Sunday, May 27, 2012

Local Paper Charging for Access

Every once in a while I like to tilt at a few windmills.  Sometimes I rant about the futility of Daylight Saving Time, sometimes about how I’m the only person who knows how to drive, and sometimes about politics. 

Today I’d like to surprise you with a new rant.  One that even surprised me.

I live in the thriving metropolis of Lafayette, IN.  To you it may not be much but to me it has been home for over 3 decades.  While not an exciting or sexy place, it is home and it is a solid, stable, great place to live.

While not being a huge town we are big enough to have our own TV station and our own newspaper, the Lafayette Journal and Courier.  The J&C as we call it is owned by Gannett, the same folks that bring you the USA Today.

Over the years, Lafayette has been the test market for several new Gannett products.  For instance, our paper was one of the first to change its form factor to a different, smaller, more compact size that travels and reads better.  I found this to be a great change but one that I wouldn’t take advantage of because I read the paper electronically on any number of my pieces of glass.

Their latest change is my latest obsession.  The J&C website, used to be free.  Now it is only free for a limited time and then in order to consume any content you have to pay to access the site.  I know some folks who work at the paper and they tell me that Gannett is testing this out for expansion to all of their other newspaper markets by the end of the year. 

The local TV station has seized upon the irony of this and they are now running ads saying their website is “Always Connected, Always Mobile, and Always Free.”  Nice.

According to Wikipedia, “In February 2012, Gannett announced a new policy use of the Internet content provided by its newspapers.  By the end of 2012, non-subscriber access will be limited to between five and fifteen articles per month, varying by newspaper.  The USA Today website will be the only one continuing to allow unrestricted access.  Similar restrictions have previously been implemented by other major publications, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.”

Newspapers are struggling to stay relevant in a world of glass and I fully understand their argument that you aren’t paying for how you get their content (web or paper) but for the content itself.  I get that, the bigger issue though is how long can they stay relevant in a world of free news sites including our local TV station, CNN, and other news outlets that provide full access for free.  Competition from changes in technology is the biggest threat here, and they are not adapting quick enough to survive.

Friday, May 25, 2012

So you don’t like the Law

One of the things that struck me at a recent government hearing I was at is how little people know about how to influence change.  They don’t like what is allowed under the law but they also don’t know how to change the law.

The hearing I attended was for a project for the ministry where I work.  The law allows non-profit organizations, any non-profit organization to receive more favorable interest rates on financing projects through the use of tax-exempt bonds.  Granted this is a complicate process but for numerous reasons many folks were opposed to a religious non-profit group getting this kind of financing.  If I disagreed I’d go after the law however many of these folks chose to go after the organization.

One of the folks who presented against us summed it up well.  She said, “I know this is legal but I’m asking you to do the right thing and not approve the request.”  That is a contradiction in terms.  If it is legal than the right thing for elected and appointed government officials to do is to support and uphold that law, which all but one of the officials did.  Otherwise, you have the right and privilege in our country to get those laws changed.

If you don’t like the speed limits on the interstates do you attack the driver who is driving the speed limit or do you try to get the speed limit changed?  You can go after the driver but that won’t change the law.  Even after the attorney for the city presented this was a legal process approved and supported by the US Supreme Court, many who spoke decided to go after the organization as opposed to the law.

There are many laws on the books that I don’t like or agree with but I’m not going after those who are playing by the rules.  If I wanted to bring about change, I’d lobby those who make the laws to change the laws.  A concept that appears to be lost on many.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Blessing of Living Here

Today the ministry I work at went before our local government to get approval for tax-exempt bond financing for a project we want to build near Purdue University.

The details of the project are available here but the project itself isn’t the point of this post.  After spending 2.5 hours standing at West Lafayette City Hall and watching the process work it reminded me how fortunate I am to live here.  Regardless of the outcome of the approval vote today I wasn’t worried about being gunned down on the way out of the building.  I wasn’t worried about my family being persecuted for my involvement.  I wasn’t worried that my place of employment would be attacked.  I knew that whatever the outcome everyone would move forward and life would continue without issue.

I think we often times take this for granted.  We get all worked up in a situation and supporting our causes that we don’t realize how fortunate we are to be able to get worked up and passionate about supporting our causes and that we are able to communicate that passion and zeal to others in a public process.

Today was a great example of that process.  Many folks spoke, both for and against our project and no one was booed, no one was harassed, no one was laughed out of the room, even though there were a few opportunities, like the person who addressed the group and wanted to talk about global warming.  Talk about the wrong setting.

In the case today, we were able to get the approval we were seeking.  Agree or disagree with the outcome the discussion was civil and respectful.  Our freedom to express ourselves is precious and we shouldn’t take it for granted, even with those with whom we may not agree.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

IT and Community Support

In March, the community of Henryville, IN was wiped out by an EF 4 tornado.  I was traveling at the time and watching the news from the Pacific Northwest and amazed at the extent of the destruction.  As I’m watching the images of devastation on TV I was also wondering what a geek like me could do to get involved.  Being a geek, I’m thinking about things like cell phone service and internet access and what my life would be like without those things.

When I returned home, I contacted our local emergency management agency, or TEMA – Tippecanoe Emergency Management Agency and asked how I could get involved.  The answer surprised me.  I was thinking my involvement would help those directly impacted by the disaster.  Instead, I was asked to support those helping those directly impacted by the disaster.

During the response at Henryville, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security realized they were lacking in IT support for the responders.  They were unable to provide basic IT services so the first responders could communicate, process paperwork, manage rescue efforts, and provide assistance to those impacted.  As I continued digging I found they were unable to share a network printer so if folks had to print, and they print a lot, they had to take their laptop to a printer with a USB cable and plug in to print, sometimes waiting line.  This slowed response times and communication with those in the field.  They had everything necessary to share the printer wirelessly they just lacked someone to make it all work.

This is basic IT support, even stuff I can do so I offered my services to TEMA and said if there was a disaster deployment and they needed help I’d be happy to show up and setup their printers and do anything else they needed.  I also indicated I could probably recruit other IT folks who would be happy to serve their friends and neighbors in need.  They took me up on my offer and invited me to a statewide training exercise in Southern Indiana so I could see what this was all about and learn how I/we could play a role.
Muscatatuck Urban Training Center
Since I often get in trouble while traveling alone I took a fellow IT friend along with me.  The plan was for Joe to do all the work while I took all the credit, ended up there was plenty to do to keep us both busy once we got started.

One of the first challenges to helping out was the paperwork.  I filled out tons of forms just to volunteer.  I’ve been to the White House 3 times, 2 of those times I met the President.  It was easier for me to get access to the White House than it was for me to volunteer to serve our state during a time of disaster.  I’ll explain how this will pay off for everyone later.

The second challenge was knowing what to do.  When we arrived, there wasn’t any one person to tell us what they needed.  We had to take initiative and setup things we knew would help everyone out.  This is where IT folks can really improve things as we know what’s possible and we know how to make that happen.  Once we started, it wasn’t long before everyone was asking for our help and even tracking us down so we could not only help our district but others.  Indiana is divided up into multiple Department of Homeland Security districts and each district is responsible for their own IT support.  More on that later too.

We also found that our district was well equipped with gear but not well equipped on how to use it.  They had a satellite internet provider and an access point that could broadcast for 3 miles.  We discovered it barely broadcasted 3 feet so we fixed it.  We also discovered that our district had an unactivated AT&T micro cell.  We worked to activate it to improve communications.  The training center was pretty isolated so we needed all the communications help we could get.  Besides, I needed to keep on top of Twitter.
While this may have been a drill, I found many ways where IT folks could quickly and easily serve their communities in a time of need. 

So my question to you is how would you like to be involved?  Here are some details.
  1. The paperwork is done.  The training exercise required more paperwork than an actual disaster as each person participating in the drill had to have credentials to access the base.  In the event of a real emergency, you would be added to a list of folks allowed into the command center.  Once there you would just identify yourself as IT support from Jonathan Smith at District 4 and get to work.  If a security perimeter has been setup your state issued ID will get you in.
  2. Each district in our state has its own strengths and weakness.  As a result, the state is encouraging them to share resources, including things like IT.  So instead of IT being something owned by each district it would be a shared resource.  This means you could help any district out regardless of where you live.
  3. Be prepared for some rough accommodations.  For the training exercises, we stayed in a hotel.  Were this a real emergency like Henryville we would have slept in tents or stayed wherever available.
  4. This won’t cost you anything.  Even though you are volunteering all costs associated with your travel, meals, and accommodations would be reimbursed. 
If you would be interested in helping please let me know.  I’m creating a list of IT pros from our state or neighboring states that would be available to help.  When there is an emergency, I would be notified by either our district or the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.  I would then communicate with our volunteer group and coordinate getting IT support on site as quickly as possible.  It may not always be me, Henryville happened while I was in Seattle but had we been organized we could have quickly sent folks there that live closer to Henryville than I do and helped serve the first responders and victims.
If you have questions or comments please post them here for all to see.  I’ll respond as best I can.  My dream would be to have IT pros within an hour’s drive of any site in Indiana so when the next Henryville hits we can quickly respond with top quality IT support and show our community that IT folks aren’t just interested in control and power but are willing and able to empower and equip those on the front lines, in some cases literally saving lives.

Thanks for your consideration.