Judging’s Not For Me

Right now, I would like to take a nap. My whole body is bloated. I wish I had some Alka Seltzer

I did a live shot on-the-air this evening. That’s become more of a rarity as my boss strives to separate ‘Fun Geoff’ from ‘Weather Geoff’.

PIC-0088This was the annual “Taste of the Nation,” which benefits the Connecticut Food Bank and other charitable endeavors. It all took place at the Omni Hotel at Yale, in Downtown New Haven.

The live hits were fun, for a variety of reasons. First, I enjoy having the opportunity to play around a little while on-camera. Second, I tried to solve a techno challenge and succeeded.

Until now, there was no way to control my weather equipment from the field. I’d cue the director, who would cue the floor manager, who would push my weather graphics button. Often, there was missed communication, which took me out of sync with what was on the screen.

This evening, I brought in a laptop, connected using the venue’s wireless Internet cloud, and used logmein.com to bring my weather computer’s screen and controls to the laptop in the field. Though it won’t show me the actual high-res graphic I’m displaying on the air, every other part of the system’s back end was there.

This was a huge burden off my shoulders. It worked perfectly.

PIC-0090After the news, I assumed my second job of the evening – judging the food. I had been volunteered for the job. Who knew how difficult judging is?

I’m not talking about the qualitative judgement. That’s not the tough part of judging. The tough part is the shear quantity of restaurants and food. I had to sample some of everything!

Right now, I would like to take a nap. My whole body is bloated. I wish I had some Alka Seltzer.

I guess I’m the wrong guy to recommend for Iron Chef.

The Snowy Prize

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 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.


My job has little in the way of manual labor. I don’t lift boxes or fix cars in a hot garage. Still, I’m exhausted after a really difficult week with lots of long days.

We just installed some new weather equipment. It won’t make me more accurate, but it will allow me to make the weather presentation a little more compelling and a little more easily understood.

The new system we got replaces a few very old pieces of hardware. If you’re a computer geek, you’ll recognize the name “Silicon Graphics.” Silicon Graphics, aka SGI, was the leader in computer hardware that worked well with video.

SGI did it with proprietary hardware – meaning it was very expensive. On the other hand, our SGI “O2” and “Octane” computers were both built like brick shit houses. Can I say that?

When PCs became dirt cheap and lightning fast, SGI had a problem.

Anyway, our two SGI boxes were dead, or dying, and had to be replaced. The new PC based equipment does nearly everything&#185 the SGI machines did, but at many times the speed.

In the weather department that means it’s possible to manipulate our data and present it with a little more movement and flash.

I’ve been through these graphic upgrades in the past – more than once. It’s all incremental, with no individual upgrade being Earth shattering. Still, viewers would notice (and not in a good way) if we ever went back even a single step.

Of course the problem with new hardware is, you’ve got to learn how to use it. Then, you’ve got to learn how to integrate it into your presentation. I don’t want to use flashy stuff just to be flashy. I’m still trying to tell a story with visual aids.

I worked a 12 hour day all week. On Monday I helped with the installation. Tuesday and Wednesday I trained and prepared new graphics. This morning was supposed to be the debut. It was just the start of another 12 hour day.

At air time the going got a little rough and our original equipment was re-energized and put back on-the-air. It’s a sign of how we’ve come to accept computers as just another troubled relationship that no one was bent out of shape. It wasn’t unexpected… though it wasn’t expected either.

By 5:00 PM we had ironed out the kinks and went live.

So much of using these systems is trying to be artistically creative. I’m sure some of what I’ve done so far is is lots of effort with little reward. I’ve spent time producing graphics that just don’t make the grade.

That comes with the territory. It will take a while to understand what I can do and how it will look (even before it’s produced).

At the moment I’m mentally exhausted.

I expect to get a phone call or two over the weekend as others run into trouble. I might even have to run in for a hands on fix. I’ve got no problem with that.

I’m looking forward to Monday when the hours will be a little shorter and the challenge of this system will be fresher.

&#185 – Systems, like the one in our weather area, only have an installed base in the hundreds. The software is never finished, and always buggy, when it first comes out. Over time are all the features added (and the bugs swatted).

Right now, this system only works in a 3D world. It needs to work in both 3D and 2D simultaneously. The last sentence sounds confusing, because the whole concept is confusing… and difficult to achieve.

It’s The Emmys

It’s been a few years since I entered the Emmys. It’s a very weird competition. It’s totally arbitrary. Winning is totally without rhyme or reason. Judges get few guidelines.

Helaine thinks the whole process is ridiculous. She very well may be right.

One year I won. The next year I wasn’t nominated. Honest. Go figure.

I am lucky enough to have seven sitting in a case in my family room. From a practical standpoint, seven is the same as ten or three.

Actually, seven is better than ten. Having ten would make it look too easy.

All of this is the setup for what will transpire Sunday.

Gil Simmons, at my station, has volunteered to coordinate Emmy judging for the San Francisco/Northern California region. I volunteered the location, my house.

It looks like we’ll have six or seven of us watching the DVDs. The more the merrier. I sent a few more emails tonight, trying my best to guilt the last stragglers into coming.

For some of the younger guys&#185, this will be a revealing process. Seeing how the Emmys are judged is helpful when you’re deciding what to submit the next year.

It will be interesting to see how they treat the weather in an area where weather usually isn’t as important. It will also be interesting to ‘take notes’ on how their weather equipment is being used. We mostly use the same, or similar, tools. Sometimes you catch a glimpse of a technique or twist you hadn’t thought of.

Last time I was a judge there were moments when I wondered, “What were they thinking when they sent in this tape?” Hopefully, that won’t be the case again.

&#185 – It has been pointed out, all the weather people in this market are men… white men. That’s becoming more and more unusual.

More On The Future Of TV

This is the week of the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) and RTNDA (Radio, Television News Directors Association) convention in Las Vegas. Most people who do what I never get a chance to go. For a few years, I demoed weather equipment, and so I got a chance to look.

NAB/RTNDA is more a hardware than idea convention (though the people selling the hardware have ideas of how your should use their products). In fact, I was very surprised at the percentage of non-broadcasters there. Most of the attendees, or so it seemed to me, represented production companies – people who shoot video and produce programming directly for clients.

I’m not at NAB this year, but I’ve been reading a few blogs from people who are, including Scott Baker, writing for MediaBistro’s TVNewser blog.

“By this point in the night I had talked with a legion of news directors about their list of priorities. All of them said, some version of — the Internet.

Nearly all of them, when pressed, indicated a general sense of — what the heck do I do now?”

You betcha!

There’s a sense that, in the future, the classic model of a television station might not be the best way to distribute programming. Make no mistake about it – it is now, but everyone is looking toward the future.

We’re not alone. There’s AT&T vs Vonage and the other VOIP carriers, The New Haven Register classified section vs Craigslist, and any company that provides telephone support in the US vs low cost operators halfway around the world. These are all competitors that didn’t exist, or couldn’t have existed, before technology matured.

There seem to be two obvious questions. Can we make as much profit from the new technology as we did from conventional TV? Are we agile enough to compete with very low cost competitors?

If a transition from old to new business practices becomes necessary, how do we decide when to make the switch? Too soon and you’ve lost your business model. Too late and you’re way behind your competitors.

It’s all very scary.

The good news for viewers is, you’re about to be introduced to ‘slivercasting’. A perfect example is PhotoshopTV, a weekly half hour’ish show totally devoted to using Photoshop.

There’s no room for PhotoshopTV on the air, but there’s plenty of room on the web. It’s not my interest, but I assume there are analogous shows for knitting, car buffs… for any affinity group.

To advertisers, these are reasonably good deals (I don’t know how much they charge, but I’m talking in the abstract). If you sell Photoshop related products, what could be a better way to show your stuff?

A few paragraphs ago I said this is good news for viewers. It’s also bad news… or it might be. Will inexpensive, slivercast, programming drive more expensive broadcasts out of the market? It’s Gresham’s Law at the TV station&#185!

Broad versus sliver. Expensive versus low cost.

It’s not around the corner by any means, but it’s possible to see how that could be a reality if trends continue and broadcasters stick too closely to their current core. Agility will be rewarded.

There’s an expression that says, “The good old days are always in the past.” I suppose, that knowledge always leaves us fearful and pessimistic about the future. On the other hand, the future might be an incredible opportunity we just haven’t discovered yet.

That’s my hope.

&#185 – I probably have this all screwed up, but this is my 21st century interpretation of Gresham’s Law. Let me borrow from the Wikipedia:

Gresham’s law says that any circulating currency consisting of both “good” and “bad” money, where both forms are required to be accepted at equal value under legal tender law, quickly becomes dominated by the “bad” money. This is because people spending money will hand over the “bad” coins rather than the “good” ones, keeping the “good” ones for themeselves.

So, how do we get to TV? Gresham (who’s been dead over 400 years) implies that less expensive programming, with less potential downside, will dominate if the relative rewards of both are reasonably equal.

I was introduced to Gresham by Martin Wolfson, my very learned and totally screwball, history teacher at Brooklyn Tech. I’m sure he’s gone now. If he could read this, he’d be pleased I remembered Gresham and not bothered by being called screwball.

Katrina Comes Ashore

I spent the night at Mohegan Sun, preparing to emcee and event for a few thousand teachers. It wasn’t a good night. My body doesn’t know whether it’s “Tuesday or Chestnut Street.”

I caught a few hours, but was up at four… drifting in and out of a light sleep until my wakeup call at 6:30.

This isn’t the hotel’s fault. This is a top notch hotel (more on that later). It was my body saying “Don’t treat me this way.”

Message received.

Up early, I started spinning the dial, looking for Hurricane Katrina coverage. It wasn’t tough to find. Seemingly everyone had a ‘cowboy’ out in the elements, flirting with disaster.

I saw Anderson Cooper, in the pouring rain, gesturing to a crane he said might topple.

Hey, Andy – get away from the crane. This is only television.

All in all I liked the local coverage I saw last night on WWL much better than what the national news showed. Obviously, their was a different purpose to each particular broadcast. I found WWL’s comforting.

Is that OK to say? Comforting was what was needed.

I moved downstairs to prepare for the event. In the featured speaker’s dressing room, a TV was showing CNN. My last contact with the storm this morning was the report that the roof of the Louisiana Superdome had been breeched.

I think the original story was worse than what actually happened. I would think it wasn’t hype but genuine concern from the anchors and reporters. I certainly was concerned.

Yesterday, I had written about what the forecasters might have been thinking. Today, one of those scenarios came true as the storm weakened prior to landfall and then jogged right, giving a more direct hit to Alabama and Mississippi than Louisiana.

New Orleans wasn’t totally laid to waste. There has been plenty of damage, and once we get out of the ‘fog of war’ we’ll find plenty more. The coasts of Alabama and Mississippi really took the brunt of Hurricane Katrina. That was more than expected.

After the fact, I still agree with the decision to empty out New Orleans. Yes, some people will crawl out of the woodwork to say they rode it out and it wasn’t that bad. That’s not the point.

Tonight I’ll drive home wearing my seatbelt, even though I don’t expect to get into an accident.

Blogger’s note: One of my fellow MSU students just started a new job, forecasting in New

Orleans! He sent a mass mailing to the class which I’ll attach after the jump.

Continue reading “Katrina Comes Ashore”

Who Came Here in 2003

I don’t have an incredibly long history as a webmaster. So, for me, it’s often confusing and at the same time interesting to peek at the inner workings of this site. I have owned the domain name geofffox.com for a few years, but it’s only been since late July that I’ve mounted this blog and photo gallery.

My webserver is actually located in Chicago, and run by hostforweb.com. It is shared with other small websites. I have access to most of the server’s guts through shell programs.

In order for you to see what you’re reading now, I have to upload all the files and images and programs from home. There are a number of programs, like the one that produces the weather forecast meteograms that run on clocks and execute a few times a day. I had to write the scripts to do that too.

Running this website has forced me to learn a little about a bunch of computer disciplines, like php, Perl, bash shell scripts, html and a veritable alphabet soup of minutiae. It’s been challenging and like Blanche Du Bois, I am often dependent on the kindness of strangers. The more I learn about computers, the less I realize I know.

With the year over in less than four hours, I though I’d summarize a little of what’s gone through this site in 2003. Since it was only born in July, the stats are (hopefully) less than what I’ll get to publish in 2004.

7.76 GB That’s the total amount of data I’ve spit out. It melts down to 10 CDROM’s worth… or a few DVD’s. The majority of my hits go to the United States, but most of Europe and the Pacific Rim are represented as well.

271.69 MB That’s what Google slurped up. Loads of spiders and crawlers moved through the site, picking up the data that goes into search engines. Google took down nearly 5 times as much data as the next biggest search engine and was responsible for 6711 page views by users. I have chronicled elsewhere my rise in the Google rankings – a feat which both intrigues and fascinates me.

Giblet gravy That’s the most used search engine phrase that sent people to the site. They must have been disappointed because I used the phrase to illustrate a point that had nothing to do with cooking. The next most requested phrase was Scotty Crowe, John Mayer’s road manager.

Thanks to everyone who’s written to ask me for John’s email address. Even if I had it, I couldn’t give it out. You will be glad to know your admiration is not misplaced. There’s a whole lot to admire about John. I don’t think he’ll be spoiled by success.

I’m not sure how or why, but people searching for dangerous Internet cafes in las vegas nv and she had to remove her shoes airport ended up being sent to geofffox.com.

My cousin Michael and his wife Melissa in Sunny Southern California became blog readers. More than anyone, Michael made me realize I could use an editor from time-to-time. I try to spell and grammar check, but you need a dispassionate eye too.

My dad reads the blog every day. That pleases me more than he’ll ever know.

From time to time I’ve looked at my logs, seeing where readers are coming from. There’s someone at NBC in NY who reads pretty regularly, same at the vendor of our station’s weather equipment and Mississippi State University, where I’m taking courses. Most readers are connecting through residential addresses, but I’m amazed by all the different companies and universities that are listed.

Once, I made reference to probes of my home computer by a virus ensconced in a PC at a San Fransisco Honda dealer. I made an analogy that used the word ‘doorknob’. A few days later a computer at a doorknob manufacturer downloaded a significant portion of this site. They’ll be as surprised as the giblet gravy crowd.

In 2003 approximately 17,000 separate viewers came calling to this site. Collectively you visited 30,000 times, downloading 872,000 files. My page counter now sits just north of 60,000.

Every word I write is read, re-read, edited, punched up and perused again before it goes online. One of the more pleasant surprises of blogging is how challenging and how much fun it is to write. I never felt that way about writing before.

Often it is a cathartic experience, allowing me to get something off my chest. Other times it’s fun to let you in on something I observed and want to share.

My family puts up with this to a point. I reveal a lot in this blog, but not everything. A friend wrote to tell me he was surprised to see this ‘warts and all’ self assessment. If there are warts here, they are a small portion of my own personal wart colony. Like most people, I keep a few skeletons in my closet.

Thanks for reading. It really means a lot to me. Really.