Smoke alerts not quite the speed, reach as text


Sometimes I wish people wouldn't put thoughts into my mind. Of course, my mind is probably a place where good thoughts go to die, anyway, but some just keep being heard. I'll try to explain.

I was reading an article the other day about naming rights for the new college football playoff system that goes into effect for the 2014 season. The gist of this article was that there would be no corporate sponsor for the championship game, and that the game's name, which will be announced soon, would be short and sweet.

The game's executive director is a guy name Bill Hancock. He used to be a sportswriter who has also worked in sports administration. In fact, he was the information director for the old Big Eight Conference back in my sports reporter days, so I had the opportunity to work with Hancock on a number of occasions. He's a nice guy, despite what people called him during his time in charge of the BCS championship games.

In describing the challenge to come up with an eye-catching, high-impact name in just a few words, he made this analogy: "It's like writing short. I can write a good, long column in 10 minutes. A good short column takes three hours."

That got me wondering about this: My target each week for this column is 700 words. So, is that a long column or a short one? Knowing the answer to that could affect my writing time. If this is a long column, then I should be able to crank out a good one in 10 minutes. If it's a short one, then considerably longer. If I need to work on it for three hours to make it good, I'm going to have to start earlier than the midnight hour when this particular edition began.

Of course, the other key word in Hancock's quote is "good." I guess I can just continue to write lousy columns in whatever time frame it takes. I generally need more than 10 minutes, but if one has ever taken me three hours, there would have been a number of games of Spider Solitaire played during that time.

Short or long. Good or bad. That's the idea that my old Big 8 Skywriters Tour companion has put in my head this week. Hopefully, the thought will pass soon.

Now we know

What a great information age we live in. Earlier this week, the eyes of the world were focused on a chimney in Rome. If black smoke came out of the chimney, we knew the cardinals of the Catholic Church had not yet elected a new pope as their leader. White smoke and "we have a pope."

That's how people for centuries have been finding out the status of selecting a new church leader. The identity of the new pope would then be revealed shortly after when he stepped out on a balcony in St. Peter's Square.

A few hundred years ago, that news would then be spread worldwide somewhat slowly. I envision dispatches being sent from town to town by people on horseback. Ships would have to sail for weeks, if not months, for the news to reach all corners of the world.

Within the last couple of hundred years, telegraph wires helped to speed up the process. Then, within the last 100 or so, radio waves. If, for example, let's say that the new pope was from South America. It could have been a while before people in his own town knew he wasn't coming home anytime soon, because their local guy had a new job.

Now, flash back to this Wednesday. I was at lunch when I received a text from someone who heard within minutes of the puff of white smoke appearing that we had a new pope. I pulled the phone out of my pocket, fired up an app that gave me a live television feed and walked out of the food court and to my car looking at Rome on a 4-inch screen.

When the new pope walked onto the balcony, I knew the same time billions of other people from around the world found out. Heck, within an hour, I knew minute details of his life story.

I like our way better.

Russ Batenhorst

Don't expect to detect a common topic or theme in Russ Batenhorst's weekly column in the Hastings Tribune. Usually it's whatever slice-of-life observation pops into his head just in time to make the deadline for it to appear each Friday.

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