Sunday, June 7, 2015

A good man died on June 4th

I am sure many good men and women died that day around the world but I want to talk about one I knew for almost thirty years - Al Erickson.  I heard about Al and his wife Marlys when my son began dating one of their three daughters although I didn't meet them in person for awhile.  Al was still working in Security for Boeing in the Seattle area then, a job he had moved his family to after moving around in the service.  Soon I knew any fears I might have that my son would encounter a rigid father who thought no man was good enough for his daughter were allayed.  Al's big heart had reached out to bring Brent into his family by feeding him plenty of meat and potatoes.

When Brent and Sheila moved into together while she was still a student at UW, Al wasn't fazed but helped them with their bills.  When Brent and Sheila went to France for a year as part of Sheila's education/career development, Al and Marlys went to visit.  When Brent and Sheila got married after 10 years of being together, Al gave a sweet toast at the reception held at Al and Marlys's backyard to the effect that Brent was already part of the family and had been for quite awhile.

Al was a good man who loved his wife, wanted only happiness for his daughters, supported his church, and lived every day of his life with integrity and grace, and he knew how to smile, which he did often.  He is missed.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Arrogance, Inspiration, Insult and Impressed

My self confidence has toppled over into arrogance again recently.  I was insulted when someone I only know in passing started to say they were impressed with some ideas I had gathered from others, added some of my own, then put into a succinct presentation.  I told myself I was upset because what I wanted to accomplish was to inspire them to put some of the ideas into action, not to be impressed with my writing skills.

There was a time when I would have let the person finish and bask in the compliments because I had very little confidence in my ability to put ideas down in a clear, readable fashion or, if my self esteem was particularly low, deflect it with a modest comment.  Now, I need to stuff that arrogance back in the box and practice humility again before that arrogance turns into self-entitlement.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

My suggestion for a compromise between Borough Council and Fire Company

Since neither mediation nor negotiation happened, I am playing mediator here and making an open suggestion for a compromise.  Item 1: What the Borough Council and Mayor seem to want more than any other result is for the fire chief to be someone else and for regular reports of fire incidents to be reported to them.  Item 2: What the Newfield Volunteer Fire Company seems to want is to be left alone to run the fire company as they always have.  Item 3: What the residents of Newfield want is fire service at the same cost it historically has been.  Item 4: What the town needs if it is to continue to have its own volunteer fire company is a new fire truck.

I can not do anything about the Item 4 as that will raise the tax rate and no one wants that.  I hope a compromise addressing Items 1 and 2 will go along way to making Item 3 happen.

My points for the compromise are:
  For the Newfield Volunteer Fire Company:
  1.  Prepare a succession plan for a new and different fire chief of their choosing to be installed in 6 months in order to give the new chief time to learn what procedures are, start what ever additional training is needed, and practice with the company in the role of fire chief.
  2.  Provide written reports going forward and back to Dec 31, 2012 that make it easy to file incident reports on the national fire incident reporting system.
  3.  Provide a write up of the procedure used to thoroughly vet new volunteers before they can be accepted into the company so it can be treated as public record, with any sensitive material such as passwords deleted.
  4. Provide an affidavit signed by all members that they will not seek to nor re-elect the current fire chief for a period of three years.
  For the Borough of Newfield Council and Mayor:
  1. Repeal the current ordinance and re-instate the the original ordinance governing a fire department.  This will return to control of the fire company, its membership, officers, and finances to the company as it was before 2013.
  2. Amend the original ordinance to include written reports of fire incidents to be provided quarterly in a format and detail that is suitable for reporting on the national fire incident reporting system.
  3. Provide the fire company with the contact information for reporting whatever details the insurance company needs on members and drivers directly.  This protects any sensitive information of individuals.
  4.  Provide an affidavit signed by all members of Council and the Mayor that they will not seek to nor enact a new ordinance about the fire company for a period of three years.
Compromises require trust and there is little of that currently available so I have included affidavits for both sides that at least gives some time for trust to be restored.

The people of Newfield can still win in this situation but time is running out.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

How much will it cost Newfield Borough if Forest Grove is contracted to provide fire services?

The newspaper reports that Borough Council is trying to start up a new fire company and if that fails it will pay Forest Grove Volunteer Fire Company to provide fire services for Newfield.  Nowhere do I find any estimates of what it might cost out of our real estate taxes nor any estimates of how much our house insurance fees might rise.  Forest Grove is several miles away from the center of town and thus response times are longer; every minute counts in a fire and insurance companies take than into consideration.

Somehow it seems it was more important to Borough Council members that they "win" by removing the fire chief and thus the fire company than the cost to the taxpayers.  I wonder if any grants that might be won by the police department if and when the new fire company starts reporting on the National Fire Incident Reporting System will offset all the additional taxpayer cost.  With only 45 calls in a year, I wonder if it makes any difference at all.  Could it be we get few grants because we have so few residents/voters?

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.