A Fire Drill and Voter Registration

I avoid politics here, a discussion best done in other places, but hope you’ll enjoy some thoughts about a recent Saturday that involved voter registration.

Last Saturday I went to the library, part of a leisurely weekend afternoon. It’s nice to browse for an hour and grab a stack of books, to have plenty of stuff to read for the next few weeks. I would say that it’s never been eventful – not the place for excitement after all, though they are repainting, which I think might be the first time in 20 years or so.

On the way in I saw a voter registration table set up. I just glanced at it to see if it seemed ok. Typically the library does well at making sure only valid groups are set up at the door. Someone asked me very politely if I was registered to vote, I said I was, and I walked on inside. I was thinking about it on the short trip up the stairs, not a bad way to spend a Saturday helping people register to vote.

I was almost ready to go when the fire alarm went off. I think everyone looked up, then looked down, thinking it was one of those 10 second false alarms where it gets quickly reset. It continued though,and probably 30 seconds into it library staff started herding everyone out. I was pleased to see someone from staff blocking the elevator and pointing people to the stairs (its on the second floor),someone else checking the bathroom, and as we continued on out front I saw more staff managing things quite well.

Out front everyone was clustered outside the door, then they asked us to move across into the grass to make room for the pending arrival of the fire truck. It was probably about 5 minutes total until the truck arrived. No hoses being unrolled, just a few of them going inside to check things out (I’ll admit to wondering how they do that – looking for smoke and obvious flames?).

So I’m standing there leaning on the book drop box, just watching, enjoying the sun, when a minor argument erupts off to my right. One of the volunteers from voter registration, someone visiting the library, and someone volunteering at the library are arguing about whether voter registration is non-partisan. The voter registration volunteer is explaining, somewhat loudly, that it is a non-partisan effort, but if the others want to know she’ll share her personal political preference. For a minute it seemed like it would escalate into mild combat and I keep watching, debating the appropriate strategy for intervening if it comes to that, hoping that they will all walk in different directions and let me return to more important matters – watching the fire department! Somehow they manage to reach a point where they are not entirely satisfied but realize that’s all there is. Shortly after that the fire department waves us back in, and life is back to normal.

Afterward I was curious about the “non-partisan” part and did a little reading, turns out Florida allows voters to drop off registration forms at quite a few locations, one of which includes any public library. Florida law also allows for something called third party voter registration – groups have to register and follow a bunch of rules, but there is definitely quite a bit of debate about what the rules are and should be. Most of the groups currently registered at with one party or another, which isn’t unexpected, but how do you get to non-partisan? I’m assuming (and expecting) that it means applying zero pressure about which box to check for their choice of political party. The group I saw seemed to be treating everyone respectfully and trying to do good, so I’ll call that a win, as much as I’m not sure having people fill out the form right there is a good plan.

SQLRally 2012 Eval Scores

I was just browsing the results of the presentations at SQLRally 2012. I ended up with a evaluation average of 1.13 (on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being good) for the one I did on professional development. To put that in perspective the highest rating for a session was 1.02 and the lowest was 2.00 across 67 or so sessions, with an average of 1.19. That puts me in the middle of the pack, good consistent delivery. All the comments for my presentation were positive, which is good, though it’s always nice to get a tip or two on how to do better.

Here is a graph of all the scores:


I think the right side of the curve looks worse than it is. I went to one of the sessions in that range and it was a good presentation, nothing that would merit any concern about the session or the speaker. That said, it would be interesting to see the comments for those and contrast what was so different from the top 10%.

There were more than 2900 eval responses across all sessions plus the two days of seminars –that is great participation!

Back From Vacation

As you may surmise from my previous post I’m back from vacation. I was as unplugged as I’ve been in a couple years, I think I answered one email and looked at my inbox maybe twice. My home inbox is still backlogged, at work I returned to 200 or so new messages, about half of which I went through in a couple hours, and still working through the rest.

Email is expected, not a big deal. Harder is gearing up again for the pace and the focus required to make things go that involve people. It’s going from no-stress to some level of stress and then trying to adapt to it again. For me that’s the hard part of returning and so far no magic formula for making it easier or faster. Doesn’t mean the vacation wasn’t worth it!

Vacation Notes

I wrote this over the course of 10 days, so it’s a bit rambling, but maybe you’ll find a good bit or two anyway!

We flew into Dulles to start our vacation. It’s a long but easy cab ride in to DC, about $70 by cab. It was a combination of picking a flight that matched what we wanted for departure time and wanting to compare it with Reagan (on our flight back). Dulles seems nice/modern, easy to get out of at least.

We picked the Embassy Suites by the convention center (10th & K) because with two kids we needed a suite and the location seemed good, only a couple blocks from the Metro Center metro station and quick access to the Mall. We elected to go car-less for this trip, an easy decision to make with parking costing $35 day per day at the hotel. Anything under $50 or $60 a day in taxi/metro costs is a win, and that doesn’t count the hassle of finding a parking place (not easy) or the fee for parking.

The Metro is interesting. They move a lot of people quickly, the stations are clean if utilitarian, and it seems like you can get close to most places in the DC area. The ticketing system is a vending machine, you can buy paper tickets with a small magnetic strip or a credit card like smart card. We just did the paper tickets, you can load with whatever value you think you’ll use via a credit card or cash (don’t expect to use a $20 to buy $2 in fare – it won’t give you that much change,makes you put it on the card.

The ticket buying system lets you buy multiple cards at once,nice for families, because everyone has to have their own ticket. Ticket in hand you slide it into the gate, then it pops up in a different place, when you remove it the gate opens. Then off to to find the right subway line, with trains every few minutes. I think the most we waited was 15 minutes.

Once you arrive you slide the card in again and repeat, provided you have enough money on the card. If you don’t, then you find the exit fee machine, slide the card in, add money. Works well enough until you add me. Gate rejected our tickets. I go over to the machine it says .35. Don’t understand, I put $1.85 on for the trip? I go ask, turns out there is an additional .35 charge during rush hour. Aha. Does it make sense to have a dis-incentive to use mass transit during peak times? Read it again later, you get a discount for traveling at non-peak. All in the point of view!

Some notes on places we toured:

  • Air & Space Museum. Seeing the Wright flyer is just awesome.
  • National Building Museum. Huge space, decent exhibits, though not the depth of the Smithsonian museums.  One exhibit had a great video “Welcome Home” that shows different families in their homes – very well done, just music, no narration. I couldn’t find the full video, but you can see part here and one about making the video that had a wider cross section here. More on that in a future post.
  • Museum of American History. Star Spangled Banner was worth the trip! Bought a coffee cup too.
  • National Portrait Gallery. Lots of good stuff, but the one I remember most is a painting of Andrew Carnegie. Incredibly good and the artist isn’t known! Ever read about Carnegie libraries?
  • Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Interesting and worth seeing once, but not exciting.
  • Lafayette Square. Nice view, nice park, good place to just relax. Watching/listening to some of the protesters in front of the White House is mildly entertaining for about 5 minutes.
  • US Capitol. We had an intern from our representatives office take us on the tour. Very nice visitor center, got to sit in the gallery of the House. I’d like to come back some day to see Congress in session.
  • White House. Did the tour, wish we could have seen more. Got to see Bo the first dog running on the lawn. Also doing some kind of maintenance on the elm trees with tubes in the roots. Feeding? Disease treatment? Google has a terrific walk-through of the White House in super hi-def – try it and zoom in on the paintings to see brush strokes.
  • National Museum of the American Indian. Wasn’t on our original wish list of places to see, but once we saw the building we had to go. Great architecture, great grounds. Several different canoes on the main floor, one from birch bark, one from Hawaiian Koa – not a cheap canoe.
  • Museum of Natural History. I think we went four times to see various things, the favorite of the kids. Got to see a tarantula eat a cricket. They raise special crickets for them! As they explained it the tarantula bites to inject venom, then injects stomach acid in the same holes and rolls it around, turning it – in the words of the presenter – into a cricket smoothie!
  • Lincoln Memorial. Hard to think of a better day than taking your kids to see Lincoln.
  • Florida Embassy. Did you know Florida is the only state with an embassy in DC? Go read the story. Not hugely exciting to visit, but you do get free orange juice!
  • Newseum. All about news and journalism all over the world, though definitely a US/first amendment focus. I spent more than 2 hours wandering through and could easily stayed longer. It’s a very nicely done museum.

Plus a few more. We did a lot, didn’t get to do everything. Still plenty to see next time. My favorite? Lincoln. You know the text from the Memorial?

“In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.”

For meals we tried to pick non-chains, or at least chains we didn’t have in Orlando. Austin Grill was good, Hill Country was good BBQ, Capitol City Brewing was close to the hotel so we went twice (skip the appetizer, they bring great soft pretzels). Breakfast at the hotel was ok (better if you go early) and worth it to not have to find some place for breakfast every day.

It was interesting to see what interested the kids. Animals of any sort are a win (alive or not), anything interactive. Riding a bus, taxi, metro were a change from the car-centric world of Orlando and they enjoyed it, and great fun to watch my five year old flag down a taxi and then ask me for the money to pay the driver. Ducks in Constitution Gardens, squirrels in Lafayette Square were a hit.  Art is a harder sell.

It was also a chance for me to share with my children my love of country, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only parent there doing that. Lots of families there.

It was a good vacation.

On Break

I’m at Orlando International as I write this, about to fly to Parsippany for meetings today and tomorrow, then back home Friday afternoon. The meetings themselves will be useful if not exciting, the real value will be in building and renewing connections – they help get useful work done long past the meetings.

Saturday morning I’ll be back here at OIA, this time with my family, as we fly to DC for a 7 day vacation. I’ve only been to DC once before for a day, so I’m looking forward to the trip as much as my kids are, the chance to see the sites and sights and bask a bit in being an American. We won’t see it all, but we’ll see some, including the White House tour, where I’m sure I’ll have to explain to my daughter again that the President won’t be coming out to say hello!

Lots to write about when I return – more on SQLRally, book clubs,recharging,career decisions, non profits, and more.