Sunday, November 30, 2008

Styrofoam Blessings and Tupperware Karma

“Cooking is at once child's play and adult joy. And cooking done with care is an act of love.”

Evan and I started out our Thanksgiving Day by delivering meals made by our church to several addresses in Clifton. It was good to brighten the day of someone in need or alone.

I was impressed with the manner in which over 600 meals (according to Bob Clifford, who directs Canyon View's Servant Evangelism program) were prepared, packaged, loaded, and delivered within 2 or 3 hours' time by church staff and congregation members.

The level of participation and organization was particularly impressive. We came in to the church's office section and were directed to a table where the addresses for meal delivery were organized by ZIP code. Each address had the name of the recipient, number of meals needed, contact phone number, and an Internet-produced map with directions.

We were then directed into the fellowship hall, where several people were taking turkey, stuffing, and other items and packaging them into Styrofoam containers and shopping bags. Another group had loaded non-perishable food items such as Ramen noodles and Mac and Cheese into smaller bags. These were then placed on tables for the delivery volunteers to load into their cars and proceed into the community.

We had a total of 6 meals to deliver to 3 houses, and it took us about an hour. We went back to the church to get more and were told that everything had been sent out. This was a great experience not only because of the feeling that God's work was being done, but that this task was completed with joy and efficiency by a competently-led group of volunteers. Well done.

We were also invited by some longtime friends, Jim and Sue Nall, to have dinner with them and their sons, Anthony and Aaron. We have known the Nalls since Evan and Tony were about 5, and were playing organized soccer for the first time.

After dinner and a little bit of TV, the boys all wanted to go somewhere else, which I suppose can be expected from high school seniors with drivers' licenses. True to their excellent gastronomic timing, they made it back just in time for dessert, then headed out again.

I left with several containers of leftovers. Sue had made us soup and pie a couple of weeks ago, so I had brought those pots and pans back with me, and was now returning them in exchange for more containers.

Evan mentioned to me something he had heard of which basically went like this; if you give someone food in containers, and the person you gave it to makes food for someone and uses those containers, then you will eventually receive more food, and thus more containers, than you gave away.

He called this 'Tupperware Karma", and I've only been able to find a few mentions of it online.

The one that seemed the most original distilled it down to this:
"Only when you are able to give generously without expectation of reciprocity will the universe reward you with more plastic ware."
If I cooked more often and gave food to people, I would probably understand this better. I'm no Gene Kinsey, but I can cook when properly motivated. I can read a recipe, and have made several for baked goods from scratch, including a cheesecake that Evan and I made that came out quite well, even without a springform pan.

We inherited some great cookbooks, and there is a lot of joy and love in them.

We ate all of the turkey, but there is still stuffing and potatoes left over, yearning for a good hunk of roast gobbler and a jar of Heinz gravy. I'll get the containers back to their owner, with great amounts of gratitude and appreciation for the skill and love that went into the meal.

Perhaps one day some Tupperware will make its' way from our home to someone, and perhaps the karmic cycle of plastic ware can begin in earnest.

I hope that many of you were able to successfully navigate, survive, or avoid the annual after-Thanksgiving convocation of The First Church of My Stuff, and that you will have a steady and blessed journey through the last month of the year.

Have a good week ahead.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Justice Ploddingly Served...

In a follow-up to a post from February, the local woman convicted of vehicular homicide in a 2005 crash had charges against her for violating her probation dismissed.

Christy Buescher pleaded guilty to killing a mother of two while driving with a fair amount of alcohol and drugs on board. She was sentenced to one year in jail (suspended) and ten years' probation. What appeared to be a contributing factor in her sentencing was her being afflicted with Huntington's Disease.

My earlier post had to do with Ms. Buescher, described this week by one Deputy DA as "too sick to handle at the jail", being hauled back into the local lockup from Boulder for an alleged probation violation. Seems that she assaulted a fellow resident, got kicked out of the private care facility she was living in, and failed to report her address change to the appropriate authorities.

Nine months later we have finally arrived where anyone with a shred of common sense probably thought we would a long time ago. Christy will be committed permanently to some type of mental health care facility. Given the debilitating and destructive nature of her disease, the physicians involved believe that her stay won't be very long.

District Attorney Pete Hautzinger: Was it really necessary to formally charge this woman with a probation violation to accomplish this logical end? Was the full fleshing out of the process, including the requisite media attention, taxpayer expense, and involvement of the victim's family, really required to get to this conclusion? If it was, then how all this transpired appears to me to be symptomatic of greater ills within the criminal justice system.

From my perspective, God had a handle on this a long time ago. As with anything else, true peace and 'closure' will come from an authority much higher than any prosecutor or judge.

...and Just Plain Stupid

My son informed me Tuesday afternoon that the bulk of his school day had been canceled because someone called in a bomb threat at Grand Junction High School.

It sounded to me that the District and local law enforcement applied a greater sense of urgency to this latest scare, perhaps because it was actually called into the 9-1-1 center, instead of the school itself.

This happens frequently in lots of schools around the country. That's not to say these threats shouldn't be taken seriously, and the school did the right thing by responding the way they did.

I hope that they track down the idiot that did this, and I think the possibility exists that the perpetrator may not be a student. One back story to this that was reported but not expanded upon was that a 'media event' was scheduled for about the same time as the suspect stated the bomb would go off. This 'event' was a ribbon cutting and dedication for upgrades to the school's existing track and field facilities.

The project was part of an agreement between District 51 and Mesa State to accommodate the women's track team while also providing enhanced facilities for District 51 students. Mesa paid for the work on District 51's land, perhaps as an offset to District 51's contribution toward the new soccer facility last year. On the surface this sounds like a win-win proposition in resource sharing, but there are many in the community who reacted negatively.

Hopefully not negatively enough to engage in an ill-conceived, essentially juvenile action that put hundreds of students at increased risk just by the action of having to move them into designated locations in the evacuation plan. This includes my boy, and while he's pretty good at taking care of himself, I join many parents, administrators and public safety officials who are not amused.

If the jerk du jour is a student, you did your thing one day early to obtain an extended Thanksgiving break. This lends a little more credence to the possibility that someone with a more sinister motive is behind this, in this case disrupt the dedication of the new track facility. Besides, I don't know that many teenagers who are crazy or stupid enough to call a threat into the police department.

Either way it was a stupid move that put people at unnecessary risk and made the job of our educators just that much harder.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

We Gather Together

We gather together
to ask the Lord's blessing;
He chastens and hastens
His will to make known.

The wicked oppressing

now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His name,
He forgets not His own.

Adrianus Valerius, 1597
translated by Theodore Baker, 1894

Monday, November 24, 2008

Techie Trepidation - Part 1

It's exciting and scary at the same time to watch new products and systems sprout up that are related to wireless connectivity and Radio Frequency (RF) technologies. Equally intriguing are the way that these wireless systems interface with legacy networks such as the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), and use the Internet to connect wireless devices to all manner of communications systems and computer networks.

There were a few stories in the news this past week that drew my interest, not only for the innovations involved but the implications to our ability as citizens to travel and communicate freely without undue restrictions, or having to endure intrusive monitoring that can be used against us in the future.

This isn't a fictional horror story; it's happening in many places, and future possibilities have been discussed in technical forums across the country. Civil liberties organizations such as the ACLU and EFF have expressed concerns, and are calling for regulatory oversight in many cases.

On the other side, there are legitimate public safety and security uses for some of these gadgets. Achieving a balance between these useful purposes and those that infringe upon our freedoms is something that the regulators will need to become adept at.

I get the feeling that the soon-to-be Obama administration will need to develop a keen sensitivity to both sides of the argument when it comes to dealing with these kinds of technological advances. I'll be posting about these over the next week or so, starting with...

RFID: The Mark of the Beast?

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips have been around for a while, and are used extensively in lots of fairly useful applications, from inventory control to security access to highway toll collection.

They are becoming more ubiquitous to everyday lives; this year alone I have acquired three RFID tags, in two ID badges and my passport. Many credit cards that allow the user to just pass their card in front of a reader to pay for an item, with the necessary data being transmitted via a very short range RF link. An RFID-equipped ID badge uses the same low-range transmission to gain access to a secure area, or punch in and out on a time clock. A longer range transmitter allows drivers in many states to zip through a highway toll gate at highway speeds, with the toll being charged to the driver's bank or credit card account.

Significant concerns have been expressed about the proliferation of tagged merchandise, and the ability to track the item after it leaves the store's inventory. The hacker community has figured out ways to receive and record the data coming from an RFID-equipped "smart cards" and ID badges in order to clone these items for illegal purposes.

Now there is an RFID tag now FDA-approved for use in humans and livestock. The company that makes it touts it for infant and elder protection and tracking, as well as patient identification in the health care environment and prisoner tracking in correctional facilities.

As you can imagine, there are pervasive arguments by civil liberties groups and other organizations against the use of RFID in humans, especially without knowledge or legal consent.
The civil liberties implications are somewhat chilling; think of the retinal scanners in Minority Report.

As it happens, there are several Christian organizations who have mounted challenges to RFID technology, equating it to the "mark of the beast" referred to in Revelation 13:16-17, and thus a step toward control of the movement of individuals and their ability to participate in commerce or other activities.

Some Amish farmers in Michigan have filed suit against the USDA objecting to its' RFID tagging program for cattle, as well as state requirements to use the technology that conflict with the religious beliefs of the farmers, many of whom have stated they will stop farming if ordered to use the tags in their livestock.

Focus On the Family has no information at all on this topic; I wonder why.

I believe that private institutions that wish to secure their facilities and monitor access into secure areas have the right to do so. Can an employer monitor employee movement within a facility with this technology? What are an employee's expectations of personal privacy in the workplace?

There is lots of information online about the advantages, innovations, and threats presented by the proliferation of RFID and other technologies that impact all of our daily lives. The best advice is to be mindful of what's out there, ask questions, and express concerns when you feel that your rights are being compromised.

Have a great week.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ready Reticence

When words are many, sin is not absent,
but he who holds his tongue is wise.

Proverbs 10:19 (New International Version)

This is today's Daily Bible Verse (featured in the sidebar of this blog), and I guess I've been taking it to heart because I've painfully little to say, especially after immersing myself in words and output last week.

It's been an interesting few days. I worked the last two days, and over the weekend I went to church..twice. I'll have more to say about that later.

I spent the latter part of last week editing one of my posts down to less than half its' original size, so that it would meet the size limitations that the Sentinel had placed on me to get it in print as a guest commentary. I didn't quite get there, but it still made it into print in Sunday's paper.

I'm brooding about a lot of things lately, but that isn't necessarily translating into something relevant and illuminating to say. The loss of Cinema at the Avalon begs some kind of response; I was a member for the last two years, and went whenever I could. I'll miss it, but I'm more interested in what the future holds than lamenting about the past or affixing blame.

Pick up the pieces, regroup, and move on. I'm there, wherever you go.

Speaking of movies, the newest iteration of Star Trek has me interested. The trailer did its' job; now hopefully the movie will stand up to the hype.

I listened to an interesting report on NPR today about the proposed bailout, and an experiment amongst a group of graduate economic students that lent great credence to having the process be transparent and accountable, as opposed to what appears to be happening.

The professor coined this "Crony Capitalism", which without a great deal of words tells some of the story of the last 8 years pretty well.

I'm taking an Incident Command class at the Sheriff's Office later this week. It should prove to be a good mental exercise, and I'm looking forward to it.

Speaking of exercise (mental and otherwise), my friend Linda Bowman is just about to complete the Police Academy. Best wishes to her as she tackles her final on Friday.

I'll be busy tomorrow with household-related stuff and lots of phone calls to make on what is really my only day off this week. Hope the rest of yours is a good one.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bresnan Sued in Nebuad Fiasco

In a follow-up to posts I wrote this past June and July, several news sources, including the excellent Threat Level blog at Wired magazine, report that NebuAd, the company that developed some questionable web-use monitoring products, is being sued for allegedly violating privacy and hacking laws. Also being sued are the ISPs that tested the product without the knowledge or consent of their subscribers. This includes two telecom companies with a presence in Mesa County.

Bresnan Communications, Grand Junction's sole Cable TV provider, along with CenturyTel, which provides local telephone service to the Collbran and Mesa areas, were among several ISPs sued along with NebuAd by 15 end users, who are requesting class action status on behalf of all subscribers to the Internet service of the providers named in the suit.

According to a copy of the complaint, NebuAd worked with the ISPs to test a device using a technology called Deep Packet Inspection to monitor the Internet traffic of users, and use that data to select and send targeted advertising to those users when they surf the web.
For example, an Internet user doing a search on City Council member Doug Thomason may be targeted with embedded online ads for anger management training. ;-)

All of the involved ISPs stopped their testing around June in response to public outcry and congressional scrutiny.

The plaintiffs claim, among other things, that this practice violates the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and several other federal and state statutes. They are asking for up to $5 Million in damages.
NebuAd's CEO resigned in September.

Bresnan and CenturyTel, according to their own admission, tested the NebuAd technology in portions of small markets in Montana. That could still make for a pretty substantial group of plaintiffs if the court grants them class action status.

I contacted
Bresnan Vice President of Public Affairs Shawn Beqaj (pronounced buh-KAI) today requesting comment about the suit. He stated that they have yet to be served, and declined to comment on pending litigation. I didn't attempt to call CenturyTel. It's unclear if Internet services are even available through them in Collbran and Mesa.

While there doesn't appear to be a chance of Grand Junction area subscribers being included in the class, I will keep an eye on developments in the case and post anything significant.

This is proof that not only are there insidious attempts to capture what you do online in an attempt to profit from it, but there are also serious civil liberties issues involved. Luckily, there are legal remedies in this country that will hopefully serve to protect citizens from online eavesdropping and monitoring in the future.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Business Briefs...and Boxers

Over the last week I've had occasion to pass by or stop in at several local businesses. Some are thriving, others not. Some are just getting off the ground, others are finished or are preparing to be. I thought I would share some of these observations. No 'Biz Buzz' here, just one set of eyes and ears.

I stopped into Quilter's Corner to order a quilt hanger. This store on Colorado Avenue has expanded greatly after moving from its' original Main Street location. Original quilts adorn the walls of the large, well-stocked business; there is ample off-street parking, and a good-size classroom for the many classes that are conducted there.

In speaking with one of the employees, the store has quite a regional following, with regular customers traveling in from Delta, Montrose, and Moab. They also have a robust web presence, and their online catalog is reported to be very popular.

On Sunday I took advantage of an ongoing sale at Dahle's Big and Tall Shop, on 24 1/2 Road near Mesa Mall. The store's website describes the chain as "the largest independent retailer of big and/or tall men's fashions in America".

Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. An updated web page announced that Dahle's was recently acquired by Casual Male XL, another large big and tall chain. According to the local manager, this will mean the end of the store in Grand Junction.

It seems that a store in a market our size made sense for a family-owned (and Salt Lake City based) company like Dahle's, but not a larger corporation like Casual Male. As a result, the local store will close down sometime in January. If you're a big guy like me, this is a great opportunity to get some quality clothes that fit for a reasonable price.

While driving out toward the mall, I noticed that the former Quizno's Subs building near the intersection of 1st and Grand will open as a walk-in Urgent Care center starting tomorrow. This is part and parcel of what appears to be a disturbing trend locally, that being a lack of physician practices willing to take new patients. As a result, places like this one have been cropping up. It will be interesting to see how they fare. Best of luck.

Speaking of new businesses downtown, this past weekend was the grand opening of the White Hall Village, located at 600 White Avenue in what were rental offices. This space appears to have attracted at least one established business, and spawned some new ones. Heart of the Dragon has relocated from 12th and Patterson to the White Hall location. There is a Peruvian import store there, as well as a candle shop.

The busiest place when I was there was Confluence Books, a "
Community Center and Radical Bookstore" operated by Grand Junction Alternative Media, publishers of The Red Pill. When I was there on Sunday, they had just finished a seminar on knowing your rights when contacted by the police.

Confluence Books is described, among other things, as "a place to read, hangout, have coffee, talk politics, build community, hold a workshop, screen a movie, have a meeting or plot the revolution". Browsing through there was certainly interesting. I wish them the best of success.

On a bittersweet concluding note, I have to pay homage to Bill Hill, who I used to go to church with and is best known in Downtown Grand Junction as "The Junque Man". His shop on South 3rd Street (next to his son Bruce's business, Superior Alarm) was a place to disappear into when you had a couple of hours. Classic, eccentric, and (mostly) junque-y, all at the same time.

The shop has been closed for a while now, and a call I placed to Superior today confirmed that Bill has retired. As far as the contents of the store, I didn't ask, but I'd be very curious at what Bill and his family will fetch for what is probably the most extensive collection of Playboy magazines this side of Utah. Not that I looked at those too much, but they dated back to the 50's.

Have a good rest of the week.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

Happy Veterans Day from the home of the writer who gave us Johnny Got His Gun.

Several local bloggers have posted tributes to our troops in harm's way overseas and elsewhere, and my heart goes out to those who are in hostile territory, as well as their families trying to make ends meet and survive stateside.

There are two things that I would like to share today:

This past weekend I watched In The Valley of Elah, which is based on an actual murder case involving military personnel. The movie paints the military establishment as duplicitous, and you wind up feeling sorry for both the villains and the victims. There really aren't any winners in this story, and the ending isn't uplifting, but you get the impression that the difficulties faced by soldiers returning home are accurately portrayed.

Today is also the birthday of another famous author with an interesting war story. From the Writer's Almanac:
It's the birthday of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., (books by this author) born in Indianapolis, Indiana (1922). He joined the Army, and in December of 1944, he was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. He was imprisoned in a slaughterhouse in Dresden. On the night of February 13, 1945, British and American bombers attacked Dresden, igniting a firestorm that killed almost all the city's inhabitants in two hours. Vonnegut and his fellow prisoners only survived because they slept in a meat locker three stories below the ground. In 1967, he published Slaughterhouse-Five (1969).
There were only a couple of relatives in my family who served in war, and they kept their experiences largely to themselves. As we've seen all too often with recent conflicts, the goals and objectives are vague or based on poor or downright false information. As a result, the inherent human toll of war is difficult to justify.

Our troops deserve our support and recognition, as well as fulfillment of the government's promises to them for their service. They also deserve the best possible leadership they can get.

We the People have hopefully given them that.

There's another reason to celebrate tonight. The Penguins faced the Red Wings for the first time since the last Stanley Cup Finals, and beat them 7-6 in overtime. Way to go, guys.

Have a good day tomorrow.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Public Safety Initiative - One Leg of the Stool

Grand Junction Police, Firefighters, and the civilian personnel that support their operations are in desperate need of new physical facilities from which to meet their responsibilities and achieve their mission.

I firmly believe that there will be new Grand Junction Police and Fire stations going up where the current ones exist, regardless of what the voters said on Questions 2A and 2B. The City will use existing revenue to build the Downtown buildings (with some revision of scale), and will re-prioritize lots of other projects, including some of the ancillary buildings outlined in the original proposal.

For what it's worth, I supported both ballot questions, but had concerns about the portion of Question 2B that would "sunset" the sales tax increase for public safety once the Riverside Parkway debt is paid.

I believe that regardless of the City's ability to wrest itself from TABOR restrictions, a dedicated revenue stream for public safety is necessary until all of the other components of a Best Practice are in place and well-sustained. For me, these components are:




From what I have read and what I know, the Public Safety Initiative constitutes primarily the means to build the physical plant and install the equipment necessary to do the job. The ongoing success of the initiative will depend largely on the procedures, including organizational structures, that define how the technology is utilized to achieve the organizational mission. Equally important is an ample quantity of trained personnel to efficiently function within the process and organizational structure, utilizing the tools at their disposal, to successfully fulfill the mission.

I equate this to a three-legged stool. It doesn't matter how sturdy one leg is; if all three aren't there, structured and in position to their intended job, the stool isn't going to be upright for very long.

In this context, I did find one part of the campaign for 2A and 2B somewhat troubling; the assertion that a new 9-1-1 center alone will result in improved response times. Creating this expectation for the electorate will only help to set unreasonable service expectations for the hard-working men and women of the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center, because so much more is involved in making those response times happen.

Having worked there for 13 years, I can attest to the critical importance of the regional, county-wide scope of our 9-1-1 and dispatch center. That singular process element can significantly reduce the time that a call for help makes it to the correct place where that help can be sent.

However, the clock on the wall keeps ticking, and it matters not if there aren't enough officers or deputies on the street and available when an emergency call arrives, or dispatchers are struggling to determine the correct jurisdiction amidst convoluted boundary lines that would give Rube Goldberg fits.

Even with technology and infrastructure addressed, there needs to be adequate support staff to assure that mission-critical computer systems, phones, radios, mobile data networks, and location solutions are working properly, and that repairs and upgrades are planned and performed in a timely and competent fashion.

As the City expands its' public safety infrastructure, with or without voter approval, significant attention will need to be paid to those issues that play an equal role in shaping a best practice for all citizens that depend upon the resources that the City administers.

In the wake of the defeat of 2A and 2B, I believe that there are several components that collectively comprise the process and people segments of a best practice that need to be addressed. This will help to assure that the other two legs of the public safety 'stool' are sturdy and ready to support the load that will undoubtedly be placed on them. Some of these are:

Regionalization / Consolidation - Any evaluation of core operating processes must take into consideration opportunities for providing service on a regional level, borrowing from the model currently employed by the 9-1-1 center. The City deserves much credit for identifying such an opportunity by consolidating its' crime lab with the CBI when they relocated from Montrose last year.

The topography and geography of the Grand Valley seems ideal to further explore the feasibility of a metropolitan police force, much like those that patrol greater Las Vegas, Indianapolis, and Miami. This would seem to me to go a long way toward standardizing response to multi-jurisdictional incidents, and achieve some measure of equity and parity in training, equipment, personnel standards, and compensation.

This is just brainstorming; there are many factors to consider, many things to talk about and investigate. I'm just wondering if the subject has ever been brought forth at any level of government, and what the outcome or conclusions have been.

Before we engage in any further edification of an organization or bureaucracy, we need to assure that all efforts have been made to look into optimizing the efficiency of these critical services, from both a delivery and resource stewardship perspective.

I believe that there are other possibilities for consolidation, from Property and Evidence to Investigations to Traffic, where the agencies serving the valley can pool their collective resources, leverage economies of scale, and provide a more consistent and coordinated level of service to as many citizens as possible, regardless of which side of an imaginary line they happen to find themselves.

Of course, the political realities of even sitting down at a table to discuss something like this would drastically reduce the odds of such changes ever seeing the light of day. With the mood of the electorate as expressed this past Tuesday, could just the act of establishing dialogue generate ideas not previously thought of, resulting in improved, more efficient service delivery to a frugal citizenry?

The same political realities manifest themselves in the Fire service. As the City continues to annex east of 30 Road and north of the Colorado River, they gobble up more territory inside the boundaries of the Clifton Fire Protection District. Little mention has been made as to how the GJFD will assume responsibilities for areas currently serviced by Clifton, should the Pear Park fire station be built.

Voters in the Clifton district approved a tax increase on Tuesday. It looks to me as if this district is preparing to deal with the impact of continued growth and call volume, not to reduce in size and service delivery as the City annexes more of the district, and plans to build a station to serve those areas. What discussions have taken place?

Annexation Reform - I've known Rick Wagner since he wore a Sheriff's Department uniform. While we don't agree on a lot of things, we seem to have landed on common ground when it comes to the manner in which the City chooses to grow under a 10-year old agreement with Mesa County that is in serious need of review and re-negotiation.

Rick said it best in his Sentinel column of October 22:

"This misapplication by the city of what was originally to be a major path toward logical growth of city limits into urbanized areas of the county has been contorted into the establishment of outposts of city annexation for the purpose of revenue.

Little concern seems to have been given toward the provision of public safety to the newly taxed inhabitants of isolated and far-flung city limits.

As an example, some neighborhoods to the east of existing Grand Junction city boundaries have remained unannexed for years, undoubtedly due to their lower tax base and higher service requirements. In the meantime, more remote areas of Mesa County, miles from the main locus of the city, such as a new and large subdivision between A 1/2 and B roads, are hungrily devoured."

As a resident of the City's 'original square mile', I have serious concerns with the way that existing public safety resources are being spread thin by the haphazard annexation of both development land and existing commercial and residential properties.

The city limits, such as they are, now extend from 20 1/2 Road in the Redlands all the way to Halliburton's complex at 32 Road and D Road.

This jurisdictional patchwork is duplicated across the Fruitvale area and elsewhere to the point where dispatchers, GJPD officers, Sheriff's deputies, and State Patrol troopers often have extreme difficulty ascertaining whose jurisdiction is involved. This practice has complicated the already difficult job that we ask of our public safety professionals.

The manner in which the City grows plays a direct role in the effectiveness of public safety systems. This needs to be addressed in some meaningful way by City Council and the County Commission.

Any current or future member of the Grand Junction City Council needs to carefully consider the potential impact of annexation on existing city residents, and their service providers, before voting in favor of any further annexation, at least until the Persigo Agreement is formally re-negotiated.

Citizen Advisory Board - The City seeks citizen involvement in an advisory or authoritative capacity though numerous volunteer boards and commissions. These include advisory boards that assist in such areas as Parks and Recreation and the Visitors and Convention Bureau. Strong consideration should be given to establishing a volunteer advisory board for Public Safety, especially if the City is eventually successful in securing a dedicated revenue stream (read sales tax increase) for the Public Safety Initiative.

Emergency Management - Grand Junction is one of the largest cities in the state without its' own dedicated Emergency Manager. This leaves the job of threat and risk assessment, planning and coordination with numerous public and private stakeholders, and developing effective management strategies for major incidents and disasters, in the hands of responders and administrators already burdened with other significant responsibilities.
Mesa County's Emergency Manager is skilled and diligent, but cannot be the sole professional responsible for the emergency planning needs of an entire metropolitan area.

Human Resources - The key to the effectiveness of any complex system is the people within it, from the Incident Commander to the newest Dispatcher, Records Technician, or Network Support Specialist.

Those with authority over the personnel needs of public safety agencies need to remain particularly cautious of the amount of responsibility that they saddle employees with, lest burnout become a more prevalent symptom among those whose expectations of themselves and of others exceeds the physical ability to meet those expectations.

With a larger, more complex infrastructure will come significant changes in processes, and the number of people required to effectively interact with both will increase accordingly.

It's also critical that newer personnel, especially in the support services areas that I mentioned above, approach their positions with operational relevance to the entire best practice. This means that civilian staff not typically in the most visible or risky positions need to be empowered and respected for their expertise, but they must also strive to understand the challenges of those who are utilizing technology to meet mission goals.

In an enterprise such as public safety, tech support and systems integration is not something that is tucked into a remote corner, ends at 5 PM, or gets outsourced to a remote call center.

The above five action items need to be issue talking points for the current City Council, as well as anyone who aspires to the office next April.

Former City Manager Mark Achen had a favorite saying; "The devil is in the details". In as complex and critical an enterprise as Public Safety, the broad brush strokes that comprised the initial plans for these new facilities need to be augmented with an introspective evaluation of how public safety services are currently delivered, and how that delivery can be improved.
This is regardless of the nice little boxes we draw around ourselves, or the color of the uniform.

This leap of faith, combined with a more responsible, monitored approach to the City's growth and adequate staffing of positions critical to the success and safety of field personnel, will go a long way toward assuring that this most important of government services is prepared for the challenges that are upon it now, and are likely to increase in the not-so-distant future.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Michael Crichton

My father is a hairdresser, and had a salon in an affluent suburb of Pittsburgh for nearly 25 years. He would get all manner of Christmas gifts from his clients, mostly booze but other, more interesting things as well.

When I was 10 years old, I was searching the bookshelves for something to read, and found a book that Dad had received the previous Christmas. I sat down with it, and after a few hours when I was called to dinner I was halfway through it. I finished the second half later that evening.

The book was The Andromeda Strain, written by a then 27-year-old Harvard-educated physician named Michael Crichton.

This was the first of many popular novels, movies, TV series, computer games, lectures, and essays that Crichton would write, produce, and/or direct over a 40-plus year career that ended today with his
death from cancer.

Crichton was prolific, extremely intelligent, highly productive and versatile, and committed to his craft. As seems common with so many like him, he was married and divorced numerous times.

What I loved about Crichton's books was how the subject matter was as much the star of the books as the characters or the story line. Like Tom Clancy later on, the latest technological advance became weaved into the plot with a fairly intricate description and a bibliography to show that this was real science, and the author wanted you to know it.

An even more attractive recurring theme, at least to me, was how over-ambitious humans attempted to utilize or exploit the technology, often with disastrous results. Crichton explored this theme repeatedly in many of his books.

The relationships between computer technology and medicine were well-explored, some would say with clairvoyance, in
The Terminal Man. The moral of this story, despite all of the techno whiz-bang dialogue and suspense, is a simple truth; garbage in, garbage out.

The exploration of chaos theory, and its' disastrous demonstration in
Jurassic Park, cemented for me back in 1990 the essential tenet that the more complex a system, the greater its' probability for catastrophic failure.

Strangely enough, Evan and I wanted to watch the
film version this past Sunday. One of my favorite quotes of any movie is here, as spoken by Jeff Goldblum playing the mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm. Crichton also wrote the screenplay for the film:

I'll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you're using here: it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility... for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could and before you even knew what you had you patented it and packaged it and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now [pounds table with fists] you're selling it, [pounds table again] you want to sell it!

Crichton's books didn't always work for me. When he substituted malevolent human beings for misused technology in Rising Sun and Disclosure, something got lost.

Crichton was a controversial figure in several ways. He attempted to debunk global warming theory in his novel State of Fear, which made him the target of environmental groups around the world. He responded in a lecture with the postulation that environmentalism is more of a religion than a scientific movement, since many of the assumptions that environmentalists use to defend their beliefs are based more on faith than scientific fact or empirical research.

Crichton also predicted in an article in Wired 15 years ago that the mass media as we know it would go the way of the dinosaurs, thanks in large measure to Internet-based technology that would, as he described it, be "artificial intelligence agents roaming the databases, downloading stuff I am interested in, and assembling for me a front page". It sounds like he described most feed readers and news bots. As Slate pointed out earlier this year, Crichton's prediction is starting to pan out.

Michael Crichton was about as close to a renaissance man as one can get in modern times. The most important thing he did, in my opinion, was to inspire and motivate an adolescent boy in the 60's and 70's to find out more about why the world ticked, and the consequences of messing around with things that you don't fully understand.

He will be missed and remembered for a long time to come.

An Autumn Morning

Good Morning. This was taken from our front window several years ago. It's one of my favorite photographs.

I look at this picture above my dresser each morning, and am reminded that regardless of what the previous day has brought us, the sun is out (somewhere), I'm alive, I am loved. God is at work and is inexorably in charge of this day.

We won some and lost some yesterday, and I'll have more to say about that in the days ahead. In the meantime, I thought this appropriate for the day. Have a good one.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Leslie and Proverbs 25

Leslie and I had an enlightening conversation tonight. She went to a bible study this evening, and read me several passages. We talked about the election for a short while. She said that it really didn't matter who was President if you truly believe that it is God who will take care of you.

I said that I agreed, but I also think that our own personal faith also shapes who we decide to support as leaders. She countered that I spend more time in the world and with secular things than I do "reading my manual" and studying what is in it. I replied that she was right about the amount of time I spent reading the Bible, but I did enjoy some of the devotions they give out at church, as well as an audio New Testament that I have in the car.

Leslie makes good points a lot of the time. We are very different, and not just in the way that many people would focus on. We have found a place to be together in peace. Distance makes this difficult at times, as do other things. It feels to me that these will work themselves out with time and God's help.

One particular scripture verse that she read to me stuck out for some reason. Among our differences is her preference for the King James Version as opposed to mine for contemporary translations, and the differences appear pretty stark when you compare the different translations of Proverbs 25:28 -

He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.

as compared to

Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.

I'm guessing that this means that one's attitude or temperament is critical to being able to sustain and protect oneself, as well as others. I think there's a message in there somewhere this election season.

I told Leslie that I feel there are examples of what we aspire to be as Christians and good citizens present in the stories of our human existence, and I feel compelled, if not called, to seek out those stories, as well as others. This may keep me away from the Bible more than she'd like. I'd like to remedy that, perhaps starting tonight.

Thanks, baby. I'll try to read something every day. I appreciate your strong faith, including your faith in me.