Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hey Mom, I'm a Broadcaster Now

When I was a kid I thought it would be cool to be on the radio as a disc jockey. My dad was into CB radios back then and he had a decent set of walkie-talkies that he let me borrow to play with. Walkie-talkies are not all that powerful. They might have a range of about one block if you’re lucky. But that was fine by me; I was on the air.

So I dragged out an old turntable from the attic and got my collection of 45 RPM records, all 10 of them, and started my new radio station from my bedroom. This was in the 1960s, so I had songs by Peter, Paul, and Mary and the Beach Boys. I played them on the air for any close neighbor who may have had his CB tuned to channel 11. There probably weren’t any, since my dad got no complaints.

When I entered college, one of the few extracurricular activities I signed up for was to be on the college radio station. It could get out no more than about 10 miles on a good day. Still, that was a far cry from the one-block range of my old walkie-talkie radio station. I would spin records once or twice a week, for a couple of hours. When I was a junior, a couple of college friends and I even started the stations first daily newscast.

My career goal was to teach science. I made up my mind when I was in the eleventh grade that I wanted to be a science teacher. So there was never any doubt that I would pursue that career. But my fall-back plan was to also get my broadcasting license and apply to be either a disc jockey or a newscaster. It’s a good thing I got into teaching my first year after graduation, because none of the broadcasting opportunities panned out.

A few years ago, however, a new type of broadcasting was invented. And it didn’t really have anything to do with a radio station. After the invention of the mp3 player, Apple Computers came out with the de facto standard of portable music players, the iPod. But iPods and other mp3 players can play more than just music. Some can now play video as well, but they all can play voice-only mp3 files. In other words, if you can speak into a microphone, you can now create an mp3 file and upload it to the Internet.

These voice mp3 files that are meant to be played back on an iPod are called podcasts. So now, anybody can create their own radio show. Podcasts have been around for a few years, but last week I decided to start my own.

Some people use their podcasts to play an instrument, or sing. But most podcasts are used as a medium to give your opinions to anyone out there who will listen. People find podcasts by subscribing to the show, much as they would subscribe to a blog. The iTunes software, that comes with iPods and can be downloaded off the Internet, has thousands of podcasts on every conceivable topic. Many of them have video. Mine doesn’t.

I use my podcast to discuss the opinions I express in these columns. Since I just started podcasting, I have been creating one every day. Later, I’ll cut back to once a week when I get caught up with everything I want to say.

Anybody who is interested in checking out my podcast can just search for my name on iTunes. If you don’t have an iPod, you can go to my feed site at and click on the podcast link.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Forty Years and Still Writing

It recently occurred to me that it has been 40 years since I wrote my first newspaper column. I was 15 at the time. And this year marks the 15th anniversary of my first regular Over Coffee column.

My first Over Coffee column appeared in Edinburgh’s Tricounty News in March, 1993. I had been working part time for that weekly for a couple of years, contributing some news stories and editorials. But in 1993, I decided to quit my miserable job babysitting inner-city teens at Job Corps and start a new career in local journalism.

The title of this column, Over Coffee, is not exactly original. It isn't that I couldn't come up with anything new or different if I wanted to. It's just that I wanted to take the opportunity to continue a tradition started by one of my predecessors in the newspaper business, someone to whom I owe much of my present interest in newspaper writing.

Long-time Edinburgh residents probably know the answer to this. Who had a column of the same name in another Edinburgh newspaper about 40 years ago? And what was the name of that paper?

The name of the newspaper was The Edinburgh Daily Courier. Yes, it was a daily back then. Francis and Sarah Otto owned and published that newspaper until the middle-1960s. The Courier was sold to the Franklin Evening Star, which later became the Daily Journal. Bill Hale became the editor. It was Hale who gave me my first shot at writing a regular column for the newspaper.

I was interested in the weather back then, as now. I was only a sophomore in high school, but Bill came over to my house and took some pictures of my "state-of-the-art" weather instruments (such as a rooster wind vane, a large empty can with a ruler for a rain gauge, a window thermometer, and a cheap barometer).

He did a story on me and my interest in the weather. That kicked-off a regular daily feature which included my hand-drawn weather map of the United States and a forecast. It was 1968; I had no computer to produce digital maps. I actually drew a U.S. map freehand every morning.

Occasionally, I would even write an article to accompany my forecast and map. One of those articles, complete with diagrams, was called The Anatomy of a Thunderstorm. It was also picked up by The Republic in Columbus, Indiana.

Bill wrote a daily column in the Courier. He called it Over Coffee. And to think, he had to come up with something new and different EVERY DAY!

A few years ago, I was digging through an old chest of drawers that belonged to my late Aunt Ruby. She would keep almost everything I produced back then. I noticed several old yellow newspapers, advertising milk at 69 cents per gallon. They all contained some of my original newspaper material. I hate to think my style hasn't improved, but they really were not too bad for a high-school kid!

For several years, until the paper folded (and, no, I don't think I had anything to do with that), I continued to provide the daily weather forecast for Edinburgh. I wrote my forecast and drew my map every morning after I got dressed and would slip my copy underneath the door of the Courier office on my way to school. And in the afternoon, it would be in the paper, as if by magic.

Anyway, that is the origin of this column. I offer a thank you to the late Bill Hale for the start, and for the idea. Have a cup on me, Bill. But I still prefer decaf.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

New Dedicated URL

Well I finally decided to give my blog it's very own URL. So if you are a regular reader, or want to become one (hint, hint), please point your browser to...

...and be sure to bookmark it!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Stay Close to Home by Wandering Indiana

With the price of gasoline so expensive these days, a lot of folks are opting to stay close to home for their vacations. Last year my daughter and I took a trip to the coast of North Carolina. The year before that, we went to both Niagara Falls and to Holland, Michigan. But this year, it was one trip and we stayed in state. We went to French Lick.

Back in 1988, I wrote a supplemental resource book for my earth science class that I was teaching. It was during the summer, so I had the time to wander Indiana, as the slogan went in those days. I crisscrossed the state in an effort to learn as much as I could about Indiana’s geology and its unique landscapes.

This summer, I am endeavoring to update my supplement and publish it online. But I was thinking that, since I was in the wandering of Indiana mode again, I would share some of the nice sites that I’ve visited with my readers, just in case you want to stick close to home this year as well.

First of all, let me point out that the landscape of the northern two-thirds of Indiana is a legacy of the Ice Age. Vast ice sheets covered much of Indiana from about 70,000 years ago until about 10,000 years ago. Actually, there were three other periods of glaciation prior to that, dating back about two million years.

One of the most striking features of the ice sheets are the Great Lakes. The basins were dug out by the ice, and then filled with water when the ice melted. A great place to see one of the five Great Lakes is from Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Lake Michigan has formed giant sand dunes on its southern and eastern flanks. The sand has piled to an impressive 123 feet at Mount Baldy near Michigan City. Indiana Dunes State Park also offers some imposing dunes to climb or just photograph. It also has a fantastic beach that you can drive right up to.

While on your way to Lake Michigan, traveling up Interstate-65, you might take note of the large flat expanse of land near the Kankakee River. This in an outwash plain that was formed as ice melted from the glacier as it retreated northward about 11,000 years ago. And just before you get to Lake County, the land starts to rise with a gradual slope. This is the Valparaiso Moraine. A moraine is a large ridge of debris that was left behind at the edge of the ice sheet. Glaciers carry all kinds of debris, scratched loose from the bedrock of places in Canada and the northern U.S. on their way southward during their initial advance.

Sometimes, water flowing off the side of a glacier deposits mounds of sediment in small mounds. These hills are called kames, and School Hill in Edinburgh is one of them.

Northern and central Indiana are covered with glacial till, a thick layer of sediment deposited by the ice. Southern Indiana, however, has bedrock close to the surface. One of the few remnants of the Ice Age in southern Indiana is the drainage pattern. The Ohio River, for example, was not always where it is today. It was created by the glaciers.

The Ohio River eroded deep into the bedrock and left small creeks, such as Clifty Creek, high above, resulting in water falls. These can be explored at Clifty Creek State Park near Madison.

Another feature of southern Indiana, not related to the glaciers, is the karst topography. And by that, I mean caves, sink holes, and Indiana’s Lost River. Caves are carved into limestone by slightly acidic groundwater. At Spring Mill State Park, you can take a boat tour through one of the caves. Through Orange County flows the Lost River. Now you see it; now you don’t. It flows part of its way above ground, then disappears into the porous limestone, only to reappear several miles downstream from underneath a road bed.

Indiana really does have some nice geological features for those who are into geology. And if you’re not, they still make nice places to hike and take photos. And wandering Indiana is much cheaper than going cross-country.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

We Can Have More Oil and a Clean Environment

Back in the early 1970s, during the oil crisis brought on by an Arab embargo, there was a major push by the American oil companies to build a gigantic pipeline through Alaska, from the Arctic permafrost to the southern coast.

As an idealistic college student who got caught up in the environmental movement of the time, I was opposed to the pipeline. I even sent a telegram to Pres. Nixon urging him to quit backing the effort to build it.

But, alas, the pipeline was built and we starting reaping the benefits of the petroleum flowing through it. The environmentalists won a partial victory in that the design of the pipeline had to be such that it did not melt the permafrost and did not hamper caribou migration.

Fast-forward 35 years or so and we are in the midst of another energy crisis. Gasoline prices are well over four dollars a gallon and continue to creep upward. And just like in the 1970s, there are environmental groups that want to derail any effort to exploit more domestic sources of oil.

But his time around, I’m not on board with them. We learn from our accomplishments from the past, and our mistakes. We know that we can exploit our natural resources without destroying the environment we take them from.

I don’t often agree with the Bush administration on anything. But I do agree that opening up some of our shorelines to drilling for oil, as well as the national park areas of Alaska, would help alleviate the energy crisis. And according to the experts, we can obtain the new oil without destroying the environment.

Critics also point out that any new oil would be at least 10 years away. Well, that’s probably true. But does anyone think the energy crisis will be over in 10 years? No; it will be far worse. The new oil will be coming on line at a time we will need it even more than we do today.

Nuclear energy is another technology that needs to be restarted. We haven’t built a nuclear power plant in the U.S. for 30 years. The ones we do have are aging. Replacing them with modern plants would be safer. Building additional ones would decrease our reliance on foreign oil and would also be much cleaner for the atmosphere. Nuclear fuel also does not add to global warming.

We have to strike a balance between protecting our environment and protecting our lifestyle. With new technologies, we can actually have the best of both worlds. But many of today’s environmentalists are stuck in the 1970s. They equate all progress with raping the land, and it need not be so. It wasn’t even always true back then.

If we started a national drive to build 100 new nuclear power plants and replace some of the old ones within 20 years, and if we allow off-shore drilling and the exploration of the Arctic for new oil sources, we could become energy independent. And as long as we made the efforts we did back in 1975 not to destroy the environment while we’re taking the oil from it, our kids and grand-kids will enjoy cleaner air than we do.

Energy independence is within our reach. We just need to start realizing that gaining that independence doesn’t necessarily mean destroying the environment. We need to start using what we have and stop relying on foreign sources for our energy.