Archive for May, 2010

HOW TO SUCCEED IN A ONE NEWSPAPER TOWN

May 25th, 2010
By



After decades of thrills and chills as to which paper was going first, the Advertiser is “it” and the Star-Bulletin gets to inherit the circulation. It won’t have to do much to inherit the circulation. Some say it’ll have to “win over” the Advertiser readers, but I think they’ll be eager for a paper.

The Star-Bulletin will probably hire some Advertiser people, but the reality is they don’t have to increase their “news hole” or staff to inherit the circulation. They don’t have to spend money to win anyone over. Against the union, they’re unlikely to make much room for refugee journalists.

Starting June 7th, the surviving Star-Advertiser will probably be no bigger than today’s Star-Bulletin, but will draw the circulation of both the Star-Bulletin and the Advertiser. It will be double fold broadsheet, and will in that way remind us all of the Advertiser, rest its soul.

ROLE OF THE SURVIVOR

The question is whether it’ll feature front page crime stories the way the Star-Bulletin regularly does or tend toward leading stories on larger issues. And that’s the reason for my blog – to explore the role and implications of the surviving paper in what will be a one paper community.

In a one paper community, that paper can really let things go, and what are we to do about it. They can print anything that suits them, or avoid printing anything they like, and the hard core paper readers will subscribe nevertheless. Indeed, how will they know the difference?

You can say those readers have the option of going online to get their news, and undoubtedly some will or would, but only some. This is where the generations divide – the younger readers will go to the net and the older ones will require the paper to be in paper and stay that way.

I suppose you can say all news is local. For national and international news, you can go to a myriad of sources to find out what’s going on. It’s the local news that connects us to our neighbors and binds us to our community. Without it, we’re detached and disconnected.

More, it enhances the quality of our community, and without it we are less of a community. In that way, a newspaper reporting local news has a profound effect on our lives. We want to know and we need to know what the people around us are doing, and how that affects us.

This, in my view, is the problem. Because they need to know, people trust the word in print. It’s a great trust that falls on the diminishing newspapers or in this case the one newspaper. We trust them to tell us the truth and not to omit anything. It’s more now a sacred trust.

SECOND HAND READERS

Papers are a primary information lifeline. Even if you don’t read them yourself, lots of people around you do. Those people tell what they found out from the papers and you listen, and this makes you a second hand reader, like someone who breathes second hand smoke.

If there’s something in the paper that’s wrong, or missing, you, as part of a networking group of primary and second hand readers, are affected by the error. You rely on the paper even though you don’t think you do.

In a two newspaper community, the papers do look across the street to see what the other is doing and reporting, and not reporting. That’s the nature of competition and invidious comparison. In a one newspaper community, that kind of competition doesn’t happen.

Will the surviving paper in a one paper community be as careful without the other one to look over its shoulder? Intentional or otherwise, its errors and agendas can have a profound effect on what we individually and collectively learn and ultimately do. This is no small thing.

What would have happened had there been only one paper when the Advertiser refused to print Randy Roth’s Broken Trust article? You got it – that story would never had been printed, we would never have known, the events that followed would never have happened and the abuses at the Bishop Estate might never have been addressed.

This is not just a matter of informing the public – informing the public also changes the way they think and act. It changes events and thus history. News is never in a vacuum. So it’s really scary to think that in a one paper community there are things we might never find out about.

Perhaps a scandal that we might prevent next time, a threat that we might otherwise respond to, an epidemic that might present a risk to the community, a criminal who might repeat his crime, or an opportunity that might offer us all a break. Knowledge is power, and safety.

The possibilities are endless, and the level of trust we can and do repose in the papers is therefore extraordinary and a cornerstone of our society. That’s why the loss of one of only two papers in a given community is such a problem.

A DRAMA OR PERHAPS A TRAGEDY

The threat of losing one of our two papers has been nipping at our heels for twenty years or more, somehow running a parallel to the loss of our symphony. Both show that our tastes and interests have changed, and not necessarily for the better. A drama or, better put, a tragedy.

A newspaper is one of the few things in your daily life that is yours, that belongs to you, in which you have a proprietary if not possesory interest. It’s MY newspaper, because it speaks to me and tells me things before anyone else does, and because I need it to be part of things
.
No one likes to read a used newspaper. It’s more than the crumpled page or the jumbled sections. It simply doesn’t have the same cache, immediacy and authority that a fresh newspaper off the stand or on your doorstep or desk has when you start your day.

Without it, your day is somehow off balance. There is a silence, a disconnect and disability in navigating your course through work and play, a missing link in your dealings with others. It’s like forgetting to take your pills or shave. It’s like leaving your wristwatch on the counter.

To have our options cut by half, just after having our TV news cut into a third, should make us feel at least a little empty, and sad - sad for the newspaper people who will lose their jobs, sad for the weakening of our community, and sad for our kids who will learn just a little less than before. We’ll all feel it, even those who subscribed to the Star-Bulletin in the first place.

Not many will be able to move to the Star-Bulletin. Some will retire. Some will leave town, and some have already left. We’re losing some of the best and brightest in our journalistic community. That’s the most immediate part of the tragedy, but the quiet part is also sad.

With two papers, competition in the industry keeps the fire going. With one paper, the survivor is pretty much untouchable. You want to submit a letter or op-ed piece? If the Star-Advertiser doesn’t take it, your story is toast. You want to complain? Write a letter to the same editor.

Hawaii is in trouble on so many issues - our economy, our government, our bureaucracy, education, environment, and more. We need to know what’s going on. Being a one paper community will put us further behind. If you don’t know what’s wrong, how can you fix it?

A FEW MODEST SUGGESTIONS

So let me make some suggestions to the people who will now keep us informed:

Be nice to the reporters or they’ll leave town like the musicians and doctors. Pay them well and treat them well. Make them heroes and role models. Encourage them to speak and participate in the community. Give them a decent career so the kids will see and study journalism again.

Take articles like Broken Trust – it’s your duty and a great tradition of the Star-Bulletin. Have volunteer journalists. Encourage expertise, investigative reporting, candor and chutzpath, within limits. Except in the case of event promotions, don’t just reprint press releases.

John Temple was right – don’t accept anonymous comments. If these people are not willing to tell you who they are, don’t let them into a place where they can mess things up. Anonymity is unnecessary, and is a license for irresponsibility and spitefulness, which helps no one.

How about scrupulously separating news from comment and avoiding destructive agendas? At the same time, how about trying to avoid editorial attacks against legitimate progress in our state? Would it be so hard to support technology and the diversification of our economy?

If you find that you’re losing money, tell us. We don’t want you to fail too. It just may be that the public would pay more for a copy or a subscription in order to keep our last newspaper running. Who knows? That approach might have saved the Advertiser too. Give nonprofits substantial discounts on ads. Give up on the classified ads and let Craig’s List do it.

Make old stories easily accessible to the public, forever and for free. Yes, free. This is a great service for the public, for other journalists and for the kids in school, and with modern server and search technology it’s not very expensive to do it. The benefits will be enormous.

Some people will always require a print copy, so keep on printing. But make a mirror image of it online with a great website bristling with links and videos. Make it a snap to find things. Keep on sending news links by email once or possibly twice a day, even to non-subscribers.

And most important of all, someone needs to start another paper – at this point we clearly don’t have enough of them.

Posted in 1 | Comments Off

THE NEW MOBILITY – HONDA REINVENTS THE WHEEL

May 17th, 2010
By



You have to see this – it’s like a puzzle, and a thrill, for every engineer and mechanical buff. It’s like a Segway, but somehow better, particularly when you think of the prospects. In any event, it is completely neat, and everyone who sees the video of it says they want one. One person said I want one now, and another one for when I get older. You’ll see what I mean.

What am I talking about? It’s the Honda Personal Mobility Device, U3-X, which utilizes the world's first “omni-directional driving wheel system.” The best way for me to describe it is to give you this link to the video: http://www.flixxy.com/honda-u3-x-personal-mobility-device.htm. As you’ll see, it looks like a 3-foot collapsible stool with a folding seat on a figure eight design and two pedals to put your feet on. Somehow, with what must be a flywheel mechanism, it stands even though it looks like it’s going to fall over.

You sit on the seat, you put your feet on the pedals, you lean in the direction you want to go, and the U3-X takes you there. In that regard, it’s definitely one generation beyond the Segway. It doesn’t have handlebars or anything of that sort – your hands are completely free, to carry things or balance yourself, even though balancing doesn’t appear to be necessary. You just sit and lean where you want to go.

From the video, it looks very easy to ride. And the way it continues to stand upright seems incredible, even magic, something you can learn very quickly, even instantly. But how can this device stand in place without falling down? The video says “balance control technology” sends a signal to the wheel based on data received from an “angle tilt sensor.” Of course - why didn’t I think of that?

Honda says it moves in whatever direction you lean in and requires very little effort on the part of the rider, who always retains a stable center of balance. From the video, that seems quite so. To avoid tipping over, the U3-X proceeds in the direction that it is learning in order to “regain its balance.” It’s all about sensors that can determine the tilt of the machine and send a message to a variable direction drive wheel.

Your heels are on the extendable pedals and your toes very nearly hit the floor. I suppose you can use your toes as brakes if you want to stop or turn, although from the video it appears you can also stop by simply leaning back. The wheel is variable in the fullest sense – if you lean to the side, the U3-X will effortlessly move to the side. In fact, it will immediately move to whatever direction you lean to – highly controllable 360 degree mobility at every moment.

How does leaning forward, sideways or backwards enable the device to move in that direction? Answer – it has a unique wheel structure called the Honda Omni Traction Drive System. The drive system is comprised of a ring of small wheels overlapping a single large wheel for seamless omni-directional movement. It’s very sophisticated, even amazing, and I expect it could used for many such applications.

When moving forward or backward, the large wheel rotates. When moving left or right, the small wheels, set on a different axis, rotate. Diagonal movement is achieved when both the large and small wheels operate simultaneously. Due to its compact and advance packaging, and the natural line of sight provided, people in the vicinity don’t feel threatened. Both hands are free so carrying packages while moving is simple.

Honda claims the U3-X represents personal mobility in harmony with humanity, and shows two riders riding slowly through a museum. Indeed, the device would seem to be the perfect way to get around a museum. This does appear to be, as Honda claims, a next generation innovation. But one wonders whether it will in fact fall over, how well it will do on hills and roads and at greater speeds, and what battery life can be achieved.

One thing is clear – the combination of the sensor and the drive system is remarkable and will undoubtedly lead to other functionalities and devices that will move people and perhaps other things in ways we have not seen before. It is somehow reminiscent of a robot, and of robot technology, and my guess is that at least some of the tricks used to design this device are derived from robot technology. In any event, it suggests how far that technology has come.

Want to see more about this and related robotic devices? See http://dreams.honda.com/robotics-mobility/?ef_id=1097:3:c_764d266aca5c5532c8ef481b0d7e2dae_3597082768:S-JA6dB6MjYAADk3AMAAAAHA:20100518072529. Honda says the U3-X is experimental, intended to emulate human walking, and that Honda will continue its development. For another video demonstrating the device, see http://www.youtube.com/user/Honda#p/p/2FEFAF55603817E7/0/zCSQPnGkt78.

Posted in 1 | Comments Off

WE’RE NOT GETTING AROUND SO WELL ANYMORE

May 12th, 2010
By



ThinkTech is taking footage of clean energy facilities all around the state for the Energy Policy Forum conference scheduled on June 4th, and the first place we set up was the Big Island. If you hadn't noticed, coach seats have become very expensive, but since coach wasn't available on the required flight, we had to go first class to get there on time, and for two people the one day trip cost us $700, twice the coach price, no kidding. Oh for the good old days.

That deep breathing exercise got me thinking that we have a transportation problem in the state – it’s simply too expensive to bring things in or to travel or ship things from island to island. The carriers blame the cost of fuel, but whether that cost goes up or down it seems like the marine surcharges and the flight tickets just go up – not down. The cost of fuel will undoubtedly continue to rise, and so will the cost of interisland travel.

We’re in trouble on this. As everyone must know, any increase in transportation costs affects everything else and makes prices and the cost of living higher throughout our state economy. A quart of milk costs lots more here than on the mainland, but it’s not only the milk – it’s everything we buy.

At the same time, wages here are lower than on the mainland. And we’ve lost jobs too. And we’ve increased taxes. While our transportation costs have gone up, our disposable income has gone down. All this leads to an exacerbation of our traditional wage-cost pinch and puts pressure on transportation.

Then there’s tourism, our economic lifeblood. We’ve committed to tourism and have done nothing to diffuse our dependency on it. Tourism in turn is completely dependent on transportation. If the cost of transportation increases, the number of tourists decreases. That’s another factor that reduces jobs, business activity, the tax base and ultimately the economy. That’s the awful price of a mono-economy.

Look what’s happening to the airlines. Japan carriers have reduced flights. That’s why Mazie Hirono could get a route for Hawaiian Airlines to Japan, to pick up the slack. And where are the China flights Linda Lingle has been promising us for years? The magic carpet of our tourist economy is at risk.

At the moment, our entire transportation is based on fossil fuel, from interisland to international air carriers to marine carriers to interisland barges. Even rail when it’s built. Our entire transportation system is dependent on fossil fuel. As the cost of that fuel goes up, the problem will become even more severe.

Sure the $700 air fare is a pail of cold water, but once you get over the shock, you start thinking of the implications. What about a family trip? What about a business trip? Major bummers. Is this just about fossil fuel, or could it somehow also be related to the loss of Aloha Air as a second carrier? I think so. The loss of competition in the airline marketplace is bound to push prices up – everybody knows that.

In the 60’s there was a great access in our island-to-island transportation. You could go anywhere with a minimum of cost and delay. For $20 so many local people took their coolers to the neighbor islands on weekends, so quick, so easy and so cheap. No TSA, no waiting, just coolers and fun. Families reuniting, school classes touring, recreation replete. But as prices increased, these things have become rare.

Some people still don’t get it, but it’s settling in on most of us what an incredible mistake Superferry was for our state, now an island state without the prospect of a ferry. Want to visit your family or friends on a neighbor island, want to make a small business trip? Want to ship your car or your produce among the islands, better talk with Young Brothers or Hawaiian Tug. Forget about the convenience of a Superferry.

And most inter-island state business is conducted in person rather than by video conferences because the legislature has not seen fit to change the Sunshine Law and the state has not seen fit to install the necessary video equipment. I doubt that’s going to get fixed anytime soon, but in the meantime, the taxpayers are spending a fortune for frequent trips of officials when those trips can be easily avoided.

Beyond that it’s also a psychological thing. Some people in the Superferry debacle made it clear they didn’t want people taking Superferry to THEIR neighbor island. Conceptually, our transportation problem separates the islands in the chain and makes us less cohesive and effective as a state. Really, how can the state grow and prosper if people can’t get around from one part of it to another?

This barrier puts us at a tremendous disadvantage – everywhere else in the country you hop in your car and drive across your state at minimal expense. The island-to-island barrier in Hawaii is more than just a transportation barrier, it is a barrier to everything. As we move into the 21st Century, do you really think this can continue for any length of time with having a huge negative effect on state development?

Take medicine. Specialists are leaving the neighbor islands and there is insufficient medicine on those islands. So an aging population has to travel to Oahu for medical care. These people are becoming dependent on island-to-island transportation for their medical care, but the cost of that transportation is getting more expensive, effectively depriving them of care at a reasonable cost. This will get worse.

I haven’t even mentioned the horrendous traffic problems we have on all islands, especially Oahu. The City of Honolulu has done zero to fix those problems but has rather capitalized on them to make us accept the mayor’s rail project. The fact is that (a) traffic is often impenetrable, (b) it doesn’t have to be that way, (c) the City has done nothing to fix it, (d) rail as presently planned will not fix the traffic, (e) the public is misinformed, (f) it will cost us a fortune, and (g) because of that cost rail may never get done.

So you see, Hawaii has serious and growing transportation problems, which affect not only our ability to get around. They undermine our economy and our quality of life, and we must address them vigorously if we are to keep up in a competitive world and avoid becoming a backwater.

What can we do about it? Everything. When should we do this? Immediately, and certainly well before next year's APE, when this could get really embarrasing.

Posted in 1 | Comments Off