Monthly Archives: January 2017

Links: The opioid crisis and foster care, electric cars, Westworld, Solo Cups, housing, and more!

* That Time I Turned a Routine Traffic Ticket into the Constitutional Trial of the Century.”

* “The Children of the Opioid Crisis: Left behind by addict parents, tens of thousands of youngsters flood the nation’s foster-care system; grandparents become moms and dads again.” See also Isaac’s review of Dreamland, a book about the opioid crisis.

* GM begins delivering the first Chevy Bolts. Good news and an important milestone. Also: “Investors Get Ready for the Coming Electric Car Revolution.”

* “Why Obamacare enrollees voted for Trump,” a weird and fascinating piece of journalism as well as further confirmation of The Myth of the Rational Voter.

* “What’s Wrong With Literary Studies?

* Peter Watts: “Westworld, Season 1: A Story We Tell Ourselves.”

* To Slow Global Warming, We Need Nuclear Power.

* Ebikes: I Sing the Ride Electric.

* “The long political history of sneakers;” the title sounds dumb but the article itself is actually good.

* Open societies are facing major crises. I don’t think Soros’s answer is the right one or that most people even know who or what they might mean by “elites,” but the problems are clear and not going away.

* “When city retirement pays better than the job: One in four El Monte residents lives in poverty. Yet taxpayers pay a steep price to fund bonus pensions and other perks for city workers.” I try not to post outrage reads, yet sometimes I can’t resist.

* “Federal agencies rush to fill job openings before Trump takes office Jan. 20.”

* The red Solo cup is a marvel of modern engineering.

* “‘Routine’ Jobs Are Disappearing.” A useful piece for those of you running job training programs.

* The Real Reason Your City Has No Money.

* There’s “No proof music lessons make children any smarter.”

* An excellent, too-often-forgotten point: “Every movement…has a smart version and a stupid version, I try to (almost) always consider the smart version. The stupid version is always wrong for just about anything.”

* “Housing supply is [finally, almost, sort of] catching up to demand.”

* “How ‘time-saving’ technology destroys our productivity: The endless tasks it can be used to create leave us working longer and longer hours.” Congruent with “How Computers Have Made Grant Writing Worse.”

* Established education providers v new contenders. We work for both conventional LEAs and charter schools.

* “How our housing choices make adult friendships more difficult.”

* On Building the Skyline, a history of New York’s skyscrapers.

The HRSA Uniform Data Source (UDS) Mapper: A complement to Census data

By now you’re familiar with writing needs assessments and you’re familiar with using Census data in the needs assessment. While Census data is useful for economic, language, and many other socioeconomic indicators, it’s not very useful for most health surveillance data—and most health-related data is hard to get. This is because it’s collected in weird ways, by county or state entities, and often compiled into reports for health districts and other non-standard sub-geographies that don’t match up with census tracks or even municipal boundaries. The collection and reporting mess often makes it to compare various areas. Enter HRSA’s Uniform Data Source (USD) Mapper tool.

I don’t know the specifics about the UDS Mapper’s genesis, but I’ll guess that HRSA got tired of receiving proposals that used a hodgepodge of non-comparable data sources derived from a byzantine collection of sources, some likely reliable and some likely less than reliable. To take one example we’re intimately familiar with, the five Service Planning Areas (SPAs) for which LA Country aggregates most data. If you’ve written proposals to LA City or LA County, you’ve likely encountered SPA data. While SPA data is very useful, it doesn’t contain much, if any, health care data. Healthcare data is largely maintained by the LA County Health Department and doesn’t correspond to SPAs, leaving applicants frustrated.

(As an aside, school data is yet another wrinkle in this, since it’s usually collected by school or by district, and those sources usually don’t match up with census tracks or political sub-divisions. There’s also Kids Count data, but that is usually sorted by state or county—not that helpful for a target area in the huge LA County with a population of 10 million.)

The UDS Mapper combines Census data with reports from Section 330 providers, then sorts that information by zip code, city, county, and state levels. It’s not perfect and should probably not be your only data source. But it’s a surprisingly rich and robust data source that most non-FQHCs don’t yet know about.

Everyone knows about Census data. Most know about Google Scholar, which can be used to improve the citations and scholarly framework of your proposal (and this is a grant proposal, so no one checks the cites, but they do notice if they’re there or not). HRSA hasn’t done much to promote UDS data outside the cloistered confines of FQHCs. So we’re doing our part to make sure you know about the new data goldmine.

Tools continued: Be careful when you buy from Amazon

As a follow-up to our last post about tools we use, we’ll offer a cautionary note about buying equipment from Amazon. I’ve had several bad experiences with Amazon and we now only purchase generic items and books from Amazon. We try to buy from the manufacturer, because Amazon often ships fake or counterfeit items; the problem has been widely reported, but Amazon appears not to have done much about it. Slate has written about the plague of cheap knockoffs on Amazon. Buy from Amazon’s third-party sellers at your own peril.

If you do buy from Amazon, try to buy products fulfilled directly by Amazon, since that will at least facilitate the complaint/return process. Avoid third-party sellers, which are more likely to ship fake and/or used stuff with complex or nonexistent return policies. For example, I’m fond of fountain pens and tried to buy a Montegrappa NeroUno Linea Fountain Pen from two separate third-party sellers on Amazon.* The first turned to not actually have the pen; I waited a week for a pen that never arrived, then cancelled and bought from another Amazon third-party seller, but that seller sent an obviously used pen in a damaged box. Like Apple, Montegrappa has elaborate product packaging that is fun to open—and also makes used or damaged products obvious.

That pen went back and I eventually bought one from a reputable online pen seller. Recently, I ordered another item from an Amazon third-party seller; it was obviously counterfeit. I’m still trying to resolve the issue, so I’ll keep details on the down low for now. Significantly, however, Amazon’s front-line customer service people read from scripts when confronted with damaged/wrong/possibly fake items. They’re impenetrable and unhelpful.

Amazon also seems to forbid reviews that include words like “fake” or “counterfeit,” and I couldn’t find any system that Amazon uses to police this practice. But Amazon doesn’t control the whole world yet, and it doesn’t control this blog, so we’re issuing the warning here. We won’t buy any computers, computer parts, or computer accessories from Amazon because of these problems. Many Apple products, for example, that Amazon sells are fakes.

We’re adjusting behavior more generally and now prefer buying from the original manufacturer, if possible.


* Jake likes extra-fine Sailor 1911 pens (the link goes to one of the only American sellers), which are made in Japan, or Sakura Pigma Micron pens, which are also made in Japan (Japan seems to have strong pen game). He also covets a Pad & Quill messenger bag, but because he uses an iMac as a primary computer his bag isn’t that important.

Tools of the trade, updated: What a grant writer should have

Nine years ago I wrote “Tools of the Trade—What a Grant Writer Should Have.” Since then we’ve written several other posts about our adventures in hardware and software upgrades. Readers like stories about tools, so we keep writing updated versions.

By far our biggest “tools” upgrades in recent years has been a shift from shrink-wrapped software to cloud-based software. We now use:

  • QuickBooks Online replaced QuickBooks Pro and is the standard accounting package for small business bookkeeping. You’ll still need a bookkeeper or someone who understands the mysteries of double-entry bookkeeping to use QB Online effectively, or you will quickly turn to drink—QB remains unfriendly to the uninitiated.
  • Gusto HR, formerly known as Zen Payroll, is far better than the local payroll service company we once used. Gusto is very user friendly and handles the myriad of federal, state, and local requirements deftly. Most importantly, it produces payroll on-time, which makes for happy employees. Additionally, we have employees in two states, and Gusto integrates both state reporting systems with the federal system flawlessly. It’s less expensive than traditional services like ADP, as well as being more fun and hipper to use. Gusto has a complex setup process, but that’s true of all payroll systems.
  • Highrise is a great Customer Relations Management (CRM) solution for small businesses. We use HR to track inquiries, clients, and vendors. It’s enables collecting all contact info, emails, notes, etc., in one place that accessible from any device by authorized team members. Jake wishes for an ultra-fast HR desktop system, however, because logging into the website in the heat of a new client pitch can be too much slower than entering the client’s data into Textmate, then copying into Highrise later.
  • Dropbox is a terrific system for file sharing. It’s easy to set up folder sharing permissions, including temporary shared folders for clients. Synchronization happens near-instantaneously and ensures that any one of us can access any work file immediately and seamlessly.
  • Adobe Acrobat Pro DC has a better interface than Acrobat Pro 9, which we used for many years. This version is a subscription service, which means Adobe is going to draw blood money out of you every month until the end of time. Eventually, this version will end up costing far more than conventional versions used to.
  • MS Office 365 is another subscription service. Both Adobe and MS, however, price their subscriptions so much lower than the download versions that one is really forced into the subscription model, whether you like it or not.

Most proposals today are uploaded rather than submitted on paper, so we’re less dependent on printers/copiers and have jettisoned complex printer hardware. Some of our clients still like to fax, so faxing remains important. We use an HP LaserJet Pro MFP M521DN, hydra-headed printer/copier/fax, which is easy to configure and very reliable.

Our back-up printer is a Xerox Phaser 6280 color laser, which uses expensive supplies but produces good color prints.

We also use a Fujitsu ScanSnap IX500 Scanner. It’s the best small officer scanner on the market.

For phones, we’ve finally wrangled Ooma Office system into functioning. After much tribulation, I was eventually able to get Ooma to fax properly through the HP LaserJet MFP. Ooma also now sells IP phones and sold us proprietary versions of the Cisco 504G. Ooma claims you have to buy IP phones directly from Ooma or they won’t interface with the Ooma black box. I use the phone with a Jabra Pro 9740 bluetooth headset and Jabra GN1000 handset lifter. The phone system works well enough and costs about one-third what land lines did. Telcos don’t want to provide land line service and have priced land lines so high as to make the transition to VoIP inevitable.

With respect to computers, we use a mix of recent iMacs and MacBook Pros. By now PC hardware is boring and pretty much any PC made in the last couple years will work fine. Windows and MacOS are more alike than different; if Microsoft ever makes Office for Linux, that operating system will become viable for grant writers. You can see a picture of Jake’s desk on his blog, but the short version is that he uses a 27″ iMac much like mine. We like the Dell 24″ UltraSharp Monitor as a side monitor, but monitors of that size are now so cheap that pretty much any one will work.

EDIT: See also the second part of this post, “Tools continued: Be careful when you buy from Amazon.”