guarantee that person will know, but reporters do talk to one another, and future stories do come up in newsroom meetings.

Hopefully that helps people see this thing from a reporter’s perspective. And I suspect that’s probably the last I’ll talk about Kaycee here–the story seems to be losing momentum and people seem to be moving on. And that’s a good thing.

01/16/2001

AMD and DDR. Good news for hardware enthusiasts wanting AMD-based DDR systems. Via shipped its 266 MHz DDR chipset Monday. This is good news because Via can in all likelihood supply their chipsets in larger quantities than AMD can or will. It’ll take a little while for the KT266 to appear in earnest, but this should soon silence the DIY crowd, who’ve been protesting very loudly that they can’t get boards or chips. Virtually all of Gigabyte’s 760 boards are going to Compaq and Micron, which does make sense. Compaq and Micron will order boards and 266 MHz FSB chips in quantities of hundreds of thousands. The shops catering to the DIY crowd won’t. Given a limited supply, the big fish will get first dibs–it’s easier and less expensive to deal with two big customers than with a hundred tiny ones.

Infoworld. I think my Infoworld subscription has finally lapsed. I’ve been trying to let it lapse for months. I’d get a “This is your last issue if you don’t renew NOW!” warning attached to the cover, which would then be followed by six issues or so, before I’d get another warning. I think I’ve been getting these since last June.

Well, today I went to Infoworld’s site, and I remember why I’ve been trying to let my subscription lapse. They’re bleeding pundits. Q&A maestro Mark Pace quit. Then his partner, Brooks Talley, quit. Bob Metcalfe retired. Sean Dugan quit. Now, Stuart McClue and Joel Scambray are quitting, to be replaced by P.J. Connolly. They tried Connolly as a columnist once before. That experiment lasted about a month, probably because he wrote more about the Grateful Dead than he did about the subject at hand. (Which made me self-conscious about mentioning Aimee Mann and the Kansas City Royals too frequently, but I generally don’t mention them on a weekly basis, so I’m probably OK.)

Their best remaining columnists are Brian Livingston, Nicholas Petreley, and Ed Foster. Livingston has a lot of useful tips, while Foster is genuinely entertaining and provides a useful service to readers. Infoworld’s Robert X. Cringely isn’t quite as entertaining or as insightful as PBS’ Robert X. Cringely, but he’s usually worth a quick read. But there are half as many reasons to read the magazine now as there once were.

Amazon. Amazon’s under fire again from a number of directions, including Ed Foster, and I can’t say I’m in love with all of their practices, but I can’t help but notice something. From my limited vantage point, it would seem consumers don’t really seem to care all that much about Amazon’s business practices. I provided links to buy my book elsewhere, but the sales rankings at the other places are pathetic even after doing so. Sales at Borders and B&N are nearly non-existent. Sales at Fatbrain are sporadic at best. But there are a handful of venues where it sells well. The used places sell what copies they can get very quickly. And when Amazon can manage to allow people to order it, it sells very well. If they can’t get a used copy cheap, people would rather buy from Amazon, period. And they’ll even pay a higher price at Amazon than they will elsewhere. A number of people paid full cover price from Amazon off links from this site, even when it was available for less elsewhere. (Amazon seems to be currently selling it for $19.95 or so.)

Some people swear by Apple. I swear at Apple. Apparently Steve Jobs does too . (Not for the easily offended.)

Plextor bargains, and Year 2000 in review

A bargain Plextor CD-RW. I just spotted this great tip in a link to a link to a link in the StorageReview forums. The Iomega ZipCD 12x10x32 appears to be a relabeled Plextor drive, and it sometimes sells for around $100. So if you’re looking for the best CD-R on the market at a great price, go get it.
Details are at www.roundsparrow.com/comp/iomega1 if you want to have a look-see.

The $99 price seems to be a CompUSA special sale. Check local availability at www.compusa.com/products/product_info.asp?product_code=280095 if you’re interested.

Incidentally, the IDE 12x10x32 drives from TDK and Creative are also reported to be re-branded Plextors. Regular retail price on these four “twin” drives is similar, around $300. The TDK and Creative drives come with Nero Burning ROM, however, making them more desirable than the Plextor model. Iomega bundles Adaptec’s CD suite.

Happy New Year. An ancient Chinese curse says, “May you live in interesting times.” Well, 2000 certainly was interesting. So, my toast to you this year is this: May 2001 be less interesting than 2000. Boring isn’t always bad. Just usually.

Linux 2.4 almost made it. Yesterday, Linus Torvalds released linux2.4-prerelease and vowed there won’t be a prerelease1, prerelease2, etc.–this is it. Bugs get fixed in this one, then the final 2.4 comes out (to be immediately followed by linux2.4ac1, no doubt–Alan Cox always releases a patched kernel swatting a couple of bugs within hours of Linus releasing the new kernel. It happened with 2.0 and with 2.2, and history repeats itself).

Anyway, the 2.2 prerelease turned into a series in spite of Linus’ vows, so Linus isn’t always right, but I expect 2.4 will be out this month, if not this week.

Linux 2.4 will increase performance, especially on high-memory and SMP machines, but I ran a 2.3 series kernel (basically the Linux equivalent of an alpha release of 2.4) on my P120 for a long time and found it to be faster than 2.2, even on a machine that humble. I also found it to be more stable than Microsoft’s final releases, but hey.

I ought to download 2.4prerelease and put it on my dual Celeron box to see how far it’s come, but I doubt I get around to it today.

Other lowlights of 2000. Windows 2000 flopped. It’s not a total disaster, but sales aren’t meeting Microsoft’s expectations. PC sales flopped, and that was a disaster. The Pentium 4 was released to awful reviews. Nvidia bought the mortal remains of 3dfx for a song. Similarly, Aureal departed from this mortal coil, purchased by longtime archrival Creative Labs after bankruptcy. (In a former incarnation, before bankruptcy and being run into the ground, Aureal was known as MediaVision. PC veterans probably remember them.) A federal judge ordered the breakup of Microsoft, but the appeals process promises to at least delay it, if not prevent it. We’ll hear a lot about that in 2001, but 2001 probably won’t bring any closure.

Hmm, other highlights. Apple failed to release OS X this year, and saw its new product line flop. Dotcom after dotcom shuttered its doors, much to Wall Street’s dismay. Linux companies didn’t topple MS, much to Wall Street’s dismay. And speaking of Wall Street, Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Bill Gates (Microsoft) flip-flopped in the rankings of richest man in the world several times.

And two of my favorite pundits, Bob Metcalfe and G. Burgess Alison, called it quits last year. They are sorely missed.

And once again, 2000 wasn’t the year of the NC.

I know I missed a few. But those were the highlights, as I see them.