Tech survey? What tech survey?

My colleagues and I had a little fun with a company-wide tech survey.


For bike patrol officers, work isn’t a ride in the park

FORT WORTH — Let’s say you’ve just ridden two miles at top speed, lugged your 30-pound bike up a set of stairs and swerved around a turning city bus a split second before disaster.

You would be forgiven if, when you reached your destination, you flopped to the ground, muscles quivering, and tried not to lose your lunch.

Unless you’re a Fort Worth bike patrol officer, in which case you’d better try to calm your ragged breathing, gather your wits and get ready to deal with whatever threat sent you into such hot pursuit.

“We could get a hot call that could be two miles, three miles, let’s say five miles away,” said Ross Williamson, a Fort Worth neighborhood patrol officer and bike instructor. “We don’t have the luxury of jumping in a police car and getting to that call.

“In a high-traffic situation, bikes can actually get to a call quicker downtown than a car can. So they ride to the scene as quickly as they can and as effectively as they can so they can take care of the situation.”

Last week, 25 sworn officers, including two Fort Worth captains, plus four XTO security guards gathered at the Fort Worth Police and Fire Training Academy for an intense 40-hour bike patrol certification school. The class included officers from the Benbrook Police Department, which is starting a bike patrol program around Lake Benbrook.

The officers learned the rules of the road and headed outside to ride: up stairs and hills, around traffic cones and over curbs. They practiced standing perfectly still atop the pedals, a balancing maneuver known as a trackstand. 

And, after starting at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday for the required “night ride,” they made it back inside just before the massive storm system that rolled in after lunch.

On Friday, the final day, they partnered up, donned their bulletproof vests and gun belts, jumped on their bikes and raced through a timed obstacle course to answer a simulated “officer-down” call. Officer Carlos Duque, who runs the school with officer Jason Young, called it a live-fire stress test.

After a quick dismount at the firing range, they sprinted through the final obstacles and fired two sets of six shots at targets three yards away.

Full disclosure: One participant did lose his breakfast, but only after completing the course.

The exercise was a stark reminder that patrolling Fort Worth on a bike is far from a recreational stroll.

The winners of the live-fire stress test were a pair of neighborhood police officers: Mario Cabello of the West Division and Eric Vance of the South Division.

“They had clean runs and smoked the others,” said Duque, who works with the downtown bike unit.

The training program was created by the Law Enforcement Bicycle Association, a national certification organization created in 1987 “with the birth of modern-day police cycling.”

Fort Worth’s downtown bike patrol unit, which was formed in 1991, is made up of 18 officers and two sergeants assigned to the department’s Central Division. They work four 10-hour shifts atop their bikes every week, come rain, shine, heat or bitter cold. Some neighborhood officers also patrol on bicycles.

Central Division Capt. Daniel Humphries, who participated in the class, is an avid cyclist, but on a sleek road bike. The low-speed mountain bike drills were a particular challenge, he said.

The skills tests also challenged West Division Capt. Linda Stuart, a runner who had no problem with the cardio work.

Stuart said she enrolled to “be able to interact with the community, go out riding with them [her officers], meet citizens.”

“This is all about getting to know your community,” she said. “It’s hard to do that in a car.”

Fort Worth mayor hosts rolling town hall meeting

Riding into Gateway Park under ominous clouds.

Consider this fair warning: If Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price invites you to go riding, bring your A game.

On Wednesday, about 30 cyclists joined the mayor for the first Tour de Fort Worth of 2012, a 14-mile hop around the Trinity Trails, starting at the recently opened Trinity Bicycles, 343 Throckmorton St.

The weekly series will continue through Oct. 24 at various sites around the city.

Mayor’s fourth Wednesday ride heads to Farmers Branch Creek

Price, 62, likes to use cycling as a way to promote a healthy city and give residents a chance to talk with her about issues in a relaxed atmosphere.

“It’s really interesting what people will tell you on a bike,” said Price, who rides five days a week and logs as many as 150 miles a week during the summer.

“They get warmed up and they get loose, and you feel friendly and accessible. That’s what we want. This is all about being real open and free with the citizens.”

Wednesday’s ride started a little after 5:30 p.m. under cloudy skies and 60-degree temperatures. The cyclists were escorted down to the trail by two Fort Worth bicycle officers, who hung at the end of the group all evening to keep an eye on everyone.

The machines ranged from mountain bikes, like the police issue Trek hard-tails ridden by Fort Worth bike patrol officer Sean Blaydes, to the mayor’s red and black Kuota road bike.

The crowd was diverse, too. Several people said they had run across the ride on the mayor’s Facebook page and decided to join the group because, well, a ride’s a ride.

Diane Laughlin, 59, of Saginaw, a train dispatcher for BNSF Railroad, found out about the weekly rides from the Fort Worth Bicycling Association. She said that she’s gotten a little out of shape over the winter and that Wednesday’s ride was a good workout.

Mike Emery, 42, of Fort Worth said he enjoyed the chance to ride.

“I saw it on Facebook and decided that any opportunity to ride is a good opportunity,” said Emery, a manager at National Tire and Battery.

Janet Patterson, 49, of Fort Worth, who owns a women’s consignment shop, said she just enjoys riding.

“I’m about to turn 50,” she said. “So, biking’s for all ages.”

About 20 minutes into the ride, as the group headed toward Gateway Park, a brief rain shower made things a little more interesting. But 10 minutes later, a sun broke through and the rest of the evening was pleasant.

Price yo-yo’d back and forth in the group as it stretched out along the trail, chatting with riders. She said the weekly rides, which began last year, give residents a chance to discuss everything from street lights to potholes to water rates to taxes.

“We haven’t had anybody in the last year who was really angry,” she said. “You know, we have some who say, ‘Why can’t we get our streets fixed?’ And I understand that. It’s frustrating.”

Heavy rains earlier in the week flooded several low-water crossings, forcing several impromptu route changes and even a little cyclocross along the route from downtown to Gateway Park.

The pace was steady, and a 8-10 mph wind that changed direction from southwest to west to northwest during the ride made it just tough enough for a good workout.

Price, who said she has been cycling seriously for about 25 years, said she enjoys the outings with residents.

“I love people, and I love hearing what they’re interested in,” she said, “even if they’re not talking about the city, if they’re just telling me about their families or their pets or their children, I love that kind of stuff.”

The weekly Wednesday rides are from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Next week’s ride starts at the Tarrant County College-Trinity Trails Trailhead. You can get the latest information about the rides at Mayor Price’s Facebook page.

TCU drug busts: Anatomy of an editor’s decision-making

In the wake of this week’s drug busts at TCU, the institutions involved are getting a lot of scrutiny, and that’s good. Did TCU blow things out of proportion? Were the Fort Worth police more interested in headlines than justice? Was the media irresponsible?

I’ll leave the answers to the first two questions to the experts and our columnists. As for “the media,” I can speak only to the actions of my newsroom.

This post is definitely not the official position of the Star-Telegram; it’s just my opinion. But I was the editor supervising the initial coverage, so I’ll answer for the decisions we made.

I’ve read the stories, columns and comments over the past four days, and I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on our coverage. I’ve come to two conclusions:

1. I wish we had done a better of job of emphasizing the relatively small-time drug-dealing outlined in the arrest warrant affidavits. The comments of TCU and Fort Worth police at the morning news conference seemed to describe something more sinister than the affidavits actually contained. We needed a headline to that effect as part of our first-day coverage.

2. Aside, from that, I think our coverage on the whole was comprehensive and fair. Whatever your stance on drugs, or TCU, or police, this was a big story in Fort Worth.

We have written on the university’s crisis response, the scope of the allegations, the football team’s involvement and the police’s identification of the wrong man.

Our editorial board has encouraged the university to be more forthcoming about allegations of drug use by football players. Randy Galloway gives TCU props for not trying to cover things up. Columnist Bud Kennedy has become a high-profile skeptic of the entire communications effort.

In today’s media world, that kind of depth and reasoned analysis is too often missing from coverage of events, and I’m proud of our newsroom for taking the time to provide it.

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Five things series … How to get started on Twitter

“I’m ready to get started using Twitter. What do I do?”

If that’s your question, this blog post is your answer.

1. Set up your Twitter account. If you already have one, go back in and add a photo (no default eggs, please) and update your bio. Include a link to the page on our website that best features your content.

2. Go to the Star-Telegram on Twitter list and follow your colleagues. Many of these folks have mastered Twitter, and you’d be surprised what you can learn just by watching what they do.

3. Pull up in a browser tab, sign in, and check your feed once an hour. This is the best way to keep up with what others are reporting.

4. Re-Tweet (RT) a post you find interesting. For extra credit, add a few words of your own.

5. Check out these great tutorials, including several from your colleagues:

Five things series … Editing video on your iPad

Colleague Eva-Marie Ayala and I had some fun with the iPhone and Fort Worth’s new parking meters on Monday. In the process, I learned five key things about editing in the iMovie iOS app.

1. Move clips from iPhone to iPad: After shooting the video, I used Apple’s camera connection kit to import the clips to my iPad. (Editing on the iPhone’s small screen is not a fun experience.) Unfortunately, you can’t import just any video format, so if you shot video using something other than an iPhone, you’ll just have to see if the iPad will accept it. You’ll know it worked if the Photo app opens.

2. Keep your expectations low: I edited the clips in the iMovie app and overall it worked OK. The biggest drawback: The app version does not allow you to separate audio and video tracks, so B roll is not an option.

3. Use WiFi to export full-res video: I exported the video at full resolution to YouTube (It took only a few minutes.) and was happy with the quality. Uploading the HD file to Vimeo took about 15 minutes on WiFi (for a 44-second video), and I saw little difference in the quality.

4. Export to your Mac if necessary: I ended up exporting the clips to iPhoto via the sync cable so I could handle B roll in Final Cut Pro, thus ruining the entire iPad-only experiment (oh well).

VIDEO: Fort Worth parking meters, on YouTube

5. The iPad works for breaking news: Trying to shoot and edit the entire project on mobile devices wasn’t as awesome as I had hoped. But if you’re not as addicted to FCP as I am, and especially if you’re handling breaking news, the setup will work just fine.

Just know going in that your post-production options are limited, unless you want to move to a laptop.

5 things to know about … apps for your iPhone

Apple says there are more than 500,000 apps in the iOS app store.

I’m going to focus on just five here. These are the suggested “must-have” apps for Star-Telegram journalists, for both the iPhone and iPad.

(Another post will list some specific iPad must-haves.)

1. Star-Telegram iPhone app. Built for iPhone but works on iPad. Our only iPad app at the moment is the Star-Telegram e-edition, which costs $7.95 a month or an extra $2 if you already have a print subscription. (It’s a great way to read the paper!)

2. Twitter. The best free app is Twitter’s own. The best paid app is Osfoora. (In my opinion, of course.)

3. Facebook. I recommend using Facebook’s own app.

4. Meebo, an instant messaging client that works with your Google apps (Gmail) account.

5. Photoshop Express, a quick way to crop and adjust photos shot with your phone.

Some specialized apps, depending on your beat and needs:

iMovie, for video shooters.

TypePad, for bloggers.

CoveritLive, for chatters.

Dropbox, to access files anywhere (if you have an account).

Evernote, to keep and categorize notes (if you have an account).

— The Voice Memos (audio recording) and Notes (quick note-taking) apps come with the phone and work very well.

Please share your favorite apps by posting in the comments section.