Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Calling One Out: Prisoners and Students

The other day during conversation, a colleague who is also a full-time student was talking about the costs of education.

"It's amazing when you think about it," he said, "Because even for all the grumbling about the high costs involved with schooling, it's twice as expensive to imprison a person. How messed up is that?"

Please don't get me wrong -- this isn't a lead-in to some rant about law and order, or lockin' em up and throwin' away the key, or the rightness or wrongness of the American criminal justice system. It's also not about the near- and long-term costs or benefits of incarcerating people for breaking the law. Instead, it's about the statement and rhetorical question, in and of itself.

Much like other oft-repeated but wide-of-the-mark statements, like those about the fate of 50% of marriages (they don't), or whether certain groups weren't once immigrants to North America (sorry but ALL were, at some point, as I first saw on Choosing a Soundtrack last July and have kept in mind ever since), or whether a man named Crapper invented the flush toilet (he didn't), the implication that the prisoners and students spending comparison is somehow "messed up" doesn't really ring true.

The way people usually derive this is to compare the direct costs of education itself versus the entire cost of housing, feeding, and caring for a prisoner. As my eight year-old niece might say, "Well, duh."

One ought to be fairly expensive, as it involves salaries, administration, transportation, books, resources, and equipment, etc. from roughly 8 a.m. until roughly 3 p.m. each day. If we're talking college, people usually use the tuition itself, or the per-pupil costs to a state university, when making this argument. Still, it's not hard to imagine what's being included and what's not.

The second ought to be a whole lot MORE expensive, as it also involves intensive manpower and the resultant salaries, administration, transportation, etc. but also three squares a day, living facilities, health care and prescriptions, legal rights, and other basic 24/7 amenities that most of us folks on the outside take for granted. If we re-jiggered the numbers to include all the per capita spending on the lives of students (whether from their own or others' wallets), to include their housing, their meals, their entertainment, their transportation and fuel costs, and the uniformed folks who keep order on the outside, things might not seem so "messed up" after all. It's really easy to calculate per-head costs this way for a prison, but not so easy to do for an open society. I may not always appreciate it, but I am constantly deriving benefit from the fact that there's a police station within view of my house and someone waiting to answer a 911 call if I ever had to make it. So is a student who *only* spends 20k per year on tuition.

I happen to admire Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, and have said as much on several local blogs, for his politically unpopular but spot-on strident critiques of our prison-industrial system. For the record, I think it's important that we do whatever we can to prevent recidivism. If that means properly taking care of our prisoners, manning the corrections staffs enough to prevent sexual abuse, and making every effort to provide inmates with job skills, then so be it.

But just to tie it back to the top for a second, I just want to reiterate that my overall point here is NOT about the proper amount of money our society ought to spend on schools or prisons.

Frankly, I have no idea about the *proper* levels of either, and won't pretend to.

It's late, and I'm too lazy to look all this up right now, but if you showed me numbers indicating that the cost of locking someone up in Shirley for a year was four times greater than the cost of in-state tuition at UML, I just wouldn't be able to extrapolate much from that - it's just not saying anything.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Business Success and the KISS Principle

So I had an HVAC issue. It wasn't all that big a deal -- that's the benefit of living up on the eleventh and twelfth floors, and the modern advances that make space heaters safe, powerful, and affordable. I pushed the whole thing off for a while because I was so wrapped up with work, but this Saturday I finally had a chance to do something.

But you already know I'd never write about that for its own sake -- hang in there.

As I opened up the phone book with a loosely-defined plan to cold call anyone with a "978" area code, I swung and missed at the first couple of numbers. On the first two opportunities, all I got were recordings that offered to transfer me to answering services. Not wanting to be a hypocrite about the whole voicemail thing, I took them up on the offer but -- no surprise -- the people I got patched through to couldn't help with any of my (very basic) questions.

I worked down to my next number, which was for Affordable Heat & Air in Billerica. I faithfully dialed the ten digits and was soon talking to an actual HVAC specialist with whom I could share details about what was working, what wasn't working, and how I might describe it. Bear in mind, if you've ever heard some variant of the change-a-lightbulb joke where the punchline involved calling an electrician, that about sums up my level of handyman expertise.

No surprise, Monday has passed us by now and I never heard back from the first two businesses. But that's all water under the bridge, so to speak, because the guy from Affordable already came by today before the missus' shift and solved our major problem.

Here's the best part: In the process of coming up and down the elevator on trips back and forth to his truck this morning, the guy found two other leads, as in people from the building who sought him out because they were also having HVAC problems.

Who knows who else those people may know. And so on and so on. You get the idea. If you've ever read a Malcolm Gladwell article about networking, I know you're already excited.

I have a feeling I'm not the only person who works during the week and can't necessarily carve out time during *company hours* to start calling around to people to start talking about work that needs to be done on the house. I can't be the only person who puts those sorts of things off, along with other major errands, until Saturday.

A service that wants to win the business of people like me should keep that in mind, adhering to the Keep It Simple, Stupid premise that says, "Many people work Monday through Friday. By being responsive to customers on Saturday, we'll differentiate ourselves from those who aren't. Business will therefore grow."

Remote technologies like cell phones and Google Voice make this way easier than it would've been years ago, where it would've meant tying up an employee near a desk for that whole day. The wisdom of companies and services who grasp this will be reflected in their bottom lines.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Consistency in Corvallis

Here are four basic premises with which I hope you'll agree:

1. It's wrong to drive a vehicle packed with explosives into large crowds with the hopes of killing hundreds during a public gathering.

2. It's wrong to associate one person's decision to commit such an act with a much larger group, nearly all of whom would agree with Statement 1.

3. It's wrong to deliberately set fire to a house of worship for ANY reason.

4. It's wrong to associate one person or small group's decision to commit such an act with a much larger group, nearly all of whom would agree with Statement 3.

Looking across the international punditocracy's response to the recent arson at an Islamic center in Corvallis, OR, an apparent retaliatory response to one teenager's apparent attempt to commit the act described in Statement 1, it seems that many are okay with statements 1-3, but are getting tripped up on Statement 4.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims -- not just in the States, but across the world -- disagree with the rationale that some might use to justify spectacular terrorist attacks like the one plotted for this weekend's ceremony in Portland, OR. That's not an attempt at political correctness, but a verifiable fact.

It's ALSO true that the overwhelming majority of American citizens do not support or even passively condone the burning of houses of worship. One or even a handful of vigilantes who may have attacked the would-be bomber's house of worship in Corvallis, OR does not set the tone for the Corvallis community or for American society writ large.

To make sweeping, negative characterizations about the nearly 300 million or so Americans who did NOT commit that act is just as ignorant as a blanket condemnation of the billion or so Muslims who had NOTHING to do with the attempted bombing in Portland.

The real mistake would be for the moderates to be drawn into the fray by the extremists on either side who would love to see it happen.

Slow News Day, Eh?

A couple nights ago, I caught a segment on local TV news about the buying habits of consumers in this "New Economy." One of the "revelations" made during the segment was that shoppers are so wary of economic turmoil in these crazy times that they've stopped making bulk purchases of common household items like toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, etc.

I had to throw a yellow flag on the field for that one.

I don't for a minute dispute that vast sums have evaporated from people's IRAs and 401(k)s. Neither do I contend that huge numbers of people face, or have recently faced, involuntary periods of economic inactivity, whether through unemployment, underemployment, or any combination thereof. Lastly, I don't take anything away from the fact that the real estate collapse has left millions of people holding notes for their homes that are greater than the value of the homes themselves.

In fact, maybe the reason why I'm so confident that Americans are dealing with all three of those phenomena (and more) is because I've been among their ranks since the Great Recession kicked off more than two years ago. I'm now employed (over-employed?) but in a somewhat precarious sort of temporary way. All of that experience, coupled with the fact that I live within one square mile of pretty much the entire economic spectrum this country has to offer, makes me think I might have some concept of just how good or bad things are for many participants in our economy.

Having laid all that out, what I WILL dispute is the idea that our society is undergoing such widespread privation that people are budgeting week-to-week and honestly concluding that, "Honey, I don't think we can afford the $12.79 one-time outlay for the Bounty Towels, even though that brings the unit cost down. Instead, let's just keep our edge by buying the rolls one-at-a-time, because we have no idea if we'll ever see ten bucks again." Fewer family ski vacations to Vail? Sure. More meals eaten at home this year? Okay. But a mass trend away from cheaper, multi-pack toilet paper due to a fear of parting with a little more money up front? Not a chance, my friend.

Although he'll never win a Nobel Prize for Economics for saying it, I still remember the skepticism that a friend of mine (someone who has lived through an ACTUAL Great Depression, mind you) showed when he heard all the Chicken Little-ism back in 2008: "When people all around me start canceling their cable subscriptions, that's when I'll know we're really into something bad here." Again, nothing necessarily profound, or even backed up by hard data, but I think there's a nugget of wisdom to be found in that statement for anyone willing to look.

I was reminded of all this today when the missus and I were trying to find a parking spot outside the Target at the Pheasant Lane Mall. All the aggressiveness of drivers unwilling to cede an inch, the "sharking" of the people who appeared to be leaving the store and heading towards their cars, and our overall inability to find any space (remember, I'm one of those 'analog' people who parks in the back while the digital types fight for the good ones) reminded me that the apocalypse might've arrived somewhere else, but it's not here.

When times get so tough that people's basest instincts stop being displayed in their quest to part with disposable income on a Sunday afternoon in Nashua, I'll believe we're really in for a societal sea change. Until that happens, I'll use Comcast revenues as a better indicator than some bogus news report about a phenomenon that doesn't exist!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bernie, Bud, and the Two-Way Street

So, the old issue of the City Manager's communications skill (or perceived lack thereof) seems to be surfacing again lately, with last Tuesday marking the second straight week where CC Caulfield threw a pointed barb at CM Lynch on the subject.

I know this came up with the last Council, but this time around it's a whole new ballgame -- the three-Councilor turnover we experienced following the 2009 election makes for a less-hostile environment for the CM. Still, Caulfield likes to beat this drum. To a lesser extent, CC Mercier does, too (although to her credit she'll go out of her way to praise Lynch at times, too).

The subject is near and dear to me because so much of what I do at work revolves around communication, whether over e-mails, phone calls, or in person. I've come to pretty much accept the fact that no matter how much you convey to people, regardless of the format(s) used, some will ALWAYS complain that "No one ever tells me," or "I had no idea," etc.

I've learned to save every e-mail I send in a "sent items" folder. And yes, I particularly love to respond to the "No one told me we were training that day" or "No one said I was coming on orders" with e-mail responses which include the original e-mails to the person, along with the pertinent dates and information...and sometimes, even the acknowledgement response from the recipient. From time to time, I've even wished I did the same with phone calls, but that'd require a lot more technical skill and patience, could skirt up against some legal issues, and just seems too Nixonian.

But enough with that for now. Even if things really aren't always communicated, what people tend to forget all too easily is that things like e-mail/phone/walkie-talkies/smoke signals/messenger pigeons, etc. all have this neat feature in common -- they can be used in both a send AND a receive mode. I have 11 people directly reporting to me...and I constantly tell them to practice two-way comms. I mean it when I say I would rather hear from someone ten times a week, even just to check in on a particular question, than to ever hear one person say one time that "No one ever tells me anything." That's just way too easy, and way too lazy, but I'm sure it's been used since time immemorial in almost all professions and organizations.

So if CC Caulfield is that concerned about which jobs might be leaving the city, or which other jobs might be replacing them, and where that might be happening, I would recommend that he engage the CM on a regular basis to ask about that. Especially considering that Lynch gave a detailed briefing on that very subject (minus the names of certain companies, for confidentality's sake) at an LDNA meeting at MCC two months ago, I don't think he's trying to hide anything. However, he would have to be blessed with a special clairvoyance to be able to pre-emptively anticipate which CCs might want to be privy to every bit of information that crosses his desk.

As CC Murphy mentioned last week, the big-picture question worth asking is how the CM should best set up regular communications on big issues with the Councilors, but it's NOT about whether someone's ego got bruised because he was asked about something at DeMoula's and hadn't yet heard about it.

But sometimes it's just way too easier to be a solipsist about everything -- if I haven't seen it, it must not be real, and if I didn't hear about it, it must be the fault of whoever was supposed to tell me. In a me-centric world, that's a legitimate way to form your reality.

That doesn't have to just apply to communications, either. I always get a kick out of it when people who I haven't seen in a while say, "Have you been living under a rock or something? I thought you'd gone away or been deployed."


"Well, I haven't seen you since _____."

"Funny, I was going to ask the same of you. If you haven't seen me, don't you think that means I haven't seen you either?"

Somehow, that never goes over as intended.

And just to conclude, it is legitimate to say someone is a poor communicator if you are acting in good faith, sending e-mails or calling, and are being met with radio silence. It's equally legit to wonder about people whether people you've been making a fruitless effort to reach have skipped town or otherwise fallen off the radar.

But if you assume the world revolves around you, and that any piece of news, tidbit of gossip, or even person which fails to make its way to you must be due to some outside factor that's beyond your control, then I'm sorry, but I just can't help you -- maybe your communication skills need some brushing up!

Monday, November 22, 2010

5Ws for World AIDS Day

At tonight's LDNA meeting, Troix Bettencourt of the Institute for Health and Recovery spoke about World AIDS Day, which is recognized annually on December 1st. Here in Lowell, a vigil/procession will be sponsored by Lowell Community Health Center, Lowell House, the Institute for Health and Recovery, the Greater Lowell Visiting Nurse Association, and Middlesex Community College.

What: A vigil and procession starting at City Hall, and moving up Dutton Street and then Market Street.

When: 6:00 p.m., December 1st.

Where: City Hall, then Dutton Street, then Market Street, followed by a Memorial and Awards Ceremony at 7:00 p.m. at Middlesex Community College.

Who: Anyone is welcome to attend. Several City Councilors and other local personalities are slated to be in attendance.

Why: To raise awareness of HIV/AIDS issues and to remember AIDS victims.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

No Harm, No Foul

"In the game of life, genetics deals the hand, and society makes the rules -- but how you play your cards is up to you."

I stumbled upon the video below one morning last week after waking up at oh-dark-thirty for work and hoping a scan of YouTube's "Most Viewed" would snap me out of my morning slumber. It may have worked -- after all, it left a lasting-enough impression for me to be writing about it now.

The video below is of a really interesting trick play that has been done a few times before. The quarterback feigns confusion, which the coach feeds with commands from the sidelines. The center hands the ball back -- not through the legs, though -- and no one on "O" acts like the ball is live. Meanwhile, it is, and the QB takes advantage of the confusion to break away for a score.

I've written in defense of these sorts of plays many times before, and I know Kad Barma has done the same. Sports, much like life in general, is centered around rules. People like Bill Belichick (or the coach of the middle school featured here) make games fun to watch because they find creative ways to defy expectations while staying within the rules (bearing in mind, of course, that Videogate was really just the result of a misinterpretation).

Some people might say that trick plays like the one featured in the video below show bad sportsmanship or teach the wrong lessons to kids.

As emphatically as I can say something in a written format, I could not disagree more.

If there really is a problem with the play below, where do you draw the line? Is a play-action pass with a fake handoff unfairly deceptive? How about a quarterback's "quick kick" on third down that stuns a defense and offers better field position? A team taking an intentional sack in the end zone? What about a team with a lead taking an intentional fall in front of an open end zone late in the game, so as not to relinquish possession?

In my opinion, all those things are precisely what make the game great. If there were really a problem with one of the above, a fan's gripe should be with the league itself, not with the coaches or teams who think outside of the proverbial box.

To tie back in with the life metaphor, we should always call on lawmakers or executives to fix broken systems, all the while staying careful not to blame the beneficiaries themselves. Those who benefit from such systems don't have to become defensive or resort to sensationalist rhetoric (witness last Tuesday's city council meeting and the Master Medical discussion), but should at least take that little step back to empathize with others' points of view. Unfortunately, however, they often don't. To tie in again to Kad Barma, as he so wonderfully turned it back on the Chicken Littles today:

if this plan is exactly what these people say it is, (aka, the only thing standing between "many retirees" and certain death), how is it that we can possibly sit still, least of all those with the coverage who know best how it's saving their lives, and not fight tirelessly so each and every resident in the city also enjoys the life-saving benefit??

With regards to the health insurance debate and the problem regarding unfunded liabilities, no one is out to blame or hurt the retirees (the players). Many are rightly pointing out, however, that the 'game' is broken.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Discovering But-Heads

After I posted about the former Steelers kicker who insisted on prefacing excuses with disclaimers about not making excuses, and then referenced some previous posts about how those sorts of disclaimers are not only disingenous, but they often aggravate the words they're meant to mitigate, Cliff Krieger posted this Globe article describing those very phrases as 'but-heads.'

I had no idea that there was already the term, or the synonymous "wishywasher," "false front," or "lying disclaimer."

McKean, the author of wordnik.com, makes tons of interesting points in her essay. She makes the point that people use these disclaimers in their speech because they basically want to have it both ways -- they want to make their point, but they also don't want to really step out on a limb, so they hedge their bet with "I hate to say it" and all its verbal cousins.

The only point I thought she could have added is that the words themselves often make otherwise innocuous statements become suspect. I can recall a time a couple years ago, when I was working in CT but living in MA, when someone asked me how that came to be. In and of itself, that's a totally reasonable question that I would've been perfectly happy to answer, but it was prefaced with a full minute's worth of "please don't take this the wrong way" "I don't mean to pry," and "If this is something you don't want to talk about, I totally and completely understand."

Huh? I never would've even remembered the interaction if it had been more straightforward, but all the hemming and hawing left a strange enough taste in my mouth for me to remember it to this day. Did this lady think I was a Chinese spy or something? Rather than serve to mitigate, the string of but-heads just made it clear that she thought something wasn't adding up, and it gave me the creeps.

Friends shouldn't have to resort to this type of speech at all. Last night, I had dinner with a good friend at Blue Taleh. Afterwards, as we were walking back up Merrimack Street, he just told me, apropos of nothing, "Page, you're crowning, dude. You should really consider using Rogaine."

No idiotic disclaimers. No garbage about how to take it. And most important, no need. It was a friend offering genuine, honest advice to another.

All I could say was "thank you" and that I'd look into it.

I wish more interactions could be that direct.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A River in Egypt?

After the loss, [Steelers Kicker Jeff] Reed called into question the quality of the turf at Heinz Field.

"I'm not one to make excuses," Reed was quoted as saying in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I'll take the credit for the miss. It was a great snap, a great hold, great protection. It's kind of hard when you plant your foot and the hole -- a piece of ground moves where the ball's under the holder. I almost missed the ball completely.

"I'm not going to make excuses. If you've played any kind of sports in your life, you realize that what we play on is not very good turf. It happens."

Seeing these quotes from Jeff Reed reminds me of why "I'm not one to make excuses" should be banned from most people's vocabularies, right along with expressions like "no offense" and "not to brag," which are inevitably followed with, well, offensiveness and braggadocio, respectively. The irony of all those disclaimers is that they not only tip the speaker's hand ahead of time, they often aggravate the very words they are intended to mitigate. Stop and think for a second about the last time someone leveled a 'no offense' at you, and you'll see what I mean.

If Jeff Reed really doesn't want to make excuses, he might consider how all the other NFL kickers are handling the 'disappearing turf' phenomenon.

Forward, Eh?

At the Global War Vets / Veterans Square / Westlawn I Flag Retirement Pit Ceremony on Saturday, I couldn't help but notice Rep. Nangle say, "I look forward to calling him Senator Panagiotakos," in reference to a fellow speaker at the event. He definitely emphasized the word, so I don't think there was any mistake there. It sounded like a strong hint about an upcoming statewide race, but here's this from yesterday's Sun:

State Rep. Dave Nangle is already predicting the winner of the 2012 Senate race.

"I think Scott Brown is unbeatable," he declared. "I don't care who is going to run against him, they can't beat him."

"Even if it is Marty," he emphasized, laughing.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Veterans' Event Tomorrow @ Westlawn Cemetery

Saturday, 13 NOV @ 1100, there will be a dedication of a new Veterans' Memorial and a Flag Retirement Pit at the Westlawn Cemetery (155 Boston Road).

There is a more detailed write-up and a nice picture over at richardhowe.com, too.

The event is being put on by the Greater Lowell Global War Veterans, a group for servicemembers of all branches who have served domestically or in any overseas theater in the post-Vietnam era.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Stopping for the Bugler's Call

Tomorrow morning, after the Voices of Democracy essays are presented, I will hear "Taps" ring out along Plain St. in a small but dignified VFW ceremony.

I have no idea how I'll react. When it happens, I'll be thinking about someone I first crossed paths with in Al Asad, Iraq in the spring of 2006. An enlisted Cryptologic Technician providing tactical intelligence support, Petty Officer Daugherty initally struck me as somewhat aloof -- did this guy think he was better than me because I was just a TOC monkey? When I really got to know him later that year back at Little Creek, I realized how wrong my initial impression had been. Petty Officer Dougherty came from that breed of sailor who truly loved his trade (now we had something in common!) and was looking to put together his package to trade his chevrons in for bars and become a Naval Intelligence Officer. He sought me out for advice on the process and we both agreed that after our respective rounds of upcoming deployments, we would sit down together, knock it out, and send it off to Millington, with preemptory phone calls to all the right people. That behind-the-scenes effort, I hoped, would not only guarantee a deserved commission but also convey something subtle but important about the impact that an Officer who cares enough to make that *little* difference can have on a sailor's life.

All of that, however, was preempted by a blast in Sadr City that rendered the discussions and plans moot.

I can't imagine for one second what he would say if he could reach down to any of us today, but I have wondered a lot over the past six years about how best to honor people like Steve. It never comes back to things like Facebook pages, memorial walls, or even donations and volunteer work. Those all have their places, but it has a lot more to do with taking a little bit of time to pause and reflect about what you have and why you have it.

On this or any other Veterans Day, I think that's about the best you can do.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Global Vets: Jack Mitchell on City Life

Tomorrow morning (10 NOV), Jack Mitchell will appear on City Life. Jack is a Desert Storm veteran, former Old Guard member, air assault-qualified infantryman, Democratic Party activist, founding member of Greater Lowell Global War Veterans (a post-Vietnam era veterans' group), and champion of the Bobola's Belly Buster.

Jack will be introducing the new group in addition to pitching the ceremony on November 13 at the Westlawn Cemetery that will inaugurate a flag retirement pit that will allow Greater Lowellians to properly (and conveniently) cast away old American flags so that they can be eventually retired in a dignified, ceremonial manner.

Walking AND Chewing Gum

So the past week has been a big fat blur, but mostly in a good way.

Getting back to work has meant not only a lot of "catch-up ball" but also dealing with a regime change here at the unit and a MUCH higher optempo, so to speak. With the days' lengths seeming to just expand and expand (Saturday was 18 hours from door to door...really) I'm noticing I'm missing some things.

Like returning e-mails. Like being on top of all my bills and other mail. Like writing essays for potential grad schools. Like blogging.

Here's the strategy that I'm going to implement to fix some of this: Doing more at the office.

Now don't get me wrong -- I'm not talking about stealing Company Time from Uncle Sam. Instead, what I mean is that once "quitting time" has arrived, staying the extra hour or two to knock out all those little knick-knack things that are okay to let slip on any one given day, but not okay to ignore indefinitely. I can bring a lot of what I want to accomplish with me, and it seems like a more efficient way to go.

Plus, it gives more of a separation between work and home, which is probably an ancillary bonus, esp. considering 'home' increasingly means my in-laws' house on Willie St., which is a lot more fun than my own house on Market St (not to mention an endless source of good food), but with the flip side of being a tougher environment for attacking the daily to-do list.

This also seems more efficient if there's anywhere to go in the evening. On a second Tuesday, for instance, there's a VFW meeting at 7:30...so rather than go home just to go back out, my thought process says to stay at work until about 6:45 or so and then just head straight there.

I'll have to wait and see how it goes, but I'm confident from the get-go that taking even that little bit of extra time while I'm still in *work mode* is going to be better than just coming home exhausted, throwing everything down, and putting everything off until the next day...rinse, wash, repeat.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Planning Your Tomorrow

I know I could take the Captain Obvious Award for saying this, but don't forget that there's an election going on tomorrow.

I write this just because I got so wrapped up in some of the projects I had going on today at work that I completely lost track of the time, in addition to forgetting that there was a world going on outside of l'il Camp Curtis Guild. Only on the way home did it occur to me that tomorrow is Election Day.

Just a quick reminder here -- whether you tend to vote first thing, last thing, on your lunch break, or somewhere in between, don't forget to carve 'voting' into your day's plan.