Knife transportation bill introduced to U.S. Senate

'Senator Mike Enzi' photo (c) 2011, AMSF2011 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The Knife Owner’s Protection Act of 2014 (KOPA), a bill designed to give legal protection to knife owners traveling through states with restrictive knife-carry laws,  was introduced to the U.S. Senate earlier this month.

You can read the entire text of the bill here.

The bill, introduced by Mike Enzi, a Republican senator from Wyoming, allows for the transportation of knives that are locked away and inaccessible during transportation. The bill also legalizes the “carry in the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle a knife or tool designed for enabling escape in an emergency that incorporates a blunt tipped safety blade or a guarded blade or both for cutting safety belts.”

The bill does not override the Transportation Security Agency’s regulations for air travel.

In a press release on his website, Enzi said the bill was designed to give travelers consistency and prevent “government overreach”

“A few overzealous states or cities shouldn’t be in the business of punishing folks for what is legal in most parts of the country just because they passed through their jurisdiction,” he said.

KOPA is similar to the Firearms Protection Act passed by Congress in 1986 which protected the transportation of firearms across state lines.

While Enzi introduced the bill to senate, Representative Matt Salmon, a Republican from Arizona introduced a house version of the bill Nov. 13, 2013.

The text of the house bill can be read here.

Both bills have been referred to committees. The senate version was sent to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and the house bill was sent to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.

Last September, AKTI talked with legislators in Washington about the issue of transporting knives by telling them stories about travelers who got in trouble when they carried a knife through a place where it was illegal to do so, according to a press release by the organization.

Its contributing legal council, Dan Lawson, helped write the legislative proposal for KOPA.

“We sincerely thank Senator Enzi and his staff for taking the lead on our proposed legislation and we look forward to continuing to work with them through the legislative process,” said Jan Billeb, executive director of AKTI.

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While gathering data, I learned Google doesn’t know everything

'Google Logo in Building43' photo (c) 2010, Robert Scoble - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Simply collecting the data for this story about the Berlin Police Department is more complicated than I first suspected. 

It’s my first data journalism story and I wanted something challenging — a project where I would learn — but something doable. Studying my hometown police department’s daily blotter for the month of January seemed reasonable and interesting.

In last week’s post, I told you Google’s search engines turned up valid entry after valid entry in its results. At first, it was easy: I went from one .pdf to another, downloading the files to my computer. But after downloading the 13th .pdf, I found out Google did not bring up all the results.

The last page of the search results had three documents that were irrelevant. I needed something more that a search engine to get all this data.

The last page of the search results had three documents that were irrelevant. I needed something more that a search engine to get all this data.

At first, I thought it was the police department, so I waited a few days before running the search again. But the same search a few days later on Jan. 23 gathered the same results.

That’s when I decided to manipulate the URL of one of the documents that was there in hopes of finding documents not retrieved by Google.

I started with the URL to the daily police blotter for Jan. 7:   http://www.berlinpd.org/images/pdfs/DAILY%20BLOTTER%201-07-2014.pdf

Since the date is in the address, I simply changed the date to a document I didn’t have. The document loaded; I downloaded it and I kept changing the date until I got an error message.

Apparently, the police department did not upload that document to the server at the time that I looked for it.

Apparently, the police department did not upload that document to the server at the time that I looked for it.

Here’s the lesson: A search engine is a good starting point when looking for information, but it has limitations.

The next step was converting the data into something I could use. 

You can’t use data in .pdf format because .pdfs are designed for reading and publishing. You have to have it in a .xls format, something malleable so that it can be played with, measured and counted.

Reading about data journalism, I learned there are ways to convert .pdfs into something usable, but by the sounds of it, a person needed to know a bit of code.

I instead opted for the easy way out and Googled “convert pdf to excel” and found a few websites that do it for free.

After combining 22 .pdf documents into one with merge.smallpdf.com and converting the 37-page document into an Excel workbook with pdftoexcelonline.com, I had an Excel file I could use.

The only problem? The .pdf converter made each page of the .pdf into a separate sheet in the Excel workbook. After trying to find a quick solution online today, I simply copy and pasted each sheet into a “Master List” in the workbook.

It probably needs copyediting, but I have three weeks worth of data that I can start exploring.

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Crumbs of the Internet no. 3: toast, photos and a Sundance film

When toast is more than a piece of bread (Longform) — I like this food story. It goes deeper than a fun story on high-end toast (How fluffy! How silly!) and digs into the heart and raw past of the trend starting on the West Coast. (h/t Buzzfeed) 

The sentence that created the national security policy we have today (Longform)  — This is the PSA article for the week. This story by Buzzfeed helped me understand the start of it all: NSA spying, Edward Snowden, Guantanamo Bay, drones.

How the Internet changed writing — Let’s get past the obvious: the Internet has made it easier to get something — anything — onto a page. This Q&A with the founder of The Awl shows the more things progress, the more they stay the same. Work hard, my friend!

Photographed breaking news? That picture may be worth more than you think — I wish I knew about this back at the beginning of 2012 when I photographed the National Park Service evicting Occupy protesters from McPherson Square. Time to start reading up on copyright law. 

Notes on Blindness,’ a selection from the Sundance Film Festival (Video) — This New York Times film explores the meditations of John Hull, who lost his sight in 1983. Like a good film, it has many layers. Instead of spoiling any part of it for you, I’ll let you watch it.

Crumbs of the Internet is a weekly post where I link to the notable stories that I read the week before. Its a mix of longform pieces, journalism advice and other things I found on the Internet which I found helpful. 

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How I’m teaching myself data journalism

'I Love Spreadsheets' photo (c) 2012, Craig Chew-Moulding - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Lol. Not yet.

Last week, I discovered myself staying up late and getting a little too excited over Excel spreadsheets.

The amount of nerdiness disgusted me at first, but I’ve come to terms with it. Data journalism jobs are in demand, and they fit into an evolving world of 21st Century media, of Wikileaks, PGP encryption, social media and SEO rankings.

Database journalism, from what I understand, is the process of analyzing data to find stories that serve the public interest. To do the job effectively, journalists need to learn a whole new toolbox of skills: Microsoft Excel, code, a bit of statistics and, *gasp* math.

But after the learning curve comes the ability to present better information to the public. Sometimes, journalism feels like parroting the he-said, she-said of politics and business.

While Mark Twain would argue “there are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics,” statistics and numbers bring a logical weight to news stories, a grounding.

Last week, I googled “data journalism.” The first hit was this free e-book, created by The European Journalism Centre and the Open Knowledge Foundation.

After reading how data journalism is important for 21st Century journalism, how the marriage of the press and data has already changed the world, I skipped to the pith of the book — a step-by-step guide to doing data journalism.

And this is where I decided to get involved. It’s one thing to read how to do something, but then the skill is then mostly forgotten, unpracticed. It’s another to actually go out and do it.

So I lined up a possible project analyzing data I get on my hometown of Berlin, Conn.

The first step was to get some data. 

I searched by file type (a .xls document is ideal) and I narrowed my search down until I was searching a specific website. Finally, I found something promising when I typed “2014 site:berlinpd.org filetype:pdf” into Google.

Bingo

Bingo

I found a promising vein of information on the Berlin Police Department’s website. They publish their daily activity blotter to the Internet in a .pdf document.

I figure I could collect data for a time  and then quantify it, figuring out the most dangerous streets, what the police do on an average day, find out when the department was most busy.

There are some challenges, like converting .pdf documents to .xls pages, filling in missing data and actually making sense of it all.

Meanwhile, I will keep you updated.

P.S. Are a data journalist reading this post? Could you give me any advice? Maybe I missed a really good resource. Let me know in the comments below, or through Twitter. My handle is @jcksndnl.

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Crumbs of the Internet no. 2: Cookies, bounty hunting and mad skilz

Here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the second time that I compile a bunch of articles that I found helpful or interesting, just in time for the weekend.

A history of everyone’s favorite cookie — Thought the chocolate-chip cookie was always part of American food culture? Think again because the idea of paring cookie and chocolate has been around for less than 100 years. The New Yorker dives into the history of this cornerstone cookie.

Bounty hunting in the 21st Century (Longform) — Wired Magazine called Michelle Gomez the best bounty hunter in the world. The 4-foot, 11-inch-tall woman does not appea like she could track down and turn in criminals on the run. However, her expertise in computers makes her able to crack the toughest cases. This article shows us how.

Should you type two spaces after a sentence? — This article should settle once and for all why you should never type two spaces after a sentence. (Hint: it’s because they  said so.) The correction at the end of the article is pretty interesting, too.

Skills you can learn for free right now — I included this story because I want easy access to this link and I figured you would too. While you could always Google “how to code Ruby” or “how to learn Excel,”  this Buzzfeed article has it all on one page. Sure, this article came out at the beginning of the year when everyone was making New Year resolutions, but I’m going to return to it when I want to learn about game theory.

How to fight death (Essay) — New York-based writer and paramedic Daniel José Older muses about saving life, fighting death and coping with the pressure. It’s a gritty read.

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In which I offer you some of the interesting crumbs of the web

While in college, I tried to create an email blast which gathered interesting stories from around the web. It went out a few times to all the students on the Bryan College campus before the school official in charge of managing the college’s enrollment shut the project down.

You can read how this started here.

Well, the whole episode is in the past. I have that piece of parchment paper somewhere in my room and I’m on my own.

I enjoyed those precious few weeks of pouring over longform journalism, sharing what moved me with the rest of campus.

I decided that I’ll do the same here on this blog. Every week, I’ll post a list of stories, videos and infographics that I found helpful and well done.

How will this look? Well, look below:

How to use the F-word (opinion) — This comes courtesy of one of my friends on Facebook. Writing coach Roy Peter Clark writes on CNN about the history, grammar and use of the F-word. (And yes, this link is one that could not have been distributed on a Christian college campus.)

The real secret life of Walter Mitty (short story) — The movie starring Ben Stiller has been out for a few weeks now. This is the second time that Walter Mitty has graced the silver screen, with his first time being portrayed by Danny Kaye. However, this is short story is where it all began. Less is more in this instance, because I found the short story more thought-provoking than either film.

The shadow-king of e-commerce — This long read from The Atlantic delves into the life and business practices of Jesse Willms, the man behind the internet ads touting that “One weird trick to a slimmer belly” and other ads offering items and services that look too good to be true.

How to do better food journalism — I expect only the journos will be interested in this article. Yes, this article is old (2004), but I think it sets a vision for what food journalism could be.  Around that time, the coverage of food changed from recipes to something more substantial.

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My journalism: a look back and some news

It’s been a big year for me and journalism. When the ball dropped last night, the mind didn’t have the whole picture. Standing there with a plastic cup with half-melted ice cubes, I had that experience of not fully realizing what had gone on the year before, no idea what will happen in the future.

A lot happened. I had not kept time from Jan. 1 to Jan. 1. Moments early on were forgotten and re-remembered again. This post is to chronicle what all went down this year.

  1. Sandy Hook — I still have not visited Newtown, Conn., but the effects of Dec. 14, 2012 carried over into the new year. There were the stories of how other Connecticut towns responded, stories about school security upgrades and an anniversary piece that I’m quietly proud to have written. Just kidding. I mentioned it on here.
  2. Bryan College — In May, I walked. In August, I finally finished all the required courses and got the paper that said I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Communication with an emphasis in Journalism. The diploma represents a chapter in life, of struggling through student media, late nights of despair as we pulled together paper after paper, censorship and The Washington Journalism Center.
  3. The Berlin Citizen — From freelancer in January between semesters at college to reporter, this year has been the year of The Citizen. In May, I worked as reporter for Town Times, then moving beats to North Haven and eventually back to The Berlin Citizen. It’s been a full circle, writing for my hometown paper.
  4. Freedom of Information Act Requests — In November, I worked on the story of the anniversary of Sandy Hook where I served six FOIA requests. Having never written a FOIA letter in college, this was all learned in the school of hard knocks. Mistakes were made, which may or may not be recounted in a future post.
  5. A licence… to drive — People were always shocked to learn I did not have a car. No so any longer! My stick-shift Nissan Sentra carries me to stories and is dear to my heart.
  6. Code — At the end of college, I watched a video on the importance of coding. A few weeks later, I was eking out my first few lines of HTML. I read that knowing code is a skill journalists should know. However, I didn’t see much application, working at the paper. It wasn’t until I was talking to another co-worker and he showed me his free WordPress website, showing me what he did with SEO and code that I realized the potential. Code is the way to own a website. In a way, it’s customizing and creating your printing press.
  7. Photography — In a way, nothing has changed. I still take photos on the same point and shoot that I purchased freshman year of college. A few days ago, I pressed the shutter for the 20,000th time. I know more about light, composition and timing. Still waiting for the DSLR, though…
  8. Town Elections — This year, I was able to cover a full election season in Connecticut, from the first primaries, to political theory, to the final outcomes. These lessons in the fight for power could not be learned by reading about it in a book, but experienced on the front lines.
  9. This Blog — In January 2013, I started this blog, telling readers and myself that this would be the blog that I keep for a while. I have not abandoned it yet.

And now, on Jan. 1, 2014, I set out on a new adventure. Yesterday was my last day at the paper that gave me the chance to start doing local journalism. I am moving to Chattanooga. I know not yet what I will be doing, although I have some leads. I’m going down to live closer to my fiancee, who said yes on Aug. 17, 2013 and made that moment by a lake in Connecticut the best moment of the year.

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My paper, a disgraced professor and my college, a year later

I still have the piece of paper. I smoothed it out after it lay crumpled on the bottom of my LL Bean messenger bag and now it has joined its other pulpy brothers and sisters in a stack of memories buried somewhere in my room.

It’s probably on of the the last remaining, original, physical copies of Alex Green’s story on David Morgan. We converted the document to a pdf, to help distribution. I guess it’s a lesson as old as the internet–if it goes online, you have no control of what happens next.

For those of us who need a refresher, USA Today wrote an article after Alex won his ethics award.

The memories of the stress will fade, the fear of what would happen when administrators would crack down, the sweat that was not just from the September sun. But that paper remains as a testament to the time when all the dreams of being a hard-nosed journalist came true, of standing up to the man, of becoming a champion for the First Amendment.

I guess most people would expect me to write some congratulatory post, something akin to “we did it! We stood up to the man and won!” but I’m not sure if I feel triumphant a year after the event. After Alex won his ethics award, we celebrated. After the president of the Society of Professional Journalists commended the work of a few undergraduate journalists in a small, liberal arts college, we celebrated. Today, I am reflecting back and I can only remember the doubts, how the whole thing was one big shit storm.

I’m really writing this post because I have some other writing that I have to do, writing that people will pay to read. But this is more fun. I get to type the word ‘shit’ and no one will delete it.

I learned two things from that day. First, doing what right is confusing. It was easier to do nothing. It would have been safer to just go on, publishing a paper every month, following up on the gossip we heard around the hill.

Some of our readers would have like that better, too. Not all the students were grateful for the news. I saw students destroying copies of the story as soon as we put them out. Others criticized, because they thought we were harming more than we were helping.

But in the end, we stayed true to ourselves. After all, we were journalists. We saw the college speak in a way which was misleading. So we ratted them out because we would not live true to ourselves if we did otherwise.

I’m not going to provide a moral to this blog post. I just find a big part of ethics is not compromising on your core values and, to quote Hunter S. Thompson “to hell with the consequences.”

The second lesson was the matter of pride. Sure, we were all Christians on the hill. We all expected a certain level of decency. I remember seeing how everything was motivated by pride, image, power. Despite smartphones and nice clothes, we still are very much the barbarians of our ancestors.

Fear and Loathing and Journalism

The other day, I brought home an anthology of Hunter S. Thompson‘s work  called “The Great Shark Hunt” from the library. This was my first time really digging into the writer’s work.

Oh I heard about him. I saw the trailer for the movie adaption of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and I read his piece “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Thompson, he was a journalist during the 60s and 70s known for exaggeration, fictionalization of facts, and a writing style that started with a bang and grew louder from there. I was introduced to him in Journalism 101 and was told to learn from but never, ever write like him.

Reading Thompson, I find that his character drives the writing forward. He’s the cowboy-journalist, a hard-drinking, dope-using rebel who wiggles into political campaigns and horse derbys to tell his readers his view of the situation.

His writing advice is … unique. I’ve quoted some sections where he talks about reporting and writing. I wanted to share them because He has a slightly different view.

In the Author’s Note from “Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail,” Thompson’s book published in 1973, Hunter S. Thompson describes political journalism. He talks about how there are things the press won’t say about candidates and politicians because if they did, the reporters would be shut down, never able to closely report on that politician again.

It’s just a fact: political journalists have to play a bit of politics to get stories. But Thompson was going to write on everything — even the politician’s drinking problem.

“Unlike most other correspondents, I could afford to burn all my bridges behind me — because I was only there for a year, and the last thing I cared about was establishing long-term connections on Capitol Hill. I went there for two reasons: (1) to learn as much as possible about the mechanics and realities of a presidential campaign, and (2) to write about it the same way I’d write about anything else — as close to the bone as I could get, and to hell with the consequences. “

Hunter S. Thompson’s writing process was as strange as the rest of his life. In the same book, he described fighting writer’s block by using a tape recorder. And if the writing block got really bad, there was always self-medication. This is something they don’t teach, or recommend, anywhere.

“Meanwhile, my room at the Seal Rock Inn is filling up with people who seem on the verge of hysteria as the sight of me still sitting here wasting time on a rambling introduction, with the final chapter still unwritten and the presses scheduled to start rolling in twenty-four hours … but unless somebody shows up pretty soon with extremely powerful speed, there might not be any Final Chapter. About four fingers of king-hell Crank would do the trick, but I am not optimistic.”

As I paged through the anthology, I realized the allure to Hunter S. Thompson was in his independence, his persona as a motorcycle-riding, hard-drinking free spirit so often connected to mountain men, cowboys, and the scores of people who responded for the call of gold in California .

 

In his piece, “The Ultimate Free Lancer,” Thompson reflects on the freelance life as seen lived out through one of his colleagues, Lionel Olay. This is why gonzo journalism is so alluring. In the end, Thompson answered only to himself. He was the american writer, master of his fate, captain of his destiny.

“Lionel was the ultimate free lancer. In the nearly ten years I knew him, the only steady work he did was as a columnist for the Monterery Herald … and even then he wrote on his own terms on his own subjects, and was inevitably fired. Less than a year before he died his willful ignorance of literary politics led him to blow a very rich assignment from Life magazine, which asked him for a profile on Marty Ransahoff, a big name Hollywood producer then fresh from a gold-plated bomb called “The Sandpiper.” Lionel went to London with Ransahoff (“first-cabin all the way,” as he wrote me from the S.S. United States) and after two months in the great man’s company he went back to Topanga and wrote a piece that resembled nothing so much as Mencken’s brutal obituary on William Jennings Bryan. Ransahoff was described as a “pompous toad” — which was not exactly what Life was looking for.”

 

Reason for email edits not about language

Soon after I wrote the post on Feb. 18, I emailed Mike Sapienza, vice president for enrollment management, the person who made the final decision to cut the outside links to my stories. I asked him directly why the cuts were made.

It was not about the language.

No, the person who usually sends out the mass emails to the school asked Sapienza about the article with the language and he decided to cut the outside links for another reason: “I don’t see any reason for us to include other stories,” he said.

Michael Sapienza's response

He never read the stories which he deleted and he never bothered to see what the precedent was when it came to sending out email blasts.

I met with him a few days later to discuss his decision and to clarify what he said.

I brought along copies of email blasts of other news organizations such as The Daily Caller, The Washington Post and The Politico, that have links to other, outside stories. I wanted to show him that what I was doing was not unusual.

However, he said he didn’t want to bother the student body with extra information. Everyone on campus gets the emails, he said, and some have complained about getting the mass emails from the college.

This is where Sapienza and I disagree. He sees the email as an advertisement for Triangle links. I see it as another way to inform students. Faculty, staff and students can have a working knowledge of the campus even if they skim the headlines and read one story.

If they don’t want the email, they can delete it. That’s the beauty of free speech.

The student handbook says that every announcement to the college must go through the Office of Student Life. Maybe all notices must be tailored to the student body, maybe not.

But the result of this edit is still the same: censorship.

I provided information which I thought would enlighten and benefit the student body. Someone made a decision that the campus did not need that information.