Tuesday, December 29, 2009

By today, all five lights had been fixed.

Yesterday, Maggie and I went out to "scout" another street on which we'll be checking the lights. Since we went before dinner and before sunset, we couldn't really check for unlit lamps at the time, but I noticed that there were one or two lights that were on in daylight. I recalled seeing on the CentrePoint web site that this is a condition we can report to them. I am making a mental note of this for the future; once we knock out the night-dark lamps, we can go back and log the day-lit lamps. I might save that for the summer when the sun is up past Maggie's bedtime.

As to the street lights we'd already reported to CentrePoint, it'd been a few days, but tonight we finally got a chance to go back out and have another look at them. All five lights we reported dim/out have been fixed! Maggie was very gratified to see the results of our action. That pleased me because by today her enthusiasm for our little project had already started to flag a little bit; not much keeps her attention for long, so I wasn't sure she was going to be able to keep her head in the game.

I starting to get a feel for her attention span in the shorter term, though - it looks like we can go about 6 blocks before she loses interest and wants to go home. I'll have to start planning around that; Once we get the lights near our house repaired, we'll have to drive out and park to get streets further away (hopefully her endurance will improve, though, and driving will come later than soon).

Now that we have covered a couple of streets, I figure one of my next steps will need to be the creation of a map of our neighborhood marked up with lamppost locations so we can cross them off as we go. I'm not sure how to proceed on that: I really like "real" maps, and there's no shortage of maps out there that we could download and print out, but I also think it might be worthwhile to work with Maggie and build the map ourselves on a big piece of paper (probably using google maps, the county appraisal district maps, or even CentrePoint's maps for reference). I don't think Maggie has a sense of how maps work yet, but I think she would be eager to learn.

There are a couple of other valuable reasons to build the map. It could help to pull the project together for her (that is, let her get her head around it) and give her a tangible connection to the lights in our neighborhood. it should give me a (desperately needed) tool to organize the project. Hopefully it'll give Maggie some exposure to the kinds of tools and methods one can use to do this kind of work: she's always been disinclined to even start any project that seems "too big" (she gets this from me, I suppose; for me, it's a function of ADD, which has a hereditary component...). With the map, I hope to help Maggie learn to approach big projects by breaking them down into smaller units. The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, right? In this case, the street light project is the elephant, and I hope that making our own map will be the knife and fork.

In any case, It looks like we are on track to get the job done. I'm excited!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

email from CenterPoint came in

I got the following email from CenterPoint:

Street Light Outage Repair Status:
CenterPoint Energy has investigated your outage request. The work necessary to repair the street light has been assigned to a crew and should be complete in approximately 2-3 weeks. Thank you for reporting street light outages.
Status Date: 12/18/2009
Requestor Details:
Name: Stephen Alexander
Street Light Details:
Light Number: 358994
Location Description: (south) pilgrims bend dr
, TX 77546
Tracking Number: 8090000248806
Received Date: 12/21/2009
Received Time: 20:39


This is just one of the five I reported. I will try to take Maggie out after dark tomorrow to see if they have acted on any of the others, and hopefully to check out the lighting situation on some of the other streets in our neighborhood.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Connecting physical activity, neighborhood exploration, data systems, civic responsibility and parental involvement in the mind of a child

My daughter Maggie just turned five years old. She's intellectually curious, smart, a quick study, and very easily bored. It's a deadly combination: as soon as she grasps the very basics of an answer to a question she might have, she presumes mastery and moves on. Frankly, she gets that style from me: I've only learned in late years, and always the hard way, that practice is necessary for mastery. Maggie has no real concept of systems and how things work on a bigger scale than what she can see in front of her, but I think that she might take to it with a vengeance, given guidance.

A couple of months ago, Maggie's preschool class covered the concept of citizenship, and they had discussions and activities to help the kids understand the idea. She brought her understanding home and was enthusiastic about it for a time.

I'd been very busy for the last several months, but this fall, I tried to spend more one-on-one time with Maggie than I had been spending. Being back in school cramped my style, so I didn't get to nearly as much as I'd wanted.

For a while now, Nicole and I have been wanting to get Maggie out from in front of the TV more; during the past summer Nicole took her out on bike rides around the neighborhood, which she enjoyed, and I began to think about ways I could hang out with Maggie while being physically active.

For a long time, I've been thinking about street lights. On our street, there are 5 street lights, and two of them are dim. They have been for years. For years, I have been thinking about doing something about it. I've known what to do, too, ever since my neighbors reported a dead light by their house to Centerpoint (local energy delivery company)... but other things always seemed to take priority over this little task.

About a month ago, everything suddenly snapped together in my head. I realized that I could take Maggie for walks around our neighborhood and identify the lights needing repair.

Tonight, I took Maggie out for our first dead-light-identification walk. We covered our street and one street over. On just the two streets (about a half-mile or so), we identified five lamps in need of repair and reported them to Centerpoint on its web site. The repair turnaround is quoted as being as quick as three days.

So far, Maggie seems interested in the process. With any luck, she'll maintain that interest long enough to accomplish a number of things. I'm personally glad for the one-on-one time with her, but more than that I am hoping she will gain several strengths: physical strength and endurance, as we will need to range farther from our home to find more dead lamps; appreciation for everything that's in our neighborhood; a basic understanding of the systems needed to keep track of and service assets (we observed already tonight that the poles are numbered sequentially along the streets and I showed her their corresponding locations on Centerpoint's GIS asset map - but as we were near the computer we were also near the television, and she tuned out... baby steps); an appreciation for the fact that individuals can take direct action to improve community conditions; and finally, hopefully, that being out on a walk with dad can be much better than sitting in front of the tube.