Bits and Bursts (Big News at End)

So, if you’ve been a follower of this blog/email (or just my life lately) you’ve probably gotten some idea of what I’ve been up to. You probably know that I’ve been freelancing for The New York Times and some other publications lately. Maybe you’ve forgotten that I’m also a grad student at Columbia (hey, sometimes I forget, too.)

You may have known that I was winding down the semester with a big (read: 2500 words) story on AIDS education in Central Brooklyn as the grand finale for my RW1 class. I did finish the story, and Prof. Gissler said I ended “on the upswing.” So that’s good. The story ended up diverting slightly from what I had in mind. That is to say that originally it was to look at how AIDS was taught in Central Brooklyn schools, which has one of the highest AIDS rates and where local officials say that the education is abysmal or non-existent. However, given that getting into NYC schools is probably harder than getting into Fort Knox, I gave up on that route and ended up writing about how different organizations are doing after-school presentations so they don’t have to be bound by city rules concerning time format and condom distribution and demonstrations. So that was sorta interesting. (Maria, do you happen to know what the rules are in the East Bay concerning condom distribution in schools?) Here in NYC since the Board of Education passed a rule in 1995, you can’t give out or demonstrate condoms in a classroom. If a student wants a condom, they have to go to a “health resource room” (read: nurse’s office or some equivalent thereof) and get explained how to use it there. (Anyone looking for a public health thesis? Go find out how often this is happening.)

I ended up meeting this one pretty articulate kid who is a peer educator for the Brooklyn AIDS Task Force, who closed out my piece:

Other peer educators, like Derrick Braxton, say that they have had similar experiences with their friends as well.

“Some of the dudes that I know that are desperate [to have sex], they’re just going to ride it naked, without a hat,” says Braxton. “They say that the condom takes all the fun away. I say to them that you have to use protection. I tell ’em: ‘Yo man, strap up. You don’t want to get anybody pregnant or you don’t want to catch nothin’.”

But Braxton even goes so far to ensure that his buddies listen that he has become a de facto condom distributor — supplied by the Brooklyn AIDS Task Force.

“I say that whenever you need protection, just come to my house,” he says. “I’m always protected for myself and my friends. I give ’em out to people. ‘Take this, you might need it.'”

I wish there were more kids like him.

So now the big school assignment that I have over my head is my thesis. Which is due in almost exactly three months. That’s 5,000 words. Originally I was going to write on new Senegalese immigrants, but my scouting trips into Little Senegal in Harlem didn’t really produce anything. Then I was going to expand the AIDS piece — but my advisor didn’t go for that. So now, I’m going to write about what it’s like to be gay in high school in NYC in 2004. I just need to find some kids. Shouldn’t be too hard, just need to do it.

You might be wondering — “If Cyrus is the Wanderlust Geek, why isn’t he writing about tech?” — and the answer is, I’d love to. But, I can’t come up with something that can be reported on here in New York for 5,000 words. I probably could come up with some other things back in the Bay Area — but not here. If anyone can come up with anything — tell me now.

We finished the semester a week ago. We had a take-home final for our law class and an in-class 15 minute final for our Critical Issues class (man that class was useless). So I’m on break until January 24 (!!!). Of course, I have to use those last two weeks to really bear down on my thesis. I return from California on January 9.

So what’s the sched for next semester? In spring, you take four basic classes. Thesis (doesn’t meet as a class), Seminar, Workshop, and Elective.

Monday 9 – 5 pm : Book Writing (seminar)
This seminar teaches students to prepare a book proposal, including an overview essay and a sample chapter, both at least 4,000 words long. Each student must enter the class with either sufficient material from elsewhere or an idea that can be researched in the New York area. Students will not be permitted to use their Master’s Project for this seminar. Coursework ranges from intensive study of literary non-fiction and journalistic fiction, with related writing assignments on a weekly basis, to instruction in the techniques of reporting and writing extended narrative, and of producing a book proposal. Guest speakers from the publishing industry appear frequently. Enrollment limited, with approval of instructor.

Tuesday : No class, but probably will be used for thesis time

Wednesday 5 – 8 pm : Radio Documentary (elective)
This course teaches the art and techniques of documentary journalism. Students explore documentary storytelling through the use of strong writing, compelling voices, sound, scene and narrative. Radio is the ideal medium for the documentary; at its best, radio combines the power and immediacy of great documentary films with the intimacy and poetry of a New Yorker-style magazine piece. This course combines instruction in advanced writing, sound-gathering and multi-layered audio mixes. Guest lectures and discussions will focus on various stylistic and ethical issues related to documentary work.

Thursday 5 – 7 pm : Radio (workshop)
Students will employ advance radio writing and production techniques in a variety of radio formats. The course will emphasize fully reported, radio news and magazine reports such as those featured most commonly on NPR programs. In addition to reporting, the class will function as a program production team whose fundamental task is to produce a weekly radio news magazine, broadcast on the internet. Students will learn the full range of techniques of radio reporting, writing and on-air production, including newscasts, spot news, reports in the 3-4 minute range, and longer descriptive and narrative pieces using documentary methods. The course is intended to provide mastery of the most important skills needed in the news department of a good quality local radio station or national news organization.

Friday 9 am – 6:30 pm : Radio, continued

So I’ll be busy. On top of all that, I plan on maintaining my freelancing gigs (NYT, Wired, Macworld, with a little Wired News). And maybe doing some stuff on the side Morning Stories at WGBH.

Speaking of gigs, this brings me to my “big news” that I hinted at from yesterday.

I’m going to be a book editor! On a book about Iranian Blogs!

Yesterday morning I got an email from an Iranian-British woman who lives in London.

A few hours later, I got a call from London, and we talked a little bit and even though I don’t have any book editing experience (or any experience beyond editing the Sci-Tech page at the Daily Cal), she still wanted me to do it. I think my two big qualifications are that I’m Iranian (well, half, anyway) and that I like blogs. So she sent me the 200-page manuscript and I printed it out last night. I’ll have a look at it this weekend — so far, it looks fascinating.

So yeah. Holy crap. I’m editing a book. A book. On Iranian blogs! Huzzah!

(One more thing: if there’s anything in particular that people in CA want from NYC — email me before midnight eastern time on Sunday.)

Back from DC

Back from DC. Stopped for some Koronet. Off to California (I’ve been singing “Hail to California” and the “Cal Drinking Song” to myself today) on Monday!

Potentially big news (work-related) to announce coming up. Stay tuned.

“Just think how I feel, I just printed my lifetime salary in a few minutes.”

Dec. 12 2004

Mood: on the road
Music: They Might Be Giants – Drink (glacially slow ; Live at New Haven 2004)

I’m really digging the fact that TMBG is such a techno-conscious band (not to mention the fact that they’re awesome). What I mean is that if you’re a free subscriber to their email list, they periodically release free mp3s via their site, and then just the other day, they released a whole live album via mp3 (encoded at 256 kHz for you audio-heads out there).

The first is this album called Almanac 2004, which is a collection of live recordings from their recent tour which as soon as I got an email about it, I didn’t hesitate for a second before spending $10 on it. I’m a big enough fan of TMBG to want to consume pretty much everything they put out. I’m happy to drop $10 on a collection of good mp3s of theirs. It’s funny, I probably haven’t bought a CD in a store in about 9 months (“Mach 6” by MC Solaar). And now that I think about it, if it had been available as a downloadable album, instead of my h aving to order it from France and have it be expensive and all that, it would be better. I wonder how much cheaper it is to produce an mp3 album versus a standard CD album — you know, minus the plastic CD cases, liner notes, and the burning of thousands of CDs. And the best part is that if you don’t want to buy the whole album, you don’t have to. Welcome to the Ÿber-customized media world, my friends. I love it. 🙂

Continued Dec. 14 2004

Mood: Awake
Music: The Postal Service – The District Sleeps Alone Tonight

Ok, so it’s not the night anymore, but here in Nick’s apt at Georgetown Law, everyone but me is still sleeping. And this is the only song that I have that’s about DC.

Greetings from our nation’s capitol, everyone. And so my vacation begins. I turned in my law take-home final around midnight last night, and I handed in my copy for my upcoming NYT and Macworld pieces Sunday night.

Sarmad and I are here in DC for a few days, just exploring and checking stuff out, like one does. We arrived yesterday courtesy of the ever-popular Chinatown bus ($35 round-trip) and walked over to Georgetown Law, which really not that far away — despite that it took me about four calls to Nick to get the directions straight. No matter.

Nick had his final exam, and Sarmad and I took off for The Mall, where we stomped around the Capitol building, Supreme Court and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Continued Dec. 15 2004

Yesterday: Spy Museum, White House, Lane Smith at USAID, American History Museum, Dinner at Dupont

Today: Walked the length of The Mall, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Walked up to Dupont, Pre-dinner at Dupont, Dinner in Bethesda

Tomorrow: Iranian Interests Section, Iraqi Embassy, Back to NYC

“There’s just two songs in me, and this is number three.”

December 16, 2004
When Shots Ring Out, a Listening Device Acts as Witness

IN an unusual application of neuroscience research, police agencies around the country may soon be able to equip street corners with microphones and video cameras to fight gun-related crime.

The system, based on work by Dr. Theodore Berger, director of the Center for Neural Engineering at the University of Southern California, uses the equipment and a computer to recognize gunshots, pinpoint where they came from and transmit the coordinates to a command center. It relies on software that mimics the way the human brain receives, processes and analyzes sound. The system has drawn the attention of several law enforcement agencies, including police departments in Chicago, Oklahoma City and Phoenix and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

“When you put in automated gunshot recognition in a highly visible format like this, the residents no longer have to fear reprisal and the police no longer have to depend on the residents for accurate information,” said Bryan Baker, 56, chief executive officer of Safety Dynamics. He and Dr. Berger co-founded the company in Oak Brook, Ill., 20 months ago to produce the system, called Smart Sensor Enabled Neural Threat Recognition and Identification, or Sentri.

Dr. Berger, 54, who is also chief scientist at Safety Dynamics, said the system was able to distinguish gunshots from voices, car traffic and construction. “You can find that brains can do it, but you can’t find physical systems that can do it,” Dr. Berger said. “It’s very hard to corrupt the signal in such a way that we don’t know what’s going on.”

The software is able to recognize sound by dividing it into small sections and matching them to known audio-wave patterns through a technique known as wavelet analysis. The system also examines the incoming sound as a whole, making sure that its components are heard in the proper order, even if one is obscured by other noises, such as a loud truck.

Read more here . . .

Two midnight non-sequitors

MeFi points out: Photos of the 1906 SF earthquake.

This is my favorite one, looking at the Ferry building in the foreground.

And from Bennington, VT, Reuters reported earlier this week:

Students occasionally parading naked around Vermont’s Bennington College campus has been a tolerated, if peculiar, part of the university’s student culture here since the 1960s.

Now Robert Graves, hired this year as Bennington’s dean of students, has embarked on a crusade against public nudity — one that has run afoul of the school’s free-spirited students.

Students have long enjoyed an informal policy allowing them to go naked on campus. Whether it was as a topless sunbather lounging on the lawn or students running naked at an annual bonfire party, college officials turned a blind eye.

But when a student strolled around campus naked this summer during an orientation session when parents were visiting campus, the new dean reprimanded him.

More than 200 students, a few of them naked, marched across campus in October to protest against what they saw as a crackdown by the administration on freedom of expression. While the impending onset of the New England winter has put a temporary pause to the dispute, students are preparing for a springtime assault.

Lindsey Gage, a Bennington senior leading the fight to preserve what she concedes is an unwritten policy, said she has grown accustomed to public nudity since enrolling here.

“It is never lewd but a natural sight,” she said.

American liberal arts colleges do not get much more liberal than Bennington. Nestled in Vermont’s Green Mountains, the school has a nontraditional approach to education in which students draw up their own curricula.

“Bennington does not expect students to conform, but to transform,” the college’s Web site proclaims.

No plans over Xmas break?

Then head over to Kiev to be an Ukranian election observer.

To be an effective observer, you should try to arrive in Ukraine about 1 week before the election and stay for 3 days after the election. For those already in Ukraine, plan to spend about 3 days before and 2 days after the election in the region where you will be posted. A training session will be organized for observers before the election (most likely in Kyiv, possibly in Canada too – we will inform you). Observers should try to bring with them a video camera, digital / photo camera, flashlight, and mobile phone that will work in Europe (tri band or GSM 900/1800 – this is different than most cell phones in North America), with extra film, batteries, etc. If you don’t have some of these things, our local team will try to provide them for you.

Only $430+ says Travelocity from NYC.

If I didn’t have plans, I’d seriously consider this.

When will the Dodgers management pull their head out of their ass?

LA Times:

Cold numbers won out over warm memories Tuesday night when the Dodgers unceremoniously severed ties with Steve Finley and Jose Lima, players who made unforgettable contributions to the team’s division championship.

Neither player was offered salary arbitration by the 9 p.m. deadline, meaning the Dodgers cannot negotiate with them until May 1. By then, they undoubtedly will be wearing new uniforms.

Among the 12 Dodger free agents, only third baseman Adrian Beltre, catcher Brent Mayne and pitchers Odalis Perez and Wilson Alvarez were offered arbitration. They have until Dec. 19 to accept it, which would ensure their return for at least one year.

. . .

The Dodgers apparently decided weeks ago not to pursue Finley, 39, despite the production and leadership he supplied after being acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks at the trading deadline. About a dozen teams Ñ including the Angels Ñ have expressed interest in signing him, but the Dodgers never made an offer.

Finley’s ninth-inning, walk-off grand slam against the San Francisco Giants on Oct. 2 enabled the Dodgers to clinch the National League West title. In 58 games with the team, he had 13 home runs and 46 runs batted in.

I’m in!

Subject: book seminar
From: Samuel G. Freedman
To: Cyrus Farivar
Date: Dec. 8, 2004 11:53 am [Eastern]


A spot in the class has become available, and you’re first on the waiting list. Do you want to take the class for credit? Let me know ASAP. If you do, I’ll work out the scheduling issues with Melanie Huff.

Sam Freedman

Subject: book seminar
From: Cyrus Farivar
To: Samuel G. Freedman
Date: Dec. 8, 2004 11:55 am [Eastern]

Yes! I want it. Absolutely!


Subject: book seminar
From: Samuel G. Freedman
To: Cyrus Farivar
Date: Dec. 8 2004 11:56 am [Eastern]

Then you’re in.

A slice of life from my j-school beat: Crown Heights

At 105, the Rabbi Doesn’t Sleep Late:

A century of poring over ancient Jewish texts has carved deep circles under Rabbi Yehuda Chitrik’s eyes. Decades of Sabbath- table storytelling have left him speaking softly and seldom. At 105 years old, he seems almost mortal.

“He is not so good,” his daughter Shaindel Schneerson, 72, said the other night. “Right now, he’s saying his morning prayers” – she reported after dinner. “In the evening, he is doing this.”

But even at “not so good,” Rabbi Chitrik rises at 5 a.m. to study, attends synagogue at least twice a day, teaches a class and works with his regular study partner: a whippersnapper rabbi from Crown Heights named Meir Itkin, who is 95.

Rabbi Chitrik has learned directly from the last three leaders of the Lubavitch movement. He has a keen knowledge of Torah, the Talmud, and other texts that his relatives believe has contributed to his longevity. But it is his storytelling that has made him a fixture in the Lubavitcher community.

His grandson Ari Chitrik, 51, calls him “a walking encyclopedia of Hasidic tales.”

And a great-grandson, Eliezer Zalmanov, 25, says, “He can repeat stories word for word that he heard 50 years ago.”