Sunday, November 6, 2011

Technology is a Tool - Not a "Tool"

Technology is a Tool

(Just an excerpt from the most recent IT Update at the City of Shawnee I wrote. Nothing earth shattering but quite true IMHO)

Just like the caveman used a club and fire, the modern man and women have tools to do the jobs of the day. The computer, and other technology, are simply that… tools of the current time. Yes, we still use clubs and fire, but just like in the caveman days, the ones what knew and used the tools the most effectively survived yet another day and thrived.

It’s pretty hard to think of any position at the City where a computer type device doesn’t come in to play somehow, somewhere… or won’t be in the near future. Meter readers use handheld devices, janitors use email, offices workers spend a majority of their time on a box, Police have laptops in their cars, Fire has iPads in their hands. Water and Sewer plants run on embedded systems, and Cemetery workers use databases and soon GPS and GIS. Garage mechanics lookup manuals and help online, and soon line workers will be using iPads to see their networks of water and sewer pipes.

So when we hear someone say “I don’t know much about computers” I pause and think: “How do you do your job then?” I know, maybe we’re partial to the whole technology thing since that’s our job to keep it all working, but seriously, how do you do your job the most effective and efficient way if you don’t know the tools you use?

If you’re waiting for someone to show you everything you need to know then you’ll always be behind the learning curve. Just look around a little and you’ll see all kinds of help waiting there for you to be proactive with. On the COS Intranet you’ll see Computer Self Help, INCODE Help and Documents, Global Records information, how to add printers, setup email, and more. And once you are using a piece of software, nearly everything you need to know is often lurking behind that HELP button or menu item. If you say you don’t have time to learn, I challenge you that you don’t have time NOT to learn how to be more effective with the tools of the 21st century… technology and computers.

Just don’t use the club or fire I talked about on the Computer.. that doesn’t help.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Presenting YouTown - Learning about

In October of 2011, I had the opportunity to assist in a presentation on a mobile app the City of Shawnee is currently testing / deploying for one of our mobile solutions as well as sit in on a meeting about a major website redesign project the City of Oklahoma City has underway. Interesting and informative day.

YouTown App Presentation

The presentation audience were government entities, primarily State Agencies and Libraries, from across Oklahoma attending the annual Oklahoma State Webmanagers Group (OSWG) - See #OSWG hashtag on Twitter or the OSWG Website for more information. Although I did not attend many sessions due to presentation coordination and planning time on site, both Governor Mary Fallin and Oklahoma State CIO Alex Pettit were keynote speakers at the conference.

The presentation went well with DotGov Inc/YouTown's Director of Government Operations Sid Burgess leading off the discussion about the history behind the app, and an overview of the company. Sid has been a local Gov 2.0 advocate in Oklahoma City for several years and was the brains behind the past Oklahoma Gov2.0a (applied) forums that brought in Open Government and social media experts from across the nation for presentations, City Camps, and discussions. Sid is moving to Seattle to open up the first DotGov offices in the United States the end of October 2011. He will be missed greatly by many in the OKC and beyond area.

Derrick Silas, Web Communications Development/Social Media Specialist from Enid continued with their involvement in the YouTown Beta test run, why they chose YouTown and how to setup various features of the app from the dashboard control. Derrick is deeply involved in the re-branding of the City of Enid and their use in Social Media and Mobile access and helped to bring YouTown to the forefront for Oklahoma cities.

I then discussed the news feeds, the ability to repackage existing data from your existing RSS feeds and the mapping options with emphasis on how we at the City of Shawnee are generating dynamic KML maps of all the various data feeds we have such as CAD Calls, nuisance properties, Police Incidents, etc. We appear to be the only YouTown user of the 300+ cities participating in the app that are currently doing this dynamically. However, we are lacking in general GIS maps such as zoning, water and sewer lines, etc as this information needs to come from the proper department in either SHP or KML formats to be utilized.

Although the audience were not City or Town based, DotGov plans to rebrand the app as simply DotGov or DotGov Mobile and market up the layers of government as they have done in other parts of the world. This provides the ability for a single app to aggregate news/events/mapping and service feeds for end users in a single app solution if desired. There are challenges, but acceptance at the City level has surpassed their expectations and projections to date.

If you haven't already, you should download the YouTown app in the App store for Apple devices or the market for Android devices. We will have a story in the Shawnee Outlook Magazine in the near future that will be timed with a press release and official publication of the YouTown app as well as our City of Shawnee Mobile Website.

I did stay and listen to marketing expert Korey Mcmahon from Norman Ok talk about using Social Media to market basically anything. Good session with general discussions of the various channels, motivational information about the possibilities and tools to monitor and use in the Social Media world. Nothing strikingly new based on our past use and experiences at the City of Shawnee but reaffirming if nothing else.

I also had a long lunch and coffee with Sid Burgess discussing the YouTown app, DotGov's future plans, and a City's needs and limitations, resources, etc as well as some technical features behind our data. DotGov is also working towards Open Data standards in government services and data that can allow better data exchange and more transparent government. I was asked to consider future travel to Seattle for a two day brain storming / discussion session to help explore the directions of DotGov and the needs of Cities similar to ours.

Link to a news release we are in:

Oklahoma City Web Site Redesign

While at the OSWG conference I was asked via Twitter by Oklahoma City Creative Manager Zach Nash to attend a public meeting about the redesign project of the Oklahoma City website ( at 6:30pm that evening. Zach was presenting / presiding over the meeting and was looking for input for discussions. I dropped by the meeting to learn more about their process. Unfortunately this particular meeting was very lightly attended with mostly staff from the PIO's office and IT being there. This is a City the size of OKC and that is the participation they get at this point. :-(

Although discussion was limited, it was another good opportunity to talk again with OKC IT and PIO contacts such as Zach and the Director of the Public Information and Marketing department Kristy Yager as well as IT R&D Specialist David Grothe and IT employee Dustin Gabus. The presentation was helpful outlining existing issues and future goals of the OKC marketing department and website as well as their hooks in Social Media. Information on their efforts to collect input to plan the redesign can be found at including their ongoing survey page which may be helpful in the future for our efforts. They are using a wide variety of input options including the survey, public meetings, email, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Wireframing apps as well as old school postal mail. A big outreach effort to insure the direction is what citizens want and /or expect.

Just another day well worth it outside the office…

-Stephen W Nolen

Thursday, January 27, 2011


So you fight the battles, figure out how to get through the best way you think you know how, make what you think are wise decisions, look forward and try to plan your best route through this thing called life and then WHAM - smack in the face it can all unwind.

Of course when you look back you usually see all those mistakes you couldn't see at the time. Those mistakes you should have seen but didn't. Maybe someone told you about them, pointed them out, but...

Those same mistakes also seem to be because many, if not most of those decisions, plans, and maybe even dreams where self centered, very much about YOU only.

It's funny and sad how you can get so tied up in what you think is "living", that when something hits you in the face and life stops for a moment for whatever reasons and makes you ponder, what you really care about the most may be already be lost and those things you were "living" really do not matter much anymore.

I'm sure like everyone says when you pick yourself back up and get back on the road of life things will get better again. Hopefully they don't get bitter as well. Just picking your way through the crash is very difficult, scary, and sad.

I recently heard this quote the other day but it is so fitting for life:

"Cherish today what you have because you don't know what tomorrow will bring or take away."

And true to it's form this does happen....

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Future is Young...

Information Technology managers have to deal with "new" often as technology itself changes daily, but as the work force gets younger, IT managers also have to deal with "young".

The challenge, in my mind, is going to be how to "Manage IT", but provide the resources and creative outlets to meet the demands of the next "young" generation. The generation growing up in the socially connected world of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, and beyond... WAY beyond in fact as new ways to communicate and work are added every day. Where time at work and time at play have no clean edges. Sometimes that is good - the melding of personal communication and work skills at least in the Government world where MORE transparency, collaboration, and participation is not only desired but ENCOURAGED and not only for our citizens and customers of the government, but for it's employees as well.

"UnManaging" Managed IT

For those that have managed networks, systems, applications and Internet access for very long, you know the challenges faced to keep that balance - Secured and controlled, but not restraining. Of course 'restraining' seems to be quite relative depending upon if you are "in" IT or not. To some not being able to spend all work day on Myspace, Facebook and Youtube IS 'restraining', for others anything besides official "approved" websites is insubordination. Finding the balance both technically and administratively is one of the bigger challenges I see facing IT and management in the future.

Obviously you have to empower your employees, citizens and customers to use the modern tools of communicating and getting things done while insuring all this is done without wasted time, resources, and money. Letting things "be free" while not giving away the farm... or City... or country in the process. A place where fewer FILTERED SITE ACCESS LOGGED screens are encountered but more productivity is obtained through true collaboration and communication.

But it takes more than just empowering citizens and employees to use social media tools to do their job better, it also takes the mature use of those tools by employees AND citizens for the betterment of the entity, not just the enjoyment and entertainment of the employee or the anonymous bashing of public officials or entities by the Citizens.

Can it be done? Sure. HOW can it be done? Not sure..... yet.

It should be very interesting in the next few years as "Gov2.0" concepts take over the historically bland world of local, state, and national governments entities.

Stay tuned - the ride should be worth watching.

-Stephen W Nolen

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Online House Updated - Home Automation

Fueled by many cups of 1/2 Caff coffee (hey you have to cut down when you get old), cold and wet weather and a huge need for an update, I've spent my spare time in the past week or so updating our Online House and home automation system. The house can be visited HERE and the descriptive history is found HERE.

We've had an "automated house" since way back in the 80's when I had an old VIC 20 computer turning lights on and off. The next step up was in the 90's when we moved and I purchased a JDS Timecommander Plus system. The new system provided much more capability and is still the stable work horse for our system. When we moved to our current house in 2000, the system moved with us but the installation was half hearted. It worked fine and spent the past 10 years doing it's job but needed to be cleaned up and some new features added and some broken features fixed.

I feel I have somewhat accomplished that... but there is plenty more to do. The biggest need was to get a better mobile phone interface. The house has had mobile access for a very long time when "WAP" and "WML" were the only thing a phone understood. With the advent of the new smartphones and the iPhone that world changed and a much better interfaced was needed. The iPhone can handle the main site but it is still not optimized for small touch screens. The basic screen is shown at the right and allows access to most all the features and information the house provides. This interface will continue to get updated as ideas pop up and time allows. For now it is much easier to use from anywhere in the world to not only know what is up in the house but to control things as well.

Some of the "new" features... although planned all along, just not implemented, are the integration of the HVAC units so I know when and for how long each unit runs. Not a big deal but nice to know for cleaning filters and maintenance issues. I also re-integrated the washer and dryer that had to be removed when new units were purchased. Another fix, not new feature, but a handy item to have the system tell you when the machines are done across the speakers instead of waiting for that high pitched beep that I can hardly hear anymore...another getting old thing I guess.

On the new side all new paging and email routines were added to keep me updated even if I am not looking at the house remotely. Items such as burglar alarm, garage door opening during the day, motion detection when there should be no motion, phone calls, etc were added. A new routine to speak the current weather forecast was added that gets the Yahoo weather RSS feed, breaks it down and speaks it on command. Handy sometimes. I also added some bluetooth based proximity sensing. The system knows when I am around the server and can act upon that. Nothing really programmed in yet but the capability is now there.

The biggest thing added was putting the house on Twitter at Yeah, I know... WHY? Because I can? Because *I* like the idea. There are only a couple houses I could find that have done this and with my work on @ShawneePD and @ShawneeFD it was so easy to do... so WHY NOT?

I also updated the basic look and feel of the control pages replacing icons from the old clipart versions to new, more modern looking ones from across the net. I also changed the color theme "back to blue" because that is what I like.

But what about security?
That is the biggest question I seem to get and it *IS* a valid one. With all that information out there couldn't someone figure out when you are home or not and break in. Sure they could... just like they could your house by simply counting cars or watching the house. Of course THAT is what all the automation is about. Webcams that capture pictures, motion sensors that know when someone is there, burglar alarms watching windows and doors, and more that will not be listed here. So yes, it is a concern but the house has been online since 1999 doing it's best to protect and serve.

Of course there is always the watch dog... no, not THAT one...

For more information about Home Automation visit the Wiki or visit

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reflecting on the "Oughts"

Ok, I know - it should be "naught" but "ought" is how I've always heard it. With that out of the way it actually surprised me that we are at the end of a decade. I guess it shouldn't have - I pretty much remember the end of the 60's and the moon landing, the end of the 70's as a party haze, the end of the 80's as a career building time, and the end of the 90's as the end of the world as we know it. At least the Y2K EOW (End Of World) was a nothing.

I do remember 2000 more distinctly as I would guess most do. I remember as a kid in the 60's and 70's how OLD I would be at the end of the 'century'... the 2000 wow factor. It came, it went, and nothing happened. I remember being 'on call' on 12/31/1999 in case the world did end, like I could really have done something about it.

So now we are at the end of the "oughts"... or "naughts"... whatever. Where did this decade go? Still odd how time is relative and you don't know it until you get older. I can remember 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd, 4th, 5th, then 6-7th... and then it becomes "middle school", "high school", "college" and all of sudden it's the 80's, 90's, and now the "naughts". I guess soon it will be "B50" and "A50" - BEFORE I was 50 years old and AFTER.

It has been an interesting decade - We watched the USA start out this century with great confidence, take a sucker punch and get mired in very difficult to "win" wars. We watched email spam grow from a minor annoyance to nearly 85% of email being moved around in bits and bytes. We watched the Internet go from a cool thing to use to a must have to survive in today's connected world. We watched trying to send data through a cell phone to the world go from 9600 baud to 1mb and the internet in your palm.

I personally watched my 69 Mustang rebuild project sit... and sit... and sit.. and then finally start, and then stall, and stall... I'm running out of weekends in my life here. But I still let building a one off go kart, making numerous Lego 'stop motion' animation films, and an 88 Turbocoupe and 85 Mustang SVO take my time.. but I did enjoy it.

We moved to our current home in 2000 so it's easy for me to divide the 1900's with the 2000's - they really are like two different centuries in my mind. I wasn't that crazy about the move but am glad we did now along with picking up the acre lot next to us to keep us from being blocked back in like in town.

So the "oughts"/"naughts" are gone and the 10's/Teens are upon us. What will the next decade hold? Personally it holds watching our son start driving his 91' Mustang GT (and praying he isn't as stupid as I was back then in my 69), watching him graduate and get through college (please, please get through college), and winding down my career. Where did that lifetime go?

I am *IN* the technology business but honestly can't imagine what tech changes we will see in the next decade. I'm sure we'll see the cloud take over our apps, more and more power in our pockets, likely direct connections with our feeble brains with more bio-tech integration and the complete move to everything digital.. it's pretty close already.

Is the future bright - sure it is! There will be twists, turns and tarnish on the bright future but it will be bright... and challenging. I hope to see a few more of these decade things pass by... ok, at least two or three.

Happy 2010 and here's to the 10's/Teens!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Future is Cloudy

That is for sure... how "cloudy" is still an open question...

That is "cloudy" as "in the cloud" for the future of Information Technology. It's only a matter of time and economics. When it's cheaper to outsource your IT needs to hosted "in the cloud" solutions, individuals, business and government will "follow the money". Things like security, control of your data, privacy, etc will be secondary considerations.

In Nicholas Carr's The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google, much of this is explained and is compared to the early days of electricity. There is a striking resemblance to the history of power, generation, and use and the path that Information Technology has taken over the years. It's a good read even if not totally perfect in regard to the future.

We've watched computing technology go from huge rooms with staffs of hundreds, to mini computers small businesses could afford with dumb terminals, to islands of smart but standalone PC's, and through to client/server configurations that mixed in the best of both local power and server power. Now applications are running on machines anywhere in the world and available from any connection, once again requiring very little end machine power.

The switch will not be overnight but little by little, app by app, solution by solution. Today, using web based email such as GMail is the easiest and most effective way of handling the most common "app" of the Internet. In the not too distant past, you had a desktop program that you had to configure to use whatever mail server was provided by your company or Internet Service Provider. Now you can use Gmail or other webmail solutions from any machine, anywhere in the world without an app. You can brand it under your own domain and few will every know the difference.

I used to scrounge around for an old version of Word so I could have a word processor on my home computer, one that I used maybe 5-10% of it's power for the actual writing I do. Today, Google Docs provides an efficient, effective word processor along with a spreadsheet program, presentation options and even form capture abilities... without any cost as an individual user.

Even in personal productivity using the Getting Things Done paradigm I wouldn't even consider an application that ties me to a single computer or hand held device. Not when I have options such as GTDAgenda or TaskWriter available to me. Available again from any computer or the trusty iPhone that is always in my pocket... and much easier to manage than a physical binder or notebook.

As cloud computing does take over, local IT staff need to be re-thinking our jobs and what added value we already have, and what other added value we can provide to insure the future of local IT support. Will all IT Departments be gone in the next few years from corporate or government America? Not likely but they WILL be redefining their role in the enterprise.

The days of managing the endless technical nuances of servers and desktop operating systems, keeping systems patched and secure, and making sure everyone has the latest version of their word processing and email program is quickly coming to and end. Soon local IT staff may be more concerned about keeping their Internet connection solid and making sure the local wires are in good shape... or not with the expansion of wireless solutions.

How long will it be until super thin clients running on expendable hardware that connect wireless to a cloud company's freely provided router that is remotely supported and managed without anyone being local? No long I would image... Not long. Actually it's already here in one form or another.

Hello, I'm a recovering Systems Administrator and looking for a job... might not be too long for that.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Life of Busy

Been busy lately? I would bet nearly everyone would say "yes" to that one. At least about everyone I know. Busy has been double busy for me lately for various reasons: Doing Interim Finance Director position on top of my CIO position during budget time for the Muni I work for, mother's knee replacement surgery and recovery, new puppy in the house that is still learning the ropes, yet another car project that I wanted but didn't really need, patio cover project on my mothers house, the list goes on and on.

I have never understood those people who say they are 'bored' or bored with life. My concern is I will not have ENOUGH life to get to the things I want to do. I joke that I can't die because I have too many projects to finish still. Maybe that is the curse of having too many interest. I swing through the wide ranges of three car projects, web development, an automated home, MX motorcycles, chopper and old bicycles, small robotics, video editing, brickfilming, home repair and expansion, and a vast other array of things that are just darn FUN to me. Too many interest, too little time I suppose but dang it I am going to have a good time while I'm here.

The big challenge still is motivation - the old problem with when I have TIME, I have little INTEREST and when I have INTEREST, I have no TIME. Right now I am really interested in getting further along on the '69 Mustang and the '85 Mustang SVO but work calls heavily and other projects and duties hang in the way. I'm sure as soon as things settle down I will have more time and then I will have moved on to something else that peaks my interest at the time.

So what's the answer? Make more time? Guess that is another hobby - time expansion modulation or something like that. My talk to myself is just to 'enjoy the journey' even if the physical ends never get there. Oh the challenge of a 'hobbyaholic'. (I'm sure someone, somewhere has trademarked that word but I'm using it anyhow)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Twitter and Productivity?

Is Twitter Productivity an oxymoron? There are several posts in the blog world about Twitter and it's drain on productivity. I am seeing a different take on it myself - but of course, like any tool, it's all based on how you use it. Sure, Twitter can be a productivity drain - if you sit there and constantly monitor your friends and @reply all the time and turn Twitter into "Chatter" instead.

However, I've seen a different slant with it myself. Although my following is quite minimal, I've found I can use Twitter to put a little unseen pressure on myself that whatever I tweet I should actually be doing. One can use that to your advantage if done correctly. Instead of tweeting "I am eating breakfast at Tiffanys", I can tweet "Working the @Computer list" and I have set some pressure on myself that I need to either do or keep doing that post. In fact if I will tweet what I SHOULD be doing at the moment, I have a tendency to go ahead and actually follow up on that.

I have used that in reference to my weekly reviews before - I tweet "Working on Weekly Review" and feel at that point I better be doing that. Of course it's not like some follower is going to come to my house and make sure I'm actually doing that but if you play it right it's a helpful TwitterCoach for me.

Silly solution? Likely, but if you have any principles in regard to "what you say vs what you do" it can be a simple but effective tool to help Get Things Done in your world. Of course you are making a huge assumption that your followers are actually reading what you tweet - but some things are left better unknown than known.

Keep on Tweeting...
Image by ChrisMetcalf

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dealing With 50

This month I end my era of being a "40-something". It's on to the big Five-O and on to bigger and better things... or I'm just getting old, it depends upon how you look at it.

As with most people getting here has been a blur. I still remember thinking as a child what it would be like to see the year 2000, the turn of the century. Something that not all generations get to experience. 2000 came and went and was highlight by the Y2K fear instead of the magic, or lack thereof, watching 1999 roll to 2000 (or 1999 to 1900 if Y2K was your thing).

Looking Back
Like most people, your past life experiences filters your perspective on life itself. I feel very fortunate that my life experiences have been mostly positive and my luck has been good. Especially since I really never had the vision of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go in the past. I think I worked hard at the jobs I've had from car hop to now and was lucky to have bosses that gave me opportunities. Looking back I can't imagine me as a fifty-something giving a twenty-something some of the major projects that I had the opportunity to work on including long range plans and designs that may still affect people today. Time slips by for sure and before you know it it's all over.

I obviously have more interest and hobbies than I could ever expect myself to accomplish in one lifetime but I don't plan on giving up the battle. Between home automation, web programming, pushing technology and automation everywhere I go, personal robotics, rebuilding cars, bikes and motorcycles, making stop motion movies, computers in general and just making sure I live life day by day and enjoy my family and friends, time can get away from one.

So what's next?
  • Retirement? - Not for another twelve or more years for me.
  • AARP? - Already a member, they let me cheat or something at 49.
  • Aches and Pains? - Already have them.
  • Gray Hair? - Getting there.
  • Get Smarter? - It's getting much harder to do that.
  • Maturity? - Nah, never grow up.
  • Get Rich? - Still trying to figure that one out
  • Keep Living?
Yeah, that seems like the best option - Keep Living. I think I'll keep doing what I'm doing but also keep improving what I'm doing to make sure those around me and myself included enjoy every minute I have left in this lifetime.

Besides, I have too many projects. I won't be able to pass on until I'm 100 or something at the rate I am accomplishing them!

Live Long and Prosper - Sounds like a plan.