Friday, November 3, 2017

How Twitter (not a President) could start World War III

I work in TV news, an industry that gets a lot of crap (much of it deserved) for ginning up fear to attract attention.

And yet, we seemed to have mostly moved on after something that really is worth being terrified about.

This week we got a legitimately horrifying look at perhaps one of the dumber ways the world could end.

Not with a bang, but with a...



In all, this lasted 11 minutes of our Thursday, briefly sparking all kinds of theories which varied depending on peoples' politics:

"I bet the liberals who run Twitter are trying to censor him!"
"Did he actually delete his account? Oh what a wonderful world it'll be now!"
I wish it was one of those things. I really do.

Because the truth-- at least as Twitter tells it-- is soil-yourself-worthy:

Now at first blush I can see how this explanation would seem hilarious to some people: "Last day on the job and Billy the customer service rep really flipped his bosses the bird on his way out the door!"

And perhaps that's why the general reaction was: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Which makes me think maybe we collectively missed the point of this moment.

The real story is that a low-level employee at a tech company was able to hijack the primary route of communication for THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!

What if someone-- twitter employee or no-- wanted to put words INTO the mouth of the President instead of just screwing with his account for a minute?

One does not have to strain too much to imagine how that could go.

For sake of our little thought experiment, let's say the following two things are true:

  1. It's a year or so in the future and North Korea actually has a working nuclear-armed ICBM that is reliably capable of hitting the United States. Tested, tried, and true.
  2. A tweet appears from the President's @realDonaldTrump account-- complete with the blue little checkmark and everything-- that says something like: "Just left the sit room. Told the generals to take out Rocket Man for good! Special ops in the air!"

What if that tweet stays up for eleven minutes?

What if it stays up for 45 minutes?

What if the White House can't put the President in front of a camera quickly enough to debunk the tweet?

What if they do put him in front of a camera and North Korea doesn't buy it?

I'm sure there are other safeguards. I'm sure there are many things that could be tried to prevent the worst from happening.

But I'm just saying-- I can imagine how this current societal vulnerability of ours could be the ballgame, folks.

I admit, I've jumped a scenario on the extreme end of the spectrum. But again-- this is voice of the PRESIDENT we're talking about. One doesn't have to strain too hard to see how a wayward unauthorized tweet from him could directly lead to loss of life or serious economic damage.

I didn't write this to give you another reason to stay awake at night. I wrote it because we need to think this through.

First of all, companies like Twitter should probably find a way to keep employees from being able to tinker with the accounts of people who have nuclear codes. Like, maybe a C-level employee should get a push alert or something if there's a customer service need for the President's account.

But more importantly, we should rethink whether we want our leaders to talk to us on these platforms as primary form of communication.

I'm on twitter all day when I'm at work and, little blue check boxes notwithstanding-- I really don't ever know with 100 percent certainty what I'm looking at. I don't know it it's real.

I don't really know if the guy trolling me is a local 40-year-old in his mom's basement or a Russian bot any more than I really know what tweets come personally from the President's fingers.

Maybe Donald Trump wrote that tweet. Maybe it was an intern's last day and POTUS left his phone lying in the Mural Room. Maybe it was hacked. Maybe it was a low-level Twitter employee. Who really knows?

My point is, I see the promise of direct access to the people from the candidate's perspective.

President Trump says he wouldn't have that title were it not for the existence of Twitter.

But it's not foolproof.

With that in mind, in an era of distrust of the news media-- ask yourself which is less troublesome: seeing the President say the words into a camera (or quoted by a reporter who heard him directly)-- or looking at some words on a screen next to a blue check mark?

Some words you're pretty sure belong to him.

Pretty sure.

But not certain.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Our EV costs 73% less to drive than our Jeep

The per-mile cost of driving our two cars
To the dismay of internet trolls, I chose to drive my new electric car instead of returning it to the dealership or smashing it for scrap metal. And guess what? It's a HELLUVA lot cheaper to drive than our other car: 72.8 percent cheaper, to be exact.

RELATED: Haters be hatin' on my cheap new EV

I'll do the math on this below so you can see my methodology and update a few more things I've learned driving this car for a month as well.

We recently became the unlikely owners of a Nissan Leaf, thanks to a combination of private incentives and government tax credits in Colorado that slashed the effective pre-tax price of the car to $9,400 in our case. (The $10,000 Xcel customer incentive expires June 30.)

Our electric bills
RELATED: How to get a new EV for under $10,000

The first month's power bill is in: driving this car for my daily commute and around-town errands for the month raised our electric bill about 30 bucks.

The electric portion of our June power bill was $31.61 higher than the average cost from the three months before we started plugging in our car. Helpfully, our billing cycle began the day after we bought the car. And we didn't need to turn on the air conditioning in our house before that billing cycle ended, which make the months pretty good to compare to one another.


In the first month we put about 1,000 miles on the Leaf. We used off-site chargers twice to do about 100 miles of that driving, which means I drove about 900 miles on power that came from the wall outlet in my garage.

The cheap gas near my house runs $2.19 a gallon right now. Our other car (which we love!) is a 2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited that gets 17 miles per gallon. Crunching the numbers to drive 900 miles:
  • Our Jeep Wrangler: $116.07
  • Our Nissan Leaf:     $31.61
Put another way, as cost per mile:
  • Our Jeep Wrangler: 13¢ per mile
  • Our Nissan Leaf:     3.5¢ per mile
In our first month, we saved $84.46 in energy costs by using the EV as our primary commuter and around-town car. That's nearly 73 percent of the amount we'd have spent to drive the Jeep the same number of miles.  In our case, it's a little more than we need to cover the added insurance cost of owning a second car that's brand-new, since we shared one car before.


We are charging the Leaf at home off of the 110v trickle charger cable it came with-- and that's all we really need in a practical sense.

My battery's charge after driving to work.
My commute to work is 6 miles. When I got to work today, I'd used a whopping four percent of my battery, which can be topped back to 100 percent in a matter of minutes, even on a standard wall outlet.

If you aren't draining the battery below 50 percent, you can recharge fully overnight on the trickle cable.

I may put in a 220v charger someday, (they can be found for as little as $300, plus the cost of installing a circuit where you need it) but that would honestly be a luxury purchase.

It would help in limited circumstances to provide flexibility, but for general around-town use, the wall outlet you already have is fine. I use mine to commute and drive from the Sloan Lake area to Centennial regularly and haven't had an issue.


Both plugs work on my car.
Before we decided to pull the trigger, I'd seen several comments online in my research warning that the sales staff at dealerships don't tend to know a lot of detail about the electric cars they sell.

That turned out to be the case for me. I wrote in my original article that we had opted not to pay for the $1,700 upgrade to have a quick DC charge port on our Leaf.

It has one, after all!

The sales rep told us in no uncertain terms that the Leaf we bought did not have the DC charger onboard and that there was no way to upgrade to one after we buy.

I assumed that I had a dummy port under the larger charge cover where that technology would be, but it turns out ours works. It was a pleasant surprise, but still would have been nicer to know what we were getting.

All of which is to say-- know what you're looking for if you go to the dealership.


Colorado bases registration fees on the MSRP of a car, not what you paid.

So even though I got my car for $9,400 pre-tax, I paid the registration fee of a new $33,000 car.

It cost me $782 to register the car, which includes a $50 EV surcharge.

It seems odd for the state to charge a premium to register an electric vehicle whilst simultaneously offering a $5,000 tax break to encourage you to buy one.

The Colorado Department of Revenue pointed me to the state law that creates the $50 annual EV registration fee.

$30 of it goes to the Highway Users Tax Fund, which is still a deal if you think about it. Most people pay into that fund by buying gas in the form of a 22 cent per gallon gas tax.

Using my 900 mile figures above, I'd have paid $11.66 worth of gas tax by driving my Jeep in the first month. Instead, I'm paying $30 directly to that fund for the whole year.

This sticker is required by Colorado law. It does nothing for you.
The other $20 of the annual EV fee goes to a state grant program to subsidize EV charging stations.

You also get a really stupid-looking EV required by law to put in the upper right corner your windshield.

The sticker doesn't do anything magical for you-- you can't use HOV lanes for free or anything like that. (On a related note, the state only allowed 2,000 people to get HOV lane passes for hybrid & electric cars.)

This seemed silly and unnecessary to me, but since the backing of the sticker made it very clear that it was required, I asked the revenue folks to explain why:

I remain skeptical about how helpful this would be in a real emergency.

But then again, I'm not the guy who's going to have to run at a burning pile of lithium ion batteries when stuff goes wrong, so I put the damn sticker in my windshield.

If you'd like to argue with it, argue with your state legislator. I'm off the sticker case for now.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Haters be hatin' on my cheap new electric car

They say "never read the comments," but what fun is that?

I recently bought a new Nissan Leaf, an all-electric car-- even though we set out to buy a used gas car.
Me, having a sad, after realizing the trolls are right.

I managed to get the new electric car for an effective pre-tax price of $9,474.

That sounded a lot better than the used 2015 gas cars I was finding with 30,000+ miles on them for $10,000-$13,000.

As I explained in the story I wrote for 9NEWS, we ended up with the new electric car instead because several incentives made it cheaper: we got a $10,000 discount for Xcel energy customers (only applies to the Leaf,) a $7,500 federal EV tax credit that we won't see until we file next year's return, and a $5,000 state of Colorado EV tax credit that dealers can now apply to the purchase price.

A new Nissan Leaf.
The story contained an entire section on reasons not to buy this car-- essentially that it's not practical for severe weather or road trips. This will be a commuter / around-town car for my family. Our 4-door Jeep Wrangler will serve as our mountain / snow / road trip car.

But that didn't stop haters from hatin'-- on everything from the incentives to the car itself.

I take these concerns seriously, so let's have at a few!

Joel: "Cool have your neighbors pay for your car through their taxes, yep that's so cool NOT buy your own stuff with your own money"

This is my favorite comment because I like to imagine that Joel is an intellectually honest person, who would no doubt have conversations like:

FRIEND 1: "We just had a baby!"
JOEL: "Great. I hope you don't take the child tax credit next year."
FRIEND 1: "Umm, we're really excited..."
JOEL: "Your neighbors shouldn't have to pay for your kids!"


FRIEND 2: "We just bought a new house!"
JOEL: "Did you take out a mortgage?"
FRIEND 2: "Uh... yeah."
JOEL: "Thief! You better not claim the mortgage interest deduction!"

I sincerely hope that Joel has never had a mortgage, child, or student loan-- because that would be awkward.

In all seriousness, the biggest single incentive that applied to my car was a $10,000 credit from the private sector.

I hear the argument about the state and federal tax credits, though. If Joel doesn't like them, he can use my handy guide to lobby his state lawmakers to get rid of it, or call his congresspeople.

Meantime, I live in the current, actual world-- where I want to acquire a vehicle to meet my needs for the least amount of money possible. So I did that.

The credits are available equally to everyone and even if I personally disagreed with tax breaks as sound policy, I'm not going to spend more to buy a used traditional car on principle. I don't think I'm alone on this.

Adam: "A great price, but if you hit a squirrel, you're dead."

I give Adam style points for using a squirrel in his argument. The mental image is hilarious!

Courtesy: the internet.
However, the argument doesn't hold much water. The safety ratings for the 2017 Leaf aren't out yet, but the nearly identical 2016 Leaf got four-star crash ratings in every category. It also earned that rating in 2015, 2014, and 2013.

It's also worth noting that the base model leaf comes standard with front and side-impact airbags.

It's at least 475 pounds heavier than JD Power's three most popular small cars: the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Nissan Sentra.

That's more than 1.5 tons of squirrel-flattening I can do with my electric car!

Brandon: "That's not a car.. That's an oversized golf cart."

The driver's view in a Leaf.
Hey Brandon. (Great name, BTW!) As mentioned above, the car is heavier than several popular small cars. Kudos for using "oversized" in your argument, but it's actually six times the weight of a Yamaha electric golf cart. Because I'm a dweeb and I looked it up.

Also, in the comparison I ran to other popular small cars, you'll find that the Leaf has more interior space, front and rear head room, and cargo space than the other three.

And as a driver, I'll just add that the striking thing about this vehicle is that it very much feels like any other car to drive.

But if you ever go drive one, let me know if you disagree!

John: "You'd have to pay me 10k to drive an electric car"

Man, you're letting 'em off easy. They had to pay me $22.5k!

John: "Coal fired crap box."

First off, John: in America, virtually the only socially acceptable response to someone else buying a new car is: "congratulations!" But you don't know me, so I guess I don't need to expect you to be polite.

Courtesy: Xcel Energy
Leaving aside the "crap box" bit, in Colorado, it is true that my electric car is partially powered by coal.

Xcel Energy's latest figures (from 2015) show 54 percent of its Colorado electricity comes from coal, 24 percent from natural gas, and 22 percent from carbon-free sources (mostly wind.)

As stated in my story, I didn't buy this car to be an eco-warrior, I bought it because the incentives made it cheaper than a used gas-powered car.

But since you raise the issue, it's also worth noting that right now Xcel is converting the closest coal plant to Denver to natural gas, and building massive wind and solar generation facilities in Colorado because they say it's becoming cheaper to do so even without tax subsidies.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The reporter who saved a guy and caught crap for it

Campion assists the man from a safer depth. (KTRK)
KTRK reporter Steve Campion ended up doing a lot more than his day job during flooding in Houston-- he saved a man's life in the middle of a live broadcast.

If you haven't seen the video, go watch here. It's really something.

And yet, somehow, the internet has found it to be very important that Campion be shamed for his tone while rescuing the man.

Campion hollered to the man to swim from his sinking car. The video shows that the victim began to understand Campion's instructions and eventually did begin to swim-- a move that may well have saved his life.

But numerous bloggers (apparently self-appointed experts in swift water rescue) couldn't help but remark that Campion seemed "annoyed" during the rescue.

Indeed, Campion does seem flustered while yelling back and forth with the confused driver, who had trouble understanding Campion's advice to abandon his sinking car.

The victim begins to swim. (KTRK)
"Ugh is right, Steve," declared one of the more prominent posts circulating on social media about the incident. "I, too, would not want to muddy my reporting pants until absolutely necessary."

Several people voiced frustration about this to Campion on his facebook page.

"Next time, be a man and put your microphone down and do something," wrote one person. "Like maybe help the old man out of his sinking vehicle and walk him to safety."

These critiques are asinine. Campion DID do something. He focused on how to help the victim help himself.

Reviewing this video, I don't hear frustration from Campion so much as I hear concern.

Regardless of that distinction, he is damned well right to be flustered.

Campion is not employed as a swift water rescuer. He had no lifesaving equipment at his disposal.

Assisting the victim. (KTRK)
Yelling instructions to swim was the best and safest thing Campion could have done in that moment.

The old way of teaching water rescue was to "reach, row, throw, go." (Boy Scouts pretty well drilled that into my head.) Today, the Red Cross teaches a modified version, which ends with "don't go."

The reason is simple: a decision to go to a drowning victim is extremely risky. You can die trying to help.

An Australian study found 86 cases of "rescuers" who died while trying to save others over a 15-year period. The study sums up the problem this way:
A drowning victim’s behavior in the water is predictable. A victim’s uncontrollable instinct is to grab at any exposed part of a rescuer and to try to climb to safety, submerging the rescuer. The rescuer is submerged or strangled making breathing difficult or impossible. Victims who believe they are drowning exhibit extraordinary strength and children can incapacitate adults who go to their aid...
So put yourself in Campion's soggy shoes and actually think about the consequences.

Campion first tries to get the driver to rescue himself instead of going to the man: SMART!

Campion then appears to wait until the driver reaches water that's shallow enough that his feet can touch the ground: ALSO SMART!

Campion runs toward the victim. (KTRK)
Campion literally gave himself leverage by conducting this rescue in the manner he did. He preserved the ability to use his leg strength to help haul the struggling man to safety, and gave himself a fighting chance of breaking away if the victim started to panic.

The reporter's actions were nothing short of heroic. He focused a victim's attention and then rendered aid when he felt he could safely do so.

Did he hesitate? Yes! And he should!

That doesn't show any sort of cowardice on Campion's part. It shows a person who's thinking about how to come home to his loved ones alive at the end of his shift.

I couldn't have blamed him for choosing to keep out of the water altogether.

So, somebody give Campion a medal, and let's get the blogosphere back to shaming Kardashians.


PS-- As for holding on to his microphone through the ordeal: I do not know whether Campion would have had a place to set the mic down. It's a tool of his job (which is to inform the public of the exact danger in this scenario) and he's right not to toss it into the water if there's no compelling need to. I don't see how it interfered with the rescue. It's not Campion's fault that the driver ran into danger during the middle of a life shot-- that's just how it happened.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How Cam the Ram got political with a bull

Cam the Ram in TV ad for question 2C. (Source: A Smart Deal for Denver)
It flashes by so quickly, most TV viewers in Colorado might not give it a second thought.

Cam the Ram, the mascot for Colorado State University athletics, appears on screen for two seconds of a 30-second political ad asking voters to vote in favor of extending a tourism tax to benefit the area around the National Western Stock Show complex.

He's there because CSU stands to gain a new Agricultural facility as part of the master plan that ballot question 2C would help to fund.

While working on a Truth Test of the ad for 9NEWS on Monday, I wondered how it came to be that CSU would participate in a political ad this way.

In similar circumstances, local school district officials are loathe to appear as though they are campaigning in favor of bond issue questions, even if they think the measures are vital.

So, we asked CSU what made it okay to use Cam on camera.

"In August, the CSU Board of Governors approved [a] resolution in support of the tourism ballot measure," said university spokesman Mike Hooker. "Because of that official action of support by the board, the university approved the use of CAM in the video."

The resolution cites a specific Colorado law, which states that agencies are not prohibited from "passing a resolution or taking a position of advocacy" on ballot issues.
Sources familiar with school district bond issues told me that school boards tend to turn over advocacy for their bond measures to independent committees, who are allowed to raise funds for campaign purposes.

In this case, an outside group is also doing the campaigning for the ballot question. CSU simply allowed its mascot to appear in the ad.

It's a tricky business, though. Even when it's perfectly legal, sports mascots have to be careful not to upset fans-- remember when the Nuggets mascot Rocky made an "unsanctioned" appearance at an GOP rally with Mitt Romney and gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez?

With much less of a partisan edge, it's doubtful that Cam's appearance would rile too many fans here-- and CSU does stand to gain if the plan at the stock show complex moves forward.

In its resolution, the board of governors states that CSU plans "an equine sports medicine clinic, a water resources center, and a collaborative education and research center, and CSU's programs and facilities at the Fort Collins campus would provide support to and integration with those activities at the National Western Center."

But if the ad made you go, "hmm," now you know how it happened.

Friday, July 10, 2015

"WEED got that b-roll!"

A presumably normal woman, blowing marijuana smoke. (Image: DPA)
After celebrating some victories on the ballot, marijuana advocates have another issue to blunt: They want pot to be seen as a substance that normal, everyday people do.

Which is what sparked a new high in pro-marijuana public relations.

I give you: the marijuana b-roll project.

Put this in your pipe and smoke it: Yes, the puns in this post are on purpose. This is all supposed to be in good fun.

B-roll is TV shorthand for footage that can be shown while somebody talks. The Drug Policy Alliance is (fairly, I think) sick of, in their words: "watching cheesy b-roll footage of textbook stoners for every television news story about marijuana."

What they offered is an amusing, too-perfect collection of 21 clips of people buying and using marijuana-- which brings back fond memories of the infamous "we got that broll" YouTube sketch:

1. He's helping, but looks like grandma's teaching Bong 101

DPA title: "Young man helping older woman smoke marijuana with a water pipe"

2. Weed makes me bendy (in a healthy way, though)

DPA title: "Woman using a marijuana vaporizer pen and doing yoga"

3. Pass the Sorry on the left-hand side!

DPA title: "Diverse group of women smoking marijuana around a table"

4. OMG! Pot makes YouTube even FUNNIER!

DPA title: "Young woman and man (couple) vaping marijuana at home"

5. Wait for it... aaaaaaand... action!

DPA title: "Young man uses water pipe to smoke marijuana"

MORE: see the entire collection at DPA's marijuana b-roll project page

Okay, okay... so the likelihood that major news organizations will use this material is slim-to-none.

We generally prefer our own video and we avoid staged video as much as we possibly can.

These just don't scream authenticity.

Just casually using my bong in my bamboo garden! (Image: DPA)
That said, the folks at DPA raise a fair point: the file footage that many TV stations have in their archives was shot back to the days when we had to find people willing to let us shoot video of them committing a crime, a problem we are no longer saddled with in Colorado.

Many people have a stereotypical image of pot users and there's a good reason for pro-pot groups to try to burn this one down.

With marijuana legal in states like Colorado, it opens the drug up to more casual use. People can pop into a shop for an occasional purchase and get a nostalgic dose of their college days.

Others may just have a little pot to unwind, in much the same way they'd have a beer at the end of a long workday. (With the caveat that in Colorado, you can legally get fired for this.)

The stereotypical stoners are still there, and they still represent a healthy chunk of the millions of dollars worth of pot sales being made in legal shops in Colorado.

Bored games? Not when you have a joint! (Image: DPA)
But it's not unfair to try to get those of us in the news media to use shots that look more like your friends and neighbors who casually use pot.

This is just one front in a much larger fight.

Marijuana advocates are also trying to reshape the language that we use to talk about it.

I've had people take issue with my use of the word "weed" and even my use of the word "use."

The trouble is, particularly in broadcast news, we use conversational English in our writing.

I might write:

"A bunch of people smoked pot at the rally."

Pro-pot groups would much rather have me write:

"Many people consumed cannabis at the rally."

I'm not going to write that way, because you would never actually say that out loud.

RELATED: That's not marijuana-- that's cannabis (by Trevor Hughes)

Vaping... on a couch! (Image: DPA)
The news media is just a group of people-- which means to some degree, it's always going to reflect mainstream societal views.

If people start thinking and talking about pot differently, you'll see the media do the same.

It's a chicken-and-egg conundrum for those who want to normalize marijuana.

This b-roll project isn't likely to hatch up new opinions in the intended manner.

But hey, it's got us talking about the issue.

Come to think of it, I think our own archive footage of pot smoking could use an update...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What's it like in there?

It's a question I keep getting in some form as the Aurora theater trial crawls forward: "what's it like in there?"

As I write this we are in week 3 of what's anticipated to be a 4-5 month long mass-murder trial, so large in scope that it can be hard to grasp.

This case has more victims of attempted murder (those wounded in the July 2012 shooting) than there are seats in the courtroom.

Countless others are touched by the loss of the 12 people who died as a result of the attack.

The truth is... there just isn't a simple answer to the question of what it's like to cover this trial.

There are many moments in which I feel like I'm on a 1,000-mile long moving walkway: this thing is moving, but I can't even imagine being near the end yet.

There are other moments that I know I'll remember for the rest of my life. I can't even begin to fathom what it's like to have lost a person to an attack like this, but I do get glimpses.

Inside the courtroom, raw emotions are palpable. You can feel pain and sadness from across a room.

And those are the moments that have made it hard to sleep some nights.

Perhaps the most pointed memory of the trial for me came on day 4 as investigators walked the jury through photos of the 10 bodies left to lay in the theater.

The press sits on the left side of the courtroom behind the defendant. Victims and family typically sit on the right side, behind the DA's table.

On that day, just across the center aisle from me, I watched a woman (I presumed a grandmother of one of the victims I'll choose not to name here) break down and leave the courtroom in tears.

She'd made it through two photos of her granddaughter's body lying between rows of seats.

When a third, wider angle, was shown-- she didn't see the girl at first. There were two other bodies in the frame.

When the prosecution pointed out the girl's body on the edge of that photo, the woman across the aisle lost it. I felt an impulse to chase after her and give her a hug.

I can only begin to imagine the tug of war that goes on on your brain in that circumstance: wanting to know everything you can about how your loved one passed and not being able to bear one more ounce of the sheer horror of that reality.

I saw images that I'll never un-see that day, but the graphic nature of what was in those photos is only part of the reason it'll be forever burned into my memory.

It's the impact it has.

It's the pain.

It's the immeasurable human suffering.

And observing people trying to cope with that which cannot be understood.

There's nothing I'm going to say that's likely to make anybody connected to this case feel better.

I can't feel what they feel, but I feel that they're feeling it.

I wish them well. They've suffered more than anyone should have to.

-Brandon Rittiman