Technology


I use the our Town’s two websites, Townhall.TownOfChapelHill.org and TownOfChapelHill.org, quite extensively to keep up with our local governance.

More and more I’ve run into:

The page cannot be displayed

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Try the following:

  • Refresh page: Search for the page again by clicking the Refresh button. The timeout may have occurred due to Internet congestion.
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Technical Information (for support personnel)

  • Error Code: 500 Internal Server Error. -1073479663(-1073479663)

Last week I couldn’t retrieve a number of agenda and minutes attachments from 2005 and 2006. Yes, they’re tucked away somewhere safe on paper in the Clerk’s Office, but that is not too end-user friendly.

I know Bill, Ari and Bob work hard to keep our IT afloat, I have to wonder if this is related to our use of CivicPlus’ “free” service.

Our Town’s “free” trial is about to expire, we should iron out these difficulties before moving forward on a renewal.

Or, as our citizen’s Tech Board realized, we need to move to a non-proprietary provider that uses accessible, open standards.

Profiting from Council’s continued inability to craft effective technology policy, Clearwire, a wireless Internet service provider utilizing proprietary spectrum, has gained a toe-hold in our community.

These days, it’s hard to imagine getting through high school without the Internet.

However, there are at least 100 students at East Chapel Hill High School whose families cannot afford the service.

This number is a big concern for Ginny Guilfoile, East Chapel Hill’s Parent Teacher Student Association president who started a program to provide loaner computers and Internet access for students in need.

“I thought, how would it be if my kid didn’t have a computer,” Guilfoile said. “I knew there were kids that could not keep up with the other kids at East without the Internet.”

The district’s Information Technology Division was able to form a partnership with Clearwire, a high-speed wireless Internet provider.

Ray Reitz, the district’s chief technology officer, explained that by using Clearwire, the need for costly land-line phones or cable is eliminated.

“The cost of Internet access has been the main obstacle. The Clearwire solution is a completely wireless solution,” Reitz said.

Daily Tar Heel, Feb. 28th, 2007

Long time readers know how I’ve promoted the development of a community-owned network to stimulate economic development, bridge the digital divide and increase Town’s operational efficiency.

Councilmember Laurin Easthom has been the only elective leader to-date promoting the cost effective and tactical deployment of this “must have” infrastructure.

“Must have”? Yes, to compete effectively in the global marketplace we need to invest a modest amount in technological infrastructure.

Rider said she has received very positive feedback from the 42 students to whom the program has provided Internet access so far.

“One student told me the quality of her work improved because she had time in between going to school and working on assignments,” Rider said. “Basically they all talk about the same thing – how it was very hard to do their work and how much easier it is right now.”

Guilfoile said that although the program has been successful this year, the PTSA might not be able to sustain the funds needed to continue it unless they find a long-term source for funding.

Only 42 students now out of 100 alone at East covered by the $15,000 in grant money.

What of all the other students and residents within Town that are cut-off from the new Town Commons?

Free access to both information and information infrastructure is critical for our community’s success.

Recently, local activist Ellen Perry pointed out in a thread on OrangePolitics the problem the homeless have when cut-off from communication:

has any one ever thought about helping these folks get social security and a post office box so they could start to help themselves . if people dont have anywhere to get there mail its hard to start to get a check or a medicaid card or food stamps or apply for any of the stuff people have when they have a home.

As last week’s Independent headlined (Bridging the divide
Techies across the Triangle are finding ways to connect people around the world
), more and more services are being directed and delivered via the ‘net.

For a community that prides itself on social justice and intellectual prowess, the continuing failure to bridge the gap is inexcusable.

Looks like one of our community’s cooler cats is out of the bag.

The Daily Tar Heel reports today on pioneering on-line journalist, State political analyst, former editor of the Indy Kirk Ross’ ( Exile On Jones Street) latest venture: The Carrboro Citizen.

Why create a new media outlet for Carrboro?

“It’s got 17,000 people, seven schools, good schools, growing, annexing; it’s next to exploding Chatham County – we think it needs a newspaper,” [ROSS] said.

Ross also said he has been unhappy with the way outside papers cover the town.

“You read a Carrboro story, and it’s not written for Carrboro; it’s written to explain things to the Triangle.”

The Citizen is an interesting inversion of current trends in newsprint. This new media effort is tapping their strong on-line content to publish newspapers. Yep, real paper, delivered weekly on Wednesdays.

Hey, not everyone is online, yet…

Congratulations to Kirk, his allies at the Carrboro Commons and to the Carrboro community for supporting their own “home town” news outlet.

In reviewing this evening’s notes on increasing the Town’s election contribution limits ($200 to $250) and lowering the standards of disclosure ($25 instead of $20), I noticed that Internet video is now available.

The Town’s proprietary Windows Media-based solution from Granicus was opposed by a number of members of the since dissolved Town Technology Advisory Board.

Here’s an overview of their system.

Sure, the Macromedia (now Adobe) Flash player used with the content I’ve posted on youTube and Google Video is proprietary, but, unlike the Granicus system, both give you a download option.


UPDATE:
The media player was not honoring the “no autoplay” directive. For the sanity of my readers, I’ve put in this direct link.
DIRECT LINK

I hope this issue is resolved before final deployment.

BTW, I think the current $200/$20 thresholds should stand until contested. Further, rather than fiddling with the limits we should be pushing for public financing – which, luckily, is on tonight’s agenda [#13]. The Council is asking the State permission to trial public financing.

Of course, asking is a lot easier than doing. Hopefully this won’t die on the vine after election 2007.

There’s been a small discussion over on SqueezeThePulp about the declining efficacy of local media outlets in covering our community. I suggested that new media outlets will soon move into this long fallow territory – intensively covering local events – to the possible detriment of traditional news outlets.

It appears that Carrboro is the center (once again) of local innovation.

Monday, the Carrboro Commons launched to fill the gap:

As we launch the Carrboro Commons today, we too feel the need for an introduction — sort of a 5W’s on us: the who, what, why, where, when and how.

In short, we are a new newspaper blog for this special place. Whether you call it “the Paris of the Piedmont,” “The People’s Republic of Carrboro,” “Karmaboro,” or just plain old Carrboro, if you’re a resident, you know that Carrboro is unique. And with apologies to Stephen Colbert, compared to Chapel Hill, we think Carrboro is “uniquer.”

That’s why we believe that Carrboro is an under-served media population. From everything Carrboro folk are telling us, this is a town that needs, wants and deserves a quality news, feature and A&E source.

More via the inimitable Paul Jones.

This is still very raw, but I thought I’d put out this demo to stir some thought within the community. Visualization tools like GoogleEarth (GE) can help remove some of the difficulty in assessing the visual impact of new development.

Our town’s planning department has the raw data needed to create a GoogleEarth representation of our town which I plan to massage and then release into the public domain for other citizens to elaborate on.

Why GoogleEarth?

While GE is a proprietary tool, the datasets it uses are exportable. So, Google owns the tool, not the data.

Our planning department should be creating GE or NASA Wind World representations of Chapel Hill as a matter of course – it would help both them and the community create a common visual-based framework for development discussions.



The free and OSS tools used:

GE has a movie making module but that requires an upgrade to GE Pro at $400 per year (not quite ready for that…)

An update on the muni-networking task force prepared by UNC’s Shannon Howle Schelin, PhD, one of our stronger advocates for 21st century infrastructure.

On November 13, 2006, an exploratory meeting was held at the Town of Chapel Hill to discuss the Town’s interest in pursuing a wireless strategy. The goal of the meeting was to determine a strategy for investigating the broad issues related to a wireless initiative in the Town, as well as to seek the in-kind support and expert guidance of the University of North Carolina (UNC), the UNC School of Government (UNC SOG), and the NC League of Municipalities (NCLM). External participants participating in the meeting included John Streck, UNC, Shannon Schelin, UNC SOG, and Lee Mandell, NCLM. Internal staff members participating in the meeting included Roger Stancil, Flo Miller, Bob Avery and Arek Kempinski.

The preliminary minutes and associated outcomes of the meeting are offered for your review and comment.
The external participants were briefed on the interest of Town Council and citizen advocates in pursuing a wireless strategy for Chapel Hill. The majority of the conversation centered on the “why” question—as in “why is Chapel Hill interested in undertaking such an effort?” The drivers for the wireless strategy were articulated as follows:

  • 1. Addressing the digital divide;
  • 2. Increasing citizen access (in-home service)
  • 3. Increasing mobility (ubiquitous access in public areas—i.e. downtown);
  • 4. Improving governmental operations (public safety and public service); and,
  • 5. Economic development.

Based on the conversation, the following suggestions and commitments were made by UNC, UNC SOG, and NCLM

  • 1. The interest of the Town Council and citizen advocates does not specifically presume a “wireless” solution, but rather, a “connectivity” solution of which wireless is one component.
  • 2. The “why” question is multi-faceted and each component needs to be studied individually in order to create a comprehensive connectivity plan.
    • a. For example, licensed radio frequency (4.9 GHz, etc) is a robust, 802.16 alternative that is specifically designed for public safety and public service but is unavailable for citizen use. However, the lack of interference that is provided by the licensed spectrum creates significant advantages in data speed, accuracy, reliability, and security—all of which are vital to the development of any mobile government applications.
    • b. Another example is the extension of a wireless network into low-wealth communities without the provision of equipment used to access the network will not have the desired impact upon the community.
  • 3. The external participants, UNC, UNC SOG, and NCLM, agreed to work as a team, with the involvement of the Town staff, to examine the components and drivers of the “connectivity” request that has been generated by Town Council and citizen advocates. The outcome of this work will be a comprehensive listing of the drivers and requisite solution alternatives for each issue.
  • 4. The request to identify additional drivers associated with the connectivity request was made at the close of the meeting and will be gathered by Town staff through conversations with Council Members.
  • 5. The team will convene to begin its work after the Thanksgiving break.
  • 6. In addition, upon completion of the plan, the team will advise the Town Council and staff on the technological, financial, and legal issues surrounding the various solutions that will compose the Connectivity Plan.

Additional feedback or comments on this meeting or the steps outlined for proceeding are appreciated.

Originally tonight’s Council agenda seemed to indicate a discussion on forming a broader task force was on the docket. Now the item is “informational”.

A shame, as I was planning to make a few comments about the lack of citizen advocates within the current discussion and trumpet the continuing successes of other locales, like St. Cloud Florida’s comprehensive effort or Minnesota’s St. Louis Park educational outreach.

Went to an interesting Downtown Partnership sponsored Safety Forum this morning, the notes of which I’ll post later…

While there I had the pleasure of meeting the Herald-Sun’s Robert Ashley.

Poor guy. He probably wouldn’t have sat next to me if he’d known I was going to give him an earful about the Herald-Sun’s on-line linking policy.

As I recently wrote, cutting the community off from their historical narrative is not only selfish, it is bad business. Robert disputed my “bad business” assertion, telling me the HS makes plenty from their archival content.

Ouch! I’ll bet whatever paltry sum they’re making from paywalling, the ill will they’re generating amongst both their on-line readership and those, like myself, that are FREELY steering customers (“eyeballs”) their way far outweighs the traditional business value of hiding content from the greater ‘net-world.

Already folks who want to reference HS articles are either, one, skirting fair-use provisions excerpting enough of the content to bolster their points or two, turning to other media outlets with far friendlier community-service oriented policies.

Doc Searls, always an entertaining and insightful commentator on new media, wrote recently about the cracks forming in the paywall and why, sans community service, paywalling is dumb business:

That’s why I’ve tried to limit the argument to the real trade-offs involved. This has nothing to do with “citizenship.” It has everything to do with the facts of publishing life, where the Web is a larger and larger context. Newspapers and magazines make some money by selling old stories through Lexis-Nexis and Dialog. But they make most of their money from advertising and subscriptions, which might both increase if archives are exposed to the Web.

Robert, if you’re reading this, I want to emphasize that I’m your ally.

I want to strengthen all our local journalistic enterprises – to help your institution make the leap from a manufacturer of paper and ink products to a valued community service provider. But you need to make the move soon…new media is moving at Internet speeds and it won’t be long before your backwards policy is irrelevant.

At the end of it all, if the Herald-Suns and News Observers of the world want to cut off their “long tail”, so be it…

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about citizen journalism of late.

Exemplary reports by BlueNC’s own SouthernDem, Greensboro’s release of the “secret” RMA report detailing the reasons for their police chief’s discharge, commentary from real journalists at the recent ConvergeSouth unconference, the Sunlight Foundation’s key assistance in outing congressional nepotism and revealing federal earmarks have me wondering about the future role CitizenWill.org might play in our local community.

Unfortunately, even as many online researchers/authors/activists are buoyed by rising fortunes, the United State’s professional journalism institutions are on the wane.

Reporters Without Borders Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2006 chronicles our medias plummet from 17th to 53rd place in a short 4 years.

The United States (53rd) has fallen nine places since last year, after being in 17th position in the first year of the Index, in 2002. Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.” The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 US states, refuse to recognise the media’s right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.

It could be worse:

“Unfortunately nothing has changed in the countries that are the worst predators of press freedom,” the organisation said, “and journalists in North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Cuba, Burma and China are still risking their life or imprisonment for trying to keep us informed. These situations are extremely serious and it is urgent that leaders of these countries accept criticism and stop routinely cracking down on the media so harshly.

The three worst violators of free expression – North Korea, bottom of the Index at 168th place, Turkmenistan (167th) and Eritrea (166th) – have clamped down further. The torture death of Turkmenistan journalist Ogulsapar Muradova shows that the country’s leader, “President-for-Life” Separmurad Nyazov, is willing to use extreme violence against those who dare to criticise him. Reporters Without Borders is also extremely concerned about a number of Eritrean journalists who have been imprisoned in secret for more than five years. The all-powerful North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, also continues to totally control the media.

Strong journalism is a deterrent to tyranny both petty and powerful.

Maybe, in some small way, local folks like BrianR at Yesh, Mark Peters at SqueezeThePulp, Sally Greene at Greenespace, Ruby Sinreich at OrangePolitics, Robert P at CountryCrats, Bora Zivkovic at Blog Around the Clock, Eric Muller at isThatLegal.org, Laurin Easthom at The Easthom Page, Terri Buckner at LocalEcology, Paul Jones at the Real Paul Jones, Kirk Ross at Exile On Jones Street and many more, are filling the widening gap between what we have reported and what we need reported.

Maybe, even, they provide an encouraging example of what a local on-line community is capable of achieving.

There were 20+ folks tonight – with a couple from the media – maybe 4 or 5 organizers – some town staff and the balance being interested citizens. I was already convinced that District 15B voters have a heck of slate of candidates before them – tonight I was more impressed than ever.

Very simply – we can’t lose. Of course, we have to pick and the candidates did a good job differentiating their philosophies, approaches, procedures and performance.

Due to what turned out to be poor placement of the camera and some technical issues I botched Adam Steins opening statement. In my defense, I set my camera up early – on a tripod as per BrianR’s excellent recommendation – well away from onlookers and the moderator. But then “dancin’ Doyle” decide to move stage right. By that point, my bobbing photographic nemesis for the night had taken the high ground.

Opening statements in reverse order appearance on the ballot. Essentially, Adam Stein reviewed his service before the bar, his work on the Mel Watt and Daryl Hunt cases and laid out his career as per the first forum.

I apologize for cutting Judge Fox off during question on political parties influence: essentially he gave a reprise of his answer on parties and politics from the 1st forum.

Some interesting highlights.

  • Anderson on reforming the system for selecting judges – especially the perception of the public about what the effect of money has on jurisprudence.
  • Anderson on keeping current with the law.
  • Stein taking up the transition challenge with his closing statement.
  • Stein on why he’s punctual now – great story of his youth.
  • Fox on managing high profile cases.
  • Baddour on how a short term can hurt our system of justice.
  • Baddour on direct outreach and keeping the “common Joe” in the picture.

Again, I apologize to the candidates for weaving around, botching the focus, not anticipating “dancing Doyle” and, in Mr. Stein’s case, completely zapping a segment. I’m working to get better at this vLog business.

And to my readership, thanks for the feedback. I wasn’t sure if these videos would have any utility.

Opening statements. I botched Mr. Stein’s statement. Later this week I hope to retrieve a video copy from the cable telecast.

youTube link to opening statements.

youTube link to video on judicial temperament.

youTube link to video on staying current with the law, the legal profession and trends thereof….

Via Ed Cone, the consultant’s report (RMA) I posted on earlier is in the wild. An anonymously redacted and posted version is available on Greensboro101.

Guarino has a nice precis of the report – says that the report is “remarkable because of its relatively narrow scope”.

Now, the big question, at least for blogactivists: will Greensboro101 need the services of the Electronic Frontier Foundation?

Even the forward looking journalists at this weekend’s ConvergeSouth could learn a trick or two from our local university’s Daily Tar Heel.

What a great mashup of raw data on drinking violations and mapping technology to simply demonstrate an evolution of a problem.

Well done Tar Heel.

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