Edit Day At UCI

Shaunt's Edit BayTuesday was an edit day for my project at UC Irvine. It’s a training video for distance learning instructors.

A project like this has three stages: writing, shooting, editing. You try and follow a roadmap, but ideas change, things are fluid.

Editing is where stories are made or lost. It’s critically important, but functionally unknown to most outsiders. Video editors often work alone in windowless closet sized rooms with video monitors and the constant whir of computer fans.

Shaunt Kouyoumdjian, who shot our video, is editing. All the clips are in a server. Sony Vegas is running, mathematically pasting together snippets of video. Shaunt commands an arsenal of electronic wizardry which treats video like Photoshop treats stills! Even for this simple production, some sections have a half dozen simultaneously overlapping layers of video.

Video editing is one of the few computer applications where faster processing power really matters. The calculations necessary to edit HD video are mind boggling, but easily within the reach of modern high end PCs.

We pick it up Thursday morning. I love this stuff. It’s just in my blood.

A Video About The Video We’re Making

UC Irvine shoot

My GoPro joined me on the UC Irvine campus today, shooting exterior stand-ups for a video I’m making for the university’s Distance Learning Center.

The campus was busy, especially as students changed classes. February 12th and many were wearing shorts! We ‘stole’ the crowd for our background as I walked toward camera.

It reminded me of what I used to do in Buffalo for PM Magazine. We called them ‘ins-and-outs.’ They were also done in the field.

Of course there are some small climatic differences between Buffalo and Irvine, especially on February 12th!

Ask Me Anything–More Work Related Stuff

Here at the Dallas/Ft. Worth TX station I work at our Weather guessers have been accused of being Weather Nazis when any rain starts to fall. They take over and viewers miss their programs. Do you ever get comments like that?

I’m currently answering all your questions. Read more about it here.

From Jon comes: “Here at the Dallas/Ft. Worth TX station I work at our Weather guessers have been accused of being Weather Nazis when any rain starts to fall. They take over and viewers miss their programs. Do you ever get comments like that?”

Jon – I assume we break in a lot less than they do in Texas because we have a lot less ‘short fuse’ weather like tornadoes. There have been some complaints when we’ve gone wall-to-wall but we only do that when there’s a tornado warning–rare here. Our prime time for severe weather is late afternoon so we’re less likely to be blowing out people’s favorite shows.

If you ask our producers they’ll tell you I most often ask them to tone down not hype up coverage. Not always, but mostly.

Ken is wondering, “How much of the work do the on-air personalities do when determining the weather? Is it a job where you filter the analysis from a Weather center (or techies)… or are you doing the leg work yourself? I’ve always been curious about that.

Yes Ken. I was chosen for my shapely gams!

No, actually our four main weather people are meteorologists. One has a PhD in physics. Another was trained by the Marines.

Dr. Mel, our PhD, knows more about weather history than any three people I know. He learned to forecast before computers did most of the heavy lifting. It boggles the mind.

When I first met Gil I was looking down my nose at USMC meteo training. I could not have been more wrong! The coursework he took and the practical experience he gained was second to none. He is among the finest, best trained forecasters I’ve ever met and I don’t throw that compliment lightly.

When I started on-the-air as a ‘weatherman’ I didn’t have a clue! I quickly realized I’d better learn what I was talking about. I did a lot of studying before finally going back and getting certified at Mississippi State University. I was awarded a certificate for academic excellence and finished with a 3.97 GPA. I have the AMS Seal. I also have seven Emmys, though that’s a performance and not accuracy based award.

Jonathon is pushing back a little. “It is my understanding there is only one sky. So why do you weather people say “skies will be cloudy”?

Jonathon, “Home on the Range” influence, plain and simple.

A nearly seasonably topical question from Paula. “Thank you so much for a chance to ask you questions. If you had the chance to fly through a hurricane again, would you? Which one of the adventures that you went on years ago was your favorite?”

In a heartbeat Paula! I’ve done it twice. It’s less scary than you might think. I actually wrote about that trip for my blog and it’s still available–just a click away.

My scariest adventure was flying in an F/A18 with the Blue Angels. We took off nearly vertically, flew upside down and in ever tightening inside turns. All of it was done while sitting on an explosive charge in the ejection seat!

I didn’t lose my lunch.

Craig wants my job… or one like it! “Are there any online schooling you can take to become a meteorologist? Can you reccomend anything for someone possibly interested in shifting career paths. I would like to work for the NWS. Thanks”

My MSU coursework was all online. It’s a lot harder to do it that way than in a classroom. You need a great deal of discipline and motivation. The MSU course isn’t calculus based (which no meteorologist uses in daily forecasting) and is not an accepted course to work for NWS.

The Agriculture Department used to have a distance learning course which was thorough and very difficult. I haven’t heard of it in years.

Job prospects in meteorology are very poor. NWS has fewer employees and TV stations are cutting back where they can.

I’d Like To Program

I dabble with computers. I can take them apart and put them back together. I write code–not a lot. Not very well. I can rewrite other people’s code in languages I hardly know. I wish I knew more.

Specifically, I wish I knew more about PHP and MySQL. I’d like to write in those languages. They’re a powerful combo.

This is a good time for a quick lesson about the web and it’ll be pretty geeky. I’ll understand if you stop reading here.

If you’ve never written a computer program you should know there are lots of computer languages. Most are optimized for a specific task. All the languages are distinct but they are similar.

The underlying programming language on the Internet is HTML–hypertext markup language.

You can create HTML using PHP, another language. The reason you use PHP to create HTML is because PHP is built for databases. Using databases you can insert fresh information into otherwise static webpages.

Think of sites you know that always look the same even though their content is always changing–this one for instance. Most likely PHP (or Microsoft’s equivalent) is working behind-the-scenes to insert the data into pre-ordained slots.

MySQL is a database program. I’m not 100% on the licensing but it’s basically “free to use and modify” software and it’s running some huge websites.

If I knew MySQL and PHP I could develop websites. I’d like to do that. Scratch building websites is a design process not unlike architecture or writing a book. It’s a creative process which appeals to me.

There are online tutorials, but I haven’t found anything yet that is well taught and at the right pace. Distance learning is not for the faint of heart nor the uncommitted.

More On The Seal

Tonight on the news, right next to my name was the American Meteorological Society’s Broadcast Seal of Approval.

It was actually cooler than I thought it would be. Is this ridiculous?

Let me explain. The seal’s purpose has, in my eyes, changed over time – not necessarily for the good.

Originally, the AMS Broadcast Seal of Approval was given to anyone who showed their broadcast was based on sound scientific principles. I’m sure the wording was a little different, but that was the gist.

About 20 minutes after I started doing the weather in Buffalo, that changed. In order to get the seal you needed to be a meteorologist. For most people, mature in their careers, that was a real sticking point.

Of course, necessity is the mother of invention – and so the distance learning course from Mississippi State was born. Three years, nine semesters, 53 credits and you too can be a meteorologist, all while in your pj’s!

I took the MSU course and immediately found adult Geoff was different than kid Geoff. I’m not sure why, but the passing grade for me became “A.” It’s ridiculous, because no one really cared whether I finish with honors (I did) or by the skin of my teeth. But, 55 is not 18! I was a motivated student.

I finished MSU last summer and almost immediately started getting my act together for the seal. In order to apply, you have to send airchecks from three consecutive day’s broadcasts to a panel of AMS certified broadcast meteorologists.

The panel is very critical (or so I’ve been told). No bit of minutiae is too small to get by. I haven’t received their comments, but word on the street is, they’re always somewhat brutal – pass or fail.

I sent my material to the judges in the beginning of November 2005. That I need to post the year gives you an idea of how ponderous this process is. I received word today – though if I had waited like the patient guy I’m supposed to be, word wouldn’t come for another week or two.

Why does it take over six months? I’ve not a clue. There’s nothing in the process that should take so long. Each member of the panel got his/her own individual copy of my airchecks.

More importantly, isn’t it in the public’s best interest for the AMS to do this quickly? If this is to tell the public someone’s got the goods, why wait?

There is some frustration on my part and I intend to find out why it takes so long.

So, what does this seal certify? From the American Meteorological Society’s website:

the stated goals of the program will be to ensure that meteorologists who hold the Seal of Approval exhibit scientific competence and effective communication skills in their weather forecasts.

In other words, I’m not longer just a schlemiel giving the weather. I’m an actual meteorologist whose scientific competence has been established. Wow.

My mom said she was proud. My wife complimented me on the accomplishment. I’m pretty happy myself.

Distance Learning – The Disadvantage

Fall semester at Mississippi State starts next week. For me that means late nights watching my coursework on DVD and thumbing through overpriced textbooks (you have no idea – it’s robbery).

Even though I’ve never been to Starkville, I still get the same emails my fellow on-campus students get. Here’s today’s sample:

AUTHORIZED-BY: John Dickerson, Director of Enrollment Services


Dear Students:

Join us as we celebrate Dawg Daze 2004. Dawg Daze is Mississippi State

University’s welcome week for new freshman and transfer students. Join

us daily from August 15-17, 2004, to enjoy the best food, music,

movies, and southern hospitality that Mississippi State has to offer!

August 15th is open to new freshman and transfer students during our

new student block party with Bill Cooke playing acoustic guitar.

The following events are open to all new and returning students.

August 16th features our Papa John’s Pizza and Movie Night co-sponsored

by Information Technology Services (Feature Presentation: TROY).

August 17th features our back to school concert featuring the Patrick

Smith Band and Drivin’ n’ Cryin’.

Last year, over 6,000 students attended during the three days of

events. Please help spread the word to MSU students so that this year

will be another great success. For more information and a listing of

other events, please see the Dawg Daze website at:

http://www.dawgdaze.msstate.edu/ For questions or more information,

please contact Bryan Nesbit at bgn3@msstate.edu

I suppose I could just invite all of them over to the house?

How to Scare Me

I was sitting at my desk last night, looking at stuff on the Internet, losing at poker, when an email came in from a friend. The subject was ‘Congrats.’

On being finished with year 2 you lucky bastard.

Enjoy your time off!

Jeff is also a Distance Learning student at Mississippi State, though a year behind me.

I read the note and realized it said everything was over. He was done. But I hadn’t taken my two finals. Had I screwed up in this weird summer schedule when my student rhythms are off? It’s tough to pass if you blow off a test worth 30% of your grade!

I went to the MSU website. My stomach had already fallen to knee level. The website was s-l-o-w. It took at least 45 seconds for the first page to appear, and there were two more to go (which must be navigated in order) before I’d know what had happened.

Sweat began to form on my forehead. My pulse quickened.

My normal modus operandi is to wait for the last minute. Had I miscalculated?

I finally got to the page. They’re due tomorrow morning, meaning I can take my two tests tonight. One will be cake. The other I dread.

This is not the first time I’ve panicked like this. My life is full of disorganizational nightmares, though most of them are in my deep past.

I wrote Jeff telling him how he had made my life a living hell for about 5 minutes.

Oh man that is just plain comedy — hahahahahah no —

I am just ahead of the game — that’s one more night

of hitting the sauce for me 😉 —

I’m Not That Nice

A few months ago, Elizabeth McGuire (no Lizzie McGuire jokes, please) asked if she could interview me for Hartford Magazine. Never the shy one, I said yes.

I have just read the article, and can now guarantee, I’m not anywhere as nice as she portrayed me. I am grateful, however, she lied on my behalf.

Only part of the article was on the magazine’s website, so I retyped it to place here on my site. Other than changing the spelling of my daughter’s name, and my length of service at WTNH, I’ve left it as is.

Hartford Magazine / February 2004

WTNH weatherman Geoff Fox doesn’t mind being call a weather geek. In fact, he finds it flattering. Fox loves the scientific process of predicting and forecasting the weather. “I’m the kind of guy who does like to look at lists of numbers, charts and gr4aphs. It’s a different math puzzle every single day, and no matter what you do, you’re presented with another math puzzle the next day,” Fox says.

Day after day for the past 19 years at WTNH-TV, Fox has pored over the maps, graphs and charts; analyzed the data; and then translated the information into “plain English” for his viewers. Fox gets two to three minutes during evening newscasts to tell viewers how the weather on any given day is likely to affect them. Without being asked, he answers dozens of questions such as, “Should I wear a raincoat, start that outdoor project or cancel that backyard picnic?” Fox says many viewers listen critically to his forecasts, and they hold him accountable when he’s wrong. “Believe me, people can be tough if you are wrong – and they should be, because other than the Psychic Friends Network, there aren’t too many people who come on television and predict the future for a living,” Fox explains.

As we sit at the kitchen table in Fox’s spacious Hamden home one recent afternoon, Fox explains to me that advances in computer technology have increased weather forecasters’ ability to develop more accurate forecasts. Suddenly, Fox excuses himself and leaves the room. Moments later he’s back with his laptop computer. There begins my tutorial on weather patterns. A map with curvy lines shows barometric pressure, one with splotches of color shows precipitation, and a pretty blue graph shows, well I’m not sure what that one showed, but it sure is colorful! Though much of what Fox explains is lost on my unscientific mind, his main point isn’t: The mathematical calculations and other technical information computers offer weather forecasters are essential tools of the trade. Like blueprints to contractors, or EKG printouts to doctors, computers make it easier for weather forecasters to be correct more often. “We can get more detailed information about what the atmosphere is doing… why it’s doing it… how it’s doing it…”

But once Fox comes out from behind the computer, he is able to deliver important information in an easy-to-understand, conversational manner. And he just about always throws some humor into his forecasts, often catching his co-anchors off guard. “I’ve always been the guy who told the jokes and made funny little remarks. And I think I have good timing,” says Fox.

Fox honed his timing during his 11 years as a morning-radio personality in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Buffalo. In 1980, Fox became the host of a Buffalo TV magazine show at WGRZ-TV. That’s where he became interested in weather forecasting, applied for a weekend weather position, and got the job. Fox realized meteorology was an area in which he could use his math and science skills. Fox says he was always good in those subjects and was even on the school math team as a kid growing up in Flushing, Queens, NY.

Even though Fox says he scored higher than 700 on the math portion of the SATs, he tells me he was not a very good student, especially in college. “I was in the accelerated dismissal program at Emerson.” he jokes. In fact, he flunked out the first time he attended the Boston college that specializes in communications.

He is now, however, getting straight A’s in his course work to become a certified meteorologist. He’s enrolled in a distance learning program at Mississippi State University. But most of what Fox needs to know to get a degree in meteorology he already knows.

After years of on-the-job training and watching New England weather patterns, Fox has a pretty good track record of predicting the weather. A classic example of getting it right was his forecast for the so-called “Storm of the Century” (as some television promotion departments dubbed it) that took aim at Connecticut the first weekend of March 2001. Most of the computer weather models were indicating the strong possibility of at least three feet of snow with blizzard conditions. But Fox didn’t think they were correct. He had been using a different computer model (maintained by a major university) during the 200-2001 winter season, and it had been extremely accurate. So, Fox was pretty certain the site’s calculations on heights, temperatures and pressures in the atmosphere were reliable. He stuck with his prediction that the storm would bring mostly rain, sleet and perhaps a few inches of snow. “If you’re confident in your abilities, you have to give what you think is best, in spite of the pack,” he says. Fox’s news director at the time questioned the accuracy of his forecast but then decided to trust it. Gov. Rowland, however, put his faith in the blizzard forecasts and practically shut down the state. The “Storm of the Century” never materialized. Fox would later write an Op-Ed piece for the New Haven Register that he was “hurt” by an article in that paper, which led readers to believe that all area forecasters got it wrong.

That’s not to say, however, that Fox gets it right all the time. Even after 20 years in the television business Fox says he is still “incredibly bothered” when his forecasts don’t bear out. “there will be times when I wake up on a Saturday morning and I will be upset that it’s sunny. If I said it’s gonna rain, than a rainy day is much nicer than a sunny day.” Fox has been know to apologize to his viewers on the air when one of his forecasts has proven incorrect.

In the family room of Fox’s house, the fireplace mantel is crowded with pictures of his 16-year-old daughter Stefanie, in various stages of childhood and Fox’s wedding pictures. Fox and his wife Helaine recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. Next to the mantel, behind the glass door of his entertainment center, Fox displays his seven shiny gold Emmy awards – meticulously lined up in a row. He earned those awards for weather and science reporting. Along with his work at WTNH-TV, Fox has hosted a show called “Inside Space” on the SciFi Channel and has been a fill-in weathercaster on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Fox says he would like to do more work for ABC because the experience was “cool.” He’d also like to host a game show but says those jobs would be in addition to his work at WTNH-TV.

When Fox isn’t working, he spends his time with his family, maintains his Web site(www.geofffox.com) with his daily postings and plays Internet Poker. Fox also does charity work, and his favorite charities include the March of Dimes and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Fox sums up his feelings about the charity work and accurate forecasts this way” “Look, I’m not living in a hovel. I’m not driving a ’65 Pinto, and the reason I have whatever success and nice things I have is because of the people of Connecticut, so I feel there’s an obligation to give something back.”

The Meat of Meteorology

If you read this blog regularly, you probably already know I forecast the weather on TV. That’s my job and I’ve been doing it for over 20 years (and about 35 years broadcasting in general).

I am not a meteorologist. There are three others on our meteorology staff at work, and we all do the same thing. I do what a meteorologist does. Forecasting is a skill I’ve studied over the last 20 years and, hopefully, mastered.

A year and a half ago, the general manager of our station asked if I would formalize my education, become a meteorologist and get the AMS Seal (AMS is The American Meteorological Society). The AMS Seal is pretty much the ‘gold standard’ for broadcast weather forecasters. I said yes and enrolled at Mississippi State University in their distance learning program. When I’m finished, I will have a certificate in meteorology, not a bachelors degree.

Now, with my Summer ’05 completion looming, I see the AMS is changing the rules for broadcast meteorology again. I say again because 20 years ago there was no formal education component of the seal at all.

This time, they will eliminate the seal program and replace it with Certified Broadcast Meteorologist or CBM. In order to receive the CBM, you will need to have a BS in meteorology, not just the core 50+ credits that Mississippi State provides. The seal program will continue until 2008, meaning I will be able to qualify and receive one, though not the CBM.

Why would the AMS care if you have other credits and a degree beyond the core courses? My guess is, the more traditional universities have seen the MSU program and realize the only way they can compete with it, or have their graduates compete with it, is to change the rules and (possibly) eliminate it.

I have just had an email conversation with the director of the MSU program. I don’t think he realized how this rule change would affect what they’re doing. I think he does now.

The question is, what is the reason for having the AMS Seal in the first place? If it’s to help viewers shop for a scientifically based presentation, with this move the AMS has gone too far. Even the current qualifications provide more than enough screening.

If its purpose is to promote the fortunes of the traditional schools of meteorology, and their students, this change will achieve the goal.

My Life in Edumacation

I have just begun my second year at Mississippi State University (These are the Bulldogs, it’s not Ole Miss), studying meteorology.

You might ask, why would someone who has performed the job of meteorologist for the past 20 some odd years now go to school for it… and isn’t the commute to Starkville going to kill me?

It started at my last contract negotiation. Though my boss has a slightly different memory of it that I, the facts are pretty much the same. Our collective boss (The Big WASP Kahuna) thought it would be better, and more promotable if I had the American Meteorological Society Broadcasting Seal of Approval (aka the seal).

At one time, the AMS handed these out like candy on Halloween. That ended about 20 minutes after I entered the weather field when the seal program became the Meteorologists Full Employment Act of 1983. In order to get a seal you would need a core meteorological college level curriculum and then pass a screening.

The station’s offer was, if you invest the time to take the courses (3 years, 17 courses), we will pay your way. So, I’m on a LIN Television scholarship. Interestingly, I will have the seal a few months after the expiration of my current contract.

Mississippi State University developed this distance learning course (what used to be called “correspondence school” ) to scratch an itch. I have recently seen estimates that nearly 30% of all TV meteorologists went through the MSU program.

The lectures are on DVD and videocassette. The textbooks are standard, overpriced, and professor written. Tests and quizzes are given online and are all multiple choice. I guess this opens the program up to cheating, though I have never heard a hint of it.

So far, I’m a straight “A” student. I only mention that because my previous college career (which began in 1968 and is on my permanent record at Mississippi State – and is the reason for the name of this weblog) was a disaster.

I was to college as Gigli was to movies.

This semester my courses are Statistical Climatology and Severe Weather. I actually have enjoyed most of the courses I’ve taken so far, though it is obvious that not every course has the right amount of material for exactly one semester, and not every professor has a flair for lecturing on DVD (It was like chalk on a blackboard to hear one lecturer mispronounce Greenwich, England).

It has been interesting to watch Mississippi State operate. I get lots of emails that are written for students on campus. I found out that cowbells were banned from football games. Who knew? I was invited to seminars to grill perspective administrator candidates.

MSU’s computer system, which is my link to the school, seems rickety. It is constantly down for varying lengths of time. A few semesters ago, during finals, it ran out of space and lost a load of final exams (though not mine). There was no backed up data!

I just went to get an MSU logo to put with this entry… it’s down right now.

A while ago my wife asked, “Have you learned anything?”

The answer is yes.

“But,” she continued, “how important could it be if you haven’t needed it in the last 20 years?”

Good point.