Ok, so this post is actually in a response to this tweet by @AdrielHampton asking people to take a look at the “AED Nearby” app for the iPhone and “ShowNearby AED” for Android. The response is over 140 characters so I’ve posted it here.

The AED Nearby App is a cool concept. Need an Automated Emergency Defibrillator? Start up the app!

AED App Screenshot

The app opens up with a list of nearby AEDs. Now, part of the problem is that the nearest AED according to the app is 8km away (not sure how to calculate that miles off the top of my head – which I’d have to do in an emergency) The other thing is that I know it’s not correct. The nearest AED should be a at the small hospital down the street from me. (But I assume if I was using this to build an app for my city, I’d have all the data updated and current)

The second problem is that if the nearest AED is really 8km away – I might as just wait for Chicago’s finest to get here with the ambulance – and the app should say as much when it boots up (to call 911 first before using the app). [I should also point out that Chicago’s Fire Department also has ambulances and their response times are pretty quick]

So, for all practical purposes let’s say I’m in an area where I can get to an AED quicker that than the Chicago Fire Department. I can see the building, but nothing else. The screen shots on the app page tell me that I’m supposed to see a picture – but in my examples I can’t find one. The picture doesn’t really help me though. It should say something like, “Behind the front desk, front desk staffed is trained how to use it” or ” “Enter through front door, take first left down hall, third door is pool, Life guard is trained”

The app seems incomplete. Would a Gov 2.0 shop be able to build on it to make it an effective app? I don’t know – not a developer. But there is definitely room for improvement.

So, as many of you know I am not from Chicago – I am from Texas.

Texas – a land with no blizzards..or snowocalypses … or snOMG … or whatever other cute names you can come up with for seriously freezing cold, wind that blows people off the street, or makes it to where you can’t see in front of your face.

A lot of people get snow days when things get this bad. You know who doesn’t get snow days?

Chicago Police Car

Chicago Fire Truck

Chicago Snow Truck

The Cops, Firefighters, and Streets and Sanitation don’t get snow days. While you’re all cuddled up in your Snuggie and hot chocolate – these guys are in the trenches getting things done. Anyone whose had to try to drive after a snow storm knows the importance of the streets guys. The Fire Department and the Police Department are always heroic, but to do what in this weather takes dedication beyond that of a normal public servant.

So, since I’ve gotten a snow day – I just wanted to take time to thank the public servants that don’t get snow days. Particularly streets and sanitation, which can seem like a thankless job.  Thank you for your service – you rock.

Side Note: Many cities have blown through their city budgets with all this snow – per CBS news

First – if you have not heard about @speak2tweet – stop reading this and go HERE! Right now!

I have always been impressed at the internet’s ability to connect people and ideas around the world despite the distance. I’ve been further impressed by Twitter’s role in aiding peaceful protest. And today, I’ve been awestruck at the ingenuity of Google and Twitter in enabling people to communicate throughout the world despite President Mubarak’s shut-down of the internet in Egypt.

At it’s best, the Internet is like Love and will always find a way. Yes, yes, this is the part where some of you will tell me that the Internet is for porn. But it’s not just some sappy title that I slapped up there to get your attention – social media is becoming an unstoppable force of nature. The Tweets Must Flow!

Remember all that talk about the US getting an “internet kill switch?” Forget it – in it’s current form the bill isn’t going anywhere. There is way too much d0-gooder-ness surrounding the internet’s ability to break through Iron Curtains to have a kill switch in the United States. A circuit breaker between the net and physical objects? Maybe. Anything that can be communicated? Never.

This new development creates a huge problem for tyrants and state censorship everywhere. What are they going to do? Shut down the landlines? Jam all the radios? No matter what the tyrants do – it appears that the creative forces in the world wide web will find away around it.

While I understand why the White House is giving a restrained response at present (I’m sure their being quite loud on the back channels), I’m proud that two American Companies have struck back against the forces of tyranny and given another way to communicate with the protestors rallying for Freedom.


You Can’t Read This!

Posted: January 25, 2011 in Govinthetrenches

You can’t read this! You can’t even understand the words that are coming out of my mouth! Because I speak English – and you don’t.

Actually, I had that a bit backwards. You and I understand this post just fine because we speak and read in English, but if you don’t speak English then you’re out of luck.

I grew up in small town Texas, so I never really appreciated the multitude of tongues that the human race possesses. I never imagined that there could be whole neighborhoods in America where you can speak nothing but Spanish, or Chinese, or Korean, or Polish – and have no trouble at all. Working in the trenches at a field office in Chicago was a real ear-opener for me.

One of the challenges of doing gov in the trenches is that some claimants do not speak a word of English and you still have to provide the same service as everyone else. (And rightly so)

About 80% of the time, it’s somebody who speaks only Spanish. Spanish is no problema – The State hires enough Spanish speakers so that those claimants get serviced pretty easy. In fact, about half of the staff at my office speaks Spanish. When the claimants come into the office, it’s easy to service them. We have a number of forms in Spanish and our certification system speaks Spanish.

Even I’ve been able to pick up quite a bit of Bureaucratic Spanish (being able to speak just enough Spanish to help the claimant – just don’t ask me what’s for dinner).

If all we had to worry about was Spanish, we’d be in pretty good shape. We have applications in Spanish and our certification system is in Spanish. However, there are at least two-dozen languages spoken in Chicago such as Polish, Arabic, Tagalog, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Czech, Russian, Hindi, Bantu, and some that I can’t even pronounce! And there all in my service area!

We use a translator service to talk to those claimants – it’s time consuming but it gets the job done. If they come in confused, they’ll come out understanding. The thing that bothers me as a govie is that our letters and website are only….in….ENGLISH!

We know we have hundreds, if not thousands, of claimants who don’t speak English – but all of our letters are in English! The website is only in English – despite the agency having a huge number of Spanish speakers. (To be fair, we are re-doing the website and they may be working on that – but this is one of my pet rants). I’m not actually sure how anyone who speaks an uncommon language actually reads our mail – much less understands anything we send out. (#PlainLanguage is a rant from another day, but you get my point) I see a lot of uncommon language claimants come in with their kids, who learned English at school and Arabic/Polish/Korean/ect at home. I imagine they help read our letters too, but I’m still a bit of a worry-wort when it comes to the language gap.

You want to know who can speak to claimants in a huge number of languages? The United States Census Bureau. They put us all to shame. Seriously, their website has a changing graphic that shows every language spoken in the US of A. It’s fan-freaking-tastic. Unfortunately, I imagine it must significant amounts of time and expense to be able to do that.

To me, this is a both an OpenGov and Gov 2.0 issue. If we can have an iPhone app that translates street signs, can’t we find some way to translate our correspondence and our websites more efficiently? Thoughts?

Government in the Trenches

Posted: January 23, 2011 in Govinthetrenches

Theodore Roosevelt once made a speech in which he said the following:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. (Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship in a Republic”)

It has become fashionable as of late to criticize public servants as lazy, incompetent, and privileged.   A simple Google search combining ‘tea party’ and ‘bureaucrat’ will produce of plethora of insults and criticisms.  Even worse, over the course of the last two years it’s even been hinted that those who work for the public are really insidious – that we would decide who would live or die as part of Obama’s ‘death panels.”

Of course, a great amount of this is just bull crap – an evolution of a political strategy that deemed public servants as a target and the best way forward on how to make government so small that they can drown it in a bathtub.

The truth is that the vast majority of government employees are hard working, highly educated professionals who strive to be the best public servants they can be. The charge to use technology to make government more effective and more open has been led by none other than the government employees themselves.

“I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

It’s not the joke that Reagan made it out to be. Public servants are here to help and that fact is most evident at the street-level. The people who work in public aid, the Social Security Office, the unemployment office, and other front line offices that deal directly with the public.

It’s these government entities that have the impossible task of helping more people with less money and less staff. With the recession, the workload has increased. With state budgets being cut across the country – the ability of these offices to deal with the workload drops with each point of the unemployment rate. No matter how far you push the stone up the mountain, at the end of the day there is always more to be done.

It’s rough out there – things have gotten so bad that there were protests outside of the public aid office in Philadelphia because the agency was so understaffed that the wait times had gotten out of control.

It’s easy to criticize when you’re not in the trenches.

It’s worse for our nations teachers and first responders. Budget cuts and teacher lay-offs make for a strong headwind when it comes to improving our inner city schools and keeping out streets safe.

It’s easy to criticize teachers when you’re not tasked with educating a bigger class size with less funding.

It’s easy to criticize those who serve the public because most of them are too busy in the trenches.

For the most part, public servants haven’t complained.  It’s called a calling for a reason. Public servants don’t do what they do for the money – they do it because they see value in what they do. They do it because they want to help people – and they do every single day they serve in the trenches.

Hello world!

Posted: January 22, 2011 in Govinthetrenches

Getting the site up and running – check back in a little bit