July 2007

Effective communications with Congress (and others)

I've recently been doing some letter writing. Though I'm still far behind on my emails and correspondence with friends there are some issues that require the attention of our elected officials and government agencies. As a part of this process looking at how to be most effective has been important. Fortunately the Congressional Management Foundation has done research on this very topic and can help show us how to make letters more effective.

A few points jump out immediately:

  • Personalized letters have more impact than form letters
  • Shorter is better
  • Grassroots groups can gain from understanding the process

None of these should be barriers. It is far better to write a long windy letter than none at all. While understanding the process and getting the timing right is great perfect timing doesn't do anything if the message isn't delivered.

Keep 'em in the dark and feed 'em....

Launce Rake tried to get an estimate from the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) what they now estimate the water grab is going to cost. He points out that however many billions of tax dollars are going down this hole, er pipeline, it is certainly more than the 20-year-old $2 billion figure that is oft tossed about.

The SNWA plan seems to mirror the decades-old plan for the downwinders. The plan then suggested that if the government didn't collect data it couldn't ever be sued to release data under sunshine laws. Apparently SNWA would like us to believe the same of the water grab plans. A staff person for SNWA told Rake that they hope to have a number soon that they can share with the public.

Understanding that the number is a moving target that changes with time is easy. It is harder to understand why SNWA doesn't have a figure. Unlike the downwinder situation SNWA is dependent upon state and local funding for their project. The nominal blank-check of the defense industry is tucked away and not out on the table as it was for nuclear testing during the cold war. So the situation is either that SNWA's mis-management of this project is so great that they don't have a number or that they don't want to share it for fear it will awaken citizens of Nevada to what is going on here.

Give away business idea

Here is an idea for a business I would like to use but don't have the time to create. In reading Peter Walsh's book, or listening to the audiobook to be precise, there is a great suggestion. For holiday gifts ship them to the place you'll be and skip the whole schlepping them through the airport or in the car. R.E.I. makes this easy by allowing orders to be picked up at the store. The service I would love to use is one whereby I can send packages ahead to where I'll be for the holidays without complexity. Sure I can send them to a house but there are always issues around that. It seems a business with many locations and already large storage space would be perfect. Perhaps even one of the shipping companies could provide this service.

Curbing the mob mentality

Small town meetings can be a tough place to be. Often issues are of great concern to those in the room and since whatever the topic it has a greater impact on each resident of a small town tempers flare. Even when they do not flare so visibly there is all too often a kill the messenger mentality. We take leave of our senses, manners and all that we know about being professional and accomplished only to berate someone who has come to address the town. Frequently we do this in the name of speaking truth to power. In the long view it looks far more like lining up with a shotgun and taking aim at one's own foot - I can tell you it will hurt but can't stop you from pulling the trigger.

So what do we do to prevent this? One of the biggest things would be to come with a written list of questions one intends to ask. If others ask the questions then cross them off the list. If new ideas come out of the conversation then write them down and ask them.

Airport Express gone bad

While working this evening I turned on music throughout the house. Sadly the living room didn't come alive with music. During the investigation I noticed that with nothing plugged in the Airport Express was still sending out an optical signal. After a bit of thought it occurred to me that the sensor that senses whether a min-jack or an optical jack are plugged in, was likely stuck. Sure enough a gentle probing with a small screwdriver and it was again working as advertised.

Organizational web-mastering

Every once in a while something happens that just floors me. Often I think I've seen just about every cheap-trick in the book and know all the ways people are a bit odd. A recent exchange showed that I've still got more to learn. The story starts some months back when an organization asked me to work on their website. For a multitude of reasons the group was not happy with the site they had and couldn't get satisfaction from the process they were using.

Long weekend

This was a long weekend. Simple fact about even minor accidents: It doesn't matter how nice or sorry the very polite person who rear-ends you is, the amount of work to get the damage repaired is still a major pain and takes hours and days away from your coming weeks. Fortunately the injuries appear to be minor but it is a hassle and a major addition to a schedule that was already over capacity.

Ditching the print paper

Though it is heresy for someone with a degree in journalism I have to agree with Unclutterer's assessment that folks would be wise to drop print newspaper subscriptions. As the article points out even in the case of papers that have paid online subscription models (i.e. Wall Street Journal) the online subscription is cheaper and has features you'll never find between the pages in the morning. Candidly the only reason to get a print paper these days would seem to be a form on information snobbery of being able to show you get the New York or Los Angeles Times while the neighbors only get the Las Vegas Review Journal. Even with commutes and assuming not everyone has an iPhone there are tools like Google's offline news reader, not to mention countless desktop RSS news reader programs. The time has clearly come that if one's interest is really in information that the laptop has replaced the newspaper. If image is worth killing trees and you don't mind not having information on a business trip and the clutter a newspaper adds then by all means keep on with the print subscription.

"In the news" or recent reads on Drupal sites

Some months back I started the "Points of Interest" item at the left. It is basically a linkblog and provides a way to make pointers for things that might be interesting to readers for which I'm not going to take the time for a full post. The setup is quite simple.

Google Reader

Google ReaderIn my case it started with Google Reader. I had begun using it as my primary RSS reader and found the "Share" feature to be handy. Even handier is that the items that have been shared are put into their own RSS feed. Click on "Shared Items" in Google Reader and you've got the URL handy. To begin with I created a feed in the Drupal Aggregator to create a subscription to Google Reader's Shared Items that I called "Recent Reads".

Las Vegas gets negative press

The magazine Fast Company has a list in their July issue of fast cities around the globe. "We scoured the globe in search of placed that best embody economic innovation and opportunity. We found creative-class meccas, R&D hot spots, even cities so fast they're scary. Is your hometown on the list?" says the table of contents page. Unfortunately for the people of Nevada the magazine hits the nail on the head in calling Las Vegas a too fast city and suggests that Vegas is "An environmental pileup in the making. Can the casinos find enough water to fill all those pools?"