Friday, January 28, 2011

25 anniversary of the catastrophe in the sky

Read why the catastrophe in the sky was also a disaster in the newsroom.
It's the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster. This was an event so shocking, so unexpected, so emotionally intense that most of us still can recall that day with rare clarity. Today I am linking to an earlier post that examined the disaster and why newspapers around the world had disasters of their own when it came to running the picture of the shuttle disintegrating high in the sky off Florida.

The linked post was inspired by an editorial by Paul Berton the former editor-in-chief of The London Free Press: Catastrophe in the sky.

As to the question of did or didn't Challenger explode, the following is from the Huffington Post comments accompanying the Huffington Post article on the 25th anniversary of the disaster. As you can see, the argument continues 25 years later.

jsarets   4 hours ago (4:26 AM)
After reading the comments below, it's worth noting that Challenger did not explode.

A jet of hot gas leaking from the aft segment joint of the right solid rocket booster burned through the aft attach strut between the SRB and the external tank. When the aft end of the SRB swung loose from tank, it drove the tank and orbiter into the oncoming airstream at a high angle of attack.

Aerodynami­c loads caused the near-immed­iate structural failure of the external tank, releasing a massive plume of hydrogen and oxygen that ignited in the wake of the left SRB. This is called deflagrati­on, which differs from detonation in that the propagatio­n of the flame front is subsonic.

The rest of the vehicle, including the wings and vertical stabilizer of the orbiter, proceeded to break up due to the aero loads, but the crew compartmen­t -- which is a self-conta­ined pressure vessel attached to the airframe at four points -- was flung from the vehicle and remained structural­ly intact until it crashed into the ocean at over 200 mph.

Three of the four Personal Egress Air Peaks (PEAPs) on the flight deck were activated and exhibited air consumptio­n consistent with the 2:45 ballistic trajectory between breakup and crash. These packs provide unpressuri­zed air and would not have kept the crewmember­s alive if the crew compartmen­t had lost pressure integrity at over 60,000 feet in altitude.

Additional­ly, several lever-lock­ed switches on the pilot's right-hand electrical power system control panel were thrown after the loss of telemetry downlink, which indicates a futile attempt to restore power to the crew compartmen­t (which had ripped free of its connection­s to the fuel cells).

Even if the crew had been equipped with full-press­ure ACES suits and parachutes as they are today, it is unlikely that they would have been able to successful­ly bail out the crew compartmen­t on a free-fall ballistic trajectory­. The emergency egress system designed in the aftermath requires that the orbiter is in stable controlled flight (but will not be able to make a safe landing).

The only thing that could have saved them would have been a parachute system for the whole crew compartmen­t, similar to those equipped on the F-111 fighter-bo­mber. This was rejected, ironically­, because of the perceived cost and complexity of separating the crew compartmen­t from the vehicle, when Challenger plainly demonstrat­ed that the crew compartmen­t is quite capable of being flung free of the vehicle in the event of a complete aerodynami­c breakup.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Readers question Free Press online poll

I read the headline; I read the story; I read the online poll. I  shook my head. Then I saw the tweets posted on Twitter by The London Free Press reporter Jane Sims. The paper was apparently taking some heat for an online poll associated with a recent story.

A couple of Londoners, Clara Madrenas and Jeff Preston, disagreed with the poll and were fighting back with logic and humour. The two publish the online comic Cripz.

The Free Press headline read: "$12M for city crossing overhaul." The story went on to inform readers that almost 400 intersections and pedestrian crossings throughout the city are slowly going to be upgraded in the coming years with the addition of auditory signals to assist the visually impaired crossing the city's busy streets.

I thought to myself, "About time." I saw these signals in use many years ago in Slovenia in eastern Europe. The Slovenes were very proud of their little country and liked to boast that in many ways they were far advanced compared to countries like the United States and Canada. I smiled, "Finally. London is catching up with Ljubljana ."

The paper followed the story with an online poll asking: "Spending $12M on London crosswalk traffic-light buttons is: Ridiculous or Reasonable?” 86 percent voted “ridiculous.”

It was this poll that got the attention of Madrenas and Preston, inspiring the following online cartoon.

To see clearly, please click on image. It should enlarge.
The online attack grabbed the attention of the paper and reporter Jane Sims interviewed the two for Monday's paper. Priming the pump for her story she tweeted late last week:

"Just had a fun interview with Clara Madrenas and Jeff Preston about their web strip Cripz. Check it out — you'll learn something! . . . I interviewed them because of this week's strip taking a shot at the Free Press question maker for web poll without depth."

The Free Press response failed to address the major questions raised by online polls such as the ones run by the paper. As Jeff Preston pointed out when interviewed, on the surface a poll such as this one "appears to be pretty damning evidence that Londoners don't want this." Is this true? Is this poll accurate? 

This is not a new issue. Almost five years ago The Rothenberg Political Report ran a piece entitled: "It May Look and Smell Like a Poll, but Is It?" Stuart Rothenberg wrote:

"Why would a media Web site run polls that most polling experts call unreliable and unscientific? . . . generally, I suspect that part of the answer is ignorance, and some of it is sloppiness. Most of it is simply about business — putting up “content” to draw page views.

Many reporters and editors simply know little about methodology, and I expect some of them regard talk about such things as arcane.

But I also suspect that some don’t really care about whether the numbers are entirely reliable or whether they meet some standard that they don’t understand. Media Web sites and 24-hour cable television networks consume a great deal of information, and for some, it doesn’t matter whether the data is right, only that it exists."

In Monday's Free Press, reporter Jane Sims tells us that Madrenas and Preston called the newspaper's poll “brutal” saying the question was too one-dimensional. What the paper failed to say was that the two Londoners were right. The poll was brutal.

Jeff Preston said this about the online poll: "The way you word it is everything." The $12 million charge is not due immediately, and the cost may not be at the discretion of city council. At some point in the future, there may be provincial legislation demanding the installation of Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS).

According to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), APS is a system providing audible cues and vibrotactile signals to ensure the same level of pedestrian crossing information is provided to everyone. APS devices meet the accessibility needs of those with disabilities other than visual impairment.

With the estimated $12 million dollar cost spread over a number of years and shared by all Londoners, the actual amount added to any individual's tax bill may be very small. And remember, many benefiting from APS devices are also taxpayers and they've been quietly footing the bill for our present inadequate traffic signal system for decades.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

There's a little reason posts are sporatic: Fiona

For more than a year this collection of blogs enjoyed regular, almost daily, posts. This activitiy has come to a grinding halt and for that I apologize. With both of us in our early 60s, my wife and I have taken on the quite enjoyable task of babysitting a beautiful little girl, Fiona, our granddaughter.

The kid's awake!
The little tyke can be quite demanding --- in a sweet sorta way. I can't move without having Fiona following along. Working at the computer is completely out, unless I want to visit YouTube and share some videos with the kid. She loves movie trailers like the ones for Tangled or Despicable Me and music videos are always worth a look.

As you can see from today's picture, Fiona arrived asleep. I have just a few moments for an explanatory post; Judy tells me the little girl is starting to stir. I best get ready to share a banana and maybe a crushed and chopped pear with the kid.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Replace soothers regularly

What is this stuff that I found in an aging pacifier nipple?
Fiona is now almost 17-months-old and should be past the soother stage, but she isn't. She especially likes a soother when falling to sleep.

I read the instructions that came with her soothers. I know the manufacturers advise inspecting the soothers frequently for signs of wear and age. And I know this is especially important after a child develops teeth.

Grunge is hard to see.
The other day I peeled the pacifier nipple back from the plastic mouthshield and found foreign material inside the clear nipple, material that had been hidden from view.

Yuck! I tossed the soother, boiled a new one to sanitize it, and replaced Fiona's soothing friend.

I took a quick picture of the pacifier before tossing it out. When I blew-up the image, I was disgusted at what I discovered. Keeping these things clean is really important! And the younger the baby, the more important it is to keep soothers sterile.
If you didn't read the instructions that came with your baby's soother, read the following:
  1. Keep soothers clean. Sterilise them regularly by placing them in a baby bottle steriliser or boiling for five minutes. Boil new pacifiers for five minutes before the first use.
  2. Check soothers regularly, especially if baby's teeth are appearing. Cracks in the nipple can harbour germs and bacteria. Do not use a damaged soother. In all cases, replace soothers every two months.
  3. Do not attach ribbons or cords to a soother; These are strangling hazards. The soother itself is designed to eliminate any choking hazard. In the rare instance where a baby manages to squeeze a whole soother - nipple and shield - into its mouth, the mouthshield always has holes to allow air to pass for breathing.
  4. Do not coat soothers with anything sweet and sugary, this can promote tooth decay.
  5. If you are establishing breastfeeding, do not use a soother until your baby is about a month old. The shape of a soother is different from a mother's breast and this can result in  'nipple confusion'. Also, the sucking technique for breastfeeding is different; the baby having to suck harder to gain the milk. Using a soother too early can prevent a baby from developing successful breastfeeding technique, leading to mom giving up breastfeeding too early.
  6. Lastly, there is widespread agreement that babies should be weaned off their pacifiers around the age of 12 months. Long term use can have a detrimental effect on the development of a baby's teeth. (See comment, below.)
Your pacifier is on borrowed time, Fiona.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Reporters! Get a life, get a camera!

Super-zoom bridge cameras are perfect for reporters.
It is becoming more and more common for working journalists to be required to shoot their own pictures. Coming from a former newspaper photographer this may surprise you, but I think it's a good idea that is gaining traction at exactly the right moment.

When I was on the street shooting for a daily paper, the equipment was big, clunky and somewhat difficult to use. To expect a reporter to carry that stuff would have been silly. To expect them to come back with professional quality pictures with the amateur gear then available would also have been silly.

Shot with an FinePix HS10.
No more. With the advent of bridge cameras — cameras that bridge the divide between amateur and professional gear — the birth of the successful two-way reporter/photographer is at hand.

There is absolutely no reason that a reporter cannot take a head and shoulders picture to accompany a story. I recall the contempt that award winning photographer and photo editor Dick Wallace had for headshots. He refused to call them portraits.

The new Fuji FinePix HS20, to be available this March, with its 24mm to 720mm zoom can replace a whole camera bag of lenses. It will even take a hot shoe mounted flash syncing to the camera with through the lens metering (TTL).

I've written about this before but then I was pushing the HS10. As good as it was, I still had some reservations about that camera. The HS20 has put many of my qualms to rest.

Heck, I'd even give photographers at newspapers one of these babies. And yes, news shooters are still needed but give them a pen, some paper and encourage them to write more. Let's make reporters AND photographers more productive.

Shot through my windshield with my HS10 while stopped behind school bus.

To see an example of a story both written and illustrated by a (former) newspaper shooter see my report on the new urbanist development of Cornell and Upper Cornell in Markham, Ontario, or my two recent looks at sledding, etc., on a small, local slope: Upside to snow, and More on snow. Important note: The action pictures would be better if shot with the soon to be released HS20.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Honey, I shrunk the paper.

Recently my local paper, The London Free Press, ran a piece by Dan Brown, their senior online editor, on the paperless world many see fast approaching. Brown took a careful look into the future and reported the demise of "dead-tree media" is not imminent.

Fiona is comfortable with screens.
A month ago I would have said that I couldn't have agreed more, but that was a month ago. Today I'm not so sure.

At a family gathering Boxing Day, I met a young woman busy reading stuff from the screen of her Apple iPad. The iPad had replaced a lot of paper in her life and in the life of her family. When her mother went on vacation, mom took along three books all downloaded to the iPad.

I watched as my young granddaughter, only 15-months-old, played comfortably with the device. Reading a book or a newspaper from a screen will not seem strange to Fiona. She might even think a printed newspaper quaint.

But what really made me think that maybe, just maybe, it was time to re-evaluate my position was the size of The London Free Press the other day. The entire paper was just eight big sheets of paper — two folded sheets to a section.

Years ago I went with a reporter, Kathy Rumleski I believe, to interview a man with an incredible collection of London papers. He showed us his copy of the first issue of The London Free Press Sunday paper. As I recall, it had about 72 pages. At its birth, the fellow told us, the paper assured readers that this young paper, this baby, would grow into a full-fledged Sunday read, filled with features and pictures and lots and lots of good, interesting stuff.

Then, he showed us his most recent Sunday paper. It was half the size of the first paper. Rather than growing, expanding, the Sunday paper had shrunk. It had become a weirdly shaped tabloid presenting readers with a news hole half the size of the first Sunday paper.

Today there is no Sunday Free Press. It's gone. For those readers who cannot get through a day without their news hit, some stories do get posted to the Web.

As I looked at my mighty thin daily, I thought of the fellow with the newspaper collection and I recalled the incredible shrinking Sunday paper. My daily paper is infected. Some days my paper is so small that it seems the paperless newspaper is already here.

Some days the paperless newspaper is almost here.
If you'd like to read an excellent little piece on how magazine sales are faring on the iPad, read How to rescue magazine sales on the iPad posted on the blog Reflections of a Newsosaur.