Holiday Satisfaction…with the Post Office!

December 20, 2012

I recently had a very pleasing experience with the U.S. Post Office. Why does that matter? Well, it’s the Post Office; it’s not exactly known for customer service.

We’re deep into the holiday season, and, this year, I’ve finished all of my shopping and mailing. See, I’m an habitual shopping and mailing procrastinator. My friends and family have put up with receiving presents late and getting them straight out of Amazon or other boxes, sans wrapping paper.

On top of that, I’ve put myself through a significant amount of last minute, next-day, expensive shipping. Ouch. Unfortunately, I learn the hard way, slowly.

This year, I was made aware of USPS scheduled pick-ups. I know a lot of people probably know about this and use it already. But it was a breath of fresh for me.

I set-up, paid for, and printed the mailing labels online. I scheduled a pick-up. I boxed everything up. I put it all on the porch when I left for work in the morning. When I came home, all the boxes were gone and I could verify their status online. It was much easier than going to the Post Office and much cheaper than FedEx or UPS.

It was almost perfect. The wrinkle came with a package UPS shipped to me. The UPS package was delivered before the mail pick-up. The mail carrier inadvertently picked up the UPS package along with everything else. At least that’s what I hoped. Otherwise, there would’ve been an even bigger SNAFU.

I was on the phone with USPS by 8:30 the next morning. After a couple of quick phone calls, I was on the phone with the person who picked up the UPS package. He was very pleasant, he recognized the issue right away, and told me it was back out for delivery. I felt back at-ease. I got home after work and the package was there at my front door.

Satisfied.


After the Election…What I think

November 8, 2012

The 2012 election is over. President Obama won re-election. Democrats kept a majority in the Senate and picked up some seats in the House. (In Colorado, Democrats now hold the governorship, the state Senate, and the state House!) Obama crushed the electoral map, even without Florida being final. And he took the popular vote. In fact, Democratic candidates have won the popular vote in 5 of the past 6 elections.

Now it’s time to get to work.

But, first, I can’t hold back sharing some of my opinions about the election, politics, the parties, and our government.

The direction of our society: To me, this election represents a clear signal of people’s desires for how they want to live and build a society.

The election involved taxes, debt, war, foreign policy, and other bureaucratic matters. But this election was really about emotions, community, and freedom.

The Republican Party, as it exists today, is not the party of Roosevelt or Lincoln or even Reagan. Today’s Republican Party is the party of fear—fear of terrorism, fear of losing money, fear of choice, fear of things that are different. People living in fear are not free.

Today’s Republican Party is the party of exclusion—don’t look the same, don’t talk the same, don’t think the same, don’t pray the same—the Republicans don’t want you.

It’s beyond intolerance and selfishness. Little emotions motivate like fear motivates.

Democrats, still imperfect, offer choice, support, community, and liberty—liberty in the form our country was founded on.

Obama’s campaign was impressive. He and his team got people to knock on doors, make phone calls, and focus on the right neighborhoods to get the votes they needed. Democrats are just doing these things much better than Republicans.

And, the Obama team sent a lot of emails. I’d be willing to bet I got close to 1,000 emails. All that Internet campaigning has been a trademark of Obama, but it really owes its roots to Howard Dean and his 2003 campaign.

Dean’s over-celebration may have ended his own presidential hopes, but he set the stage for a new strategy of campaigning using the Web. Obama’s team picked up the strategy, crafted it, and used it to support two winning campaigns. Every since FDR, that’s the best a presidential campaign can do.

By the way, Obama won Massachusetts.

Money in politics: This election season included a lot of money. According to the Sunlight Foundation, “No matter what part of it you look at, campaign spending for this election has been higher than ever before. It has been estimated that the first post-Citizens United election has brought more than $6 billion in spending.”

It’s not the amount of money that’s a problem. The problem is who is spending it and how it’s being spent.

The overshadowed story: Elizabeth Warren knocked off Scott Brown to pick up a Senate seat from Massachusetts. She is a true consumer and citizen supporter. Here are some of her comments that ring true to me. It represents the kind of honesty, humility, and realism I support.

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea – God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.


The economy:
By almost every measure, the economy is improving. Here are a couple examples:

The stock market is up. The Dow, Nasdaq, and S&P 500 have all had significant gains since Obama took office.
Here’s the Dow’s performance:

Unemployment is dropping: It’s been up and down, but it’s currently about the same as when Obama took office.

The elites: There are just as many rich Democrats as rich Republicans. People living in the wealthiest areas of the country voted for Obama.
Here are the 100 wealthiest counties in the US:

And here’s the Electoral map:

People living in the most affluent counties in the country, other than in Texas and a few in Virginia, voted for Obama.

Moving on: We get four more years of a President who believes in working together, not leaving any one behind, and moving every one forward. We also get at least two more years of a divided Congress. We all want action from our elected officials, but we, as a country, are not frustrated enough to make it happen. Apathy and disillusionment are still holding us back. The 2012 voter turnout isn’t final yet, but it’s not looking good, even worse than 2008.

Luckily we live in the country with the most changeable system of government in the world with the most opportunities for citizens to take the reins. We just need to step up and do it.


A Day in the Internet

March 14, 2012

This is pretty cool:

A Day in the Internet
Created by: MBAOnline.com

From http://www.mbaonline.com/a-day-in-the-internet/


A Local Business Database and App – Good Intentions, but Off the Mark

March 4, 2012

Colorado Senator Morgan Carroll introduced legislation to create a business database.  The legislation would direct the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) to create the database.   Local businesses would voluntarily be able to register, provide information, and a pay a fee each year.  The bill also requires OEDIT to create a mobile app for accessing the data.

Supporting local businesses and encouraging economic development are admirable, necessary goals.  Sen. Carroll deserves support for pushing those efforts.  But, the methods to achieve those goals in this legislation have significant shortcomings.

First, the state already has this information.  The Department of Revenue, the Department of Labor and Employment, and the Secretary of State’s office, already collect most of this data and could publish it online. 

Second, the private sector is already doing this (e.g., Yelp and Google Places).

Third, charging businesses to register and provide duplicative information is unfair and unnecessary.

Fourth, and finally, if the agencies just made the data available via an API or even by download from their websites, the private sector could make use of the data with less effort and little cost to government.

A more effective approach would be to direct state agencies to make their data available. For example, check out Data.Oregon.Gov.  At no additional charge, reporting requirement, or effort to businesses, Oregon has made business information available to the public and to the private sector.  Oregon’s data platform makes all of the things Sen. Carroll is promoting possible without extra costs.

Colorado’s proposal will limit innovation by restricting the data to a state agency that does not have the expertise or resources to create and maintain apps and other economic tools.  David Eaves, an open government expert, recently wrote about the economic potential of open data and helped plainly describe the benefits of government releasing more data to the public.

There are experts who can do this sort of thing.  Government doesn’t have to.  Government just needs to provide the tools and resources for the private sector and individuals to do what they need to do.


Musings on Life

August 17, 2011

I haven’t written for a few months, not because I haven’t had things on my mind, but because there’s been a lot going on. Certainly, there has been a lot to talk about: revolutions in the Middle East, the U.S. debt debacle, the riots in England, the cast of Republican presidential contenders, along with stories of unsung heroes working to improve our government, cities, and lives.

But, I live in Colorado, and the summer is a distracting time of year, but only slightly more distracting than the winter. Mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, camping, nightlife, baseball games, etc., etc., etc. all make every weekend here a small adventure. While I was last hiking in the mountains, I reflected on how fortunate I am to live in this state and enjoy its beauty.

Colorado is marvelous. From the mountains to the people, every day provides new excitement.

A series of not thoroughly planned actions brought me to Denver, landed me a job that has evolved several times and that I continue to enjoy, and connected me with countless inspiring people. All I had to do was take a few small chances and show up along the way.

All of my experiences continue to remind me of my inherent, moral responsibility to make similar opportunities possible for others. What does that mean? How?

In terms of character, first, be willing. Second, be open-minded. Accept possibilities and opportunities. Third, be honest. Follow through. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Build integrity.

Listen and lead by example. None of us know as much as we think we know, and actions always speak louder than words.

Most importantly, take action. Do what needs to be done. Do what you love to do. Soak up this life and give all that you can back.

With that, I’ll close with my favorite quote: “This is the true joy in life- that being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. That being a force of nature, instead of a feverish, selfish little clos of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.” (George Bernard Shaw)


Cook County Develops Open Government

April 25, 2011

Open government efforts have been rapidly developing in cities, counties, state government agencies, and federal government agencies.  I hesitate to call the developing efforts prolific, but more and more efforts are popping up.  A recent article on Govloop, “How Many Open Government Projects Are There?”, helped illustrate the development of the open government movement across the country.

In January, I wrote about the development of the Model Local Open Government Directive.  The model was a product of CityCamp Colorado and a collaborative effort of CityCamp, Colorado Smart Communities, Code for America, the Sunlight Foundation, OpenPlans.  The model provided cities, counties, and other governments with a framework they could adapt to implement open government principles—transparency, participation, and collaboration.  Since that announcement, the open government movement has continued to grow.

The latest update comes in the form of the Open Cook County Plan from Cook County, Illinois.  The Open Cook County Plan, which is based at least in part on the Model Local Open Government Directive, “is aimed at making county government data and information publicly available so residents can more effectively understand, interact with and improve government.”   

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said, “I know that the historic lack of transparency and accountability has eroded the legitimacy of Cook County government in many residents’ eyes. Quite simply, a government that is transparent and accountable to its residents is a more effective government.”  Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey went on to say, “This initiative will allow for unprecedented interaction, allowing residents access and use of county data to better understand how county government is operating and to make recommendations on how to improve and use government and services.”

The Cook County government has clearly recognized the benefits to its citizens and itself that following open government principles will provide.  Citizen satisfaction and government efficiency are just a couple of the benefits of open government.  The opportunities for cost savings and public and private sector innovation are also abundant.

I applaud Cook County’s effort to become a leader in the open government movement, along with the federal government, San Francisco, Manor, TX, Portland, Vancouver, and many other cities, counties, and other governments.  I am also very proud to see the work of several professionals and fellow volunteers being recognized and adapted.    

With additional promotion coming at the Sunlight Foundation’s upcoming Transparency Camp and the Gov 2.0a Conference, I expect knowledge and support of the main open government principles—transparency, participation, and collaboration—and the Open Government Initiative to grow.


There Has to be a Better Way

February 6, 2011

While sitting at almost a dead stop on I-70 for 40 minutes on the way to Vail this morning I began fantasizing about faster ways to get to the mountains.

Several ideas have come to mind in the past:
High-speed rail
An extra lane
A zipper lane (that one may actually happen)
A high-speed chairlift from Red Rocks to Eagle
A tunnel

Most of which are not financially feasible.

A personal helicopter would be ideal, but, again, not financially feasible.

But, that led me to the solution.

The military could fly Black Hawk helicopter shuttle flights to the top of ski resorts.  Vail could contract with the military and include the shuttle as an extra season pass perk.

Benefits:
Less traffic
Faster travel
Military pilot training
Military fundraising
Being awesome

Cons:
None come to mind

We skiers need a solution; put your thinking caps on.

(Disclaimer:  This is not a serious blog post. I’m just a bit jaded about traffic.)


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