Friday, December 11, 2015

Bengies Top Ten for 2015, In My Eye

Bengies Top 10.  An Annual Tradition. For me, dating back to 2001 (see: lists), with single lists each year - 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.  Now for 2015.

First, the top "exceptions" to the year's list are movies that were filmed in previous years, and when shown on the giant outdoor screen are a fine an experience as I can have.  With the season ending with Mel Brook's classic Young Frankenstein, these are ultimate events!

  1. Young Frankenstein
  2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  3. E.T.

Another exception was the Fourth Annual Bengies Drive-In Boy Scout Camp in, in September.  These all were crowd favorites:
  1. Minions
  2. Pixels
  3. Jurassic World

I was hoping for Inside Out, which didn't make the cut, though I did catch it on two other weekends.

In order, the remaining 10 top features:

  1. Inside Out
  2. The Martian
  3. The Imitation Game
  4. Shaun The Sheep
  5. Spectre
  6. The Peanuts Movie
  7. Mission Impossible 5
  8. Mad Max: Fury Road
  9. Spongebob
  10. Tomorrowland
  11. Insurgent
  12. Man From UNCLE
I had to put in a couple that were close to the top ten, despite having all great picks in other years, there just didn't seem to be much more to choose from.  I definitely was disappointed in the Man From U.N.C.L.E., partly because it wasn't a series that demanded resurfacing.  Similar failures might include I Spy, Get Smart, or even The Avengers (the 1998 try, of course, not the unrelated Marvel fantasies).  Mission Impossible is the exception to that rule.  Maybe not my favorite ongoing spy/thriller series.  Lots of competition in that genre for sure.

Pixar still has it going.  I would not call Inside Out my favorite (hard to top WALL-E, Up, et al). Such a cast is par for the course.  Mad Max - up there due to the Creative Alliance Marquee Ball (Baltimore icon).

Insurgent and Tomorrowland are low; others would think of them more highly.  The Peanuts movie surprise me.  It could easily have been very bad.

The late season showing of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. as a single Sunday early evening show was stupendous, not least because the weather cooperated.

This year's "NAH": Paul Blart Mall Cop 2

That is all, folks!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Austin Junior Code Inspector Rant

Call me Deputy.

First, this post is about a civic web site.  The circumstances of me filing a "311" report while a tourist in Austin are unusual, perhaps, though I have dealt with governmental data since college when I studied emergency response trends (fire calls) for a public facility siting project.  My home town recently fired their "CityStat" data czar after lack of progress, perceived or actual.

We shopped in downtown Austin during our vacation; I won't include specific location or observations as they aren't relevant to the post.  I'm expecting the City of Austin to follow up on my report; afterwards I will attempt to communicate my reaction to their web site.  I noticed what could be a dangerous situation inside a private business, recorded images, and made a mental note to alert the appropriate authorities.

Saturday, when Austin had their Pride Festival, my wife and I watched a slide show on LBGT history, including details on what was described as the worst arson attack in New Orleans history.  There's a recent film about it called Upstairs Inferno.  That catalyzed my decision to report what I saw. Also, serendipitously, the festival included a booth for Austin's Code Compliance agency (where I picked up the souvenir "Junior Inspector" sticker). I considered myself deputized.

I went with the online web entry instead of phoning it in as it was the weekend.  What follows is a critique of the process.  I found the proper site easily (Googled "austin code compliance", go to ) and filled in relevant information.  Name, address, phone number, basic stuff.  Thinking through what the professional code inspector might need, I debated which of several email addresses I might supply.  This led to one major error.

Exhibit A

There was not a specific service choice that met the situation I was reporting, though there were a lot of choices.  I ended up picking "Request Code Officer" as that seemed to be the best catch-all for "none of the above."  The site I eneded up on, by the way, is - quite a mouthful, and not an easy URL to communicate to the general public.  Maybe would work as a shortcut?

Exhibit B

The site pre-filled Texas in the location field.  I had to google the address I was reporting, which fortunately I had remembered. So far, so good.

Exhibit C

This is the fourth screen I had to navigate through, and though I could not tell, I was not near the end.  The web designers presumably chose to break all of the required data into parts so that individual entries could be verified piecemeal instead of en masse.  Not a horrid experience, but correcting something on an earlier screen if more difficult as more steps are completed.

I entered "Yes" for "Is this an apartment or commercial building".  I figured I was done, but I will come back to this question.

Below that was an exhaustive and exhausting list of choices.  As an IT professional, I could guess these are check box fields that might be tricky to expand or modify after creation.  There are most likely had-coded field names to go with these in the underlying database.

My actual concern, sadly, was none of those fields, forcing me to choose "Accessibility issues" as the closest I could get.  People unfamiliar with English, or with less governmental exposure, would probably give up before getting past here.

Points off for spell check failure on "Fence Height or Sceening".

Exhibit D

This page asked if I had complained about this issue before.
Didn't need this the first time through the process, but I did on the second, and third.

Exhibit E

While I had already answered this is a commercial establishment, this screen pushed me backwards to provide more detail.  The red lettering imply it's my fault for not filling them in earlier, yet the entry box did not appear until after I went forward. 

Exhibit F (or Intake SR Step 3)

Because I neglected to provide an email address on an earlier screen (IT WAS NOT MANDATORY), I had to start my entry process from the beginning (see Exhibit H).

How many times? 1 is what I entered. 

Exhibit G

Upon "next" I got an error saying:

Please enter a number between -99999999999999999999999999999 and 999999999999999999999999999999

thus triggering this rant ( as well as an excellent throwback from erstwhile colleague Nigel James)


Please enter a number between -99999999999999999999999999999 and 999999999999999999999999999999

Who would ever enter a number zero, or less, to the question, how many times?

And "Complete Participant Information Section".  Wouldn't "tell us about yourself" be simpler?   And where is that to be found anyway?

Exhibit H

A "valid email address" is required.  Which I forgot to include (see above).

But "to lookup status"? Hm.  Lookup is not a verb.  So says the web site As Maury Allen said, "you could look it up." Or was it Thurber?

Bottom line - typos, poor navigation, and a road-block value check made this experience not so easy for me.  Hopefully, there's a newer version under development, and more testing and checking will be done.

My credentials:









Thursday, April 30, 2015

Death in custody 1992

Death in custody 1992

"...officers saw a man buy drugs at Jefferson and Port streets, then walk to the 2800 block of E. Fayette"

- Baltimore Sun March 13, 1992.

I served on that Baltimore City Grand Jury, as certified above.  The proceedings are secret per law, as The Sun also says; my thoughts and opinions about the events are my own. I would not reveal sworn testimony, nor would I report my vote, anyone else's, or the vote count. The public record is shown in the newspaper (now on the web, thank you Baltimore Sun).

If you live in the city and are eligible, you could be called upon to serve on a Grand Jury (as opposed to the usual Petit Jury - Twelve Angry Men style jury duty) for a term of four calendar months.  That's right--4 months away from your usual day job(s).  Because of this duration and potentially zero income, the most likely pool members are from large corporations or government agencies (as I was in 1992).

Grand Jury summons are like their lesser counterparts, though the selection process is done before the term starts, having a Judge go through the pool asking questions about ability to serve. The end product are 25 or 26 of us citizens, ready to fill 23 seats in the jury room. We started with two alternates who ended up replacing original selections due to circumstances beyond their control (or in one case, as sole proprietor local artist who should not have been chosen).  The reason for the number is 23 is lost in time--our charge was to vote yeay or nay on whether to indict people for capital crimes in the city, with 12 votes required (simple majority) to decide.

Were I on a panel in Baltimore City this month, I would be quite disturbed. Baltimore has seen nothing like these events since 1968 (I was in Junior High here then).  With recent events such as Ferguson, and not as recent but still in close memory the Rodney King incident, the rapid proliferation of words, sounds, and videos globally, a lot of attention is and should be focused on a case of death during an arrest.

I can say I empathize with the current jurors, not because I faced an exactly similar challenge, but because I was also impaneled when a citizen (Robert E. Privett) died in police custody, and we of the jury were presented with a requirement to decide on officers' fates. The proceedings must remain secret (see ) so I refer to the public record and surmise about attitudes that are relevant to events now.  Should I violate the oath taken before my service certified above, I could be liable for penalties up to $1,000 and a year in jail. Or both. So while "a grand juror can never disclose information that is secret" I have nothing to fear.

The Sun reported the circumstances of Mr. Privett's arrest as "officers saw a man buy drugs at Jefferson and Port streets, then walk to the 2800 block of E. Fayette".  Everyone knows what a drug buy looks like; everyone knows where the drug markets are in Baltimore City.  Maybe not on any given day, but with the number of murders, arrests, and drug traffic patterns, not to mention national television and cable shows like Homicide: Life on the Streets, The Corner, and The Wire (only the first of which I have seen), the activities are hardly secret.  Secretive, yes, but not hidden from view.

The Grand Jury I served on  toured the city (and the Penitentiary, courtesy of the law) at night during our term. I took the photographs below in public places, so I do not consider these grand jury proceedings.

 The Sun story went on to describe what happened during the arrest, taken from police reports and interviews outside the jury room.  Mr. Privett resisted arrest. For that attempt to maintain his freedom, he was subdued.  The Sun does not describe the nature of that action; the medical examiner's report called it blunt trauma. Four broken ribs. A ruptured spleen. And the newspaper related a detail I had mentally healed over until now: "his dentures were found lodged in his throat". The four published articles have other details of the stories told, except Mr. Privett's side, which we'll never know.

The Baltimore City State's Attorney (long way of saying chief prosecutor) at the time was Stuart O. Simms. I have a connection to Mr Simms - my father was one of his elementary school teachers.  I like to think Dad helped Mr. Simms become a successful attorney (Harvard Law, per Wikipedia).  You might suspect the police are aligned with prosecutors.  Two sides of the same justice coin - one arrests, the other prosecutes.  Then judge and/or jury decide their fate.  You could also imagine the police and State's Attorneys don't always see eye-to-eye. Prosecutors need to have valid evidence they can take to court; officers need to survive mentally and physically while enforcing the laws.

What happens when police are accused or suspected of crimes - a case of police brutality, or an accidental death?  I can't say.  But I know the prosecutors need to cooperate with the police, or they have no case.  And the police need to cooperate with the State's Attorneys or they will be drummed out.  That's what I see.

How was Mr. Privett's case presented to us?  As stated above, I cannot say what happened in the jury room.  You can guess how it went from this comment in the Sun: "There were sufficient unresolved legal and factual issues". Who knows the law, and who had the facts?

It's hardly a secret that in Baltimore City, some citizens have experienced negative encounters with police officers, and others have had little to no interactions.  Some have relatives and close friends on the force; others have friends and family members in jail or with police records.  You can imagine the debate that occurred and the experiences and attitudes expressed as a result of "seven hours of testimony."

We, the jury, decided not to indict anyone for the death of Mr. Privett.  That decision was written up, as it was big local news; the friends and families of the deceased were presumably disappointed in our action/inaction.

Today, though, my home town is in a state of emergency, or as others call it, a state of unrest, a public uprising, because of another death in custody.  We've had rioting, we are under curfew, and the future is unclear.

Were I impaneled now, I would be needing to search my conscience to make the right decision.  In the end, we and they must choose justice, not the easy way.