Why don’t these towns have a website? Accept credit cards? Or use Twitter?

One question I keep coming back to in my personal and professional experiences is how has small town X not started using Y or Z technology?

Obviously this is an opinion piece, but let me write it down just in case–these are my opinions and do not represent those of my current and previous employers.

This question has come from a laundry list of experiences I’ve had working, driving through, or living in rural/small towns. Most frustrating was my experience with a small city that would only accept payment for traffic tickets with certified checks, ignoring the progress in payment systems that so many places seem to have made. Many cities now accept personal checks, credit cards, or even PayPal. We live in an era where E-GovLink  allows municipalities to accept BitCoin. I think this highlights the gap in technology adoption and the digital divide between rural and urban places.

A Digital Divide

Access to computers and technology is still an issue in many places. Kentucky continues to operate its Broadband KY Initiative with the hope of wiring up more homes to the internet. Google Fiber is making progress to offer free internet access to people  and non-profits and community organizations. I would have guessed that by 2014 most places would at least have a web presence. Instead, I often search for cities and counties on Google and find that they have zero presence.

Cinci Public Services doing it right.
Cincinnati Public Services getting it right.

One example of the successful adoption of social media and web presence is the Brimfield, Ohio Police Department.  One of the most used parts of the City of St. Bernard’s website was the tax department webpage (disclosure, I worked for the city from 2009-2011). The Tax Department offers digital copies of their tax documents and information for residents ultimately lessening the calls the city get about taxes. The City of Cincinnati has made my life a bit easier by offering information through their Public Services Twitter account, connecting with residents to let them know about snow removal efforts, remind residents about winter safety, and posting about snow emergencies. Cincinnati has a whole slew of twitter accounts and Facebook pages, all helping residents connect with and get information from the city.

My result for the MyNKY Young-Voice game. I can only imagine how much traction with would get on Facebook if it shared the result like a "What Harry Potter Character are you?" Survey
My result for the MyNKY Your-Voice game. I can only imagine how much traction with would get on Facebook if it shared the result like a “What Harry Potter Character are you?” survey. Click the picture to take the survey too.

Social media and web presence are often discussed as mandatory in comprehensive planning efforts. One particularly cool recent example is MyNKY, Vision 2015’s new public participation campaign. Using an interactive game (and what seems a lot like dot voting) participants contribute a quantitative opinion about spending priorities and follow-up with qualitative descriptions in a targeted survey. Not only is it easy, but the quant-qual pairing makes it easy to for MyNKY to demand preferences and then drill down into what those preferences mean to each participant. Not only is it efficient, it minimizes the time commitment to participate.

A bit more complicated than an easy button:

With so many examples of best practices, why don’t more cities use the web and social media for public engagement and information distribution? In my experience it comes down to a lack of available talent and budget priorities. My evidence about the talent needs of cities is anecdotal at best, but most places I’ve worked with that lack these elements also have an institutional attitude with little or no interest in websites, social media, or technology; essentially there needs to be organizational will to make it happen.

Even with the will to make it happen, figuring out how to finance it is not easy. Budgets continue to grow tight and there is no easy way to make room for an IT budget or department (especially in the smallest of cities). Some cities are already facing impending cuts to services or employees and cannot possibly cram in an IT budget.

One of the benefits of my current job with the NKADD is that I get to share my experience with technology, web development, and social media with the jurisdictions in our service area.

That doesn’t mean sharing my experience will always result in successful websites and a social media presence. Social media can require near constant monitoring and some citizens come to expect almost instantaneous response. Setting clear definition about the kinds of communication possible and when that communication can happen is difficult. Websites also need work to maintain them and take time to develop appropriate content.

Even in spite of the financial and labor requirements of having a digital presence, I think it is still worthwhile for cities to pursue. The possible benefit to efficiency, public interaction, and engaging younger generations is too critical to continue to ignore it altogether.

NKADDSNAP Challenge Day Six & Seven:

Day Six/Seven:

Found this GIF on grnbug.tumblr.com
I miss coffee.

This is my last blog post about the NKADDSNAP Challenge. My thanks to those of you who have read any of my posts this week. I’ll be glad to go back to my normal eating routine on monday. I’m most looking forward to a nice big cup of black coffee come monday morning.

Final inventory:

The final inventory spread sheet with days 6 and 7.
Final Food Inventory

I have enough information now to fill in the rest of the puzzle for the week.  I’ll use up a can of chili beans, the chicken noodle soup, and the last of the granola bars today. Tomorrow, I’ll be finishing off another can of chili beans, the milk, the last of the chicken, and the eggs.

I enter the next week with six red potatoes, nine ounces of honey, four slices of whole wheat bread, eleven packs of ramen, 17 tablespoons of striped peanut butter and jelly, and two and a half cups of apple juice. It’s not nearly the stockpile I had envisioned earlier in the week, but it does make some progress on the goal of stockpiling for weekly stability on such a small budget.

Exercise ended up being the biggest calorie sink. I’m glad I got the mix of grains and starches I did, otherwise I might have ended up starving near the end of the week as I burned through all the vegetables trying to make up calories.

Meal Planning:

Day 6 Food Diary
Day 6 Food Diary
Day 7 Food Diary
Day 7 Food Diary

Today’s breakfast is apple juice, an egg, and a slice of toast. For lunch I’ll be having the chicken noodle soup and a granola bar. For supper I’ll be having chili beans and chicken sautéed with some fried potatoes.

Sunday I will be having an apple juice, an egg, and a slice of toast again. For lunch I’ll be going back to my go to lunch, peanut butter and jelly, and for dinner I’ll be combining eggs, chili beans, chicken, and potatoes (again).

Week in Review:

I did most of my reflecting on this experience yesterday. But its worth reiterating the social aspects of food that have made this more difficult than simply nutrition. We got an invite from my fiancée’s dad to watch the NFL playoff games with him tomorrow. Of course it’ll involve eating, we’ll be expected to bring something and I couldn’t afford that with only SNAP benefits, and once again I’ll incur some questions about what I’m doing and why I can’t just have some food.

Whats next?

After today I’ll be going back to my normal schedule of posting weekly and bi-weekly where appropriate. Thanks to the vagueness of “bi-weekly” that could mean twice a week or once every two weeks. If you have any questions about anything I’ve written about here, please don’t hesitate to contact me through Facebook, Google+, or Twitter. Google+ is easier than ever, you can now use it to e-mail me even without my e-mail address.

NKADDSNAP Challenge Day Five

Community Shares of Greater Cincinnati SNAP out of it! Challenge is going on now too.
Community Shares of Greater Cincinnati SNAP out of it! Challenge is going on now too.

Today is my last day of the SNAP Challenge where I’ll be at work. Current stock suggests I’ll be eating small amounts of chicken and the rest of my eggs over the weekend with potatoes, soup, and beans. I did go running last night but forgot to grab my GPS watch, therefore those calories are not reflected in yesterday’s totals.

For breakfast I had two glasses of milk, a glass of apple juice, and a granola bar. My fiancee and I ended up eating the rest of the Avgolemono last night. Therefore I’m eating PB&J again for lunch today. I tried to make up for the lack of yogurt today by drinking an extra glass of milk. Running out of yogurt means I won’t be eating any honey today, which should positively impact my sugar consumption.

For dinner I’m planning to have a chicken and kidney bean omelette with a side of peas. I expect to repeat the omelette dinner two more times over the weekend, swapping kidney beans for chili beans and dropping the vegetable because I don’t have any other green items. With proper seasoning I imagine these omelettes taking on a somewhat Mexican influence.

Day 5 Nutritional Summary
Day 5 Nutritional Summary

Using my entire budget at the beginning of the week and then flexibly preparing meals worked well. I’ve speculated before that I would end up with food to carry over into next week. As of now it looks like I’ll end the week with extra ramen, apple juice, potatoes, and striped peanut butter and jelly. The extra $4.50 from not having to buy juice, ramen or potatoes next week would make it easier to add real fruit or produce and cheese to my diet. That would solve some of the problems I’ve had this week getting in my services of fruit and dairy.

Day 5 Inventory
Day 5 Inventory

Was this a breeze to do? No. Is it entirely possible to live with some focus on nutrition on roughly $30? Yes. Those answers come with some caveats though: 1) the cost of living in Cincinnati is fairly low compared to most of the nation and 2) while I’m fine with eating canned vegetables I’m sure some people would push me to use fresh produce. I can’t argue much with the cost of living, I pay a really low rent and price for food here compared to the places some of my friends live; I would not want to live in Washington D.C. on my current salary. Canned vegetables were an effective choice in my mind because any stock I could create would be non perishing. I think the main priority when living on this budget is to focus on immediate needs and ensuring future stability. Fresh produce, while nice, comes with a certain intangible cost due to its perishable nature.

I’ll be glad to get back to my normal coffee routine next week, and to have a Coke or Pepsi every once in a while. I’ll probably continue to pack my lunch though, as anyone offering financial advice would tell you, its cheaper than going out to lunch a few times a week.

While I’ve focused on the quantitative this week, I think its worth noting the qualitative and social aspects of food. I say that this budget is livable purely in the mathematical sense. It’s possible to make choices about food that will allow you to eat, get sustenance, and meet basic nutritional needs. That doesn’t cover the sociology and psychology of food as it relates to cultural expectations and family tradition/ritual. I gotten some inquiries through the week about why I wasn’t going to eat a free cookie, eat a free lunch at a meeting, or “at least have a coke.” Food is something we use to bond with others. Whether they be new acquaintances or family members. I cannot count the innumerable times talked about the best pizza place, how I like my chili (Cincinnati style or with beans), or which is my favorite burrito chain.

I got the chance to talk about Avgolemono earlier this week. My family goes nuts for the stuff and it is an important part of bonding for us. We do the same for a few other things like the caramel cake my grandma makes or the tomato pilaf that my great-grandmother used to make. Food is tied up in our identity as a family and as people with Greek heritage.

What is inescapable, then, is how food threads through our lives and our interaction with others. Therefore, while $30.00 will buy you food for the week, it will not buy you a fulfilling social life. If there is any reason SNAP is supplemental, beyond the simple economic contribution the program suggests, it is so that we can continue to take part in these social interactions. Some might be very cheap, as was the case with Avgolemano, while others might be trying for someone on a budget, like eating out with co-workers at lunch. That is why SNAP is so important and why cutting it has such an impact. It not only takes away from the extra nutrition a family can get by having these benefits but it also makes it even harder or impossible to take part in some of the social aspects of food that I and many others take for granted.

NKADDSNAP Challenge Day Four:

Today I remember my yogurt and my granola bar, but I won’t be eating PB&J for lunch. Instead, I took the box of brown rice and the remaining chicken broth and cooked it all. I then took four eggs and separated the whites. While my chicken-rice cooked I whipped the egg whites until they started to peak, added the yolks and blended them. Finally, I slowly poured the chicken-rice into the egg mixture tempering the eggs so they did not curdle. After the mix was fully combined I added lemon juice, salt and pepper. Had I used long grain white rice and started with a stick of butter, my Greek family would have called this Avgolemono.

Today's lunch is Avgo Lemano.
Today’s Lunch: Avgolemono

What I made was nearly the same except I used brown rice and didn’t throw in a stick of butter. Avgolemono when made like my family makes it is a hardy soup that is great for winter and really cheap to make. I had planned on making this from the start of the SNAP Challenge. The per serving cost is almost the cost of the rice and eggs, save the chicken stock used to cook the rice. The box of rice cost $1.49 while the four eggs cost  $0.57. The soup should have about 8-9 servings (though I often eat two cups at a time). The per serving cost of the Avgolemono is $0.23 per serving. We often break up a piece of bread and toss it into our individual servings which adds $0.05 to each serving. It will likely keep for two to three days in the refrigerator and it freezes with few problems.

I plan to run three miles again today which means I’ll probably end up on a  carb binge later tonight or I’ll be eating the rest of the soup.

With a little more than half the SNAP Challenge week completed, I feel like things are going better than I expected in terms of overall nutrition. I know I’ll run out of chicken before Sunday. I’m also fairly certain I’ll run out of green vegetables by Sunday but likely have a can of chili beans left over. I’ll definitely have some combination of bread, potatoes and ramen left over which isn’t a bad thing since those don’t perish in a weeks time.

My weekly food groups chart (below the inventory table on the Google doc) shows that I’m doing well managing most of my nutrition (though I still find the math questionable). With fruits and dairy being the only major concerns. Given my current stock of dairy products I won’t be able to get above 60% of my weekly need. Fruits face the same fate with it being impossible to get about 50% of my weekly fruit needs. I can’t remember the price of grapes, but I know I would have had to give something else up to afford them.

Day four nutritional summary before I go running.
Summary for Day 4 (Pre-running)

My food diary for the day is (mostly) filled out. After dinner I’ll be 183 calories, 25 carbs, 86 protein, and 62 sugar over my daily goal while coming in 30 fat and 1,125 sodium under my daily goal. With my planned 3 mi run I should come in at about 560 calories below my daily goal. As I mentioned above I’ll be filling that gap with more Avgolemono.

NKADDSNAP Day Three

Today I remembered that I needed to pack my lunch (thanks to Rebecca making my sandwich I got out the door pretty quickly) but in my flurry to leave I forgot my granola bar. I also didn’t have any apple juice or milk though I had planned to have some. My Sandwich today has an extra tablespoon of the striped peanut butter and jelly after noticing yesterday that two was throwing off the ratio of bread to PB&J.

Wednesday's Breakfast, I forgot my granola bar.
Wednesday’s Breakfast, I forgot my granola bar.

I’m feeling a bit better without coffee today, I think I’m through the worst of my coffee withdrawal. I ended up eating a whole box of spaghetti last night to compensate for my run, not my proudest moment but I had to fill that gap in my nutrition. I’ve also added a new table to my inventory spreadsheet. I’m attempting to track general food group servings in the same way someone might follow the ChooseMyPlate.gov meal plan (18+ / 2800 Calories per day). I converted all my food items into the units of measurement used in the website’s meal plan and I’m tracking everything against a weekly total of servings. That yielded some surprising results after only two and a half days I’m already over 25% on my weekly servings of grains, proteins and fats; sugars; and sodium (FS&S). While an excess of protein is likely the least of my concerns, the FS&S allotment is a bit smaller than I would have expected. Lumping the three together does not  reliably represent the quality of one’s diet. Fats and sugars aren’t necessarily bad while sodium is likely a problem for most households that consume any take-out, frozen food, or ramen.

Summary of day three eating.
Day Three Summary

I’m planning on having beans with bacon, cream style corn, and chicken on rice cooked in a cup of chicken broth and water. I’ll be drinking the cup of apple juice that I missed this morning and having a glass of milk with dinner.

Link to the Google Doc

MyFitnessPal Food Diary

Updated with a final count and the links above.

NKADDSNAP Challenge Day Two

Yogurt, Honey, and Granola
Breakfast: Yogurt, Honey, and Granola

It’s only Tuesday and I’m already missing my normal coffee routine. By now I’d have started my first cup and, as is the ritual of the start to my workday, I would’ve blown the steam off the top for fifteen minutes while I checked my urban planning/public administration news-feed on Digg Reader. Instead I’ve got a slight headache that I could attribute to the change in weather or the change in caffeine. I’m noticing that I’m mentally a bit slower today, groggy even. Waking up was fine, I packed lunch with the same panic of remembrance that I was doing the SNAP Challenge as yesterday.

Lunch and breakfast are exactly the same. I’m eating a cup of yogurt with honey, a granola and peanut butter bar, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. These things did little to help me by 4:00p yesterday when I started to feel some hunger pangs and exhaustion. This is strange given that I often skip breakfast and sometimes even lunch. Perhaps coffee was more integral to my daily routine than I thought?

Tonight I’ll be making spaghetti with chili beans with bacon topped with some chicken chunks (breast meat) and a side of green beans (1/2 can). I’m planning to go for a run before dinner, which should contribute a burn of about 700 calories. My perspective from this end of the week says I’ll run out of food by Friday if I try to keep up with my half-marathon training plan this week (by the way, I’m going to run a half-marathon).

I’ll update this post with the exact number from today’s food and exercise tonight when I get everything logged into MyFitnessPal.

End of Day Two:

Tonight for dinner I improvised and made spaghetti with chicken, mixed vegetables, baked potato cubes, and (kidney) beans. I made a roux with chicken broth for a sauce. It wasn’t exactly the most beautiful culinary improvisation I’ve ever made, but it worked.

I’ve started keeping an inventory in addition to the food diary (I think the social scientist in me knew it would come down to tracking as much data as possible). You can look at the tracking sheet at any time.

This might normally mean I would have finished my food diary, but I went for a run today and in the process burned about 740 calories. As of the time of this update I’m now 729 calories , 32 fat and 1,082 sodium under my daily limit and 56 carbs, 7 protein, and 56 sugar over my daily limit. I’ll likely have to fill in the deficit in calories with carbs since I can’t really spare any chicken at my current rate of use and I seem to have an abundance of grains and pasta.

Day 2 Food Diary, missing calories to compensate for running.
Today’s Diary before the carb binge.

Update Two:

I quickly figured out that I was going to have to eat essentially the whole box of spaghetti. So I did. That left me about 271 calories over my daily limit and really increased the number of carbs I had:

Final summary for day two.
Final counts for day two.

NKADDSNAP Challenge Day One:

I woke up this morning, as I do most Mondays, and went to leave without packing lunch and getting something quick for breakfast. The realization quickly hit me that I need to pack my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and organize my breakfast.SNAP_Day1

I’m still bitter about having to eat non-fat yogurt all week. But the cup with honey I had wasn’t terrible and took me forever to eat (because it was just so runny). I went for a triple-decker PB&J after seeing that with what I had planned for dinner that I would not hit my calorie needs. Breakfast ended up being yogurt, honey, a glass of half-and-half apple juice and water, and a granola peanut butter bar. Lunch is the PB&J.

For dinner I’m planning to take my whole chicken out of the crock pot, reserving the bones and broth. I’ll use one thigh for tonight’s dinner, boiling some broth with water and ramen noodles and adding half a can of mixed vegetables and either frying an egg or cooking it by poaching it in the broth.

If you look at the image above, you’ll see the nutrition and calories for everything I ate today. I have MyFitnessPal (link to my food diary) set up to put me on a 2 lbs. per week diet (980 calories less than my 2,830 I need), meaning I’m already eating a calorie deficit with these figures. You’ll also  see that with that extra $0.43 I spent I’m still not even meeting my daily calorie need and consuming more sugar and sodium than I should be while missing the mark on carbohydrates. I think the sodium count is a bit high since I discard the seasoning packets in favor of real broth and vegetables.

Since I’m eating yogurt and peanut butter & jelly all week, I’ll likely continue to add to that sugar deficit.

Any exercise I do this week will make it painfully clear how little food I’m eating. Yesterday’s 50 minute run was a burn of 680 calories.  If I ran three times a week and continued the current shortfall from my meal planning (in addition to the diet’s deficit) I’d be 9,761 calories shy of my weekly maintenance calories. That is about 3 lbs. of fat using the old 3,500 calories = 1 lbs. of fat rule.

An updated meal plan image.
Here are the updated numbers.

Edit 12:00pm: After giving it some more thought, I updated my meal plan and decided to add a potato to the ramen. That pushed me over the daily calorie need I had set for losing 2 lbs/week.  I’m now 2 carbs and 4 fats less than the daily limit and 11 protein, 627 sodium and 57 sugar over the daily limit.