Hitting A Blocker

I was going to end up writing a different blog post. Upon reflection before writing, I realized that frankly there is a bit too much that is either uncertain or otherwise waiting for action by somebody else. The concerning part is that I frankly how little say and no control in the matter.

Right now there is a bit of a fiscal emergency that may or may not be coming up for me. I started the year in the midst of a layoff and work-without-pay situation due to a management dispute at the top level of my employer. Unfortunately we’re about to head into a different management dispute which may cause my employer to become insolvent as of the first week of September 2019. I had thought the matter had already been resolved but apparently it is still pending.

I am not sure how this will pan out. A decision was supposed to be announced Wednesday but is being delayed until Thursday now. With some co-workers now handing in their badges to suddenly quit (we’re not required to give any notice) work has become a bit chaotic.

As for what I wanted to write about I will hold off. Eventually the bootstrapping of Erie Looking Productions to a more active going concern will be able to be given more attention. Plans are progressing far too slowly but, at the least, they are progressing. Software ranging from LaTeX2e to Openshot and more are making some nice things possible. I want to be able to eventually shift away from a very destructive job to one that is a bit more constructive. Being able to actively contribute to Xubuntu again would be a nice side benefit of leaving the current maelstrom at work, too.

Trainwrecking The Legislature Again
BOFH excuse #17:

fat electrons in the lines

/!\ The views expressed herein are solely my own and do not reflect the policies or positions of my employer. /!\

Currently the 2019 fiscal year ends as of September 30th. My job becomes unfunded as of 11:59 PM Eastern Time that day. Congress is currently in recess until September 9th and has not passed a single funding bill through both chambers to clear it for presidential consideration. With the week of their return set to be bogged down by 9/11 memorials as well as trying to ensure a quorum, Congress practically has only two weeks to get matters together to pass the twelve separate appropriations bills to fund government operations starting 12:01 AM on October 1st. Nobody has put a continuing resolution on the table and currently a Statement of Administration Policy indicates that he won’t sign one.

Unfortunately a huge distraction has arisen yet again that may ensure the budget does not get passed on time.

FOX News reports that Democrats are requesting a recall from recess due to the mass shooting events that occurred over the weekend. Logistically that should not be too hard since there was no concurrent resolution adopted by both chambers allowing for an extended recess. Each chamber is holding pro forma sessions every three days in the event something urgent comes up and a couple members of each chamber are being kept in the DC area. Despite the article’s language this wouldn’t be a special session but rather a re-do on the calendar in both chambers. Over the weekend an armed assailant was effectively executed by responding police officers within a mere thirty seconds during the relevant gun battle in Dayton where nine were killed and twenty seven were wounded. In El Paso, an assailant killed twenty before surrendering to law enforcement. It is not currently known what legislators might attempt to pursue during any early return to Capitol Hill. The editors at National Review Online have an editorial posted that is a fairly disturbing read.

In any respect, I am not sure what an attempt at passing yet more laws would actually accomplish.

There is evil in our world. It isn’t that the United States suddenly became a fascist tyranny when Donald Trump became President of the United States. It isn’t that the United States of America has become the worst Third World country on the planet even though it possesses a First World military. Some pieces snapped culturally possibly as far back as the tail end of the Clinton administration and have been festering wounds for many years. The current administration has succeeded in ripping the bandaids off those wounds for all to see that there are some very, very deep problems out there.

I don’t really see an exit point to this. Having leftist violence combined with right-wing agitation leads to chaos yet we’ve been in that state of affairs since we culturally imported the German concept of Antifa to the United States. Having my fellow Americans play-act like they’re living in a tyrannical occupation degrades discourse to where violence is seen increasingly not as off limits but as instead the simplest acceptable answer.

We’re not looking at a simple wildfire. I really don’t think we are. Those you can extinguish. One of the scarier things I learned about in Hazardous Materials-Awareness training was the infamous benzene fire. You can’t extinguish that and have to let it burn itself out.

I think that’s where we are with the current madness. It will take a while for it to burn itself out. Civic leadership, religious leadership, and leadership of far too many other necessary types is simply missing right now. Until the madness burns itself out we have a very long road ahead.

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License: This work by Stephen Michael Kellat is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/.
Looking At Q4 2019 Needing Support
BOFH excuse #225:

It's those computer people in X {city of world}.  They keep stuffing things up.

/!\ Previously I noted in writing that work matters were unstable due to circumstances outside my control. Now that some votes were taken I can at least say that some forms of murkiness have been clarified. Unfortunately they have not been clarified in a fashion favorable to me. /!\

At this point I expect to be in layoff from my regular job at the end of this month. I won’t be going back to work until January 2020. Due to the shenanigans at the start of the year over the 35 day government shutdown almost all of us in my particular job position were eliminated from unemployment compensation eligibility. As you might imagine that is a somewhat awful economic position to be in.

Since January I have been working hard on laying the legal groundwork for self-employment. I have it finished for the most part. This is a nice side effect of being trained in tax law at government expense…to administer tax law. Sometimes I can actually put the knowledge to use to protect myself even when it will feel like I am getting kicked to the curb by my job.

Erie Looking Productions is expected to ramp up to full operational status as of September 1st. This does not necessarily mean that I’m simply moving back behind a microphone to resume podcasting. The production work has expanded a bit over the years.

Right now we’re finishing up work to support another annual installment of the Music Along The River festival in Harpersfield. The work this year involves physical promotional collateral being produced. In prior years efforts have involved producing radio ads, print materials, and more.

KCRW’s Radio Race will be coming up this weekend. Although it will be the seventh running of the event it will be the first attempt on our part to enter. Although we haven’t been able to do regular audio feature producing for a few years we are looking at it like falling off a bicycle. This will be useful practice in terms of resuming operations.

Work on the submission for the Dam Short Film Festival continues. The initial narration track has been record. There is further work to be done in preparing the practical set for filming as there is construction work to be done. We have some foley concerns we still have to puzzle out.

Work on the submission for the MidWest WeirdFest is progressing in fits and starts. There have been some very frustrating moments putting things together since the video shoots are done. I miss the days when I handled editing video with an analog editing deck. Those days were simpler. The documentary short still needs narration written and even though the general gist is agreed something still has to be actually written.

Currently operating funds are being sought to keep things running while I try to build up a client/customer base. Contributions are always accepted via Liberapay, PayPal, and other means will be available once I figure out how to use the APIs available from my commercial bank. Yes, my smaller US-based bank has APIs available for small businesses to use so that they don’t have to fuss with Stripe and the like.

And if anybody asks, my dream feature film that I would want to make would be something akin to Doctor Who’s UNIT years but with aesthetic choice of filming in grayscale. If I couldn’t film, I would produce an audio drama. There are many things you could do in that paradigm, I think.

Breaking Things Takes Time

The Georgia Association of Broadcasters notes that another Emergency Alert System test will be taking place on August 7th. Another communications law-related site notes that the test will be unique. Unlike prior tests this will be restricted to radio and television broadcasters and will be confined to testing the ability to pass the message down the chain from the Primary Entry Point stations. The closest entry point stations to me would be AM broadcast band stations WTAM and KDKA.

Now, we need to remember that Ashtabula County is served by six separate radio stations that have no main studio locally and are otherwise completely satellite fed. Another five radio stations are “voice-tracked” where there is a studio but content is either satellite-fed or produced under automation that is prepared quite a bit in advance. Another two stations are about half voice-tracked and half satellite-fed.

In short, if something goes wrong with the test at any of those stations on Wednesday the likelihood of local staff being there to respond to the situation is minimal to none.

Now, I ended up writing on Monday about funding needs in SeekingSupport but was somewhat vague as to what is going on. In part that’s been due to the complexity of the problem at hand. I haven’t been satisfied with any of the preliminary solutions I’ve come up with. At this point I should lay out what I have.

Alongside the broadcast radio problem above, I should also note that we have no local television station and that our local daily newspaper has been steadily shrinking to almost nothing. For a population of just under one hundred thousand we are bordering on lacking any sort of true local media beyond the weekly newspapers published by Gazette Newspapers. Mind you, I was a frequent writer for one of those news weeklies back in the day and have consistent newsprint byline credits covering 1998-2000 with some random reappearances in 2005. I did hard news covering local government affairs, local elections, and local tax referenda. I did not do much in the way of covering stories such as the local Aldi closing for renovations for over a month.

The modular concept I have works on a building blocks model. Unconventional tools from the archive such as the papertex package from CTAN would be helpful to make this happen as well as more conventional tools like Audacity. The converging strands of the plan include:

  • Regular in-person news show in front of a studio audience at a regular show location
  • Eventually build to recording that news show for podcast release and/or live streaming
  • Eventually build a print supplement to the live show for purchase afterwards in case not everybody can be there for the show

I have leads on where to start holding a very small version of the in-person news show. That’s not a problem. I can possibly get away with having a non-alcoholic snack bar avaialable too. For US readers grasping for what the paradigm might be it might be best to think of it like a live recording at the Grand Old Opry or of A Prairie Home Companion. That I have a speakeasy type of setting potentially available to start with would work for setting the mood, I think, in the initial days.

Is it a big engineering task requiring great feats in computer work? Notwithstanding the potential for botching things in LaTeX2e in terms of laying out a “newspaper” of some sort the engineering work is not that tremendous. Right now the trade-offs are acceptable to use LaTeX2e and papertex in lieu of Adobe InDesign. Scribus was considered for the task but the need to be able to receive material that can be slotted into place quickly for rebuilds along a consistent template make the LaTeX option more time efficient based upon available resources.

As for the news-gathering work, I have been doing that off and on since 1998. That part is not an issue.

Printing would be the big cost drive to start. Right now Great Lakes Printing has the market cornered on printing press capability in the county and just happens to produce its own community-based weekly newspapers. The local daily newspaper doesn’t even have its own local printing press and has to have its daily editions trucked in from a few counties away where it runs as a separate job on another newspaper’s printing press. Design would have to start small and grow as time goes by. Developing my own printing plant would be nice but would take capital I frankly do not have. An example of a second-hand press that would be potentially usable would be a Xerox Espresso Book Machine but that has limitations. There are some other vendors I know I would be consulting for suggestions and advice if I am ever lucky enough to get to that operational stage.

As for the recording and releasing of podcasts, I refer back to the remnants archived to Archive.org.

I am not totally happy with where planning sits but, then again, I am not happy with the state of media affairs in town either. In the broader tech world it is trendy to say that you “cut the cord” relative to your TV watching. Here in Ashtabula it is really easy to cut the cord. All too often there isn’t anything attached to it! Building up locally produced media for a local people is something that pressure groups like REC Networks exist to do. Unfortunately the landscape in Ashtabula County is such that their methods are not usable.

When it comes to SeekingSupport I really do not like asking. I have pushed and I have cajoled trying to seek out an improved situation. It looks like if I want things to get better I am simply going to have to ask for help to start taking action myself. Nobody else is going to take the initiative here on the homefront.

On The Eve of Radio Race 2019

Coming up this weekend is KCRW’s 7th Annual 24-Hour Radio Race. The last communication that I have had from organizers is that nearly 300 teams have registered. The event is not limited to the United States and historically teams from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom have also participated. Teams will be judged on their creativity, storytelling skills, technical skills, and incorporation of the theme in producing a radio feature that does not exceed four minutes in length. What makes this a race is that the theme will not be announced to participants until 1700 UTC on Saturday, August 10, 2019. Participants would have 24 hours from that point to then produce their pieces and then submit them through the designated means for consideration. KCRW is an affiliate of National Public Radio based in Santa Monica.

I have put together a squad from Erie Looking Productions to participate in the event. We are as ready as we can be. I will be conducting preaching on Sunday morning as part of the church’s domestic mission outreach but that shouldn’t cut into production. I am used to have to prepare on short notice various production pieces such as sermons so I have been operating for some time in the paradigm this sort of an event requires, I hope.

What tools will be in play? More than like a mix of LaTeX, Mousepad, Audacity, ffmpeg, Firefox, and countless others from the repositories while we may end up trying out the imagniary-teleprompter snap this time around. Also in play will be more traditional microphones, mixers, and quite possibly honest to goodness tape recorders depending upon how we structure the production plan.

For now, I get to wait. I originally started writing this blog post Friday night and apparently fell asleep at the keyboard. I won’t be nodding off during this event.

Waiting On Race Judging

Previously I produced podcasts for almost six years in the early days of podcasting. I’ve had to step aways from that for almost six years by dint of being a working fed. With as crazy as things have gotten being part of the civil service I have been having to assess making changes in life. One way to go would be to pick back up things I have had to set aside such as media production like what was done under the aegis of Erie Looking Productions.

This weekend has been KCRW’s Radio Race. Soundcloud has an entire playlist of 2018’s participant tracks posted that can be listened to. The submission from Erie Looking Productions is posted to Soundcloud now. We were supposed to use Otter.ai as part of the competition as they happened to be a sponsor using machine learning for transcription services. I can’t easily link to that and frankly was not amused with what is spit out in terms of machine recognition of my voice. How many different ways do you think the place name of Ashtabula could be mis-transcribed?

What are the next steps? The judges in California will be listening to three hundred some odd entries this week. Finalists will be announced next week. In two weeks we’ll know who the winners are. Although placing would be great I’m just glad we were able to show that we could do what was essentially a cold restart after way too long in mothballs.

Between now and the end of September we have two short film projects we have to finish up. One will be going to the Dam Short Film Festival while one will go to MidWest WeirdFest. These are cold restart efforts as well. A documentary short is in the works for the call for WeirdFest while what is essentially an experimental piece is being finished up for Dam Short Film Festival in Boulder City. It is not as if we’ll be shooting for a showing at the Ely Central Theatre on the single screen there but Boulder City is a suburb of Las Vegas with a wee bit more population than Ely.

We’ve also done some minor support work to back up a vendor presenting at the Music Along The River 2019 festival by helping them create nice marketing collateral.

A former Secretary of State and former Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall, is quoted as saying that the power to tax is the power to destroy. That’s still very true in the USA today. Slowly but surely I am trying to transition out of a job rooted in Marshall’s view of destruction to something a bit more constructive.

Xubuntu and Ubuntu MATE have been there to make these recent efforts happen far more easily than I otherwise thought possible. I need to give more back to the team. There are just a few more barriers that have to be knocked down first.

The Field of Competition
BOFH excuse #218:

The UPS doesn't have a battery backup.

KCRW changed gears at one point during Radio Race 2019 to require all the entries to be posted to SoundCloud. The entire field of copmetition has now been gathered into a single playlist. There are 151 tracks there while there are 123 tracks on the site originally meant to be used.

Now the big wait ensues.

Splash Two

Well, I just finished up closing out the remaining account that I had on Tumblr. I hadn’t touched it for a while. The property just got sold again and is being treated like nuclear waste. I did export my data and somehow had a two gigabyte export. I didn’t realize I used it that much.

My profile on Instagram was nuked as well. As things keep sprouting the suffix of ”—by Facebook” I can merrily shut down those profiles and accounts. That misbehaving batch of algorithms mischaracterizes me 85% of the time and I get tired of dealing with such messes. The accretions of outright non-sensical weirdness in Facebook’s “Ad Interests” for me get frankly quite disturbing.

Remember, you should take the time to close out logins and accounts you don’t use. Zombie accounts help nobody.

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When The Weather Gets Frightful

Sunday, August 18, 2019
Open Detached Entry At 1834Z
Harpersfield Covered Bridge Metropark
Harpersfield Township, Ashtabula County, Ohio

What can I say? There was quite a bit of storm activity this morning. I got woke up earlier than normal for a Sunday morning. The UPS units wound up screaming this morning as the electricity kept flickering in and out until it totally went out. Power was eventually restored but we wound up with fairly large tree limbs downed in three places on my street.

It was a bit of a battle to get to church this morning. When I called the city government to report limbs being down I got yelled at and hung up on. This was another sterling example of fine customer service from the same city government that suffered computer problems that prevented them from billing for sewer and refuse services for seven months which resulted in balloon bills for residents.

Limbs were still down in areas blocking roads. Roads were not exactly the most clear. I got to church late. The other gentleman assisting in presiding over communion barely got there in time to assist me in table duties.

I went home and roads were slightly clearer. My father has been exhibiting his luthier works at the Music Along The River festival here this weekend. It was another battle trying to work my way down here to the park. Cellular connectivity is gone which is why this blog post is being written in a detached fashion.

Is local infrastructure fairly brittle? Today has been yet another example of that. The only reason people muddle through with this is that people choose to muddle through it. We don’t choose success. We choose failure.

That’s why I end up discouraged in thinking about undertaking any projects locally. The locals don’t want things to change. They like life the way it is.

For now I get to back up Dad here at the festival. Attendance is down. Up against Blue Sky Folk Fest in Willoughby and the D Day reenactment in Conneaut competition has been tight for attention.

Close Detached Entry At 1848Z

Monday, August 19, 2019
Open Detached Entry At 0252Z
At Erie Looking Productions
Ashtabula County, Ohio

Operationally weather continued to be a mess. AT&T did not have much success with cellular service covering that part of Harpersfield. Coming to “periscope depth” meant running from the park to the closest supermarket about four miles away to be able to catch a cell signal. The event was not one where FireChat would likely have been prevalent. Drums from a drum circle were more readily available, though.

Utilities have not fared well. This is partly why I insisted we shift off Spectrum for television service to DirecTV as well as putting the two HDHomeRun boxes in the garage tied to aerials. Those are all tied to backup power and the television inside the house is tied to backup power. We can still keep that link to the outside world running. Spectrum and its predecessor Time Warner Cable have had a bad habit in the local market of not having the local cable headend on any backup power so when there is a widespread outage both Internet service and television service disappear. For people in an exurban/rural area that’s frankly quite isolating let alone frustrating.

The breakers keep getting tripped on the UPS units that are scattered liberally around the house. Thankfully I was still able to participate in the SDF.org Amateur Radio Club net via Echolink and the net audio is currently available for download. My after-net activities have revolved around consolidating chargers and boosting preparedness. More storms are set to come through and they’re not going to be any nicer than the last bunch.

What grinds my gears about this incident is that the public works staff from the city government did a terrible job in cleaning up the tree limbs that fell into the roadways that closed blockages. Since it happened to be a Sunday and overtime was involved no work was done to actually cut up the limbs and haul them away for disposal. All that was done was city crews hauled the limbs out of the road, dumped them in the yard(s) of the appropriate resident(s), put up caution tape, and then moved on. If I weren’t blocked by the Hatch Act I would seriously be looking at challenging the local elected municipal chief executive at the upcoming election because this is just getting ridiculous. Apparently the garbage trucks are broke down as the most recent garbage pick-up was done by a smaller utility dump truck that was pulling a trailer behind it. We’re slipping from mediocre to laughingstock far too readily.

Close Detached Entry At 0312Z

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Draft Sermon To End August

The content that previously appeared here has been re-written in a different format. The re-write was sufficiently significant that this previous draft required removal.

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The Ashtabula Media Problem

The content that previously appeared here has been re-written in a different format. The re-write was sufficiently significant that this previous draft required removal.