Friday, August 20, 2010

The Gift of a Car Prowl

You never now when you're going to get a blessing. Sometimes, it's from someone who is doing you wrong!

 This morning, The Lovely Wife noticed the trunk of our car was open. Sure enough, we'd been car-prowled. Both front doors were slightly open (that is, closed but not latched); the glove box and front- and back-ashtrays were open.

They didn't get much. The cellphone charger that I kept it between the front seats was gone, as was the hand-sanitizer in the door pocket, and the auto book in the glovebox.The registration and proof of insurance are still in the driver's-side visor and, although the trunk had been popped, the jumper cables were still there along with the little folding shovel I always keep for good luck (I've never gotten stuck in snow if I have a shovel!)

Annoyed but not terribly sad I filled out a police report online. It was a lengthy process, but seemed well-designed except for a bit of clumsiness in the way you specify what kind(s) of items were taken (a two-level set of choice boxes; generating well-structured data but not the easiest to use - for example, is a book personal or business property?)  In the process of puzzling this out, I noticed that one of the things that might have been stolenwere license plate tabs. I went and checked and ... sure enough ... I had expired tabs!

Now, were mine stolen, or had I forgotten to renew? I checked my records and found that notices to renew both my personal driver's license and my car tabs came the same month, using the same graphics and layout;  I must have assumed one was a reminder for the other and filled out only one. (That's a practice point in message design - give reminders for different things some clear point of difference!)

I immediately renewed my tabs online. There was a delay while I got an emissions inspection, which we passed easily (Superior Automotive really does keep the car running well!) Otherwise, the story ended happily: no ticket!

I should be grateful to the thief. Had it not been for the car prowl, I'd still be driving with expired tabs and sooner or later I'd have gotten a $250 ticket!

Life is strange!

P.S. Learn from my mistakes! Keep stuff out of your car, and renew your tabs, or be prepared to write your own "Don't Be That Guy"!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Foreign Assistance Act Reform/Rewrite ?

The 1961 Foreign Assistance Act is getting more than a little creaky. Maybe it's time to re-write it for the current era?

According to Sarah Jane Staats
"House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) and his staff released the first 55 pages of a new Global Partnership Act of 2010 discussion draft, aiming to replace the outdatedand unwieldy Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. It’s a first step towards clarifying the mission, mandate and structure of U.S. foreign assistance programs, but also an opportunity to strengthen the draft before it is introduced as legislation...."
I'm not an expert on this subject at all, but two points stand out immediately:

  • It's remarkable that Representative Berman is doing his job in a responsible way that is garaunteed not to earn him any votes. I mean, seriously: our current politics have sunk so low that associating himself with Foreign Aid in any way has got to poll negative, but reforming it has got to be a high priority. Kudos on courage sir!
  • It seems likely that any program that old and with that many conflicting interests could do with a re-write.

Here's a discussion draft. Let's do that citizenship thing and try to figure it all out!