Vicky Collins Online

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The Chinese Scam I Almost Fell For

It’s amazing the lengths people will go to to rip others off.  I recently was contacted by a Mr. Dehua from Henan Yu Xin International Co. Ltd. in Zhengzhou, China.  He emailed to say that his company was making a 20 episode series of 25 minute documentaries in HD for television broadcast.  The intention was to enlighten the Chinese audience about America’s history, economy, culture and tourism.  At first I was a bit skeptical.  How did he find me?  Was it because I did a documentary length piece on Chinese influence in the Caribbean for Dan Rather Reports?  Was it because I spent three months in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics?  Did I impress someone along the way who referred me?  I emailed him back.  He followed up with the project information.  It was in detail and he clearly understood the logistics of production.  He also informed me that they would pay $50,000 to $60,000 US per episode.  The project was a dream come true with a budget that would allow us to produce excellent television.  It kept me up at night thinking of ideas that I would bring to the Chinese and people I would collaborate with.  I worked out a production schedule and sent him off my ideas.  He said “I am so happy that we have a so good beginning.”  Today as I was looking for more information I came across this warning from a production company in Munich, Germany.

http://www.filmingholidays.com/2012/07/18/beware-b2b-scam-from-china/

Thanks to the internet and the experience of the production company in Munich I was saved from going any further down this scheming road.  I am now posting this as a cautionary tale to warn fellow producers and production companies.  The scam which first swept through Germany and Italy and other European countries has now reached American shores.  I guess if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

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The Greening of Greensburg

Very early on the morning on May 5, 2007 I got a call from NBC News to hurry from Denver to Greensburg, Kansas.  There had been a huge tornado and the town was devastated.  Go! Go!  When I pulled into the town six hours later I was stunned to see wreckage so complete that even the bark had been pulled off the trees.  These skeleton sentinals stood over a community of people who were lost and dazed.  The EF-5 tornado had 205 mile per hour sustained winds.  Almost the entire town was in ruins.  It was apocalyptic.

The grain elevator was one of the few buildings left standing in Greensburg, Kansas after an EF-5 tornado destroyed the town on May 4, 2007.

It was hard to imagine coming back from that scene or even having the will to rebuild but Greensburg is a plucky town.  One of the residents, who is now the mayor, Bob Dixson, had a sign on his property within days.  It read “Future home of the Dixson family.  We are blessed.”   They were still optimistic.  I guess when you consider that 11 of their neighbors had died and many more were injured, they were among the lucky ones.  I took this photo when I was out there covering the disaster.  The powerful image made me feel hopeful.

The sign in the rubble of Bob Dixson's home in Greensburg, Kansas following the tornado. He and his wife were among the first who decided to rebuild.

The town decided to pull itself out of the rubble by capitalizing on the Green in Greensburg.  They would come back environmentally friendly and create a community that was truly sustainable.   Over the years I had pitched this story to various news outlets with little success but when Budget Travel magazine singled Greensburg out as one of the coolest small towns in America I had a newsworthy hook and HDNet’s Dan Rather Reports said let’s do the story.

Almost five years later I returned to Greensburg and what I saw was as stunning as that first post disaster morning.  The town is cleaned up and there are beautiful new buildings.  The school, the hospital, City Hall and the John Deere dealership are all built back to the highest environmental standard called LEED Platinum.  There is a pretty little Main Street with shops and even a business incubator sponsored by Sun Chips.  People are living in new eco-friendly homes and are saving up to 2/3 on their utility bills.  And there are wind turbines everywhere powering the community.  Imagine using the same wind that destroyed you to help resurrect yourself!

Bob Dixson's eco-friendly rebuilt home today.

Greensburg still has its work cut out for it.  The town has half as many people as it once did but they are determined to repopulate.  Like many of the small towns in rural America, Greensburg had been dying.  But even after the tornado the folks there said we are not dead yet.  So they set out to create a sustainable future, a vision for their tomorrow that would make Greensburg a place children would want to stay, that would be attractive to new families, invite companies to relocate, and create jobs and economic development.

What’s extraordinary here is that folks in Greensburg are very conservative.  These are not tree huggers but they realized that by going green they could build a community of the future.  Today they are an inspiration for other cities reeling from disasters like tornado ravaged Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  In a time when huge disasters seem to come at us with alarming frequency, Greensburg is showing us how to rebuild and recover.  And the message they send is that green goes with their rural values.  It is just common sense.

The foundation of a new Greensburg is in place.  It has been a gut wrenching process for people who lost everything to imagine something this big when it would have been so much easier to somewhere else.  As the town approaches the fifth anniversary of the tornado this May, they have an enormous amount to be proud about.  I personally would like to go back in five years and see how much farther they have come.  If you are traveling along Highway 54 pull off at Greensburg and see what’s been accomplished.  And if you can’t do that, watch tonight on HDNet’s Dan Rather Reports to see the hard work and ingenuity that brought Greensburg back.

Our Dan Rather Reports crew in Greensburg, Kansas during October 2011 covering the remarkable comeback of the town.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

For more of Vicky’s photographs visit Vicky Collins Photography.


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How to Live Forever

Want to live to be a thousand years old? It’s not far fetched at all if you ask theoretician and geneticist Aubrey de Grey. He believes within the next 25 years there is a 50/50 chance we’ll have the technologies to extend human life indefinitely. I learned of Aubrey and his ideas in 2005 and immediately pitched the story to NBC’s Today Show. They were intrigued. With the help of correspondent Kerry Sanders and the London bureau, we went out and interviewed Aubrey in a pub in Cambridge. When we finished the story we sent it in to the show. It was promptly killed. Too out there for a mainstream audience. Plus it didn’t help that Aubrey looked like Methuselah.

Aubrey de Grey at his SENS Foundation laboratory in Mountain View, CA.

Fast forward to 2011 and there Aubrey was in the news again.  This time I pitched the story to HDNet’s World Report. The program is always looking for stories that deal with interesting issues and are not widely told. This time correspondent Willem Marx met up with Aubrey in a pub in Cambridge and also went punting with him on the Thames River. For my part, I finally got to meet Aubrey at his SENS Foundation laboratory in Mountain View, California. He is tall and wiry and moves like someone with no time to lose.  He lovingly strokes the beard which hangs almost to his waist. I asked him if his distinctive look helped or hurt him as he went out in the world trying to win over scientists and venture capitalists to support his work. He said it helped because people looked at him and saw a guy who is not materialistic in the least. It’s very clear to them that he is not doing this to get rich.

Through his SENS Foundation non-profit, Aubrey and the scientists who work with him are creating an intersection between research on the biology of aging and regenerative medicine. By doing experiments with the building blocks of cells they hope to someday develop treatments that repair the damage caused by aging, and restore people to a state where they are biologically younger than they were when they started. In other words, people could live out their entire lives as healthy as young adults. Five years ago, the scientific community considered his ideas kind of kooky but now the research is catching up with his theories and Aubrey is gaining credibility. “This is not science fiction anymore, this is science forseeable,” Aubrey proclaims.

Of course the implications are mind boggling but Aubrey brushes them off. “People always say hang on. If we stop the problem of aging we’re going to have a whole lot of other problems. We’re going to have overpopulation or dictators who live forever, or how will we have the pensions, or won’t it be boring. If I want to be flippant, I say those are problems I’d like to have, thank you very much. Ultimately I don’t see people who want to get cancer or Alzheimer’s disease or cardiovascular disease or Type 2 Diabetes or any of these things we are going to prevent by curing aging. I don’t meet people who want any of those things so I find it frustrating when people take the view we’re going to create the problems and refuse to adopt any sense of proportion about this and accept the problem we have today is a big one, a problem that kills 100,000 people every day, most of them after a long period of ill health and disease and debilitation and dependence and decrepitude. It’s pretty clear that the problem we would solve is quite a big one, and yes, the transition to a post aging world is going to be a big one, and the more forward planning we do to make it less turbulent the better, but the transition to the industrial revolution was pretty turbulent too, yet there aren’t many people who believe the industrial revolution was a mistake.”

If you want to learn more about Aubrey de Grey and his work and vision tune in to HDNet’s World Report on Tuesday, May 17th at 9 p.m. ET/7 p.m. MT.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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Rocky Mountain News Retrospective

Two years ago the Rocky Mountain News ended publication after 150 years.  The Colorado newspaper was a casualty of a changing media environment which saw the bankruptcy of dailies across America.  Recently former Rocky editor and publisher, John Temple, sent out a survey to his former staffers to see how they were faring in their careers.  Ryan Warner of Colorado Public Radio sat down with him to crunch the numbers and have an enlightening conversation on the state of the newspaper business and how things are going in his current job as editor of the EBay backed local online news source, Honolulu Civil Beat.

http://www.cpr.org/article/Rocky_Journalists_Two_Years_Later

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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The Grinch Who Stole Christmas Cards

As we speak I have 10 Christmas cards. I used to have a huge stack by mid-December but then I gave up on sending them. I guess I brought this on myself. I broke this tradition with much guilt and trepidation. It seemed quite sacrilegious to give up on holiday cards. We wrote a couple hundred each year (at great expense I might add) with pictures of our kids. But then it got so tiring with celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas and making tamales. Something had to give. Besides some years they didn’t go out until after Christmas or even New Year. Christmas cards in the mail by New Years. Then I found many of the people who sent me cards started sending them electronically. Singing, dancing Christmas cards online. And then I discovered I was keeping in touch with all those people who I used to send cards to on Facebook or by email. The once a year communication seemed unnecessary when you were in touch all year long. Of the ten cards I have, three are from people my parent’s age and one is from a charity asking for donations. It seems to be a lost art. But I miss those holiday greetings. The letter from Jim O’Donnell documenting every sporting event he went to all year long. The one from Ian Pearson with words that jumped off the page. The card from Orin Friesen which always made me laugh. And of course the pictures of children in various stages of growing up, even if they’re not so cute as teenagers, that lived on our refrigerator all year long. I think our electronic connectedness has caused one of the most civilized practices of all to disappear, the annual greeting in the form of a card, delivered in the mail saying happy holidays, merry Christmas and happy new year.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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“A Homeless, Homeless Advocate”

Thanks to my friend, Randle Loeb, for sharing this inspiring story with me.  Randle is a tireless voice for the homeless and wanted me to see this Washington Post article about Eric Sheptock, a homeless man in Washington, D.C.,  who is advocating for those like him using social media, Facebook and Twitter. People can make a difference anywhere.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/12/AR2010121203509.html?hpid=topnews

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Photography: Stepping Up My Game

Just bought a Nikon D7000 camera and Nikkor 18-200 mm 1:3.5-5.6 GII lens. Have set a goal to teach myself to shoot and edit video in the year ahead. My television colleagues are trying to talk me into Final Cut Pro. Also looking into continuing education at the Santa Fe Photography Workshops. Need to enhance the skill set. Time to step up as a photographer and journalist. Nervous and excited. I posted my current portfolio on Flickr. Onward and Upward!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/vickycollins/sets/72157625467469718/

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Alphaboomers

Move over Generation X, Y and Z.  Make room for the Alphaboomers, the 55 to 64 year old demographic that has been largely ignored by advertisers when it comes to broadcast television buys (except during the evening news which relies heavily on prescription drug advertising and Beano.)  Now NBCU is calling out for this demo age group to get respect and be recognized as a force by Nielsen sampling.  About time they recognized that “old is the new young.”

http://www.mediaweek.com/mw/content_display/news/media-agencies-research/e3i5094e406e415c2806357b58512be3fb3

For more information about Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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A Westerner Ponders Arranged Marriage

One of the most interesting things I read in the newspaper while in Delhi was the matrimonials in the Sunday Times of India.  The section consisted of page after page of personal classifieds by families unapologetically seeking the perfect made to order husband or wife for children whose time has come to make a love connection. Some of the ads were very specific.  They spelled out criteria of caste, looks, religion, region and education.  Some ads were placed by families that spent a fortune sending children to the finest colleges and universities in India and abroad.  On the market were Drs., MBAs, and Ph.Ds who studied in prestigious schools in the U.S.A. and U.K. and now were ready for a mate.  Some families who were shopping for love were less particular.  Caste no bar meant that a boy or girl would marry outside of the caste.  In several ads families were requesting “homely” girls.  “Why would anyone want a homely girl?” I asked.  “In America a homely girl is plain and unattractive.”  “No,” my friends informed me.  “A homely girl is one who wants to stay at home.  Not a career woman.”  Do people really meet their soul mates through these ads or is it just families marrying other families, putting medieval rituals ahead of the happiness of their children?  “It is a tradition,” a young man I met in Jodphur told me.  “Those are for people who are desperate,” one of my colleagues said.

Finding a mate in India is definitely a family affair and most marriages are still arranged.  It is easy to impose our western values on India and decry this practice, but India is a country where family comes first and that means who children spend their lives with seems to be everybody’s business.  So in a country with 1.2 billion people it might just be more practical to launch a marketing campaign, especially when you consider the drama involved when young people try to find Mr. or Mrs. Right or Singh or Patel themselves.  Names are not included here to protect the innocent.  Some of the people I spoke with are hiding things from their parents (and as I’ve found out people actually do find and read blogs.)

A young army captain I met on a train told me how he found his wife escorting a friend’s sister home on a bus from the south of India.  They fell in love and wanted to wed but her parents refused to have her marry a man in the military.  Mind you this was a charming, intelligent, handsome man who wrote poetry, for goodness sakes.  He decided to send her father letters every day to prove he was worthy.  Dad finally brought the case before the entire extended family (and it was a very large one) and the council of in-laws gave their consent.

Another couple I know went through alot of drama with parents as they tried to marry.  He pursued her for many months and could not get her off his mind.  She took a great deal of convincing and played very hard to get.  At one point he told his parents it was over.  When she popped up again in his life his parents refused to even consider her.  They eventually married but I am told there was tension at the wedding and there still is a cloud over their union today, mostly because they broke tradition by moving into her families house after the marriage rather than moving into his families house.  Parents have a say in this too, it seems.

As we walked through the old city of Jaisalmer, a man I met told me about the love of his life who got away.  She was a woman from California who was there for three years doing social work.  They lived together and he wanted to marry her.  His parents refused and when he honored their wishes, she left.  That was six years ago and he has lost track of her now, but still longs for the relationship.  He is unhappy in his arranged marriage.  He says his wife is very selfish and treats his children badly.  They are now separated.  He asked me “Do you think I made a mistake, giving her up for my family, or should I have given up my family for her?”  I told him I thought he would have had regrets either way.

My Muslim rickshaw driver in Jaipur told me that he was dating a Hindu woman for a couple of years.  They were having a great time and his family didn’t mind at all.  But her family did so mom and dad forced them to break it off.  He says he doesn’t care what faith someone is.  All people are the same and as long as they treat each other well and make each other happy nothing else should matter, but obviously her parents did not agree.

A colleague of mine has been dating a young man for six years and intends to marry him but her parents don’t even know him because they will not approve.  When a family friend told her parents he noticed her with this boy at a bus stop a few years back they tightened the screws.  Another colleague’s parents seldom let her out of the house alone after about 8:30 p.m. in the evening making it nearly impossible for this 19 year old to have a relationship.

Western women would certainly never put up with all this meddling from parents, but the good news is even as fundamental traditions have stayed the same, the practice has evolved and women say arranged marriage can work.  A young mother and IT professional I met on the train back from Jaipur to Delhi was telling me her marriage was arranged.  Her parents placed an advertisement in the matrimonial section of the Times of India and that’s how she met her husband.  But instead of being passive in the process she was highly involved and could have walked away from the arrangement at any time.  Her husband could have walked away too.  They didn’t, and after a brief courtship, she is now happily married and living with her husband and first born child in the United States.  Arranged marriages are still the way most people hook up in India (even the Prince, grandson of the Maharajah of Jodphur, will have an arranged marriage when he weds.) Matrimonial websites like http://bharatmatrimony.com and http://shaadi.com are booming, but in this day and age, more young people are asserting themselves in their love life, especially those who are educated and don’t need to settle for less.

If someone hasn’t already thought of this, I think a great idea for a Bollywood musical would be an Indian adaptation of “Fiddler on the Roof.”  If you recall Reb Tevye had three daughters and as each one chose a husband they made choices that made their father progressively more uncomfortable.  Each daughter followed her heart and Tevye had to adapt.  I think that really sums up what’s going on in India today as many young people work around their parents or at the very least, alongside them to find partners.  Of course, arranged marriages can turn out badly.  If the wrong partners are found people can be miserable or abused.  That happens when we self select our partners too.  Still, choosing a spouse continues to be a family affair in India and for what it’s worth maybe having mom and dad involved can be helpful.  Maybe working backwards, marriage then love, can be possible.  Just look at the statistics.  Although divorce is starting to be a bit more prevalent among the upper classes of India, on the list of countries with the highest rates of failed marriages (America is #1) India isn’t even on the radar.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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The Camel and the Cell Phone

Andres from Switzerland, his girlfriend, Paola from Brazil and I were riding on camels in the Thar Desert outside of the western Indian town of Jaisalmer. We were in a spot as remote as I’ve ever been, 21 hours by train from Delhi, just 60 kilometers from the border with Pakistan. It’s a flat, arid locale, punctuated by sand dunes and populated by only villagers, camel wallas and shepherds with their flocks of sheep and goats. To me it was a place that time forgot, more like the Middle East than India. It probably hasn’t changed much at all in a thousand years. I felt like a silk or spice trader heading west into the desert. I was deep into my reverie on a camel named Michael when suddenly my thoughts were interrupted by the Nokia ringtone. Dadadadadadadadadadadadada. It seemed our guide, Ali, was a very popular man. For the entire camel safari his cell phone rang. It rang on the sand dunes, it rang under the tree where we stopped to have our vegetables and chapati lunch, it rang at sundown while we were drinking our beer. It rang after we went to bed under the stars and it was the first sound I heard at sunrise. The Nokia ringtone, piercing the tranquility of the desert.

 

Ali and his cell phone

 

The Lonely Planet guide book said the power generating wind turbines that have sprouted around Jaisalmer were altering the historic and mystical qualities of the area, that they made it harder to transport yourself to another time and place. But I barely noticed them. I found it was Ali’s cell phone that kept me coming back to now. I had a similar experience while working at the Olympics in Beijing. Dean, Jim and I took a day trip to hike the Great Wall of China. We climbed in Hebei Province, in Inner Mongolia, about two and a half hours outside of Beijing. We took a 10 kilometer trek from Jinshanling to Sumatai. Up and down stairsteps in a place far out of the way. Yet there was cell service. No place this remote would be served by AT&T in the U.S.A. My colleague, Jim, who probably shouldn’t have been on the adventure because he was so busy with his Olympic assignment as the head technical supervisor of the Bird’s Nest Stadium, spent the entire trip talking on his cell phone. I have no idea how he managed to catch his breath as he scrambled up and down the mountainside. It was truly the most difficult physical challenge of my life, yet he yakked the whole way on his mobile.

We have gotten to a place where we are so interconnected that you can no longer escape, even in some of the most remote spots on earth. While in India I have stayed in touch with friends by Skype, email and Facebook. I tuned in to an computer chat on http://msnbc.msn.com that my friend, Kerry Sanders, a correspondent for NBC News, was holding as he covered the rescue of the miners from Chile. There was really no update from family, friends and colleagues that was inaccessible to me from a half a world away. And even though I am grateful for all the technology and connectedness at my fingertips, and understand the need of the camel walla to stay in touch with his people when he travels through the desert too, I still wish the only sounds that day were my thoughts, the wind and the camels, and not Ali’s incessant Nokia ringtone.

For more on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.