Monthly Archives: April 2010

OFSVS Update #1

Steve Trefethen just sent supporters the following message:

Hi All,

  You’re receiving this email because you’ve subscribed to the mailing list so first, thank you! In the initial 24 emails sent out 5 bounced and there are now 9 subscribers not including myself. While that number isn’t large I feel it’s a great start so again thank you. There are a number of items to mention in this first email so I’ll get right to the point:

Name Change

This effort isn’t about me and I was uncomfortable about having stevetrefethen.com in the header of the site so that’s been changed to "Organizing for Scotts Valley Schools" (OFSVS) which closely reflects the efforts started here and appeals more broadly to leaders/people in other neighborhoods. The website address remains unchanged though if we need to change that I’d be happy to do that as well. Feedback is always welcome.

Building Our Mailing List

For this effort to succeed we need to reach out to our neighbors and ask them to subscribe and join us. I’ve gotten some great feedback and have been in contact with some other interested people outside of Skypark. To the end, I’ve made changes to my website to better support adding other neighborhoods so if you know of anyone who wants to lead this effort outside of Skypark please have them contact me.

Parcel Tax Happenings

The second Parcel Tax Exploration Committee (unofficial name) meeting is tentatively scheduled for May 5th at 6:30pm in the middle school library. I’m on this committee so feel free to contact/join/carpool with me if you’re interested. Michael Shulman (School Board president) has been digging in deep researching all of the available structuring options and has provided some great details so please let me know if you’re interested. I’ve cc’ed Michael on this email as he’s well aware of this effort.

Vine Hill PTA

I understand there are a large number of openings on the VH PTA that are coming up. My wife (Kristi) has been in contact with several people in Skypark about "tackling" this problem so please let me know if there are any connections/introductions I can help with. While my children happen to attend VH I want to be clear this effort is District wide as there are Skypark children attending Brook Knoll as well so if there are openings there or other issues that we should mention please contact me.

Dollar-A-Day Efforts

The Dollar-A-Day efforts are once again in the works looking to launch prior to the end of the school year. I missed the recent  SVEF meeting where I’m sure this was discussed. I’ve reviewed the letter that’s going out (not sure it’s appropriate to share via this list) and offered a suggestion to include the new $30/monthly subscription to SVEF via Paypal versus a single $365 one time donation. If you’re interested in this discussion please let me know.

What I’ve Been Up To

Since my last email I’ve met with Karen Jelcick (District CBO) to better my understanding of school funding and she was very candid and helpful. She mentioned she’s open to any additional questions so please let me know if you have questions and I can help work to get them answered. I’ve also written a new blog post about broadening the reach of PTA and Board meetings.

For smaller and potentially more frequent updates be sure to subscribe to my twitter account.

Thanks again, and please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you build this effort.

-Steve

Join us!

Ideas for broadening the reach of PTA and Board meetings

Over the past few months I’ve attended a wide variety of meetings: PTA, School Board, coffee talks and even new committee meetings. All of these were held in the evening and most on weekdays which meant coordinating with my wife. None of the meetings I’ve attended were available remotely meaning I had to be physically present which in some case meant getting out the map and heading off the parts of Scotts Valley I’d never seen which is fine but is just one more reason someone might not attend a meeting. While that’s not a big deal it does raise the bar and with each increment you’re likely to lose someone along the way.

Part of my work involves online training where I train 30-40 people per month attending from around the world. My company uses GotoMeeting and GotoWebinar where attendees can dial in by phone or use VOIP to hear my voice and connect via the Internet to view my computer desktop in real time. I’d particularly like to see PTA and Board meetings broadcast or at least recorded so I can either attend or listen in allowing me to hear for myself exactly what was said and how. Accuracy of the information coming from these meetings is crucial to building trust in parents throughout the District.

Now, I realize GotoMeeting is not free however there are free mechanisms to share meetings that could be utilized. For example, I have an account with cinchcast for easily recording and sharing of audio over the web and while not live at least gives people the opportunity to find out what happened and allows them to “attend” and draw their own conclusions from what was said. There’s also qik.com (among others) that supports near real-time video streamed from a cell phone and while that may not scale to a Board meeting it is an option and I hope it gets people thinking.

To make some progress on this I’m going to contact Shannon Calden, the District’s Technology Director, to determine if the school has any technology that could be leveraged from phones, to Internet access, to remote meeting software.

If you have ideas or feedback please leave a comment or contact me.

[Update: April 30, 2010] I recently learned that the Board meetings are recorded so perhaps posting these recordings online might make sense at least for reference.

One more point to add would be “live” blogging of these meetings where minutes taken during the meeting are done so online and available immediately.

Parcel Tax FAQ

Update Aug, 2010 This content has been superseded by the OFSVS wiki which contains far more content.

I’ll use this post to gather questions and answers relating to any Parcel Tax initiative that may be considered for SVUSD. You can read more about successful Bond and Parcel Tax initiatives throughout California in 2009. You can also read more about When and How to Call an Election.

To join the efforts to study and develop a parcel tax initiative please contact me.

How does a Parcel Tax measure get placed on the ballot?

The Scotts Valley School Board has the authority to place a measure on the ballot.

What is the cost to the school district to place a Parcel Tax measure on the ballot?

This depends on the type of ballot used (mail-in versus precinct). A mail-in ballot would incur a higher cost to the district.

Where does the money come from to pay for a Parcel Tax initiative?

The money to place a measure on the ballot comes from the School Districts budget.

What lead time does the School Board need to place the measure on the ballot?

90 days. (supporting details needed here)

Is a flat $98 per parcel tax proposal enough?

The $98 Parcel Tax that’s been mentioned in the Scotts Valley Banner is likely to fall several hundred thousand dollars short of the $950,000 projected shortfall for 2011-2012. This is based on approximately 7000 parcels in Scotts Valley and includes a Senior Citizen exception meaning somewhere less than $700,000 dollars would be raised leaving the District several hundred thousand dollars short. For more details read Gary Redenbacher’s Scotts Valley Banner article It’s The Law Of Parcel Taxes.

Apple’s license agreement is it really a surprise?

With Apple’s recently announced changes to it’s License Agreement I really don’t see any surprise in it at all. My computing career started on an Apple II in high school but that was the extent of my exposure to Apple hardware and software until I won an iPod back in my Borland days. I followed with some interest what seemed to be the near death of Apple back in the Gil Amelio days and the curious flirtation with 3rd party hardware manufacturers which was subsequently crushed.

If anything Apple has always fiercely protected what makes it Apple. They’re an incredibly innovative company and while I’ve heard and read people talking about these recent changes being reminiscent of Mac vs. Windows I’d disagree. There are some significant differences this time around particularly when you consider Apple’s control over and influence on content producers, something that didn’t exist “back in the day”. This time around Apple arguably has the best device, and I’m a big Android fan but it’s plainly missing tons of polish that the iPhone has in spades.

With the recent release of the iPad and all the magazines and newspapers scrambling to leverage it to salvage their fading print business once again Apple is in the drivers seat. If you look at the landscape Apple has lots of things going for it right now on the content side. Take for example the fact the Droid has a non-existent music experience and that their online Market is rather laughable when compared to the AppStore. No matter how lame iTunes is we’ve all had it for years and got sucked into it well before the iPhone came out with an iPod or two (or three). Also, if you’ve watched Apple’s iPhone announcements over the years they’ve always highlighted gaming. There’s been no shortage of games produced for the platform and I’d guess the vast majority of those wouldn’t really have issues when it comes to the recent license agreement changes (though that’s just a guess). Now with the advent of the iPad with all it’s hype we’re going to see an explosion of cool games that do all sorts of new things and the movie, magazine, book and newspaper reading experience will all now have to live up to Apple’s standard which is going to be very difficult to do. In other words I don’t think it’s going to slow the growth of the AppStore any time soon which gets right to my point…

Apple is going to, rightly, protect its business and the experience of using their devices is damn enjoyable and very fluid, far more so than on Android. It’s easy to understand they wouldn’t want a game, or any application, to play/function exactly the same on any other platform. It’s also easy to see after years of cultivating their “relationship” with the music industry there’s probably no company better positioned to negotiate rights to movies, magazines, newspapers or other multi-media content particularly now they have a larger screen device all those parties surely want to be on.

One way to look at this is that developers are getting screwed though I think that’s perhaps short sighted if your goal as a developer is for the platform that you’re targeting to succeed for years to come. Apple is working to protect their platform and with iAd, if anything, they’re looking to expand not only their revenue but their developer community’s as well. Makes sense.

When I step back and look at it, Apple’s been cultivating all kinds of relationships using their mobile devices with developer’s, non-Mac users, music enthusiasts, gamers and entire industries. They’ve created an experience, whether it’s in the Apple store or on the AppStore or on a mobile device that’s difficult to top and I’m hard pressed to think of another company in a similar position. At least Kliener Perkins seems to agree.

Anyway, those are some of my thoughts on the subject. What’s your take?

Querying email addresses in a Google Spreadsheet

I’ve been playing around with Google Spreadsheets and was attempting to query for an email address stored within a column. It’s pretty straight forward, or at least so I thought, but kept running into the error:

Parse error: Invalid token encountered

And stumbled around for awhile trying to URL encode various parts of the query string which looks something like this:

http://spreadsheets.google.com/feeds/list/myDoc/mySheet/private/full?sq={email}%3djohn@doe.com

The documentation states query operators need to be encoded so I tried applying that to parts of my query with no luck. Eventually, I threw some quotes around the email address and voila, it worked!

http://spreadsheets.google.com/feeds/list/myDoc/mySheet/private/full?sq={email}%3d"john@doe.com"

I eventually found this thread validating my findings and indicating my original query might have worked as recently as last December.

Improving Site Performance

I run BlogEngine.NET and recently logged into Google WebMaster Tools and was a little surprised to read the following paragraph and see the related chart:

Performance overview

On average, pages in your site take 6.8 seconds to load (updated on Apr 4, 2010). This is slower than 82% of sites. These estimates are of low accuracy (fewer than 100 data points). The chart below shows how your site’s average page load time has changed over the last few months. For your reference, it also shows the 20th percentile value across all sites, separating slow and fast load times.

Chart

Yikes! Not. Good.

As you can see I was able to make some quick changes in March that helped but clearly I’m far from being in the sweet spot.

What I Did

Using Google’s Page Speed and Yahoo’s YSlow I started chipping away at the issues. I started on the JavaScript side and added this combine, compress and minify HttpHandler which turned out to be quite easy. Next, I applied Ken Silverman’s pngout utility (warning: his background will hurt your eyes) to my images and minified and combined several CSS files as well as set default images sizes.

Updated April 11, 2010 I’ve turned off Gravatar because it’s too damn slow particularly for pages with lots of comments. That page used to take 10 seconds to load now it’s just a few seconds.

Migrating to IIS7

Over the weekend I took the plunge and used the Migration tool on my discountASP.NET (which btw, I highly recommend) account and moved to IIS7. You can read about how that went here but for the most part things were pretty seamless although my site was down for 16 hours or so. After the migration I setup the MS IIS Manager for remote administration allowing me to set cache expiration headers for lots standard images.

The net result, starting at 78/100…

Page Speed Score 88/100

And from a “C” to an “A” on the YSlow report card:

YSlow performance score

At this point, it’s going to be a few more days before Google’s WebMaster Tools re-executes its performance tests but I’m hoping for some dramatically improved results.

What’s your verdict? How’d I do?

[Update April 13, 2010] This chart from Google WebMaster Tools of download times is starting to show the improvements I’ve made:

image

Heading to Google I/O with free Motorola Droid

I’m going to Google I/O this year and this just landed in my Inbox (highlighting mine):

Hi Steve,
  This year’s Google I/O is less than 2 months away, and we’re very excited that you and over 4,000 other developers will be joining us in San Francisco. During the 2-day conference, you’ll have over 90 sessions to choose from and the opportunity to meet with developers from over 170 companies that will be demoing their apps and talking in-depth about their use of Google technologies in the Developer Sandbox.

As you might have guessed, Android will have a big presence at this year’s event. To make sure you’re equipped to make the most of your Android experience during Google I/O, we’d like to mail you a Verizon Droid by Motorola before the event.

Interesting they didn’t want to sponsor a Nexus One though kudos to Motorola. I’ve installed Eclipse and played around with creating an Android application an experience rather reminiscent of the old Win32 development days.

So now, what to do with an extra Droid? 🙂

Google Map of Scotts Valley School District


I was looking for this for quite awhile and found the map on the district’s site hard to read. Here is a Google map of the Scotts Valley Unified School District which I believe is fairly accurate.

Zip Code: 95066