Sunday, March 6, 2011

Electric Cars: Costly, but a Step Toward Progress

Whether we pay close enough attention to the automobile industry to know each and every change that’s taking place, it’s hard to ignore the debate on electric cars. There are documentaries made on the subject and advertisements streaming online. The truth is, there are already a few that are being manufactured and sold, per reservation, to the people who are environmentally-zealous, or wealthy enough to supply this idea with the support it needs to take off within the next year. I think this is exactly what we need to get the ball rolling in the right direction toward progress.

Here are a few of the pros and cons involved in the potential shift from using gas-powered cars to living the life depicted in a sci-fi novel. Should we go electric?

Electric cars are convenient.

Electric cars save us money in the long run, as pricey as they are at initial retail value. You may pay about the same for a new Nissan LEAF as you would for a new BMW, but the difference is that you won’t be buying gas each time your tank is low, and with the price of gas rising steadily, who doesn’t want to find an alternative?

It only costs about $1.1 to charge the Chevy Volt to full capacity, $1.51 for the Nissan LEAF and $3.53 for the Tesla Roadster, these are three of the first fully-electric cars to be put on the market.

The mileage varies on these vehicles, but in general, you can drive 35-245 miles on a single charge, for less than $5. And you can charge your electric car via a complementary ChargePoint station installed in your garage wall, so you won’t have to inconvenience yourself by stopping by a gas-station ever again.

“It’s great for Osceola county,” Osceola-Polk Bureau Chief Mark Pino said. “There’s places nearby that’ll take advantage of it. The residents will come to the restaurants and stores with charge stations and it’ll boost the economy.”

Are they sustainable?

One of the downfalls of the electric car is that ChargePoint stations are few and far between, as of this date, while if you run out of juice in your gas-powered car, you can stop in and fuel up wherever you are, often 24 hours a day.

So, while the likelihood of finding a ChargePoint station is pretty slim, now, when you actually do run out of power in your new green machine, we can expect for more stations to pop up by the time the market catches up with the manufacturing of these cars.

“There are three to 500 ChargePoint stations due to come in, by the end of the year,” said Tim Leijedal, during the debut of the new charge stations at Kissimmee’s Buffalo Wild Wings in February. Leijedal is the spokesman for Progress Energy Florida, Inc.

“This is what we’ve been waiting for for the last five years.”

Now, you may say to yourself that we’re only switching from one energy medium to the next, while consuming the same amount of fossil fuels, whether it comes from a transistor on a pole or it’s siphoned out of an enormous pool of gas beneath the nearest 7/11.

What you might not know, could change your mind. A few of the electric companies in Orlando, such as Palmer Electric and Progress Energy, have their separate mixtures of fuel, featuring a combination of natural gas, coal, and less than 2 percent fossil fuel. When you charge up an electric car, using electricity at home, you aren’t using straight fossil fuel. This is what we’re after, right? Decreasing our dependence on oil--specifically, foreign oil?

Consequences we face in converting to electric cars:

While we may become weaned off of oil over time, it takes an awful lot of lithium to comprise one battery pack for an electric car, and the U.S. doesn’t exactly sit on a gold-mine of the stuff.

Countries like Zimbabwe and Chile support our new addiction to cellphones, laptops, and any electrical device employing the “use, recharge, re-use, recharge” cycle. With our reliance of oil, we’re digging ourselves a deeper hole in foreign dependence and taking advantage of these people, in my opinion. Of course, the technologically-impaired nations of the world may not know what treasures hide up their sleeve, as they surely don’t use lithium-ion batteries to fuel their limited bus transportation system in Zimbabwe.

Electric cars mean progress.

Regardless of who’s been taken advantage of by whom, I’d say putting our faith in the electric car would be a step in the right direction, though we’re a little late in making the change.

Novels by Aldous Huxley and films like Back to the Future II gave us the idea that people in the late ‘80s and even the early ‘30s envisioned a future where private transportation by flight and hovercraft would be made possible by now.

Although the electric car may not be our best bet, past and current references to these topics keep the idea of a cleaner future on the tips of tongues throughout the world, and this is a plus. The popularity of these new vehicles brings awareness to more pressing issues, such as decreasing our air and water pollution and keeping an eye on overall energy consumption.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Court Reporters Maintain Job Security

With the tide of inclement economy washing over the nation, though getting better in select states, it's hard to maintain a steady job in the U.S. Out of all of the writing positions out there, court reporters are one of the few groups of professionals who can allay their fears of an impending lay-off, the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests.

“Employment of court reporters is projected to grow 18 percent, faster than average, for all occupations between 2008 and 2018."

Court reporter, Richard Castillo has been in the field for over 30 years and pursues his contracts on a freelance basis. He says there is always steady work for people in the field, because "when two people don't agree, they come to court."

"If you’ve ever heard of anyone, I’ve probably covered their deposition. I've seen timeshare magnates, all the politicians..."

For one deposition, he traveled to Hong Kong because they needed the services of an experienced court reporter for one criminal case between a state senator for New York and the president of a steel company in Brazil.

At the time, they only used monitors to record the sights and sounds of depositions in Hong Kong, and they wanted a more private and efficient way to contain the information produced.

While computers may take the place of a few data entry positions, this is not one of them. The increasing development in technology is only propagating the productivity of court reporters, with no threat to relinquish them of their duties any time in the near future.

"It’s easier to do it yourself," Castillo says, "because there is a high chance for computer error when translating. You still need to teach the program, train it."

He uses official court reporting software, shorthand software, and audio recording tools, as well. To be able to type as fast as possible and take everything down, verbatim, as well as speaker identification - what he or she is wearing - or if the telephone rings, he has taught the software to produce entire phrases in exchange for a few words of input. He types the word "yard" to signify that someone has said "beyond a reasonable doubt" and "warmz" is translated to "within a reasonable degree." These are two of the phrases most often-heard in a court room.

In order to be a court reporter, you might spend 18-48 months in court reporting school, but it's more of a physical skill, Castillo says. It took him about three years to become good enough "to actually get down what they're saying."

He says it's a difficult job, but he likes the challenge of it, and it definitely has its perks.

“I like going places I normally walk by, places I would never go in - and actually having a reason to - through the requirements of my job,” he says.

The demand for this brand of rapid recording is on a steady incline, due to an increase in closed captioning for both English and Spanish television shows and in translating for the deaf or hard of hearing.

Currently, there are more job openings than there are job seekers in this field, according to and

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chomet's 'The Illusionist'

Sylvain Chomet must have spent the past eight years, since his last film was released, honing his artistic skills in both music and animation direction, because “The Illusionist” is a cultural masterpiece.

Originally written years before by Jacques Tastischeff, famous for his work in “Mon Oncle” (1958) and “Play Time” (1967,) Chomet took over the reins and breathed new life into the creation, utilizing the technology of today while playing on the characteristics of older foreign titles.

The main character is an older man, working his way through the dwindling market magicians faced during 1959. He seems contented enough to travel the world, from act to measly act, until he stays in an inn one day in Scotland, where a young girl becomes immediately taken by his performance.

During his stay, she (Alice) scurries around the cozy little cottage in torn and creaky boots, making her presence known while trying to inconspicuously scrub the floors. Her innocence and hospitality soon charm him into buying her a new pair of red clogs that fit her perfectly.

Soon, it’s time for the Illusionist to leave, so Alice surprises him in boarding the train a seat across from him, with a telling glance in his direction. He surprises her, in exchange, with a flick of the wrist to produce a ticket for her to tag along. From then on, the two are as inseparable as a father and daughter under constrained circumstances.

Set in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the UK, the characters don’t have much of a dialogue beyond the occasional grunt of brief slang in any number of languages.

The original score was written by Chomet, himself, which outlines and emphasizes each character’s feelings to an accurate degree, while lending an undertone of wistfulness and wonder to the overall emotion of the film. An accompaniment of French accordion and classic piano do the trick.

On the topic of production, ‘The Illusionist’ blends 2-D hand-drawn animations while using a computer to render some scenes scanned in 3-D. In one scene, wavering flowers are bobbing along gracefully to the rhythm of the wind, strung about a hill where Alice picks a bouquet, all while rolling clouds overhead bring interchanging views of darkness and light to play on the countryside.

I overheard a group discussing the film behind me, as my brother and I walked out of the theater. One guy said, “the cars were done really well, that was impressive.” He was speaking about the 3-D animation, of course.

One devout Tati fan, Richard Stracke of, felt the film was a disgrace to the screenwriter’s name, however.

“That the film came to fruition at all is justification for any artist to consider burning their manuscripts on their deathbed,” he writes.

What I gathered is the main theme of the picture is that change is inevitable, and that all good things come to an end. Change can make way for bigger and better things to come and go and may even help you grow, whether in a negative or positive sense, but maybe this is something Stracke missed.

Frankly, I was focused on how complex each character seemed to be, while small glimpses into the lives of these animations hint at a deeper, more expansive life story for each one.

Such details as a dripping shower head in the hotel bathroom in the UK and the recurrence of one particular couple sporting satirically large front teeth bring a dose of reality to the 2-D drawing.

More glamorous live-action movies have failed to drag me into a story, as much as I was sure that I had walked the city streets with Alice on those longs nights and sat in an otherwise empty theater, watching the Illusionist work his magic.

Click here to read Richard Stracke’s review.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Story Behind Singing Telegrams and How One Company is Keeping theTradition Alive

Established in 1977, entertainment company Merry Minstrel has been providing the nation with singing telegrams as the first to do so. Michele Peterson now owns the company and is keeping her line of work as traditional and as can be, in spite of the bad reputation this surprise gift has received from movies, TV commercials, and even by word of mouth over the years.

"It's a lost art form. So is a strip a gram, it was not designed to be distasteful, but to be very vaudeville," Peterson says. "The whole point is to embarrass the victim - make the person feel like the center of attention for a little while."

Whether it's in the office, at your home, at the store, their slogan is "any time, any place, any occasion," and they mean it. Singing telegrams are meant as a surprising gift to a loved on a couple's anniversary or as an unexpected prank aimed at an overly serious co-worker who just needs a little help to lighten up. This is not something the victim will easily forget or even regret, if done properly, but poor judgement and childish antics have skewed the lighthearted nature of the act.

“You know that show Punk’d? Well, we’ve been punking people since 1977. I’ve been to a dentist’s office as a patient, told him I had a tooth ache and it was really interfering with my work. Then when he least expected it, I would jump up and start singing.”

In her established line of work, Peterson's done thousands of singing telegrams. In the 80s and 90s, she couldn't walk down the street without someone recognizing her.

Peterson has dressed as a police office and arrested a man for being "over the age limit" and for "conducting lude behavior" and she also helped one guy propose to his fiancee while she was in class in college.

There are times, of course, where the message was received with more of a negative reaction.

“I went to a bar once to do a strip a gram for a man’s birthday and I sang for him and danced around, but near the end I stopped and said, ‘Now, for most guys a single song would be enough, but you’re the lucky victim of Merry Minstrel’s singing telegram,’ and I did a little strip tease for him. The next thing I know is his wife comes out of nowhere and jumps on him, screaming, ‘That’s my husband, that’s my husband, don’t touch my husband.’"

"It was a set up by his family who wanted to videotape the whole thing, but she [the wife] finally grabbed the keys and ran out the front door and he followed after her.”

The way she understood it, the telegram should've been a simple gig that would've been a great success, had all parties involved been informed as to what was going to happen. But, sometimes such surprises aren't met with wholehearted enthusiasm.

“I had no idea what I was walking into,” Peterson says.

In the past, Merry Minstrel saw a lot more business than they average today. On a rare occasion, the victim was the owner of a restaurant who once had a bad experience and decided he wanted nothing to do with singing telegrams, add to this the social deprecation the image of singing telegrams has faced over the years. Peterson says "it's been contorted by companies who are trying to make a buck. There have been so many people who have done inappropriate things in public places, or offended somebody in an office, that a lot of restaurants won't even let you come in." She knows of 8 managers who were fired due to the impromptu shows of singing telegram performers.

The media doesn't seem to be of much help, either.

"Portrayed on TV, people think singing telegrams consist of a guy in a nerd costume, who can't sing," Peterson says.

The nurse who sang for Ferris Bueler's get-well telegram in the 1986 movie certainly dented my perspective of the whole business, but Merry Minstrel holds the standard for how the show should really be executed. "What we do is top quality - only the best service," she says.

There is one holiday that still brings in a lot of requests for this specific type of gift, and that is Valentine's Day. Merry Minstrel delivers about 20, 70, or even 80 singing telegrams a day on Valentine's.

They also maintain to be the only company to deliver the "we want your business," "happy divorce," and "no occasion" songs. They even have songs for those who are just coming out. Merry Minstrel was the one to launch this particular party favor, and it's only natural for competitors to come along and "borrow" their songs and gimmicks.

Peterson says that to this day, she's sent cease and desist letters to nearly everyone else in the business.

With this sort of following and with Peterson as president, there's no doubt that her company will be the one to keep the tradition alive.