Thursday, January 31, 2008

He's No. 1!

Though his video was most viewed and voted best, brother-in-law Shawn's Spokes4Folks project did not receive funding from WOWT.

Here's the announcement.

Despite this, congrats to Shawn for a video well done, and for spearheading the service project.

I know at least one other NewsConference visitor clicked on brother-in-law Shawn's video for the WOWT "Pay It Forward" promotion. Thank you!

Here's an update:

According to an irrefutable source -- my sister -- his video received the most Best votes and the most Views on the WOWT site. And I must say that it certainly appears that way. Sort it yourself and see.

So, is there any way SPOKES 4 FOLKS won't win one of the six $1,000 prizes? According to said irrefutable source, yes. But I'm not sure how that could happen.

In any case, don't count your chickens, etc. But it looks promising. Official announcement on Friday.

Congrats, Shawn!

Vote for Shawn -- now!

Sorry about the late notice, but if you are reading this before noon today (Jan. 31), please consider helping my brother-in-law Shawn, in Omaha.

Last fall, Shawn, supported by the men's club at church, spearheaded an outstanding first-time event, a SPOKES 4 FOLKS bike ride.

Now, he is trying to win $1,000 for the fund through a "Pay It Forward" campaign by an Omaha TV station, WOWT.

Perhaps remembering that a brother is an editor, my sister notes, "Please overlook his spelling errors in the video – he’s an engineer not an English major."

Check out the video, and vote for SPOKES 4 FOLKS.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

How small a check is too small?

The article's headline on the MSN site caught my eye: How far would you go to cash a 35-cent check?

The author, Donna Freedman, recounted her travails to cash an insurance refund check in the amount of 35 cents.

I opened the article because, somewhere in the pile of papers on my desk at home is a credit-card rebate check. The amount: $0.01. That's right, the credit card company (one I rarely use, obviously) with a cash-back program went to the trouble to send me one cent.

I intended to sometime include that check when I had others to deposit, but never quite got around to it.

That check arrived in August 2006, so it has likely expired, and the credit card firm probably has invested my penny with Wall Street, where it is now worth 78/100s of one cent.

What is the smallest check you remember receiving? Did you cash it?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Supremely short-changed

News out of Jamaica is that Diana Ross, diva and former lead singer of Motown's Supremes, was less than supreme at this weekend's Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival.

The Jamaica Gleaner has the account. It is an interesting story, also, because it uses phonetic spelling in quoting some of the upset festival-goers -- but I'm still not sure what was said. For example: "Wi come fi get leg and thigh and dem gi wi chicken back."

Seems that Ross' handlers refused to let festival organizers use the big-screen TVs -- the only way some of the thousands of patrons (who paid more than $5,000 US to enter the venue) could actually see her on stage.

Ross left the stage to a chorus of boos.

Was there a show you attended and felt short-changed? What was it?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Iowa Games report

As I stood at the starting line for this morning's Winter Iowa Games 5k road race, I reminded myself that I wasn't in the best of shape. I reminded myself not to push too hard, especially at the beginning -- an ill-advised tendency for me the past several (well, about 40) years.

This time, I didn't require much persuasion, and I paced through a decent wintertime run. Though my time was my slowest 5K (3.1 miles) at this event in some time -- perhaps ever -- I was satisfied with a 22:41 -- especially since I had enough left to pass a couple of fellow competitors in the final half-mile.

For that, I was runnerup in my age group, trailing by a substantial margin my ex- training partner Dan Rohner, a former Dubuque resident whom I have managed to beat exactly once in dozens of races the past decade.

Still, the result tells me I have a lot (as in 2½ minutes worth) of work to do if I'm going to challenge the 20-minute barrier on Labor Day 2008.

Considering the difficult winter we've had for running (and living), it was a mostly pleasant day -- sunny with temperatures in the high teens. A couple of guys ran in shorts, and one competitor ran in shorts and topless (also a guy). It wasn't that warm!

Because conditions were reasonable -- last year, it was so far below zero officials nearly cancelled the race -- there were many race-day registrants. Among them was Madame X, who, coincidentally, also earned a Silver Medal.

Next race: A 5-miler at the Gaelic Gallop, Dyersville, Iowa, on March 15. Beware the Ides of March!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Super visitor

Retired football star Jay Novacek was the featured guest this morning at a breakfast hosted by the Telegraph Herald before the Tri-State Big Boy Toy Show in Dubuque.

Novacek, a five-time Pro Bowl and five-time all-pro pick, was tight end on three Super Bowl champions (Dallas in 1992-93, 1993-94 and 1995-96). He played for St. Louis/Phoenix from 1985 until the 1989-90 season before joining Dallas for his final six seasons.

Novacek, who as a boy lived a few years in Wyoming, Iowa, wound up playing college ball for Wyoming (as in the state). He is also a hunter and fisherman. That makes him a natural choice to interact with visitors at today's session of the show. (Tomorrow's featured guests are three Iowa Hawkeye football players.)

During an informal Q&A session after breakfast, Novacek talked about his greatest thrills in hunting/fishing (killing a brown bear at the end of a week-long hunt) and, of course, in his football career (his chemistry with Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman).

Here is my clip of some of Novacek's comments today, showing the result of my first attempt to use the editing software I recently purchased.

Here is a video of an Aikman-to-Novacek connection.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Hauling glass the other day posted an article about urban myths and legends regarding travel. While the article mostly debunked or pointed out the obsolescence of some of the things people say about being on the road -- hotels transferring your credit card info onto the magnetic strip on the back of your key card, for example, is bunk -- there was some truth in some "legends."

For example, the cleanliness of the glasses in hotel rooms. Just how clean are they? And how are they cleaned? As the article stated:

Sadly, the one that claims hotel maids do terrible things while “cleaning” your room can be all too true. Hygiene standards at hotels are, frankly, in the toilet.

The article referred to the investigative report by an Atlanta TV station, linked here.

I won't assume those glasses are clean again. I think I'll toss some plastic cups in my suitcase before my next trip.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Not so bad

A couple of days ago, I advised against running alone during extremely cold conditions -- especially when it's dark.

This morning, with the thermometer reading minus-12, and facing the fact that none of my running partners appeared at our meeting place, I had to make a decision: Follow my advice or turn around and, despite investing about 15 minutes bundling up and another 10 driving to our meeting location, head home.

I compromised, sort of. I cut a mile off the route, covering 3 miles, all the while reminding myself how I would use my flashlight to flag down a passing vehicle should I take a tumble and be unable to get up.

No life-threatening situations to report.

All in all, it didn't feel any colder at 12 below than it did yesterday -- what was it, 4 below? -- though I did put on heavier clothing today.

What's been the coldest temperature in which you've done any physical exercise?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Red's camera emerges!

As I've mentioned here before, publication of my biography of Red Faber has put me into contact with a great many people -- folks I otherwise never would have met (in person or via the Internet).

My most recent episode apparently will result in a donation to the Red Faber wing of the Tri-County Historical Museum in Cascade, Iowa.

(I'll leave out the names and addresses, pending finalization of the arrangements, but I have to say SOMETHING about it now.)

During the off-season of 1913-14, before his rookie season with the White Sox, Faber joined the White Sox and NY Giants (and a few other major league teams) in an around-the-world exhibition tour. It lasted four months, and Faber saw Asia, Australia and Europe.

In the book, I wrote:

In his letter home, Faber indicated that he had a camera and promised to have many pictures to share with family and friends upon his return to Iowa. Unfortunately, his snapshots apparently have not survived the subsequent nine decades.

Well, that may not be the case. (Good thing I used the qualifier "apparently"!)

This week I opened an e-mail from a distant relative of Red's, who received my book as a Christmas gift from his wife. He read my passage mentioning the camera and contacted because, he has that camera!

Not only that, he thinks a close relative of his might still have some of Red's snapshots! He remembers seeing them many years ago.

This gets better: The gentleman would like to donate the camera to the museum in Cascade. And if some of Red's snapshots from the World Tour turn up, they might find their way to Cascade someday. What a boon that will be to the museum's collection.

The donor-to-be sent me a couple of images of Red's camera, now 95 years old.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What are your favorite nicknames?

Red Faber: Nickname too common.

An uncle in suburban St. Louis called my attention to a feature story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch concerning unusual nicknames for baseball players.

Among those the paper profiled is Hall of Famer Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourne, who, before hitting the National League played professionally in Dubuque in 1879. That team included Charles "The Old Roman" Comiskey, who later owned the Chicago White Sox and entered the Hall himself.

The article also lists "Cool Papa," "Ducky," "Big Poison" (and, of course, "Little Poison"), "Highpockets" and a host of others.

The Post-Dispatch didn't mention either of the two players I have spent the most time researching Urban "Red" Faber (pictured) or Ray "Cracker" Schalk. Not a surprise regarding Faber; it seemed that every team in every sport had a "Red" on its roster during the 20th century. "Cracker" is more unusual, and might have qualified for the Post-Dispatch, but, hey, it's a newspaper article, not a novel.

Audience participation time: What nicknames do you consider the most interesting or unusual? Send in your choices.

Photo credit: George Bain Collection, Library of Congress

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Below zero miles

he thermometer read minus-1 today -- a virtual heat wave compared to the reading 24 hours earlier, when it was minus-16. Between the weather and several things to tackle at the office, it was easy to excuse myself from taking a morning run Saturday.

Today was a different story, especially with Madame X anxious to log a few miles after also skipping out yesterday. So, we bundled up and ventured out. With the combination of proper attire, sunshine and low wind, we got through our three-miler without incident. By the turnaround point, I had shed the mittens that covered my gloves and had worked up a decent sweat.

Anyway, runners need to take special precautions if they choose to head outside in conditions like these. A few personal suggestions:

Run with a partner, especially if it's dark. Slips and falls are more common in winter (duh!), and should you take a serious tumble -- the kind in which you can't regain your feet -- in frigid conditions, you need help soon. You don't want to have to rely on an observant motorist to spot you, amid the snowdrifts, and stop to help.

Don't stray too far from home base or a place of refuge. Rather than out-and-back routes, where the turnaround point is a long way from home, consider a loop route where, should you need to abort the run for some reason, you are closer to home (or help).

Layers. Multiple layers of clothing (starting with a dri-fit or synthetic base) are better than one mega-sweatshirt or jacket. I especially like layers over the hands, rather than one heavy pair of gloves or mittens. Mittens are better than gloves. Until the temperature dips into the teens, I just wear a pair of cotton socks over my hands; they are just right for retaining heat and taking chill off the hands.

Don't overdress. It's OK -- even preferable -- to feel cold the first 3-4 minutes of a run. That's better than being comfortable at the first step, because you then are likely to too warm at the end. Your body generates lots of heat during a run.

When possible, plan your route so the wind is in your face at the beginning. Not only do you get the worst over with, you avoid having the wind applying a chill when you are sweaty later in the workout.

My favorite tip: Take a day off. There are just some days, during our Midwest winters, when running is dangerous or ill-advised. The risk-vs.-reward ratio just isn't there. Rest does a body good. Plus, if you are miserable out there one day, you might lose some enthusiasm for heading out the next day, when conditions are likely to be better.

Winter runs can be among the most enjoyable outings of the year. However, it takes planning and common sense to stay safe.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The power of nicotine?

True story.

Traffic crawled during Dubuque's version of "rush hour" this morning. We were at the peak of a healthy snowstorm. No, it was no blizzard. No arctic blasts. But it wasn't the most pleasant experience to be outside just then, either.

I had stopped at my favorite coffee shop, Java Dreams, which consists of a walk-up window (no indoor seating). As I was about to get into my car, which was parked next to the sidewalk, a pedestrian approached. The man -- I'd say he was in his 30s -- appeared a bit underdressed for the conditions, but not dangerously so. At least he wore a knit cap. He was smoking a cigarette.

"Excuse me, sir," he said to me. "Are you going downtown?"

"Sure am."

"Could I catch a ride?"

I'm not much on giving rides to strangers, but given the daylight hour and weather conditions, it was an easy call.

"Sure -- if you'll toss the cigarette."

I don't smoke, and I didn't want smoke in my car.

His response? "That's OK," he said, and kept on trudging down the sidewalk.

It didn't seem to be an unreasonable expectation. But perhaps his need for nicotine at that moment was greater than his need to receive a mile-plus ride and get out of the snow for a while.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

More Schalk photos procured

Thanks to a heads-up from the publisher of my Red Faber biography, I have located a few more photos for my Ray Schalk biography. And, best of all, they are in the public domain -- free and copyright-free. After paying -- well, more than nothing -- for 20 images from the Chicago History Museum, this was an economical find!

The images are part of the George Grantham Bain Collection recently digitized by the Library of Congress.

The photo above is the best of the half-dozen of Schalk I downloaded. It shows the White Sox catcher in 1914, his second full season in the majors.

Here is an image I found of particular interest. It shows Clarence "Pants" Rowland, whose hometown was Dubuque, when he managed the Chicago White Sox (1915-18). He is shown with his daughter Buelah. This photo was taken during the 1917 World Series, which Rowland's White Sox won.

Do as I say, not as I read

The day's mail included an envelope stuffed with articles clipped from "my" newspaper. The sender, who signed his name (a courtesy that I appreciate), clipped a dozen or more items reporting various crimes and unpleasant incidents: Shootings, thefts, murder, etc.

"If you printed the good news, you could save a lot of paper," he wrote.

The good news/bad news argument has been going on for ages. Personally, I believe that papers should carry "positive" and uplifting stories regularly -- at least to offset some of the necessary but "negative" news. Lest we all lose hope.

Do people read the good news? Some do. Well, at least they say they do. However, what are people actually reading? If our Internet readers are similar to those who read our ink-on-paper product (and we believe their tendencies are much the same) I can tell you, day in and day out, it is not the "good news."

For example, here are the headlines of the four stories that generated the most attention on our web site today:
  • Apple River woman dies in Galena accident
  • Dubuque police report 7 vehicle burglaries
  • Police Beat (arrests and incident reports)
  • Guttenberg police officer terminated
See any "good news" stories in there? What people say they want and what they read aren't necessarily the same.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Montgomery County connections

I used a vacation day Friday to conduct further research on the subject of my next biography, baseball Hall of Famer Ray Schalk, in his native Montgomery County, Illinois.

The day opened with a breakfast meeting with Bill Dees and Bill Cornman, two community leaders of Litchfield, Ill., Schalk's hometown. (He was born in the tiny town of Harvel, but the family moved to Litchfield about the time Ray started school.) Litchfield sits along I-55 (and on the former famed Route 66), roughly midway between Springfield, Ill., and St. Louis.

The two Bills answered my questions about the geography and history of the community, and they offered contact information for further information. They also provided directions to the former Elks Club building (current photo above), where Ray's father was the long-time janitor.

Litchfield became Litchfield largely because of its connections to 4-5 railroads, and it remains on a key rail route. That point hit home when Bill and I, on our way to the site where Ray Schalk played his first semi-pro game, sat in our cars for more than 15 minutes while a couple of freight trains did their thing.

My next stop was Hillsboro, the county seat, where I spent a couple of hours in the clerk's vault searching for birth, marriage and death information on the Schalk family. The result was not as complete as I had hoped. Curiously, a few of the Schalk children's birth certificates were not filed until 1941 -- nearly six decades after the fact -- and some couldn't be found at all. That stumped even the county clerk's aide Tricia (sp?), who so graciously stepped up to help me.

Finally, I drove over to Nokomis, home of the Bottomley-Ruffing-Schalk Baseball Museum -- dedicated to Montgomery County's three members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. There, Jim Eisenbarth allowed me to computer-scan several photos for use in my book. The prize was an image of Schalk, as a scrawny 16-year-old, barely filling out his first semi-pro uniform (representing the Litchfield Arcos).

All in all, it was a most productive day!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Right thing not always popular

After reading about the Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness' order to withhold public documents in the sex assault investigation involving (surprise) University of Iowa athletes, I came across this quotation:
"We do not count heads
before enforcing
the First Amendment."

-- Sandra Day O'Connor
Retired justice, U.S. Supreme Court, 2005

Sunday, January 06, 2008

More changes at Wrigley

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the first night game at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. The first night game was Aug. 8, 1988 (easy to remember: 8/8/88). Actually, after a couple of innings, the contest was rained out, and the first official game at night occurred the following evening.

Part of the ballpark's charm was (until 1988) its daytime-only schedule and its low-tech features, including its hand-operated scoreboard.

Anyway, there have been several changes to the historic stadium, built in 1914, with most of them involving dollar signs -- more advertising signs, corporate boxes and high-priced seats. But baseball has always been a business, so no one should be shocked or surprised.

Last week, the city gave the Cubs permission to add 70 “bullpen box seats” along the third base line and install additional signage inside Wrigley. More room for fans, less room for ballplayers to track down foul balls.

In the 19th and early 20th century, if more spectators showed up than could be accommodated, management let patrons stand in the outfield, behind ropes. Batted balls hit into the crowd usually counted as a ground-rule double.

Maybe the Cubs will bring back that practice. How much would people pay to stand ON the landmark field during a game?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Pay a premium at the buffet line?

The Associated Press recently picked up on the story of a Louisiana man's beef with a buffet restaurant. It seems that the Asian buffet restaurant charged the man, a regular customer for several months, and a relative extra (about double, in fact) because he always ate so much -- and so much of the expensive seafood.

Not only that, the former customer complained, but the staff made derogatory comments suggesting -- this will surprise you -- that the man is obese. Of course, the story goes downhill from there and involves police and apologies, etc.

The incident reminded me of a visit Madame X and I made to a huge buffet operation in Pennsylvania last summer. Make no mistake: We enjoyed full meals. But compared to the other patrons, we were rank amateurs in the Plate-Piling Department. Noting the overweight status of virtually all the patrons, we concluded that they had been to several buffets. At one nearby table, super-sized diners had to receive assistance to get up from the table.

Do buffet restaurants cause their patrons to become overweight? Or are people who are obese more likely to patronize buffets? Let's chew on that a while.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Iowa's time in the spotlight nearly over

I received a voice mail at work today from a salesman. He should have known better than to try to call an Iowa editor the day of the afternoon caucuses. Editors are little preoccupied right now. (The sales rep might be forgiven because he is based in Canada.)

Anyway, in 24 hours or so, the Iowa Caucuses will be history. There will be winners. There will be losers. There might even be a surprise. And then the candidates and accompanying media spotlight will turn elsewhere -- to New Hampshire and then the bushel of states conducting primaries Feb. 5.

Iowa catches heat from some media pundits and folks in other states because of all the attention this state receives. Critics point to the relatively low level of participation -- compared to a primary election, where the voter can be in and out in minutes or vote absentee, as opposed to the caucus, which requires several hours' commitment on a specific night.

While it is true that participation numbers are lower for a caucus than a primary, that does not necessarily mean that the quality of the decision-making is also lower. Indeed, many people who invest time in the caucus have also invested time attending candidate appearances and studying their positions.

So, win, lose or draw -- I believe Iowans have taken their responsibility seriously.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Gimmick of interest

After watching Missouri trounce Arkansas in football's Cotton Bowl, and while taking care of a few paperwork items, I switched to NBC TV's live broadcast of a National Hockey League game.

What's the big deal? The game is being played outdoors, in a Buffalo football stadium. In a snowstorm.

As you might expect, the broadcasters are focused more on the novelty of the environment and less on the actual competition, which is sort of sloppy due to the conditions.

However, as the contest went into overtime, and then a sudden-death shootout, we heard more about the game and less about the snow. (By the way, Pittsburgh won in the shootout.)

Anything to try to boost hockey's sagging following in the U.S.

Maybe NBC and the NHL are onto something. What's next? Football in a swimming pool? Night golf?

What sports gimmicks would you like to see (or perhaps NOT see)?

Photos: Getty Images

New year, new focus

If you're among the few, the proud and the brave visitors to this blog, you know that it suffers from an identity crisis.

Is it a personal blog? Is it a blog associated with my full-time occupation of newspaper editor? Is it both? Neither?

Anyway, with the arrival of a new year, I have arrived at this decision: NewsConference will be personal. Comments or announcements in connection with my role at the Telegraph Herald will be on my blog at the newspaper's web site, -- once our folks improve and reactivate blogs.

All in all, it won't be a huge change -- most posts have been personal anyway -- but thought I would announce this re-focus.

Applications for refunds will be accepted started tomorrow.