A birthday ‘valentine’ for Grass Valley Group

The Union has a sweet package on the Grass Valley Group in Monday’s paper, pegged to the 50th birthday.

It’s more of a P.R. approach than many journalists would take, given that the company is *up for sale* and video-hardware makers are *struggling* with a new business model, not just the recession. None of this was explored. The multimedia effort was noble, but key links were/are broken. (I tried to shrug off the full-page ad from Grass Valley Group that ran with the news package).

I was hoping for much more analysis. For example: How is Grass Valley Group re-inventing its business to survive for the next 50 years? What’s being done by government and civic leaders to keep Grass Valley Group here? I also know a management-led buyout has been floated. Is that “doable” in an era of tight credit?

I noticed when Huntington Labs decided to move here the other day, the owner said Bend, Ore., and Reno were more competitive cost-wise but we had a better lifestyle. I’m glad they came, but why not offer some tax or other business incentives?

This would be good fodder for a newspaper, blogger or new publication to explore.

‘The boys — and girls — of summer’

Wow. What fabulous weather this weekend. Hope you enjoyed it.

Besides going for a long walk with our puppy, we grilled up some hot dogs (a 2-for-1 special on Hebrew National), whipped up some potato salad (dill adds a good kick), swung open the doors and turned on the Dodgers/Giants exhibition game.

Spring and summer is the best season: the first mow in your yard, and Opening Day for baseball and later trout fishing in the high Sierra.

I grew up as a Dodgers fan but have rooted for the Giants for years. Even if you’re not a Dodgers fan, read “Dodger Stadium” by Mark Langill. Great history and images, going back to opening day in April 1962.

One of my favorite baseball books also is “Sandy Koufax” by Jane Leavy. It’s about religion, not just baseball, and chronicles the transition of baseball from America’s favorite pastime to too much commercialism.

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.