Seasonal Hurricane Forecasts: Why Bother?

A nameless friend, well known in the small world of tropical weather experts, likens NOAA’s wide range of potential storms to a gambler betting every number at roulette then bragging when he hits!

The 2010 NOAA seasonal hurricane forecast is out. The prediction is for a banner year or in government speak: “active to extremely active.”

14 to 23 named storms (top winds of 39 mph or higher), including:
8 to 14 hurricanes (top winds of 74 mph or higher), of which:
3 to 7 could be major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; winds of at least 111 mph)

This would be a very valuable thing if

  • There was a history of accuracy in this forecast
  • The numbers meant anything

The number of storms is inconsequential unless one hits you. Even then only one counts. Human tragedy doesn’t parallel the number of storms. 1992 was a very light season and the year of Hurricane Andrew!

Beyond that top wind speed is only one piece of the equation. As with real estate ‘location, location, location’ is the critical factor. A poorly placed tropical storm can do lots more damage than a monster out to sea.

A nameless friend, well known in the small world of tropical weather experts, likens NOAA’s wide range of potential storms to a gambler betting every number at roulette then bragging when he hits! He went on:

“14-23 storms are you kidding me? That must be 75% of the full distribution. I thought the point of a forecast was to narrow the possibilities from the full range.”

Usually an ensemble of computer models is run to produce a forecast like this. Then the outputs are pared to the most likely results. He’s complaining too many possible scenarios have been left in. The forecast deck is stacked so the forecaster can’t lose!

The Numbers Guy at the Wall Street Journal is similarly complaining.

It is possible that NOAA is keeping its estimates loose to avoid having egg on its face later: In the past nine years, NOAA’s May storm-count predictions have proved accurate about 40% of the time.

Why do they even produce these forecasts? Who benefits?

NOAA and the Hurricane Center do great public good when they forecast individual storms. However, these dubious long range projections only cause skepticism down the road. Just what we don’t need!

Chutzpah And AT&T

Oh Mr. de la Vega, don’t you understand how business is supposed to work?

apple-iphone-3g.jpgI’m an AT&T subscriber and an iPhone user. Like many iPhone users I’ve experienced weird call drops (mainly while in Las Vegas or New York City–seldom in Connecticut). The prevailing wisdom seems to be there’s not enough capacity to support the voracious appetite of iPhone users.

Hey, AT&T–what exactly did you expect? You’re the ones bragging about the inexhaustible supply of iPhone apps. You’ve empowered us and now your surprised we’re taking advantage? Spare me.

Recently AT&T Mobility’s CEO addressed some of these data/phone concerns and then tossed in a curveball. Here’s part of the Wall Street Journal‘s read on it.

“With about 3% of smart-phone customers driving 40% of data traffic, AT&T is considering incentives to keep those subscribers from hampering the experience for everyone else, he said. “You can rest assured that we’re very sure we can address it in a way that’s consistent with net-neutrality and FCC regulations.”

Many customers don’t know how much bandwidth they’re consuming, Mr. de la Vega added. When AT&T conducted a broadband test, customers often reduced their data use. Longer-term, he said, a pricing scheme based on usage is likely, though it will be determined by industry competition and regulatory guidelines.”

AT&T admits its services “are performing at levels below our standards.” Unfortunately, this is one of those no-fault admissions, because AT&T’s not crediting my account to compensate for this poor service.

Instead they’re saying these issues, while using the service as sold, are largely the fault of their customers! Where I come from we categorize this as “chutzpah.”

Chutzpah? Look it up. There’s an app for that.

Oh Mr. de la Vega, don’t you understand how business is supposed to work?

I plan on using the crap out of my iPhone–using every bit and byte I’m entitled to use. I want to be one of your heaviest customers (the one’s you seem to dislike) until I’m passed by someone who finds even more ways to use it.

Don’t worry, even then I’ll find a way to catch up!

Get used to it Mr. dlV. Like you, we’re interested in seeing the other party in this deal completely fulfill its obligation. We’re going to want more, not less. One day we’ll look back at the data streaming to our phones today the way we look at a 300 baud modem!

It often seems servicing customers is an impediment business doesn’t want. Too bad.

Addendum: If you’ve gotten this far you also need to read FakeSteveJobs take on this. It is masterful. The language is “R” rated, but it’s well worth it.

Will You Pay For Info? Confusion Reigns

An eyeball viewing content on the net isn’t worth as much as that same eyeball watching a TV commercial.

ny-times-technology-page.pngAt the TV station my bosses have a quandary. They know many of you are changing your habits and getting your info on the Internet. Should we follow you?

Don’t answer yet because the problem is complex and confusing.

An eyeball viewing content on the net isn’t worth as much as that same eyeball watching a TV commercial. We move you to the net at our own peril. Of course if we could charge viewers to subscribe to our product, as cable TV and satellite radio already do, we could supplement income from commercials and continue to pay the mortgage.

So far getting consumers to pay for web content isn’t very successful. At one time the NY Times had a partial paywall behind which its columnists and some other premium content lived. No more. The Wall Street Journal is currently somewhat successful in charging for much of its content. There aren’t many other examples.

Entire lines of business are dependent on getting the correct answer to this question which is why the Technology page on the NY Times website is so frustrating. Co-existing on one page are the following headlines:

  • 80% of US Consumers Won’t Pay For Content
  • About Half in US Would Pay For Online News, Study Finds.

Is there an editor in the house? Aren’t these mutually exclusive?

If the answer was easy we’d all be doing the right thing today instead of being petrified what we’ll do is wrong.

Blogger’s note: For clarity I used Photoshop to make the capture of the Times Technology page fit on your screen. Nothing germane to my point was removed.

Rupert Murdoch From Both Sides Of His Mouth

Murdoch blames the search engines, but the truth is the entire business model for advertiser supported information is broken.

My friend Farrell forwarded an article from Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News:

Rupert Murdoch has warned internet search engines the time has come for them to pay for news content.

The News Corp chief executive said sites such as Google and Yahoo, which take content from a range of sources, would soon be charged for the service.

This is totally within Murdoch’s right and if he wants to put his content behind a paywall he should. The New York Times used to do this with much of their exclusive content, like columnists, but later relented.

If taken at his word, Murdoch could implement a change to cut off search engines now.

To stop search engines from indexing your site you simply add a tiny text file to the root directory. It’s beyond simple and can be totally accomplished with one line of code. The Journal, or any news site, could do that in a few minutes.

Not only is that not what Murdoch’s doing–he is doing the opposite!

If you go to the Wall Street Journal site you’ll find many (not all) stories run for a few paragraphs and then stop with “…” Here’s an example I found in a link from the Journal’s home page:

As of July, nearly 90% of U.S. households paid for television either from cable, satellite or phone companies rather …

It’s obvious the story continues, but it only continues for subscribers.

However, if you enter that same sentence fragment into Google you get a link to the full Journal story!

As of July, nearly 90% of U.S. households paid for television either from cable, satellite or phone companies rather than getting it free from broadcast stations, according to Nielsen.

The Google link and the direct link from WSJ’s home page produce the same URL link. I believe WSJ’s website is configured to deliver the full content when the referrer is Google or Yahoo!, etc.&#185

The URL for the Sky News story I quoted at the beginning of this post is optimized to make it more visible to search engines. Many of the story’s key words are embedded in it:

The Journal and Sky probably do this because search engines drive traffic to their sites. Without the search engines and would see a lot fewer hits. They are making money from those hits–though certainly not as much as they want nor probably not enough to survive in their current business model.

Murdoch blames the search engines, but the truth is the entire business model for advertiser supported information is broken. The type of journalism the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and other ‘classic’ news sources provide is dependent on selling high cost advertising.

Unfortunately, the same eyeball on the net is worth a lot less than in the paper or on TV. It’s a matter of supply and demand. The Internet has opened up the supply so there’s nearly an infinite number of places to run your ad.

Murdoch will grouse and yell and flail like the bully he’s always been–but he’s screwed and he knows it. He’s not in that boat alone. Mass media as we know it is terribly ill.

&#185 – My research on this is less than voluminous. How they do it isn’t as important as the fact they do it.

Wow, It’s Garrett Brown (Again)

If that’s all Garrett Brown had done it would be pretty impressive. But, like a TV infomercial, there’s more!

garrett-brown-steadicam.jpgI just filled out a website form and dropped a line to Garrett Brown. His name came up as I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about the camera rig that allows Olympic TV coverage to follow divers from the diving board to the water. As cool as the shot is, the device is even cooler in its simple use of Sir Isaac Newton’s observations about gravity. .

I know the name Garrett Brown and have for years. He invented the Steadicam (other shooting toys too)–no small achievement. This single invention made hand held shots for movies and television ‘do-able’ as never before. He won an Oscar for it.

The Steadicam isn’t quite as simple as the Olympics camera solution, but it is noteworthy and well known in the ‘business.’ You have seen the hand held film effect it enables hundreds of times. Garrett’s not only the inventor, he’s been the steadicam operator in major motion pictures.

If that’s all Garrett Brown had done it would be pretty impressive. But, like a TV infomercial, there’s more!

Garrett Brown was the male voice on one of the most effective radio ad campaigns of all time, for Molson Beer. The commercials featured giggling dialog between Garrett and Anne Winn. I went back and listened to their “Border Guard” spot a few minutes ago. It’s still one of the most creative ad series of all time–so good it ran for 13 years.

And here it is!

What Is Journalism?

It’s probably a good time to delve into this because there are two interesting journalism stories.

Who is a journalist? What is journalism? It’s probably a good time to delve into this because there are two interesting journalism stories unfolding today.

Who broke the John Edwards affair? The National Enquirer. Ouch, mainstream media. How’d you let that one slip away? And the Enquirer has been all over this story for a while. They also broke the Monica Lewinsky story. This is not your father’s, “Elvis Spotted At K-Mart” Enquirer.

I heard Steve Plamann, senior executive editor of the National Enquirer interviewed on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” today. He gladly admitted the paper’s sensationalist bent. They are after all, by his admission, a supermarket tabloid. But, does that disqualify them from being taken seriously or breaking stories?

Should the NY Times follow the Enquirer as they certainly do the Wall Street Journal or Washington Post? Do you disregard them at your own risk? I’ll answer my own question. They disregarded the Edwards story and it doesn’t reflect well on them.

Is the National Enquirer journalism? I think they are, but who makes this judgement?

The second journalistic fork in the road has to do with CNN’s decision to rely on more “one-man-bands” populating single person bureaus. Here’s how TVNewser reported it:

“Yesterday CNN announced it was expanding its domestic presence by opening bureaus in 10 U.S. cities. The press release called it a doubling of U.S. newsgathering. But when a 28-year-old company expands you can bet there will be changes to existing personnel too. And that is the case with CNN.

TVNewser has learned that after the announcement of the new bureaus and soon to be added “all-platform journalists,” nine CNN staffers were told their jobs were going to be redefined. We’re told the staffers are not being laid off, but being offered positions in the new structure.

The staffers work in cities including Chicago, San Francisco and Miami. As NPR’s David Folkenflik reported this morning, “let’s be clear [CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein] is only really talking about adding a handful of new staffers. Others will be redeployed in less-covered places like Columbus, Ohio, Orlando and Seattle.””

Is it less journalistcally pure when a single person covers a story instead of a crew? Is there something lost when a reporter also has to concentrate of his/her equipment during the time they used to be concentrating on the person speaking?

Video gear has become smaller, cheaper and easier to operate. I certainly could report and produce a news story on my own, but would that story suffer? I have colleagues who will argue the story will suffer and other friends, like Mike Sechrist, who truly believes we’re foolish to not take advantage of this technology.

There are a lot of constituencies involved here beyond the public who consumes this journalistic product. I am curious to see how this will shake out. This is a time when journalistic traditions might change rapidly.

Strange Bedfellows

I wrote about Al Gore’s energy consumption a few days ago. Now, the Wall Street Journal has taken a turn on their editorial page.

Mr. Gore is rich and fortunate enough to be able to afford the “carbon offset” for his energy indulgences. The middle-class parents who need a gas-guzzling SUV to haul the kids to soccer practice might not be so lucky. They might even settle for an unheated pool.

I am unaccustomed to agreeing with, or blazing the path for, the Journal’s editorial board. It’s arguably the most politically conservative daily editorial page in the country.

Of course that’s a large part of the problem with the whole human induced global warming debate. It has become a conservative vs. liberal bout – a political argument.

It’s really a scientific debate. Why has that been lost in all the noise?

Ted Koppel – Who Knew?

I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal considering the future of Nightline. I remember the origins of that show, during the Iran Hostage Crisis. In the beginning, the nightly show would even give the count of days since the hostages had been taken.

I remember the first time they strayed from Iran and covered some other breaking news. It was sharp, learned and the only show of its kind in that pre-cable age.

Now, the article says, ABC might be trying to kill off the show.

I usually get to see the first minute or two before leaving work. Though thoroughly associated with Ted Koppel, he’s not there too often. Now, I understand why.

Mr. Koppel’s contract expires in 2005, and he is unlikely to sign a new one that involves many changes to his current situation. His contract gives him nearly two months of vacation, a three-day workweek and a provision that the show is rarely broadcast live — a grueling option that characterized “Nightline” in its heyday. Mr. Koppel also takes home a paycheck thought to be near $10 million — on par with top-paid figures in network news. A spokeswoman said Mr. Koppel was not available to comment.

$10,000,000! I’m in the wrong busine… Oh, hold on. Same business. Never mind. And, with all due respect to Mr. Koppel whom I consider a gift to television journalism – grueling? Please!

I’m not sure if Nightline could make it today as a live show. We had longer attention spans twenty years ago. There was less competition.

Sometimes good things just outlive their usefulness. It will be a shame when that happens to Nightline, because it was so special.