31 December 2009

Happy New Year 2010!

As 2009 draws to a close and 2010 is on the horizon, I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year 2010! And as they say in Slovenian, Rad bi zaželel vsem srečno novo leto 2010!

I am amazed that the first ten years of the new millenium have gone by so quickly - to me it seems like 2000 was just like yesterday. But we have seen a lot happen during these past ten years: The day America was attacked on 9/11/2001 is the biggest event that will be on our minds as a part of American history.

Moreover, in August 2004 we in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area held our breath and wondered if our area would be devastated as Hurricane Charley churned out there in the Gulf of Mexico. The preliminary forecast tracks had Charley coming through the Tampa Bay region and with it being a Category 3 storm, it had the potential of extensive damage. Pinellas County's Emergency Management officials took no chances and ordered the evacuation of persons residing in Evacuation Levels A and B - that's a lot of Pinellas County residents alone, and you got to factor in the mobile home residents who have to evacuate at any evacuation level.

Hurricane Charley got a lot of extensive media coverage, not only here in America but worldwide as well (even RTV Slovenia had coverage too!) Unfortunately, your blogmaster (and webmaster at EdwardRingwald.com and Interstate275Florida.com) had to evacuate and relocate to a hotel to ride out Charley; believe me, I was worried if the condo that I bought a few years earlier would hold up to Charley's devastating winds. Fortunately, Charley made a turn to the northeast sooner than expected and made landfall in the Port Charlotte-Punta Gorda area; when I watched the images of destruction on TV days after Charley hit I said to myself, what if Charley hit the Tampa/St. Petersburg area as originally forecasted? I was able to return home a few days after Charley passed.

The next year, in 2005 Hurricane Katrina took its toll on the New Orleans area with extensive damage, which is taking years to rebuild. I was on a Southwest Airlines flight to Baltimore a couple of days after Katrina hit New Orleans; I was headed to Baltimore to do US Copyright Office business in Washington, DC when I registered the copyright on both EdwardRingwald.com and Interstate275Florida.com. I was inspired to register for copyright on both websites after an incident involving the principal of Springstead High School in Spring Hill, Florida (an hour north of Tampa on the Suncoast Parkway, FL Toll 589) when she took words from other sources and passed them off as her own and used it for a graduation speech. You can read more about it on my copyright topic at EdwardRingwald.com.

Then the next few years came the collapse of the real estate market and the credit crunch that followed. The news media was more than willing to write stories about the credit crunch in a manner that would scare the public. In fact, I have a related blog entry you can read here that explains how the news media is misleading and scaring the public about the credit crunch.

May I throw in something for a moment? I used to subscribe to The Tampa Tribune as an alternative to the St. Petersburg Times. Right after the credit crunch started, everything in The Tampa Tribune was stories about the credit crunch that were presented in a way to scare the public. I was so fed up of the Trib's scare tactic stories that I ended up cancelling my subscription. Now the St. Petersburg Times is intensifying the scare tactic stories not only on the credit crunch but on the real estate market as well. But print and electronic media's goal is this: Blood sells.

Well, this was the first decade of the new millenium in a nutshell. Of course there are a lot of other things that have happened but to describe them would take a very long blog entry.

As 2009 fades slowly into the sunset and the dawn of 2010 on the horizon, there's going to be a lot of you celebrating New Year's Eve. Some of you will celebrate at home like I do, but some of you will be out and about partying until the stroke of Midnight. If you are out and about for New Year's Eve, please designate a driver and if you drink, don't drive. I have posted a blog topic over at the Interstate 275 Florida Blog on New Years Eve and the dangers of drinking and driving, which you can read here.

One more thing: 2010 will mark the tenth anniversary of EdwardRingwald.com! My websites have come a long way from its early days since it started out as a class project for a college introductory Internet course. More on that later.

Onward with 2010!

15 December 2009

The Holidays are Upon Us

I know, the Christmas and New Years holiday season is already upon us. It's always the same ritual year after year: Crowded shopping malls, the constant sounds of Christmas music on the radio all the way up to Christmas Day, the countless Christmas parties both at home and at work, and - what you get in the mail from family and friends - Christmas cards.

You got that right. Christmas cards.

Back in the old days (even 10 years ago) we went to the gift shop and picked out a series of Christmas cards. You decided who got what and that was about it. Then came the most tedious task as far as Christmas cards are concerned, especially if you have so many: Addressing them by hand, sticking postage stamps on each card, and getting them to the Post Office as early as possible. After all, it's the holiday season and the US Postal Service is feverishly moving all that important holiday mail.

Well, we now got this revolutionary technological marvel which is the personal computer. We now have stuff like Windows, Word, Office, and Adobe PDF among other things, and we can't leave out a very important technological marvel which has shrunk our world even further: The Internet.

Which leads us to Christmas cards taken to a new level: The E-card. You got that right, the e-card.

The best thing about sending a Christmas e-card is that you don't have to worry about spending a lot of money on postage and worry whether the card will make it on time before Christmas. Besides, a Christmas e-card uses the Internet as its distribution medium rather than the traditional postal mail medium.

Additionally, sending a Christmas e-card saves on paper. That's good for the environment, especially in the going green era we live in.

While we're on the subject of Christmas, let's turn to another Christmas related topic if I can have your attention for just a few more minutes of your time. It is a topic which disturbs me, and that is the anti-Christmas sentiment that keeps growing in America year after year.

Andrew Dart (akdart.com) has a well done page on the anti-Christmas sentiment that is growing in America along with links to related articles on the Internet. To go to that page, simply click on this link.

However, there are other areas of increasing anti-Christmas sentiment which we hear about year after year. In December 2008 10 Connects (WTSP-TV, the CBS affiliate here in St. Petersburg) had a story on a woman in Panama City Beach (the Florida panhandle town, that is) who was fired for saying "Merry Christmas"; to add to the humiliation the employer called law enforcement and had the woman declared a second class citizen by having her trespassed from the premises.

(Did I mention trespassed? Sad but true: Florida's trespassing laws allow a person in authority such as a store manager or a security guard to ban a law abiding person from a place for life, no reason or rationale is needed. After all, trespass warnings in Florida are convictions for trespassing without the benefit of due process and trial. For more information on this please feel free to read my Florida Trespassing Laws White Paper, available at EdwardRingwald.com.)

Now here's another area which I would call anti-Christmas sentiment in the workplace. How many of you out there read the comics in the St. Petersburg Times? There was one comic strip that caught my attention which is Blondie and it consisted of two panels which is the norm for a weekday comic strip. In the 23 December 2004 Blondie comic strip one panel had a group of office workers celebrating an office Christmas party, while the next panel had the boss (who I believe was in an anti-Christmas mood) angrily yelled at the workers to "get back to work" in an intimidating manner.

After I saw this comic strip, I felt that the anti-Christmas sentiment was well represented. Add to that how the boss yelled at and intimidated his subordinates as seen in the strip. To most people, it might be humor as is the case with comic strips out there but to me, I feel this is bullying by the boss.

Now may I digress for just a moment? In my opinion, I feel the phrase "get back to work" is nothing more than a way for a boss to demoralize and treat his employees like if they were not important. Moreover, a boss who resorts to micromanagement as a way to motivate his employees and uses demeaning and abusive phrases in the workplace contributes to low employee morale and high turnover. In a nutshell, I feel the phrase "get back to work" is nothing more than a threat and it accomplishes no purpose other than to create a hostile work environment.

Back in 1986 and 1987 while I was going for my first Associates degree at St. Petersburg College (which was St. Petersburg Junior College back then), I took two management related classes, which were Human Factors in Supervision and Principles of Management. Believe me, it gave me an introduction to the world of management and the terminology that goes with it.

I just wanted to give you an example of the disturbing anti-Christmas trend that is increasingly going on year after year. Now that I had your attention I feel that it is more appropriate for the season to give you a Christmas card - this time, an e-card that I created myself rather than spend money on one. (After all, you have to spend money on Christmas cards whether it's a traditional card or an e-card).

To see my Christmas card, just click on this link! I hope you enjoy it!

And as they say in:

English: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Spanish (Espanol): Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo!

Slovenian (Slovenscina): Vesel božič in srečno novo leto!

And I will say this once again: Merry Christmas!

12 December 2009

Tougher Standards for Florida IDs Coming on 1 January 2010

Link to article over at Bay News 9: Tougher standards for IDs go into effect Jan. 1.

We have heard about REAL ID for a few years and the Federal government's role in implementing REAL ID. It is coming to Florida come 1 January 2010 and it's going to mean different, if not difficult, ways in obtaining or renewing your Florida Drivers License. The new rules are supposed to enhance security of identity documents such as drivers licenses.

Now here's the lowdown on what to expect on 1 January 2010 when you go to obtain or renew your Florida drivers license. Here's what you are going to have to bring with you when you go to the drivers license office to obtain or renew your license:

1. Primary identification: A certified US birth certificate, a US Passport or a US Passport Card. For US citizens born outside the United States you will need the Consular Report of Birth Abroad (issued by the US Department of State) and it has to be a certified copy; however, if you have a US Passport that's better as it is absolute proof of United States citizenship. (After all, passports are easier to replace than birth certificates if they get lost for some reason).

2. Social Security Number: You will want to bring your original Social Security card; that's the best.

3. Two proofs of Florida residential address: The State of Florida wants proof that you actually live here in the Sunshine State to get or renew a Florida drivers license. Here is a partial list of the documents you will need to prove Florida residency according to the folks over at the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles at their speciality site, GatherGoGet.com:

Residential deed or monthly mortgage statement
Residential lease
Florida Voter ID card (this is your Voter Information card)
Florida vehicle registration or title
A utility connection order (60 days old or less)
Homeowners, condo unit owners or renters insurance policy or bill
A utility bill 60 days old or less

Now what if you are living with someone else such as your parents? They will have to accompany you to the drivers license office, provide a statement and provide proof of residence address as shown above. If you are living in a transitional shelter a letter from the shelter verifying that you live there is required.

OK. Now that you have your required documents, you can proceed to the nearest Florida drivers license office and obtain or renew your drivers license. When you receive your drivers license, it will have, among other things as required by the federal REAL ID law, your residential street address printed on your license.

What? Invasion of privacy? What's going on here?

Here's a comment that I posted over at Bay News 9's Viewer Center on this article:

To me, Florida's new drivers license requirements in the name of REAL ID is very dangerous. Why? There are a lot of Floridians like myself who have a residential street address but have all mail sent to a post office box for security reasons. Florida's new requirement effective 1 January 2010 will require that the residential street address be listed on the drivers license.

What makes this so dangerous is that if let's say someone obtains a domestic violence restraining order and the person who obtained the restraining order somehow loses his or her drivers license with the residential street address on it. Bingo! The domestic violence perpetrator who is not supposed to even come within 500 feet of the street address now knows where you live! Furthermore, Florida's residential street address requirement for drivers licenses will also make it very easy for stalkers to find you - if somehow you lose your drivers license and the stalker finds it then - voila - it's a gold mine!

And I agree with everyone else: Our Florida drivers licenses are slowly being turned into national identity cards thanks to REAL ID; a drivers license is simply that - a license by the State of Florida to operate a motor vehicle and nothing more. After all, driving is a privilege and not a right. (Emphasis mine)

A residential street address on a voter ID card is fine, as it proves where you live and what polling place you have to go to. On a drivers license, it is a different matter as it is used as a primary identification card; I do have a residential street address but all my mail goes to a post office box for security reasons. Presenting it to a law enforcement officer (especially if you get pulled over) is very important; you're supposed to carry your drivers license with you when you are operating your motor vehicle in the very first place. On the other hand, presenting a drivers license with where you physically live to a total stranger for identification opens up Pandora's Box to unwanted invasion of your personal privacy; that's why so many Floridians such as me have a post office box for privacy and security reasons.

Moreover, despite the security precautions taken by Tallahassee to safeguard the data on Florida's drivers licenses, leaks of personal data have occurred. Moreover, the State of Florida has a habit of selling your name and residential street address information that is on your drivers license to third parties despite a Federal law that provides for confidentiality of driver license information. Here is a link to a post I found on the FlyerTalk.com forum which addresses this subject very well.

Until recently, you could get a Florida drivers license, prove your residential street address, and have your license with your mailing address on it. That has changed thanks to REAL ID. The only exception to this new rule is only law enforcement officers.

In a nutshell, I agree with making identity documents such as a drivers license more secure but I do not believe in trading privacy for security. This is something our federal and Florida lawmakers need to address.

Now for one more thing, if I may have your attention for just a moment.

At the end of my comment I made to Bay News 9, I mentioned that driving is a privilege, not a right. That is true: The State of Florida gave you the privilege to drive when you apply or renew your drivers license, and the State of Florida can take away that privilege if you accumulate too many points on your record or are convicted of something more serious such as DUI.

I was reading the comments that followed mine on the tougher standards for Florida IDs and I found a comment made by someone under the pseudonym Mighty Mouse. Please let me quote part of the comment that Mighty Mouse made about me:

...I've been making that very same point here for over 7 years now every time some "DUMBO" like Edward Reinwald comes here and post's "Driving is a privilege, not a right"...

Luckily, I contacted Bay News 9 about this and found out that Mighty Mouse's offensive comments were removed. As you will see, Mighty Mouse misspelled my name and then went ahead and called me something that was very offensive and demeaning. While constructive criticism is welcomed the use of language that is offensive and demeaning is not.

Bay News 9 allows anyone to post a comment to any of their stories on their web site without any form of user registration; however, this is not the case here at the Edward Ringwald Blog or the Interstate 275 Florida Blog. In order to post a comment to any entry I have on either blog there is a two step process; registration with a Google account for first timers and when you actually post a comment it is sent to me for moderation prior to allowing your comment to be seen. This is why I ask when you make a comment to please keep it clean and family friendly.

And as for Mighty Mouse's surly comment about me, I feel that he thinks driving is a right, not a privilege. This is untrue. The Florida drivers license you hold in your wallet is a privilege granted to you by the State of Florida, of which it can be taken away. This is emphasized in the Florida Driver's Handbook and again when you go into the drivers license office to apply for or renew your license.

24 September 2009

The Credit Crunch and the News Media

Lately I have seen a lot of stories on the credit crunch on practically every media outlet here in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. However, I have read stories on the credit crunch that I feel are nothing more than scaring the public, and that bothers me.

These acts being committed by the greedy big banks are byproducts of the credit crunch:

Interest rates on credit cards being jacked up so high on purpose that you cannot pay it off.

Creditors playing games with the FICO credit score.

Credit limits being trimmed for no reason despite a customer’s satisfactory credit history.

Customers being denied lower interest rates on credit cards. If a customer’s APR was so high banks would lower the rate on request in the interest of retaining good business.

Well, let me give you the low down on how the credit crunch is being covered by the media, especially The Tampa Tribune, the St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9 (our 24-hour local news channel in the Tampa Bay area). Back in the old days journalism was just old fashioned common sense; you could believe in what the news media were saying. Now with the real estate bust and the credit crunch that followed, the news media anymore turns to a kind of journalism called speculative and sensational journalism. Why?

It all boils down to two words: Blood Sells.

In the newspaper industry, what the newspapers do nowadays to report on the credit crunch is to either write stories using their own reporters or use a story from a news service such as the Associated Press or the New York Times. The idea here is for a story on the credit crunch to be written in a fashion that will place fear in the general public; in other words, to get the public scared about what may happen. What is this being done for? The answer is simple: Sell more newspapers!

On the other hand, in the television news industry stories on the credit crunch are basically done in the same way as newspapers. For the past few years, Bay News 9 has had an alliance with several partner newspapers in the Tampa Bay area including the St. Petersburg Times; that means stories and ideas are exchanged between one another. A reporter will write a story on the credit crunch and interview people such as a bank representative and then in preparation for putting the story on the air the reporter (along with their supervisory editor) will take statements made out of context. Don’t forget, that same story has to be written for a television station’s news web page. The main idea here is that a story on the credit crunch is to be presented on television in a way that it will place fear in the general public, just like how it would be written in the newspaper. Again, why does a television news outlet do a story on the credit crunch in order to create maximum fear in the public for? The answer is simple: Increase the viewer ratings!

Now on to another note. I subscribed to The Tampa Tribune for a few years; it was a good paper if you wanted an alternative to the St. Petersburg Times as far as their reporting is concerned. When the credit crunch came along The Tampa Tribune began carrying stories on this subject practically every day; these stories I feel were written to place fear in the public. I got so fed up of how The Tampa Tribune was covering the credit crunch to the point that people were getting scared that I ended up cancelling my subscription.

OK. If you want the real truth on the credit crunch, this is how I look at it.

Let’s start with the banks. The greedy big banks whose purpose is to treat its customers – even its best customers (who of course pay their bills on time among other things) – like second class citizens. When the big banks were being given federal bailout money in order to recoup their losses due to the bad mortgage market it was in the hope that access to consumer credit would be loosened. Instead, the big greedy banks sit there and hoard that money while at the same time treat its customers like second class citizens such as jacking up interest rates or cutting credit lines.

After all, banks who practice poor customer service by jacking up interest rates and/or cutting a customer’s credit line (such as a credit card’s credit limit) will eventually suffer in the form of lost business. The majority of customers practice good money and credit habits by only spending within their means.

How about mortgage modifications? How about the person who got laid off through no fault of their own and is struggling to make ends meet? Banks and mortgage companies – according to what’s reported in the media – like to mess up a person’s credit report when it comes to having to modify the terms of a mortgage. In this day and age, if a borrower as a legitimate reason to have his or her mortgage modified to allow for lower monthly payments, he or she should be allowed to do so without any black mark being noted on a credit report. After all, it’s these mortgage loan officers that approved these loans in the first place, knowing that he or she would not qualify.

Now for a horrific credit crunch story that I feel was mishandled in the media. A homeowner who had a second mortgage and who wanted to sell can do so; anything owed on a second mortgage would be paid at closing (provided the funds were available of course). Instead, the bank who holds the second mortgage keeps the homeowner in the home until the second mortgage is paid in full. The end result: A homeowner who cannot sell even though the bank holding the second mortgage would be paid at the closing table. In my opinion, I would not be dealing with this mortgage lender at any time, period, no questions asked.

OK, OK. I have some advice for those of you who feel victimized by your greedy big bank as a part of the credit crunch.

1. If you receive a notice of adverse action in the mail – whether it may be your interest rate jacked up or your credit limit being decreased arbitrarily despite being a good customer – call your bank and request to speak to a senior supervisor about your situation. It’s worth a try.

2. If your bank balks, there’s still hope. If you can qualify in your area, consider taking your banking and financial business to a credit union. Believe me, credit unions are more better to deal with than a bank as far as customer service is concerned. After all, credit unions treat you like a real person compared to these greedy banks who only treat you like a number as well as pay lip service to courteous customer service. And besides, when you are a member of a credit union you’re not just a member – you are an owner. After all, credit unions answer to their owners, which are its members, while banks answer to their stockholders.

3. Post your experience with your unfriendly and greedy bank somewhere on a complaints board or forum. I highly recommend RipOffReport.com, as it is like creating your own website letting others know of your bad experience so that others don’t fall into the same fate.

After all, according to an email newsletter from Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 9/11, SiCKO, and the upcoming movie Capitalism: A Love Story (starts nationwide 2 October 2009)) contrary to what the media is saying about the credit crunch the sky is not falling. Yes you can still get that mortgage for the home you want or that loan for the vehicle you want; it will take a little more looking around to get a decent loan at a decent rate.

Now for one more thing.

For the past few months I have seen a billboard on the left side of southbound Interstate 275 in Downtown St. Petersburg just before you approach the exit for Interstate 375, Exit 23A. This billboard sums it all up about the current state of the American economy:

“Recession 101: Quit obsessing about the economy; you’re scaring the children”.

The message is superimposed on college rule paper. A wonderful job done by the creator of that billboard.

If I could afford a billboard, here’s what I would say:

“Journalism 101: Quit obsessing about the credit crunch; you’re scaring the public”.

What the Tampa Bay area news media ought to do is to write and broadcast or publish stories in a positive manner which would bring the credibility that once was how the news media reports the news. Don’t take stories and shuffle them out of context in a way to create maximum fear and distrust in the public.

20 August 2009

Guardianship in Florida: Legalized Robbery and Exploitation of the Elderly and Disabled!

I picked up a copy of today’s St. Petersburg Times (Thursday, 20 August 2009) only to find an article in the B section which broke my heart. It is the story of a woman who was stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease who had a trust drawn up earlier and amended it so that she can live out her last days at home. I know, it is very heart breaking when your loved one has a terminal illness such as Alzheimer’s and you want to provide the best possible so that when the time comes that your loved one passes away, at least your loved one got his or her wishes.

I urge you to please read this blog entry word for word.

According to the St. Petersburg Times article written by none other than Drew Harwell (who, by the way, wrote the article on how dangerous the Interstate 375 ramp is), Carol Kinnear owned a multi-million dollar home out on Clearwater Beach where she wanted to live out her last days. After all, when the home that you lived in happens to be the home you grew up in or lived there a long time, it takes on a special meaning not only for you but for your relatives as well.

However, Carol’s relatives wanted to make sure that the estate was preserved. As such, papers were filed for a member of the family to become Carol’s legal guardian; however, once the court approved the guardianship the legal guardian for Carol was not any of her relatives – instead, it turned out to be total strangers. According to the Times article, Carol’s legal guardian – a professional legal guardian – had her removed from her home and taken to a facility, all against Carol’s wishes. To make matters worse, Carol’s legal guardian even barred her relatives from even seeing her.

Unfortunately, Florida’s guardianship laws do allow for legalized robbery and exploitation of an elderly or disabled person, especially when a professional legal guardian comes into play. Learning back from my days when I was going for my Legal Assisting degree at Hillsborough Community College, I learned the process of guardianship in a class called Wills, Trusts and Probate.

A guardianship starts when the papers are filed in the Probate Court starting with a petition to the court explaining why a person should have a legal guardian. Next, a committee of experts examines the person that is the subject of guardianship – called a ward – and reports back to the court with a recommendation as to whether guardianship is recommended and if that is the case, who the legal guardian should be.

The process of getting someone declared legally incompetent from what I understand is rather very easy. Too easy, in my opinion. An attorney can intervene during the process and recommend that a professional guardian be appointed, against the wishes of the ward and his or her family. This is where guardianship can get ugly here.

Once the ward is declared incompetent and a guardian is appointed, practically all of the ward’s civil liberties are completely stripped: The right to vote, the ability to hold a driver’s license, the ability to own property, and so on. If a professional guardian as in the case of Carol Kinnear comes into play, it means that a total stranger is in charge of everything.

During a guardianship, papers are required to be filed with the court including an accounting of the assets of the ward both initially and every year. Moreover, if a professional guardian is involved the guardian has to be bonded as well. Unfortunately, papers can be falsified while at the same time a professional guardian is out there misusing the assets of the ward. To make matters worse, a professional guardian can also have the ward committed to an institution, all against the family’s wishes.

This is what I see: A professional guardian who is supposed to look after the best interest of his or her ward actually misappropriates the ward’s assets to the professional guardian’s own benefit, such as paying the monthly mortgage among other things. Next, the professional guardian has the ward committed to an institution at some unknown place and at the same time keeps the ward’s relatives away; who knows what kind of treatment the ward is getting: Abuse? Neglect?

In short, guardianship – especially when a total stranger is appointed as a professional guardian – is actually a license granted by the court to steal a ward’s assets and to have the ward locked away and put out of sight of the ward’s immediate family. Here in Pinellas County from what I understand, there is little to no oversight of professional guardians when engaged in their duties.

However, there are alternatives to guardianship out there that may be a better choice for your loved one. I won't get into any detail here, but the best way to explore these alternatives is to discuss them with your attorney.

Unfortunately, Florida’s guardianship laws make it easier than you think to get someone declared incompetent. Once you get involved with guardianship, it is essentially permanent and when a total stranger is in complete charge of your loved one’s affairs, the end result can be disastrous.

13 June 2009

Take Me Out To The … Ball Game?

Baseball, our American national pastime. There are two important songs that are associated with the sound of “play ball!”, first being The Star-Spangled Banner which everyone knows that it’s our national anthem played as a part of pre-game ceremonies and second being Take Me Out To The Ball Game, played in the middle of the 7th Inning and is known as the “7th Inning Stretch” (or, in Tampa Bay Rays speak, the “7th Inning Squeeze”).

From time to time, either one of these songs of baseball somehow get botched up when performed in front of a stadium type audience. Remember back on 25 July 1990 in San Diego at a San Diego Padres game and Roseanne Barr’s performance of our national anthem? In my opinion, it is the most botched up performance of our national anthem to date and is well remembered.

What about Take Me Out To The Ball Game? Doesn’t that sometimes get botched up as well?

If you have been to Tropicana Field here in St. Petersburg on Saturday, 13 June 2009 when the Tampa Bay Rays took on the Washington Nationals, you probably noticed something out of the ordinary. First, the national anthem was performed properly by Miss St. Petersburg (which was a part of City of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County employees appreciation night and it was advertised), albeit the harmonics were a little distorted but did not get anyone’s attention, in my opinion.

What happened during the 7th Inning Squeeze surprised me.

Someone was invited to sing Take Me Out To The Ballgame over in the area where the piano musician plays right next to Section 203. The performance was … well, the most botched up and unintelligible rendition of Take Me Out To The Ballgame I have ever heard, especially in all the Tampa Bay Rays games I have attended over the years at Tropicana Field.

That brought back memories of Roseanne Barr and the way she botched up our national anthem in San Diego many years ago, even before there was a Tampa Bay Rays here in St. Petersburg. However, I believe a botched up version of Take Me Out To The Ball Game would somehow make it onto one of the sports networks like ESPN, quoting one fan who was next to me at the Rays-Nationals game at Tropicana Field.

On the flip side of the coin, I believe a botched up version of The Star-Spangled Banner sung at a Rays pre-game at Tropicana Field would get much more media attention, first locally with Bay News 9 and the other Tampa Bay area media outlets and the potential to make national news on CNN and MSNBC. Wouldn’t you think so?

Now if you were at the Rays-Nationals game at Tropicana Field on Saturday, 13 June 2009 and stayed through the middle of the 7th Inning and tried to sing along to Take Me Out To The Ball Game but you couldn’t somehow, I would like to hear from you.

And by the way, the Rays won 8-3. LET’S GO RAYS!

09 June 2009

Are you ready for the DTV switch?

We’re a few days away from Friday, 12 June 2009. After all, that will be a day in history not only for television in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area but everywhere else in the United States as the technology used to provide you with over the air television signals for over 50 years, analog TV, will cease to exist. However, it will be the dawn of a new era in television broadcasting, and that will be digital television, or DTV for short.

I have an informative web page over at my web site that explains to you what the DTV switch is all about and whether you may be affected. However, here are some important things you will need to know:

If you receive your TV programs by antenna and you already own a DTV converter box or a new TV set that receives DTV programming, on Friday, 12 June 2009 you will want to rescan your channels as TV stations will more than likely move to their permanent channels as the digital feeds were being broadcasted temporarily on another channel.

If you still own an older TV set and still have not made the switch, you have choices when it comes to DTV: Purchase of a converter box, purchase of a new TV which incorporates the DTV tuner, or subscription to a cable TV service (such as Bright House Networks for those in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area).

Some low-power TV stations will remain broadcasting in the analog format; an example in St. Petersburg is the TV station operated by the City of St. Petersburg, WSPF-TV which operates on Channel 35. If you are using a DTV converter box for off the air signals, most DTV converter boxes feature an analog pass-through so that you can still view the low-power stations that have not transitioned to digital TV.

On the other hand, if you are connected to cable TV (such as Bright House Networks in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area) you do not have to do anything – you should be good to go! As a safeguard, be sure to check with your cable TV provider. The same thing goes for those of you that watch TV by way of satellite – your satellite provider will handle the conversion for you; again check with your satellite provider as a safeguard.

Don’t forget: Friday, 12 June 2009 is the day the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, along with the rest of America, makes the switch to DTV. If you are watching TV in the analog format, once the switch is done your analog TV will go dark if you have not taken action.

Now I would like to hear what you are doing to prepare for the big DTV switch.

11 May 2009

Failed the Florida FCAT Test? You have options!

In the next few weeks high school graduation will be around the corner for those of you who have children graduating from high school. After all, your child went through four years of hard coursework in order to earn those good grades (and the credits that go with these grades) and both you and your child should be proud of the four years of great accomplishment.

Unfortunately, high school seniors that are on track to graduation with the good grades and everything else have one major hurdle to cross, and that is the Florida FCAT test. Florida is one of those states that do not reward highest student achievement through academics; high school students can excel academically but cannot pass the FCAT test for some reason.

The bad news for those high school students who excel academically yet failed every sitting of the FCAT test since 10th Grade receive recognition for their work at graduation. Unfortunately, that recognition is nothing more than a Certificate of Completion from your child’s high school; a Certificate of Completion is not a High School Diploma which can make the difference when your child goes into the world outside of high school.

If you are the parent of a high school senior and you receive notice from your school that your child is going to get a Certificate of Completion due to failing the last FCAT test, do not be disappointed. Instead you and your child have options to get that coveted piece of paper that your child worked very hard for the past four years.

One increasingly popular option is to transfer your child’s high school credits to a private high school out of state. There is a private high school located in Lewiston, Maine which is called North Atlantic Regional Schools, abbreviated NARS for short. It’s mostly targeted towards homeschoolers, but they know how it feels for your child who excels academically in the four year public high school setting yet cannot graduate because of a state mandated test such as the FCAT. NARS has a wonderful website where you can learn more about pursuing this valuable option for your child.

A side note: If you pursue the NARS (or any other private high school) route, always obtain a copy of your child’s high school transcript. You can get this from your child’s high school for a nominal fee; the copy you will get will more than likely be an unofficial copy which is great for review by you and your child. The official version is the one that your school will send directly to which private school you select, even it it’s NARS in Maine.

Another option is to take the tests of General Educational Development, commonly known as the GED test. While the GED test is an equivalent of a High School Diploma, according to the NARS website a GED diploma can raise red flags for your child post-high school: It could mean to a potential college or employer that there were significant problems in high school; it could also send a red flag that your child was in a treatment center or detention facility. While a GED diploma is an easy way out it brings along significant social stigma that goes with having a GED diploma. This is why a High School Diploma is a lot better because it carries a lot of prestige for your child.

If your child’s high school guidance counselor even suggests that your child who excels academically take the GED all because of a failed FCAT through the 12th Grade, think again. Do your research and check out the NARS website.

Another option would be to see if your child can use his or her SAT or ACT test scores, especially if your child took the SAT or ACT tests for college admission earlier in the school year. If your child has equivalent scores on the SAT or ACT – which the Florida Department of Education calls Concordant Scores – your child can still graduate from high school with a High School Diploma using the passing SAT or ACT scores your child earned. But there is one catch: In order to use this option your child must have failed every opportunity for the FCAT test between the 10th Grade and graduation. However, there is a brighter side: Think of your child’s passing SAT or ACT scores as an insurance policy against a non-received High School Diploma due to a failed FCAT.

I also encourage you to please read my topic on why Florida should abolish the FCAT test altogether over at my website. After all, FCAT is nothing more than a time waster for Florida’s high schools, and teachers can have more time teaching the subjects they were qualified to teach. Students would also get a quality education that you and I as taxpayers in the great State of Florida pay for, not have to go to school to study for a state mandated test. Besides, the FCAT breeds nothing more than increased test anxiety in our students, among other things.

And you know what drives the FCAT in Florida? A federal law enacted in 2002 called the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires states that want to receive federal education monies to have a statewide student assessment test in place. This is much like the days when states had to have speed limits at 55 mph or lose interstate highway money.

On the Florida level, I am all for total abolition of the FCAT test and to have it replaced by meaningful end of course exams which demonstrate mastery of the subject involved, such as English Composition or Algebra. Further, on the federal level I am for the substantial – if not complete – repeal of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 as that federal law infringes on states’ rights. After all, education of our children is and should continue to be the responsibility of the states rather than the federal government telling the states what to do as far as education is concerned.

11 February 2009

Television End of Day Sign Offs

Remember back to the old days when our TV selections were limited to the big three networks – NBC, ABC and CBS – the local PBS affiliate and the independent TV station? Here in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, before there was Bright House Networks and Bay News 9 (even before there was cable TV in the first place) our selections were limited to 3, 8, 10, 13, 16 and 44 with an outdoor antenna.

Back in the pre-cable days all of the broadcast stations in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area did not operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Contrast this with the world of television we live in today, 500+ channels of programming on your digital cable box with the time - normally when the station would sign off for the day – filled with nothing but boring infomercials, program length commercials heavily touting stuff that I personally would not spend my hard earned money on.

The typical sign off routine would be an announcement that the TV station is ending its broadcast activities for the day, followed by the locations of the main studios and transmitter location. Before the advent of VCRs and DVRs some stations – including WTVT FOX 13 here in Tampa – would run a disclaimer that programs are for home viewing only and that no commercial use is permitted. After that, viewers are given a postal address in which to send comments or suggestions regarding station operations and/or programming. Finally, the national anthem is played and then about a minute of color bars plus tone and then the transmitter carrier is turned off.

It should also be noted here that some television stations, just before signing off for the day, run a one minute daily devotional either produced locally or nationally. WTSP, known as 10 Connects here in St. Petersburg, used to run a daily devotional at the start of and at the end of the broadcast day back in its days as an ABC affiliate.

Now that we sometimes miss the old days of when TV stations sign off for the day, you are wondering how TV stations in other parts of the world sign off at the end of their broadcast day. Even though we have TV stations that are now 24/7/365, only a handful do sign off, either nightly as part of the broadcast day or for about a half hour once a week in order to perform transmitter adjustments.

I recently came across a blog that is dedicated to television sign offs from not only here in the United States but around the world as well. It is called The Television Close Down and Start Up Blog, and it hosts a growing collection of sign off and sign on routines from television stations not only here in the United States but from all over the world.

Here is a sampler of what you will find over at The Television Close Down and Start Up Blog:

XETV Channel 6, San Diego: There are two videos, one from its days as a FOX affiliate and another from its present day as a CW affiliate. While the station serves the San Diego area, the transmitter is located across the international border in Tijuana, hence the Mexican call letters. What makes their sign on and sign off so unique is that the Mexican National Anthem (El Himno Nacional Mexicano) is played first, followed by the American National Anthem (The Star-Spangled Banner); as the station is based in Tijuana the playing of the Mexican National Anthem is mandatory per Mexican law. After both national anthems are played then the sign on information is read, first in English and then in Spanish; the sign on information is identical to other American television stations except that the licensing authority is that of the Mexican Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (Secretaria de Comunicaciones y Transportes) rather than the Federal Communications Commission that regulates American radio and television stations.

JOEX, Channel 10, Tokyo, Japan: This is the flagship station of a Japanese TV news network, All-Nippon News Network. What makes this sign off unique is that Japan’s Emergency Alert System – similar to the Emergency Alert System we are accustomed to here in the United States – is tested right after the sign off announcement is complete. By comparison, Japan’s Emergency Alert System consists of a tone (known as “the pips”) played three times followed by an announcement explaining the test, while America’s Emergency Alert System consists of three long data tones, followed by the two-tone test signal of the old Emergency Broadcast System (only used for a required monthly test or if an actual emergency message is to follow), and three short data tones signaling the end of the test. After all, the Japanese know how to test their emergency system without alarming the general public by doing it only at night and at the end of a broadcast day; here in America I don’t know why broadcast stations have to break into the afternoon soap operas or why ER reruns on TNT have to be interrupted for these tests.

I can’t list them all here, but you will have a great time watching these television sign off videos from around the world over at The Television Close Down and Start Up Blog. To get there, simply click on this link or you can click on the link to the Television Close Down and Start Up Blog from my Links of Interest page over at EdwardRingwald.com. By the way, the blog owner of The Television Close Down and Start Up Blog updates on Wednesdays and Saturdays with new sign off and sign on videos.