Everybody In The (NCAA) Pool

I said I’d enter (and did), but really should be in the ex-VIP division.

Tweets beget tweets! I tweeted about exercising earlier this afternoon and a few minutes later received a tweet from the Meriden Record-Journal.

@geofffox would you like to enter in our NCAA Hoops Frenzy pool as a VIP?

Like so many media outlets the R-J is running a free bracket contest for the NCAA tournament. As policy the NCAA disapproves of gambling. Still, it’s tough to deny office pools and larger contests like this are part of the reason people care about (and watch) games they really shouldn’t care about!

I said I’d enter (and did), but really should be in the ex-VIP division.

@geofffox Fantastic! what should we title you as?

Leggy supermodel? I settled for meteorologist.

Along with the Record-Journal’s pool I’ve filled out two tickets for one run by a former co-worker. That’s tradition for me… as is his hunting me down to collect when I lose!

I don’t know much about college hoops. I haven’t kept current this season. Other than Kemba Walker the entire UCONN men’s team is a cypher to me.

I played it safe and picked a lot of favorites.

Go Kansas.

Tracking Helaine

I am looking forward to seeing her, but not her reaction to the snow she’ll be seeing!

I’m on FlightAware tracking Helaine’s flight across the country. She’s just left Colorado and now over Kansas.

This is how Thomas Jefferson followed Lewis and Clark, right?

I am looking forward to seeing her, but not her reaction to the snow she’ll be seeing!

The Economy

Like him, I really am worried about the economy – and not just the stuff that’s been mishandled, like subprime mortgages, and other monetary slights of hand. We have seen a fundamental shift in the way of the world. We are no longer only competing against other ‘first world’ nations.

I walked into a local business today. It was a place I hadn’t been in before, but the owner knew me from TV.

I didn’t prompt him. He just looked at me and said, “I’ve never seen the economy this bad before.” Then he began to talk about business.

Like him, I really am worried about the economy – and not just the stuff that’s been mishandled, like subprime mortgages, and other monetary slights of hand. We have seen a fundamental shift in the way of the world. We are no longer only competing against other ‘first world’ nations.

If you live in Kansas and answer phones for a living, it’s impossible to compete with someone in Bangalore who will work for 20% of your pay. The same goes for manufacturing and agriculture and nearly everything else.

JetBlue has airplane maintenance performed in Central America. Reuters has financial reporters look at US companies from India. The list is endless. There’s little you can think of that can’t be done cheaper elsewhere.

Then there are the box stores. When they replace 10, 15, 20 local business, they also displace the workers from those businesses. This ‘little guy’ I spoke with, a baker, was very worried about Wal*Mart, Costco and especially supermarkets.

What is the economic impact if his handful of employees is replaced by one or two in a big store?

In the past, labor saving devices made lives better for employees. After all, the forty hour week is a relatively recent arrival. Today, labor saving devices produce higher productivity for employers and if jobs can be cut, so be it.

My bosses, bosses, boss has a legal duty to protect the financial interest of his shareholders. If he puts me first, he’s violating the law!

Globally, we are on shaky ground trying to defend our standard of living to the Indians and Chinese who are taking our jobs. Look where we are. Look where they are.

I have been through recessions before, and we’ve always recovered. I have always been pessimistic going in, but once the economy was properly repriced, growth returned. My pessimism was misplaced.

This time, I am petrified our economic engine will have to be revalued against a world that can do what we do, only cheaper (and in many countries like China, with less kvetching from the workers). It’s a very scary scenario.

Right now, I have no answers, only questions.

From 37,000 feet

I’m writing this while flying over Colorado. We’re at 37,000 feet.

On my way west, we were averaging a bit under 400 mph. With the wind at our back, Flight 265 is doing 570 mph! The pilot says we’ll be 20 minutes early to Midway.

Back at LAX, the gate agent called “boarding in five minutes.” I shut down my laptop and began to pack. My laptop had other ideas.

Without warning I was installing update 1 of 6!

Please, don’t turn me off until I’m done, my laptop screamed in big letters from a font I’d not chosen. No one asked me. If they had, I’d have said “later.”

I semi-closed the lid, slipping my finger between the keyboard and screen to keep any switches from killing the power. That’s the way I boarded the plane. Helaine and Stef, reading this, are glad they weren’t around. Another embarrassing Geeky Greg moment.

This flight is around half full. My rowmate, A middle-aged woman, is dozing in the aisle seat. I’m at the window. I chose the right side to see any prettiness associated with the sunset, which should soon be happening.

Our country is beautiful from this altitude. Yes, the sophisticated traveler takes the aisle seat to have easier bathroom access. He’s too cool to look out the window. I need the scenery.

We took off from Los Angeles and headed out to sea. After a few miles we turned north, paralleling the Pacific Coast toward Malibu. There was fog this morning. It covered the ocean near the shoreline, penetrating inland to the first foothills. Things must be slow on the PCH today.

Inland, a layer of haze made the ground a little less distinct. I could also use the “S” word – smog. There’s some of that too.

Already above 10,000 feet, we made a sweeping left 270 degree turn, finally heading east. A few minutes later I started seeing snow capped mountains. They weren’t far from LA.

Nearly all that’s between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is desolate. Sometimes you’ll pick out a road etched into the vast expanse of dirt. Cryptically, every once in a while a geometric pattern shows up. Are they housing tracts, surveyed but never developed? Way out in the desert, it’s easy to wonder why this land would be considered for anything.

I saw Lake Mead, but not nearby Las Vegas. The Grand Canyon appeared out my window, just a bit south of us. A few minutes later, I saw the bane of my last trip west. It was the gigantic Navajo Power Plant near Page, AZ. Close by was the Glenn Canyon Dam. Have I really been here enough times to start picking out landmarks from above?

I shot a few photos of Monument Valley, looking south from the Utah side. The plane wouldn’t be there long. We were heading toward Colorado.

There is plenty of snow out here. Originally, I thought what I saw was a light patch. Then I realized the trees and bushes poking through the snow was why it never looked solidly white. The slopes of the Western Rockies looked like chocolate cake with powdered sugar sprinkled on.

Below me now, the mountains have disappeared. It’s Kansas. It’s flat. As far as the eye can see, there are rectangular fields. Sometimes the fields are interrupted by perfectly round patches where an irrigation system rotating on wheels or tracks has made its presence known.

I’m not sure where the water comes from. So far, the vast majority of river beds I’ve seen have been dry.

I’m tired. I’ll be exhausted by Hartford. I’ll need the rest of the weekend to recuperate from my vacation.

Blogger’s addendum: When first published, this entry was full of typos and poorly formed English. That’s what happens when you write against time, trying to finish before the battery gives out. Writing offline without a spell checker didn’t help either! It’s mostly fixed now

Know Your Source

I feel awful for Mark Dixon and my other meteorologist friends at Channel 3. Here’s a taste of a story about a weather faux pas from today’s Hartford Courant:

False Alarm, Toto

Photograph Of Tornado Was Actually From Kansas, Not Thomaston, WFSB Says


Courant Staff Writers

July 21, 2007

A photo of a Kansas-size twister that accompanied a TV news report Thursday about an outbreak of severe thunderstorms in Connecticut actually was taken in Kansas.

WFSB, Channel 3, received the photo by e-mail Thursday afternoon from a man who said he shot it on his father’s farm in Thomaston, station news director Dana Neves said Friday. The timing of the e-mail corresponded with radar showing severe weather over southern Litchfield County and ground reports of funnel clouds and a tornado in that same area, WFSB meteorologist Mark Dixon said Friday. The totality of the situation, he and Neves said, convinced the station that the photo was legitimate.

The photo was shown on the broadcast and displayed prominently on WFSB’s website, wfsb.com.

After verifying through the National Weather Service that the photo was shot in Kansas about two years ago, the station announced the mistake to viewers Thursday evening, Neves said. They also alerted federal officials.

I’m not saying it couldn’t have happened to me – because it could have. I tend to treat any kind of unsolicited video or eyewitness account with a grain of salt, but I’m not perfect.

Just to give you a taste of what goes on, here’s an email I received Thursday:

Hi Geoff–We had a tornado touch down in Thomaston and then again in Terryville–I don’t know about damage because I don’t live there. But local police saw it and reported it. Just thought you would like to know.


I was so busy, I didn’t see this until long after the cell had passed through Thomaston. By that time, based on an NWS report, we had sent a reporter there. He found nothing.

I wrote asking Sharon where she got her info.

Hi Geoff–

I was watching the Weather Channel when I first got home and it came across in the National Weather Service Tornado warning on the bottom of the screen. It said the tornado was spotted by local law enforcement.


Sharon didn’t mean to be bad or misleading. She was doing what she felt was right. But, she originally passed along second hand information as if she had obtained it herself.

I try my best to make personal contact with anyone who sends unsolicited material I use, but I know there are times I haven’t stridently followed my own rule. Speaking to someone usually provides to best clues to their trustworthiness.

This stuff happens all the time. Most of the time it’s a photo that someone claims comes from a friend or relative – but it doesn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the same bogus Katrina pictures!

There’s a larger point to be made here and that gets to the crux of citizen journalism. Are we ready to trust random members of the public to provide our news coverage?

Opinionated reporters (Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann, Lou Dobbs, Brit Hume) may choose to report only certain aspects of a story, but you know where they’re coming from and can adjust accordingly. With random citizens, who knows what they’re trying to accomplish or maybe they’re too naive, like Sharon, to even know.

A good TV station, like WFSB, steps up to the plate and admits when they are wrong. That’s what good meteorologists and good journalists do.

On the other hand, when caught sending dubious material, I’ve found unsolicited citizen ‘journalists’ often stop responding.

This is the new world. There are aspects I don’t approve of.

Severe Weather Day

I woke up early (for me) today and headed out for a little physical therapy. My leg is still a major concern. I never knew trying to get healthy could cause so much pain!

I’m probably kvetching more than I should. Helaine says I’m an awful patient. Sure… probably.

I went home, thinking I’d take a little nap before work. There were thunderstorms on the radar, which were expected. What I didn’t expect was Helaine waking me after a few minutes. A tornado warning had been posted.

There’s just no good way to absorb a warning like that. This isn’t Kansas. we don’t have roadside sirens to wail. Guy like me have to ‘sell’ the warning over-the-air.

No tornadoes were spotted, thankfully. However, today’s weather gave me pause, as I thought about the real power of the atmosphere.

We had vivid cloud-to-ground lightning. That means a charge of several tens of thousand volts formed between the clouds and Earth. That’s real energy. Just because you can’t plug the vacuum cleaner into it doesn’t make it any less powerful.

We also had hail approaching golf ball size. In 23 years here, that’s the largest hail I’d ever seen.

Since hail is formed as water drops freeze while suspended in clouds, you need really strong winds to get large hail. Golf ball size means 60-70 mph winds blowing straight up! Now you know one more reason why airplanes avoid thunderstorms.

You always hope your advice keeps people inside, out of harm’s way. And, as far as I know, no one was hurt. I’ll take a tiny bit of the credit.

Yesterday’s Weather Fears

I’m never happy to be right about severe weather. The storms came yesterday afternoon under that ominous “Tornado Watch.”

Let me pause for a moment. A little tangent.

The Weather Service has watches and warnings and advisories. There are too many descriptions for too many different events. It is confusing to the public, in spite of the fact the whole idea is to inform the public.

Last night, by storm’s end, over 50,000 customers were without power. That’s a misleading number, because of home (one customer) might contain four or five or more people. There were tree down all over the place.

I started getting emails with tornado claims. There’s really no way to tell unless you’re in a Kansas type situation where the tornado is ‘in the clear’ and easily seen. We don’t get that here.

Early in the afternoon, as I’d gotten ready to go on for a quick live report, our director had pointed to an image on one of our remote cameras. It looked like a funnel.

I quickly made the decision not to mention that. I couldn’t be sure what it was from our distant camera shot and it wasn’t reaching down toward the ground.

More importantly, I thought the verbal warnings and instructions I was giving would have been proper in a tornado and there was no reason to cause panic.

Should I have mentioned the funnel? Based on what I knew then, I still think I made the right decision.

Now I have more information.

That photo on the left came via email from someone name Ted in Milford. Though I’d normally enhance a shot like this to bring out the contrast, this is ‘as is.’ It looks like it was shot through a window, hence the reflection of a fluorescent light fixture on the right.

All the experts who’ve seen it say it’s a funnel cloud. A tornado is a funnel cloud that reaches toward the ground. This was close and could have grown to be one.

After a day like yesterday, I usually look back to think about what I did and said. I wasn’t perfectly smooth – but who ever is? I think my info was good and appropriate and I respected the fact that every time I came on, I was interrupting someone’s viewing.

My job is to prepare the viewers, not panic them.

Good Timing – Bad Cold

I want to finish, or at least extend, my cruise entries. Hopefully, I will later today. Right now I’m dealing with a cold.

I suppose spending most of yesterday on airplanes was the worst thing I could do, but I had no choice. It started three days ago as a scratchy throat… then painful throat… then into my nose.

Somewhere over Kansas I realized I’d never flown with a cold before. It’s the kind of experience you don’t forget!

Airplanes are pressurized, but not fully to sea level pressure. That’s why your ears pop when you ascend or descend. The pressure in the plane’s cabin is changing.

With this cold, my ears clogged up enough so I could hardly hear Helaine next to me (something she has accused me of in the past, when I was in good health). As we began our descent, it felt like someone had stuck a knitting needle in each ear, trying to get to the middle.

My left ear opened, but when I sneeze, my right ear sounds like someone is crumpling paper in front of a microphone!

I’m sure this is more than you want to know – and I’ll stop… except to say, there are no paid sick days on vacation!

Storm Prediction Center Gets Scared

I usually take a casual look at the maps from the Storm Prediction Center. In this day of weather specialization, these guys watch for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

In the past I have been critical of their work in the Northeast where severe weather responds to different stimuli than in the Plains. They do a good job in giving people like me a ‘heads up.’ We’re much better off with them, than without them. More flexibility in issuing watches here would be helpful.

I’ve watched with great interest over the past few days as they’ve posted a high risk outlook for severe weather over a large area. ‘High risk’ and ‘large area’ are rare and usually mutually exclusive.


WOUS40 KWNS 151652




1052 AM CST TUE NOV 15 2005

VALID 151652Z - 160045Z























The operative words are “strong” and “long track.” That’s the recipe for disaster.

So far, there’s been one report of 65+ knot wind in Southwest Missouri. The day is young.

This weather system gets to us in Connecticut tomorrow. To quote Dorothy, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” There will probably be storms, just not as intense or with as much damage.

Meanwhile, if I were in the bullseye on the SPC map, I’d be sweating bullets today. Someone’s going to get hurt, or worse.

Steffie Goes To College

Every life has milepost days. Yesterday was certainly one of them, as we took Steffie to college and helped her move into the dorm.

Make no mistake about it. This has affected me. But whatever I’m feeling pales in comparison to what Helaine and Steffie are feeling. I can claim to understand, but I can’t.

Our day started very early. It was supposed to start just early, but Helaine couldn’t sleep. When I woke up, a few hours before my scheduled time, she was already out of the shower.

We planned to leave the house at 7:30 and were pretty much on schedule.

If you’re reading this, waiting for the moment when the wheels fell off the wagon, you might as well stop now. This day went exceptionally smoothly. Nearly everything went as planned and the college was shockingly prepared and organized.

Is this my life we’re talking about?

The trip to Long Island took around two hours. There is a ferry available, but it only makes sense if you are going to far Eastern Long Island – not us. We headed down the Connecticut Turnpike which becomes the New England Thruway at the New York State line.

As we passed over the Throgs Neck Bridge, I realized that at some time Steffie would be making this trip on her own. I wanted to let her know about some tricky exiting.

An hour and a half into a two hour trip is too late to start. The best way is to let her drive it some time, with me in the passenger’s seat.

As we pulled on campus, a uniformed guard moved toward the car. Before Steffie went to her dorm, did she have her 700 number?

Sure, it was under a room and a half’s worth of stuff!

Steffie and I set out for the Student Center. This was actually a good thing, because she was able to get her student ID, which she would need for virtually everything else.

Next stop, the dorm. Steffie’s room is on the 6th floor of a 13 floor tower. The building is poured concrete, with some brick and cinder block. I would suppose if you’re going to build a structure to hold hundreds of 18-22 year olds, you’d want to make as little of it flammable as is possible.

The concrete looks like it was poured into wooden molds, so the grain pattern of the wood is still visible on the building’s exterior. I’m sure some architect somewhere will wince when he reads this, but I like that look. At least dull, drab concrete is given some modicum of texture.

Another campus cop, dressed like a park ranger, was near the dorm, directing traffic. He asked me if I could squeeze into a spot, which I did. The rear hatch of the Explorer was poised at the edge of the sidewalk. Perfect.

We walked inside where Steffie registered for the dorm, got a sticker added to her ID and a key for her room (don’t lose it – replacements are $150). Then we moved back outside for the surprise of the day.

The college had a small fleet of wheeled bright orange carts. Instead of hand carrying a car’s worth of stuff, we filled up the cart (twice) and rolled it to the elevator and then the sixth floor.

Steffie’s room was ‘prison modern’. It’s small room, with large window. The floors are some sort of easily cleaned, plastic derivative. There were two desks, each with a hutch, two dressers and two large standing hanging closets.

Near the door was the outlet for high speed Internet and telephone access. It, and the cable TV/phone jack, were the only real mistakes of the room. In order to bring the Internet to the desk across the room, you’d need to run the school supplied Ethernet cable across the floor… or go out and buy a fifty foot cable (which is what I did).

I thought Steffie had overpacked… and maybe she did… but she managed to squeeze everything into her half of the room. Once she put some photo montages and other personal touches on the wall, the room began to look homey.

While Helaine and Steffie fixed the living space, I tackled the electronics. Her computer quickly connected to the school’s network. Her two speakers and subwoofer sounded great on her desk.

At one time a student would pack up a small stereo system for a dorm room. There’s really no reason to do that anymore. Steffie’s laptop will serve as her stereo. It’s loaded with all the MP3’s that are in her iPod, and then some. Plus, it will play CDs.

All this time, while the unpacking and set up was going on, Steffie was alone. Her roommate, coming from Kansas, had not yet arrived. Half the room was warm and fuzzy. The other half was Cellblock-G sterile.

Being on the sixth floor and facing west, the room has a great view. The building in the center of this photo is North Shore Towers (where my friend Peter’s parents once lived), about eight miles away.

As the afternoon moved along, we realized there were a few items we had forgotten, so we headed out, looking for a ‘big box’ store to load up.

When I went to college, there was an old black and white TV in the common area in the basement. With its rabbit ears antenna, we could only get a few fuzzy signals. The was Boston’s Back Bay, where even a rooftop antenna brought ghostly signals and where cable wouldn’t be introduced for at least a decade or more.

Today, there is cable TV in each room! Steffie has multiple channels of HBO. Hey, we don’t have that at home!

We had decided to wait on getting her a TV until we got there. And, quite honestly, there wouldn’t have been room in the car.

First stop was Best Buy. It must have been a cold day in hell for me to walk in there, because Best Buy and I just don’t get along. I don’t want to go into the whole story, but my last trip to a Best Buy, much closer to home, ended with me screaming at the manager, “OK then, call the cops.”

We found an off brand 20″ TV for… Oh, go ahead, guess. I’m waiting.

The TV was $87.99. How is that humanly possible?

Forget the labor and parts. How can you ship a weighty box halfway around the world and build a Best Buy on the profit from this thing? I’m not sure how is possible. The TV has remote control and input jacks for a DVD and/or VCR.

The remote came with batteries!

We also picked up a little DVD player. Sure, the computer can play DVDs, but this is what she wanted… and again, it was dirt cheap. The DVD player was $31.99.

Here’s what I can’t figure out. How can this TV/DVD combination sell for less than the frames for my eyeglasses? There’s some disconnect here… or the ability to make a boatload of money producing cheap frames.

The TV fit nicely on top of Steffie’s dresser. The DVD player needed to be turned into one corner. It’s not optimal, but it will do. It’s a dorm room, after all.

Next stop for us was the theater for a lecture on fire safety. I had already given Steffie my own cautionary tale about fire alarms and dorms. It will go off often. She still needs to leave. She can’t take the chance it will always be a false alarm.

There was another paragraph here about the lecturer, his demeanor and his warmth. I have removed it because I don’t want to be sued. ‘Nuff said.

Evening was approaching and Steffie’s roommate was still a no show.

At the lobby of the dorm there was a short list of who wasn’t there. The list grew shorter as names were crossed off. Not this one. She was top of the list and still missing in action.

We went to a barbecue on the intramural field. There were previously warm hot dogs and cheeseburgers (with unmelted cheese on the burgers) and we ate away.

Time was running short. Helaine and I had to return to Connecticut. We didn’t want to leave Steffie before the roommate arrived, but we had no choice.

Our goodbyes were tearful. Steffie put on wide sunglasses, but tears still poured out. Helaine was no less emotional.

After being with Steffie virtually every day for 18 years, we would be separated. Helaine will be seeing her in a month. It will be longer for me.

If you would have asked me how Steffie would fare in college a year ago, I wouldn’t have had a ready, positive answer. It’s different now. This last year has seen her mature a lot.

She has said, and I believe her, that she’s ready for college and the college experience. I think she is.

It will be interesting to see how she ‘plays with others’. As an only child, Steffie has had her own bedroom, bathroom and playroom. Now she’ll be sharing a room with one girl and a bathroom with a floor of them.

There are so many things to learn in college. Classroom work is only one part of a very large experience.

Blogger’s note: Steffie’s roommate arrived, alone, right after we left. She had packed light with more being shipped over the next few days.

Big Weather Monday

It was a busy afternoon at work today. A line of strong thunderstorms moved in from the west. There was certainly enough damaging activity along the line to pay significant attention. Last night’s computer model runs, and those from this morning, showed an unstable airmass for this afternoon. Here in Connecticut, that’s the best indicator of the chance for strong thunderstorms.

I’m mentioning this because the Weather Service never posted a Severe Thunderstorm Watch or a Tornado Watch. We went from nothing to a Tornado Warning! That’s somewhat jarring.

There has been damage from the cells that brought on the warning, but I can’t be sure if it was actually caused by a tornado. Probably not. We are more likely to get straight line wind damage.

To me, the toughest part of this is going on the air and asking people to move to a position of safety. I know I’m scaring the living daylights out of some people. It is not something I can do easily… not that I won’t when it’s necessary. It’s just that I won’t do it when conditions are marginal.

The big question that’s going to have to be asked over the next few days is, why no watch? This is a major question. It’s not like some farmer’s field in Kansas had a little corn knocked down. This is an urban/suburban area with moderate to high population density.

If the Storm Prediction Center didn’t feel this line met their criteria, they need to reevaluate.