Archive for May, 2010

May 31, 2010

Check this out…

China aims to become supercomputer superpower

This a pretty cool story, but I was more interested in was the graphic a few paragraphs down. It’s a pretty cool way of illustrating the point that these supercomputers are really fast. Props to BBC News.

Then, a little bit more down the page, there’s a link to this graphic — This lets you analyze all the Top 500 supercomputers in the world by county, speed, operating system, etc.

Amazing how far graphics have come. It just goes to show you there’s any number of ways to illustrate a story. Getting good at building graphics is becoming a more valuable skill to news outlets. Not a bad skill to add to your arsenal. Maybe “building graphics for news outlets” should be a new class in the J school.

The U.S. is dominating in supercomputers, by the way. But China’s trying to catch up.

May 30, 2010

From my visit to the Grand Canyon

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only

That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered
Till I scarcely more than muttered, “other friends have flown before
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”

from “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

From my trip to the Grand Canyon. These birds were really creepy, and they definitely wanted our food. They sat around the lunch tables and kept creeping closer. I managed to eat my lunch successfully. Side note: Poe's "The Raven" was written in trochaic octameter, a rare meter for poetry. Now you know something that not many other people do.

May 29, 2010

A missed chance

“People who are homeless are not social inadequates. They are people without homes.” —Sheila McKechnie

There was a homeless woman who just walked into Starbucks, and I really want to know her story.

At first, I wasn’t sure if she was actually homeless, because like everything else in San Diego, she looks like a contradiction. Instead of a grocery cart, she used a relatively new brown suitcase with another bag attached to the handle.

She wore a dirty, torn bandana over her hair. But just above her face — which revealed her flustered emotions and the worn features common to the homeless — she wore a pure white visor, like she was expecting to play a game of tennis later. She was muttering to herself and breathing hard as she picked up an ungodly amount of napkins, but not in a way that made me nervous.

Above her nude tank top, she had a beautiful red and orange short scarf tied stylishly, though hastily, around her neck. But for her pants, she wore cutoff, dirty sweatpants. I didn’t have time to catch her shoes because she hurried out the door too quickly.

I wondered what her background was. I wondered if her stylish clothing and baggage were remains of a more fortunate past or if she’d picked them up somewhere along the way, just like the napkins. Was she from San Diego? Where was she going? Is she alone?

What were the napkins for?

Once out the door, she paced a short distance back and forth in confusion before deciding which direction she wanted to go. She tucked the napkins in her luggage before she started walking.

And now she’s gone. I have no picture.

I wish I would have talked to her.

May 29, 2010

STORY — Bronze Star, golden moment for Vietnam Vet

JACK WARREN. Photo by Peggy Peattie/Union-Tribune

This is my first published story for the U-T. The man it’s about, Jack Warren, was incredibly fascinating, with his endless stories about combat in Vietnam. But, I guess that’s the way it is for all the veterans. War is definitely not forgettable or boring.

I’m really glad I was able to convey the generational aspect of Jack’s service, because he strives to inspire his family just like his dad was his inspiration. But Jack told me a lot more in our two-hour interview than I could fit in print. He’s never been to counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder. But he said for catharsis, he listens to sound bytes from battle, looks at pictures or recounts his war stories.

Like the time, when he first arrived at Ban Me Thout, that he had to roll out of a plane in the brief period it touched down, leaving him weaponless in unfamiliar territory with no other Americans visible.

Or the time he got an aircraft save for directing a pilot to the ground when his instrument panel was struck by lightning, and he had 15 minutes of fuel left.

The rivalry for who had the most control — pilots or air traffic controllers.

The day he had to manage 27 planes trying land at Ban Me Thout almost at once, with seven of them having to make emergency landings.

JACK WARREN. Courtesy photo.

The gangs of young Vietnamese “cowboys” who would beat up GIs for something as simple as their watches.

The contrast of that with the soldiers’ relationships with grateful Ban Me Thout residents.

The near miss he had when a piece of shrapnel sliced through the tent he’d been standing in during an attack.

When he “went crazy” and stood up during one night’s attack to watch the scene like it was a movie, with soldiers and bombs and gun blasts for characters.

“There was a blanket of red on the ground (from explosions). It was pretty. Deadly, but pretty. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t watch fireworks for a while when I got back,” he said.

At war, you go through stages, he said. Stage one — numbness, associated with the feeling that there’s no way you’re going to get out of it alive. Stage two — a feeling that you’re invincible, and nothing can touch you. Stage three — fear that you’ll never get home, but a strong desire to.

“When you get to the U.S., you kiss the ground,” he said. “It’s just a beautiful place.”

Robert Cardenas, who presented Jack his medal, gave me a couple interesting quotes too, but they didn’t really fit with the story. So here they are.

“What happens in combat is even the meekest and mildest of man can become a hero in a flash. You don’t think, you just do.”

“Now, there is no enemy you can aim a tank at. The enemy is all over the world.”

Oh, and Jack met his wife on the game show “Love Connection.” I just thought that was cool.

May 28, 2010

My passage through Tornado Alley

The sky above my grandparents' house on 40-acres of land in Stillwater, Okla. There was a quarter-mile tornado headed our way, but it broke up before it got to us. My grandparents' property is a quarter mile wide. You can still see the clouds spinning in this picture.

A cloud, rumble of thunder and flicker of light
Threatening hues, grey, green and black
A wall, an anvil supercell so high
As nature prepares for its attack.

A crack of lightning cuts the sky
As hail begins to spit
Hot air meets cool, starts to turn
A sinister growl it emits

Slowly, reaching, the cloud grows down
In breaths and silent force
Twisting, turning, churning winds

A terrible roar and screaming wail
A frightening, unnerving sound
Debris kicks up in violent swirls
As the funnel touches ground

At the boundary, going in
Tornado doesn’t give
Feeding, fueling, gaining strength
Will anything live..?”

from “Tornado” by Kate Manning

From my grandparents' porch after the storm.

…I am rainbow

I saw then my Image, with the ripples of Life’s pain

spreading outward, but stopped, healed, cleansed

reflected and refracted away as Nature and nature connected

the rain still falls, still strikes, still stings

and I am wetted

but no longer drowning

and I went forth and had myself

a Bright and Shining Multicoloured Day.”

from “I Am Rainbow” by Oshumare Niji

May 26, 2010


I started my thesis for the Honors College this semester, and so far I’ve completed one chapter out of six. I was busy.

The goal of thesis is to research six famous journalists that made some kind of clear contribution to journalism. Then, I’m writing a short story, a piece of realistic fiction about each one of them. And then, I’ll have a conclusion that discusses what I think about each one and ties them all together. It’s supposed to tie together both my journalism major and my English minor. I also hope it will increase my creative writing side, something I think I’ve been neglecting.

So I’ve only finished one chapter, but I think that will get me over the hump. In theory, I’ll finish at least three more over the summer, when I have fewer responsibilities. Plus, the California air is kind of inspiring.

Here’s an unedited excerpt from chapter one. It’s about Gordon Parks, a famous photojournalist and probably one of my favorite people of all time. It starts just after I describe how he became interested in photography, when he looked at pictures in a magazine that he found on a bus. I would appreciate any comments.

Gordon Parks, when he was younger.

…And that was it. He knew in that moment, at 16, what his purpose was. He wanted to make pictures. So he bought a camera, his weapon against injustice.

The wrinkles on Gordon’s forehead and the lightening of his curly hair signified that he wasn’t 16 anymore. He’d seen much more of life. But because he was around the teenagers of the Midtowners gang so much, he’d been reliving his younger years more often. Their lives were all about surviving, just as much as his was, and they had weapons of their own. But their shots could kill people.

Gordon turned in his prints and walked out of the Vogue office into the waning early evening sunlight. He hurried along to go meet Red, the Midtowners’ fearless leader, just like he always did around this time. Soon, he saw Red Jackson in front of him. Gordon smiled and lifted his hand in greeting, and Red did the same. But the closer Gordon got to the casually-dressed teenager, the more Red’s demeanor confirmed that he didn’t have any good news to share.

If you could ever get used to those things, he did. It was almost mechanical, the same cycle of death and mourning for each boy’s tragic end.

“It’s Red,” said the young, husky voice. “Harvey… he, uh…” A long pause. A sigh. “He’s gone.”

Gordon matched Red’s sigh and posture. “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah.” Red pulled out a cigarette slowly and lit it before speaking again. “We’re going to the morgue to get him if you want to go.”‘

“You sure? I don’t want to be —”

Red cut him off with a shake of his head. “It’s okay, man. You’re cool. Harvey liked you, and I think he deserves for someone… for there to be a record that his life mattered to people.”

Gordon nodded, looking straight at Red’s face, though he was looking at the ground. A few more puffs of the cigarette and Red threw it on the ground.

“Meet you there in about an hour. I got a few things to take care of.”


“And Gordon? Travel light.” He patted the 45 automatic in his pocket out of habit. “We might have to run.”

May 26, 2010

California Dreamin’

“As one went to Europe to see the living past, so one must visit Southern California to observe the future.” —Alison Lurie

On Saturday, I arrived in San Diego. On Monday, I started my internship at the San Diego Union-Tribune. Also on Monday, I got a byline on a blog post and a contributing line on a front-page story. On Tuesday, I got four stories to look into, three of which will probably pan out.

I love California.

There’s nothing like working around seasoned professionals at a daily metro newspaper to show you just how far you have to go. This summer, I expect to work hard and learn even harder. I hope to improve on the depth of my stories and my ability to produce breaking news stories quickly. I’m also going to study how the U-T incorporates social media into its news coverage, so I can bring that knowledge back to the Herald for its never-ending quest to keep up with the technological times.

Oh, and the weather is absolutely fantastic.

Article of the Day

Huge Gap Remains Between Mainstream Media and the Social Web

The reason this caught my attention is that — like I said before — we’re really trying to step up how we use social media on the Herald’s website. Though a college newspaper’s audience is slightly different from a national newspaper’s, I think the concepts presented are important to consider. Incorporating social media is of no use if no one’s looking at it. It goes back  to the idea of balancing what readers need to know and what they want to know. The information in this article is interesting because it’s helpful in determining a better profile of who that audience of social media users is. I haven’t quite decided how we at the Herald could use this information, but it’s something to watch out for.

On that note…

That article and a team meeting at work today snapped me into an editor-in-chief frenzy. I started scribbling ideas and notes to myself about all the things that need to be done before the fall/changes we should make. A big (though not particularly original) one was thinking of stories as packages. It’s something we’ve sort of talked about as a staff before, but the U-T takes it more literally. In their story-submission system, reporters create “packages” with the story slug. Then the story and any visuals are dragged into the “package” to link the whole thing together. That kind of literal packaging made me realize that I really want reporters and photographers to not think of their work as isolated from everything else in the paper. The paper is a unit. At the very least, reporters should pitching the visuals for their stories.

That’s all for now. I should have a post tomorrow about the (non) progress I’m making on my thesis (writing realistic fiction about six famous journalists). But that depends on actually getting some work done for it.

May 13, 2010

STORY — ALL THE RAVE: Students try to rebuild rave scene in Bowling Green

Raves are such sensory experiences that I don’t know if any news article can fully capture what it’s like to be at one. I think I could have done a whole article that was simply a narrative on being at one. In fact, I had about a notebook worth of just observations. So let me close my eyes and try to recreate how it felt to be reporting at a big party.

Before I even walked in, I could feel the vibration of the bass. It felt heavy and thick, no doubt the result of professionally-assembled sound equipment. The sound waves literally hit me as I walked in the door, but not in an unpleasant way. My ears were just shocked. Soon they adjusted to the noise.

My eyes were what had to do the most adjusting. There was too much for them to take in. Neon colors tore through the darkness. In one instance, a new part of the scene was illuminated, but in the next instance, before my brain could fully process the image, it was gone. It was like constantly flashing in and out of focus. Faces. Glowsticks. Legs dancing. Music. Lights. Smoke. Fog. Sensory overload. Woah.

But almost as quickly as the Luna Light System sent colorful waves into the atmosphere, my senses had adjusted. They’d tasted the rave and were now plunging into its exquisite flavor. The lights gave the illusion that I was everywhere and nowhere at once. But the music diffusing from the stage through the air — it really was everywhere.

I could see what people meant when they said the music completely consumes you. If you like the music, that is. This would be a miserable experience for someone who hated the mixed up rhythms of electronic dance music, because there was no way you could escape it. It was fortunate, then, that most people there didn’t want to. The crowd on the dance floor moved without inhibition. Some of them on beat; some of them not. Some of them swayed; others jumped. Some dropped their heads and swung their hips; others swung their whole bodies. Some even did the running man. Regardless, they all moved to interpret the music that (they would tell you) they felt moving through them.

Not everyone was dancing. Bystanders on the periphery were still or only slightly moving. Whether from nerves, fatigue or the influence of a substance, they only watched. A few slowly filtered inward, the inhibition they saw in front of them and the persuasion of the music gently pushing them toward the dance floor.

If I didn’t have my notebook and pen to bring me back down to earth, I might have been consumed too, since I love all types of music and the sensory nature of the event is inescapable. As I scribbled a stream-of-consciousness-style list of observations, I realized my own incompetence to be able to paint a picture for my readers of just how sensory and cerebral these events are. It was a trip (pun definitely intended). I also realized the problem I was going to have in reporting this story.


The hardest part about writing for me is that I always seem to have more information than I can use. I ask sources question after question until every line in my notebook is filled with a mountain of information that will never fit into a news hole. It’s a better problem to have than not having enough information for a story, yes. But I struggle to find the balance between over- and under- reporting.

With the story I wrote about students trying to build up a “rave scene” in Bowling Green, I reported for about a month, maybe a little more. I went to three raves and a dub step show, talked to countless DJs and rave promoters and filled up four notebooks. My story had reached about 90 inches (an inch is about the length of a Twitter post in our paper) before I stopped typing up my notes. Then came the painful process of slicing and tweaking away inches of my precious story. It was basically the same as slicing and tweaking away pieces of myself, because I feel about my stories about the same way I imagine I would feel about a child.

So what did I learn? Well I certainly didn’t regret having all the information I could ever want. It was definitely an exercise in putting every interview in perspective and learning how to prioritize information based on how it tells the story. Also, letting other people read the “work in progress” is quite helpful, because you get a different viewpoint on what is really a necessary addition.

May 13, 2010

A home for my tangents

I’m a writer. I have a lot to say, and throughout my life, I’ve realized that I can say it so much better in writing than out loud. I’m not sure what career I’ll pursue or what my journalism experience will lead to, but I’ll always be a writer.

A problem I have when writing or just talking to my friends is that I ramble and go off on a million tangents. But in journalism, we value being concise and focused. So, I created this blog hoping to find a home for those random tangents.

This blog is also designed to complement my writing and keep people updated on my work. I’ll post links to published stories and write a little side story on the production of each one.

Visit my website that I designed in Dreamweaver. It’s a little rough, but it’s a start. It contains my clips, resume, and some bio information.

“Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.”