Latest Blog Posts

A Landmark Disappears

March 30, 2012 at 1:20pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Valentino’s and WRK want to demolish the original Valentino’s building and replace it with a mixed-use development. Valentino’s will be part of the replacement project, but we all know it won’t be the same. Perhaps it will be better.

I’m skeptical.

Valentino’s has been in a funk for years. Sure they still have many locations, but if quality rather than quantity is the indicator of success, Val’s doesn’t have it. They serve low-quality, low-cost slop directly out of the freezer at ridiculously inflated prices. They aren’t alone in that, of course. But they could do better.

One example: it shocks the heck out of me that Valentino’s can only manage to keep two of their buffets open in Lincoln. This is the heart of Valentino’s country, and yet there are half as many Val’s buffets today as there were 15 years ago. Why? I argue that it’s because Lincoln’s dining scene has matured significantly over the past two decades, while Val’s remains mired in the past. Indeed, nostalgia is one of the most important reasons Val’s is able to keep its doors open at all. Valentino’s as a brand is built upon what used to be, not what currently is. That can only last so long before it crumbles.

Which brings me back to this new development at 35th and Holdrege. The current Valentino’s building is no doubt outdated and ready to go. But that building is an important part of the Valentino’s brand. Take it away, and you take away a tremendous chunk of the nostalgia that breathes life into the chain. Without that link to history, Valentino’s is little more than an expensive hybrid of Fazoli’s and Cici’s. Will people continue to pay the “Valentino’s tax” as the history fades away?

I am a Valentino’s customer. I grew up on their pizza and I enjoy it from time to time. (Try jalapeno and cream cheese. Mmm.) I want them to be a success. But over these past several years I’ve had my doubts, and my most recent trip to the nearly-empty “Grand Italian Buffet” in Grand Island on Saturday evening left me shaking my head. Surely they can do better than where they are now.

Danger, Will Robinson

March 29, 2012 at 10:55am By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Well, I guess I won’t be getting my news from the Journal Star this morning…

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According to Google’s “safe browsing” report, the ol’ LJS suffers from “38 exploits and 2 trojans”:

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One possible scenario is that some third-party software they use has been compromised—an ad delivered from their ad network, perhaps. Lincolnite was actually flagged a few years ago because my web host was hacked via a Wordpress installation on a separate account that shared the same server as me. That was annoying. I can’t remember how long it took me to get the warning removed, but I do remember it was longer than I would’ve liked.

Whatever’s going on with JournalStar.com, I recommend you stay away for now unless you know what you’re getting into. Your computer probably won’t get infected with anything ... but it might. I’ll post updates below as I have them.

UPDATE 11:30AM: The alert is gone now.

Three in One

March 28, 2012 at 1:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Craving Heoya while your spouse wants GUP and the kids want to try the new A La CARTe? There’s a solution for that.

Beginning this Saturday and continuing every other Saturday after that, all three food trucks will be in the parking lot on the southwest corner of 27th and O at 6:00pm. It’s a great opportunity to sample a variety of excellent food, especially for those of you who haven’t yet given any of the food trucks a try.

If the thought of buying food out of a truck frightens you, it really shouldn’t. The food preparation area is cleaner than most any restaurant around, and since they’re working all of four feet away from you, you can watch everything they do if you’re so inclined. My experience suggests that the food itself is top notch and reasonably priced. My favorite of the three is Heoya—the pork banh mi is excellent—but that’s as much a bias of familiarity as anything. I’ve only had GUP Kitchen once but it was quite tasty. A La CARTe is so new that I haven’t had a chance to try it yet.

If you want to learn more, or if you want to find out where each truck will be located on a given day, you’ll need their websites, Facebook pages, or Twitter handles:

GUP Kitchen
@eatgroundup
Facebook

Heoya
@HeoyaNebraska
Facebook

A La CARTe
@nealacarte
Facebook

Where’s the Money Going?

March 27, 2012 at 11:30am By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I’m having some troubles understanding a few things about Nebraska’s child welfare system. Perhaps you can help me out.

Thanks to a series of failures while attempting to privatize the system, most case management duties have returned to HHS. As a result, HHS has recently moved millions of new dollars over to child welfare reform. In addition, HHS has asked for millions more in the next budget. So the amount of money going to HHS for child welfare is up substantially.

At the same time, HHS is slashing payments and services to foster care agencies (KVC, Cedars, Christian Heritage, et al.) and foster parents while simultaneously increasing their workload. One example: HHS will no longer provide transportation for children to/from parent visits. That responsibility now falls to foster parents and/or the placement agencies despite them receiving less money. These agencies are having their payments slashed by thousands of dollars each month, forcing them to cut staff. Yet with their newly-shortened roster of personnel they’re supposed to take on the new responsibility of carting kids around town. Or if they can’t do it, foster parents are supposed to. The same foster parents who receive $12 per day are supposed to take off work to pick a kid up at daycare and take her to a visit, then wait around to take her back home when it’s over.

In the end, HHS is directly taking in millions of new taxpayer dollars, plus they’re indirectly taking in millions more by pulling money out of the pockets of those who most directly provide critical services to foster children and foster families. If all that money isn’t going to serve the kids and foster families ... where is it going? That’s not a rhetorical question, I really want to know!

It gets even better. Before they cut up their service coordination contract with HHS, KVC had a contract with Foster Care Closet to provide clothing and supplies to foster kids in KVC’s service area twice a year. The contract was a boon to foster families because it satisfied short-term needs until their first payment arrived (which often still wasn’t enough to cover immediate expenses). When KVC’s contract ended, so did their contract with Foster Care Closet. Now, HHS has so far declined to partner with Foster Care Closet. Despite Foster Care Closet’s ability to provide seven new outfits to foster kids at an average cost of only $33 per child, HHS (so far) prefers to rely on a voucher system paid directly to foster parents. Two problems:

First, the vouchers aren’t immediate enough. Foster families have no idea when they will show up, if at all. (Ours took five months, and even then it was only provided after a court order.) Second, vouchers cost taxpayers significantly more than $33 yet provide less value. Say the voucher is for $100. Now imagine trying to buy seven new and complete outfits for a teenager with that money. Good luck! In short, it’s HHS’s position that taxpayers would rather spend more on vouchers to get substantially less for their money, rather than partnering with a non-profit that has a demonstrated history of achieving substantial savings on clothing buys and distribution.

I realize this is a fairly disorganized rant. Dealing with child welfare reform has a tendency to cause one to sputter and babble. The institutional ignorance and inefficiency is enough to question your own sanity. “Surely it’s not that bad!”, you might be tempted to exclaim. Yet in truth, if you do some research you’ll soon find that around every turn is actually worse than you could have fathomed.

As a taxpayer you should be appalled. As a human you should be shattered. There’s really no Lincolnite this mess doesn’t touch.

Where in Lincoln is this?

March 26, 2012 at 12:44pm By: Mr. T Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

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EDIT: Solved!

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A Different Kind of Taco

March 23, 2012 at 1:45pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I’ve done more than my fair share of raving on various Mexican restaurants around town and their tacos. (Mmm, El Chaparro ....) Well how about something a little different?

Lincoln’s Indian Center is hosting an Indian taco fundraiser next Friday from 11:00am until 2:00pm. Walk-ins are welcome, or place a preorder (PDF). There’s free delivery for those who order five or more tacos, which sounds perfect for offices on campus or Downtown.

The Indian Center is at 1100 Military Road, which is just west of Devaney Center.

Give to Lincoln Day

March 22, 2012 at 11:00am By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Coming up on May 17 is Give to Lincoln Day, a one-day giving event put together by Lincoln Community Foundation. Mark your calendars.

If I heard correctly, some seventy local nonprofits have signed up so far to participate. Groups have through May 16th to get on board, although signing up earlier gives more time to set up and promote the organization.

The event is part competition and part cooperative effort to maximize visibility of area nonprofits. The competitive part is for $200,000 in matching grant funds offered up by Lincoln Community Foundation. But mostly it’s about raising awareness. Smaller nonprofits in particular benefit. Many small nonprofits, for example, don’t have an infrastructure set up to accept online donations. Give to Lincoln Day gives them that piece, not only for May 17 but also beyond.

Foster Care Closet logo

I will participate in Give to Lincoln Day on behalf of Foster Care Closet. We have set for ourselves a modest goal that will allow the Closet to serve approximately 200 kids with the funds raised through this event. In the coming weeks I’ll talk more about the Closet, its role in the child welfare system, and how far it is able to stretch donations while providing quality clothing. Which reminds me: we are looking for somebody who can provide video production capabilities to help the Closet tell its stories. If you or somebody you know can help, please let me know.

In Praise of Hy-Vee’s Pharmacy

March 20, 2012 at 4:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Our oldest son Joey is on several medications. Unfortunately, several are highly-controlled medications. In addition, as a former ward of the state, he’s on Medicaid. Many of you already know where this is going.

Thanks to obnoxious Medicaid rules—which were created thanks to people who abuse the system plus a healthy dose of bureaucratic quackery—acquiring some of Joey’s medications is a royal pain in the butt. We jump through all sorts of hoops on a regular basis. The prescriptions have to be hand-written by the doctor (no electronic or phone-in prescriptions). Refills are limited. Prescription renewals require a visit to the doctor. We can’t order the next batch of medicine before a certain time, despite knowing when we’re going to run out. We’re treated like drug dealers if we lose a pill. And so on. It all makes for a wonderful case study on inefficiencies and absurdities in America’s health care industry.

But let’s not delve into that mess. Instead, I want to focus on the awesome folks at Hy-Vee’s pharmacy. (Specifically the Williamsburg location.) We’re currently involved in a situation where Joey is out of a med. We can’t just go in and get a refill because apparently a generic is now available and Medicaid requires the use of generics if they exist. No big deal, right? Except Hy-Vee can’t give us the generic because their supplier is giving them the run-around and being slow, so Hy-Vee doesn’t have the generic to give us. That leaves us in a pickle. We’re out of an extremely important pill, Joey’s health (and our sanity) is at risk, and Medicaid won’t bend to make a temporary exception to help us out.

Fortunately the folks at Hy-Vee stepped up. They’ve given us some of the name brand pills to hold us over until an alternate supplier can provide the generic equivalent. That means Hy-Vee is eating the relatively substantial difference between the cost of the pills and the amount that Medicaid will actually reimburse.

In the grand scheme of things the financial impact on Hy-Vee is virtually nil. But the value to us is significantly higher than that. In addition, the direct financial impact doesn’t include all of the time and energy put in by the staff at the pharmacy in trying to resolve this. (Phone calls. So, so many phone calls.) Furthermore, this isn’t the first, second, or even third time that pharmacy staff have gone out of their way to help us. Joey’s situation is extremely complicated, and without an excellent pharmacy to help us over the past 20+ months, there no doubt would have been many more headaches and hurdles.

I don’t know what the service is like at other pharmacies around town, but no way will you see us leaving Hy-Vee any time soon. We are grateful for their help.

Take Our Money!

March 20, 2012 at 1:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

It’s nice to see that the “cash mob” concept has made its way to Lincoln. The idea is that a group of people “mob” a local business to give them a one-time boost in sales, and hopefully to create a few new repeat customers in the process. It can be a jarring or even destructive activity when done wrong—a business caught off guard might not perform up to its standards, and a horde of new customers can scare off the regulars—but when done well, it can make for a pleasant marketing opportunity.

Actually, I’m not so sure that Professor Jeff Mohr’s class was in fact the first to pull off the cash mob idea. I can’t point to any specifics, but I could swear I’ve heard of other groups doing similar things around town. Not that it matters who was first, of course. I just have a feeling that somebody out there is stewing over their Cheerios, growling under their breath, “How dare those bastards claim to have been first. I was first!”. That person will eventually go on to become a super villain.

The ultimate point of cash mobs is, of course, to get new customers into local businesses. Many Lincolnites will see this article about cash mobs and think “I want to be a part of that!” ... only to sit around waiting for another one to come along. But other than the social aspect of a cash mob event, that attitude misses the point. Go support local businesses today, and tomorrow, and any chance you get. That’s more valuable to a local business than mobbing it, anyway. Please do participate in any future cash mobs, but as a supplement to your normal habits, not as a replacement for being a good participant in the local economy.

You’d Think the LJS Would’ve Covered This

March 20, 2012 at 1:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Five tornadoes hit Lincoln, Nebraska

You know, it has long been said that Lincoln “can’t” be hit by a tornado because we sit in the middle of some sort of weird geographical quirk. Perhaps that’s true in this universe, but maybe there’s a Lincoln in a separate universe that isn’t so lucky. And maybe the linked news article leaked from that universe into ours.

Or maybe we shouldn’t get our weather reports from the Russians.

Where in Lincoln is this?

March 19, 2012 at 2:18pm By: Mr. T Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

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EDIT: Unsolved!

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On The Ball

March 15, 2012 at 11:25am By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

High school soccer’s ridiculously short season—the Journal Star says it’s 3 months long, but it’s actually just two—starts up today. This morning’s LJS features city soccer capsules. On the boys side, East and Southwest are surely the favorites for the City championship again this year. Pius X is in a position to make a strong run in Class B.

As for the girls, Southeast returns a whopping 10 starters from last year’s State runner-up team, including five D1 recruits. That’ll be a handful for the rest of LPS. Interestingly, three schools have new girls coaches this year (Northeast, North Star, Southwest). That’s a pretty sizable shakeup.

As always, there’s a limit to what I can say about all of this since I’m a referee, so I’ll stop there. Best of luck to everybody this spring!

EDIT: Here are schedules for every team in the state. Class A boys | Class B boys | Class A girls | Class B girls.

Happy Trails to You

March 15, 2012 at 11:20am By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Steve Smith reminded me of my post on trail etiquette from two years ago. With all this weather and with so many Lincolnites venturing onto Lincoln’s excellent trails system, it has some good reminders. Most of the points are common sense, but if everybody followed them we wouldn’t need the reminders, would we?

Happy walking / running / biking, everybody!

Mmmm, Fried Dough

March 13, 2012 at 11:50am By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

It may not be Chik-fil-a, but for many Lincolnites it’s surely a close second place. That’s right, Dunkin’ Donuts is coming to Lincoln.

I’m told Dunkin’ Donuts is incredible. My experience, extremely limited though it may be, is that it’s just another donut shop. I have no doubt that the lines out the door when the first store opens will prove me wrong.

(Fun fact: the last time I ate at a DD was in some town outside of Boston when we were in the area to pick up Robbie.)

I’m trying to think where I would locate a DD if I were involved in such a decision. There will be 9 stores divided between Lincoln and Omaha, so there’s a good chance we’re eventually looking at at least three locations here in town. I have to think that Downtown on P Street offers some pretty compelling advantages. I could also see 84th Street being a strong possibility, perhaps somewhere around Adams.

Are you looking forward to Dunkin’ Donuts’s (Donuts’?) arrival? Where would you locate the stores?

Where in Lincoln is this?

March 12, 2012 at 12:51pm By: Mr. T Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

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EDIT: Solved!

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