Oct 312017
 

Tell the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rural America needs high speed broadband.

Background
Many of us in rural and small town America do not have access to high speed broadband internet. Our friends in New York, Washington, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago just cannot believe there are high school students who must go to the library to do their homework, college students who can’t take online courses, entrepreneurs who can’t relocate to rural areas, rural hospitals close but diagnostic centers are unable to open in their place, and in many areas the latest farming technology is just not available. All these examples are due to the lack of broadband.

At a recent Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on expanding broadband infrastructure recently in New Hampshire, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel suggested a crowd-sourced approach to mapping broadband. She asked everyone who did not have broadband to email her directly. Commissioner Rosenworcel promised to share every one of her emails with the FCC Chairman and put pressure on the FCC to do something about it.

Action
Email Commissioner Rosenworcel at broadbandfailatfccdotcom  (broadbandfailatfccdotcom)  .

If you don’t have high speed connectivity, tell her how that void affects your life, your family and the lives of those around you.
If you know of others without broadband, give the Commissioner a run-down about them too.

Be sure to include your name, town, state, zip code and mention you are a member of the Grange.

May 232017
 

Communication Bullets are short but big news!

by Walter Boomsma
Communications Director

Some important changes and notes:

The ODD (Officers, Directors, and Deputies) Directory has been updated… a current copy is available for downloading: ODD-Directory-05-17. There has been a minor change in deputy assignments to reflect recent changes in Pomona alignments and two positions are now listed as “TBD” (to be determined)–the chairperson of the Ag Ed Committee and a Youth Director.

The Journal of Proceedings 2016 has been updated with a minor correction at the request of MSG Secretary Sharon. Action on Resolution #12 was missing from the original copy posted. A corrected copy is available for downloading: Journal-of-Proceedings-2016-Convention

Several “In search of…” requests have been added recently… please check the page and see if you can help!

Over the next few days, I will be testing a new method for subscribing to the website and you may notice some “weirdness” at the tope of the home page. Once testing is complete, I hope to announce a major change that will be of great benefit to everyone!

Remember to check the Conferences Page occasionally for information about upcoming national, regional, and state events. Those responsible for events should especially check the page when scheduling events to avoid conflicts. Also, those responsible please make sure you email me information about the events you are planning.

Nov 222016
 
Communication Bullets are short but big news!

Communication Bullets are short but big news!

by Walter Boomsma, Communications Director

Apparently, the National Grange Website is undergoing a “makeover.” This seems to be resulting in a number of broken links on the Maine State Grange Website.  One that I’ve noticed in particular is that the “Lecturer’s Program in a Box” link only shows the guidelines for submitting programs and does not give access to the programs themselves. I will be removing these broken links as time permits. I assume that in time access to missing information will be restored. Sorry for any inconvenience. Please understand this is outside the control of the Maine State Grange Website.

Nov 152016
 

A mug WBBy Walter Boomsma,
Communications Director

While I’m not sure how it got started, for a few years now we’ve all at times heard the expression “TMI!” It’s used to signal that someone is in danger of providing “Too Much Information!”

In the movie “Short Circuit” the robot who comes to life is constantly craving “input—need input!” He seemingly can never get enough information.

Somewhere between those two extremes is where we need to be. That balance is not always easy to achieve.

While all generalities are false, in the Grange environment I think there’s a great need and opportunity for increasing “input.” Most importantly, we need to realize the two-way aspect of communication. Ultimately, it’s about giving and getting.

One of the jobs of the official Maine State Grange Communications Department is giving you, members, information. This time of year there’s lots of opportunities as committees begin new programs and contests. We’ve also had some leadership changes and those can also mean changes in direction. We’re here to share that!

We’ve recently updated the ODD (a funny little acronym that stands for “Officers, Directors, Deputies”) Directory. This one-page sheet lists all state leaders together with email current addresses and phone numbers. The directory is meant to facilitate communication by making it easier for members to reach state leaders.

We’re also uploading lots of program books, contest information, forms and other resources to our website. Yes, we know that not everyone uses a computer, but many do. Check out the ODD directory and you’ll see nearly every state leader has an email address. But we’ve also published phone numbers—the phone still is a great way to communicate. Those who do use a computer might consider looking at the resources available on the website and printing copies for others, perhaps starting with the ODD Directory.

The reason for the ODD Directory is simple: it’s to facilitate communication and increase “input.” Call or email an “ODD” when you have an idea or news to share or a question or concern. Don’t worry about “TMI!” Remember the commercial the National Enquirer used to run and realize, “Enquiring minds want to know!”

And don’t forget your website. Submit your news either by visiting the site and clicking the “submit” button or by sending an email to webmasteratmainestategrangedotorg  (webmasteratmainestategrangedotorg)  . You can also download a Communications Handbook and Website Handbook that will help with your publicity efforts. We don’t want to become a supermarket tabloid, but we can make “Grange” a household word.

Let’s make some news, take some photos of it, and share it!”

Oct 152016
 

A mug WBBy Walter Boomsma,
Communications Director

This month, let’s talk about websites. Every so often (not often enough!) I get an inquiry from a Grange member regarding starting a website for his or her Grange. Since I recently answered one, let’s look briefly at the options:

  1. You can “claim” the website that has been set up for your Grange by National Grange. The advantages include the fact it’s “already there,” formatted, etc. One disadvantage is that it’s not totally under your control and, for those who are technically savvy, you may feel limited. An obvious advantage of working under that umbrella is that it becomes possible for others to access it should that become necessary. There’s a YouTube® video explaining the basics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvMAZK7-EYE. When this service was first introduced, I “fixed” several of these sites in our area (locations were wrong) but really haven’t had much experience with them. These sites do use the popular WordPress platform. It’s user-friendly and is, in fact, the same platform used by the Maine State Grange website.
  2. You can set up a “free” WordPress site through WordPress.com. I did this for Valley Grange long before the National Program was set up… The obvious advantage is it’s free—a minor disadvantage is unless you “buy” a URL (I think it costs about $20 per year) you have a rather unwieldy URL that must include the WordPress designation (yourgrange.wordpress.com for example). I’ve taught a three-hour course that has even “non-techy” people working their own site by the end of the class, so it’s very doable. Visit http://WordPress.com for more information or to start a site.
  3. You can set up a “hosted” site using WordPress (or any other software/platform). This is the method used for the Maine State Grange website. Advantages include ownership and lots of “plugins” that allow features you might not have in a free site. The disadvantages are costs (at a minimum you’ll probably spend $100 per year) and complexity.

Personally, I think option one or two would be more than adequate for the average Grange. One approach I might suggest is that you “claim” your site from National Grange first because it’s probably not accurate. After playing with it some, you can decide whether or not to set up something different, then redirect the National Grange site to it! (That’s what we did with the Valley Grange website.)

In terms of best practices, you might want to look at the MSG Website Handbook I’ve published for the MSG site. I think it’s important to remember that a site is the Grange’s public face and will be seen by people who are not familiar with our organization. I like to avoid posting “inside” information that gives the appearance we are anything other than an open organization who will welcome like-minded folks. I’ve also created a MSG Communications Handbook – it’s more about media relations, but you might find some of the suggestions helpful. Both of these handbooks were updated just a few weeks ago and are very current. At the risk of self-promotion, you’ll find a few publishing resources on one of my websites: http://abbotvillagepress.com.

One common error I see with sites (and have made myself, frankly) is to approach it with lots of initial enthusiasm and “over build” it. Web sites must remain current and up-to-date to have value. Like it or not, we live in an era of instant gratification and users will quickly leave a site that looks and is out of date. Make your first attempt simple and manageable. To use another analogy, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Remember this is a Grange project, not a personal one. Before allowing a “geek” to develop a complex site, consider what will happen if that geek loses interest.

On a related note, I recently visited several Grange Facebook pages. I found one that hasn’t been updated for over a year and the last post is “someone needs to take this over.” Another hasn’t been updated in a year and a half.  Several came up as “unavailable.” As soon as time permits, I will be removing links to these pages from the Maine State Grange Website. The last thing we need to do is “advertise” the appearance that we’re inactive. (Facebook and Social media are a similar but different topic from websites. One important difference is that it’s possible to have a static, informational website that doesn’t require constant updating. With social media, you have to be constantly in the game or your page will “disappear” from current news feeds.)

Let’s make some news, take some photos of it, and share it!”

Sep 162016
 

A mug WBBy Walter Boomsma,
Communications Director

For want of a nail… most folks know that for want of a nail a shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, a horse was lost. For want of a horse, a battle was lost. For want of a battle, a war was lost… I suspect the original author of this quote was attempting to demonstrate the importance of attention to detail.

In my real estate licensing classes, I often encourage students to “Google” the “Million Dollar Comma.” It’s an interesting story reported in the New York Times about how a misplaced comma in a fourteen-page contract made a one-million-dollar difference in the interpretation of that contract.

Scary stuff! I like to contrast that with my high school English teacher’s observation that the importance of a solid knowledge of grammar was ultimately about communication—including a recognition that knowing the rules meant knowing when to break those rules in the interest of good communication.

Lastly, I would note that I miss Nancy Clark for many reasons, not the least of which was that we could engage in intense discussions regarding things like commas.

But my point for this column is that attention to detail is important in communication. As the editor of the Bulletin, one of my jobs is to, well, edit! It’s a responsibility I try to take seriously, knowing that communication and grammar are not an exact science. I often use the “Grammarly” grammar software and chuckle when it starts inserting commas that I don’t think are necessary—or omitting them where I think they belong. It’s like arguing with the editor. In the publishing world, editing is time-consuming and labor-intensive, often involving work being returned to the author. In my role, there simply isn’t time to carefully edit every bit of news, director’s columns, and events that are submitted.

So this is my occasional appeal for help. While it’s not grammatically correct, when news, articles, and events arrive the most important thing is to “git ‘er done.” I’m not suggesting we change that.

But it would help so much if submitters would, at a minimum, run their work through a spell-checking program. Yes, Grammarly will do that—but the program doesn’t automatically fix the errors. Every correction necessary means time and, often delays.

While not a spelling or grammar error, I recently had an event submitted with what was clearly a wrong date (unless we have a time machine). A closer examination showed there was no time, no address given for the Grange, and no “contact for more information.” It took several emails back and forth to complete the calendar listing.

This becomes even more important when sending information to the media. The odds of your submitted article or event being published increase significantly when you send “copy ready” information without typos, spelling errors, etc. Given most word processing programs have a spell check feature, this is really not an unreasonable request. Most editors (including me) do not expect contributors to know the AP style manual—if that were true, the need for editors would drop significantly. But it helps the editor so much if submitters review and correct as much as they can.

Many of us learned to hit the space bar twice after typing a period. It took me a long time to break that habit—word-processing, websites, and desktop publishing really don’t like those two spaces. It’s not unusually for me to spend some time deleting spaces in submissions.

I can certainly attest to how difficult it is to edit one’s own work. It wasn’t that long ago I created a flyer for the Volunteer Fair and forgot to include a date! Our minds see what they expect to see—not necessarily what’s there (or not). When you write something for publication, having someone else read it can have great value.

Some folks will question whether or spelling and grammar mistakes really make a difference. Research shows that many people are distracted by them and will miss your message if the basics aren’t correct. When the kids at school hand me their work, I almost always ask, “Is this your best work and are you proud of it?” Many times they will silently take the paper back and return to their seats. In the fast-paced world we live in, a few extra minutes to “git ‘er done correctly” can make a big difference.

Let’s make some news, take some photos of it, and share it!”

May 262016
 
Communication Bullets are short but big news!

Communication Bullets are short but big news!

Several Subordinate Granges in Maine are using the websites available from National Grange. At the risk of creating MEGO (“My Eyes Glaze Over”) in the non-technical, I’ll explain that these sites are actually set up as sub-domains of the National Grange website. You can recognize that because the URL begins with the National Grange URL and looks like this:  NationalGrange.org/local name#.

These sites use the same software (WordPress) as the Maine State Grange site. (The Maine State Grange site is not part of the National Grange system–it is self-hosted.) That means I can occasionally help with “how to” questions, but ultimately, National Grange controls these sites.

Apparently, for some period of time yesterday, these local Grange sites were “down” and visitors received an error message. I was contacted, but because of my teaching schedule, I was unable to respond for 24 hours. Fortunately, in the interim, the problem was apparently resolved as the site in question was “up” this morning.

While I’m always willing to help and support, when these sites go down the only thing I can do is the same thing you can do if your site goes down: contact Stephanie Wilkins at National Grange (swilkinsatnationalgrangedotorg  (swilkinsatnationalgrangedotorg)  ). Please copy me so I know the problem has been reported–if your site is affected it’s very likely others are as well.

By the way, if your Grange is maintaining a site or an official Facebook Page, please send me the link/address. There is a section on the Maine State Grange website where these are listed–but only if you are keeping your site or page current and updated. An out-of-date site or page is worse than not having any–it’s the equivalent of announcing you’re out of business!

May 152016
 

A mug WBBy Walter Boomsma,
Communications Director

I remember as a kid how much we enjoyed this time of year because of the opportunity to pick a “potpourri” of wild flowers to present to folks we loved. It was great fun to search for a variety of flowers and greens to include. In keeping with the spirit, let’s consider an assortment of communications topics for this spring season.

150 Anniversary LogoNews from National includes the release of a logo to commemorate our order’s 150th anniversary. As is good practice, there are some standards and suggested usage to consider when using the logo (available from National Grange). You have to love the sentiment, “May it live forever.”

Speaking of standards, this might be a good time to remind everyone that an important aspect of communication is consistency. Since this could be a topic for an entire column, I’ll only mention that there are some communications standards adopted by National Grange to help us achieve some of that consistency. One that I find myself often correcting is that we should always capitalize the word “Grange.” For the benefit of those familiar with journalism, we’ve adopted the AP Style Manual as our guide for the Bulletin and website.

We also have basic policy for both the Bulletin and the MSG website. These policies guide what gets printed and posted and what doesn’t. Included in those policies is a provision that makes the Executive Committee our editorial board when there is a question about whether or not something is suitable for publication.

I always try to be conservative when it comes to editing, only changing submitted articles and columns when it’s necessary to adhere to AP Style or to achieve clarity. I do not “fact check.” If I notice a glaring error I’ll challenge or change it. But mistakes and misstatements will happen. Please remember that the website and Bulletin are produced by one person who is a volunteer. I can only spend so much time on two jobs that are both large and time sensitive. For some reason, I’m reminded of the old saloon sign, “Please don’t shoot the piano player, he’s playing as fast as he can.”

Readers may remember that last month’s column dealt with directional signs. I’m happy to report that the new sign for Valley Grange is completed and sitting in my garage! I’m not quite as happy to share the fact that—while there is a D.O.T. yard practically across the road from where the sign is going to placed, I have to take it to a D.O.T. yard in Bangor (an hour away) for installation. I’m sure the system is designed for efficiency, but it sure doesn’t seem that way!

I’ll close with a compliment for Stanley Howe, our Historian. A comment was posted to the website recently seeking information about a former Grange Hall located in Parsonsville. The current owner is very interested in determining some of the history and heritage of the building. Stan’s been very helpful in attempting to ferret out the information. And that’s a great Grange message. “We’re here to help!”

 

2016 Celebrate

 

 “Let’s make some news, take some photos of it, and share it!”

Apr 192016
 

internetAccording to an article in the Bangor Daily News, a new organization has recently formed in Maine for the primary purpose of “research and lobby in favor of bills supporting increasing Internet speeds in Maine.” According to the Maine Broadband Coalition website the group “an informal federation of public policy professionals, educational institutions, businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals who care deeply about Maine’s economic future. An important purpose of the MBC is to assemble cogent, fact-based information to help public policy makers and Maine citizens make the best choices about building a robust and productive information technology infrastructure — decisions we are all facing right now.”

This is an issue that is near and dear to the hearts of many of us and National Grange is lobbying in support of expanding rural Internet access. MBC does not plan to raise money and charges no dues. Individual Granges and Grangers who are interested in becoming members may do so by visiting the MBC website.

According to the Bangor Daily News article, there are currently 35 bills in the legislature dealing with broadband expansion in Maine.

 

Apr 052016
 

A mug WBBy Walter Boomsma,
Communications Director

What’s your sign? We’re not talking about horoscopes so a better question might be “Where’s your sign?”

During my first stint as MSG publicity director, I committed several embarrassing blunders. One involved me looking for a Grange in Lincoln Pomona in Lincoln ME. I did eventually figure out that Lincoln Pomona was actually not in Lincoln. It’s actually a long way from Lincoln. In fairness to me, I was new to the Grange back then. I left home in haste, quite sure I could find the Grange when I got to Lincoln.

How do we find Granges? It should start with an address. Since Granges don’t usually receive mail at their halls, many don’t have an “official” address. This is a potentially serious mistake for two reasons. First, lack of an address makes providing emergency services a real challenge. When the “911” system was adopted, it depended on accurate addresses and it still does. Second, technology and GPS units also require an accurate street address.

Imagine you are having a Grange meeting and someone becomes very ill. The good news is somebody will have a cell phone. Hopefully, there’s good cell phone service. So you call “911” and the dispatcher asks “What is your emergency and what is your location?” How you answer that question could be a matter of life or death. The dispatcher may be miles away and not know where “the old state route a couple of miles past where the school used to be” is. Far better you can say, “123 This Street.”

GPS units like street addresses. When you announce programs and invite guests (particularly any not familiar with the area) you can give them the hall’s address and their GPS will get them to you. Getting that address is as simple as visiting your town hall or municipal office.

But let’s not stop there! Let’s talk about directional signs! They are officially called “OBDS” or “Official Business Directional Signs.” Maine has some pretty strict regulations regarding signs and the DOT will remove signs that are not properly permitted. The permitting process is not particularly cumbersome, but it must be followed to the letter. You’ll need to start with the Maine DOT (Department of Transportation), Traffic Division. You can call 207 624-3000, but quite frankly the easiest way to access information and paperwork is to visit http://maine.gov/mdot/traffic/obds/. You’ll find answers to frequently asked questions and the forms you need.

The procedure is not as frightening as you might expect. You first apply for a permit. That permit must be renewed every year at a cost of $30 per sign. The sign must be made by an approved vendor (there is one exception, but it still must be made to strict specifications) and those vendors need a copy of your permit to make the sign. Sign costs vary depending on the maker and type of sign. Based on my limited experience, I would say you should expect to pay $100-$300 per sign. Once the sign is made, you deliver it to a DOT location and they will take care of installing it.

Your sign may be on a post with other directional signs. Note that directional signs are only placed where a change of direction is required. You may want to look at a map and think about how folks might be coming to your hall and where a turn might be required. The permit application will actually help you with this.

While this is not meant to be a “step by step” guide, I’m happy to report that Valley Grange just revisited our signage and I found the process easy and the folks at DOT very helpful. Certainly, I’d be happy to help any Grange who wants to better “sign” their Grange Hall—feel free to contact me. I can also provide you with the logo file the sign maker will require. Once the sign is up, your only cost is $30 per sign per year. That’s pretty cheap advertising and a great way to keep the Grange in the public eye.

Whether or not you decide to pursue OBDS, please consider getting the correct street address for your Grange Hall and submitting it with your roster information. We can laugh at the joke about the person from away asking a local “How do you get to the Grange Hall?” and being told, “My brother usually takes me.” But if we want people to find us, we have to help them.

2016 Celebrate

 

 “Let’s make some news, take some photos of it, and share it!”