Friday, May 22, 2009

Reading While Driving -- Bad Decision

Yesterday morning I had to sit a few minutes in traffic on Route 128 (Greater Boston area) near Waltham and again last evening on Route 3 South in the O'Neil Tunnel. On both occasions, I witnessed drivers reading while driving. Granted, traffic had things down to a crawl, but their attention was supposed to be on the road and not on the newspaper and book in front of them.

I have seen this many times before. People seem to think that reading while "waiting" for the traffic jam to ease up is all right. It's not! I don't care that sitting in traffic wastes time. Reading while driving can kill people.

OK, here's my decision. I'll just read a paragraph or two and slowly ease up on the gas while the car in front of me moves slowly. ...oops, I misjudged. It's only a fender-bender, so it's ok. It's not! I'll say it again. Reading while driving can kill people. We no longer tolerate drinking while driving. It's time that we make reading while driving an "intolerable" activity.

It has gone from reading the directions or road map (guilty!) to reading books, newspapers, smartphones, etc. I see it and don't understand it; let's stop rationalizing bad decisions. I will change my bad behavior (and I have been). I see it and believe it should be stopped. They don't want us to use our cell phones while driving, but I'd rather see something like this reported, with a plate number, than nothing done at all.

Call me over-cautious, but too many people are taking too many risks with my life. My neighbor was sideswiped on the highway the other day by someone who wasn't paying attention and drifted into her lane. Gee, do you think the newspaper in his lap had something to do with it? He was lucky; she was lucky. It would have been a very different picture if he had to admit to her little daughter that he had been reading the newspaper and killed her mother. I wonder if that thought even runs through his mind.

Let's get real, folks. Think first. Every move we make is a decision. Let's start making concious decisions and get off of autopilot. Think first, act second. Put the book, newspaper, smartphone, etc. down and focus on your most important task at the moment -- driving safely to your destination.

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Have You Tried Ask Your LawMaker?

Last night, Melinda Wittstock, Burueau Chief/Executive Director of Capitol News Connection (CNC) was featured at the Ethos Roundtable. An award-winning broadcast and print journalist, Melinda's experience in New York, Washington, and London spans BBC Radio and TV News, ABC News, National Public Radio (NPR), MSNBC/CNBC, as well as London's Times, Guardian, and Observer newspapers.

Melinda touched on a number of Web 2.0 topics with the guests as she demonstrated Ask Your Lawmaker and its widgit*. Ask Your Lawmaker provides ordinary people, like you and me, the opportunity to raise questions to our nation's lawmakers. The site's viewers vote on which questions they'd like to see answered; those with the highest votes get asked by
CNC staff with the answers posted to the website.

The site includes podcasts, a blog, a widigit, and the Ask Your Question opportunity. There's a daily 2-minute Power Breakfast Podcast, which gives you a preview of what CNC expects to be covering during the day -- a preview of the day's news coverage!

While the website is being further developed, to improve functionality and smooth out the interaction between you and the site, it's fully functional and deserves your attention. If there's a question you've wanted asked on Capitol Hill, a burning issue you believe is being neglected, or maybe you want to find out if you're the only one who thinks they way you do about a particular national topic or trend, then pose your question and see what develops.

Capitol News Connection is owned by the nonprofit multimedia organization
Pundit Productions, Inc. CNC provides nonpartisan news reporting and operates the Ask Your Lawmaker website.

*widgit = a web-based applet that provides ongoing content or permits user interaction; the Ask Your Lawmaker widgit permits anyone to run its feed on their website

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Overreaction Again and Again

I'm not surprised at the MBTA's newest regulation that T drivers cannot even carry a cell phone while on the job. I'm also not surprised that there is talk about increasing the age level at which someone can become a T driver. ...Not surprised, but disappointed that once again people are responding to the wrong thing.

The T already has a policy in place that T drivers cannot use their cell phones while driving (the policy may go beyond drivers and driving, but I would need to go back and look that up...not really necessary for my point). So why enact a new policy when they do not effectively enforce the existing policy? Why punish everyone for the improper actions of the few? Why? ...So they can look like they're doing something and gain support from the public. Strike while iron is hot!

We have too many policies, laws, regulations, etc., that have been implemented because a lesser one has been ineffectively managed. While I am just as angry as others over the accident that led to this new policy, I don't agree with the new policy. Yes, get angry over T driver cell phone use while driving, but don't use it as an excuse to create a new policy that punishes everyone and will be almost impossible to monitor. Create a policy that makes sense. Reinforce the existing "no use"policy by making cell phone use an immediate termination offense. Get T riders involved in monitoring and reporting infractions.

People need to learn that they don't have to answer the phone just because it rings. They need to know (and I guess be told) not to text while driving. But I don't believe they should be prevented from having the phone on them. Cell phones are integrated into our lives and people need to be responsible with them.

Policies should not be implemented on the basis of something arbitrary and reactionary. That's why I also question too quick a judgment on increasing the age level of T drivers. How many drivers at the T are already in the age range that would be cut out? What are the statistics of accidents, based on age (high and low age)? What are the ages of drivers involved in similar accidents all over the country? Instead of a knee-jerk reaction to this situation, the T needs to review all the data. One immature driver does not mean that all drivers in that age range are immature.

The bottom line for me is that the people who would violate a "no cell phone use while driving the train or bus" policy will be the same ones who will violate the "don't carry a cell phone..." policy. Who suffers -- the rest of the drivers! The responsible people who can ignore the ringing phone (hey, put it on silent or shut it off) or who can wait until they're off the train or bus before making a call or texting should not be punished.

What do you think?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Text: Obama’s Remarks on Training for the Unemployed

I read the text of President Obama's remarks made today (Friday, 5/08/09) and thought of the many unemployed folks I have seen applying for health insurance and other benefits in the last 6 months. Pres. Obama seems to get it. We cannot continue to put bandages on systemic problems. We need comprehensive solutions to complex problems. And what he proposes is only the start of addressing some of our problems.

I won't get into the nuts of bolts of what I think. I want to hear what you think! Maybe we can have a conversation that looks at the President's plan from several perspectives.

I will tell you that we need more than retraining workers; we also need to retrain hiring managers so the waaay too many unemployed older workers can also go back to work and earn a living wage.

Talk back! Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Filling My Plate

I was at a forum Monday morning where the speaker was talking about being invited to collaborate with a group that wanted his skills and input. He felt his plate was full and he couldn't engage in anything else. He was told to put the plate down and get a platter.

Sometimes I feel as if my plate is full. I'm engaged in a lot of different projects, but I know that if I did the same thing every day, I'd be bored silly and start looking for other things to do. But sometimes I do have to say "no" to more projects and just can't get a bigger platter than I already have. What to do then?

Almost always, I can find someone else I can refer the "asker" to so they can move forward. And I know that I can always go back when my plate is less full and re-engage with the person or project myself. Sometimes I'll join a meeting to get and give some perspective and advice without committing myself to a long-term venture.

Another tactic is to learn how to do more through efficiency. I coordinate a free tax preparation program for low-income residents. We use a "message only" phone line for people to call and schedule appointments. Best part of that? It's online! I never hear a phone ring, but get email messages with every phone call. The .wav file is great because I can email to the volunteer doing Intakes/Appointments and keep a copy for quality control.

This year, we had several people doing calls, so we added a spreadsheet to Google Docs with all the calls listed and shared it with several volunteers. This avoided duplicate calls being made and I didn't have to keep printing out sheets and then adding notes to a master document.

Filling My Plate is something I am always doing. But I try to bring others along with me, get them engaged, and spread the load among the many by helping them all be efficient and resourceful.

How's your plate?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

NonProfit Conversation

So many of my friends are in the non-profit world, this blog, NonProfit Conversation, hosted by Bunnie Reidel is a good resource...

Reading the articles made me reflect on my own volunteer management experiences. I've been in volunteer management for more than 20 years; and I've been a volunteer much longer than that. When you find a good resource, you hang onto it. Web 2.0 makes it so much easier to hang onto those valuable resources but what's even better is that they're typically updated frequently so the resources are more relevant than old handouts and paper-based information.

If you're not making use of Web 2.0 tools, maybe you should take a closer look and see if you're missing out on some time-saving efficiency tools that would make your professional life a bit more manageable! do your best, you have to be at your best...

Appreciation and Looking Forward

Yesterday I hosted a brief celebration for a group of 10 volunteers who gave up evenings and Saturdays for several months to prepare tax returns for low-income residents in our community.

This is a huge commitment by people that is replicated all over the country each year, from January - April. It's actually even longer than that, as many of them spend some time in December getting trained in tax law and the software used by IRS VITA Sites like ours. VITA stands for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and the IRS provides training, support materials, and support throughout the tax preparation process. It's a great collaboration that brings more money (in refunds) to low-income taxpayers and means they don't have to spend money to get their returns prepared properly.

This is our 3rd year as a VITA Site and in the past 2 years, we've really gelled as a site and the volunteers very quickly bonded and worked as a team. Without these dedicated, talented folks, we could not provide this service.

So, even as I thank them, I am looking forward to expansion. Last year, our site remained open through October 15 so we could help people file for the Economic Stimulus Payment. This year, we will remain open through October 15 so we can accommodate late filers and people who have past returns to file. We also plan to run Saturday workshops and seminars on tax topics. Again, tough to do without our dedicated volunteers.

I tip my hat to all the volunteers out there who give up their family and leisure time to help their community. These unsung heroes are the heartbeat of so many programs that could not provide great service without them.