Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Driving in New Jersey

The one thing I don't think I'll ever get used to is driving in this state. Particularly on the Garden State Parkway. The posted speed limit is 65. Now, I am not some sort of puritan who insists at going at or below the speed limit. I'll admit it, I'll sometimes push 5 to 10 miles over.

I follow the "use the left lane for passing only" style of driving and sometimes when I am doing my 10 (ok 15) over in the left lane to pass someone in the right lane, I get nosed. Okay, that's fine. some people go faster than me. But when I am going OVER the speed limit in the right lane and people are nosing me, I get angry. First of all, go in the left lane and pass me if you think I'm going to slow. Second of all, seriously? You are nosing me to go faster when I am already going over the speed limit? As if your speed is the correct speed? It's just some of that selfishness and self-centeredness and entitlement...um, entitlementness (it's now a word) that I find lately.

Perhaps this is all magnified by the tourists here. I sort of want to wave out the window and yell "HEY! you're on vacation! It's okay to relax!" There is a light that has two lanes before the intersection and one lane after. It stands to reason that you would merge every other car--just makes sense, doesn't overly slow down either lane. But I always get these people who gun ahead to get in front of me, before their turn, as if they need to win. People. It's 35 mph. On an island. We're not going anywhere.

Another thing I struggle with is the lack of signage. This is a state built for GPS systems. Because sometimes the street sign for a major intersection either won't appear (frighteningly common) or will appear almost after the turn. This is especially frustrating with the New Jersey jughandles, where you turn right to take a left. I thought I had it all down, major intersections have jug handles, less major do not. But then there is an intersection in Brick where its a straight up left turn and I was in the right lane. I missed the turn, obviously, and had to drive a few blocks before I could find a place to turn around. Confusing.

All of this is probably compounded by the fact I drive a lot, so I get frustrated a lot.

I think I'll take my own advice and relax!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Minnesota State Fair

MN State Fair, originally uploaded by kevinthoule.

Today is the first day of the Minnesota State Fair--otherwise known as Thrifty Thursday for all the discounts--and I am not there.

This is so sad. The two big events I went to every year was the Festival of Nations (except for the year I got chicken pox) and the Minnesota State Fair. Festival of Nations was a bit more cultured, with people sharing their ethnic backgrounds through food, dance and exhibits.

The Minnesota State Fair was the chance to show off the varied "culture" of the state of Minnesota. That culture was that of farmers, mullets and cheese. At least, that's what I went to the fair to see: People, animals and food. Though people and food usually took precedence.

I have fond memories of the Giant Slide, something which is less exciting (its not as big when you are bigger) but still must do everytime. The pig barn was fun cause you could get the "I visited the pig barn" ears. But I'd be lying if I didn't say my true love was walking around looking at people while eating my latest food on a stick.

My favorite food on a stick was cheese on a stick, but the ultimate state fair food is, handsdown, Cheese Curds. It's like, when you buy a ticket to the State Fair, it says on the back "void if ticket bearer does not have at least one cheese curd during the course of the fair."

I don't know if any of the NJ State Fairs can hold a candle to the MN State Fair, which has the added bonus of being washed in nostalgia, but I seriously doubt it.

(sorry about the large amount of linkage, but trust me: the flickr ones are ALL Worth it. At least that's what Fairchilde the state fair mascot tells me.)

shifting to a night shift

Technically I've been working nights since about May, but I feel like only recently have I truly slipped into a true night shift--all its pros and all its cons.

Let's put it this way, only a night shift has you tearing the sheets OFF your bed at 11:40 p.m. and tossing them in the washing machine, while cookies are baking in the oven.

I managed to stave this off for awhile, sleeping pretty soon after I got home (usually before midnight) and waking by 9 a.m., sometimes earlier. That way, I got the morning to do errands before going into work at 2 p.m.

But recently I've been unable to sleep until closer to 2 a.m....and waking up around 10:30 or 11 a.m. Perhaps I still could get errands done, but I usually just eat breakfast, clean myself, watch some TV, eat a snack and go to work.

There are all sorts of oddities to the night shift that I never quite understood before--I honestly thought you would still be able to get all sorts of morning errands done, etc.

Here are a few things I noticed:

--Doing laundry at midnight
--Strange eating schedule. For me, it's breakfast/lunch at 11:30 a.m., Some sort of food at around 4:30/5 p.m. and another snack when you get home from work. Meals don't really have names.
--Never having groceries because the store closes at 10 p.m. and you just can't get yourself up in the morning.
--Baking cookies at 1 a.m.
--Taking out the trash at midnight
--General cleaning in the middle of the night.
--Rarely going out to dinner/meals with friends.
--Not watching regular primetime TV like most people.
--General downgrade in social activities.

Basically, all the stuff you would do in the evening, night shifters do in the middle of the night. The problem is a lot of those things aren't available in the middle of the night.

I wonder why the body feels the need to stay awake so many hours after work? To unwind? What better way to unwind then toss yourself in bed?

All in all, though, night shift is pretty cool. The social downfalls aren't that big of a deal since I don't have too many friends here, but perhaps that is why I haven't made a lot of friends too. I especially like working nights on the Sunday through Thursday shift because I still get Friday and Saturday nights to go out, but I also get all of Friday off. It totally feels like an extra day off.

Of course, I'm sure I'll feel different once I have a family, husband, kids, etc...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Dear Blogger: You are not a journalist.

Dear Blogger at the borough meeting tonight:
Please do not represent yourself as a reporter or journalist. You are not. You are not writing an "article." What you are doing is NOT journalism.

You obviously pushed my buttons enough to get me to write this. As my friends would know, I am a big supporter of bloggers. Obviously. I mean, I write one. But I read blogs, especially news aggregate blogs, where people comment on news stories. I even sometimes read blogs that do their own reporting. I think this all adds to the public discussion, and that's great.

But where I draw the line is when bloggers act and talk like you do and represent themselves as one of us. There are certain standards we stick to that you as bloggers and "citizen journalists" do not need to, or choose not to, adhere to. And this is why we get the reputation we do, as people who like to bend the truth.

Here is where you annoyed me tonight:
--You inserted yourself into my interview with an official. Fine. I do that too, so I can get some quotes, but you did it in a way that interrupted the conversation and caused the official to lose his train of thought. Bad move. Do it quietly.
--When I asked a question of the official, after you rudely inserted yourself, you proceeded to try and answer it yourself. If I wanted to interview you, I would have. I don't care if you know the answer, I am not asking you. Let him answer.
--When asking questions yourself, don't ask leading ones. And don't try to half-answer them yourself, especially when you half-answer them full-wrong. Part of asking questions is sometimes asking dumb ones so you can get the full answer, possibly as a quote.
--To further expand on that, don't interrupt with a RIGHT, uh-uh, YES, YES, as if you know and its annoying you to hear it again.
--The most insidous thing was when you talked about trying to convince your readers. Convince? And then told me you were trying to get your article published in a local newspaper. Perhaps you mean a guest column or an editorial? Not article. We do not try to Convince people of anything. We report what people tell us are facts and let the reader decide. If I tried to convince people, I'd downplay valid arguments, likely with some sort of "but" clause afterwards to automatically discredit it, and, conversely, overinflate arguments for the issue. Are things wrong sometimes? Sure. People tell half-truths or outright lies that are sometimes hard to uncover. That's why attribution is important. Its not me saying anything.

I'm not even going to comment on your method of note-taking on a Sidekick because to each their own. I am going to hope you got everything down, and got it right, cause you seemed to not be typing everything including some important bits.

I know this has gotten long and slightly ranty, but this really upset me and I wanted to clear the air. There is a reason the official kept looking at me like "WTF" and at the end said he was happy to hear I was a reporter.

"Reporter? I like reporters," he said. That's a direct quote.


Ben Franklin's inventions

I haven't done a lot of the tourist activities in Philadelphia yet because when I visit, I usually am just hanging out with my friends...who all saw the tourist stuff together when they moved here after college.

This weekend I had the chance to do the tourist thing because I had a friend in town. We went to the Liberty Bell and the visitor's center, but missed Independence Hall...again. When you visit Philadelphia, make sure to go to the visitor's center early in the morning to get your (free) tickets for the hall, cause they apparently go by lunchtime.

In the visitor's center, we learned more about Ben Franklin and some of his inventions, including this cool instrument called an Armonica. It's basically like playing wine glasses, a la Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality, but in a way that you can play multiple glasses at once. He essentially cut off the stems of different-size glasses, put the glasses sideways, strung with a cork rod and motorized the whole thing so a musician could play chords.

Anyway, since we couldn't do much more in the Mall area, my friend and I went for a walk towards the river. We passed the First Quaker Meetinghouse and, looking inside the large windows, I saw a lady playing an armonica!

It was the last 15 minutes of an hour and a half concert, but it was really amazing. I didn't have my camera, only a cell phone, but I did manage to take a 15-second video on it:

(That's a bit from Vivaldi's Four Seasons, in case you didn't recognized it. I should've taped the more recognizable bit!)

The Armonica, the musician informed us, fell out of favor because people believed it led to madness, after a man used it to hypnotize people.

I think I'm going to have to make sure to catch the full concert on my next trip to Philadelphia.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Happy Independence Day India and Pakistan!

Photo credit: REUTERS/Amit Dave (INDIA)

Today is the 60th anniversary of India's Independence Day and yesterday was Pakistan's Independence Day (query: if they were divided the same day, shouldn't they share the same independence day? Or did one country decide to celebrate on a different day so they didn't share a day?) And the last of my series of stories finally published.

I'm pretty happy with how everything turned out. It being a 60th anniversary and probably one of the few times we've done a story, I could've just done anniversary journalism and written a story about how they are celebrating. Instead we decided to look at the Indian and Pakistani community.

Sunday's Story (South Asians Gaining Clout) looked at the South Asian community and its gaining political power, as well as how life has changed in NJ since many immigrants came in the 70s.

Tuesday's story (India-Pakistan enmity evaporates in U.S. melting pot) is about how Indians and Pakistanis are friends and neighbors in the U.S., despite the political strife of their home countries.

Wednesday was about Wicket cool: South Asian transplants find fellowship in cricket. That was the one meant to have the video, but it didn't work out, as you read. Too bad.

Anyway, I hope you will read them and let me know what you think, because they mean a lot to me.

Inothernews, I gained enough hours this weekend that I have tomorrow off and essentially today off. I just am working two hours today, and from home at that. It's very nice. I am able to watch a movie while waiting for calls.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The final nail...

I had another post all planned out and ready to go, but I think what I'm about to say deserves its own, brief, posting:

The camera did not record ANYTHING on Sunday.

This is the most ill-fated video ever. Oh well, saved me a few hours today, which was promptly filled with other news. I have Thursday off as a comp day, and I plan to drive up to North Jersey to visit my cousin, since I missed her daughter's birthday party last Saturday.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Murphy's Law

Everything that can go wrong will go wrong...and boy did it ever today, when I shot my first video for this newspaper.

I had an unholy trifecta of things go wrong: something with my tripod, something with my mic and something with my camera. And, besides my headphones, those are the three main pieces of equipment I use.

So the tripod broke. I mean, it just snapped at the top, between the legs and the platform. I don't feel it's my fault because the thing is pretty light and it looked like the plastic just snapped (I mean, it IS plastic.) But it put me in a bind because without a tripod I would have camera shake, especially since I had to be very zoomed in to see the action. Luckily, the photog working on the story had her photo tripod and le t me use it. Problem solved.

So the mic had static. We had this mic before during our training session and it had the same problem. Supposedly it had been fixed, and when I was going over the equipment last night it had no problem, but of course it did when I used it today. It basically sounds like a loose connection-type of static, not a distance type. I just made do and tried not to use the wireless lav mic, but it was a bummer. The shotgun mic worked pretty well. Problem solved.

So the camera wouldn't tape. This seemed like the biggest problem because, well, if it won't record, I have literally nothing. This, I discovered, was my fault. Apparently you can only use one type/brand of tape in a camera because each tape uses a different lubricant and that can mess up the recording head and make it "dirty." I had tried to ingest (record onto my computer) some old stuff I had taped on a different brand, and that screwed it up. Luckily, I figured out that either if I got it to record, don't stop it, just move and set up my next shot OR if I stopped recording, turn off the entire camera and it should record when I turn it back on. Problem solved.

The only problem not solved was the fact we were really far from the action. See it's a video about a cricket match and we had to be outside the circle and it was hard to zoom in to see the pitch. Hopefully I got enough useable b-roll, I think I have a good voiceover and I can make this video into a "what is cricket" kind of thing.
Stayed tune Wednesday to see it.!

Also, today is the first part of my three stories on the South Asian/desi/Indian and Pakistani community in New Jersey: South Asians Gaining Clout. I was incredibly nervous about this article because I felt there would be more scrutiny on me writing it since I am of Indian/South Asian heritage myself. I hope you like it!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Kareem Khan

I'm so glad I lasted less than a week of daily updating...but I think I still will make my goal of 5 per week...no one said it had to be on a M-F basis!

This week has been a crazy in terms of news. First we had a guy who apparently killed his wife with a nail gun before turning it on himself. I only did the first story (in a team effort with my amazing co-workers) because I had to concentrate on this big series that I am doing next week.

And then we heard news that an Iraq soldier from our area, Kareem Khan, died. That was a really hard story to do, first of all because I realized he was my brother's age and year in school. I can't imagine. Secondly, the family was amazing. They provided me with so many details, that I couldn't fit them all in. Like the fact that Khan had a little Iraqi boy who used to follow him around and had a really cute picture with him. And I didn't write that his father said he always 100% supported his son's decision to enroll in the Army.
And the slot machine in the living room that his parents bought for Khan, that Khan kept filled with his own quarters until he could turn 21 and go to Atlantic City. And the fact that his stepmother had already bought an PS3 and a Wii for when Khan came home, because he was such a fan of video games.

I also didn't write how deeply touched I was by this family and how their relatives came up from Trinidad immediately to be with the family and how much that it obviously meant to Khan's father and stepmother.

The thing I definitely couldn't write was how sad I was reporting this. I actually shed a few tears in my car outside. The line about a father should never bury his child really hit me the hardest.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Won't you be my neighbor?

I blogged earlier about my amazing neighbors but when someone needs to be recognized for something great, it bears repeating.

My friends came down for a day at the shore two Saturdays ago. They caught the bus from NYC and had a bit of a stressful day, so we were pretty amped to head to the shore.

Because the Jersey shore requires beach badges, and I only had two for the three of us, our neighbor to my right lent me one beach badge to use for the day. So we packed up my beach bag, umbrella, towels and other beachy items and headed down the street. As we passed my neighbor to the left, she called out to ask us if we wanted to use her beach chairs, since hers were sitting in the backyard in disuse. So we borrowed those chairs.

Now armed with chairs, beach bag, umbrella, we prepared to walk the half-mile to the beach. But we were waylaid by my neighbor two houses down to the left, who said "why walk, I'll drive you down! I'm headed out anyways!" So we piled into his open-air jeep and he drove us the short distance, saving our feet and shoulders a bit of stress.

I think for my friends from New York, seeing all this was like stepping back in time to Minnesota. Probably pre-Minnesota days, since they lived in downtown Minneapolis there. I know that I have pretty excellent neighbors, but I loved that my friends were also able to see how cool is my new homebase.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Minneapolis bridge collapse: a former commuter's thoughts

Picture by Poppyseed Bandit via Flickr and Creative Commons.

I have yet to be part of the crowds on the Stone Arch Bridge or in the Guthrie lobby, checking out the loss of the 35W bridge from the northeast suburbs into Minneapolis. In fact, by the time I get there, most people will have accepted the bridge loss and use the other bridges for what they were meant for: walking, driving, biking, etc. I alone will be standing and looking at what used to be the bridge I used to cross twice daily, sometimes more.

Like many people are saying and writing, it was never a favorite bridge; you'd have to think of a bridge first to call it a favorite. I was more wont to say the Hennepin Avenue bridge, with its lighted spans, or the Stone Arch bridge, with its history as the railroad trestle that built this town. Never the 35W bridge. It was just a utilitarian bridge, flat, with short concrete barriers on the end. I actually forgot it was a bridge over a river most of the time, I was too busy trying to merge into the exit-only lane for Washington Avenue.

But now, in retrospect, we, and I, miss the bridge. My brother calls it "the bridge to fun" because it led towards downtown and the local music shows that sustained us both through high school and college. I can't contemplate what my commute would be like now without that handy bridge to take me across the river.

I never was really one to be scared of bridges. The other day when I was crossing the South Street bridge in Philadelphia, I felt scared. (Not the Ben Franklin from Jersey into Philly, though. Perhaps the spans flying above my head reassured me.) That bridge has been scheduled for demolition since the late 90s, and still my friends commute over the thing daily.

I've never been scared of natural disasters or terrorist attacks, saying I am far more likely to get in a car accident or die of a heart attack then have something like that happen to me. But after hearing so many "I almost was on the bridge stories," including from my own mother, a little drop of that fear is now in my bloodstream.

I'm anxiously reading news from my local papers. While I was in Miami, I was stuck watching the national coverage, but I was so glad it was being covered and I wasn't missing out on anything. I still highly recommend the Star Tribune's coverage.

Here are a few interesting links I've del.icio.us'd in the past few days:
Cell-phone providers not equipped for disasters
An unlovely bridge, missing and missed
Link to Roadguy blog, talking about how Mapquest and Google have already updated their maps.
And, of course, the video of the bridge collapsing, which I've actually linked from my current newspapers videos, via KARE-11 in the Twin Cities. I can't stop watching it.

Monday, August 6, 2007

AAJA convention in Miami: blogs and more!

I am back from my week in Miami with a refreshed attitude and a few new goals. I think I might have wrote earlier that I wasn't feeling all too excited about this convention, but a couple of really excellent workshops and inspiring new people made this trip worth it.

Of course, there was a general malaise around the convention, I felt. I think it may have to do with the state of journalism/news/industry right now? Convention attendance was low too, about two-thirds of what it was in Minneapolis, and it felt it. I kept seeing (or so it seemed) the same 15 people over and over again.

But, enough of that, let me tell you about why I feel energized! One of the reasons was actually the last panel I attended. And by attended, I mean was part of.

(Hello to any new readers from the panel--you were great and I hope you enjoyed the discussion!)

It was ironic to put me on a panel for blogging as I sort of feel like a newbie in the public blogging world. The idea of promoting a blog or writing coherently and professionally in a public blog setting is actually new, despite the fact I've been blogging, more like e-journaling, for 10 years or so. I loved hearing what the other bloggers had to say and I feel like I learned a lot.

So, to that end, I am determined to have a new post on here 5 times a week.

I am also going to stop sitting on my butt and get my website done. I feel so hypocritical in advising that people just go ahead and start a blog and try it out while I am sitting here fretting that my personal website isn't perfect. www.shrutimathur.com WILL be launched by August 15. (putting a date out here puts pressure on me, eep!) But it's not like I am mtv.com or a newspaper site or something, where if my launch isn't perfect, tons of people won't notice.

Oh my goodness, what am I doing??

For those of you who came here through the blogging panel, here is a list of links to things that were up on the screen, in case you didn't get to jot them down:

Katie Nelson's city hall blog
Darleene Powell's blog
Joe Grimm's Ask the Recruiter blog
Joe Grimm's Coney Detroit blog
StarTribune.com blogs
A good broadcast journalist's blog (Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV)

BusinessWeek article about making money blogging: http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/jul2007/sb20070713_202390.htm

Thursday, August 2, 2007

When news hits close to home

Just a quick update to let everyone know that all in my family are safe and accounted for and the few friends I have talked with are okay. My mom was on Washington Avenue, about to turn onto the bridge; had she been less than 5 minutes earlier, she would've been on the bridge.

I am thankful that she is okay and just hoping that everyone else is safe and thinking about those who were involved. That was my commuter bridge--I took that everyday to work. Heck, had I still been at the Strib, there would be a good chance I would've been on that bridge yesterday/

Here in Miami we are all freaking out a bit, the Minnesota people clanned together at a reception last night, anxiously trying to use our cell phones to get an update, any update. Of course cell lines were busy.

Thanks for all your concern, I really really appreciate. I was shaken up last night thinking how close my mom was to there and that sort of made me take off my newshound mask and really get scared.

Star Tribune's excellent coverage.