Monday, February 26, 2007

Loss of an Icon

Most people in central Maine are walking around in a daze today, in shock that the most beloved and famous of local restaurants, Slate's in Hallowell had burned to the ground on Sunday.

This is a terrible loss on many levels but we can be thankful that no one was seriously hurt in the fire. But it is very sad nonetheless.

But I am feeling a particular uneasiness about this event. You see I had dinner there just the other night and so I am thinking that I was one of the last people to have enjoyed Slate's Restaurant the way it was.

I am reminded that I had a similar experience almost 20 years ago when the Cape Neddick Inn (and here for picture) burned to the ground a few days after I had dinned there.

That's a little bit spooky.

Let's hope that Slate's can rise from the ashes and again serve the good people of central Maine.


Town Meeting

The Portland Press Herald ran a piece about town meetings in this weekend's paper.

I will not comment on town meetings in Maine as I am sure they are wonderful and colorful. I don't believe they are very efficient these days and I have a little trouble with letting small numbers of people - who have the time to attend these meetings - make all the decisions about a town's affairs. My guess is that they are probably past their prime and will continue to become a vestige of bygone years.

But my perceptions of town meetings may be adversely affected by the experience at my very first town meeting in Bartlett, New Hampshire.

I kept hearing about this phenomena when I arrived in town the the school district I worked for was pretty worked up about the process. In SAU 9 in the Mt. Washington Valley, there were nine towns making up the district and that meant there were actually TEN town meetings the district administration had to contend with. One for each of the towns and then one for the whole SAU.

In actuality these were really Annual School District meetings because the only thing that was discussed was that school district's business. The actual town meeting took place about a month later after the school district meeting had been held and the school budget approved. So, in those days, all we seemed to do and talk about were the annual school district meetings and town meetings.

Well, anyway at this first annual school district meeting in Bartlett, I witnessed what was perhaps the most reprehensible behavior of a public figure in my life.

Now, I thought that that thing with Richard Nixon was pretty bad, and I certainly had seen my share of corrupt politicians, but this one took the cake.

It began when one of the town selectman - these are three people, almost always men - who basically run the town - stood up at the annual school district meeting and demanded to know what the thousands of dollars of special education was being spent on. The special education director, my boss, carefully responded in general terms talking about teachers' salaries, specialists' (like me) salaries, books and materials.

The selectman was not satisfied with this explanation and asked for more specifics about "out of district placement costs."

My boss then explained that occasionally a student's needs could not be met in the local public school and that the law required we find a special placement for them.

After several more questions it became clear the selectman had an axe to grind and he wanted to know about a specific student.

The special ed director would not budge and refused to answer specific questions due to confidentiality.

With that, the selectman said, (paraphrasing) "I know that we are spending $30,000 per year on that [insert name here] kid to go to that school in [insert name here] and I have a solution..."

By now, everyone was on the edge of their chairs. I was was simply horrified.

"You get me a silver bullet and I'll put that kid out of his misery and save the town all that money."

Mild pandemonium ensued, but the selectman did not back down and did not apologize for his statement. The moderator eventually moved us off the topic and the meeting continued. I found out later that the parents of the child in question were in the room and that they had endured this behavior for many years.

In the years that followed, I attended a number of town meetings without the same antics, but always with a fairly large amount of "high theatre." It seems that there are some in town who attend those meetings only for the theatrical value and that there are others in town who like to be the actors and hear themselves talk.

In all fairness, usually the only ones who attending the annual school meeting were the teachers and parents and they always voted in the budget. At one of these meetings, one of the parents I worked with insisted they get me some help - yes he mentioned me specifically, thought I did a crackerjack great job and that I needed help. And right there the town did just that, they voted to add more money to the budget and add another position. Six months later there were two of us.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

The iPhone War is Over - Money Won!

It appears the momentary battle between Cisco Systems and Apple Computer over the trademark name iPhone is over.

According to the New York Times, the battle ended Wednesday when the companies settled their lawsuit. The paper alludes to the payment of some settlement, but that information is not disclosed.

Don't you wish all wars could end so easily?


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Daylight Savings Time

image of clockI remember when I heard the news last fall that the U.S. federal government has decided that they would change the dates for the beginning and ending of Daylight Savings Time (DST) in 2007 that it would be trouble. I can't recall the last time they did this (I think it was during the energy crisis of the mid 1970s) but I do know that I did not own a computer and all kinds of clocks and devices that automatically change when DST begins. I imagined there would be a similar "crisis" this year similar to the Y2K whoop-dee-doo in 1999.

Well I heard nothing more about it until about a week ago when I got a newsletter from Microsoft indicating they had developed protocols and patches for various products so they would continue to function correctly. The patches were downloaded with the next updates. But I have been going around and checking various other devices to see if they will explode or so something screwy on March 11th when the clocks need to "spring forward." I'm most concerned with my Palm, but then I realized it doesn't automatically update to DST and that I have to do that manually. Not sure what will happen with my atomic clocks. Probably a nuclear meltdown.
Well I was fairly satisfied that things would be fine when I came across a website called dateand Now talk about someone having too much time on their hands!

Anyway, this is actually a pretty neat site that has a list detailing when the DST changes around the world. Until I saw this website, it didn't even occur to me that they had DST in the southern hemisphere. It just never occurred to me.

And it never occurred to me that different nations would change on different dates. It must make airline schedules a real delight.

Anyway, this explains the need to continually rely on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT or Zulu). At least that doesn't change - I don't think...

Now, who has too much time on their hands....


Friday, February 16, 2007

Microsoft Firefox

So, I'm the one most of my relatives and friends contact when it comes to on-line hoaxes and spoofs.
It wasn't always that way. I earned this reputation as "Hoaxbuster" by regularly refuting the endless number of silly e-mails friends and relatives would send me that, to me, were so obviously phony. I've trained two relatives, a sister and an aunt, to at least check with Legend before passing on this dribble.

So, I had a particularly good laugh when one of my edu-geek blog-friends found themselves victim of a website called Microsoft Firefox. Maybe it's that cynical New Yorker in me, but I immediately saw the pun intended. The edu-geek apparently did not and has a rather lengthy blog describing her victimization.

The outrage that she expresses is funny, but the numbers of comments from readers trying to carefully explain the joke is even funnier.

Sorry, I know I should be more sensitive. But watch the video for the "product" it is hilarious.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Morning After

All I can think of is that syrupy song from The Poseidon Adventure, the original one (1972). You know that song, the one by Maureen McGovern.

God, I'm showing my age.

Anyway, here's a video of ...the morning after the storm...


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Blizzard

Accessible Politics

Wouldn't it be great to have at least one campaign website that meets accessibility standards?

It must be exceedingly annoying to people with disabilities, particularly those who use assistive technology, when it comes to politics on the Internet. In the last election, I sent out several e-mails to candidates and the state Democratic Party asking them to make their website accessible. At first there was the customary, "Oh thank you ... so nice to hear from you..." followed by implications that they would be taking my advice and getting right to it. And this would inevitably be followed by abandonment.

In all fairness, I'm sure there was some poor unpaid intern reading and responding to my e-mail and they had no time or power to effect any of my suggestions. But you would think they would have thought about this before the election process started.

So on this date, I did a little testing and looked at most of the people already running for president.

Now, before you jump all over me, I will admit that this was not a very scientific study and I merely used one on-line tool (The WebAIM Wave) to test ONLY the home page of each of these candidates. And in some cases, these were still sites for "exploratory" activities. So, things might change....

Anyway here is the score; the number of accessibility errors showing on each site.

Now, I would encourage you to do your own testing and see if there are things that I am missing. And, I would challenge the accessible web community to raise their voices on this one.

Oh, and BTW, the most common area where accessibility errors were found were in the labeling of the input boxes - you know those places where you write down how much money you are going to send to the campaign and where you enter your e-mail address so they can send you propaganda for the next 22 months....

~john b

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Winter in the Northland

Now is it our turn to act hysterical.

We have a snowstorm in the forecast for 12+ inches of snow here in Augusta tomorrow into Thursday. There are already parking bans and school closings and the first flake is 12 hours away.

What a bunch of wimps.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Winter in the Southland

I'm on the return leg of a trip to Charlotte, NC on business and a little pleasure. I drove down last Tuesday and took two days to make the nearly thousand mile journey. The first day I encountered some light snow in southern New York and eastern PA, and then smooth sailing to Roanoke, VA. The news in Roanoke was that a "big winter storm" was approaching. People were absolutely obsessed - well at least the people on the local news stations. The forecast in Roanoke was 1-4 inches of snow and more to the south. The forecast for Charlotte was a Winter Storm Warning.

I got up early on Thursday to face the pending behemoth, and was pleasantly surprised to find that all of the hype was over the top. I was on the road for close to two hours before I saw a flake. I actually saw more salt trucks than snow flakes.

Coming through the mountains into North Carolina the light snow stopped and then started again about an hour north of Charlotte. The snow quickly turned to sleet, then freezing rain to all rain in a about a 10 mile stretch.

When I got to Charlotte, it was a ghost-town. The streets were deserted of mid-day traffic and the mall adjacent to the hotel had only a few stores open. Most had signs about the "inclement weather." One even had a sign indicating that they were out "playing in the snow." The best was the sign on the coffee shop indicating they were closing early!

What a bunch of wimps.

I have more info about "the storm" on my Maine ASCD blog including pictures of the less than 2 inches of slush and the quote from the local news indicating that they had broken all previous records for a 24 hour snowfall - 2 inches. I howled!

I left Charlotte on Sunday to mild temperatures in the 50's and based upon the forecast for bitter cold, headed east to The Outer Banks. I had initially intended to drive south to Hilton Head and find me a nice green golf course. But the forecast for there was temps in the 40's and I figured if I wanted to play golf in that kind of weather, I could do that in Maine.

So after a 5.5 hour drive through some fairly remote areas, I arrived on the beautiful Outer Banks of North Carolina and settled in a Ramada in Kill Devil Hills, just north of Nags Head. It is a very pretty area and I'll post pictures soon.

On Monday, I scouted out the surrounding area visiting the "First Flight" location in Kitty Hawk and even drove down to Cape Hatteras.

Backtracking north I have headed up to Virginia Beach for an overnight. The news here again was for brutal winter weather. This time the forecast is for the deep freeze and once again the natives are restless. The lead story on both the 6 o'clock and 11 o'clock news was "the cold." They were even telling people how to dress. People in "the south" apparently have forgotten how to wear clothes.

Apparently the hotels in Virginia Beach were designed by people who also need a lesson in wearing clothes. When I arrived at the Marriott Courtyard on the north side, there was a repairman in the lobby repairing something that was leaking in the ceiling - obviously a broken pipe. The gentleman at the front desk to took my credit card failed to mention that the central heating had been turned off and as a result there was no hot water. I only learned this when I went down to the pool area and stepped into a freezing jacuzzi. The pool, though warmer than the other puddle, was far from warm so I returned to my room and decided a warm shower was in order. No such luck.

Several phone calls to the front desk, promises that "heat is on the way," more phone calls and sitting for 45 minutes in a wet swimsuit, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I told them I was leaving and that they needed to find me a hotel in the area that had hot water.

Thirty minutes later I was checking into a queen suite in the Marriott Courtyard 18 blocks north down Atlantic Ave. My over sized room perched on the beach provides an even better view to the north where I can see the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel stretching to the Del-Mar-Va peninsula. This morning I found the first rays of sun angling in from the cold horizon landing in my bed.

I took a little trip last night to see some of the town. This time of the year Virginia Beach is pretty deserted. Many of the hotels and restaurants are closed. I had a truly awful "irish" dinner in a restaurant near the hotel that would make all of my relatives roll over in their graves. The deli style corned beef was cold, the potato had some black spots, and the "cabbage," was a wedge of brownish glop that looked and tasted like nothing. They even had some rubbery squares on the plate that were supposed to be slices of "traditional Irish Soda Bread." I told the waiter that there was no Mrs. Murphy anywhere on the planet that would serve this stuff and call it an Irish dinner.

Don't come to Virginia Beach for the food - at least not any Irish food.