video killed the radio star – part two

Poscasting is taking the world by storm. The release of iTunes version 4.9 has exploded the format, for good or bad. This is the next evolution of mass communication among ordinary folks.

What is Podcasting? It’s kind of like time-shifted internet radio. A whole bunch of people are basically taking advantage of the capabilities of RSS and using it to distribute audio content.

Why should I care? Well, what you are reading right now is a blog. (Duh, Ted. I’m not stupid) A podcast is an extension of the blog format. People create the content (an interview, some music, some ranting, whatever), post it on the internet, and other people either go to the site directly or get the feed from an RSS reader. I think this is really important and I’ll explain a little bit about why.

We are seeing an increase in the number and influence of blogs on the political process. During the 2004 major party conventions, bloggers were given press credentials. They were recognized at that point as being part of the media. Part of the information exchange that influences the way the world works and how we are governed. In Northfield, several people who are either elected officials or in influential positions in government or commerce are also blogging. You can see this by starting with and continue with Jim Pokorney, Jessica Peterson, Gary Smith, Diane Cirksena and Ray Cox. And these aren’t the only examples.

So we now have a fairly easy way (or the beginnings of an easy way) to expand that community journalism concept into a digital version of community radio. What’s community radio? Well, let’s just say it’s a chance for anyone to broadcast pretty much whatever they want. You’re interested in city politics? Start your own podcast and interview local figures and local folks about the issues. And even more significantly – say what you think about them. Have a need for speed at the local stock car racetrack? Tell everybody about what’s going on each weekend and make your favorite drivers and crews feel like the “big guys” by interviewing and promoting them on your own show.

I would encourage anyone to check out the available podcasts that are out there. Many of them provide a nice alternative to the standard mass-media radio and often do a better job of informing on issues like technology and local politics.

Here’s a couple sites to get you started. The easiest way to get started listening to podcasts right now is to get iTunes from Apple. There are versions for both PC and Mac, and a lot of people already have it. You will need version 4.9 or later to get the podcast page in the iTunes Store. Another “podcatcher” that is popular is ipodder lemon. Heard of Adam Curry? The old MTV v-jay has been on the bandwagon for podcasting since the beginning and is involved in the ipodder project.

There is a huge amount of dicussion about this topic and how it relates to blogging, commercial radio, music promotion and licensing, community radio, politics, marketing and a bunch of other stuff. But, in the interest of keeping it simple I’ll just say that I think this new medium is pretty interesting and I am really enjoying it.

Here’s a partial list of podcasts that I’ve been listening to:

TWiT – This Week in Tech (this is the crew from the old ScreenSavers show on TechTV)
Daily Source Code – Adam Curry
Podcast 411 – Information on podcasting and interviews with podcasters
Geek News Central – Tech news and commentary from Todd in sunny Hawaii
Inside Minnesota Politics – Peter Idusogie (an unabashed Democrat, but he does some interesting interviews)

in the dark

Justified or not, I am often dismayed at the frequency of power outages in my neighborhood. We are currently experiencing the second outage within the last two weeks I believe. Not that the frequency is the issue, it’s more the timing.

These last two outages have occurred when I was just finishing something and getting ready to go to sleep. Since I work nights, that means on my days off I usually hit the sack around 3 or 4 in the morning. With no power, there’s no white noise in the bedroom. This makes it difficult or impossible for my wife to sleep which then makes it difficult or impossible for me to sleep. I can sleep through just about anything once I’m out, but if my wife isn’t already asleep that will never happen.

So, then I get to sit down and write something while I wait for Xcel Energy to fix the problem. A UPS for my cable modem and router help with that. The crews who do the repairs are always friendly and efficient (yes, I have had several chances to talk with them over the years. I’m awake at night…) but I am concerned that the power grid for the area might not be keeping up with our growth.

There are two electrical substations in Northfield. One of them is so old and outdated that I understand Xcel‘s crews are uncomfortable working on it. Perhaps these should be looked at more carefully as part of the infrastructure that is discussed with development. We hear all kinds of things about streets and sewers but little about utilities. If they are not already part of the discussion, then perhaps we should make sure Xcel and the other utilities are able to plan for and keep up with growth in the area.

simple things can save lives

I wear a few different hats at work, and one of those hats involves workplace safety. I recently took over my department’s seat on an organization-wide safety committee. I haven’t been really good about attending the meetings yet, but I am concerned about the things we can do to make our workplace (and the rest of our lives) safer.

I had a chance recently to attend a workshop in Rochester called Southeast Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths. This is part of a statewide effort in Minnesota to address traffic safety across all the people and agencies who can have an impact. The focus areas are Engineering, Education, Enforcement and Emergency Medical Services.

I was really surprised by some statistics that came up during the workshop and were pointed out by some of the speakers. I won’t put them all here, but a great place to start are the Minnesota Safety Belt Coalition and Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety sites.

If you take the statistics from the counties in southeast Minnesota from 1998 to 2003, there is some definite patterns to it:
# There are an average of 8,900 crashes per year
# About 6,230 are property damage crashes with no injuries
# About 2,670 crashes involve injuries, and
# On average, 60-70 people die in crashes each year

(just in SE MN!)

The people who die in those crashes are statistically likely to be males, aged 15 to 29 who are not wearing a seat belt.

So, Ted, what the heck does that information have to do with workplace safety?

First of all, motor vehicle crashes are nationally the largest single cause of workplace death, amounting to about 22% of those killed at work. The homicides we hear about on the news account for about 13%. So driving at work can be a pretty high risk activity.

Secondly, we do our coworkers a disservice when we stop caring about their well being the moment the whistle blows at the end of the day. A lot of bad things happen to employees and their families off the job that directly affect the workplace. Most injuries that cause people to miss work occur away from the jobsite, including the commute to and from work each day. Those injuries cause absenteeism, lower productivity and increased health insurance costs.

What can we do? There are simple solutions that you can do as an individual and some that take a few more folks.

You can choose to wear your seat belt. Whether you drive at work or not, most of us drive to get there and back home at night. And if we don’t drive to and from work, we probably drive somewhere else (I like the Dairy Queen).

You can encourage others to wear their seat belts or restraints. My parents were always “encouraging” me and my sisters to wear our seat belts in the car. My daughter will get the same treatment.

You can take a look at the information yourself and decide what else you can do. People who want to be part of the movement to make a primary seat belt law in Minnesota should consider the MN Safety Belt Coalition. If you are absolutely opposed to primary seat belt law, there is information there you should take a look at before you try to intelligently argue your point.

I will probably talk more about this in the future because it seems like a lot of people are dying every year and nobody hears about it. Or worse, they hear about it and dismiss it as acceptable.

Buckle up. Turn off the cellphone. Look around you. And SLOW DOWN! (Speed is also a significant factor in vehicle crashes, both in terms of cause and in terms of influencing severity…another topic for later)

civil war battlefields

Virginia was a pretty awful place during the American Civil War. In particular the area of Fredericksburg, which had four major battles happen in and around the city. We spent some time today wandering along some of these sites. Like this one:

position of cover on the Sunken Road in Fredericksburg

I took some more photos that you check see here.

On a side note, I’ve noticed that most of the buildings in this area have brick exteriors. Even the new construction that we’ve seen. Maybe helps explain the price of housing out here…

our nation’s capitol

I had the chance to go to Washington D.C. this week, on a work-related (cough!) trip with a couple of friends. Fortunately, we don’t have a lot of commitments through the week so we have had some chances to see the city.

The Tomb of the Unknowns

We saw the Tomb of the Unknowns and watched them change the guard.

The Vietnam Memorial panel 42E

We also stopped at the various memorials and I found my wife’s uncle’s name on the Vietnam Memorial. His name is Richard Borgman.

You can see a bunch more photos from the week so far at my flickr site.

Traveling around DC can be a challenge, as you can expect from a large metro area with a high number of tourists and all the security concerns surrounding everything. Couple of things we’ve found out so far:

1) The Metro train system is pretty good to get in and out of the city, and can even put you right at the door of what you want to see. Passes are pretty cheap for either a day or a week.
2) If you have three or more people together in a vehicle, you can use the HOV lanes in the center of I-95. This was a HUGE improvement over the regular traffic speed.
3) If you are planning on driving out here, be prepared for a lot of u-turns. Not by you, but by everyone else. It seems like every other intersection you go through, someone is making one. It’s probably on the driver’s test in Virginia.

the green machine

After a hiatus of several years, I’ve taken the Linux plunge again. I originally started messing around with it in 2000 after spending some quality time with my tv and a little show called The Screensavers. I put Red Hat on my Compaq notebook and Mandrake on my desktop. It was really fun for a few months, and then I decided I was definitely NOT the geek required to do a lot with it, and it withered away from my world.

I’m posting this from my little green box that I built on a whim a couple of years ago. It’s a used ammo box that used to have 12-guage shotgun rounds in it. Now it has a low-end VIA mini-itx board, a 20 gig hard drive and an LS-120 Superdisk drive (what the heck is that?). I used to run Win2k on it for the sole purpose of having another computer and justifying the purchase of a kvm switch. I originally built it as a proof of concept for work (I’ve been advocating that we get away from laptops for our vehicle-borne computers). Now it has a new life with Debian Sarge.

I was feeling adventurous, and ended up not only installing Debian on the green machine, but also decided to dual-boot my Dell Inspiron 8100. But which distro? I ended up trying Ubuntu. Holy hardware detection, Batman! I did absolutely no configuration by hand and it was up and running in Gnome within 40 minutes. It even found and properly configured my D-Link wi-fi card all by its lonesome.

Go Tux! More on the renewed Linux experience later.

built Ford tough

I’m selling my truck. I like my truck. I like hauling stuff in it, both for work and at home. It’s been great the year and a half that I’ve owned it, no problems and needing nothing more than routine oil changes.

I never saw myself as driving a truck until we bought our house. After a short period of time, it became obvious that we would need something larger than our two economy sedans in order to carry out the needed maintenance and improvements in the house. We came across a good deal on the truck simply by driving around a lot. We initially wanted to get something smaller, but this one turned out great.

However, my wife has pointed out that the truck has slowly become less practical than it originally was. We are beginning to have less need to haul stuff, and more need to haul people and stuff together. So in order to meet this need, my wife has we have decided to sell or trade-in the truck on a minivan. Yes, a minivan.

Now I can comment on how I never pictured myself driving a minivan. Maybe later.

If you are interested in the truck, you can check it out here.

a hypothetical destination, say, who is this walking man?

Northfield’s downtown is growing, and this is something that needs to be encouraged. A large constituency of Northfield residents have strong feelings about centering community life around the downtown and preserving/expanding its historical character. They want this to continue to feel like the small river town it has been throughout its history, regardless of growth.

There has been a discussion on the “Issues” list about pedestrian safety related to this growth. Basically the issue centers around growth across Highway #3 to the west. If this area develops as a commercial area, there will certainly be a lot of pressure to make it a continuation of the existing downtown. If this is the way the area develops, it will be important that pedestrians are able to safely and conveniently cross Highway #3 between what exists now and what will come to be on the other side of the highway.

Jim Pokorney, a Northfield City Councillor, recently discussed this in his weblog. He included a reprint of an editorial he wrote for the Northfield News.

He makes several important points that bear some reflection. For my part, I’ll make some observations of my own.

Councillor Pokorney is exactly right to point out that downtown commercial development should be treated as fundamentally different from the highway commercial development on the south end of Northfield, extending into Dundas. These two different areas can complement each other well despite what some naysayers will tell you. It is important to recognize this distinction and separate them when discussing development and planning. Downtown is and should be pedestrian focused, as opposed to the south highway district which is vehicle focused. They each have advantages and disadvantages and I’m sure that a lot of folks use both for different reasons.

The City should be planning for this development and expansion of the downtown and has an interest in making pedestrian crossing safe in order to further that vision. MNDOT has an interest in this section of Highway #3 as well. Their interest is focused on safely moving vehicles north and south on the highway, as well as improving access to Highway #19 for truck traffic.

Both of these interests are valid and appropriate undertakings for government. Both the City and MNDOT want improvements in the infrastructure that will increase safety and ensure that commerce can effectively be carried out. That’s what they’re supposed to do: health, safety, welfare, commerce.

As to the specific issue of a light at 3rd Street, I think it’s a “chicken or the egg” scenario.

On the one hand, it may be difficult to support the expense of a signal based on current statistical information about the intersection. There may be more supportive statistics available when more pedestrian-engaged business is carried out on the west side of the highway.

Then again, how attractive will it be for developers to want to improve/renovate that area when they don’t see a ready-made conduit for their foot-powered customers to get to them?

So, I see the question as: when will the light(s) be added to Highway #3, as a result of the redevelopment or as a necessary precursor to it? I am convinced they will be there (MNDOT is installing wiring in anticipation of it as part of the existing project) we just need to decide what the actual mechanism for requiring them will be.

The Irish in Northfield

The 5th annual Northfield St. Patrick’s Day Parade, known as the Patty Dazzle, was held downtown this evening. After living here for several years, I was glad to finally attend this fun event. All the right things were present, a bagpiper, a dancing St. Patrick, the flag of Ireland, and several family banners and crests.

I had a chance to talk with several people who were either marching in the parade or who came to watch. There seems to be a universal theme of fun surrounding St. Patrick’s Day events, and knowledge of the actual history and tradition of the holiday isn’t critical to taking part in the celebration. Even if you don’t know what “Erin go Bragh” means, you can still participate.

Mike McGovern was the Grand Marshall this year and the parade event itself was organized by a group of folks who included Kevin O’Donnell, Jim Bohnhoff, who took the role of St. Patrick, and Northfield City Council Member Jim Pokorney.

I did have the chance to take some pictures and will post them later. For now, you should check out‘s photo album posted by blogger extraordinaire Griff Wigley.

Update: The photos turned out pretty cruddy, so I won’t post them here. Sorry for the tease. Guess I need to move into the late 20th century and get a digital camera…

“The Scarce Man”

A friend of mine has finally taken the time to follow the advice given to him by his pals and written a book.

    The Scarce Man

“The Scarce Man” by James Frie is an excellent police mystery novel that is distingushed by realistic description and vivid detail throughout the story. It really gets you wrapped up in the very beginning and doesn’t let go until the very end.

The Scarce Man centers on Agent Mike Rawlings of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. He is Minnesota’s top murder detective and is nearing retirement when he’s called in to handle the most baffling and dangerous case of his career. Someone with a violent M.O. is killing certain people in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Rawlings deduces that the murders are politically motivated, but what he doesn’t know is that the killer, who in the days following 9/11, has become obsessed with the idea that he alone can begin a chain of events that will launch the social revolution he believes will save the country. The killer forms an alter-ego, whom he calls The Patriot. What Rawlings doesn’t know, is that the Patriot has inside knowledge that will make him more deadly than anyone he’s ever faced; and much harder to stop.

Being from Minnesota, I can vividly picture each location as the story unfolds. If you like a book that’s hard to put down, then you should definitely check it out.