Video 29 Jun

A view of the fast water moving from Saylorville Lake into the Des Moines River today.

Text 6 Mar Observations about Netflix

Netflix the company that provides subscribers with movies on demand or in their mailboxes that can be ordered from the comfort of your own home has had quite the year. Beginning in summer 2011 and lasting for the rest of the year the company experienced some major public relations problems and angered many subscribers with new pricing and business plans. Many business analysis predicted that Netflix would be forced out of business. Here are a few of those problems:

  • In July Netflix changed their prices saying they would no longer charge subscribers $9.99 per-month for both streaming and one DVD at a time in the mail. The services would be split $7.99 per-month for streaming and $7.99 per-month to rent one DVD by mail at a time. If you wanted both services you would now be paying $15.98 per-month. Subscribers were not happy.
  • In September Netfix CEO and Co-Founder Reed Hastings said he made a mistake in how the price hike was handled and owed his subscribers an apology. In the same blog post he announced that they were renaming its DVD by mail service “Qwikster.” Now if you wanted both streaming and DVDs by mail you need to maintain two separate accounts on two different websites.
  • Then after a few weeks of bad press and what appeared to be lack of research about the name Qwikster Netflix announced that Qwikster would be abandoned and DVDs and streaming would be kept under the Netflix name.
  • These moves cost Netflix 800,000 U.S. subscribers by the end of October and its stock price thirty-seven percent.

However, despite loosing subscribers and receiving a lot of bed press this down turn seems short lived. The company began 2012 by saying that they gained 600,000 subscribers and its stock rose sixty percent. They also are working hard to increase their streaming content.

In the interest of full disclosure I have been a Netflix subscriber since 2010 and have been a satisfied subscriber. I decided to subscriber after seeing my DVD collection grow to over 100 movies on DVD. I don’t like going to the theater and all of the video stores in my town closed. If I wanted to watch a movie I would buy it and wound up with some movies I don’t know if I will watch all that often. So I signed up and over a year later have seen tons of movies that I would otherwise not have seen.

I was not bothered by the price change because I do not use the streaming service and with the one DVD out at a time I can average about two DVDs a week which is plenty for me. I am now saving $2.00 a month. The only downside to the mail service is that the DVD you want you might have to wait awhile for because lots of people have it out and you rely on the mail. In order to receive two DVDs a week I have to watch it and send it back the next day and if there is a holiday and a mail delivery day is lost I can only receive one DVD per week. Also if the post office goes through with planned facility closers in the coming months and delivery takes longer I will have to pay more in order to have more than one DVD out at a time.

Netflix might be steadying itself but here are a few of my observations that were not reported on:

  • Like me, under the new pricing some subscribers will be saving money because they either do not stream movies or receive them in the mail.
  • While I do not doubt that the future is in streaming movies it might not be the best option now. Currently I can get most DVDs that have been made in the mail, even though I may have to wait. Not every movie streams online for Netflix they are continuing to negotiate with studios to add streaming content after loosing some studios in 2011.
  • Netflix is not the only game in town there are alternatives.

Netflix will no doubt be a company to watch in 2012 after a very bumpy 2011. What do you think?

Text 14 Feb 1 note Remembering NIU 4 Years Latter

On February 14, 2008 a former student at Northern Illinois University entered a lecture hall and began shooting killing five students and injuring twenty-one others before taking his own life. I was a student journalist at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa at the time and the next day traveled to Northern Illinois to report on the memorial services and talk to students. I returned the next year for the first anniversary to report how the school community had changed and remembered those five students who lost their lives.

I am very proud of these two stories that show how the students came together in a time of tragedy to shine a light in the darkness. Both of these stories changed my perspective and made me a better journalist. I still remember walking around that campus four years ago. I share these stories with you below, please watch them and remember the five students who died and the Northern Illinois Community.

Today the NIU Community gathers again to remember. Last month Cole Hall, the site of the shootings, reopened after undergoing renovations.

Video 3 Feb 1 note

What a difference a year makes! On February 2, 2011 (left photo) I woke up to over 2 feet of snow. This was my street. One year later the same picture of my street on February 2, 2012 (right photo). Recent snows have melted and we have yet to record a foot of snow this year. Even though I like snow I don’t want 2 feet at once again, when I have to shovel.

Text 3 Feb 1 note What I’ve Been Doing the Past 8 Months

It’s been a really long time since I’ve posted to this blog. While I am still looking for a full-time job in journalism last May I returned to my seasonal job. I work in the summer months for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources as a seasonal site technician at Moraine Hills State Park and Volo Bog State Natural Area. My work schedule is full time and, unfortunately, I neglected this blog. Don’t get my wrong I had lots of topics I wanted to write about, but somehow just never made the time to write. I now resolve that since I am on hiatus from my job for the next few months or until I get a full time job in journalism to post more often.

I enjoy my work for the DNR. Working outside, with machines, and learning to operate and fix equipment is fun and I learn things. Most of my work consists of general park maintenance (picking up trash, mowing, chipping trees, etc), habitat restoration (clearing brush and restoring prairies), closing the park at night, and assisting park visitors (answering questions and enforcing park rules). I’ve worked here seasonally since 2008 and have moved up the ladder in the equipment I can operate, things I can do, and the input I have. It can be a great rewarding job. The job I like the best is tree chipping and preparing for the archery deer hunt. I don’t care for trimming the cattails away from the boardwalks. I don’t like that job because that was the job I was assigned my first day in July 2008 when it was close to 100 degrees.

This past year had a few highlights worth mentioning, none are the oppressive heat this summer:

  • First, we had to help out a fellow park, Illinois Beach State Park, after a large windstorm hit the park on June 30, 2011. We spent a week helping them cut down and pile trees. I have never seen so many downed trees. The park is still closed, but will hopefully open by April.
  • Then a huge wind storm struck northern Illinois the second week of July. Moraine Hills was closed for two days while we cleaned up downed tress of the trails and picnic areas. Then we had to help the Village of Lindenhurst, IL clean up after the storm. We took our chipper over there and traveled the streets with their public works crews chipping up branches in people’s yards.
  • Archery and shot gun deer hunting returned for another season. I was able to work the check station. I checked in three deer, one hunter did not gut his deer.
  • I spent four weeks in November and December grinding stumps in an area near Volo Bog where we are working on a prairie restoration.
  • Some improvements were made to the park as well. More portions of our eleven mile trail system has been paved to prevent erosion and an old boardwalk was removed to name a few. We were also able to get some new equipment as well.

Moraine Hills and Volo Bog are great places to visit and if you are in the McHenry, Illinois area I encourage you to check them out. Don’t get me wrong while I love and take pride in my work there I am still actively pursuing a journalism job. I’m hoping that will happen any day now. Check back for more observations on my life experiences.

Text 4 Apr Observations on the 2011 Chicago White Sox

The 2011 baseball season is underway and the Chicago White Sox are off to a nice start (currently 2-1). After spending a ton of money during the off season, resigning team captain Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski and acquiring free agent Adam Dunn among other moves, the White Sox now have an all time high payroll of $127 million. I think this is going to be a very productive year for the White Sox and am glad they decided to go “All In” this year. I plan on going to a lot of games this summer more than the one I went to last year. After poor spring training record I predict they will bust loose and go for it this year.

Here are my observations/predictions on how the 2011 baseball season will go for the White Sox.

  • The White Sox will finish first in the American League Central and win in the playoffs. I’m going to stop short of saying they will win the World Series, even though I hope they do.
  • Pitcher Jake Peavy will return from his injury and preform well, but hopefully doesn’t over exert himself.
  • Expect lots of hits led by Dunn and Konerko.
  • Wins from the pitching staff with starter John Danks with the most wins.
  • The Sox improve on their poor performance last year amongst teams in their division.
  • General Manager Kenny Williams and Manager Ozzie Guillen will get along and there will be no off field issues.
  • There will be some struggles during the season but nothing too serious. 
  • After doing almost nothing in the off season and choking once again while playing the Yankees in the playoffs the Minnesota Twins’ days in first place in the central are done they’ll finish in third.

    Here are my baseball predictions for the 2011 playoffs:

    American League:

    • Central: Chicago White Sox
    • East: Boston Red Sox
    • West: Oakland Athletics
    • Wild Card: New York Yankees (almost always comes from the East)
    • AL Champion: Boston Red Sox

    National League:

    • Central: Cincinnati Reds
    • East: Philadelphia Phillies 
    • West: San Diego Padres
    • Wild Card: Atlanta Braves
    • NL Champion: Philadelphia Phillies 

    World Series Champion: Boston Red Sox

    Team that will have a surprise season: Pittsburgh Pirates

    Note to Chicago Cubs fans you will have another disappointing season. Until you make more aggressive front office and on field moves you will continue to disappoint your legions of fans.

    My hope for this season: That the aggressive off season moves by Kenny Williams pay off and the White Sox are successful and that Chicago becomes a White Sox town. I think the first will happen before the second.

    I can’t wait to come back at the end of October and see how right or wrong I was on these picks. I hoping to be right on many of them, except that the White Sox are hoisting The Commissioner’s Trophy. Here’s to an exciting 2011 baseball season. Lets Go Go Go White Sox!!! I’m ALL IN! Are you? 

    Text 16 Mar 12 notes Observations on the Closing of 200 Borders Stores

    Last month Borders announced that they were closing 200 stores nationwide. One of those stores to close, Store # 503, is in my hometown, McHenry, Illinois. Discounts are enticing customers to come out and take advantage of the “Store Closing Sale” snatching up all kinds of books at discount prices. As I walked around the store, possibly for the last time tonight a few observations caught my eye. First if as many people who are here for the closing sale came and bought books like this when the store was operating normally then maybe this location might have been saved from closure. Second, by closing this store and the one in neighboring Crystal Lake (Store #265) leaving McHenry County with out a Borders location they are potentially loosing the business of some customers forever.

    Let me explain what I mean: For the sake of this argument we’re going to assume that the only major chain bookstore alternative to Borders is Barnes & Noble. I wondered with the Borders in my community closing what chain would I be now more likely to visit? I went to both store’s websites entered my zip code and checked to see which was closer. As I expected Barnes & Noble was closer, they have a store in Crystal Lake, IL seven miles away. The nearest Borders is now fifteen miles away in Algonquin, IL. The other reason why I will more than likely be shopping at Barnes & Noble is because their store in Vernon Hills, IL is attached to the shopping mall I go to, Hawthorne Center. Based on this experiment and my lifestyle patterns I assume that I will be going to Barnes & Noble more often now as it will be easier to get to. I wonder if this factors into a company’s decision as to what stores to close?

    Both Borders and Barnes & Noble each have different things going for them and I enjoy shopping in both. I am going to miss having a bookstore in my hometown a few minutes away from my house. I enjoy spending time in a bookstore looking browsing through the magazines and books. I like to read but don’t always find the time. There are a few too many unread books on my shelves. I have so many books that I don’t have room for them all in my bedroom. I need to get a job and  move out of my parents’ house so I have a place for my books. Jerry Seinfeld had a great exchange with George on his show in the episode The Ex-Girlfriend about why people keep books they’ve already read. I can relate to that, but I have gone back to many of them for reference and think if I get rid of one then I’ll need it. There’s something about having a lot of books in your house it makes you seem well read and knowledgeable. Most of my books are nonfiction.

    I hope bookstores remain there is just something nice about having the hard copy of a book. I might read a newspaper or magazine on a tablet device, but not a book I’d loose focus. Hopefully I make it back to the McHenry Borders before it closes so I can take advantage of good books at reduced prices to add to my library, I’ve bought three already.

    Text 23 Feb 2 notes Observations on the Jeopardy IBM Challenge

    I have always been a fan of Jeopardy. I began watching it many years ago when I was too young to get any of the answers correct, but I think I learned somethings watching and had fun guessing. Jeopardy was the first computer game I remember playing, again I was too young to answer most of the questions correctly and win the Windows 3.1 version of the game. By the time I graduated to the Windows XP version of the game I could beat the two computer challengers most of the time. I still have that version on my home computer but haven’t played in a while. I do not watch Jeopardy that often now but if I am free at 3:30pm (the time it airs in Chicago) I will put it on to see just how much I know about the categories of the day

    Naturally, I was intrigued by the Jeopardy IBM Challenge in which an IBM computer, named Watson, competed against the biggest winners in the show’s history, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Like many I was curious to see how a computer would do versus humans. I predicted that Watson would win. A week before the competition the PBS science series NOVA aired a program called Smartest Machine on Earth which explained how IBM developed Watson. If you want to learn how check the episode out online.

    After learning how Watson works I watch the Jeopardy episodes last week and the one thing that struck me is how fast Watson could buzz in. Suddenly I remembered my experience playing the game on my home computer. In the game you cannot buzz in until the host is finished reading the question then you have to react and buzz in. If you buzz before the question is finished you are locked out for 0.25 seconds. It seemed to me that Watson had an advantage here just like the computer players in the home version of the game. Many times when I would play the newer version of the computer game against two non-human players they would buzz in immediately after the question was read. Even with my had touching the space bar I was no match for the computer. I would always think this is not fair, the same I thought could be said of Watson since it buzzed in immediately most of the time with the correct answer. The computer scientists say that humans have the advantage because we can anticipate by timing the clue. Watson uses and algorithm to guess when it is safe to buzz. That may be true but I am still skeptical. I think Watson has the advantage when it comes to buzzing and wagering, both topics not covered in great detail in the NOVA episode.

    I offer these observations:

    • A human must program Watson to compete and retrieve information.
    • Even without access to the internet Watson still holds more scanned information that the human brain. I may know about current events but I do not have the entire New York Times scanned in my brain.
    • Watson did not do so well when given answers with few keywords or with creative question and category writing.
    • The few times Watson was wrong it was way off.
    • The human brain is still superior in what we can comprehend.
    • I do not think I would do well competing against Watson, but it would be fun.

    While the challenge was fun to watch, I will take three human competitors any day. A computer needs a human to program it and fix it when things go wrong so I do not think this proved that computers are going to take over. I think will go back to playing the computer version of the game more or download the app for my iPhone. Maybe one day I will be a contestant on the Jeopardy. 

    Photo 2 Feb The Blizzard of 2011 clean up. Looking down my street, a major one in town very few people out today. McHenry, Illinois.

    The Blizzard of 2011 clean up. Looking down my street, a major one in town very few people out today. McHenry, Illinois.

    Text 31 Dec Good Riddance 2010!!!

    As I write this post only a few hours remain in the year that was 2010. I don’t know about you but I can’t wait for this year to over. In my entire twenty-three years of life I can honestly say this one so far has been the worst.

    Two weeks ago I sat at my computer to write my Christmas letter to my former piano teacher. I started sending it a few years ago to let her know what I had been doing in college. In her card every year she says just how much she and her husband love reading my letter. This year I dreaded that task because I had very little to say. This was not one in which I had many accomplishments. This past year I spent trying to find a job almost a year after graduating college. Most of the good times centered around sports.

    The Good Times (few and far between):

    • Watched the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup and went to the victory parade.
    • Went to the last White Sox game of the season after one roller coaster of a season.
    • Went to Soldier Field for the first time to see my team, the Arizona Cardinals, take down the Chicago Bears. (Both charted different paths after that game)
    • Got my five month seasonal job back at the IDNR
    • Got an iPhone.

    The Bad Times:

    • Applied for hundreds of jobs, didn’t get any of them.
    • Was stood up by those that did contact me. (They were all at places I would still love to work, I hope they have openings in 2011 I’ll be the first to apply)
    • Was denied a job at my college that I basically had before.
    • My boss’ request for an extension of my seasonal job was denied after being approved in 2009
    • After my seasonal job ended I have no income so I spend my days around the house.

    I have hope that thing will turn around in the next year. I wish I could go back and erase the memory of the past year but I can’t. Instead I’ll take the lessons I learned and let them shape who I am. It does give me insight and an understand of new situations.

    My hopes for 2011:

    • To find a job in journalism/broadcasting in a great city.
    • To somehow make a difference.
    • To make some money and move out of my parents house.
    • To once again know and experience success.
    • To put some of my plans for a television news station into place.

    So tonight I’ll be going to bed early and waking up early in the morning. I’d rather celebrate 2011 by starting it it right away. I have lots of ideas and plans for that job. I have a feeling that great things are about to happen. I can’t wait!

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