Thursday, May 21, 2015

Weighing In

The Other Dunwoody has been prodded from time to time to wax poetic about Dunwoody's Convention and Visitor's Bureau (CVB). We've generally avoided bashing this operation as its problems are structural, implying malice and forethought, and obvious to even the most casual observer. The most recent request came on the heels of a public dustup between two vocal single-issue factions in DaVille. In one corner is Thespians For A Subsidized Theater (T-FAST) and in the other corner we find Ballparks, Ballparks Uber Alles (BBUA). The CVB stepped on a land mine with the mere suggestion they might partially fund a study to determine if a theater at Brook Run might put some heads in beds thereby taking sides in the T-FAST vs BBUA conflict and making the BBUA crowd mad as hornets.

The CVB did make a mistake, not in which side they chose but in that the stepped outside their primary purpose in life. And what might that purpose be? It is in answering that question that the bashing begins.

The public facing purpose (IE: propaganda and prevarication) is to put heads in beds--the CVB is a marketing operation for local hotels, paid for by a Hotel/Motel Tax levied by the City of Dunwoody. You may be sitting there wondering "how would anyone know about hotels in Dunwoody were it not for the CVB?" You would be an idiot. But just the kind of idiot the founding fathers of this city adore. The remaining three devoted readers are wondering "what does the CVB really do given that all these hotels have significant and effective marketing departments that really do put heads in beds?"

Bingo!

The CVB, being quasi-government, doesn't actually do anything along the lines of what it purports to do. In actuality the CVB is a front for a much more sinister and inherently corrupt operation. And therein lies the problem.

On the surface it seems silly to take money from hotels and then turn around and use that money exclusively for the benefit of the very same hotels. It would appear to be an unnecessary creation of an inefficient government bureaucracy. And that it is. Well, unless your are an elected official in which case any growth in government is good growth and there is no such thing as an unnecessary government bureaucracy.

But it is worse than that. Being quasi-governmental the positions within the CVB are appointed positions. Appointees are selected by Mayor and Council with little or no public input or review and since these are paid positions a kind observer might remark this is a platform for patronage. Given that the publicly stated purpose of the CVB is not only redundant but also cannot be measured independent of hotelier's own marketing efforts there is sufficient opacity to allow for a great distance between any given appointee and competency. This makes the CVB a dumping ground for Friends and Family with a guarantee they are overpaid no matter how small the paycheck.

All of this adds up to an operation that is essentially a petri dish for growing a cancerous culture of corruption with the carcinogens provided by city elected officials and "staff." It serves as OJT on how to use OPM to wield power and direct public funds to favored parties. This is all well and good so long as it is confined to CVB as that is basically what CVB is there for. Over time metastatic disease will spread to other operations and our politicos will blur the lines between what is allowed in CVB but is verboten in other city operations. It will not be long before we cultivate bad actors committing sufficiently bad acts to make any corrupt DeKalb County politician green with envy.

Given how bad having a CVB is and how little it actually does for anybody (except politicos and their Friends and Family) you might think that it would be a very good idea to dispense with the CVB altogether. Merely suggesting this reveals a fundamental moral rot undermining the foundations of this city. This was best expressed by one of the unnecessary combatants in the T-FAST vs BBUA kerfuffle:
"I'm not in favor of ridding ourselves of the CVB because then DeKalb CVB would take over."
While this is a single case of DeKalb Hating overriding reason it is a common thread running thru this city from its conception on into any foreseeable future. This is a very real problem that is much more serious than anything directly related to who puts heads in beds.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Cord Cutting 301 : I Want My DVR

As with cable TV, over the air TV has a lot of junk programming but also has quite a bit of What You Want To Watch.  Sometimes it is aired when you're not home or when you'd really rather watch something else. Hence the need for an Over The Air Digital Video Recorder.

There are multiple options from well known vendors such as Tivo and Channelmaster. These devices are highly integrated and include the tuner(s), disk storage and output to the TV (IE: decoders). A new class of devices have entered the market that might be better characterized as "gateways" since they do not decode the data sending video out an HDMI port but instead transcode the received video for recording and delivery across the network to phones, tablets, Roku boxes and other devices. One such device also supports remote viewing of live and recorded content.

We will look at that device -- the Tablo.


As purchased a Western Digital 2TB hard drive is providing video storage. It is worthwhile to note that Tablo reformats the drive and if you choose to re-purpose an existing drive you will lose all previously stored data. The drive shown is on the manufacturer's list of supported USB hard drives and it can be had for approximately $90. This is significantly more storage than provided by a Cable MSO in their DVR set tops.



The Tablo comes with the device itself, a power supply and an ethernet cable though it supports WiFi.    It also includes a quick start guide more than adequate to ensure successful setup. One other thing that is "missing" is a remote control. This is because Tablo relies on applications loaded on tablets, phones or Roku devices to not only play back video but to provide an advanced, device-appropriate User Interface to browse for programs, schedule recordings, manage recorded programs and change Tablo device settings.


Notice that the back panel includes the RF/Coax F-connector, 2 USB ports, ethernet RJ-45 and power in but no HDMI ports. Since antenna video is delivered over your network this device does not need to be co-located with your TV and will support all the devices, TV or handheld, capable of playing back Tablo network video. This includes Android devices, Apple iPhone and iPad, Roku, web browsers and leverages the ability of Android devices to "cast" to Chromecast and airPlay when using iOS devices.

Setup is straightforward and should not be beyond the capabilities of someone who can tackle a Chromecast device. Like your TV, but unlike many other devices, the Tablo does a channel scan to find channels expected in your region. Location can be set automagically but entering a five digit ZIP code is significantly faster. Installing an app on a phone/tablet or using a computer web browser is recommended and for firmware updates is mandatory as the Roku app does not support firmware upgrade. Apps for these devices can be found in the usual place and are free of charge. Downloading the guide data and the cover art images will take a noticeable amount of time as will "sync-ing" your playback device application. Often simply connecting to the device is not as snappy as you might like  but once initial startup is over the system is responsive.

We are operating at the keyboard bandwidth barrier yet time does not permit an exhaustive screen by screen review of Tablo's awesomeness. But a few can be slipped in. First is the "Grid Guide" as archaic as it is inevitable.


The three small bar icon at the top left provides navigation to other Tablo screens/features. The magnifying glass implies a search capability that is indeed there. The grid guide shows current programming and progress within current broadcasts and offers twenty four hours of programming accessible by scrolling to the right. Viewing a channel is as simple as clicking on the channel identifier to the far left. While you are watching a program Tablo will temporarily record that channel in order to support pause, rewind and fast forward. It will continue to record into that buffer (tuner availability permitting) when you change channels allowing you to switch between 2 (or 4, depending on model) channels quickly and without missing any of the programs.

When you select the icon at the top left you are presented with the navigation panel.


From here you can move from the grid guide (Live TV) to a panel showing only Prime Time content in a cover art display, get to genre selections (TV Shows, Movies, Sports), see currently scheduled recording events and previously recorded content. You can (on the shown device's screen) manage the device settings and disconnect your device from Tablo.  A sample Prime Time is shown below


Selecting one of these program's "cover art" initiates a record workflow and since recording programs for later viewing kicked all this off let's at least dive into that.


You are presented with more program or series information and the option (for series) to record new episodes or all (includes any re-runs). Since a lot of what gets aired on secondary OTA channels is syndicated programming, Rec All is a pretty good option. But wait. There's more. If you'll scroll down you will see...

First thing to note is that Tablo is smart enough not to re-record the same episode more than once. You are also being offered the option to change the time a particular episode is recorded (to manage recording conflicts) or to delete scheduled recordings of episodes you do not want.

Recording is all well and good, but it isn't really worth much unless you can watch the recording.


It is difficult (impossible?) to assess video quality from a screen capture (and we're not uploading any videos) but on all devices tried to date video quality rivals what you get from most cable providers for most channels (on the cable network). What you should notice is not just the progress ball/bar and the playback control (this was taken during a live playback) but the fast forward 30 secs, rewind 20 secs options that are commonly used to skip commercials. Also not the icon on the lower right, used to "cast" the playback to a Chromecast device. Apple iPhones and iPads have a similar icon to use AirPlay with an AppleTV device.

Then there is remote access/playback. This feature relies on port forwarding and while Tablo will attempt to set this up when the router is configured for and capable of UPnP manual settings are often required. With the latest firmware, Tablo will indicate status of port forwarding and provide the details necessary to manually configure your router.  Tablo has changed the external port assignments forcing a reconfiguration that is a PITA. Currently Tablo requires that remote devices be paired before use requiring at least one Tablo connection/sync on the local LAN. Remote access also requires a subscription to Tablo Guide Data Subscription (30 day free trial). More on this later.

Remote access has been evaluated by TOD Friends and Family on a variety of devices: iPad, iPad with AppleTV, various Android devices, and Android with Chromecast. Phones were tested on remote LANs and over 4G LTE. In all cases the only device with any objectionable operation was Chromecast and this is attributed to the relatively high data rates supported by Tablo for on-LAN video combined with Chromecast's 1x1 802.11n technology. Even then the video quality, even with sports (remote viewing of the Preakness), was deemed to be indistinguishable from live. To the trained eye it really wasn't but for most folks, especially those accustomed to cable and YouTube video quality, it was far beyond "watchable" and well in to the range of "very good."

Subscription Guide Data is optional but supports an enriched User Interface and more advanced record scheduling as well as remote access. Without these data any recordings must be done old school - manually by date and time. Guide Data can be purchased by the month ($4.99), year ($49.99) or as a lifetime subscription ($149.99) in which case you are betting that you and Tablo will both be around in three years. Good bet for the latter. Not sure about the former.

The device itself comes in three flavours: a dual tuner, a quad tuner and a "Metro" edition incorporating fractal antennas eliminating the need for an external OTA antenna. The Metro is for urbanites living fairly close to broadcast antenna farms (less than 30 miles) who do not want to or are not allowed to install any kind of external antenna. The MaxLinear tuners are some of the best available, better than those in most TVs. ViXS provides the brains of the box and incorporates some of the best transcoding technology on the market today.

Tablo is not without faults, but most of these are the results of product immaturity and with each firmware upgrade problems are being eliminated and features enhanced. That said, firmware upgrade has been one of the issues with the latest update requiring a manual power-down reboot for the upgrade to take hold.  Tablo has benefitted from user familiarity by leveraging existing customer devices of choice (IE: Android vs iPad) avoiding foisting yet another UI design language on their customers.  This model has not been adopted by pay-TV service providers despite the dramatic improvements over a cheesy UI powered by the cheapest remote that China, Inc. can scrape out of the parts bin. It may be a bit quirky now but as Tablo irons out the kinks it promises to push the OTA TV experience beyond any cable offer available today.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Jester To Fill Jacobs' Seat

As you probably already know Governor Deal appointed Mike Jacobs to a judgeship opening up a nice political opportunity a bit closer to home than Perry. While a couple of potential candidates have announced they will seek the post Rumour Central (hashtag NothingButLies) reports that backroom negotiations are underway to clear the decks for Jester to slide into the position. One former confidant of the power couple remarked "they do much better without opposition" and while the announced Democrat may not pull out any Democrat will have a snowball's chance in hell given this is a blood red district. The confidant could or would not confirm which Jester would take the slot but did suggest that if no drug or background checks are required the school board might be looking to fill an open slot.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Bloat

A draft report of an "Organizational Effectiveness Study" on DeKalb County has been released and it includes some interesting nuggets on law enforcement. Turns out the PD is like any other government  bureaucracy--it is bloated, and the County's top cop agrees.

This is not just the consequence of attrition not keeping up with loss of service area due to city incorporations because this PD isn't just bloated, it is top heavy. So top heavy that the report suggests eliminating some of the high ranking positions, letting the officers who are doing the work anyway continue to do so, but without carrying the burden of redundant captains and majors.

Most folks in daVille are tsk-tsk-ing, wagging finger and tongue whilst mumbling something derogatory about DeKalb having been a jobs-works program for some time now. But it isn't just DeKalb County. Fueled by our recent tax increase the City of Dunwoody is expanding its very own police force. And you guessed it: not to  put feets on streets, but to put more highly paid arses behind desks. To "serve and protect?" Only protecting jobs, ma'am.

So one day, probably not too far in the future, our Council will be compelled to do their own "Organizational Effectiveness Study." And guess what they'll find: that the Dunwoody PD is bloated and top heavy. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Road Apples


Smart folks would have installed the conduit BEFORE pouring the sidewalks but the plans laid down under our former city manager's reign seems to have inexplicably reversed the order. Hopefully these intellectual road apples and the brain farts that accompany them will be fewer and further apart going forward.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Breaking The Ice

The litany of malfeasance in DeKalb County government seems to never end. Federal prosectors issuing subpoenas and indictments, even reaching a plea agreement with a former Commissioner about to cool her jets at Club Fed. Smaller fry are left for the local DA to prosecute and he seems willing to do so. Cops on the take. Intrigue around checks cashed at a liquor store (where else would you cash a check?) and allegations of forgery. Erkel is about to be re-tried. Courts are even handing down significant fines for just plain bad behaviour.

And now J. Tom Morgan is on the case describing what little has been made public (and that is a lot) as "the tip of the iceberg." Probably so. Most folks expect him to uncover a lot of dirt with very little digging. Some folks are hoping this becomes the tipping point, where the state legislature is forced to confront the failings of a unique form of government and reform it. This comes up a  lot and while the CEO form of government may have issues it is not the root cause of all our problems.

The strong CEO form of government may well have played into problems involving Vernon Jones and Erkel but it was not a factor in the malfeasance admitted by Boyer or the broken commitment (to clean house on day one) of her successor. There is something else at play.

The job of CEO and County Commissioner are elected positions so we should not be too surprised when we end up with politicians in those roles. But do they have to be of the kind whose ambitions out run their integrity by such an enormous margin? Cannot any single one of them, just once, say what they will do and then go out and do it? Apparently not. It seems that getting elected in DeKalb requires saying what sounds good and then doing whatever the hell you want. It IS what politicians do, but does it have to be every time, with every single one of them?

It's not just the raw materials we have at hand. The real problem with "ditch the CEO form of government" is that it doesn't go far enough. DeKalb County needs to be dissolved. The western portions of the county should be absorbed into Fulton County, the north east into Gwinnett and the remaining portions into Rockdale. Fulton will get almost full coverage ITP and a better balance of conservative vs liberal representation and if that is problematic there would be a critical mass to re-create Milton. Both Gwinnett and Rockdale will have communities more aligned with their ex-urban nature as well as expanding their non-residential tax bases. This is not something that our County Commission or CEO would endorse but the Legislature should be called upon to do just this to pull us out of this misery. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Fractured Fairy Tale

It starts as most do...
Once upon a time, long, loonnggg ago, there was an honest elected official in DeKalb County, Georgia...
Well  you know how that story ends...

Monday, April 27, 2015

Obama Apologizes

Regarding the "unfortunate collateral damage" from a drone strike on a "shall not be called Islamic" terrorist group the President of the United States found himself offering an apology to some non-Islamic folk for a change:
"Look, I was in the War Room where I'd just finished an episode of House of Cards and I was jacked so I picked up the game controller and started playing. I thought it was just a game. I had no way of knowing it was real. I didn't even know about any of this until I saw it on the news. But to be perfectly clear I'm really sorry no one told me earlier. "

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Guest Post : Atlanta 12

This is a response to all the people—from judges to journalists and everyone in between-- jabbering about the Atlanta 12 being responsible for hundreds or thousands of Atlanta's students failing school due to their CRCT answers being changed by adults who should have known better.

Hogwash.

If guilty, the Atlanta 12 committed two “crimes”: cowardice and greed. The cowardice was nutured by fears of job loss, poor performance reviews, or loss of reputation; greed was enhanced by a monetary reward system tied to student performance on the CRCTs.  But good people do not succumb to the easy lures of promotion and money. So they are guilty as charged. But to credit these dozen educators with the dismal failures and poor performances of the public school system is neither justified nor sensical.

One test, administered over one to three school days per year, does not determine a child's success. As an indicator of what the child needs academically, it is second-rate at best. That's why you have teachers in a classroom. Otherwise, save us all time and money and put kids at computers. Some of the convicted educators never spent a single day in the classroom of some of the students whose poor education has been labeled their fault—all because they changed CRCT answer sheets.

School years approximate 180 days. Who allowed these children to spend a year or more making little/no forward progress? Who promoted these students to the next grade? What have classroom teachers been told to do with students incapable of doing grade-level work?

The fact that someone changed answers on a 5th grader's CRCT exam does NOT explain why the 5th grader was promoted 4 times (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade) and still can't read. A CRCT scores does not explain why an 8th grader can't multiply or solve a simple math problem. And if a parent or teacher needs a CRCT score to know this about the child, no one is doing the job.

Assume that classroom teachers have college degrees and educational training. The CRCT is given during the last quarter of the school year. Is it really the first time teachers (or parents) realize their children are not performing? If so, why? A good teacher can identify an illiterate student in a time frame between 5 minutes and 5 days. Why are CRCT results then such a big deal?

The argument that a poor showing would signal the need for remediation and help is silly. A teacher and a parent should know those signs because they see them every single day. These kids are not suffering because they were denied help because they did poorly on the CRCT but the cheating covered this up. These kids suffer due to poverty, poor parenting, horrible living conditions, undiagnosed conditions that hamper learning, and a generations-long community attitude that gives education a very low priority.

In the famous story “The Emperor's New Clothes,” an entire village jumps on a bandwagon led by two schemers who make “invisible clothes of such refinement and quality” that their work is never questioned. Commissioned by the emperor, they become rich, sewing things that were not really there. When the emperor parades through town to show off his new wardrobe, villagers “ooh” and “aaah” until one small boy summons the courage to shout, “He's naked. The Emperor is naked.”

Georgia public schools need a hero like that little boy—someone with the courage to shout out loud the real reasons students are failing to reach their potential. The Emperor needs some real clothes.

Monday, April 20, 2015

No Kidding

You've probably heard that Georgia's House of Representatives Majority Leader has resigned his post and his elected office to take an appointment as the administrative law judge of the Georgia Tax Tribunal. Governor Deal made the appointment on Thursday last week. Of course this opening gives the voters of his district the opportunity to elect his replacement. While there have been no formal announcements we in The Other Dunwoody have it on good authority that a surprise candidate will be vying for the slot: our very own Snow White, Nancy Jester.

A soon-to-be former confidant with insider knowledge says something like this has been part of the plan all along and that such an opportunity came sooner rather than later is merely a happy coincidence. Not entirely a surprise as our soon-to-be former County Commissioner had inside information of the upcoming changes in the lower house as it evolved. When asked if this were an office where she would complete an entire term (if elected but we all know she will be) the confidant was circumspect: "Keeping in mind this opportunity arose suddenly who is to say another, higher office might present itself or when that might happen?" "We knew all along that Ms. Jester's political ambitions would not long be satisfied with an office restricted to the County level--it's just not in the cards."

And the timing could not be more fortuitous for the Jesters. Her failure to live up to her campaign obligation of cleaning the House that Boyer Built was harshly exposed when her (and Miz Elaine's) Chief of Staff was bookended between verbal pugilism with an Ethics Board member and a felony indictment related to actions taken in his official capacity. It isn't clear if her preferred Chief of Staff will tag along as she moves onward and upward or whether he will be otherwise occupied. This opportunity also allows her husband, a DeKalb School Board Member, to advance to the rear without the ignominy of appearing to back down in his fight against what he sees as a draconian background check.

Apparently site selection has begun with houses in and near Perry making the short list and Houston Lake homes quickly becoming top contenders. The search for a selling agent is rumored to be underway but for all the interested agents out there the window of opportunity is closing. And this is more than just another stepping stone for an ambitious politician, this is a lifestyle upgrade. Schools could hardly be worse than in DeKalb and given their insider knowledge the Jesters would know more than most. Same for the operations of this dysfunctional county. While some have criticized the move as running away from problems they helped create and that it is unseemly as newcomers to Perry to take this position from natives, supporters point out that the Jesters weren't born and raised in Dunwoody either. They also point out that problems in DeKalb pre-date their entry into the state let alone politics and the fixes they have advocated take significantly more time than circumstances have allowed. They also point out that Miz Jester will bring her Tea Party sensibilities to a larger stage where she can bring her political leadership to a broader audience.