Latest Blog Posts

Don’t Mess With My District

July 31, 2007 at 12:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Oooh, the Board of Education has gone and done it. The public demanded the Board look for ways to make Lincoln Public Schools more efficient, and the Board had the nerve to suggest close two schools, Hawthorne Elementary and Dawes Middle School. Naturally, parents are up in arms.

Assuming the Board can adequately demonstrate that the schools will not be needed in the foreseeable future, and that the replacement schools can handle the additional student load for the foreseeable future, I’m all in favor of the idea. I am sympathetic to the plight of families who chose their home based on its proximity to one of the threatened schools—we chose our home in part because it sits mere blocks from both an elementary and middle school—but emotional appeals just aren’t that persuasive if substantial efficiency improvements can be demonstrated.

The debate is still in its early stages and there is plenty of information yet to be gathered. What are your thoughts at this point?

County’s Taxes to Stay Level

July 31, 2007 at 12:25pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

All you tax watchers out there will want to note that Lancaster County looks to hold the line on taxes this year. But there’s that new jail to pay for in the near future…

Holmes Lake Park’s Slippery Slope

July 31, 2007 at 12:20pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

It’s a tough call: hold on to a relatively worthless chunk of weedy parkland on principle; or send a message to developers that, for enough cash, parkland is up for the taking. That’s the issue facing the city right now with Talent Plus.

I would make the argument that this particular sale of land is a good deal, and that it doesn’t create an imminent slippery slope. The land being sold is unused and not very valuable to the city. The sale, although not required for Talent Plus’s expansion, will help facilitate the expansion and will help keep the building shorter, and thus (hopefully) less annoying to neighbors.

I admit those aren’t my strongest arguments, but time is tight and I want to get a couple other posts up. What are your arguments for or against the sale?

Save $200!

July 30, 2007 at 12:25pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Price of a Non-Stop Fun Pass at the Nebraska State Fair through August 10: $65

Price of a Fun Pass after August 10: $75

Supposed value of a Fun Pass: $272

Price of a regular admission to Worlds of Fun in Kansas City: $37.95

Watching the State Fair try to hoodwink people into thinking that the Fun Pass is anything but a gigantic ripoff: Priceless.

Amusing Nebraska

July 30, 2007 at 12:20pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

An amusement park between Lincoln and Omaha? Maybe. A man by the name of Steve Minard says that, with a little help from the State, he’s ready to pump $200 million into the area for a year-round theme park called Wild Escape. It sounds great that somebody is even talking about spending $200 million here, but there’s reason to be wary: Minard first hinted that the project could begin in late 2005 and, well, it didn’t. And now he is asking for handouts. On the other hand, he is supposedly already in the process of building a smaller park in Wheeling, Virginia. I say “supposedly” because although land has been cleared, no building has actually taken place.

Regardless of this project’s likelihood of seeing the light of day, it’s clear that the land along I-80 between Lincoln and Omaha is going to see lots of proposals like this. Indeed, it already has. Some people want to flood the area and create a gigantic lake (taking the town of Ashland off the map). Some people want to build a new regional airport. And at least one guy wants to build an amusement park. It’s possible that some of the big dreams may come true, and if so, fantastic. But I, for one, don’t plan to get too excited about any of the ideas too early in the process. There are just too many hurdles to be overcome.

It sure would be cool to take Robbie on a roller coaster just 30 miles from home, though.

The World a-Roundus

July 27, 2007 at 12:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Roundus is pretty slick. Their mission:

ROUNDUS has a dream…All public information available to EVERYONE in the local community at ALL times FOR FREE, FOREVER. Through the combination of programming elements, custom-made software, and high-resolution virtual reality photography we can now bring this DREAM to YOU. We not only take you all around the city but provide a unique view inside many of Lincoln’s coolest places. We have only just begun.

Some of that verbiage confuses me, but whatever. Go check ‘em out!.

Hat tip: Beerorkid

How’s That for a Prediction?

July 27, 2007 at 12:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Yesterday I said the drag strip proposed for north of Lincoln was all but dead.

Today, it is.

A Mathphobe’s Worst Nightmare

July 27, 2007 at 12:25pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

University of Nebraska-Lincoln economics professor Greg Hayden thinks it’s time to scrap the state aid to schools formula and start over. Why? For starters, the formula runs 138 pages, according to Prof. Hayden. Ouch.

Professor Hayden says that such complexity keeps the public from understanding the formula, and thus they can’t intelligently debate its merits. He is right.

State Senator Ron Raikes, on the other hand, gets a little whiny in his defense of the current formula. He asks, “If it’s cumbersome now, what is something that is better?” How ‘bout something simpler and comprehensible, Senator? He adds, “there is no effort to make a positive contribution. I would hope to see something useful policywise, but I don’t see it. It seems sort of cynical to me.” Professor Hayden isn’t a policy wonk, he’s an economist. And of course Prof. Hayden’s work comes across as cynical. How can one not be cynical about a beast of a formula that nobody understands?

Ultimately Senator Raikes decides a strawman is his best chance to shut down discussion of the issue: “If short is good, I suppose we could simply divide the money by the number of schools.” Zing! You win, Sen. Raikes.

If Senator Raikes—or anyone—can accurately distill the current formula into a couple paragraphs that policymakers and the public can digest and discuss, great. That means the formula isn’t actually as complex as Prof. Hayden’s algebra implies. But if the formula really is so complex it takes at least 138 pages to express it, then how can we be assured that our policymakers know what the heck they’re talking about? And how can Jane Public be expected to generate a sensible opinion on the implications of the formula? We can’t, and she can’t.

Senator Raikes, why do you want to shut down debate before it has even begun? What’s in the formula that you don’t want us to talk about?

AD For a Day: Would You Ditch Devaney?

July 27, 2007 at 12:20pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

You are the Nebraska Athletic Director. Would you take a risk and dump the Devaney Center to move into a fancy new arena Downtown? Or would you play it safe and work with the facility you already own free and clear?

The Wilsons Finally Visit 9 South Chargrill

July 26, 2007 at 12:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The Missus and I finally made it to 9 South Chargrill, 9th and South Streets, last night. We will be back. Here’s a quick rundown:

9 South is a very pleasant little restaurant. It consists of two small dining areas containing mostly tables, with two 4-seater booths in the back. We sat at one of the booths. Decor is minimal; there isn’t a whole lot of spare room for clutter. The parking lot is small as well. Be prepared to park on a neighborhood street.

We were greeted warmly and seated promptly by a woman who turned out to be our waitress. The restaurant was about half-full when we arrived, and it hit about two-thirds full at its busiest. Interestingly, even though at one point there were three large groups (of 10, 8, and 7 people) in the restaurant, it didn’t get very loud. I’m sure it helped that The Missus and I were in a booth, but I still think it’s notable.

The menu feels very Nebraskan. Think salads, sandwiches, steaks, and chicken. Dinner entrees are priced from about $7-$8 (sandwiches with two sides) up to around $20 (steaks). The Missus ordered a side salad and a loaded baked potato. The salad was fresh and included spring greens. The baked potato was large and was topped with sour cream, chicken, and a chipotle sauce. There was also a ton of butter. Good for flavor, bad for arteries. I hadn’t ordered fried chicken at a restaurant in ages, so that’s what I went with. I received a large piece of white meat, very tasty homemade mashed potatoes (with butter!), and a vegetable medley (snow peas, sweet peppers, yellow squash, and broccoli). The chicken had a very nice flavor, but it was fried a little longer than I would have liked. Add one Diet Coke for The Missus, and our bill came out to a very reasonable $23.

Our waitress was excellent. She was friendly, attentive, and helpful. She was also very informative. She told us that pretty much everything (including the barbecue sauce) is homemade. Our waitress had to handle several tables at once, and from what I could tell she was excellent at each and every one. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say she was one of the better waitresses I’ve seen in Lincoln in quite a while. I just wish I could remember her name! I’ll have to get it the next time we go in.

Although 9 South’s cozy size gives it a very warm and friendly feel, the downside is that walking lanes are tight. If you are a very large person or if you are very picky about people walking near you while you eat, request your seating accordingly. I identified two chairs in particular that I would have been annoyed to sit in. Your preferences will vary, but be aware of the situation going in.

Overall our experience at 9 South Chargrill was extremely positive. I am eager to go back.

The Cornhusker Summer Music Games Was a Blast

July 26, 2007 at 12:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The Missus and I had a great time at the Cornhusker Summer Music Games last night. The crowd was smaller than I would have hoped, but given the messiness of last year’s rainout fiasco, I’m not terribly surprised. The corps were, of course, very impressive.

Three corps stood out to me. My favorite story came from The Academy from Tempe, with their show titled “The Chase”. The Santa Clara Vanguard win the nod for my favorite marching, with crisp charts and very nice transitions. And finally, The Cadets win the award for Lamest Story That Was So Awful I Couldn’t Fairly Judge Their Marching and Music Because I Was So Distracted. Their show included voice-overs rambling on about happy happy joy joy baloney that not even an After School Special would have gone for. I’m pretty sure Stuart Smalley directed their show.

Overall it was a successful evening at Memorial Stadium. Congratulations to the organizers, and a huge bravo to the student-athlete-musicians/dancers of the six corps.

First Big Talk, Now Big Bucks

July 26, 2007 at 12:25pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I can’t believe I forgot to post this yesterday: The 2015 Vision group announced that they have raised $25 million to put toward their 10 pillars for transforming Lincoln. That news makes me extremely happy, because although I can quibble with some of the things the group is doing, I admire and respect their larger goals. That they have raised $25 million proves many others agree.

No piece of good news is complete without a “but”, so here’s mine: But, $25 million is but a tiny fraction of the total investment that will be required from public and private sources. The total investment over the next, say, twenty years for the group’s projects, along with related projects, will top $1 billion. Don’t despair; $25 million isn’t even all that has been committed to date. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, for example, is already committed to building millions of dollars worth of critical infrastructure in the Research Corridor.

A lot of very hard work remains ahead of this community to be sure. It’s hard not to like the momentum generated so far.

What a Drag

July 26, 2007 at 12:20pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The Journal Star continues to beat the drag strip horse with its latest tales of lovers and haters. With all of these articles, you’d think somebody had sold the City some faulty fire trucks or something.

At this point I just can’t believe that the drag strip is going to happen. Not in the proposed location, anyway. The controversy has lingered too long for anything good to result.

Unless, that is, one of you folks has a solution that will make most of the involved parties mostly happy. I doubt there is such a solution, but hey, prove me wrong.

The New Lincoln City Libraries Website: A Review

July 25, 2007 at 4:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Guest blogger Karin Dalziel (aka Nirak) has written a nice review of the new Lincoln City Libraries website. She very kindly created a version of her review just for you folks.—ed.


Karin Dalziel is a Master’s student in Library and Information Science (that is, she’s studying to be a librarian.) As such, she admits that she’s a wee bit biased when it comes to the topic of libraries.

Last week, the Lincoln city Libraries debuted their new website. I have heard about this website for months now, and was curious what they were up to. I heard rumors of blogs and RSS feeds and web 2.0 content. Dreams of interactivity and public meeting spaces danced in my head. So far, I don’t see these new features.

Lincoln City Library new page

My immediate reactions to the site:

  • The new site design breaks some links. The old links for “hours   and locations,” “heritage room” “frequently asked questions” and more are broken. Of course, this can be fixed with a redirect, but I question as to why they were changed at all.
  • I don’t find the site particularly attractive, and at this point, it’s somewhat quirky.
  • There is a missed branding opportunity. The site is fairly generic, it does not say anything about Lincoln City Libraries.
  • There are lots of errors on the page. This is pretty inexcusable when they’re so easily found - Most of the errors can be fixed in minutes with a well known programs. While it’s true that it can be hard to get rid of all errors, many of these are very simple changes (changing the doctype or case of elements, for instance.).
  • The navigation is confusing. Some items are repeated. The expanded lists don’t always stay expanded, even when you click in the same section. Many navigation links lift you completely out of the template, which is disorienting.
  • The code is just messy. It’s a fairly universal rule in (good) web design nowadays to style the HTML elements that are already there whenever possible, rather than adding lots of new classes. This not only makes the code leaner (and faster loading) but it has a host of accessibility advantages.

These are all little things, in of themselves, but they add up to a disorienting experience for the user. Today’s Internet users have little patience for such frustrations, and will go somewhere else rather than put up with them.

Where are the new features?

Quick Connect Web Services, the company hired for the redesign, has an impressive list of new features:

  • Add, edit, and delete pages whenever they need to using an online text editor similar to Microsoft Word
       
    •   Each page can have a different template using any of the three templates we developed for each section of their site  
    •  
    •   Pages can be public, or protected so only staff can see them  
    •  
  • Organize content into categories and with tags
  • A customized blogging platform

       
    •   Visitors can comment on blogs and the comments are “threaded” to facilitate discussion  
    •  
  • Promote books on different sections of the site
  • RSS Feeds for their blogs
  • Update their site navigation

It’s a very nice list, but I hardly see any of this. I can’t find an RSS feed or a blog. I have seen a few email forms, but nowhere can I leave a comment. I’m not sure if the tagging of content refers to the front end (users) or back end- it sounds like a great concept, though.

In the end, this site looks exactly like what it is- the same old site, shoved into a new design. Very little thought has been paid to the content, navigation, usability, or what the user will actually use the site for. There’s no integration with the ILS (which I realize is a whole other beast and outside the aims of the project, but there’s not even the illusion of integration- you’re taken to a completely new site).

More than anything, I’d like to see some transparency as to the goings on in thelibrary. At the Ann Arbor District Library, there are several blogs aggregated on the main page, and people can comment on the posts. What’s amazing is, the libraries respond! Take a look at this blog post about Ann Arbor’s new website, and the long list of comments that follow. The truthfulness is something that’s great to see in a public institution.

Suggestions for improvement

Why should I care if the Lincoln City Library has rolled out a nice, generic website? Because I see the potential for much more. Much of the potential is not lost- with some tweaks, the current website design can work. Here are my suggestions for an improved user experience.

  1. Carefully consider navigation - every links does not need to be on the side navigation.
  2. Get rid of clip art, add photos.
  3. Add interactivity - make blogs, enable comments. Give the public a way to interact other than an email form.
  4. Adjust the colors - brighter is not always better!
  5. Add redirects to fix broken links.
  6. Try to integrate the book search into the site. (Right now, you’re taken to a new page, out of the template)
  7. Add pictures/bios of staff - I realize not all staff will want this, but maybe some will, and they can set an example.
  8. Add multimedia - utilize free services to put video content up.

My redesign

Here’s an idea of what an alternative website might look like - slightly subdued colors, more photos, picture of the library across the top. This is just an idea of an alternative, it is by no means what I think the site should look like. (Also, I didn’t spend too long on this, just tried to flesh out some ideas)

LCL mockup

Image credits:

Questions for you

What do you think? Is the new website just fine the way it is? Do you even care about the library? Would blogs and RSS feeds interest you at all?

Super Target is Open?

July 25, 2007 at 12:25pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

It looks like the new Super Target on South 40th Street and Yankee Hill Road is now open. Well, that’s the rumor anyway. Target.com is a little confused about the store, listing its address as:

Lincoln SW SuperTarget
null
null, null null

I suppose that’s better than last night when the store didn’t even exist on Target’s website.

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