Making Sewage Stories Readable

I love sources who can explain boring topics in a way that’s relatable and meaningful to readers.

I’d see and hear Joe Barrington at enough meetings in the county about sewer projects that I learned more about where your waste goes more than I wanted to know.

He shared with me a series of problems in the community with both sewers and water–something that mattered in a community that often had line breaks and clogs.

So, we did a series called Liquid Assets to cover these topics. Continue reading Making Sewage Stories Readable

When Mental Health, Safety, Politics Collide

Photo by Phil Grout

See more at: Covering a small town can be more active than what you think.

I learned this when I was thrusted in covering a controversial change at a state mental hospital in town, Springfield Hospital Center. The center has a long history with the town and many residents either work there or knows someone who does.

They understand the hospital’s mission and care. But a change in policy led residents to be uneasy as those who battle mental issues that have committed crimes, some violent, would be transferred to Springfield. The Muncie Building on the campus, shown above, was renovated to house these patients awaiting trial.

Links to full coverage are at the bottom, for as long as the Sun maintains the archive. Continue reading When Mental Health, Safety, Politics Collide

Roller Derby Ridiculousness

This is just a fun feature I loved writing that reminds me of the air guitar competitors.

Mutiny at the Ag Center

Thrills! Spills! Silly costumes! Roller derby wheels into Westminster!

By Charles Schelle
cschelle@patuxent.com

Posted 1/17/10
Staff photo by Matt Roth

Accountant Beth “Beef Hellington” Pryor, 30, crunches numbers by day and bodies by night when she takes to the roller derby track in Westminster’s Danielle Shipley Memorial Arena.

“It’s a perfect situation for me,” Pryor said before a two-hour practice this past week, “Silly outfits, roller skating — plus knocking people over.”

“Exactly what I need in a hobby.”

Pryor is one of several newbies on The Mutiny, a team affiliated with Chesapeake Roller Derby that will make its debut this week at the Shipley Arena at the Carroll County Agriculture Center.

The team’s first match will be held in Westminster Saturday, Jan. 23 against South Jersey Derby of Westville, N.J., beginning at 6 p.m. Doors open at 5 p.m. and admission is $15. A two-hour party will be held after the game until 10 p.m.

The Mutiny players don pirate apparel with creative names — including Molly Wanna CrackHer, Shea Legs and Cannonball Hon. Continue reading Roller Derby Ridiculousness

Incarcerated Veterans Care for Veterans Cemetery

Award Winner: 2008 First-place state government story in Division E for MDDC Press Association

Prisoners called to aid fallen soldiers

Sykesville inmates tapped to maintain veterans’ cemetery

By Charles Schelle
cschelle@patuxent.com

Posted 12/17/08

(Enlarge) Central Laundry Facility residents Sylvester Woodland, Timothy Brown and Ernest Belcher work together to install new section markers at the Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery as part of a pilot program between the cemetery and the Department of Corrections. All the inmates chosen for the duty are, themselves, veterans. (Photo by Phil Grout)

David Fisher, 42, looked across Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery and pointed to two hills.

“My uncle is buried right up there over that hill and one of my best friends is buried right there,” said the Army veteran — who these days is incarcerated at the Central Laundry Facility minimum security jail in Sykesville.

“I put flowers on his grave the other day,” he added.

Fisher, originally from East Baltimore, is one of several workers at the Central Laundry Facility who are honorably discharged veterans now incarcerated.

And since September, he and others have been maintaining Garrison Forest Cemetery in Owings Mills as a means to honor their fellow servicemen, friends and family; and as a way to find meaningful work when they’re released.

Continue reading Incarcerated Veterans Care for Veterans Cemetery

When Technology Limits 911 Capabilities

Award Winner: 2008 First-place local government story in Division E for MDDC Press Association

Crossing the line on 911 calls? | The Eldersburg Eagle

Calls sent to Howard, then back to Carroll

By Charles Schelle, cschelle@patuxent.com

Eldersburg Eagle, June 25, 2008

Beverly Burns of Sykesville said she can still hear the scream of a 39-year-old Baltimore Gas and Electric worker who was electrocuted last week outside her home.

Unsure of what those screams meant, Burns picked up her cell phone at about 2:45 a.m. Wednesday, June 18, in her home on Spout Hill Road and dialed 911.

When the dispatcher answered, though, it was Howard County’s 911 center. That center transferred Burns to Carroll County’s 911 center and sent help to the scene.

“I’ve been sitting here for two days wondering if we weren’t routed through Howard County, could those extra minutes made a difference for that man?” she said Friday in a call to The Eagle.

The BGE worker died of cardiac arrest en route to University of Maryland Shock Trauma, according to a press release from the Sykesville Police Department. He was not identified in the release.

Scott Campbell, Carroll County Department of Public Safety administrator, said he could not give a definitive answer, but from what he was told about the situation, the system worked as it is supposed to, and he said there’s no issue with AT&T, Burns’ carrier.

Communication companies typically place three 120-degree panel antennas to route calls, Campbell said. Those antennas receive 911 calls in a full circle, he added.

“At least one of its towers are pointing toward Howard County and vice versa,” he said.

Campbell gives Mount Airy as the best example of the case given that it is split among Carroll, Frederick, Howard and Montgomery counties where cell phone users dialing 911 might get a call center from either of those counties – depending on where they are standing, he said.

When a caller is routed to a neighboring jurisdiction, dispatchers have specific guidelines and procedures of what to do, he said. Callers can help by stating clearly where they are, he said.

“I’m very happy to hear the process worked the exact way it’s suppose to,” he said. “It’s a very brief transfer process.”

Terrible instance

The 911 center received numerous calls about the incident, Campbell added. According to a press release by the Sykesville Police Department, the power failed at 2:36 a.m., and the worker was pronounced dead at 4:37 a.m.

Additional antennas to pick up signals in Sykesville to be routed to the Carroll County 911 center might not change the parameters of how calls are routed, Campbell said.

Still, he said he would follow-up on the Burns’ concern.

“We will, in fact, determine what AT&T sites are in the area,” he said. However, Campbell stresses that the situation is not unique to AT&T. It’s a wireless communications issue, he said.

The county does not have a 10-digit phone number to use for emergency calls to directly reach the Carroll County 911 center, Campbell said. He discourages calling the Department of Public Safety’s business lines, too, because of the tools that workers can use in the 911 system.

“Truthfully, to not use 911 would be usurping all of the 911-affiliated benefits of calling 911,” he said. “We would not be encouraging that at all.”

Burns lives above the sub-station on Spout Hill Road near Springfield Avenue and wanted to run outside and help the worker, whom she said she could hear crying for help. Her husband stopped her from proceeding for her own safety, she said, not knowing what exactly happened.

“I like to send my condolences for the family,” she said. “I was just scared for my own safety.”

A Night of Competitive Air Guitar in D.C.

Photo by Matt Roth

Looking into the eyes of 47-year-old Lance “The Shred” Kasten, it is apparent that the sheer enjoyment and ridiculousness of competitive air guitar is more than just a night out with the boys.

The Shred appeared drained after a grueling tie against Chris “Sanjar The Destroyer” Paxton in May’s U.S. Air Guitar regional competition at the 9:30 Club, in Washington.

The two will return to duke it out and settle the score with each other and with other air guitarists from around the country at the National U.S. Air Guitar Championships, Friday, Aug. 7 at 8 p.m. at the 9:30 Club.

Yet, The Shred’s concern and emotions didn’t rest with his glory. It was with his fellow air guitarists in a brotherhood of sorts.

“Somebody’s heart was going to be broken there,” said the Washington, D.C., native in the 9:30 Club balcony greenroom. His attention quickly turned to Sanjar.

“I’m so proud of this guy right here, man,” he said, pointing to Sanjar resting on a in disbelief. “Last year he was a mediocre air guitar player and he brought it on, man.”

And that respect and bond, said Dan “Bjorn Turoque” Crane of New York, is what makes the competitions of playing nothing so great.

“We are the outsiders. We are the dorks,” he said. “We are the losers that could not really learn how to play a real instrument, and now we have air guitar, and for many of us, it saved our life.”
Continue reading A Night of Competitive Air Guitar in D.C.

Video Portfolio: Charles Schelle

From shooting on a not-so-great Sanyo camcorder, to more powerful smartphones and professional-grade equipment, I’ve had to adapt my video reporting to the tools I’ve been given.

And that goes for the editing software, too.

At BSMG/Patuxent, my videos were completed using iMovie with a Sanyo camera because it was 2008-ish and that’s all Tribune would give the weekly papers. At Patch, it was somewhat worse given a Sony point-and-shoot camera that was narrowly better than that Sanyo. I had better luck shooting with my cell phone. Eventually, the Tampa area sites were able to purchase two Canon XA30’s but they had to be shared with other Patch sites an hour away. Still using iMovie.

At the Bradenton Herald, all videos except the Bealls videos were produced using cell phones and a powerful app called Videolicious that could swiftly edit your footage and insert pre-loaded bumpers while uploading to a YouTube channel. The Bealls videos were using a camera similar to the Canon XA30 and edited using iMovie.

At Frostburg State University, it’s a combination. I’ve used my cell phone out in the woods, a Canon T5i in a swamp and an older model professional-grade Canon camera and one time a cinema-grade Sony I was supplied in a pinch. The video is nowhere near looking like it was Scorsese behind the lens. After using iMovie initially, I learned how to use PremierePro CC and a bit of AfterEffects to produce better videos.

The playlist you see is a selection of videos throughout my career. Even the not-so-great ones. For instance, the Zamboni video from 2010 with its bad lighting and so-so sound, won a press association award. Back then it anyone who could do video for a paper was given a pat on the back for something that was watchable. I—and the industry—have come a long way.