Posts Tagged ‘Wisconsin’

 

Reports Of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. -Mark Twain

Though this story starts back in May, I didn’t even know there was a story until yesterday. Dan Desjardins, from Weather Central in Madison, WI, called me. He was worried, because word was out I’d been fired!

A website called tvjobs.com listed me as “on the beach.”

Had they called and asked, or sent an email? No. It’s not like I’m that difficult to find.

I went to see my boss. “Uh, Kirk, have I been fired, but no one’s told me yet,” I asked? He smiled… but it was a good smile.

Truth is, back in the early 70s I received a call from my friend Bob Lacey. He’d heard I’d been fired from my job in Cleveland. Only, it didn’t happen until the next day!

That was a pretty crappy day.

So, how does this happen? In this case tvjobs probably took a shortcut when they saw WTNH’s website change. For some odd reason, my picture disappeared from its page with the other meteorologists.

Our webmaster, Jeff Bailey, said, “Looks to me like it was accidently archived at the end of May.” As big an ego as I have, I don’t look to see my picture on the station’s website. Who knew?

My boss, Kirk Varner, fired off an email.

To whom it may concern at TVJobs.com:

We don’t subscribe to your site, so I can’t verify this personally—but I have it from multiple sources that you are listing WTNH staff meteorologist Geoff Fox as being no longer employed by WTNH (as in “On The Beach”.)

Assuming you are not referring to Mr. Fox’s recreation choices, this information is incorrect and needs to be updated immediately. Mr. Fox is still in the employ of WTNH as he has been in the last 24 years, and a simple check with his employer (that would be me) would have verified this information in less than five minutes.

As I can find no press or internet posting suggesting that Mr. Fox’s employment status has recently changed, perhaps you could also enlighten us as to the source of your information as part of your apology and retraction to both Mr. Fox and this station?

As far as I know, Kirk hasn’t heard back. However, as of today tvjobs requires readers to click through an advisory. Dan, who first brought this to my attention, found this change today. “Now they make you click on a disclaimer about “on the beach” listings before you can look at them. They “clarified” that on-the-beach means the individual has “dropped off the stations web site” And, they’ve changed the text with my photo.

I’ll let you know when my apology arrives. Don’t stay up.

The Snowy Prize

Friday, February 1st, 2008

I am lucky enough to be friendly with a bunch of the service techs at the company we buy our weather equipment from. They are squirreled away in Madison, WI, figuring out ways to make weather a more compelling story on TV.

Last month I was speaking with Bruce, one of those techs, and the subject turned to snow and then a little friendly pool the guys were were having. Each threw in $5, with the winner getting the bundle for predicting the January snowfall at Madison’s Dane County Regional-Truax Field Airport.

I asked in. I know nothing about winter weather in Wisconsin, except it’s cold, windy and snow filled.

My guess was 16″, which led Bruce to post this.

Thought I would give everyone a quick update on the KMSN January snow pool. Geoff Fox jumped in at the last second with a prediction of 16″. So the revised winning snowfall ranges are as follows…

Pat 4.2″, Brian 7.7″, Chris 8.2″ and John and Bruce both picked 8.7″ and Geoff at 16″

So the breakdown is as follows:

5.9″ or less Pat wins

6.0″ – 7.9″ Brian wins

8.0″ – 8.4″ Chris wins

8.5″ – 12.3″ John & Bruce win

12.4″ and higher Geoff wins

After 13 days, KMSN currently stands at 4.5″

My guess was way too high. It was obvious these other (mostly) meteorologists were more attuned to their local climatology than I was.

I sent Bruce $5 via PayPal and forgot about the whole thing until last night. Curious, I fired off an email with just two words: “How bad?”

Smarty pants…you smoked us…everyone else picked less than 10 inches. We are smarting from that.

We got 23.2 inches…which is was the eighth snowiest January on record. December-January of this year was the second snowiest 2-month period in Madison records…which go back to the 1880s. Since we got hit so hard in December, the thinking was that the odds were against back-2-back snowy months. However, La Ninas—if they have any trend at all–tend to make winters over the upper Midwest a bit more potent…whether that be cold or snow…or both.

In forecasting, as in life, it is much more profitable to be lucky than skilful.

Getting “That” Call

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

I walked into my boss’s open office Wednesday afternoon for some quick kibbitzing, but before we could get very far, my cellphone rang. Wisconsin on the caller ID – area code 262. I thought it was our weather equipment vendor. Instead, it was my sister.

“Is everything alright?” That was my first question to her, because I could sense something was wrong as soon as she said hello.

She had just been on the phone with my folks. My dad was back from the doctor (an almost daily occurrence in Florida senior life). He’s got an arterial blockage. The doctor wants to perform an angiogram sooner, rather than later.

It’s been almost twenty years since my dad had an angiogram and then bypass surgery. That was a tough recovery. We’re hoping an angioplasty can do the trick this time. That’s much less invasive.

My mom sounded concerned when I spoke to her. Of course she was. Who can blame her? So much of their lives revolve around each other. They are nearly constant companions as they head toward their 60th anniversary.

It didn’t take more than a few seconds for me to decide I needed to be there. So, reservations have been made, coverage at work has been rounded up and I head to Florida on Monday.

There’s every indication that this will be a routine procedure. But, of course we all worry. How can you not?

Computers Can’t Be Trusted

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

“Computer problem.” I’ve heard those two words a million times. Mostly, it’s a crock. Computer problems aren’t usually computer problems but problems which appear when humans operate computers. In other words, it’s mostly human error.

Computers only do what they’re told. Hardware failures that allow them to run amok are relatively rare. It’s that fingertip/keyboard interface where all the trouble arises.

With that perspective, it’s off to Chicago where, earlier this week, WGN radio found itself broadcast all over the radio and TV dial. I was tipped off to this story by Adam Chernow in Wisconsin, but I’ll quote the Chicago Tribune:

In the parlance of the Cold War era that spawned the federally mandated Emergency Alert System, launch codes were issued throughout Illinois on Tuesday morning, automatically pre-empting dozens of radio and television stations as if the region faced nuclear annihilation.

Rather than President Bush reassuring citizens after an atomic blast or some other calamity, the audience of many Chicago outlets was treated to the sound of dead air followed by the voice of WGN-AM 720 morning man Spike O’Dell struggling to figure out what had happened.

It turns out O’Dell’s pair of brief surprise appearances between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. on everything from local public broadcasting to music stations — an “unintentional disruption,” a Federal Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman called it — stemmed from a FEMA contractor’s installation of the state’s Emergency Alert System satellite receiver in Springfield as part of a nationwide upgrade.

If the contractor had asked me to call all those stations, I would have pointed out the error of his ways. Computers are more obedient and, unfortunately, don’t question authority!

Why do we do this? Why do we allow an automated system take control so an errant human can cause chaos?

I know why. I was there the morning the old system failed!

It was February 20, 1971. As I remember, it was a sunny and mild winter’s day. I was working as a disk jockey at WQXT, located right on the ocean in Palm Beach, Florida. Life was good.

At 9:33 AM a series of ten bells rang out from the Associated Press teletype. Ten bells was the signature for a national emergency, an EBS alert… but this was Saturday at 9:33 AM. They tested the system every Saturday at 9:33 AM.

Somewhere deep within Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, a technician put the wrong put tape in his teletype. Instead of sending the test, he sent the real thing!

From Wikipedia: An EBS activation message authenticated with the codeword “HATEFULNESS” was sent through the entire system, ordering stations to shut down and broadcast the alert of a national emergency. A cancellation message with the wrong codeword was sent at 9:59 AM EST, and a cancellation message with the correct codeword was not sent until 10:13AM EST.

Most radio and TV stations did nothing! They had no way of knowing the message was wrong. In fact, every indication was it was real.

In my case, I heard the bells and disregarded them. It was test time. I heard those bells every Saturday morning.

By the time I looked at the teletype, the alert had been corrected. The few people listening to my little radio station were well served because I totally screwed up!

After that debacle the government worked to change to a better, faster, more streamlined, heavily automated system. And yet, with this week’s problem, the cause was exactly the same – human error.

It’s this automated system that has sometimes allowed cable companies to cut my television station’s audio as they run emergency crawls… even though we’re giving emergency info when they kill our audio!

Society has become so complex, we can’t operate without computer assistance. Unfortunately, that has forced us to put much too much power in someone’s fingertip. The folks in Chicago understand.

Flying For Fun

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

I walked into work today, passed by a monitor, and saw flames shooting out of an apartment window. Twenty minutes earlier when I left home, there were no fires.

“Where,” I asked?

“New York,” was the answer.

What was my first thought? Yours too, right?

We really have changed. We’re all on edge. Terrorists have made us think differently, whether they threaten us on a daily basis or not. We’ve all become skittish.

We were told to go about our business… don’t let terrorists affect us. That’s how they win. But, how can you not? How can you blot out what happened?

It’s too early to know anything about todays accident (and indications are it was a tragic accident). I checked and conditions were below “Visual Flight Rules.” Ceilings were under 2,000 feet.

I’ve wanted to learn to fly for years. Earlier this year Helaine encouraged me to do it. “Life is too short,” she said. “If you really want something, go for it.”

When things settle down a little more, probably this winter, I’ll start. Mike P., one of my support buddies from Wisconsin has become my mentor. The AOPA, always anxious for new members, sends me a monthly magazine with tips.

It’s actually pretty exciting. I took lessons in my early 20s, but never finished. It’s different now.

Of course at this moment, what happened today over the Upper East Side in Manhattan is resonating in my mind. What was he doing up there over the city on this very inhospitable day? How do I make sure that’s never me?

It’s Wisconsin

Friday, June 23rd, 2006

I’m writing tonight from a motel in Mequon, WI – just north of Milwaukee. The story of the day is the trip here.

We left Connecticut on Southwest’s 12:50 PM flight to Chicago’s Midway Airport. Driving to the airport, parking and boarding was no problem. In fact, somehow Helaine has gotten off the TSA’s ‘frisk me every time’ list. We don’t know how.

Thunderstorms were expected this afternoon in Connecticut (and from the radar, it looks like much of the state got hit). That meant building clouds as we flew west and a very bumpy ride.

It didn’t much matter, because no sooner had we left the ground than I had my ‘ox yoke’ on and was snoozing. That lasted nearly 45 minutes, which was when someone right behind us began sneezing.

These weren’t dainty achoos. This was projectile sneezing! Then another nearby voice loudly complained that someone else had spilled a drink on him.

There would be no more sleeping for me.

We were on time into Midway. I know the airport because I’ve seen it so many times from Microsoft’s Flight Simulator. From the air it looks like a square plot with criss crossing runways.

Since it’s the second airport in Chicago, I expected it to be a small facility. Houston’s like that with Hobby versus IAH. I could not have been more wrong. I was very surprised.

While Helaine and Stef went for the bags, I headed to Hertz to fill out the paperwork for our car. Helaine had found an unbelievable deal on Hotwire – better than half off anything else available.

Before I go on, let me mention the obvious. It could have been named Pleasant Experience Rent-a-car. It was not. Though an alternative spelling was used, Hertz pretty much sums up my experience today.

There were two people behind the counter and somewhere between 15 and 20 in line when I arrived just before 2:15 PM! Though two others would be added to the staff, it took a full hour (almost to the minute) before I was served.

The woman behind the counter was nice enough. She slavishly asked each insurance and gasoline question, though she must have known from my answer to question one that I was saying no to everything.

About three quarters of the way through the process, a woman came up behind her and whispered in her ear. Helaine heard the words, “emergency at home.” In a flash she was gone.

Her replacement came out a few minutes later. The first thing we noticed about her was that she didn’t seem to notice us. It was as if we were totally invisible.

She immediately set out to clean her area. She rearranged papers, moved things, lowered the computer keyboard, sanitized the desk. When she finally looked up at us, she said, “Do you think I have a problem?”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her how many paragraphs she’d get. Helaine looked at me and said, “This is going in the blog.”

You betcha!

Our car is a Buick La Cross. You know, it’s not bad. Good going GM. It’s got comfortable large seats and a good size tunk… though without a light (or at least a working light).

We headed north for Milwaukee. Midway is an old airport, shoehorned in by neighborhoods that have grown around it. Traffic was heavy and slow as we moved down busy Cicero toward I-55 South.

The idea was to skirt around Chicago and avoid the traffic. Still, it’s disconcerting to get on the ramp for I-55 toward St. Louis.

We took I-55 to I-294, the Illinois Tollway. Illinois has its own RFID toll system – I-Pass. I don’t have one. I should have thought about that before I got caught in an I-Pass only lane! I’ll let you know when they catch up with me and send the bill.

The traffic was horrendous. We stopped more than once. At other times we were cruising along at 4 or 5 mph.

In case you’ve never been to the Midwest, a little physical description: nondescript. It is much less green than Connecticut. The vegetation is significantly more scrubby. There are probably other locales less physically stirring. I just can’t think of any off hand.

Somewhere in Northern Illinois things lightened up and we started to move nicely. The three of us were happy…then a police car raced by… and another.

North of Milwaukee a tanker truck was on the center divider. A set of wheels was at a 90° angle to the truck and connected to nothing. Good grief – another half hour lost I’ll never get back.

We did finally make it to the hotel and dinner with my folks, sister and brother-in-law.

Honestly, I’m so exhausted right now the story will just have to wait.

Good Night, Good Luck, Not Good

Saturday, November 5th, 2005

In the Fox household we are democratic when it comes to seeing movies. Helaine and I take turns choosing which picture we’ll see. First, she’ll pick a great movie. Then I’ll pick something neither of us ends up liking.

That’s not how it’s supposed to work, but why lie?

Our choices today were Shopgirl, Steve Martin’s well reviewed adaptation of his very thin book, and Good Night and Good Luck. GN & GL was also very well received and has the celebrity cachet of George Clooney, producer.

We saw Good Night and Good Luck and both Helaine and I were disappointed.

It is a story I know well. In the mid-1950s Edward R. Murrow, the patron saint of broadcast news, took a moral stand (with the grudging backing of William S. Paley, who owned CBS) against Wisconsin’s Senator Joseph McCarthy.

No doubt, there are parallels to this story which are still applicable today.

It is inspiring to see someone with the courage of his convictions. I am not criticizing Murrow. We need modern day Murrows.

The problem is, I just found the movie ploddingly slow.

Yes, it was very stylish and beautifully shot in very stark black and white. There was more cigarette smoking than I’ve seen in a movie in a very long time – maybe ever! Did everyone smoke back then?

Dianne Reeves was featured prominently singing jazz for effect. She has a beautiful voice, but it slowed things down for me.

I’m glad I saw the movie… energized by it… but I wish I would have enjoyed it as much as I’m sure we would have enjoyed Shopgirl.

I did have an ulterior motive for seeing this movie where I saw it. There is a fairly new theater in Downtown New Haven: The Criterion. I wanted a chance to go, be supportive of New Haven business and see what had been built.

The theater itself is very nice. Our particular screening room was about 170 seats, well padded though not reclining. The sound system was excellent. I knew that just by listening to the music that preceded the show.

The problem is, going to New Haven added $6¹ to our movie cost. We had to pay to park in the garage across the street. Seeing the same movie in North Haven or Orange would have eliminated that cost.

Parking validation anyone?

Having us in town was good for New Haven’s economy. After the movie, I talked Helaine into going to dinner. We headed up the block to the Temple Grill. Neither of us had been there before.

The dining area and bar in in the same room. We moved toward the back and sat down at a table set for four. While we decided what to get, our waitress brought a pail of warm (I assume freshly homemade) potato chips.

I ordered a Seafood Pie and Helaine got a Burger. The “pie” was really great with lots of tasty shrimp and scallops. I wouldn’t hesitate ordering it again. Helaine said her burger was OK.

So, that’s our exciting evening… and by 6:00 PM, we were on our way back home.

¹ – Since Helaine gets AAA discount coupons to Showcase Cinemas, the savings out of New Haven are even greater. I just can’t hold that discount coupon against the Criterion.

Unreal

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2004

It’s 11:32 PM. I have no idea which way the election is going. It does seem that much of the polling was worthless – and some of the rest is probably only correct by luck.

Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio – who knows? This is so exciting and so frustrating.

It Could Happen Again

Thursday, October 21st, 2004

I am a math guy, so I spend time every day looking at the numbers in the presidential polls. This election is, among other things, fascinating by its mathematical complexity.

Most, not all, polls currently show President Bush with a small lead among likely voters. There’s some question how well the concept of ‘likely voters’ will hold up if this is an election with a very large turnout. Forget that for a moment.

Let’s just say the polls are right, and President Bush takes home a majority of the popular vote. I’m not sure he’ll win. In fact, it is conceivable that Senator Kerry could win the majority of electoral votes without a popular vote plurality.

That would be the Democrats accomplishing the unlikely feat that the Republicans pulled off four years ago. Probability has no memory. Rare events can happen back-to-back.

For the first time tonight, that fact (is fact the right word when all of this is really guesswork piled upon more guesswork?) is headlined on Slate.com¹. Slate’s home page says:

If America Voted Today – Kerry 276, Bush 262

I’ve been seeing similar numbers when I view statewide polls. Florida is very close – probably too close. But, Pennsylvania looks to be ‘blue’ and now Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan are also leaning that way.

As a kid, I remember the Kennedy – Nixon election of 1960. We went to sleep late at night not knowing who won. It is my earliest remembrance of an election. I figured they’d all be that way, but none were… until 2000.

All night? Hell, we waited weeks to find out what was going on.

Remember hanging chads in Florida? People claimed they meant to vote for Al Gore, but voted for Patrick Buchannon by mistake.

I’m not sure how that was read by the rest of the world, but it probably didn’t show our best side. It could happen again.

In the meantime, watching national polls is now worthless. Watch the individual battleground states because that’s where the election will be won or lost. This is the site I go to most often. It might not be the best, but it’s got lots of numbers. I like numbers.

¹ – I am saddened to see Slate use a photo of a smiling John Kerry next to a picture of a scowling George Bush. At this point, a news site should be even handed in every way. This is not.

This Blog – Finder of Lost Items

Saturday, October 2nd, 2004

On September 13, an email arrived from Sarah Dermody in Wisconsin.

This is an odd request but. . . among other things, I run a rummage sale for our church in WI. Someone dropped off a little box that contained an autograph book for Campbell JHS 218 (c.1948?) . . . terribly, terribly empty but in great shape