Tough road ahead for Thomson GV et al.

Seeking Alpha, a business and investing site I read regularly, has a good analysis on the troubles facing video-hardware makers including Thomson Grass Valley, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary and up for sale at the same time. (Kinda sad).

Grass Valley Group was founded as a tiny R&D company in our sleepy burgh by Dr. Donald Hare. It got its big break in 1964, when it was called upon to provide video equipment to broadcast a presidential convention in San Francisco after the original supplier dropped out. A good history of the company and Thomson, complete with timeline, is here.

But the *future,* not the past, is what counts now — hundreds of jobs and local tax receipts are at stake with the pending sale:

“In Thomson’s year end report, they stated that the decline of the Grass Vally business was due to conditions that were worse than expected and that they have already started the divestment process for the Grass Valley unit,” according to Seeking Alpha.

“This is going to be a tough year for the hardware manufactures and we can expect to see more companies like Thomson get out of the broadcast hardware business.”

Nowadays many broadcasters are looking at lower cost solutions, so these companies will have to tap new markets or “re-innovate” their business around service and upgrades, as Seeking Alpha points out.

This doesn’t mean it can’t be done: I’ve seen and written about lots of tech companies that have re-invented themselves, up to and including IBM (which is negotiating to buy Sun Microsystems).

Wouldn’t it be cool if GV Thomson — which spawned a video hardware mecca here — could pull off a management-led buyout? It’s not unthinkable. I know the idea has been kicked around.

It sure would make a better ending to this Cinderella-like story than the grim alternative.

Neighbors chase off Google camera car

You’ve no doubt heard about the Google car that goes around photographing homes for a 3-D street level view of communities.

Well, not in Broughton, a village north of London in the UK.

“My immediate reaction was anger: How dare anyone take a photograph of my home without my consent?” one resident told The Times of London, according to CNN.

“This is an affluent area. We’ve already had three burglaries in the past six weeks. If our houses are plastered all over Google it’s an invitation for more criminals to strike. I was determined to make a stand, so I called the police.”

Google’s Street View project has generated other complaints about privacy.

“Embarking on new projects, we sometimes encounter unexpected challenges, and Street View has been no exception,” a Google spokesman said.

I’ve seen the Google car around here. The shots in our neighborhood were taken in the dead of winter, not doing justice to the blooming dogwoods.

Stonehouse like eatery in Oroville, not Yountville

The plan for reopening the Stonehouse as the venue for the county’s youth training program will be presented to the Nevada City Council on Wednesday.

Here’s some interesting background: The program, which starts June 1, is modeled after a successful youth training program in Oroville, at a popular Italian restaurant restaurant called Checkers. The Web site is here.

The program started nine years ago, and Checkers has grown into a *self-sustaining business* and is popular with the locals.

“A great stop is Checkers,” according to a review on CNET’s Chowhound food and restaurant site. “OK, the wait staff is kids, but it’s for a good cause, and the food is great at a cheap price.”

Another added: “Checkers has the best food in Oroville.” (Chowhound is a food site worth bookmarking).

Checker’s lunch menu shows lunch entrees for just $4.25, including Chicken Vesuvio (roasted chicken thigh with white wine and artichoke sauce with a side of roasted potatoes) and Fettuccini Alfredo.

The county program here will target youths between 16 and 24 years of age for hospitality training. Unlike Checkers, The Stonehouse *only* will provide food service and meeting space for private parties and special events, at least for now.

I’m sure some local residents will turn up their noses, preferring that Stonehouse is a “destination restaurant” like one in Yountville or Sonoma.

“OK Skippy,” is my retort. That’s just not happening. The building has sat vacant for months. It has been vacant in previous times too. One longstanding drawback: the freeway stands between the restaurant and the busier side of the downtown.

There definitely is downside risk to this venture: the youths not behaving or not doing what they should, close to public parks and trails. Sure, I worry about that. But that’s up to the supervisors to, well, supervise the youths.

Its also up to our community service offers to do their jobs.

Bottom line: I think this is a pragmatic solution that addresses the realities of our towns (not the fantasies) — a government lease that gets paid on time; training our ranks of rural “at-risk” youth, putting them to work and building self esteem; and a chance to build a self-sustaining business across from the main part of downtown.

I call that a “win-win-win.” Maybe Thomas Keller will come here one day and create a Michelin-rated restaurant such as the “French Laundry” in the Stonehouse, an elegant building for sure. But for now, this is a practical plan.

The ‘cult’ of Lego bricks

A Lego cake
A Lego cake
We’re throwing a birthday party for our 6-year-old son this weekend.

His friends will come to the house and play some games, run around — and eat a home-made cake that looks like a big Lego brick.

Like many children his age, my son is a Lego fanatic. He builds some incredible Lego toys, ignoring instructions on the box.

Space ships and bionicles are among his favorites. He carries them around the house on a cookie sheet, so they don’t break into pieces.

I played with Legos as a child, but many of my son’s bricks are much smaller — small enough to get caught in the vacuum or for his puppy to try to eat.

Legos also has a Web site with interactive games and videos, which my son has bookmarked on my Mac. He’s a much bigger fan of Legoland than Disneyland.

Adults are hooked on Legos too. A U.S. national model builder competition for adults occurs annually. Some adult works of art are shown the blog WebUrbanist.com.

Last year, Lego celebrated its 50th-anniversary, and I expect they will be around for the next generation of children.

Like iPods, a cottage industry could spring up for accessories: A “Lego catcher” that you install on a vacuum, for example.

(My son’s birthday flower bouquet behind the Lego cake comes from Foothill Flowers in Grass Valley. We’re big fans of their “works of art” for a special occasion and Mrs. Johnson’s holiday decorations. It epitomizes what a small-town merchant is all about.)

Who benefits from combining editor/publisher?

The Union’s “flagship” sister paper, the Vail Daily, on Thursday combined the roles of editor and publisher to cut costs.

It comes after the Swift-owned Nevada Appeal and The Union also combined the two roles – traditionally separate. In olden times, the editor managed newsgathering and the publisher ran the business side of the operations.

This “Chinese Wall” was there for good reason: to generate revenue but not compromise news coverage, such as putting “advertorials” on the news pages. As I’ve blogged before, such advertorials are on the rise.

Times are tough for newspapers. As reported, the Vail Daily is facing stiff competition from the guy who sold the paper to them and now has started his own free daily, The Vail Mountaineer.

The background on the latest chapter is here.

“He complements his obvious talent as a writer and editor with excellent instincts as a salesman and business manager,” the statement read about the combined roles in Vail.

My graduate journalism professors at Northwestern University, among others, would have a cow.

The Vail Daily’s previous publisher went on to the Colorado Springs paper, where they still have a publisher *and* and editor.

As in Vail and Carson City, The Union also has combined the roles of editor and publisher. The paper’s publisher/editor lately has been a vocal advocate of re-opening the Idaho-Maryland mine, a controversial issue. Some of the sentiment has bled onto the news pages, some residents have observed.

I like our local publisher on a personal level, but it’s time to draw a line in the sand. Readers aren’t stupid. You just undermine your credibility (and readership).

The papers here, in Vail and Carson City are owned by Swift Communications of Reno, a family owned local business. What would the founders think?

In fairness, I see similar “blurring of lines” problems at KNCO (which doesn’t even disclose its full ownership and should) and yubanet.com, which has an obvious “pro-left” bent. Most of our bloggers are idealogues.

I think we can do better. We have a lot of smart people around here, who deserve more from their local media.

At the bare minimum, let’s hope the economy recovers soon.

Can bloggers provide a ‘public service’?

Public service awards are a big deal in mainstream journalism.

But “citizen journalists” can do their part, in a small way.

Here’s an example: I blogged on Thursday about a cool regional map for electric vehicles, noting that the our local ones should be included.

People who are involved in the program read the item, and now they will include it.

This is a “win-win.” In fact, I think promoting our EV recharging stations can also help promote our area to some enterprising “green” tourists. I’d love to have them come to my hometown of Nevada City, look around and buy lunch. Maybe they’ll come back.

Here’s the note: “Just spoke with the folks at EVA, they agree. So now we begin the process of interfacing to larger sites. Great way to expand advertisement! It will be interesting to see how many sites are out there that have charging maps and how up to date they are, and if they have facility to easily add new stations. Thanks for the nudge.”

This blog is is a fun exercise and an avocation, not a vocation; I’m working with a media startup now. But the traffic has been growing, and more important, I’m impressed at the quality of the *signed* comments.

The comments are generating some interesting, thought-provoking dialogue, not the “f bombs” you read in The Union’s comment section. I never see many comments on yubanet.com, and KNCO doesn’t even offer them.

I hope that intriguing online dialogue becomes more commonplace in *all* our media and blogs. The potential for raising the bar and providing thought-provoking discussions in real-time is enormous in our community. We have a lot of smart people here.

But it starts with signed comments, not anonymous ones. And it starts with a nonpartisan approach to journalism. Our local media, in print and online only, as well as most bloggers, seem to “take sides” too often. Once you get pigeon-holed, you lose your effectiveness and credibility.

I see too much of that around here. How sad. If you want to get down to brass tacks, just get the voter register and see how journalists and bloggers are registered to vote. It’s all very predictable.

BTW, I’m “decline to state” and swing both ways. I voted for Obama in the last election, and I think he’s doing a good job. But I’ve also voted for Republicans in the elections since I was 18 years old. We need a new political party system.

Is our high school drug testing ‘random’ or not?

Some parents are raising concerns that the ballyhooed program of random drug-testing of our local high-school athletes is not random after all.

Some of the *same youths* are being repeatedly tested, some parents charge. What about the others?

Is this just a coincidence? Let’s hope so. Otherwise the program is a sham.

Parents still raise concerns about whether drug or alcohol use is occurring among athletes. I’m reminded of episode involving the girls’ basketball team at Bear River and the fiasco about a baseball team going to Mexico before that. (The former was well covered; the later less so).

At The Union, we took a lot of heat for reporting allegations involving the girl’s basketball team. People yell into your face (or your reporter’s faces) or they work behind your back.

I think the problem is real (though the DA made some political hay out of it). Above all, an independent media who “shines a light” on real issues that impact our community is a great public service. It definitely can help bring about reform, rather than sweeping it under the rug.

Let’s hope the local media digs into this latest episode of nonrandom, random drug testing. I hope it’s not off limits.