Continental 1404, Pan Am 103, and thoughts on dodging bullets

This morning, before I’d even had my tea, I learned via e-mail that at my local airport last night a Continental flight 1404 veered off the runway and crashed, injuring 58. AP reported that local resident Mike Wilson tweeted his experience immediately after he escaped the burning plane.

Two tweets from Wilson especially caught my attention:

Mike Wilson's first post about the Denver plane crash he survived

Mike Wilson's first post about the Denver plane crash he survived

And then, a couple of hours later…

Mike Wilson reflects on a similar bullet he dodged earlier

Mike Wilson reflects on a similar bullet he dodged earlier

…Next I was making breakfast, listening to Colorado Public Radio, which was (of course) reporting on the Denver airport accident. They followed that with a story that stopped me cold for a bit: Witnesses, Families Remember Lockerbie Bombing. Yes, today is the 20th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 — a terrorist attack that killed 259 on the plane and 11 on the ground.

On the evening of Dec. 21, 1988, I was a 22-year-old journalism student packed up and ready to head back home to NJ after spending a semester in London. I’d been at the office Christmas party for the business magazine where I’d been interning. When I entered the house I’d been sharing since August with five other students, my housemates who hadn’t yet departed for home were sitting in the living room, crying. Mindy said, “Diane’s plane crashed”…

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links for 2008-12-21

  • Great podcast exploring what could become a very important tool for building the semantic web:

    "While the web is primarily for human consumption, more sites are including machine readable data. However, this information is usually included separately. As the RFDa Primer states, RFDa provides a set of XHTML attributes to augment visual data with machine-readable hints. RDFa helps bloggers and website authors make their web pages smarter by adding computer-readable information to a site. Elias Torres and Ben Adida talk about it, including its history and what problems RFDa is attempting to solve.

    "Torres and Adida also discuss the technical details of RDFa and give a detailed technical description of how RDFa works. They review the mechanics of RDFa and give examples of its usage."

One streaker gets plea bargain. Boulder cops defend their bullying

After I attended the Dec. 17 arraignment hearing for the 12 streakers cited by Boulder cops during the 10th annual Naked Pumpkin Run, I had a pretty busy week and didn’t have time to follow up further. Fortunately, The Colorado Daily did follow up on this case, reporting that one of the runners did accept the plea bargain offered by the Boulder District Attorney.

According to the Colorado Daily:

“[The runner] agreed Thursday to plead guilty to disorderly conduct, a petty offense. She agreed to undergo six months of unsupervised probation, eight hours of community service and pay $27 in court fees. She will not be required to register as a sex offender, and her record will be cleared if she doesn’t commit any crimes for at least six months.”

Also, Colorado Daily reported that according to prosecutor David Chavel:

“The agreement with [this defendant] would likely represent the same offer extended to all of the accused Halloween streakers. However, he said it would be ‘up to each individual’ to accept such an offer.”

“All of the cases are being handled separately, Chavel said, because some of the runners have attorneys and others do not. He said the remaining cases involving the naked runners are in negotiations with the Boulder District Attorney’s Office.”

What got me, though, was this statement from the Boulder Police Department quoted at the end of the Colorado Daily story. (Note: This statement does not appear to be on the Boulder Police Dept. web site, I’ll request a copy.)

“The decision was made by the District Attorney’s Office, which consulted with the department. Chief Mark Beckner believes this is an appropriate disposition. As for future violations, Boulder officers will continue to issue citations or make arrests based on the law as it is written. It is — and will remain — the province of the District Attorney’s Office to determine whether other charges are possible.”

…Correct me if I’m wrong, but this statement appears to mean that the Boulder cops intend to continue issuing indecent exposure citations to streakers — despite the fact that the DA’s office does not appear to consider that charge appropriate. Which means the cops can (and probably will) continue to bully and intimidate citizens through inappropriate charges — and leave it up to the DA and the courts to spend our resources to bring those charges back to reality.

There’s a much deeper issue at stake here beyond these cases, and it’s why I keep revisiting this story: Is this the kind of law enforcement we want to allow in Boulder?

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links for 2008-12-20

How the federal government could “go social”

I just has one of those meta-media moments. Today, Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media was the guest on NPR’s Talk of the Nation Science Friday radio show. The topic was 2008 In Social Media.

One listener who called in was Jeffrey Levy, web manager for the US Environmental Protection Agency. He asked O’Reilly how the federal government might be able to use social media to enhance governance and civic engagement.

…To be honest, I didn’t actually catch O’Reilly’s answer because my own mental gears immediately went into overdrive. I’ve been involved with covering environmental issues for nearly 20 years — and thus I’m a frequent user of the EPA Web site. And it’ll come as no surprise to anyone that the EPA site currently is one hellacious frustrating sprawling mess, offputting to professionals as well as citizens. (I assume Levy is working to improve that situation…)

But there is another side to how federal agencies interact with the public that goes beyond their own sites: the regulatory process. Every proposed federal regulation must be published in the Federal Register. (Trust me, it’s really ugly. You definitely don’t want to read this stuff unless you have to — yet another strategy to keep citizens at arms length from government.)

Every proposed regulation must allow for a public comment period. That’s where social media might fit in…

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links for 2008-12-19

links for 2008-12-18

  • "The American Society of Newspaper Editors is planning to remove "paper" from its name and expand its membership to include editors of online-only news Web sites and journalism educators, President Charlotte Hall told members in an e-mail today."
  • "With the patient help of the folks at the NYT, we've put together a schedule of how much cash the NYTCo needs to come up with and when. Barring asset sales or further deterioration of the business, here's the bottom line for the next three years.

    * 2009: $214 million of cash needed
    * 2010: $546 million of cash needed
    * 2011: $500 million of cash needed

    If current revenue and expense trends continue, the business itself will soon stop generating cash and start consuming it. Unless the company significantly cuts costs or sells assets, therefore, NYTCo will likely need more cash than we have outlined here.

    In a press release this morning, the company said it was looking at various options for raising this cash, including revolving loan agreements and equity or debt offerings. Details in this online spreadsheet.

  • NYT Digital head Martin Nisenholtz said revenue at his unit had been OK until the last two months of the year, but that there had been “softness in November, accelerating into December…next year is going to be a different year, by a fairly profound margin.”

    Bear in mind that the Times’s digital performance pre-November was grim to begin with–digital revenue grew just 4.3 percent in October–and it becomes possible to imagine that digital revenue will decrease for at least part of 2009.

    Nisenholtz didn’t do anything rash like attach any numbers to his comments, but he did add a little bit of color: His About.com unit, which is boosted by cost-per-click/search ads, is still doing OK-ish. But the business of selling display ads to Times Web sites is getting pummeled, and could be “under great stress” next year, he says.

Plea Bargains in Process for Boulder’s Naked Pumpkin Runners

I just returned from the arraignment hearing for the 12 people ticketed for indecent exposure on Oct. 31 during Boulder’s 10th annual Naked Pumpkin Run.

To a layperson like me, this arraignment hearing was remarkably short and opaque. But I did get more info from a defense attorney and clerk from the District Attorney’s office. Here’s where things are at with this case, so far as I understand…

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links for 2008-12-17

links for 2008-12-16