Technology Matters

Technology Definitely Matters To Me!

Drop-down Menus

29th September 2009

I wanted a very simply drop-down menu structure for the Montpelier website. There were lots of javascript / css / jquery widgets out there, but there had to be a much simpler process for what I wanted to do. I found it on a blog post from 2003! A few minor tweeks and I had a drop-down menu that works very nicely. Debugging would have been very difficult if not for Firebug, though.

I found another website that had a slew of menu widgets using CSS, but each required a donation in order to use the widget. I’m sure the guy does good work, but the tone and tenor of the website turned me off.

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Montpelier Website

28th September 2009

I’ve had a couple of meetings with the Mayor and some other folks in Montpelier about the city website. The site is up and running with some content on it. They’re coming to a consensus on what should be on the city’s website and I’ll be working on that for the next couple of weeks.

Some of the items will be interesting. The city would like a comprehensive calendar so that people scheduling things can look to see what they might be conflicting with. How to do that isn’t completely clear, but it looks like applying Google Calendar to the mix will be a good start. The ability to share calendar information amongst various calendars is very important.

The first calendar we’ll work on will be an internal calendar to track who has reserved one of the city parks for some event, like a reunion or a birthday party. Should this be one calendar? That’d be helpful, I think, but somehow we’ll need to quickly distinguish reservations for various parks from each other. I think it’s possible to color code them, but that’ll have to be done manually and will be subject to mistakes. Time to play some more with Google Calendar.

Posted in Web Work | No Comments »

Resurrection Time!

28th September 2009

It’s time to resurrect this blog. It’ll continue to lurch back and forth for a while, though.

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Pocatello School District 25 Supplemental Levy Defeated

12th February 2009

The property owners in Pocatello dealt a death blow to our public school system on Tuesday, February 10, 2009 by defeating the supplemental levy. This levy expires every two years and has been voted up every two years for many, many years until this vote. The levy provides about 10% of the school district’s expenses. Losing that money by itself is very problematic. Coupled with the significant cutbacks in state funding, the defeat of the levy will put the schools into an impossible situation. They will not be able provide the government mandated education. They also won’t be able to provide the services that the community thinks they should be providing.

A goodly part of the blame for the failure lies with the school administration who didn’t take this issue seriously enough to do what was needed to sell the supplemental levy to the taxpayers. A share of the blame resides with one bull-headed (and very stupid) local wannabe politician who campaigned against the levy as way to show how fiscally conservative he is so he can finally prevail in an election. He’s trying to push his own selfish agenda on the broken back of our school system, doing a tremendous disservice to our students. I suspect that the district will float another, smaller levy in hopes of salvaging something. However, the other politician, who I won’t name because I don’t want him to have any more publicity, will be even more emboldened.

Another part of the blame lays at the feet of our new President of Change. Some part of the “stimulus” package is supposed to go to schools. A lot has been made of that in the press including our local, and as usual, out-of-touch newspaper. Even if the money actually stays in the “stimulus” package, there’s no guarantee that any of it will get to our local school district. Further, if any of it does (there are too many sticking places along the way here), it will at best replace about 25% of what the levy generates.

I am very disappointed in the voters in our school district and sickened by the actions of a local wannabe politician. I will do everything I can to make sure he never, ever, gets elected to anything.

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More Entities Found

29th August 2008

I drove to Malad, Preston, Grace, and Soda Springs checking on what entities are there. It was a very interesting trip and I learned a lot of new things. For instance:

Library Districts. There seem to be two ways to fund libraries. One is for a city (in the legal definition) to include library funding in their budget. Most cities in SE Idaho don’t seem to do that, for some reason. The other method is to form a library district. It becomes a taxing entity able to levy property taxes. They are required to have elected officers, publish a budget, and hold budget hearings.

The Grace Library District has one library and was formed in 1940. They have a five-member board, each serving a five-year term. Each May one member is up for re-election as part of the primary election. They have a budget of about $48,000. They were holding a budget hearing this week. I asked if anyone from the public came in specifically for the hearing. “Never,” she replied.

Hopefully www.seidahovotes.com can help educate people about Library Districts, their officers, and how they are spending money.

Posted in Southeast Idaho Votes | No Comments »

Amazing Array Of Political Entities in Idaho

23rd August 2008

In order to actually get www.seidahovotes.com up and running, I decided to start posting public notices. I started with those that are published in the Idaho State Journal newspaper and then started to branch out to other entities. I’ve discovered there is an amazing array of legal entities in Idaho. Most of these have budgets that are subject to public hearings. Many also have elected officials and a process for becoming a candidate to an office.

I’ve come up with this list, so far, of these entities:

  • Federal Executive Branch. Included here are the President and the Vice President.
  • Federal Congressional Branch. Included are Senators and Members of Congress
  • State Executive Branch. This includes to governor’s office as well as elected state officials who report to the governor, such as Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Controller, State Treasurer, and Superintendent of Public Instruction.
  • State Legislative Branch. This group includes the state senators and representatives for each county.
  • State Judicial Branch. This is made up of the State Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the District Courts located in counties across the state, and the District Magistrate Judges also located in counties across the state.
  • Counties, which include the three commissioners, County Clerk, Assessor, Treasurer, Coroner, Sheriff, and Prosecuting Attorney.
  • Cities, which include the Mayor and the City Council
  • Library Districts, which don’t seem to cross county lines, but some counties may have more than one Library District.
  • Soil Conservation Districts. I haven’t seen any budget proposals for Soil Conservation Districts, but the commissioners are elected.
  • Rural Fire Departments. Cities have their own fire departments, but the rural, non-city areas have organized fire departments (usually volunteers) with budgets and officer elections.
  • Cemetery Districts. Like rural fire departments, cemetery districts are organized in areas outside of cities. They have budgets and may have officers who are elected.

There will probably be other entities as well as I dig deeper. The actual structure of a legal entity web page is beginning to take shape. The major sections right now will look something like this:

  • Entity information, including addresses, phone numbers, web sites, and email information as available.
  • Elected Officials, including the office, incumbent, address, phone, website, and email.
  • Upcoming events, taken from a calendar database. So far I’ve only put public hearing information into this database. Other event types are still to be defined, but probably need to include filing deadlines for candidates for office.
  • Upcoming elections, including the name of the election, each office being contested, and information about the office (when the term expires, length of the term, and any other qualifications as known), incumbent information, and lists of candidates along with links to their respective websites. One revenue source for this website will be to make electioneering websites available to candidates.
  • Legal and Public information. These will be the blog posts related to this particular entity.
  • Related entities. Not sure what all goes here, but it’ll contain links of some sort.

So, today we’ve got the public notices being published for some entities along with a public hearing calendar. More to come, hopefully more quickly now that I’m actually publishing on www.seidahovotes.com.

Posted in Southeast Idaho Votes | 1 Comment »

Vacation Working

23rd June 2008

The programming on Southeastern Idaho Votes is progressing, although quite slowly. We’re in northwestern Montana vacationing with family. While there’s no cell phone coverage here, we do happen to be in a place with high-speed internet. I’m getting about an hour a day of uninterrupted time to work on the programming.

Meanwhile, the Garmin Street Pilot GPS continues to frustrate me. I bought an external antenna to use in the motor home which allows the GPS to get reasonable satellite signals. However, there is no zoom setting that consistently shows the names of streets! In this rural area, the roads are far apart, but the GPS doesn’t display the name of the road … just shows a nameless road going off to the right or to the left. If I zoom out far enough for the GPS to display city/town names, then what few road names it displays disappear completely. I think I’m going to also build a GPS comparison site as an excuse to buy some different GPS units and try them out.

Posted in General | No Comments »

A Garmin GPS Reprise … And Dash Express GPS

18th June 2008

I’m sitting in a mall parking lot waiting in the car … and there’s an unprotected wifi access point somewhere in the vicinity. I’ve no idea if it’s illegal to be using this access point or not, but I am appreciating that someone has set up an open access point!

A while ago I wrote a post about Garmin GPS’s and the horrid customer service experience. I was unhappy with the device (particularly the inaccuracies) as well as the very poor customer service. Apparently, I’m not alone in this experience. Several others have commented about their poor service from Garmin.

The other day I saw a car commercial for a new vehicle that appeared to be targetting young marrieds who wanted a small (but efficient) SUV-like experience. One of the features being touted was a built-in Garmin GPS. That alone would dissuade me from buying the car! There would have to be another option before I would even be interested. I did send the automobile manufacturer an email expressing my disappointment with Garmin and that many others had similar opinions … which possibly could detrimentally affect car sales. Will it make a difference? One could hope….

Dash Express GPSMeanwhile, the Dash Express GPS has opened up a whole new world of mobile connectivity. Features include real time traffic information, Google maps, over-the-air updates, gprs and wifi connectivity, and that it can twitter my location. While it’s not the perfect solution, it sure seems to be better than what I’ve got now. I gotta get one of these!

Posted in Technology In General | 2 Comments »

Building the Database and Writing Code

13th June 2008

The first few tables necessary to be able to describe a political entity, the elected offices associated with the entity, and the incumbents in those offices are nearly complete. The database sketch I made several days ago is holding up reasonably well as I’ve been entering the data for Bannock County. The programming to be able to maintain the tables is almost complete, but working well enough for being able to enter the information on 52 elected offices and the incumbents.

Geek Stuff:

The database will be MySql and the programming is in PHP.

The Entities table contains the information about a specific political entity. Entities owns offices which are described in the Offices table. One of the data fields in the Offices table points to the incumbent information in the People table. The People table has information about a particular person holding an office. Some offices have several regional offices. For instance, each Idaho State Senator and Representative have regional offices in major cities in their district. Consequently, I built a People_off table to contain the information on each of the regional offices.

Normal Stuff:

Another decision was how to represent mailing addresses. I decided that the field for the mailing address would have the complete information including the name of the person (along with any honorific), Title, Street, City, State, and Zip code. That way if someone looking at this information wished, they could simply copy that data from that field and paste it into a letter or onto an envelope.

I’ve got a couple of cleanups to do on the database sketch. When that’s done, I’ll scan it and upload it as a document associated with this blog.

Finally, I’ve change the theme of the blog somewhat. There’s still more work to do (such as get a real logo), but I like the look and feel better than what I had before.

I’ve deployed WordPress and the generic theme to http://www.seidahovotes.com/ along with some explanation in a brief post. I’m negotiating with a graphic artist for a price to build the seidahovotes logo and banner. When that’s done, the new theme will be deployed and the website look will be completed.

Posted in General, Southeast Idaho Votes | No Comments »

Data Design By Example

7th June 2008

A few weeks ago I sketched out what I thought the data table design should be for seidahovotes. The design was at a pretty high level based around what kinds of things I wanted the website to be able to do:

  1. Show for a particular jurisdiction or entity (such as a city or a county or a school district) all of the elected offices, the current incumbent, and what the term of office is.
  2. Show for a particular jurisdiction upcoming elections and the offices and issues that will be contested along with the candidates for office.
  3. For an upcoming election, show information about the candidates and issues and allow public comment on the candidates and issues.
  4. Provide a candidate for office who doesn’t have a web presence the ability to have a rich web page on this site.
  5. Show the results of past elections.

With those objectives in mind, I’m now on the third iteration of the database … which currently exists on paper and in my Macbook development environment. After version two was sketched out, I decided to assemble all of the data for one political jurisdiction to satisfy objective #1 above.

I settled on the City of Pocatello as the initial entity to gather the data about. That has been a very interesting task and gathering all of the data has proven to be difficult.

The City of Pocatello has seven elected offices: the mayor and six council members. Names and addresses were easily obtained from the city’s website. However, what is their term of office? No online information available. That’ll require either a visit to City Hall or a phone call.

Pocatello is part of Bannock County which has nine elected officials (specified by the Constitution of the State of Idaho, I’ve learned). The County website has names, addresses, and contact information for these people, but again term of office is not available online. Further, the County Commissioners, again by constitutional decree, serve alternating four-year and two-year terms of office. I need to find out who is in which term length and what the ongoing rotation schedule is.

Pocatello is part of the State of Idaho Legislative District 30 with one senator and two representatives. The State of Idaho website provides their name, address, and contact information (scattered in several places). The constitution describes their term of office. That information is now pretty much complete.

Pocatello is part of the State of Idaho Judicial District Six with four District Judges and Five Magistrate Judges. These judges are appointed and stand for re-election after they have served for a period of time.

Pocatello is also part of the State of Idaho with a governor and six other elected officials.

Pocatello is also part of the Federal House of Representative District 2 with a representative in Congress.

The State of Idaho has two Senators, both of whom represent Pocatello and have regional offices in Pocatello.

Finally, there’s the President and Vice President of the United States.

I still have a little bit of data to accumulate, but what I have for the City of Pocatello currently requires fifteen pages to print out (pdf available here)!

My goal is to cover seven counties and all their cities and school districts in southeastern Idaho. I’m beginning to realize this is a big task. Most of the entities do not have much, if any, information online.

Gathering the data for Pocatello has caused me to revise the database and I’m now working on version 3. I’ve decided that I probably need to gather all of the data for another political entity, one that doesn’t have an online presence, as verification that the design will work. Some questions still I need to answer include:

  1. What is the definitive list of political jurisdictions? For instance, what cities are in the region? There’s a place in Caribou County called Niter. I think it used to be a city, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t anymore.
  2. The elected offices in a county are established by the Idaho constitution. Where is the definition of the elected offices that a city may have?
  3. I haven’t even begun looking at school districts. What is the political hierarchy for school districts? Do they all report directly to the State Department of Education?

There’s still a lot of data gathering to be done before I can finalize the database design to satisfy objective #1. Then maybe I can start on objective #2.

This is fun!

Posted in General, Southeast Idaho Votes | 1 Comment »

 
class="vcard">Scott Allan Wallick. It's nice XHTML & CSS.