A Thanksgiving Memory (featuring Barney the Dinosaur)

In 1997 we took the kids to New York for Thanksgiving Weekend after a friend offered a hotel room overlooking the Macy’s parade route (won via lottery). We had a great weekend, and a perfect vantage point for the parade. Little did we know we would witness the demise of the Barney float, captured on video by someone who was also staying at the (then) Sheraton Manhattan!

Navigating CES 2013

Once again I was fortunate to attend the CES show in Las Vegas. While there were many cool gadgets and some very impressive UltraHD monitors, the most relevant developments (at least for C-SPAN) continued to focus on helping consumers navigate through the wide variety of content that will (and in may cases has) converged on their television screen. While I didn’t see any great breakthroughs with respect to television navigation, there were several examples of incremental improvements that built on some of the systems we saw last year.

As the emphasis continues on bringing multiple content sources to the single screen (cable, web, streaming), the lack of simple and personal navigation interfaces have caused some observers to conclude that TV is broken and only Apple can fix it. Some see it as reason alone not to even consider buying the new TVs. Others saw small steps of progress at the CES. I agree that navigation is still a huge challenge and despite the lack of breakthroughs, there is definitely some forward progress.

Setting aside some of the more gimmicky ideas (gesture and voice recognition), Cox seems to be on to something with a new, simple interface for developing a personal profile at the guide level, while adding personalized recommendations to the interface.

As I posted last year, this new world of “mixed” content bring challenges for traditional linear networks. Distribution success doesn’t stop at gaining carriage and counting on “channel flipping” (and some marketing) to gain viewers and users. The traditional grid — while certainly still available — is on a decline as the primary means of navigation. And, as we know from the research (and anecdotally) real-time viewing of linear television is on the decline as a percentage of consumption.

To compete in this new world, distribution success also means “data success”. For a news-oriented programmer like C-SPAN, it’s helpful to look at the three main “parts” of this equation:

  1. Collection of data during the production process
  2. “Massaging” data internally for distribution
  3. Gaining access to navigation platforms and matching data to the platform

Each of these are very large challenges! And it may go without saying, but any internal process to manage data must be informed by developments in these consumer-focused navigation systems, and it is especially important to understand that as viewers each of us is already operating in “our own world” when it comes to data-driven consumption. No “one” way represents a large portion of the marketplace (with the possible exception of grid-based navigation, at least for a while) And, at the risk of pressing this point too far, we need to be especially aware of our own experience-based and generational biases.

The challenge,then is twofold. The industry must develop intuitive interfaces for consumers, and programmers — like C-SPAN — must prepare to operate in a data-driven world that will replace the serendipity of the program grid.

Marathon!

At 8AM sharp on a bright and chilly November morning I joined thousands of my closest friends assembled downtown on Broad Street to run the 2012 Richmond Marathon.  Over five hours later as I crossed the finish line, it was no longer chilly. And I had completed my first ’26.2′. A few weeks have passed since the big day. I’ve come down from my runner’s high (for the most part) and I have returned to walking normally. And I’m watching my calories again. It’s time to reflect on the journey.

Me, a runner??

I started running during the late summer of 2010, primarily as a way to add to my cycling fitness regimen with some midweek workouts. I can run right from my front door, but good cycling routes are 20-30 minutes away. Never having run before, I started with a run / walk approach and gradually built up to running three miles without stopping. With some encouragement from my sister Janice (a marathoner and triathlete) I entered my first 5K at Wolf Trap in October 2010. I finished, and just as importantly I enjoyed the scene — not to mention the swag. I caught the racing bug.

After several 5K’s and an 8K in early 2011, I decided to try a half marathon in November 2011. I chose to run it at the Outer Banks Marathon which offered the side benefit of another trip to the beach. Despite some IT Band problems during the last few (painful!) miles, I finished in 2:22. At the time I tweeted that I couldn’t imagine running twice that distance. And yet, even after running a second, grueling half marathon in heavy rain in April 2012, I was tempted to see if I could go the distance.

Training

I chose the Richmond Marathon, wanting to try something smaller than DC’s Marine Corps Marathon. Another reason: It is held two weeks later, increasing the probability of cooler temperatures. Which kinda sorta worked out. My half marathon training had been a bit haphazard, but I knew I would need a formal plan this time. I chose Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 plan based on the sum of my prior running experience. I also liked the relatively shorter mid-week runs which meant I wouldn’t have to get up quite as early. (I am a habitual morning runner.) Cycling would be relegated to cross-training on Sundays. By the end of November, I would have run more miles in 2012 (803) than cycled (786). I also read (devoured, actually) Higdon’s “Utlimate Marathon Training Guide” which I found very valuable.

As I look back, I can honestly say I enjoyed the training as much as the race itself. Not that every 5AM alarm was met with unbridled joy — although my Lark made it a little more bearable for my wife Cynthia — but the discipline and constant focus (where would I run when I traveled?) provided a weekly sense of accomplishment. Not to mention the extra calories I could consume: In fact, it was essential to avoid constant hunger! The Higdon plan is an 18-week program that includes runs T-W-Th as well as a long run Saturday that steps back very third week. At the end of 17 weeks, I had completed 61 of the planned 68 runs, totaling 403 miles out of 452. (Yes, I keep track of these things.) Most weekday runs were in my neighborhood, often before dawn thanks to my trusty headlamp. I did my weekend long runs on the nearby Washington & Old Dominion Trail when I was in town. While traveling I also enjoyed runs in Philadelphia, New York City, Illinois, North Carolina and Arizona. And as suggested by the plan I ran a half marathon in Week 9: The Parks Half Marathon in Montgomery County, MD (2:23)

But it was not all roses. The summer heat forced curtailing some of the weekend long runs, and after I caught a cold in mid-September I decided to cancel some runs. This led to perhaps my largest training error.  After cutting short my planned eighteen mile run on October 6 due to heat, I ended up running my 19 and 20 milers back to back the next two weekends. This resulted in my only training injury, a slight but nagging pain on the inside of my ankle which seemed to fit the description of posterior tibial tendonitis. But this turned out to be mangeable; in fact it didn’t bother me on race day at all. Which is not to say that nothing did…

Race Week Prep

After that last 20-miler, it was time to taper with long runs of 12 and 8 miles. The marathon was on a Saturday so I adjusted my race week training to include a 3-miler on Monday and a 2-miler on Tuesday. Then, still nursing my ankle, I took the next three days off except for a brief elliptical workout on Friday. We drove to Richmond Friday, hit the Expo (Swag!!) and enjoyed a traditional pre-race pasta dinner at Maggiano’s. Then we turned in early at the Hilton Garden Inn: a great location just a block from the start of the race.

Running 26.2

I'm facing the camera, just to the right of the sign.With our hotel so close to the start we could hang in the room until around 7:15. Of course, I was up at 5AM going through my pre-race ritual and eating my “traditional” pre-run breakfast: bagels with peanut butter, brought from home. Temperatures were in the 40′s and despite some hesitancy I chose to stick with my mantra: Dress for the end of the race. This meant shorts and a short sleeve tech tee, along with some “disposable” gloves purchased at the Expo and discarded around Mile 7. I’m sure I was freezing at the start — after all, it’s part of being a runner — but I really don’t remember it being a problem. After the singing of the National Anthem, I said so long to Cynthia and got in position with the 5:00 pace team. The details of my pacing and fueling strategies are in my post over on dailymile.

After a crowded start the field thinned out within the first few miles. We headed west on Broad Street and then turned on to beautiful Monument Avenue. Many residents lined the streets cheering, high-fiving and holding homemade signs (including the chesnut “Worst Parade Ever” and the topical “Paul Ryan Already Finished” — at Mile 3). More residential areas followed and at Mile 7 we passed the first of three “Party Zones” where spectators gathered to cheer the runners. This was a nice move by the organizers. The Zones were in strip malls with plentiful parking and they provided a nice energy rush. Things were going well: after the first six miles I was averaging about an 11:00 pace. But my target was 12:00. Time to slow down. One of the mantras of marathoners is “Don’t Go Out Too Fast”.

We headed down River Road (another beautiful residential area) and across the Hugenot Bridge, which was a bit barren but offered good views of the James River. At Mile 9 we headed along Riverside Drive which is, ahem, right beside the river. This was a pastoral, calm setting and most runners seemed in a good mood. I struck up a conversation with a fellow runner and the miles passed easily.  Despite some hills around Mile 12 my pace at the halfway mark was 11:22. Still faster than my target but I was feeling good….

taken by CynthiaWe left the park-like setting and ran “up” Forest Hill and Semmes Ave. And by “up”, I mean that  literally: There was a long incline on Semmes where I took my first extended walk break. By now (11AM) the temperature had risen and the sun was out. As we crossed the (lengthy!) Robert E. Lee Bridge, several runners stopped to use the railing to work out cramps. After crossing the bridge, we were back downtown and we turned left on Main Street. I spied Cynthia on the left side of the road; she’d come to cheer me on at Mile 17. It was a nice pick me up, as I was starting to ‘feel it’ in my legs after the bridge. The route continued down Main Street, through the heart of the VCU campus where the cheering was a bit more colorful. Perhaps the Friday night parties hadn’t quite ended. In any event, it was a another scenic part of the route — in an urban campus sort of way. And then at around Mile 19 we turned right on the Boulevard. At the 20 mile mark my average pace had slowed to 11:45. Which was still ahead of goal, and the fastest I had ever run this distance.

But, I’d never run farther than 20 miles and all the sudden my legs reminded me of this. Thus began the difficult part of the race. Water stops were now every mile and I availed myself of them, walking a bit longer at each one. But this was a double-edged sword as it became more difficult to get started running again. Somewhere around Mile 21-22 we faced the “hill” over I-64 and I was set to walk it when a female runner next to me said simply (and forcefully), “C’mon. We’ve got this!” I pushed myself over the hill and ran with her for another mile or so. We never exchanged another word but powered through the difficulty together. We separated at a water stop.

By Mile 23 I was getting warm and at that water stop I doused my head with water (an old cycling trick). Next we passed Virginia Union University and at the Mile 24 water stop I added some electrolytes to my water as a preventative measure, even though I really hadn’t felt any cramps yet. This resulted in a long stop and my slowest mile yet — over 14:00. We turned left on Grace Street and were now heading back towards downtown and the finish. My legs were now quite sore, especially my thighs. One final walk break at around Mile 25 to “gather myself”: I knew there would be no more walking from here on out. A couple of quick turns (ouch!) and then we headed south on 5th Street — and the Finish came into view.

The Finish

Finishing in 4077th Place!

The finish in Richmond is a fairly steep downhill. This may sound good but if you are a runner you know this is not necessarily the case — running downhill can be very painful. And yet, the adrenaline had kicked in and I was propelling myself towards the finish line with a sort of tunnel vision. It’s a very strange feeling actually. You’re trying to take everything in but at the same time you are focused 100% on that line in front of you. You’re aware of the crowd but (at least in my case) too focused to let it soak in. If I was concentrating on anything else it was “Don’t do a face plant at the end!!!”. I crossed the line 5 hours and 19 minutes after I started.

To be honest, I was a little out of it at after I crossed the finish line. I did know enough to get my medal and one of those nifty metallic blankets. I grabbed a banana and water but my stomach was not really into the idea of any food. I kept walking until I found Cynthia, Rob and Paige. I admit it — it was a very emotional reunion. I was a little light-headed (probably dehydrated) and thought it best to stay on my feet so after taking some pictures we walked the half-mile or so back to the hotel. The walk was slow but it felt good to keep moving. I wore my medal — and the blanket — the whole way back. n00b and proud of it!

A cold bath, some sports drink and lying down for an hour seemed to refresh me and then I began my recovery — which started that evening with Mexican Food and adult beverages at Margarita’s Cantina. The next day the gastronomic tour of Richmond continued with brunch at LuLu’s. A few days of walking funny followed and I didn’t run for a week. But as I write this I’ve been out three times, and I’m already looking at next year’s race calendar. And wondering: Another?

Acknowledgements and Credits

This story would not be complete without acknowledging the people, places and things that provided invaluable support during my journey. My wife Cynthia has attended all my races, serves as my photographer and has provided much needed logistical support (e.g. willingly toting my warmup clothes). My family sat through countless training stories. My cycling buddies pushed me on the roads earlier in the summer and helped build fitness. Then kicked my *ss when I returned post-marathon. My unofficial coaches and experienced marathoners Kevin and Janice provided great practical tips, and co-worker and co-RVA runner Wes provided a weekly sounding board. I set up a special Twitter feed for my training and the runners I met there provided support and encouragement especially as we worked through “taper madness”. I’m especially thankful to the spectators on the course and my fellow runners who offered encouragement during the race itself.

The gear and technology I used included three pairs of ASICS GT-2170 (sadly, this model is soon to be retired); clothing from Brooks, Underarmour and Balega; on-the-run nourishment from Accel Gel and (yum!) Honey Stinger Waffles (carried via a SPIBelt); my trusty Garmin 110; iPhone apps including Strava Run, Runner’s Log, RunKeeper, WalkJogRun (great for locating routes when traveling) and of course LoseIt!. Koko Fit Club provided valuable strength training early in the summer. I did not wear headphones during the marathon but during my long runs I was sustained by (no surprise) C-SPAN Podcasts.

March 8, 2007: We’ve come a long way.

Five years ago today, C-SPAN announced a new,  less restrictive policy for posting certain C-SPAN videos on the web.  This “liberalized copyright policy” permitted noncommercial posting of C-SPAN video of federal government events so long as attribution was included.  Federal government events included congressional committee hearings and executive branch briefings. (Coverage of the House and Senate floor proceedings is produced by the Congress and as such is considered public domain.)

This new policy was rooted in the advent of of YouTube, the increasing use of C-SPAN video there, and confusion over what was allowable. Our previous policy had been to assert copyright in the case of congressional hearings, but advocates for the public domain like Carl Malamud argued that  “releasing [congressional hearings] back into the public domain … will make our public civic life richer.”  Our choice to take a more open approach represented an adaptation of our mission to new web video technology, similar to our decision years earlier to stream our television networks on the web.  In the words of Bill Bresnan, then-Chairman of the C-SPAN Executive Committee:

“The C-SPAN board sees this as helping us carry out C-SPAN’s public service mission. The cable industry created this network to allow citizens greater access to their government and this enhancement appropriately reflects the rapid changes in the online information world.”

Reaction was generally positive and the change received good mentions from the likes of Jeff Jarvis and Matt Stoller, although some argued that the new policy didn’t go far enough. And in fact we have greatly expanded on the basic premise in the ensuing years. Looking back, we can now see the 2007 policy as a watershed that paved the way for several initiatives and tools that greatly expanded our viewers’ ability to use C-SPAN video in social media. These include:

1. The C-SPAN Video Library

Officially launched in 2010 after several years in development, the C-SPAN Video Library is an online repository of every C-SPAN program since 1987 — at last count, more than 161,000 hours. All available for streaming, free of charge. In addition to robust search and browse functionality, the library provides several tools for online video sharing. Site users can create video clips and share them via email or social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.  Users can also embed selected video (including all public domain, federal events and public affairs programming) on their own sites.

2. C-SPAN on YouTube

We’ve expanded the C-SPAN YouTube channel which now hosts over 2700 videos with a cumulative view count of 53,000,000. In addition to complete episodes of several C-SPAN programs including Communicators and Q&A, we post clips from recent public affairs events which can be shared and embedded using the YouTube toolset.

3. Expanded availability of government-produced (public domain) video.

In 2007 we committed to build out our capitolhearings.org website as a “one-stop resource for Congressionally-produced webcasts of House and Senate committee and subcommittee hearings”.  The actual release of video has been slow moving, but much of the archival video that has been released (through the efforts of Carl Malamud and others) has made its way into the C-SPAN Video Library. Additionally, we have launched an automated process to post all congressional floor video to YouTube.

These developments make the original policy seem almost quaint in retrospect. One can only imagine what the next five years will bring….

The Growth in Non-live TV Viewing

In my CES 2012 post,  I noted that one of my major conference takeaways was the blending of traditional linear television with on demand offerings via cable and broadband offerings (e.g. VOD, Netflix and Hulu).  A piece published yesterday by Communications Technology titled Denial Time is Over; Most Video Will be Online includes a statistic that illustrates just how rapidly this is happening:

The growth in non-live TV viewing cannot be swept under the rug. Nearly two-thirds of the viewing on Web-connected TiVo units now is non-live or on demand via broadband, according to TiVo, meaning just 38 percent is live across approximately 2 million units. And among TiVo subscribers who use Netflix, YouTube or Hulu Plus, live viewership is even lower — at 27 percent. This is something to think about, given last week’s CES announcements about Samsung working directly with MVPDs to send content straight to smart TVs.

“The trend here is obvious,” comments Tara Maitra, TiVo’s senior vice president and GM/content and media sales. “For most of their video, these consumers prefer to watch on-demand, whether it’s recorded off the air, cable, satellite, or delivered via broadband. It really has become all about whatever they want to watch, whenever they want to watch it.”

And it seems this trend will only accelerate.

CES 2012: Themes, Takeaways and Cool Stuff.

The CES show floor is certainly overwhelming and everything written about the crowds seems understated compared to the actual experience. There are moments of serendipity, but to keep focused (relatively, anyway) I was fortunate to participate in a CTAM-organized tour specificaly designed for members of the cable industry.

From a cable programmer perspective, it’s impressive to see the role of consumer electronics in driving the blending of live and linear programming with on-demand / web / streaming content into a common offering that is all accessed directly via the consumer’s main “TV”. This is all made possible by a bevy of “smart” devices (e.g. SmarTVs, Apple TVs, Google TV, Roku, Boxee, etc.) that can combine offerings (via “apps”) into a single menu.

To be effective, this converged offering requires search-based navigation much more advanced than the cable screen guides of the past. Many such systems — both real and planned — were on display at the show. These include Samsung “app” partnerships with Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon and DirecTV [pic]. Time Warner also announced development of an app for Panasonic TVs. Google TV  was prominently displayed at the LG booth [pic], including a nifty two-sided remote to handle QWERTY duties. To be discovered and viewed in this new world, programmers like C-SPAN must emphasize accurate and complete program information (i.e., metadata) and tags that can be incorporated in these new navigation systems. Companies like Rovi work to bridge this world between programmers and navigation interfaces. Another variation on discovery is to pull from the social grid, the aim of companies like Shelby.TV  In the old days, it was often enough for a programmer to get carried on a cable system and have your channel listed in the onscreen guide. No more. There will be mutlitude of navigation systems representing different combinations of devices, providers and apps.

A second, related theme is the ability to have all of this content on all screens in the home. This can take the form of a home gateways like ones we saw at Motorola and Intel [pic]. These route content to large monitors as well as iPads and tablets. Echostar made a big splash with a multi-room DVR preloaded with nightly big-4 network programming. Similar to the way Netflix “remembers” where to start the movie when a viewer moves from one screen to another, these are all elegant solutions for premium content. But simply “throwing” web content to the big screen is getting easier too. One example: “Shodogg” which “enables any smartphone to deliver any streaming media to any connected device”. Other examples: “Warpia” which uses wireless hardware to provide an HD quality connection between the PC and the TV [pic], and Flingo.

Personaly, I think the use of iPads and tablets to create “second screen” experiences has loads of potential for consumers and programmers. Already available via apps such as Yahoo’s Into_Now, these technologies “listen” to programming on the main screen and then pull up relevant data on the tablet. Civolution is working to build the infrastructure that will support “social television” apps like ConnecTV.

Other items of note from my two days on the floor:

1. Beautful OLED displays that are now being built in larger sizes, including Samsung’s famous 55″ model shown on the floor [pic]. Available later this year for $8-10K. There were also 4K HD displays that were absolutely stunning — although years away from mainstream distribution. And yes, 3D is still being aggressively pitched by the CE manufacturers and programmers. ESPN 3D had a booth on the floor.

2. Superthin Ultrabooks were everyhere. They are impressive looking.

3. The Samsung Note was every bit as impressive as the hype. This phone-tablet combo (dubbed a “phablet” by a member of our tour group) seemed to have a lot of potential for capturing written notes, which is not particularly easy on the iPad. To show off the technology, Samsung commissioned artists to draw caricatures on the Note. [pic]

4. Voice and gesture controls — for your TV and Computer. Not just for gaming anymore. We visited the Primesense booth for an impressive demo.

5. New developments in infrastructure to make in-home connections even easier. We visited the booth of Wi3 which uses a home’s internal coax network to create wired and wireless connectivity throughout the home (without affecting the bandwidth used for TV and HSD).

Beyond TV and video, we heard a provocative keynote by eBay CEO John Donahoe, whose theme was that in the next three years, technology will disrupt retailing as a business in much the same way it has disrupted the media business. (This keynote was taped for airing on C-SPAN. Watch it here.) There were some fascinating developments on the automotive front as well. For more on the show, check out Techcrunch’s lists of the cool and the crappy.

Update 1/16/12 : I’ve posted several photos here and a few short videos here.

 

Brian Lamb and a C-SPAN “Origin Story”

Today the Washington Post published a piece noting that C-SPAN CEO Brian Lamb will soon receive the Lone Sailor Award, given to sea service veterans who have gone on to excellence in their civilian careers. The piece includes one of my favorite C-SPAN “origin stories” (of which there are several). I think that this tale from the Vietnam War era places the creation of C-SPAN in the context of the media environment of the time, and relates the “spark” that set Brian on his quest.

The bolt of lightning that eventually led to the creation of C-SPAN struck a Navy public affairs specialist named Brian Lamb 46 years ago when a flock of students invaded the Pentagon for a Vietnam War protest.

Then-Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara had allowed the kids access to the building in a show of goodwill. The group spread itself across a corridor and gathered peacefully until an ABC News correspondent arrived and turned on the cameras.

“These kids who had been quiet and serene stood up with their placards,” recalls Lamb. “What [television viewers] saw was not what was actually happening. They saw a minute-and-a-half story on the evening news. It was misleading. I said to myself, ‘It’s too bad the public can’t see the whole thing and let them make up their own mind.’ ”

He eventually founded a cable channel to do just that, and nearly half a century later, Lamb, 69, presides over a network that beams gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Senate and House of Representatives to 100 million television sets.