Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Hippodrone Concept

I have been trying to come up with a new concept for an indoor recreation activity that appeals to all ages and is not just another video game.  I am fascinated with the miniature and micro drones that are available as play toys, so my first thought was as of a big unused warehouse space where you could rent one and pretend you are Snoopy flying against the Red Baron.  Not a lot of imagination in use but it would teach whoever was flying to think in three dimensions.

Well, the next idea was to divide the big space into different worlds like a reef under the ocean, the moon, a World War I battlefield, or a mythic world where dragons lived.  Anyway, the idea is to basically have a simulated landscape to interact with.  Then, the drones can be airborne, undersea water craft, or even move on the landscape.

The simulations played out could also be exploration of the simulated landscape, or a construction project, or a battlefield scenario like helicopter rescue.  This is already done completely in the virtual worlds of video and multi-player online role playing games, of course, but people still enjoy indulge in laser tag so there is some desire to physically interact with a game.

You still need to interact/control the drone through a handheld interface but I can imagine the feedback can be adjusted for the conditions in which the drone is "flying", e.g..; a microsub encounters different friction through water then a helicopter in air.

I am also imagining that the "pilot" can walk around the simulated landscape to view the action (think motion sensors triggering a sea creature folding up and retracting into the sea bed)  and plan various routes.  The handheld could also provide a drone's eye view of the landscape if it is equipped with a camera, or other sensors.  Or, it could be a completely closed landscape like a human body and then the scenario is a version of the film Fantastic Voyage.

This is probably a dumb idea and certainly it would be expensive unless you could figure out how to easily manufacture the landscapes.  Anyway, putting it out there in case it stimulates someone else's imagination for family entertainment with miniature drones.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Worse and worse ... not just control of organization but of their money too

As the Newfield Volunteer Fire Company stated last Thursday, they will not report to fires under the current ordinance.  As reported in the South Jersey Times, they didn't.    It was a traffic accident; autos were damaged but no people and there were no fires either.

I was reading through the article and noticed that some detail on what reports are asked for by the Borough Council.  The article mentions the (1) number of calls received, (2) the membership, and (3) the finances. One and two are innocuous and, I presume, are just repeats of reports already sent to the NJ state or county authorities governing volunteer fire companies.  If the membership list contains sensitive information like license  or social security numbers, it should be redacted.  Public records, and these would be public records under the OPRA statutes, should not contain sensitive information about individuals.

Three is the request that raises red flags for me.  Volunteer organizations like cemeteries, libraries, fire companies, and ambulance services all report financial information to the state yearly.  In the case of the cemetery, the report does not look at operating funds but the maintenance and preservation money set aside in case the cemetery fails and the state has to step in and do minimal upkeep.  In the case of a fire company, it is the funds used to as a type of insurance when an exempt fireman dies.  I don't know the exact definition of an exempt fireman is, but it does involve approval from the Borough Council to complete the application.  Again, there is not a report of funds used in daily operation.  Those reports are made at least yearly to the membership of the organization.  So, if the Borough Council wants a copy of what is reported to the state, that should not be a burden except any personal, sensitive information should be redacted on the Borough's copy.

However, reading the following quote makes me think the Borough actually wants to control the day-to-day finances in order to divert donated funds to pay for other Borough costs, possibly related to fires and possibly not.

The borough has planned to start an inventory of the building on Wednesday night to go over everything inside the building.

Sullivan said the borough owns the trucks and the building. They pay for the gas, insurance and equipment including the gear for the members, but Mason said a lot of the equipment belongs to members of the company.

"Anything we've purchased is rightly ours," Mason said.

Sullivan said there is a question on equipment that the fire company members own.

"Fundraising efforts are geared to residents, so there is a belief that even the equipment bought with fundraising could be taxpayers' money," Sullivan said

That is the very definition of slippery slope right there.  Once any government gets control of any funds it becomes one big pie to be divvied up as needs must.  In the just above bankruptcy level where many governments live, how tempting the donations given to local organizations must be.

I give money to the local fire company, ambulance service, and library.  I feel confident that the money I give will be used for better equipment, training, books, or to support a special program for kids.  If I felt the Borough was doing fund-raising of its own to raise money to keep afloat beyond what is coming in from taxes, I would buy the cake or the raffle ticket or whatever is the inducement.
Heck, a fund raiser that was to pick up stuff I can't take myself to the recycling center/dump is one I have been asking for.

The feud between the Newfield Volunteer Fire Company and the Borough Council is now at a place where only "secret talks" can work to end it.  I, myself, can not think of a solution that allows both parties to save face (and there is lot of face on the line as it is playing out in the news media) and preserve the integrity of both organizations - nor of the town.

Newfield is already in a downward spiral and accelerating: the Fire Company is on its way to being sidelined if not already there; the Newfield Public Library has cut Saturday hours; the Newfield Ambulance Corps has problems having enough people to respond to calls;  the once vibrant ball fields are barely used; the Cemetery totters along barely staying solvent.  Part of this is socio-economic (Newfield was never rich; its industrial base has eroded away; both parents in young families work; more of the town is over age 60 then ever before) and part of this is cultural (volunteerism is not something you can do with a computer very easily when physical labor or presence is required; service organizations like Kiwanis have disappeared).

But part of this downward spiral is a loss of identity too.  People of all ages used to be proud to say they were from Newfield.   Note they didn't say they lived in Newfield, they were from Newfield no matter how long or short they'd been there. When I was a tween (way before that name was invented), we used to call into the radio stations to make song requests and identify ourselves are being from "Sunny Newfield, where it never rains" or sometimes our name was "Sunny Newfield."  There was a sense of belonging; that you were part of something good.  I have been searching for that old feeling in my fellow residents since I came back 7 years ago and all I find are faint, random echoes (yeah, mixed metaphors).  More often I find apathy, people burnt out on frustrating efforts from the past 40 years I was not here, or just plain old pessimists.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Inspired by Witches at Chicago Stock Exchange

In 1969 or 1970, when the women's liberation movement was employing guerrilla theater to draw attention to inequalities in treatment of women including financially (A single woman no matter how well educated or employed could not get a mortgage without a male cosigner.), a group of women invaded the floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange disguised as witches and chanted dire threats if women were not given equal financial rights as men.

Even though I was only 21, I was impressed as to the non-violent yet effective nature of the event.  National news both print and TV reported it and it did draw attention to the inequality.  Eventually, women did get more financial rights and by the early 80's women could get mortgages and business loans on their own merits.  Yes, it was slow but it didn't create dismissiveness as did the cartoonish burning of bras.

I have always longed to stage a bit of guerrilla theater myself in protest of something but having neither the nerve nor the 'stage' presence, I have not.  I thought that the silliness of Newfield Borough Council suing the Newfield Borough Council for control of the marquee sign because the Borough pays for the electricity that lights it was ripe for guerrilla theater (fyi- Borough Council lost).  Here's the scene I would have played had I the nerve:

  1. As I walk forward to the microphone, pluck a hat off someone in the audience.
  2. Identify my name and address.
  3. Say "Gentlemen and Ladies, I heard that you had problems with paying the cost of electricity to light the marquee sign outside the Fire Hall.  Do you know what the yearly cost is?"
  4. Wait patiently for whatever answer they gave in reply. 
  5. Say, as I draw $20 bill from my pocket and with exaggerated movements place into the plucked hat, "Thank you.   Let's see,  I think I have a $20 bill here somewhere.   Let's start a fund with that $20 to offset that cost as a point of contention between you and the Fire Company and let's pass the hat to see what we can raise tonight."
  6. Put the hat in the hands of the nearest spectator.
  7. Walk away.
Of course, in my fantasy, the audience would have roared with laughter and even some of the Council members.  In reality, it probably would have fallen flat.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Cult, clan, family, or something else

One of the dramatic remarks made by a member of the fire company at 2/12/2015 Newfield Borough Council meeting was to the effect that the Council didn't get it: the fire company was a family and that an attack on one of them was an attack on all.  I know that some of the fire company members believe that even if they replaced the fire chief with someone else, that person would be under the same onslaught of scrutiny and demands from the Borough Council, that what the Borough Council wants is a puppet and won't be satisfied until they have one.  Legitimate fears but not a reason to not negotiate.

To me, this has tipped over from family members caring and supporting each other almost to the paranoiac thinking of a backwoods clan or a modern day cult.  After one contentious council meeting there were supposed to be negotiations for a contract between the fire company and the council.  Every date offered by the Council was not one that the fire chief could attend, so the fire company did not negotiate.  In my opinion, that was nonsensical thinking, any members of the fire company could have been designated to attend and listen, it doesn't have to be the fire chief.  Decisions made at negotiations are not whether to accept or reject an offer but whether to take an offer back to either party for a decision.  It makes perfect sense to not show up though for a cult, which only speaks through its leader.

In my limited experience with union negotiations for a contract (oh, yes, I have walked a picket line even as an engineer), a few people from each side meet to present their positions and explore where there might be room for compromise.  Offers and counteroffers are made until there is a vote by the membership on the final offer of the company.  Sometimes the contract is accepted; sometimes it is rejected but the union agrees to go on negotiating using the previous contract; sometimes there is a strike; sometimes there is a lockout.  So far in this multi-year saga, we've had a brief lockout by the Council before negotiations even were offered, a strike now because the contract offered has been not been negotiated (because the fire company only thought the fire chief should negotiate), and operating as if the previous contract was in effect albeit while legal efforts went forward.   Such a mess.

I have tried to find the correct ordinance as there have been several versions.  I wanted to know if there was a detail about what "reports" should be provided if the ordinance is treated as a contract offer.  I can't find it.  But if it is vague, contract negotiations either clear that up or there are memorandum of understanding attached to the contract that would detail the format, content, timeliness, and method of delivery for reports.  Memorandums of understanding are desired because they can be changed during a contract with full agreement from both sides.  There are often technological or economic reasons to change memorandums of understanding but it is not done unilaterally.

Another memorandum of understanding could have addressed the fire company's fears of becoming the puppet of the Borough Council by spelling out the scope of any approvals of members or officers.  After all, the original decision by the Court excised right of the Council to officer approval from the ordinance.

But, of course, this is not a union negotiation, nor a negotiation at all.  Just a big emotional blowout on both sides, way beyond logic or sense or thought of the consequence for the town.  Each side believes they are right and they know what is best and there is no changing of opinion or action towards compromise.  Is there cult thinking both sides? I don't know, but the fire company certainly presents that way in my layman's opinion.

One more thing - there is often intense abhorrence of individuals by individuals on the opposing sides of a negotiation but it doesn't interfere or stop the negotiation.  Sometimes it creates a cold war with outbursts such as Krushchev pounding his shoe at the UN.  But, cooperation on treaties and humanitarian matters still happened through the negotiations of diplomats, not the presidents or premiers.

Well, may be one more thing - some members of Council seem to believe they live or should be living in a pretty, little subdivision where neighbors never violate the neighborhood covenants on external appearance of houses or yards.  Thank heaven they haven't yet extended that notion to house colors.

There are members of my family who will be offended by this post.  They should remember their aunt always speaks her mind, more like their grandmother than their grandfather.  I can not apologize for being myself.

Friday, February 13, 2015

My solution since the whole mess started is to create a Newfield Fire District thru referendum

A fire district would need to be created through a referendum.  I tried to get this started before at the Town Hall meeting held at the Elks but no one paid any attention then and probably won't now but sometimes if you keep putting an idea out there you can get it adopted.

A Newfield Fire District would operate in a manner similar to the Board of Education, as it would contain a board of elected fire commissioners, none of whom could be serving on Borough Council or the Board of Education at the same time.  It would be independent of the Borough Council and of any fire company.  It would have a separate budget funded by its own tax revenues as is the Board of Education.  Just like the taxes raised to support the education of kids in town, there would still be only one tax bill as the same mechanism that collects the Board of Education taxes would bundle in the Fire District taxes.

One big advantage to the taxpayer is the total transparency of what it costs to have fire control in Newfield.  One big disadvantage is that taxes would go up as the fire district board would have to deal with the problem of the age of the fire trucks and other equipment.  It would still be to the taxpayers advantage to contract with a volunteer fire company as that would eliminate salaries, but we, the taxpayers, would know how much is being saved.

Maintenance labor on the fire control/emergency equipment could still be contracted out to the volunteer fire company with taxes covering supplies and replacement equipment.  That was/is the current situation but no one has any idea how many hours the fire company volunteers put in to repair and keep the trucks in working order.

It would be to the volunteer fire company's advantage to report how many hours were spent in training, responding to emergencies like a fire, and equipment maintenance and, I assume, they would put that into any proposal they made to the Fire District Board to have them chosen as the first responding fire company.

Another advantage to the concept of a Fire District Board is that it would be responsible for obtaining grants that improve fire control/emergency response.  This is an onerous task at any time and one the volunteer fire company may be happy to be rid of.  Kudos you get for successfully obtaining a grant far out weigh the effort necessary to make it happen.

Any one interested?

My father passed away 6 years ago today

In his later years, some called Dick Davis "Mr. Newfield" because he was always there volunteering for everything and attending every town function.  He gave volunteer service to the town from the age of 18 when he joined the Fire Company until his death at 81.  He was a Church trustee, Board of Education Secretary, Treasurer of the Rose Hill Cemetery Association, Borough Council member for 1 term, on the Board of the Newfield Savings & Loan before it was subsumed by another bank, Founding Father of the Newfield Swim Club.  There was probably more but I was not living in Newfield from 1967-2008.

I can remember seeing the sweat roll off of him as he presided over the chicken bbq pit for the Fire Company fund raiser and I know he did it year after year until it became too much physically.  I can remember his smile as he watched the inaugural jump into the pool of the Newfield Swim Club, formed to give the kids of Newfield someplace safe to swim during the height of the polio epidemic.

At his funeral, it was comforting to have people say how they would miss seeing him at town events.  He was always there, usually with my mother.  He was friendly, quiet, and always there supporting the town he loved in the unassuming ways he could.

I miss him.  The town needs him desperately as he was always the quiet, calm voice of reason and compromise in any conflict.  Did I say I miss him terribly?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Just the facts, Ma'am, Just the facts

Oh, sometimes there are plenty of facts but hard to get a true perspective.  Two articles in the South Jersey Times newspaper are full of facts.  The one titled "Newfield Council can fire, hire volunteer fire company members Appellate Court says" gives facts about the Appellate Court decision and hints at some of the roots of the long-standing feud between the fire company and the council - what goes on the marquee sign.  The one titled "Newfield Fire Company claims it was removed from service; council president says that's not true" in the online version or titled "Who will respond to fire calls?" in the paper version has each side alleging the other side is lying.

Neither side is lying; just giving their interpretations of the facts, context, and consequences from their own perspectives, particularly the consequences.  The 1950's TV show Dragnet implied that all you needed to get at the truth of a situation was facts but to evaluate consequence we humans need context too.  Context and consequence are what make history and entertainment compelling.  The possibility of drama will draw residents to the Borough Council Meeting Thurs Feb 12, 7:30 pm, no matter which side they are supporting.  Personally, I am wishing for a sweet anti-climatic moment where both sides shake hands and the feud is permanently ended with the fire company minding its own membership and the Borough Council working on the real problems of the town - like the slightly radioactive slag pile left by ShieldAlloy Corporation metallurgy operations; the bare bones budget situation, how to move into the next 20 years with an improving quality of life for residents.  Foolishly, I continue to root for the happy ending.  Isn't that the definition of insanity?