Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful Holiday

Dear Friends, Customers and Partners,

The "first Thanksgiving" in the New World is a wonderful metaphor for what our CommunityOS customers do everyday.

By the spring of 1620, the Pilgrims were in dire straits. As the story goes, it was the kindness of a Native American, Squanto, who extended a helping hand. Less known, however, is the alliance that Squanto helped to form between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years.

Partnerships are all about working together, and connecting needs and assets for a stronger whole. Theodore Roosevelt spoke about the need to transform good will to good deeds: "Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds." Deeds involve action. "Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action."  ~W.J. Cameron

This spirit of action--being purposeful about helping those in need, and doing so by working together, is the tradition of Thanksgiving represented everyday by our customers. From 2-1-1 Call Center Specialists fielding millions of calls, connecting people with basic needs; to the volunteers helping disaster victims find shelter and safety; from homeless Continua of Care organizations banding together to help people get back on their feet; to local agencies working to weave the fabric of resilience and progress, we are honored to provide the platform for community care.

Today, we give thanks to and are continually in awe of, the work you do in service of others.

Happy Thanksgiving, 
The Entire VisionLink Team

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs: "Death is very likely the single best invention of Life."

As many others are tonight -- we are remembering Steve Jobs with the words of his Stanford Commencement address, delivered in June, 2005, below:

One comment first:  I received one of those classic emails from Steve Jobs a few years back.  Given how much of Apple's products we were using at VisionLink, I just wanted to ask if Apple was spending marketing dollars on a certain cable news network which I found harmful to civic discourse.

He sent a simple "no" in response.  Nothing lengthy; just "no." The point? He did not spend much time on the what shouldn't be.  He focused his time on the positive and on the new possibles.  He was the master of building tools for our daily lives that were both consequential and a joy to use.

In his own words then:  this is a prepared text of the Commencement address delivered by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, on June 12, 2005.


I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation.


Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.


The first story is about connecting the dots.


I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?


It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college


And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.


It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:


Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.


None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.


Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.


My second story is about love and loss.


I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.


I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.


I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.


During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.


I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.


My third story is about death.


When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.


Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.


About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.


I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.


This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:


No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.


Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.


When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.


Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.


Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.


Thank you all very much.


- Steve Jobs


-------------------------------------


Douglas Zimmerman
VisionLink

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Constitution Day 2011

In honor of Constitution Day, 2011, an essay from Stan Stahl.  You can find his blog here.  He has a knack for reminding us of our roots, the power of community, and the United States model of governance which has never found an equal.

Factions we have and we must, but let's find a way to constrain those factions on common ground.  Not unlike VisionLink's Community Operating System (tm), we work better when we work together.
________________________________


The options considered by the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention were broad. What kind of government were we to have? When the Convention ended, anxious citizens waiting outside Independence Hall wanted to know what had been produced behind those closed doors. The answer was provided immediately. 

A Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, "Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" Without hesitation, Franklin responded, "A republic, if you can keep it."

  We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Here we are, 224 years later, their posterity, inheritors of the greatest Blessings of Liberty the world has ever known ... at a time of deep global, social, cultural, political and economic challenge ... with a Congress having historically low approval ratings and a President whose approval ratings keep falling.

A republic, if we can keep it.

"We are in the very midst of revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world."
John Adams
July, 1776

Thirteen years before the Constitutional Convention in 1776 we were mad as hell ... at the Monarchy and the British Parliament ... and in our refusal to take it anymore our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

A hundred and fifty years ago, again mad as hell-but this time at each other-we engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. By the time our Civil War ended 4 years later, over 600,000 American soldiers lay dead. As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes learned from his battle-field experiences in the Civil War, "certitude leads to violence."

And now it's our turn to be mad as hell-mad at Congress, mad at the President, mad at the Supreme Court, mad at corporations who pay no taxes while shipping jobs overseas, mad at the insurance and drug companies, perhaps the only beneficiaries of Obamacare, mad at gays and lesbians and fundamentalists and atheists-mad at each other.

Just like 1776 and 1861, we are mad as hell and we aren't taking it anymore. Through our fury, though, we must answer a fundamental question: "What are we going to do about it?" Do we go to war with each other, like we did in 1861? Or do we find an alternative?

If two people work for me and they agree all the time, one of them is worthless. If they disagree all the time, they're both worthless.
Sam Goldwyn

Fundamental to American liberty are factions. As Madison taught us factions are as American as apple pie. Different people think differently and have different interests. Those with similar attitudes and objectives often bond together, seeking to accomplish their agenda in the political marketplace. The result is faction. Liberty, as Madison so wisely understood, was the very cause of faction.

To eliminate factions is to destroy liberty, replacing it with tyranny; a remedy ... worse than the disease, as Madison put it. Factions are evidence of the resiliency of liberty and it is through their growth and decay that the blessings of liberty evolve through history.
                                       
So factions we must have. Indeed we should glory in them, for they are the very expression of the liberties we hold so dear.

Except right now, our factions are mad as hell at each other. And we've got work to do. Difficult challenges to solve. A future to build. Right now, at this moment in our history, in the midst of all of our anger at each other, our factions are proving worthless.

America is 14 months away from our next election. Republican candidates are already lining up for the opportunity to take on Obama. The House and Senate are both in play. The media is ecstatic as interest is high. And we know from our long history that politicians play to their constituents.

It would be the height of naivety to expect there to be any lessening of factional anger before the election; indeed, factional anger will most likely rise as we get closer to the election.

But that doesn't say that we the people have to stay mad as hell, that we have to buy into the institutional anger in our midst. Each one of us has the opportunity to personally get past his or her own set of angers, not to take it, but to work to prepare the ground for what we will need after November 2012.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
Rumi.

Out beyond our anger live the verities, those eternal truths that have shown up over the course of our sojourn on our home planet, truths about how we connect to each other, how we build trust, how we learn to cooperate.

The first of these great truths is the Golden Rule, a general principle found in all of mankind's traditions: Treat others as you would be treated. Love others as you love yourself.

The Declaration-that we are all created equal, with equal rights-is but a political corollary of the Golden Rule. We all want liberty for ourselves. Therefore, there must be liberty for all. We are all created equal.

So today, the 224th anniversary of the American republic, at the beginning of our mad dash to what Jon Stewart calls "Indecision 2012,"it's time to slow down, take a deep breath and remember Lincoln's words from his first Inaugural Address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Let freedom ring.

____________________
Douglas Zimmerman
VisionLink, Inc.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fox News Interview

While I am much more comfortable on the other side of the camera lens, pleased to include this link to Fox News.  The interview focuses on the role of technology, social media, and Apps relating to disaster response and community services.



The key points are simply that moving forward, both day-to-day and emergency services are best delivered with the general public as part of a more comprehensive flow of information.  It's a two - way street.  Professionals can get the word out via mobile Apps and the public can get information in, via social media and other tools.

Working together we all work better--and that's the case whether the issue surfaces every day or only during disasters.  In fact, I might push it and say that unless we work together, it's a diaster regardless.

Link to Video

Douglas Zimmerman
VisionLink, Inc.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remember...

I like the way they looked down from the sky
And didn't seem to mind the way I cried
And didn't say, 'Now wipe away those tears,'
Or, 'Tell us, tell us what's the matter here!'
But shining through the dark they calmly stayed
And gently held me in their quiet way.
I felt them watching over me, each one
And let me cry and cry till I was done."


"Stars" by Deborah Chandra, as read by Peter Negron, an 11-year-old who lost his father on 9/11.

On behalf of all of us at VisionLink, we too add our thoughts and prayers for all of those whose lives were taken, and for the many who gave their lives responding.

We are honored to have been asked to stand up two instances of the CommunityOS platform. The first was used by the Survivors’ Fund of The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region to support the families and friends of the victims at the Pentagon. Nearly $25 million was distributed by the Survivor's Fund.

The second was for the New York Disaster Interfaith Service Network, and the 9/11 Recovery Worker Coordinated Assistance Network. It it an honor to be of assistance, and the lessons learned have been applied to the nation wide Coordinated Assistance Network, the VisionLink platform used by the American Red Cross, and for United Ways, FEMA and for the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. These efforts are united in common cause to weave the tapestry of successful community.

May we never forget the lives lost, nor the unity gained.

Douglas Zimmerman
VisionLink




Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Michael Brackney's Legacy



Family, friends, the American Red Cross, and the field of disaster relief lost an amazing man this past weekend.

As one of his colleagues said of him, "he was one of the most generous people in an organization known for its generosity."

From VisionLink's perspective, Michael was unusually able to transfer and communicate operational vision to guide our technical work in support of the Red Cross and disaster relief overall.  Whether creating large scale solutions during Hurricane Katrina, or day-to-day ideas that paved the way to more efficient and effective work, Michael's presence was constant, steady, tenacious and strong.  

I will remember him best as the behind the scenes architect of solutions that have and will help millions of people. We should all be so lucky to leave such a great legacy. Cheers to his life. 

Michael was a loving husband to Katherine Galifianakis, proud father to his sons Jake and Billy, doting grandfather to his grandson Dexter, and a great friend to all of us.  Michael passed away at Georgetown Hospital this past Monday morning.  Services are being held on Wednesday morning, Sept 7th.

Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President, CEO
VisionLink, Inc.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New Follow Up Manager


To help call operators, case managers, outreach staff and others follow up with their clients and contacts even more efficiently and effectively, VisionLink has released an enhanced Followup Manager (creative name, yes?)

The solution defaults to a view with today's followups listed, with one click access to followups that are past due, or due in the next 7 or 30 days. The enhancement integrates with the existing notification bar across the top fo the screen, to help ensure that follow activities are not missed.

Authorized users can also automate followups by frequency and day of the week; for example, this would allow a follow up very two weeks on Thursdays. When the work is done, the followup task can be marked appropriately.

Thanks go to the Down East Partnership for Children and Jessica Jones for making this possible across the VisionLink network.

Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink, Inc.

Monday, August 29, 2011

VisionLink iPhone App Makes Top Ten List

The Shelter View iPhone App, contributed by VisionLink to the American Red Cross, ranked in the top ten free utilities this weekend on the iTunes Store.


The Red Cross opened more than 500 shelters, providing local assistance across the entire eastern seaboard. The impacted area from Hurricane Irene was larger than the European continent.

The challenge now is to keep the public engaged as the storm resulted in more chaos than the reports of "missing the bullet" would suggest. With more than 5.5 million people without power, and some rivers yet to see their highest crest, many people need considerable assistance. Fortunately, hundreds of disaster relief organizations (most members of the Coordinated Assistance Network), know this and are coordinating many specially trained volunteers to assist.

The consequences range far;  blood drives are an example. More than 65 regularly scheduled blood drives were canceled because of Irene and this means that extra efforts will need to be mounted to sustain the nation's blood supply.

The iPhone App itself provides a quick national overview of open shelters, the ability to zoom in for more details, to check capacity and bed counts at any given shelter, the opportunity to donate to the disaster fund, and more. You can find the app by searching the iTunes store for "shelter view," or preview it here.



Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes! 

You only need to know 4 things about this app: Yes, it's official; Yes, it's free; Yes, it's good, and Yes, you need to install it on your phone *now* (before disaster strikes!)
The Shelter View App receives it's information directly from the National Shelter System, deployed by VisionLink on its CommunityOS platform. Our press release about the Top Ten ranking can be read here.

Please consider donating to the Red Cross or other relief agencies; this will be a very expensive recovery effort.

Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink, Inc.







Friday, August 26, 2011

2-1-1 Disaster Shelter Resources

Operating a 2-1-1 call center? Information and Referral? Elder care hotline or other similar solution? Then consider connecting to the National Shelter System to have information about disaster shelters at your finger tips, and for those you serve.

You can have an account on the National Shelter System, or have access to the XML open shelters data feed. You can use this data feed to drive information in your resource system, to display on maps and more.

For those of you who are using VisionLink's CommunityOS platform for 2-1-1 and I & R, or for similar solutions, we can make this even easier. The NSS and your CommunityOS platform use the same VisionLink software, and we built the NSS data standard and the data feed. Simply send us a copy of the executed authorization forms from the Red Cross, and we will turn on the feed for you.

To gain access to the NSS (for an account or for the Data Feed), write to nssresource@usa.redcross.org, and they will send you the proper paperwork.

Here's to only moderate damage from Hurricane Irene.

Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink, Inc.


 



Increasing High Quality Education Degrees - Lumina Conference



As part of their "Big Goal" to increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60% by the year 2025, Lumina Foundation has convened state legislators, policy makers, higher education leadership and representatives from 18 states in Indianapolis this week.  

This is important work, being done well.  Too many talk too much about the importance of education.  These folks are actually working on it.

Concluding today, speakers have included David Leonhardt, Washington Bureau Chief & Pulitzer Prize winner of the New York Times, Andy Goodman of The Goodman Center, Will Friedman, President of Public Agenda, and Bill Powers, President of the University of Texas at Austin.

Lois Ann Porter, a VisionLink Vice President and Director of Strategic Advantage has worked with HCM Strategists to construct and carry out the planning, tools, training and agenda for the conference.  Excellent work all! 

Learn more: Lumina Foundation  National Productivity Conference (check out the conference web casts).  You can also follow the conversation on Twitter with #collegeproductivity.

Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink, Inc.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Preparing For Irene - Shelter View App



Preparing for Hurricane Irene?  Be sure to keep up to date with Disaster Shelter information from the American Red Cross.  Two options:

a) If you have an iPhone, iPod or iPad, go to the App Store and search for "Shelter View." The application is free; it maps information about open shelters, and provides information about location, capacity and more very useful to those near the disaster area.

b) Take your web browser to http://www.redcross.org/nss and you can see most of the same information about shelters, capacity, driving directions and more from the National Shelter System, also deployed on VisionLink's CommunityOS platform.




Design and development costs for the Shelter View application were contributed to the American Red Cross by VisionLink, Inc as part of the CommunityOS(TM) platform.

If you have an iPhone, iPod or iPad, this is the one App we hope you will never need.  It is, however, a great easy way to keep up to date with small and large disasters across the United States every day.

Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink, Inc.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Enhanced Taxonomy Management

VisionLink has improved the Taxonomy Management module, particularly useful to information and referral and 2-1-1 operations.

As required by AIRS certification for 2-1-1 call centers, certain categories of the Taxonomy can be flagged as inactive so that services cannot be posted to these categories.

On the other hand, it is intentionally possible to post services to categories which are turned off day to day, so that such services might be prepared for future needs, or for a specific seasonal program, or as part of preparing for potential disasters.

As readers know, CommunityOS is a multi-purpose, multi-agency solution.  In this particular case, the Taxonomy management module supports the AIRS specification, while allowing proactive posting to inactive categories.  With a click, inactive categories can be activated and those posted services instantly become available to the staff, agency partners, and the public as appropriate.

Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink, Inc.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Boulder Makes Worst Dressed List

Okay, Boulder had this one coming.

After being too pleased with itself for being America's brainiest city, the nation's second healthiest town, the winner of Tree City USA, Top Ten Winter Towns, America's Foodiest Town, Top Ten Best Cities for the Next Decade, The Best City to Raise an Outdoor Kid, and the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge Winner, we have come to understand we are the 40th Worst Dressed City in America, compliments of GQ magazine:


Strolling through this charming university town, you are most likely to find three major categories of clothing: 1) anything made by North Face 2) anything made by Patagonia 3) fanny packs. The observant eye will also spot unmistakable seasonal trends, such as Adidas for Fall, Crocs for Spring, and Uggs for Summer (we have no explanation for this). These are often accompanied by Boulder's year-round go-to accessory, the wheatgrass shot (sometimes paired with an unidentifiable vegan "cookie"). Yet of Boulder's 100,000 people, about 30,000 are students, some 99.9% are blonde, and all of them in better shape than you. This town is always obnoxiously flaunting its "fittest-place-in-the-country" awards, and you will be hard-pressed to find one person here, including your 85-year-old grandmother, without a six-pack. It is, in fact, a worst-dressed city that looks best naked. So Boulderites, do your fellow citizens a favor: next time you reach for the biking-shorts-and-sneakers as eveningwear combo, just take it all off.

And no, VisionLink does not support that last line.

Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink, Inc.



Sources in order:

Portfolio.com, 2010
Men's Health, 2010
National Geographic, 2010
Bon App├ętit magazine, 2010
Kiplinger's Personal Finance, 2010
Backpacker, 2009
GQ magazine, 2011



Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day, 2011

Stan Stahl writes thoughtful essays particularly able to call us towards our most promising aspirations.

These are community-honoring, and community-building essays every time.  You can find more of his writing at http://letfreedomring-stahl.blogspot.com/.

Passing on his thoughts for this 4th of July.

Douglas Zimmerman
VisionLink, Inc.




Independence Day, 2011
Stan Stahl, Ph.D. 

You give the appearance of one widely traveled,
I'll bet you've seen things in your time.
So sit down beside me and tell me your story,
If you think you'll like yesterday's wine.
Willie Nelson

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 300,000,000 of us in the United States, 235 years after  John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, William Ellery, Lewis Morris, William Hooper, Samuel Chase, Abraham Clark and 47 other founders mutually pledged to each other "our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

Three hundred million of us, each with our own story; the story of who we are and who we hope to be: our family background, our history, our culture, along with our hopes, our dreams, our aspirations and our prayers for our children and for the world.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

Three hundred million Americans, each with our own story, each of us self-evidently endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
                   
July 4, 1776 ... The birth of a new nation-our nation-conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

All of our stories intersect on that day, 235 years ago, on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania the United States of America becomes the first and only nation in the world to profess this self-evident ideal, that all men are created equal.
                                                   
Today, 235 years later, the world measures the morality of a nation by the extent to which its people are free to live their own story, the extent to which its government secures to its people life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Six and a half billion stories-the stories of our species' march towards freedom-intersect in Philadelphia on that July day in 1776.

America's story has served as a beacon to freedom-loving people everywhere. For most of us, our story, like my story, is the story of people who braved incredible hardships to come to America, to bring their family to America, because here they could be free to live their story, to pursue their own special brand of happiness, to partake of the Blessings of Liberty that is America.

My Grandfather Stahl smuggled himself out of Latvia, coming to America as a young man. My mom's parents brought her to America as a baby, escaping the holocaust that was to consume so many in their family. They came to America to be free to live their story, linking their story - my story - to the story of freedom and that day in July, 1776.

America's story is not just the story of freedom. It is, as well, the story of freedom's denial, too often demonstrating the sometimes very wide gulf between our ideals and our realities.

The founders didn't mean all men the way we mean it today. Many owned slaves. Most of them didn't have Native Americans or African Americans in mind when they wrote all men. Their failure to write all men and women was not an oversight; they meant men, most specifically men like them.

Much of America's story has been the story of our struggle to extend the self-evident truths of our creed to more of us: Our Civil War, Women's Suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement. In today's culture wars, the left and right argue whether our self-evident truths extend to the LGBT community or the developing fetus.

"We are in the very midst of revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world."
John Adams
July, 1776

The revolution lives on in today's culture wars, the story of Americans arguing with each other over whose story is to be the story of America. In today's 24x7 telecommunication bubble, ours has become the story  of everyone talking at once, all of us speaking ever-louder, trying to get our story to rise above the ever-loudening cacophony of everyone else's story.

In this cacophony are the stories of our people, our hearts, our dreams, our fears and joys, our hopes and wishes, our sense of right and wrong, of liberty and justice. This is the voice of America that we hear in the messy discordant atonal arrhythmic dissonance that is our culture wars. It's the voice of we the people, governing ourselves as best we can, like we've been doing for 235 years. Marvel at the cacophony, for it is the story of a free people. Rejoice in it. Celebrate it.

On this day of celebration, let us also remember that the story of America-the story of freedom- must be a story big enough and broad enough to encompass the stories of all who yearn to be free, for this is the meaning of our creed, our self evident truth that all of us are created equal. At the end of the day, this self-evident truth means weaving our stories together into one giant tapestry of freedom. Otherwise, our stories are not equal, our pursuit of freedom limited.

In his spirit of liberty speech at a rally in Central Park in May 1944, in the midst of World War II, Judge Learned Hand eloquently described the tapestry we weave with our stories:

"What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith.

The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.

And now in that spirit, that spirit of an America which has never been, and which may never be; nay, which never will be except as the conscience and courage of Americans create it; yet in the spirit of that America which lies hidden in some form in the aspirations of us all; in the spirit of that America for which our young men are at this moment fighting and dying; in that spirit of liberty and of America I ask you to rise and with me pledge our faith in the glorious destiny of our beloved country."

Let us have the conscience and the courage to listen to each other's stories.

Let Freedom Ring.



© Copyright 2011. Stan Stahl, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Managing the Matrix

As the economy remains tight, state and federal, and even foundation grant programs are requiring more in return for the use of their funds.

What is the "more" defined as? It comes in the form of more specific requirements, procedural steps, outcome measures, and other ways that the funder is (naturally) trying to ensure effective use of the funds that are available. It means that the appropriate use of increasingly targeted funds if more and more challenging.

At the recipient or community level, this has the interesting consequence of requiring more time to patch together an increasingly specific set of funded options to package assistance for those who need help.

As a former grants officer myself, and involved with many community initiatives, I know this not really new; arguably the scale of this issue is growing, however. Hit with tighter resources, plus the growing disparity of income distribution across the country, and the task of helping those who need help is increasingly challenging. It is hard by definition. It is harder when those who give resources insist on increasingly detailed reporting about increasingly focused distributions.

Not that we can solve this problem. What we are doing, however, is beginning to build a new architecture in our CommunityOS software to allow our customers to manage this matrix even better.  In fact we just had another Community of Practice conference call yesterday on this very topic.  Very productive.

Stay tuned. As the challenges become more and more complex, the software can in fact respond.  It's what CommunityOS is all about, building multi-agency, multi-purpose solutions that can be used by different organizations for their own needs, yet in concert, collaboratively, for the good of the community.

Ideas or thoughts on this topic?  Please get in touch.

Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

GNIP, Twitter, Library of Congress Save the Tweets


All those tweets with which so much around the world is being shared? The good folks at GNIP, Twitter, and the Library Congress are working together to preserve Twitter conversations for posterity, as announced by the Library of Congress.

The work that GNIP is taking on with Twitter and the Library of Congress is at a tremendous scale--with over a billion Tweets being generated every week.

The research this will support will be limited to non-commercial purposes and to public data. Given the wide range of Twitter information, the insight this kind of research will support will be amazing, I have no doubt.

VisionLink is working with GNIP to improve VisionLink's situational awareness tools (mapping, social media feeds and so forth), and have recently released an enhanced version of these tools to our customers. We are proud to be working with such reputable sources as GNIP.

Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink



Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Safe & Well in Troubled Times

National Public Radio broadcast one of those riveting stories they do so well, in part from a disaster shelter where the Safe and Well system was being used to reconnect friends and family.  With more than 100 tornados across the nation these past few days, there are many people looking to find news about their loved ones.  It's a short 4 minute story, listen here.

We are proud to deploy the Safe & Well solution for the American Red Cross, and to have supported rapidly increasing levels of traffic during these tragic storms.   Safe and Well is importantly different from other lost person registries in that basic information is required to search for news about a friend or a relative.  In this way individuals and families can reconnect with one another, while not releasing private information to the curious.  It is a good blend of easy to use, useful, and respectfully private.

If you need to register or search for someone, go to Safe and Well.  If you are using a mobile phone, the site will automatically direct you to our mobile site.

If you need information about sheltering, you can download our free iPhone App which we contributed to the Red Cross.  Every open shelter is located on a map, and you can easily zoom in for details, directions, and other useful information.

Disaster Sheltering, Basement of the Hyatt

And in a surreal connection to the storms around us, while at the annual conference of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, we found ourselves in the disaster shelter of the hotel as a tornado warning activated for Kansas City.





Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink





Voluntary Organizations Active In Disaster

Writing from the national conference of the National Voluntary Organizations Active In Disaster (NVOAD).

Particularly in this season of storms, the resources and efforts of the NVOAD Members are truly extraordinary, and as they activate and keep working past the initial news cycle for any specific disaster, they are not as well known as they deserve to be.

The Salvation Army, as an example, has served 100,000's of meals, the Red Cross has opened hundreds of shelters and provided 10,000's of overnight stays for victims of the floods and tornados.

Feeding America has delivered more than a hundred truckloads of food and other grocery items. The Coordinated Assistance Network is supporting integrated, multi-agency client services for thousands of disaster survivors.

And these are but a few examples from the voluntary sector. Americans need to continue, and expand, their gifts of time, talent, and dollars to support the work of these and many others. Working together we all work better.


Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink, Inc.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Southeast Tornados: Staying Focused

We extend our thoughts and prayers to the many injured and to those who lost friends and families in the tornados this past week across the Southeast.

It is important to focus on these communities now, particularly as the news cycle moves to other news.  It will take months for these communities to recover, so long-term focus and attention will be important.  Relief agencies such as the American Red Cross are responding with significant resources.  They depend on donations, which you can contribute here.  The National Voluntary Agencies Active in Disaster have engaged (and we are standing up a site for their work in Alabama), as are the members of the Coordinated Assistance Network. We are proud to support technology for each of these relief networks.

Friends and family can find one another at Safe and Well, and can check the status of local shelters here.  In addition, iPhone users can download the free App, Shelter View, for shelter location maps, and shelter status and availability.

An event of this magnitude reaches out to many.  In fact, the nephew of one of our senior staff lost his home; it's as if the house was never there.  While injured, he is going to be okay.  This car is where the den used to be in the house, and at the left edge cars are falling into the basement.

Storms remind us of the power of natural forces, and that only through collaborative efforts can communities regain their foothold after disasters and work to increase their resilience in advance.





Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink, Inc.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Enhanced Searching for Public Access

We have released a completely redesigned interface for public access to community resources, assets, and services.  The interface offers a greatly simplified initial display for the public, with quick links to details and maps, and to an advanced searching module as well. For our system administrators, the new solution offers integrated resource editing directly from the search results.


The new mapping module is integrated as well, as is our new linguistically aware searching algorithms. As always, many thanks to our customers for their suggestions and recommendations.  We listened carefully.

As always, release documentation is available in the Customer Resource Center.

Enjoy!


Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Saturday, April 2, 2011

New Public Search Module

Public users searching for resources, services and other community assets are about to enjoy a powerfully effective search algorithm, and a new interface as well.

Released to our customers for review, each of our customers can now review their own online resource directory with these new tools and provide feedback before we release this into production.

The search algorithm uses a linguistically aware solution, reducing words to their core roots.  This eliminates issues with plurals and other word forms and many types of spelling issues.  Behind the scenes each customer's resource directory is regularly indexed for responsive searches.

The new search results interface is easier to use, more friendly, and for authorized users, provides built in editing and other tools which automatically appear for those with appropriate access rights.

Thank You! To the many customers, particularly those in New York, California, and Texas for their suggestions and refinements to this new design.

Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink, Inc.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Resources & Support for Japan Earthquake

Thoughts and prayers to those impacted by Japan's earthquake and tsunami.  

For those trying to reconnect friends and family, use the Red Cross Safe and Well site via the web or mobile (deployed on VisionLink's CommunityOS software).

For official updates on the nuclear reactors in Japan, go to International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA; the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, NISA; and to the Tokyo Electric Power Company for a list of regular updates.

For general information on recent disasters, go to the RedCross Newsroom or to main FEMA site.

Along the western coast of the USA, 2-1-1 call centers were engaged providing information to the public; we are proud to support this work directly in San Diego, and the Bay Area with CommunityOS software.

Many avenues to donate are available.  One of the easiest ways to donate $10 is by texting REDCROSS to 90999.  Or, you can go to this web link to make a donation to the Red Cross in any amount and for various causes: ARC Donation Site.


These days remind us of our common humanity, and the need for communities both prepared and resilient.


Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President and CEO
VisionLink



Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Welcome to Wyoming 2-1-1

We are pleased to announce that the good folks in Wyoming have launched their 2-1-1 state wide system using VisionLink's CommunityOS solution.

You can visit their site at: http://www.wyoming211.org, or by phone at 888-425-7138.



We are very pleased to support another statewide 2-1-1 initiative. Particularly during these tough economic times, 2-1-1 is an unusually effective and efficient method to connect needs with helpful resources. And these days, any disconnect between needs and resources turns issues into problems, and problems into crises. 

We will also be launching another new 2-1-1 system across much of Pennsylvania in the near future.  Stay tuned for updates!

Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink, Inc.