Sunday, October 28, 2007

An unpleasant (political) odor

As the board of supervisor's race here in Orange County, Virginia heat up, I had hoped to get some campaign literature from the loyal opposition. I've already commented (favorably) about some aspects of Steve Satterfield's campaign. I hoped to receive a mailing from Teel Goodwin's campaign to directly compare presentations, but that hasn't happened yet.

I recently went online to see what I could find out about Teel Goodwin. A Google search yielded "" I quickly discovered it was an anti-Goodwin site (the unflattering image was the first clue).

Very crude in execution, the site's constructors clearly have little experience with the Internet and absolutely no idea of how to use it effectively. Notice how none of the links go anywhere. And that's too bad, because as I pointed out before, the proper linkage can provide the documentation needed to make your point.

There's not a link to the builder Goodwin was associated with, K. Hovnanian Homes, which would have been helpful. When I did a search, I got a warning about their website -- apparently they promote through spammy e-mails. If Goodwin was associated with them, then I would consider that a strike -- slimy is as slimy does.

About the fourth Google entry down was "K. Hovnanian Homes Suck," a site where folks can post their horror stories with this builder -- and apparently there are quite a few. Perhaps a link to that site would have given some Orange voters pause.

The site also talks about Teel Goodwin's "Rapidan Crossing" development, but again provides no documentation. Fortunately, the Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Commission listed the Goodwin project on Route 3, and further expanded on the plan to build 748 single-family homes and townhouses -- in one of the fastest-growing counties in the country.

Tellingly, the Commission noted that "Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to deny rezoning at their 6/13/2006 meeting."

Now we have a picture of a person who had a rezoning request worth millions denied by the board of supervisors wishing to get elected to said board.

Hmmm. With links to some of the above, this anti-Goodwin site could more effectively characterize Goodwin as someone who's interested in getting on the board to change the rules for personal profit.

But they didn't, and so this site stands as a clumsy and ugly bit of mud-slinging.

And worse still, it's anonymous. Goodwin supporters can claim "dirty tricks" on the part of the Satterfield campaign, and Satterfield's team (probably) has no idea who to contact to get the site removed.

This kind of website serves no purpose save to demonstrate the ignorance of its constructors -- in more ways than one.

- Ralph

Monday, October 22, 2007

WTJU and the 10%

It's fundraising time across the public radio system once again. Most non-commercial stations do two fund drives a year, one in the spring and one in the fall, and WTJU is no exception.

While most stations have one or more development professionals on the payroll to coordinate the campaign, WTJU relies on its almost all-volunteer staff to organize and mount their fund drives.

Traditionally, WTJU does a Marathon featuring a genre of music as the vehicle for their fundraising efforts. This week, it's all classical. Next week it will be all jazz. The spring drive will feature all folk and all rock programming.

I don't think I'm telling tales out of school when I say our volunteers uniformly produce an amazing array of special programming for these Marathons that is a joy to listen to -- and are almost completely ineffectual at raising money for the station.

There are some fundamental concepts about radio that most stations incorporate into their fund drive presentations -- concepts that recognize how people listen. WTJU's merry band of amateurs ignores most of the precepts -- primarily out of ignorance -- which prevents the station from realizing its fundraising goals.

Studies have shown that only about 10% of a station's audience will pledge their support. And since WTJU doesn't do a good job get its message out, its response rate is even lower.

If you're a listener to WTJU, either over the air or through the Internet stream, there are some things you need to know. You may not get this message listening to the Marathon, because it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. But it is important.

  1. WTJU really needs your help. About half of the station's operating budget has to come from the community. Underwriting takes care of some of that, but the bulk of it ($50,000 for this drive) has to come from the listeners.
  2. Your pledge is very important. Some of our announcers, bless their hearts, get excited when someone calls in with a $10.00 pledge. But let's get real. Most of our listeners are professionals with a fair amount of disposable income. A $100 pledge should be the least you should consider giving. After all, 500 people x $100 pledges = fund raising over in record time.
  3. WTJU needs the funds not just to survive, but to thrive. Some of our announcers have only a vague idea of what the money goes for, so they'll offer up goofy examples such as buying CDs for the library. Well, if that were true, then a $20.00 pledge wouldn't be out of line. But the money we have to raise has to do more. It's the money raised from the community that pays for replacement equipment (which can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars). Any improvements to WTJU's signal or service comes out of that money as well. And any efforts we want to make to grow our audience come out of that under-funded pot, too.

So here's the deal: if you listen to WTJU, please make a pledge -- especially if you've never pledged before. You can do it online through And when you make that pledge, make it more than chump change. Think about what the station is worth to you, and pledge accordingly -- it should, at least, be more than you spend on coffee for a week.

I'll be going on the air a few times myself over the next two weeks to do my part, but I can only compensate so much for the eccentricity of a WTJU Marathon. If you a listener, now's the time to become part of that 10% that keeps WTJU going to the benefit of all. We need your help. Even if we don't always say it on the air.

- Ralph

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Rekindling the passion of collecting

I just returned from the TCA train meet in York, Pennsylvania. This isn't a post about the joys of toy train collecting and operation (TCA has that covered). It's rather about the interface between the real and virtual world.

As I walked from table to table there was a common thread to the conversations. Ebay was changing the dynamics of collecting -- and impacting the sales at shows such as the York meet. Ken's commented on how Ebay can erode the passion of collecting, and the concerns expressed at York ran along similar lines.

I've said many times -- both in this blog and in everyday conversation -- that the Internet is not the "be all and end all." As sophisticated as online interactivity has become, the real world can provide even richer experiences.

And collecting is a good example. While I'm talking about toy trains here, it could easily be stamps, dolls, baseball cards, snuff boxes or anything. IMHO, Ebay is good for finding exactly what you want. But how do you know what you want? Or even what's available?

One of the best ways is to go to a meet. Wandering the isles you'll get a general feel for what's common and what's rare. You'll also see first-hand the subtle differences in condition that can greatly affect an item's value. Yes, Ebay listings often have pictures, but sometimes that's not enough.

Take, for example, a Dorfan locomotive. Dorfan, a toy train manufacturer of the 1920's, made die-cast locomotives with flawed alloys that caused them to flake and crumble into dust over time (some started the process within two years of manufacture), which makes Dorfan engines extremely rare. Any evidence of flaking or cracking can be a sign of trouble, and makes a huge difference in the value. Your eye can see things the camera doesn't -- and sometimes those cracks appear only on the underside, or inside the casting. Someone would have to post dozens of closeups on Ebay to approximate the information you can glean in a careful five-minute scrutiny.

And while eBay is searchable, you have to type in something to get somewhere. At a meet, I can wander the aisles and find stuff I didn't even know existed (and, therefore, can't search for online). This time, I went looking for a few accessories for the layout. Nothing in particular, just something that would fit in at a good price. It took a while, but I found it.

Even if I hadn't, it would have been a good show. I saw some very rare pieces first hand, some interesting oddball items, and met some great people and renewed some acquaintances, besides.

The Internet is a great resource, but it's not the only resource. If you're into collecting, then really get into collecting and get away from the screen once in a while.

- Ralph

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Political Breath of Fresh Air, Part 2

I admit that I admire Steve Satterfield. I've already talked about his very effective political literature. Yesterday he visited us as part of a door-to-door campaign, and left something almost as effective in delivering his message.

Satterfield's running for the Board of Supervisors
here in Orange County, Virginia in a race that could well be a referendum for the county.

According to the last census, our county was ranked as the 44th fastest-growing county in the nation with a population increase of 4.9%. It's a major issue with both natives and transplants, with passions running high on both sides.

Do we just keep building and (hopefully) fuel the county's economy, or try to put the brakes on development until a new comprehensive plan can be adopted? (Almost everyone understands that "no growth" is no longer a realistic option.)

This isn't meant to be a forum for Satterfield's views (you can visit his website for that information), so I won't share what he talked about. What I do want to share is that I was impressed with what Satterfield said -- and what he didn't.

Satterfield did make his stance very clear, and even conceded some points the opposition holds. As he talked, he focused exclusively on his views, his plans and his background, without saying anything negative about his opponent. For a political chat, it was refreshingly reasonable and rational.

And when Satterfield left, I received the second best piece of political literature ever. It was a Douglas Fir seedling. The label gave instructions on proper planting and care on one side. The other said "Plant trees, not suburbs."

I'll be happy to share any literature his opponent sends me, as I've done for Satterfield.

Tonight though, I'm planting a tree in my yard.

- Ralph

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Tom UnTerrific

Monticello Media announced the arrival of a new radio format to the Charlottesville area -- Tom.

Sometimes people are so deep into a particular subject that they lose touch with how the general public looks at it. And the development of the single-syllable-male-name-radio-format is a perfect example of that.

According to their press release on
"Tom is a new radio station at 107.5 FM that is unlike anything available in the Charlottesville market because Tom plays Anything. Anytime.

Traditionally music radio stations have limited themselves to playing one particular genre of music such as country, classic rock, oldies, etc. playing the same songs over, and over, and over… Tom is anything but traditional. Tom may play a U2 song followed by the Bee Gees then Matchbox 20, Lou Rawls, Def Leppard, Madonna, Nickleback then Earth, Wind and Fire."
"Anything, anytime?" How about "Some things -- a lot."

Whether it's called Tom, Bob, Sam, Dave or whatever, the intent is to present a greater variety of music, simulating an iPod on shuffle play. The promise is a wild, crazy, unpredictable listening adventure. The reality falls far short of that, primarily because of the short-sightedness of the programmers.

Imagine someone who ate every single meal at McDonald's. Of course they're excited about the addition of the McRib sandwich to the menu. Pork?!? At McDonald's?!?!! It's wild! It's crazy!

Perhaps to someone who's only been exposed to McDonald's fare. To the average person, a rib sandwich at McDonald's is nice, but not earth-shaking. And many who like barbecue (whether North Carolina style or Kansas City style) consider the McRib to be too bland and characterless to be taken seriously.

And the same is true with Tom/Jack/Sam/Bob/Dave. Radio programmers who never strayed far from their top 40 formats looked at what the kids were doing with their iPods and tried to mimic it. Instead of a list of a few hundred songs, they expanded it to a few thousand. How? By combining the tightly regulated playlists of a few closely related formats. So instead of just top 40, Tom/Jack/Sam/Bob/Dave gives you the approved top 40 songs, the approved adult contemporary songs, the approved 70's and 80's oldies, and so on.

Here's the programming philosophy of the Sam format: [italics mine]
"..the format that delivers hit after hit from different eras and different genres, without getting stale or repetitive. Meticulously researched to pinpoint exactly what Adults 25-54 want to hear and aren't sick and tired of, Sam supplies the highest familiarity with the least amount of burn."
My local station, WOLJ, uses Sam from Westwood One, with the slogan "You never know what we'll play next."

Perhaps not, but I know what they won't play next. No classical music. No jazz. No blues. No folk. No bluegrass. And most importantly, no local music.

I've got it all on my iPod, though, and more.

And what about the artists they do play? Any chance of hearing anything other than the same old tunes over and over? They may play "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves, but what about their other hit, "Sun Street?" I've got that on my iPod, too. Ditto with other songs by other "one hit wonders," such as the Ides of March, Thomas Dolby, The Jam, and more.

Tom/Bob/Dave/Sam sounds fresh -- when compared to current radio fare. But placed against the incredible variety of music currently available to almost everyone, it's like putting a McRib sandwich side-by-side with the fare at Arthur Bryant's. It's just plain sad.

And saddest of all the large number of people whose musical tastes have been so stunted by a steady diet of commercial radio that they will indeed be thrilled by this "wild and crazy format."

- Ralph

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Death in Comics -- the passing of Lisa Moore

I've previously discussed the concept of death in the daily comics, albeit as part of an examination of the success of "For Better or Worse." This past week Lisa Moore, a major character in "Funky Winkerbean" died of cancer in a particularly well-thought out sequence.

Some folks I know (and I suspect the majority of newpaper comics readers) just don't understand the appeal of a contining story strip. If it doesn't setup and deliver a gag in three panels, then what's the point? They preceive such strips as boring, and cannot comprehend why death is even in the comics at all.

I'll concede that to someone who's used to a comic to begin and end a story in three panels might think a story arc running over several weeks to be moving at a glacial pace. And yes, death is unpleasant, but (used properly) very necessary.

The reward of reading a continuing strip is that increasing familiarity with the characters and thier backgrounds adds depth to the story and greater impact to the conflict. And when one of those characters that you've read about and become attached to over the years shuffles off this mortal coil, it can be a very moving experience.

Lisa's life and death are a good example of those rewards.

We first met Lisa in high school. Fellow student Les Moore had a crush on her. He was one of the few to stand by her when she became pregnant (by someone else). We read on as Lisa put her baby up for adoption, and dealt with the emotional fallout of teen pregnancy.

In adulthood, we saw Lisa battle breast cancer. We read about the courtship of Les and Lisa, and her struggle to finish law school and make something of herself. We saw them purchase their home, and watched them raise their daughter.

So when Lisa's cancer returned, the emotional impact was greater for the long-time reader. It wasn't fair -- this shouldn't be happening to Lisa, who's lived through so much. Knowing how hard she had worked to set up a practice, it meant something to us when her deteriorating health forced her to take down her shingle.

When Darin Fairgood recently discovered Lisa was his natural mother and reunited with her, our knowledge of her guilt over giving up her baby made it a poignent moment indeed.

Even her final wish to see the leaves again resonated with long-time readers. For years, Batiuk ran an autumn sequence about leaves falling off the trees. For the leaves, dropping off the branch was death. For those who caught the reference, Lisa's last wish had added meaning.

We forget sometimes that "entertainment" isn't always synomemous with laff riots. Any story that elicits an emotional response -- be it joy, sadness, fright, nostalgia, or whatever -- is entertaining. By that definition, the passing of this comic strip character on Thursday, October 4, 2007, was very entertaining -- moreso for me than that day's episode of "Garfield."

- Ralph

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Political Breath of Fresh Air

Yesterday I received in the mail the most effective piece of political campaign literature ever. It was sent by Steve Satterfield, who's running for the Board of Supervisors here in Orange County, Virginia.

The postcard was the model of simplicity. It merely stated the number of county employees and their total salary for 2004 and 2007. It then listed the key personnel of the county by position (not name), their salary, benefits, car allowance and yearly vacation.

At the bottom was a citation for the source of the information, and that was basically it. (Click on the image to expand it to a legible size.)

Of course the message is perfectly clear. In a county where the median income is per family is a little over $48,000, are these salaries, and their growth justified?

I found this postcard refreshing. There's no attack on the opposing candidate (nor even a mention of the Loyal Opposition). There's no character assassination of any of the county administrators. There's no three-word excerpt from a newspaper "proving" that the opposing candidate is in league with the Devil.

There's not even any bolded or highlighted information to guide the reader to the conclusion the sender wants.

Just a simple statement of facts. And Satterfield respects my intelligence enough to let me make of them what I will.

If I think $165,841 is adequate compensation for the job our County Adminisrator is doing, then there's no issue here.

Taking the total salaries and dividing staff into it, I discover that in 2004 the median county employee salary was $19,633. Three years later it's $29,535. If, as a taxpayer who's property has just been reassessed, I'm happy with that increase, then fine. I should vote for the other guy.

Of all the county employees I know, none enjoyed a $10.000 raise over the course of the last three years. So I have to ask, where did all that money go? And, because to Satterfield, I have a list in front of me suggesting the answers.

Thank you, Mr. Satterfield, for just presenting the facts and letting me draw my own conclusions. Dare I say it? Satterfield reported, and he let me decide.

By the way -- there's also some School Board seats coming open this fall. If any of those candidates are paying attention, a similar mailing documenting salaries and growth in the Orange County School System would be equally effective.

- Ralph

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Dueling Classics

As we saw in the last post, Ralph can really dig deep when it comes to finding movies (maybe he'll write about his affection for old serials some time soon). But his post got me thinking about another revisited movie I enjoyed recently.

It's funny how your memory can play tricks on you. I remembered seeing "Bad Day at Black Rock" on TV when I was a youngster, and being impressed by it. But it took a second viewing to really bring home the strength of this movie.

It starts with a great cast. Spencer Tracy leads the way with his Oscar-nominated performance as a one-armed war vet whose appearance sets the town on edge. He's tough and taciturn, but not so tough that you can't detect his character's anxiety as he realizes he's in imminent danger. Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin are perfect heavies, and Robert Ryan as the local boss is smooth, yet on edge -- fearing what secrets Tracey's character may reveal. Walter Brennan is capable as always, as a conflicted undertaker who finds the courage to resist the local toughs and speak out in the town of Black Rock's dirty little secret.

The screenwriting is taut, and the cinematography captures the isolation and loneliness of the high-desert setting in glorious Cinemascope color. It's film noir set in the sun-bleached sunshine.

And my memory playing tricks on me? Well, I thought the movie was filmed in black and white, not color. But then again, in the late 1960s, when I first saw this on TV, all we had was a black-and-white set. It goes to show how good performances are the key to a good movie. But if you've got a 16:9 TV be sure to check out this classic in all it's color widescreen goodness.