Thursday, June 29

Guest Post by Tim Austin on Neighborhood Pools

(Ed. Note: Tim Austin has been a neighborhood leader for several years. He has volunteered many hours in support of the neighborhood pools, has organized work-parties to maintain the pools with volunteer labor and donated both hours and materials. Tim is a member of his Neighborhood Council. I asked him to write this post on the upcoming aquatics bond issue. Tim, thanks for the informative post. ---TSJ)

SPEAK UP GREAT FALLS or the POOLS end up like the Smoke Stack !!!

By Tim Austin,

If you and/or your family swim in the Neighborhood Pools (Jaycee Pool & Water Tower Pool), then pay attention to this web blog.

I attended a work session with the Commissioners & the Mayor the night they proposed the new Aquatics Bond Issue. I was shocked to read the Proposed Aquatics Bond presented by Patty Rearden from the City Park and Rec. Department. There were four (4) proposals presents and all of them had to do with the DEMOLITION of the Neighborhood Pools.

Visit: http://www.GreatFallsMontana.Info to keep updated on the FACTS not just the rumors. Take a look at the Proposal provided by the City Park and Rec. Department.

As leader, and a business owner, I feel it is my role to step up to the plate and be the voice for those who are afraid to take on the hard issues.

I have heard from a number of people who were shocked to here what was being proposed.

If you feel the Neighborhood pools could be an asset to our community then it is time to LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD.

Have everyone you know EMAIL, WRITE and/or CALL the Park & Rec. Department, but most importantly the Mayor, City Manager & Commissioners and let them know how you feel about the Park & Rec's Plan to DEMOLISH the Neighborhood pools. EMAIL or LETTERS are most effective because then you have a paper trail.

The Citizens of Great Falls need to start attending Neighborhood council meeting, Commission Work Sessions, and the Commission meetings.

Find out WHY the neighborhood pools have been under funded, and NOT maintained. Find out WHO is responsible for allowing the neighborhood pools to get in the condition they are in. The decision is NOT coming from the maintenance department at the City Park and Rec., it is coming from higher up.

Ask some very simple questions about what IS THE CITY OF GREAT FALLS doing to SAVE the neighborhood pools. I have included the email I sent every one of the commissioners and the Mayor.

It will take a lot of people's input to SAVE THE NEIGHBORHOOD POOLS.
I will begin a petition to save the neighborhood pools if one is needed.
Several people are chomping at the bit to sign them.

Please tell everyone to FILL OUT THE SURVEY that should be coming in the mail, probably with your water bill. It is vital for everyone to contact the commissioners to LET THEM KNOW YOU ARE SERIOUS about SAVING the Neighborhood Pools and your VOTES will prove it during the next election.

SWIM AT THE NEIGHBORHOOD POOLS (Jaycee Pool & Water Tower Pool)
– Bring your friends, family, and neighbors. If the numbers at the Neighborhood pools increase it will be difficult to justify their DESTRUCTION.

Please feel free to copy and paste this BLOG, send it to all your friends, neighbors or anyone who uses the neighborhood pools. Help SAVE the NEIGHBORHOOD POOLS (Water Tower & Jaycee Pools).

CALL, EMAIL and/or write letters the people listed below and let them know how you feel about the DEMOLITION of the Neighborhood pools.

City Clerk/Records Manager
Peggy Bourne
Phone: (406) 455-8451
Address: P.O. Box 5021, 59403
Located in Civic Center

Mayor Dona Stebbins
Phone: (406) 761-4108
Phone: (406) 455-8451
Fax: (406) 727-0005
Address: P.O. Box 5021
Great Falls, MT 59403

City Manager - John Lawton
Phone: (406) 455-8450
Address: P.O. Box 5021
Great Falls, MT 59403
Located in Civic Center

Commissioner Bill Beecher
Phone:(406) 453-8741 (work)
Phone:(406) 455-8451 (message)
Fax: (406) 727-0005
Address: P.O. Box 5021
Great Falls, MT 59403

Commissioner Sandy Hinz
Phone:(406) 761-0864 (home/message)
Address: P.O. Box 5021
Great Falls, MT 59403

Commissioner Diane Jovick-Kuntz
Phone:(406) 727-8929 (home)
Fax: (406) 727-0005
Address: P.O. Box 5021
Great Falls, MT 59403

Commissioner John Rosenbaum
Phone: (406) 771-0161 (home)
Phone: (406) 455-8451 (message)
Fax: (406) 727-0005
Address: P.O. Box 5021
Great Falls, MT 59403

Park & Recreation Deputy Director
Patty Rearden
Phone: (406) 771-1265
Address: P.O. Box 5021, 59403
1700 River Drive North
Great Falls, MT 59403

Park Maintenance Supervisor,
Giles Salyer
Phone: (406) 771-1265
Address: P.O. Box 5021, 59403
1700 River Drive North
Great Falls, MT 59404

Park and Recreation Board
John Trovatten
Ruthann Knudson
Bryan Thies
Doug Hickey
David Simmons
Wyman Taylor
Leslie Postlethwait

Neighborhood Council Coordinator
Patricia Cadwell
Community Development
Phone: (406) 455-8496
P.O. Box 5021
Great Falls, MT 59403

Jaycee POOL - District#3
Water Tower POOL - District#9

Here are some of the FACTS that you can discuss with the commission:

Let's begin with the FY 2004 budget. The City Manager and the commission have told us the general funds contributed $348,816 to fund swimming pools, however the TRUTH is both Neighborhood pools combined only received $36,284.

In FY 2005 the general fund contributed $330,960 to fund swimming pools. When talking about the Neighborhood pools the TRUTH is in FY 2005 the general fund contributed only $45,410 to both Neighborhood Pools combined.

In FY 2006 the contribution was increased to $538,200 to fund swimming pools. The TRUTH is the contribution to both Neighborhood pools combined was increased to $50,090.

I have not seen the FY 2007 budget, so I can not comment on it. If the funding is NOT going to the Neighborhood Pools, where did the rest of the swimming pool budget go???

How MUCH money is being contributed each year to the WAVE RIDER?
The Question has been asked, and the answer will be posted on www.GreatFallsMontana.Info when it is received.

Is the money listed as Mitchell Pool funding actually going to pay for the WAVE RIDER (White Water Elephant as the bloggers refer to it)?

If the answer is "YES", list the breakdown between what is being spent on Mitchell Pool and what is being spent on the WAVE RIDER?

Mr. Lawton has asked me to come up with some Solutions and/or Ideas to help SAVE the NEIGHBORHOOD POOLS.


1. Put together a commission of local businessmen/women who are willing to raise funds to purchase FREE PASSES that can be used for swimming at the Neighborhood Pools (Jaycee & Water Tower Pool) for the under privileged children in our community.

2. Promote (Advertise) and Allow local businessmen/women to sponsor FREE SWIMMING in the evenings at the local neighborhood pools.

3. Work with the Police Advisory Board & Police Department, Weed & Seed and various other organization allowing them to purchase FREE PASSES that can be used for swimming at the Neighborhood Pools (Jaycee & Water Tower Pool) for the under privileged children in our community. This would not only increase numbers at the Neighborhood pools it would help to build a relationship between the youth and our Police Department.

4. Begin evening swimming lessons (life skills) for children and adults and charge a fee, awarding scholarships to underprivileged children.

5. Promoted GET FIT Great Falls and promote evening or lunch time lap swimming.

6. Extend the fence around the Neighborhood pools so people can lay in the grass, and add a spray park on the outside of the pools. If spray parks were added to the outside of all the pools it may attract entire families that would want to spend the entire day at the pool. The children could play for free in the spray parks while the older children could suntan and swim in the neighborhood pools. It could be a win/win situation for everyone.

These are just a few ideas that I believe the City Manager and the commission should look into.

I have a heart and a soul for the citizens and the City of Great Falls, Montana.
Born and raised in Great Falls, Montana I felt is was my duty to help promote local businesses, and the City of Great Falls as a volunteer. After seeing the shape of the parks and the pool in the Riverview, Valley View District#3, I decided to run for neighborhood council. I was elected by the citizens of Great Falls, and have been asked by several citizens to take on the issue of SAVING the Neighborhood pools. As I have always enjoyed the neighborhood pools, I gladly accepted the challenge.

I am NOT writing this post as a Neighborhood Council Member, but as a Concerned Citizen, Voter and Tax payer of Great Falls, Montana.

It is time for the City Park and Rec. Department and the City of Great Falls to begin placing their focus on some major Capital improvements that will benefit the Citizens of Great Falls, and NOT just the tourists. Put money into the Neighborhood pools, fix up the neighborhood parks and take pride in the many assets Great Falls has to offer. As new housing projects are developed the funds that are sent to the City of Great Falls to develop the parks in those areas should be earmarked and actually used as capital improvement funds for the parks and pools located around those building projects. As it currently stands the money is place into the general funds.

We all know what has been draining the general fund since it was created "the WAVE RIDER".

Check out the BEFORE and AFTER pictures of Jaycee Pool - located at It took my family and friends only a day to scrape down, sand, prime and place two (2) coats of paint at Jaycee Pool. The total cost to the tax payers of Great Falls was around $400.00 for the paint and the primer. Lumber Yard Supply Co. donated a ThermaTru Door to replace the delaminating wooden door leading to the pool. Our family could no longer drive by Jaycee pool and take pride in Great Falls when the pool looked like something you would see in the slums of New York City. Would you swim in a pool that was run down and looked filthy? -NO, and that is exactly what the people who stopped the maintenance and funding to the Neighborhood pools were hoping for.

It is vital for the City of Great Falls to take pride in the assets they have (Neighborhood Pools) and help provide recreation for the underprivileged children in our community.

If you loose the neighborhood pools the only place left to swim is the Mitchell Pool.

Something to think about:
"You will NEVER learn to SWIM or GET FIT in a spray park !!!"

If there is anything else I can do to help save the pools please let me know.

Thank you,

Tim Austin

Great Falls, Montana it is time to get the FACTS !!!

MOTTO has a Great Post on the Proposed Coal Plant - Go Read It

Jeff Mangan's blog, MOTTO, put up a great post this week on the proposed Highwood Generating Station.

Although I wish MOTTO would refrain from all those darned acronyms (Really, Jeff; CFP is a CCT? The EIS does not advance the issues fo the MEIC?), he advances some very valid points here. Go read the post.

Lap Swim Scheduled for Remainder of Summer at Mitchell Pool!

The Great Falls Park and Recreation Department has scheduled a lap-swim period from 12 - 12:30 p.m., Mondays and Wednesdays for the remainder of the summer.

The cost to swim will be $3 per visit.

This is extremely reasonable, and I would like to personally thank Patty Rearden for agreeing to our request.

Economic Viability of Coal Plant Depends on Outcome of US Supreme Court Decison

In the coming weeks, I will have a few more posts about the proposed Highwood Generating Station. The post will probably have to wait until after the Independence Day holiday, however.

In the meantime, I would like you to consider this upcoming Supreme Court decision. One of the arguments used by plant opponents is that the economic viability of the plant would be in question if the government enacts a "coal tax." They are right; if the government does enact a "coal tax," then the plant would have signficant increased expenses.

So, we have to ask ourselves how likely is it that the government enacts such a tax? This upcoming decision should weigh heavily on our calculus for or against plant construction.

Tuesday, June 27

Government Agencies Release Environmental Study on Coal Plant

Stop reading unknowing pontifications from the likes of me and the Tribune. I mean it.

If you are coming here to read about the coal plant, I freely admit that I don't have all the information. I have opinions, but they are not so grounded in actual, you know, facts.

However, there is now a place where you can get more knowledgeable opinions about the issues surrounding this new plant. That 'place' is a 700 page Envronmental Impact Statement just relased by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the USDA Rural Utilities Service. This EIS probably reflects some bias of some kind, but at least we can be reasonably sure that the authors have some idea what they are talking about.

I haven't read the document yet, but you can read it and decide for yourself. Copies are available here.

I hope to read at least most of the document in the next few days. I will post more later ...

OK Class, THIS is where to find the Treasure State

Weird results yesterday on the server logs. Huge spike in traffic from the Google keyword "Where Would One Find the Treasure State?"

I assume that this traffic is from a class assignment. Anyway, you can find the Treasure State right here; the glorious State of Montana.

Wednesday, June 21

I Think This is Close to the Definition of Chutzpah

Rearden said the two pools "are really deteriorating[.]"
[...] Rearden said attendance has dwindled at the Jaycee and Water Tower Pools.
--Quotations from interim Park and Rec Director Patty Rearden, from Great Falls Tribune article here.
Priority Goals & Objectives - For The Upcoming Year
• Research costs/viability of spray grounds.
• Operate Jaycee and Water Tower pools during the 2005 season until major maintenance or mechanical needs preclude operating. The current budget reflects minimal maintenance.
--From page 227 of the City of Great Falls Operating Budget for Neighborhood Pools, online here. Emphasis added.

So let me get this straight. We need to close the Jaycee and Water Tower pools because they are deteriorating. They are deteriorating because city policy mandates that the city avoid performing maintenance on those pools. Does this seem a little circular to you? It certainly does to me.

So attendance is down. No kidding. Talk about a self-serving load of (*&*^%$#.

So now the city staff will "survey" city residents to find out what we want to do. This is a nice first step, and a welcome change. I ask, however, who are they going to survey? One nice first step might be traditional users of the neighborhood pools, including the directors of the kids summer camps (including Boys and Girls Club, the Rescue Mission, etc.) that make great use of them.

On a related note, while we are debating such an extensive bond issue for aquatics, I would like to see the city release financials for the White Water Elephant as its own "profit center." How much revenue can be directly attributed to the Wave Rider, as opposed to expenses (interest, maintenance, staffing, etc.) involved in its operation? Before we close our neighborhood pools, the city should have to tell us how much we are losing a year to own this luxury.

Tuesday, June 20

Not a Crash

This morning, the Trib awakened us with the headline "State's Computers Crash Again." Reading on in the story, we find that the system shut itself down due to a fire alarm tripped in the datacenter.

Sorry, that isn't a crash. A crash is a catastrophic failure, not an orderly shut down due to a safety protocol. Spinning down the hard drives is a smart thing to do if there is an actual fire.

Anyone know more about this situation? And shouldn't such a critical system have offsite backup facilities for emergency operation?

Another Modest Proposal

Instead of gutting facilities for kids to learn to swim, how about contracting out operation of the White Water Elephant, and letting that contractor charge what he needs to turn a profit?

Under such a scenario, JayCee, Water Tower, Nat and Mitchell would continue to be operated by the city on a break-even basis (JayCee and Water Tower currently charge $1 per day admission, families allowed to bring coolers. Mitchell costs $2, and Nat has varying fees depending on the class.

Will the City Commission Gut its commitment to Aquatics?

The travesty continues. And apparently, its time to pay the piper.

At a work session tonight at 5:30, the city commission will debate a $2.2 Million bond issue on city aquatic facilities. There are some non-controversial items included in that bond issue (the electrical system at Mitchell Pool needs some work, etc.), but others deserve some real comment and concern.

Included in the recommendation is about $100 Grand for a hot tub at the Nat, demolishing the JayCee and Water Tower pools (replacing them with "Spray Decks"), etc.

Most of the recommendations seem to be based on a report commissioned by the city last summer, and published in the Trib last July here. The numbers sure look identical.

Implementing these changes would leave the Nat and the Mitchell as the only public pools in Great Falls. So why spend a ton of dough?

Simple, the city aquatic program is hemorrhaging money. Why? One reason; the White Water Elephant. How much money are we losing in the operation of our aquatics? See for yourself.

In 2004, we lost about $285k. In 2005, about $105k. 2006 is only projected to lose $3.4k, and if you believe that, you are more gullible than you should be. (The 2005 budget only projected to lose $53k).

Of the $105k we lost last year, roughly $85k went to interest payments on the White Water Elephant. We will own the thing outright in 2015. (The original purchase price was $1.5M, and we are paying 6.65% on the debt).

The city is now doing only minimal maintenance on the JayCee and Water Tower facilities, waiting for the pools to sufficiently deteriorate enough to allow their permanent closure. Seems like a done deal? And its a good thing if you agree that "You have to entertain the swimmer, rather than just give him a pool of water," as was stated by a prospective contractor in the original Trib story.

Once the JayCee and the Water Tower are closed, the Mitchell will be the only option for Great Falls residents who want to swim in a public pool. Most will not choose to spend the entire day there, as coolers have been disallowed since the White Water Elephant was built, in favor of requiring people to buy the overpriced food at the concession stand.

I have said it before, and I will say it again. The city has no business providing any aquatic facilities other than holes in the ground filled with clean water. No wave riders, no hot tubs, no frills or aquatic "experiences." Let private industry fill that niche. The city should operate simple pools which are available to city residents at reasonable prices. The operation of those pools should be priced so that we break even on their operation.

I have posted on this before, here and here. GeeGuy has a good post about the situation here.

'Nuff said.

Monday, June 19

The Buzz is Asking Ridiculous Questions

This weekend, the Tribune's "Daily Question" asked if "the cleanliness of modern society undermine[s] human immune systems?"

Excuse me? This is a question about which opinion should be polled? Are they next going to commission a poll asking people's opinions about whether or not 2+2=4?

Maybe I am missing something, but the answer to questions like this can really only be answered by scientists, after conducting rigorous tests in controlled environments. To poll opinion about it is patently ridiculous.

Thursday, June 15

Go Read Mike's Great Post on Gaza's "Sinking of the Maine"

In a scene eerily reminicent of the Hearst falsification of the "Sinking of the Maine" which caused us to prosecute the Spanish American War, Hamas has tried to dupe the world into thinking that Israel fired missiles onto a Gaza beach.

Independent evidence is now showing that the explosion in Gaza was the result of a Hamas mine, not an Israeli attack. This hasn't stopped Hamas from using this lie as justification for more bloody acts of terrorism against Israel.

Mike has done some good research up on LBP. Go read his post.

Neighborhood Council 7 Supports Lap Swimming at Michell Pool

Yesterday Neighborhood Council 7 sent the following letter to Patty Rearden, Interim Director of the City Park and Rec Department. If you agree with our viewpoint here, I ask you to send Ms. Rearden a similar letter.

Neighborhood Council 7
Representing the Lower North and South Sides of Historic Great Falls

June 13, 2006

Patty Rearden, Interim Director
City of Great Falls Department of Park and Recreation
1700 River Drive North
Great Falls, MT 59401

Dear Ms. Rearden;

As the summer now begins in earnest, we would like to compliment both you and your department for its good planning and management of our city’s parks.

We write today, however, to discuss a suggestion to make more and better use of the Mitchell Pool facility for our city’s residents. For the past several years, no lap swimming periods have been scheduled at this facility, the only 50 meter pool in Northcentral Montana.

As you know, an all-comer’s swim meet has been scheduled on July 31 at the Mitchell Pool. However, without scheduling lap swimming periods in this facility, it is impossible for potential entrants to properly train for this event. Training in a 25 yard facility can not fully prepare an individual for a race swum in a 50 yard pool.

At present, the Mitchell does not open to the public until 1 p.m. on weekdays. We suggest and request that you open this pool to lap swimming from noon to 1 p.m. on weekdays. Lap swimmers should have to pay a monthly or daily fee, similar to that currently paid at the Moroney Natatorium, to cover the additional expenses involved in another hour of operation.

In prior years, the Mitchell historically scheduled a lap swimming period. Even without an upcoming meet, such a period allowed both adults and children an avenue for low to non impact exercise in an outdoor environment. We submit that the city and your department should encourage this kind of activity.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your response.

Bob Gaskell
Mike Taylor
Erin Tropila
Aaron Weissman

Cc: Dona Stebbins, Mayor, City of Great Falls

Wednesday, June 14

Problems with Linksys PSUS4 firmware rev 6033

In one location, I am using a Linksys PSUS4 printserver, firmware rev 6033, on a small LAN in a mixed operating system environment. The PSUS4 is connected via USB to a Brother HL-1440 printer.

Whenever the printserver is sent a large print job, it hangs the device. Worse, at least on my LAN for some reason whenever the device hangs every other device on the LAN, except the device originally sending the packets/printjob to the PSUS4, loses its connection to the router.

This may be related to a DoS vulnerability previously published on the device, more information here. If you use this device, I recommend restricting HTTP access and monitoring the jobs sent to the device. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any IP filtering built into the device.

Due to these vulnerabilities, I cannot recommend the use of that device. Linksys has known about this DoS vulnerability for more than a year, and they are still propagating a firmware revision from 2004.

So What is IGCC, anyway?

IGCC, or "Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle" coal power plants are often cited by many in our community as a preferred alternative to the CFB, or "Circulating Fluidized Bed" plant that SMC is proposing to build here.

I am pretty darn ignorant of these technologies. I don't know that I, or many of the pundits speaking about this issue throughout our town, are particularly competent to compare these technologies.

Both are advertized by their supporters as "clean coal" technology. Those that I consider to have competence in this area have stated that IGCC may produce less emissions than CFB, but has not yet been fully tested. Everyone I have spoken with agrees that an IGCC plant would be significantly more expensive than a CFB plant.

The first link of this post refers to a November, 2005 article published by the BBC on IGCC technology. Thanks to Jeff Mangan's blog for the referral to this source. That article speaks at length about the IGCC technology, in a way that even I began to understand it. However, I was struck by a few things:

1) The technology is not a "zero emission" alternative, as its supporters have indicated. The carbon emissions are buried underground instead of vented in the atmosphere. Other waste by-products of the technology still require attention.

2) The technology is very new, and relatively untried. Indeed, the article states that:

Coal gasification plants are seen as a primary component of a zero-emissions system. However, the technology remains unproven on a widespread commercial scale.

For those of you with more expertise in this area, I welcome your experience. An upcoming post will provide more information on CFB technology.

Tuesday, June 13

New Topic; Highwood Generating Station

As a community, we need to fully understand all of the implications of the Highwood Generating Station, the 250 megawatt coal-fired power plant which Southern Montana Energy, a co-op of five Montana communities including Great Falls, has proposed to build East of Great Falls.

Philosophically, I have problems with a municipality owning and managing a resource I would argue is inherently commercial. My problems are lessened by the fact that the resource would actually be owned by a co-op, but it is a co-op owned by governmental organizations. However, I don't think that such concerns should be paramount in this debate.

What should be paramount? Well, we need to examine the advantages and disadvantages, the costs and the benefits, to the stakeholders, i.e., us. We, the taxpayers of the City of Great Falls, will own 25% of this plant. More than that, the proposed plant will be built and run here, by our residents. The majority of any environmental problems resulting from the plant will also be felt here.

What does this station mean for our community? What are the benefits? Well, one thing it does mean is jobs and tax revenue. How much?

Discounting the construction jobs and revenue (which are considerable), in its first year of operation this plant is budgeted to employ 45-60 people, at an average wage of $45,000. Millions of dollars in annual payroll, and in annual tax revenue for our county and school districts.

Consider the one-time shot in the arm generated by the construction of the plant. That revenue represents more than triple the amount currently under protest by PPL. Quite frankly, this debate renders our upcoming hard decisions about school closures moot.

It could mean more jobs than just that. Manufacturing requires great amounts of power, and locating a manufacturing plant near a power station means that your plant does not have to pay nearly as much in transmission costs. A 250 megawatt facility would almost certainly bring more primary sector jobs to our community. In a declining local economy, the benefits of the growth offered by this proposal are a substantial benefit that we neither can nor should ignore.

So, what are some of the costs and disadvantages?

First, if our city were running this operation I would definitely be opposed. Our city has proved that it does not have the ability to run a large, complicated facility like this. However, while we will be stakeholders, our municipal leaders will not be managing this operation.

In addition, plant detractors have raised legitimate concerns regarding the environmental impact of this plant. The plant's stack will generate emissions. In addition to carbon dioxide, those emissions will include roughly half a flask, or 35 lbs., of mercury per year. In addition to stack emissions, the plant will also generate a large amount of ash which must be dealt with as a by-product.

The plant will also utilize water as a cooling agent in the boiler. Indeed, most of the emissions of the stack will be steam. Approximately 1/10 of 1% of our municipal water supply will have to be diverted to the plant for its operations.

Personally, I submit that the water consumption is negligible and the plant will be paying the city for its use. In addition, I submit that the plant's plan for the ash (to place it in lined pits covered by clay) are sufficient remediation. The pressing environmental issues seem to be the CO2 and Mercury emissions.

Are these emissions worth the benefits we receive from the growth and jobs offered by the plant? I submit that question is the issue before us.

A side issue, the benefits of IGCC (coal gasification) techonology vs. CFB (Circulating Fluidized Bed) technology also requires some debate. My next post will begin to discuss that issue.

Couldn't Say it Better Myself

Reading the paper today, I was struck by the cancellation of the golf tournaments. I was tempted to put fingers to keyboard, but Geeguy has already done so in a very cogent post. Go read his analysis, and then contact the city commission and register your distaste for the "management" the city is providing.

Monday, June 12

I Didn't Really Think the Joke was Worthy of Publication ...

In the Tribune's story this past week on Mayor Stebbins' performance in her position, they mentioned a small (very small) lighthearted moment while I was sworn in as a member of NC7. I didn't ever expect to see it in print, but you can find it here.

Mitchell Pool Should Offer Lap Swim

First the good news and public service announcement. There will be an all-comers swim meet at the Mitchell Pool on July 31, from 6-8 p.m. I will be competing, and I hope that you might consider joining in the fun.

Now the not-so-good. Due to Park and Rec policy, it is impossible to properly train for this meet. Why? Let me explain.

The Mitchell Pool is a 50 meter facility. Every other pool in Great Falls is 25 yards. This presents a few problems:

1) A meter is a #$%^*()@! of a lot longer than a yard, and
2) 50 is more than 25.

Training in a 25 yard facility acclimates you to certain conditions; i.e., a turn every 25 yards, a pace designed for optimal effort at a certain length, etc. In a 50 meter facility, you don't get that extra breath during the 25 yard turn, and that 200 meter event is considerably longer than the eight lengths you did for your practices at the Nat, the Peak or the GFHS pool.

It isn't like there isn't demand for lap swim at the Mitchell. Until the white elephant opened up a few years ago, the Mitchell always offered noon lap swim. There were always a dozen or so swimmers. Several swimmers I have spoken with over the past few weeks have said that they would like the option of lap swimming at the Mitchell.

So I propose a simple solution; from noon to 1 p.m. each weekday the Mitchell should be open for lap swimming. Lap swimmers should have to pay a set fee (maybe $30 per month) to cover the additional expenses involved in another hour of operation.

I will be presenting this idea at our Neighborhood Council 7 meeting this evening, 7 p.m. in the Gibson room of the Civic Center. If you like the idea, please come to the meeting.

Wednesday, June 7

More on Google Spreadsheets

I have now had a chance to play a little bit with Google's spreadsheet. I still have grave concerns about its security and HIPAA compliance, which to my mind makes it little more than an academic exercise. However, it still could be a useful tool for data that doesn't have any sensitivity.

One problem with this system for complex spreadsheets are outside cell references. In many cases, I have one spreadsheet that generates a figure, which is used by another spreadsheet as an input toward a separate figure, or for a report. In actuality, many of my work reports concatenate data from multiple spreadsheets.

This is a problem here. Unless I am missing something, any spreadsheet on Google's servers has to live in its own sandbox, without referencing any data not somewhere in its own workbook. This is a severe restriction on complexity.

Inflation in Building Supplies is Out of Control

I normally do not blog about anything relating to my job. Among other reasons, my job is not germane to the topics I blog about.

However, a situation is continuing to develop regarding building supplies, particularly metals. A roll of copper wire, which would have cost $15 in January 2005, and which cost me $38 in January 2006, costs (wait for it) $130 today.

Price quotations from electrical and plumbing supply shops are now only good for 3-4 hours. Pipe, wire, plate, lumber and other basic commodities have prices that increase by significant amounts daily.

Some of this is from demand in Asia. Some is due to increasing costs for oil, a fundamental input into just about everything.

However, a good part of this inflation (and the increase in oil prices) is due to our country's 5 year old policy to decrease the price of the dollar. A cheap dollar may have some benefits (increased price of imports, cheaper exports, etc.) Many of you reading this page have a better grasp of monetary policy than I. So I ask, are the benefits of a cheap dollar really worth the increased price we are all experiencing for basic commodities?

Primary is Finally Over!

The Primary is over. At least in Cascade County, the election meant a win for incumbents. For the two big races, Beltrone and Castle each held on to their party's nomination. For Castle, it means that he will remain our Sheriff.

I didn't get too involved this primary season. I never was too motivated; everyone running for the county jobs was extremely qualified and would have been a good choice. Other blogs did more than enough talking about the big Senate race; I was glad to sit this one out.

Tuesday, June 6

Google now has a Spreadsheet. Hmmmm....

As anyone with a browser probably already knows, Google has a spreadsheet. From all reports, it is another AJAX tool, like their maps. I haven't played with the tool (hopefully yet), but I have signed up to play.

The benefits seem clear; write a spreadsheet and anyone you think should be able to edit the document, can edit the document. What's more, every time anyone updates figures, everyone on that sheet's access list would have live access to the most recent "version" of the document. No more multiple-versions of the same sheet, and no more losing figures because edits were made to old versions. I agree, email attachments are not very convenient.

However, would I use this tool for most jobs? Definitely NOT. Why?

Spreadsheets usually contain information that most companies, individuals and organizations would like to remain private. In today's world, in addition to normal competitive pressures, we have to keep in mind fiduciary responsiblities and requirements under laws such as HIPAA. While I may be able to create a list of authorized individuals to access my spreadsheets, I am unable to ensure that the owner of the system, Google, wouldn't have the ability to access the document. In addition, I have no way of knowing just how secure Google's servers really are.

Google has created what looks like a valuable and powerful tool. However, unless there can be some firm guarantees of data security and privacy it is just an academic exercise.

Why I don't buzz around the Buzz

As Geeguy noted, the Trib has been talking about their on-line forum, the Buzz. I don't spend much time in that sandbox. Why, you ask?

Because it is a walled-off sandbox. To read that site, you have to go through the bother of mucking around in that system, on that site.

I tend to read a lot of blogs, and enjoy reading what other people are thinking. I'll let you in on a trade secret; unless I am posting a comment, my reading is almost exclusively done through RSS.

With one application (in my case, Bloglines) all of those thoughts and musings come to one central place on my screen. Pretty darned convenient.

So to the Trib; thanks for creating a forum. How about you activate an RSS feed?

And to both of my regular readers, you can syndicate this site through the RSS/Atom feed to the right.

Monday, June 5

Evolution in a cup of yogurt

This was interesting. A team of scientists have mapped the genome for Lactbacillus bulgaricus (L. bulgaricus), one of the "live cultures" in the cup of yogurt you had for breakfast.

It turns out that a couple of decades on our refrigerator shelves have fundamentally changed old bulgy. He can no longer manufacture much of his own protein; now he has to live in fermented milk.

Given so many examples of such behavior, I am at a loss to explain why some would choose to deny that evolution exists.

The Distraction is back on the Agenda

Today's Trib ran a front page article on the upcoming congressional vote for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

One commentator on the radio this morning said that there was no more important issue that our country faces. Excuse me?

We are at war in Iraq and Afganistan. Gas is just about $3 per gallon. The National Debt is such a dizzying number that it is inconceivable, and it is increasing by billions each week. More and more of our economy is financed by the consumption of goods made overseas. The list of really important issues goes on and on and on, and we are worried about what consenting adults do in their own home.

Congress has real work to do. I understand why they are wasting our country's time with this drivel, but they are our fiduciaries. Isn't it time they started acting like it?

Friday, June 2

Tuna Noodle Casserole

Yes, I did say tuna noodle casserole. Stop making that face.

I don't mean one of those icky things where the first ingredient is "open a can of cream of mushroom soup," I mean a good, hearty middle of the week, get the family fed with good food meal. The only pre-packaged food used is two cans of good tuna and a package of egg noodles. So, like I said, stop making that face. It might stick that way.

Anyway, the ingredients are simple:

  • 6 cups miripoix, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 cup mushrooms
  • Unsalted butter
  • NACL
  • Pepper
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 2 cans water packed tuna (best quality available)
  • 2-3 cups bread crumbs
  • 5 cups montegro cheese (You can use parmesan if you are not allergic to cow-dairy. I write what works for me.)
  • 1 cup fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, basil, oregano, chives and dill would all work well here.)
  • 1 package of large egg noodles
  • 1 large bowl of ice H2O
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and grease your largest casserole.

Bring a large pot of H2O to a boil for the pasta. Add the pasta to the pot and cook for four minutes only. Pasta should be quite al-dente and not fully cooked. Drain and transfer pasta to ice bath to stop the cooking process.

While the water is coming to a boil, saute the miripoix in butter until it is soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and the mushrooms, cook for a few minutes and season to taste.

Turn vegetables, pasta, herbs, broth and tuna into large bowl. Mix well.

Add 3 cups of cheese and enough bread crumbs to mix until thick. Add bread crumbs until no longer "wet."

Turn mixture into large casserole and top with remainder of cheese. Bake for 45 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes and enjoy!

Picasa for Linux!!!

Picasa, by Google, is a great image organization tool. IMHO, there hasn't been a linux tool that could match it.

Well, now there is. Picasa for linux was announced this week. Go download it, it works great.

Thursday, June 1

Air Force to host Shavuos Services

The Air Force is hosting a Shavuos celebration in Great Falls!

Rabbi Schecter will lead Shavuos services on Thursday, June 1; Kabbalat Shabbat services on Friday, June 2; Shabbat morning services as well as Havdallah and discussion on June 3 and Hebrew school on June 4.

Rabbi Schechter has strong ties to the Electric City. Her grandmother is a life-long Great Falls resident and her mother is a Great Falls native. Her father, Rabbi Phil Schecter, was stationed in Great Falls as an Air Force chaplain in the mid-1960s.

“He (my father) has always spoken in glowing terms about his experience in the Air Force, so it just seemed obvious that I would join the same branch of service,” said Schecter in an Air Force interview last year.

Rabbi Schecter is stationed at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California. A native of New York, she received her certificate of Rabbinic Ordination from Hebrew Union College in 2003.

Before entering the rabbinate, Schecter spent her first year of college abroad on a kibbutz program in Israel, and then attended college in Kyoto where she conducted research on the history of the Jewish community of Japan and Israeli-Japanese trade relations. Wanting to strengthen ties between Israel and Japan, she worked for a time for the Consulate of Israel in Tokyo as an interpreter for visiting delegations from Israel.

In 1996 Schechter enrolled in rabbinic school, and over a seven-year period she received a Master of Arts in Hebrew Letters, a Master of Arts in Jewish Education, and was ordained Rabbi from HUC. She was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the Reserves in September 2003 and entered active duty service in January of 2004. Chaplain Schechter is the first female Rabbi to serve in the United States Air Force, and for a time was the only Active Duty female Rabbi in the Department of Defense.

Schecter was inspired to serve in the military because of 9/11.

“Clearly, supporting our troops was the best way to help our country,” Chaplain Schechter said. “The experience has gone above and beyond my expectations.”

Chaplain Schechter explained the major difference of serving as a rabbi in the civilian sector versus in the military is that the majority of civilians being served are Jewish, while serving as a chaplain in the military, it’s the complete opposite.

“You join [the military] because you want to be present for that small number of Jews who are here, and you want to be there for everyone else as well,” she said.

For Chaplain Schechter, the most rewarding aspects of being a military chaplain are job satisfaction, being there for those she serves and the military lifestyle.

Serving the needs of everyone regardless of background or religious beliefs, military chaplains are not only spiritual leaders but also serve as a clearinghouse for information and referral services at the base.

Chaplains assist service members of various military services with the unique challenges of military life: deployment, certain types of family stress unique to the military lifestyle, marital issues, depression, etc.

In addition to leading services, Chaplain Schecter will be available for one-on-one meetings with congregants; active duty and otherwise; while she is in Great Falls.

They're calling it the "Great Falls Effect"?!?!? Excuse Me?

They're calling it the "Great Falls Effect." Well, now we are known for something.

What you ask? Failure. Specifically, a failed Lewis and Clark event. Upcoming Lewis and Clark events in Missoula and Billings are being drastically scaled down so as not to recreate the massive disappointment we experienced here.

I am glad we could provide an object lesson?