U.S. Government solicits bids for 1,500 combat knives

Gerber’s Combat Fixed Blade is one of the knives the U.S. government is looking to purchase. | (Courtesy gerbergear.com)

The U.S. Government is soliciting bids for nearly 1,500 combat knives to be filled by small businesses.

According to solicitations on FedBizOpps.gov website, the federal government is looking to buy two types of knives: First, 982 full-tang, partially-serrated knives and second,  574 Aircrew Survival Egress Knives.

The response date for both solicitations are Feb. 13, 2014.

The Aircrew Survival Egress Knife, developed by the Ontario Knife Company, is the survival knife for Army aviation units. In a period between June 2004 to May 2005, the Army bought almost 12,000 of these knives, which suggests this solicitation of nearly 600 survival knives is something of a routine purchase.

The other solicitation for the full-tang, partially-serrated knives was interesting to me because the design of of the knives are elegant. Digging deeper into this solicitation on the Defense Logistics Agency’s Internet Bid Board System, it seems like the bid is between Gerber and Benchmade.

Both knives are made with 154-CM steel. Both sport a black finish. Both are partially-serrated.

However, Benchmade’s 140SBK Nimravus is slightly thinner and longer. It’s a drop-point blade with an aluminum handle.

Gerber’s CFB sports a tanto blade with a rubberized handle.

The differences between the two knives seems small. If you were in a combat situation, would you prefer one knife over the other? Why?

Feel free to comment below.

Crumbs of The Internet No. 5: Pussy Riot, Demon Possession and Storytelling

'Pussy Riot Putin' photo (c) 2012, AK Rockefeller - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

As I wrote this post, I’m sitting in a crowded Starbucks shop. I’ve been spending a lot of time in coffee shops this week, mostly trying to work through writing.

I would interview sources and ask very dumb questions. I collected too much information. And now, as I work on getting the rough draft of this story into something I would be okay showing another human being, I find myself working against writers block.

I attribute all of this to this one article by Poynter: What you can learn about video storytelling from the Budweiser Super Bowl commercial [Video]. Al Tomkins goes shot by shot through Budwiser’s commercial, “Puppy Love,” and shows why it’s a good story. Although he talks towards people telling stories through video, us scribblers can learn a thing or two.

You’d think crafting a story with all of the elements described in the video would be simple, but no. Gotta work with the material that’s given you, and it’s hard to compete with puppies and horses.

Another piece of “inspiration” I found was this video of Malcolm Gladwell in which he describes the strategies underdogs can use to succeed. And that’s why I’m pulling longer hours in coffee shops these last few days.

It’s purely coincidental that I read two stories about demon possession this week. The first one comes from Esquire Magazine where it profiles an exorcist in the Catholic Church.  On its own, the story is mildly interesting, but don’t you ever wonder why demon possession is never documented? Most of those accounts boil down to hearsay.

But the story in the Indianapolis  Star titled “The exorcisms of Latoya Ammons has some weight to it: it cites medical documents, third party witnesses. After reading, it’s hard to form an opinion about it afterwards. The comments at the end of this GetReligion blog post helped.

Let’s end this post with a true longform piece by Buzzfeed about the band Pussy Riot. The piece doesn’t just explain the origins of the “band” and why it’s music is almost nonexistant. It continues deeper to explore the connection of the Orthodox Church and government in Russia, and to explain the culture of Russia.

Now, if I can only write a longform piece like that…

-30-

Crumbs of the Internet is a weekly post where I link to some of the interesting stories I read online over the last week. 

Crumbs of the Internet No. 4: Superbowl Sunday and Southern snow

'MetLife Stadium Prepares For Super Bowl 48 (XLVIII)' photo (c) 2014, Anthony Quintano - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

This post is book-ended by two notable events: Superbowl Sunday and the snow that froze the South. Not surprisingly, the more interesting articles that I found online spoke to both these events.

Rebecca Burns, editor for Atlanta Magazine, explains in Politico Magazine the fault for the paralysis in Atlanta last week lies not with southern drivers, but by political moves made years before.

In Chattanooga, the snow is melted off the road. Today was warm, with remnants of snow clinging onto the sidewalks that lie in the shade. While Tuesday’s storm is now a cautionary tale on preparedness and snow driving, it’s the weekend. Superbowl weekend.

Every year, the game takes a backseat for me so that I can focus on what sport fanatics may see as the peripherals to the game: food and commercials. I see commercials as a window to the values of the audience. How is Coke defining what happiness is this year? How are filmmakers telling stories in 60 or 30 seconds?

So in that same vein of cultural analysis, I bring to you this post by Slate in which they “cover” the Superbowl as if it was held in a foreign country. The writer’s knife of wit is less than razor sharp but don’t let that dissuade you. The post brings an interesting perspective to the game.

This year’s game is the 10-year anniversary of “nipplegate,” the infamous half-time show with Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. This ESPN Magazine piece  says that performance was a watershed moment in American culture, that American media now is different than it was then. (A word of caution, the ESPN piece is intended for a mature audience.)

Rounding out this week, I was reading a bit of The Village Voice, the alt-weekly paper of New York City. While mainstream media zigs, the alternative publications zag, providing a fuller view of the world. The Voice’s profile of Dee Farmer, a transgender inmate whose Supreme Court case is a landmark case on how prisoners are treated, shows just how that is done.

Finally, I’ll finish with a piece about John McCandlish Phillips, a Christian journalist who was at one point the best reporter at the New York Times. I first learned about Phillips in the Introduction to Journalism at Bryan College, where he became one of the journalists I admired. I read more about him through his obituary when he died April 9, 2013. This feature written in the 90’s shows yet another side to the man.

Knife transportation bill introduced to U.S. Senate

'Senator Mike Enzi' photo (c) 2011, AMSF2011 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The Knife Owner’s Protection Act of 2014 (KOPA), a bill designed to give legal protection to knife owners traveling through states with restrictive knife-carry laws,  was introduced to the U.S. Senate earlier this month.

You can read the entire text of the bill here.

The bill, introduced by Mike Enzi, a Republican senator from Wyoming, allows for the transportation of knives that are locked away and inaccessible during transportation. The bill also legalizes the “carry in the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle a knife or tool designed for enabling escape in an emergency that incorporates a blunt tipped safety blade or a guarded blade or both for cutting safety belts.”

The bill does not override the Transportation Security Agency’s regulations for air travel.

In a press release on his website, Enzi said the bill was designed to give travelers consistency and prevent “government overreach”

“A few overzealous states or cities shouldn’t be in the business of punishing folks for what is legal in most parts of the country just because they passed through their jurisdiction,” he said.

KOPA is similar to the Firearms Protection Act passed by Congress in 1986 which protected the transportation of firearms across state lines.

While Enzi introduced the bill to senate, Representative Matt Salmon, a Republican from Arizona introduced a house version of the bill Nov. 13, 2013.

The text of the house bill can be read here.

Both bills have been referred to committees. The senate version was sent to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and the house bill was sent to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.

Last September, AKTI talked with legislators in Washington about the issue of transporting knives by telling them stories about travelers who got in trouble when they carried a knife through a place where it was illegal to do so, according to a press release by the organization.

Its contributing legal council, Dan Lawson, helped write the legislative proposal for KOPA.

“We sincerely thank Senator Enzi and his staff for taking the lead on our proposed legislation and we look forward to continuing to work with them through the legislative process,” said Jan Billeb, executive director of AKTI.

While gathering data, I learned Google doesn’t know everything

'Google Logo in Building43' photo (c) 2010, Robert Scoble - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Simply collecting the data for this story about the Berlin Police Department is more complicated than I first suspected. 

It’s my first data journalism story and I wanted something challenging — a project where I would learn — but something doable. Studying my hometown police department’s daily blotter for the month of January seemed reasonable and interesting.

In last week’s post, I told you Google’s search engines turned up valid entry after valid entry in its results. At first, it was easy: I went from one .pdf to another, downloading the files to my computer. But after downloading the 13th .pdf, I found out Google did not bring up all the results.

The last page of the search results had three documents that were irrelevant. I needed something more that a search engine to get all this data.
The last page of the search results had three documents that were irrelevant. I needed something more that a search engine to get all this data.

At first, I thought it was the police department, so I waited a few days before running the search again. But the same search a few days later on Jan. 23 gathered the same results.

That’s when I decided to manipulate the URL of one of the documents that was there in hopes of finding documents not retrieved by Google.

I started with the URL to the daily police blotter for Jan. 7:   http://www.berlinpd.org/images/pdfs/DAILY%20BLOTTER%201-07-2014.pdf

Since the date is in the address, I simply changed the date to a document I didn’t have. The document loaded; I downloaded it and I kept changing the date until I got an error message.

Apparently, the police department did not upload that document to the server at the time that I looked for it.
Apparently, the police department did not upload that document to the server at the time that I looked for it.

Here’s the lesson: A search engine is a good starting point when looking for information, but it has limitations.

The next step was converting the data into something I could use. 

You can’t use data in .pdf format because .pdfs are designed for reading and publishing. You have to have it in a .xls format, something malleable so that it can be played with, measured and counted.

Reading about data journalism, I learned there are ways to convert .pdfs into something usable, but by the sounds of it, a person needed to know a bit of code.

I instead opted for the easy way out and Googled “convert pdf to excel” and found a few websites that do it for free.

After combining 22 .pdf documents into one with merge.smallpdf.com and converting the 37-page document into an Excel workbook with pdftoexcelonline.com, I had an Excel file I could use.

The only problem? The .pdf converter made each page of the .pdf into a separate sheet in the Excel workbook. After trying to find a quick solution online today, I simply copy and pasted each sheet into a “Master List” in the workbook.

It probably needs copyediting, but I have three weeks worth of data that I can start exploring.

Crumbs of the Internet no. 3: toast, photos and a Sundance film

When toast is more than a piece of bread (Longform) — I like this food story. It goes deeper than a fun story on high-end toast (How fluffy! How silly!) and digs into the heart and raw past of the trend starting on the West Coast. (h/t Buzzfeed) 

The sentence that created the national security policy we have today (Longform)  — This is the PSA article for the week. This story by Buzzfeed helped me understand the start of it all: NSA spying, Edward Snowden, Guantanamo Bay, drones.

How the Internet changed writing — Let’s get past the obvious: the Internet has made it easier to get something — anything — onto a page. This Q&A with the founder of The Awl shows the more things progress, the more they stay the same. Work hard, my friend!

Photographed breaking news? That picture may be worth more than you think — I wish I knew about this back at the beginning of 2012 when I photographed the National Park Service evicting Occupy protesters from McPherson Square. Time to start reading up on copyright law. 

Notes on Blindness,’ a selection from the Sundance Film Festival (Video) — This New York Times film explores the meditations of John Hull, who lost his sight in 1983. Like a good film, it has many layers. Instead of spoiling any part of it for you, I’ll let you watch it.

Crumbs of the Internet is a weekly post where I link to the notable stories that I read the week before. Its a mix of longform pieces, journalism advice and other things I found on the Internet which I found helpful. 

How I’m teaching myself data journalism

'I Love Spreadsheets' photo (c) 2012, Craig Chew-Moulding - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Lol. Not yet.

Last week, I discovered myself staying up late and getting a little too excited over Excel spreadsheets.

The amount of nerdiness disgusted me at first, but I’ve come to terms with it. Data journalism jobs are in demand, and they fit into an evolving world of 21st Century media, of Wikileaks, PGP encryption, social media and SEO rankings.

Database journalism, from what I understand, is the process of analyzing data to find stories that serve the public interest. To do the job effectively, journalists need to learn a whole new toolbox of skills: Microsoft Excel, code, a bit of statistics and, *gasp* math.

But after the learning curve comes the ability to present better information to the public. Sometimes, journalism feels like parroting the he-said, she-said of politics and business.

While Mark Twain would argue “there are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics,” statistics and numbers bring a logical weight to news stories, a grounding.

Last week, I googled “data journalism.” The first hit was this free e-book, created by The European Journalism Centre and the Open Knowledge Foundation.

After reading how data journalism is important for 21st Century journalism, how the marriage of the press and data has already changed the world, I skipped to the pith of the book — a step-by-step guide to doing data journalism.

And this is where I decided to get involved. It’s one thing to read how to do something, but then the skill is then mostly forgotten, unpracticed. It’s another to actually go out and do it.

So I lined up a possible project analyzing data I get on my hometown of Berlin, Conn.

The first step was to get some data. 

I searched by file type (a .xls document is ideal) and I narrowed my search down until I was searching a specific website. Finally, I found something promising when I typed “2014 site:berlinpd.org filetype:pdf” into Google.

Bingo
Bingo

I found a promising vein of information on the Berlin Police Department’s website. They publish their daily activity blotter to the Internet in a .pdf document.

I figure I could collect data for a time  and then quantify it, figuring out the most dangerous streets, what the police do on an average day, find out when the department was most busy.

There are some challenges, like converting .pdf documents to .xls pages, filling in missing data and actually making sense of it all.

Meanwhile, I will keep you updated.

P.S. Are a data journalist reading this post? Could you give me any advice? Maybe I missed a really good resource. Let me know in the comments below, or through Twitter. My handle is @jcksndnl.