Thursday, September 24, 2015

F Street Community Center

My wife and I just saw a commercial on TV this morning for a long-standing Lincoln electronics and appliance business, Schaefer's. They're having an anniversary event, and some photos of past store locations flashed across the screen. Tonja was trying to recollect where the business was originally located. I knew that immediately. It was on the corner of 13th and F Street, where the heavily-modified space still retains some of it's design features, and is now incorporated into Lincoln's F Street Community Center.

Specifically, the old Schaefer's occupied the space on the southwest corner of 13th and F, which would be the northeast corner of today's Community Center building. Interestingly, a little further to the west, an historic Fire Station is also incorporated into the building. The fire station pre-dates Schaefer's by a couple decades, and my guess is that the commercial building on the corner was built to reflect the design of it's neighbor down the block to the west.

There's a nice little Lincoln Police Department substation in the southeast corning of the Community Center, which gets a lot of use. That's why you'll often see police patrol cars in the curb cut on 13th Street.

Friday, September 18, 2015

A walk in the dark

Last month, one of our city council members, Leirion Gaylor Baird, emailed me. One of her constituents had been hosting an event at a hotel in Lincoln's dynamic Haymarket area, and got involved in a discussion of one of the workers, a young woman. As they were chatting, she told him that she liked her job at the hotel, but was a little concerned because she had to walk quite a distance to her car at night, after her shift ended.

This citizen thought that perhaps a couple people he knew on the city council could come up with an idea that could help in this situation. Interestingly, I had heard the same concern voiced by two other employees of restaurants. Tonja and I are habitual eaters-of-appetizers-at-the-bar types, and tend to strike up conversations with our servers. Parking is a significant expense for downtown workers, and many restaurant employees have to snag their spot quite a distance away, to find an affordable option.

I didn't have any great ideas for the council member, other than to opine that it might be worthwhile for some businesses to offer a buddy system, allowing another employee to spend 15 minutes on the clock in order to accompany a lone employee going off duty after dark to a remote parking spot.

A couple of days ago, though, I spotted Companion, a smartphone application with exactly this problem in mind. Someone mentioned it on Twitter, and remarked how much her college-student daughter appreciated the app. Companion seems to be targeted towards college students, but the concept would work equally well for a shift-worker facing a jaunt of several blocks during the hours when a sense of discomfort may be present.

I have no personal experience with Companion, and I'm sure there are other apps with a similar function. In fact, one that I use everyday, Glympse, could be used for this purpose. I generally send a Glympse to Tonja when I'm heading home, and occasionally to someone I'm meeting when I am running late. I've even used Glympse to provide the family with an update on my travels when I am out of town. There are several things I especially like about Glympse.

Here's something men virtually never consider when searching for a parking spot: how safe will I feel when I come back to the car? We think about how close is it, how expensive in it, but I don't think men are ever thinking about their personal safety when they come back to the car after the game, the movie, or the class. A man would rarely pass up an otherwise prime parking spot because there isn't a streetlight nearby, or there's a sketchy alley to traverse. Yet, I think these are factors that women consider reflexively.

Juice up your battery, pick an app, and you needn't be entirely alone as you head home.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Impulse purchase pans out

In technology terms, 2010 was a long time ago. Back then, I was an early adopter of the original Apple iPad, and quickly found that it was a useful device at work. I admit it: I have a problem with gadgets. My smartphone habit goes way back to the Palm OS, and my handheld organizers even earlier. I had made up my mind, though, that there was no way I was buying an Apple Watch. And then....

A couple Sundays ago, I accompanied my lovely wife and daughter to the mall in Omaha. Ugh. There's nothing for a man there, and only a couple options that won't cause downright pain. I debated, then zigged left to the Apple Store, rather than zagging right to Scheel's. I found myself ogling Apple Watches instead of bicycle accessories and fly rods. 

I suppose I was ripe for the picking. I've always been a watch-wearer, and the Apple Watch proved to be less bulky in person than it looked in photos. The friendly associate said, "You should try it on." I swallowed hook, line, and sinker. A few minutes later I stumbled out the door, dazed, carrying a little white bag. They just make it too doggone easy. 

After a couple of weeks, I actually like my impulse purchase. It's great to get notifications on my Apple Watch of incoming text messages and emails. I don't have to dig for my iPhone. I can discretely glance at my watch during meetings without disrupting things. At home, my iPhone can stay on counter or plugged into the charger,  but I can still get check my emails and messages while puttering in the garage or out on the deck, or just kicked-back across the room.

I've only answered one phone call on my Apple Watch. It worked fine on both ends of the call, although I was alone in a quiet room at the time. I was hoping no one would walk by and see me channelling Dick Tracy. (How badly does this reference date me?)

The Apple Watch experience has me thinking about more sophisticated public safety applications for wearable technology. At one time, I thought Google Glass might be a breakthrough in this regard. Now, I think the smartwatch has good potential for doing things like delivering the patient's vital signs to the paramedic's wrist; or the tornado warning, the wanted bulletin, and the critical incident alert. I can see the potential of location-based information like that served up from P3i,  delivered to the user on a wearable device.

It's not just a pipe dream. I already have an application that sends notifications to me about certain types of major incidents. I get the alerts to my iPhone and now on my Apple Watch, too. It tickles my wrist to let me know of an emergency response like this one on Wednesday, and it usually does so several seconds before the 911 center has even been able to say the words on the radio necessary to dispatch the responders to the incident. You'll be hearing more about this on my blog and in the local news in coming weeks.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Another brutal day looms

Tomorrow is the University of Nebraska Cornhusker's home opener against Brigham Young University at Memorial Stadium here in Lincoln. The weather forecast calls for highs in the mid-90s, humidity around 50%, and a dew point of around 70 degrees. Kickoff is at 2:30 PM, the heat of the day. That, friends, is about as bad as it gets. The temperature inside the stadium will be even worse.

The police officers directing traffic will be soaking up the heat from black asphalt. Having done that for 13 consecutive seasons, I can assure you that they will not be having a pleasant game-day experience. I remember the soles of my shoes one year, literally melting into the pavement. It's worse now. Body armor and traffic vests weren't around in 1974, and the stadium capacity was far smaller.

Lincoln's firefighters will be swamped with hundreds of patients who are overheated, dehydrated, and ill. Some of them will be suffering the combined effects of the heat and too much pre-loading. There will be vomit, lots of vomit. Among the unwell throngs will be a few people with really serious medical issues that need the expert attention of our EMTs and paramedics followed by transport to the hospital.

The public safety personnel who plan and manage our part of the festivities have done all the preparation reasonably possible, but a repeat of 2013 is almost certain, and by 6:00 PM, there will be a lot of exhausted police officers and firefighters. Oh, and most will be looking forward to a regular shift afterwards, and it won't exactly be a quiet Saturday night.

If you're at the game or in the neighborhood, be nice to them. Thank them for their service. Have a look at this list and this list on Sunday morning, and you'll understand that it was a tough day for the public safety personnel.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dispatchers in training

I spent the afternoon yesterday with a group of eight new dispatchers who are going through the classroom portion of their training. My topic was similar to one I've done for years with police officers in training: how to use the department's information resources effectively.

We barely scratched the surface in four hours, but I hope it was a good introduction that encourages the trainees to continue to explore and learn independently. I was impressed by the group. Working in a public safety answering point (what most people would call a 911 center) is a challenging job. It's one of the few jobs in City government where you are locked to a position, and can't get up for a change of scenery now and then. The shift work, odd days off, and overtime requirements can be difficult. You handle a lot of calls that could be frustrating or even disturbing.

But on the other hand, dispatchers are the front-end of the public safety team, and the job has the incredible rewards inherent in being part of that team: truly making a difference in the safety and wellbeing of the community. Lots of people are going to jobs today that are boring and unrewarding. You never have to worry about that as a dispatcher. You have an opportunity every day to help others and to make a difference. Your days are filled with variety, sometimes dramatic events, but always opportunities to help others. I told the trainees that they will almost inevitably play a role in saving a life in the first few months of their careers, but the the small stuff is the key to feeling good about what you do.

A great example of this happened during the class. Somehow, a call got transferred to my cellphone, which normally buzzes only when there is something quite important that I must answer. The students listened in as I handled the call. It was a person with a rather small problem, who didn't know what to do. I listened carefully, and provided my best advice. Her issue had nothing to do with me, but just by treating her kindly and giving her a good referral, you could tell by her voice that she was feeling better about matters. It only took about 90 seconds.

Afterwards, I told the trainees that this tiny little interruption to my day actually made me feel good. Rather than being annoyed at a mis-directed blind transfer, I got to help someone through a minor bump in the road. If you can take away positive feelings from such things, you can do this work for decades and still enjoy it. The big events will come along as punctuation marks in your career, but the little ones happen every day, several times a day, and your approach to those is the difference between  becoming a jaded 25 year old cynic or a fulfilled 62 year old optimist looking forward to the next day.