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Monday, January 31, 2011

Jerry needs to stop being a crybaby

Plainfield Assemblyman Jerry Green needs to stop being a crybaby. The sooner, the better.

On Friday, Jerry made a totally unwarranted and unintelligible attack on Councilors Cory Storch and Rebecca Williams in the context of a 'P.S.' added to the end of a letter of support he received from the Coalition on Affordable Housing and the Environment (CAHE) -- see here.

The attack comes in the context of Gov. Christ Christie's conditional veto of the affordable housing bill Jerry has been working on since last spring. A version influenced by Jerry's attempts to address affordable housing needs (including fees on developers to build a kitty for rehabbing existing properties in older, poorer communities like Plainfield) and that Jerry feels would pass constitutional muster was passed by both houses after back-and-forth in which Sen. Ray Lesniak acceded to some of Jerry's proposals.

Now, however, the Legislature will have to top a higher hurdle to overturn the veto.

And that is what Jerry should be working on and talking about -- not local elected officials who have no pull with Jerry's peers.

It is time for 'the third most powerful person in the Assembly' (as Jerry is always reminding us he is) to show his mojo and get the votes needed to pass his legislation DESPITE Christie's veto and any lingering ill will the governor may feel after Jerry insulted him during Christie's campaign stop in Plainfield the summer before his election.

Jerry has been in the Assembly a long time, and has patiently worked his way up the ladder, now chairing an important committee (Housing and Local Government) as well as having a role in the leadership structure.

Why, then, go into a tantrum like a 2-year-old in the checkout line at the A&P?

The voters of the 22nd District hardly thought they were sending a crybaby to the Assembly.

Jerry needs to get to work and get the votes he needs.

All the letters of support and editorials in favor he posts to his blog can't make up for having votes in his pocket.

I have written before that I believe this affordable housing bill could become Jerry's legacy legislation (see my three posts on the matter here).

Longtime readers of this blog will have noticed that the bones I have to pick with Jerry have to do with THE SITUATION IN PLAINFIELD (where he has habitually made poor choices and advocated unwise, wasteful and abusive policies for years) -- and not in Trenton, where he serves under the watchful eye of others.

If Jerry can't -- or won't -- act like a mensch and show us how he can get this housing bill signed and his legacy secured, he should seriously think of getting out of politics. And that includes whining about others when it's HIS RESPONSIBILITY to get the deed done.

We don't need any whiners representing the 22nd District.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Solaris lays off forty

Sign that once graced the entry to Muhlenberg Hospital.
Solaris Health System, parent organization of JFK and the former Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, has laid off forty administrators, I have learned.

This comes on the heels of the sudden and unexpected exit of CEO John McGee a week ago Friday.

All of the positions are at Solaris' Edison headquarters, I am told.

There are unconfirmed whispers that the slimming down is in preparation for a takeover by another, larger healthcare outfit.

Others say 'as if'!

I'm of the school that thinks the layoffs are just another indication of the continuing financial problems at the healthcare company rather than any possible takeover.

One sign of the hard times is that 'development' (read 'fundraising') personnel are among those being laid off.

It's as if a dairy farmer were to lay off the milkmaids.

Hardly a winning move.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Hidden Plainfield: January 23 home ID

Right where you said it is.

Yesterday's Hidden Plainfield home is indeed right there in plain sight, but hardly hidden to a lot of folks who knew it.

The classic center hall colonial is on Grant Avenue at the corner of Sherman, as several knew -- right down to the house number.

Where shall we go next week?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hidden Plainfield: Classic Center Hall in Blue

Hiding in plain sight.

As in the case of the purloined letter, today's Hidden Plainfield home is hiding right there in plain sight.

This classic center hall colonial is on a busy Plainfield street, but my hunch is many people fly by without noticing this fine example, probably built in the 1920s, in the days when fanlights and sidelights were not an extraordinary detail.

Do you know where it is?

Answer tomorrow.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Courier gets (welcome) makeover at

The Courier's new online look appeared Friday at
The Courier's Plainfield beat reporter, Mark Spivey, told me the other night at the Board of Ed meeting that changes to the website at were imminent.

How imminent I didn't realize until I refreshed a page Friday night and it came back with a new, more attractive, more legible page and faster loading page.

Check out the difference -- compare the new design at top of this post to the old design below -- you can reach the site here --

The new design is welcome relief from the green-grey-orange of yore.
I have long hated the green-grey-and-orange incarnation the site has had since the merger of the former Courier and Home News sites into one a ways back.

It was cluttered (even though I normally cruise with ads and popups turned off), and quirky beyond belief. I often had to quiz mark or someone on the editorial staff to find where an item was stashed.
(For instance, who would think that to find Mark's weekly beer column, Draft Picks, one would start with the menu item called 'My Life'?)

The editors have put up an online tour with video (see here), which I hope you will check out.

On the less fun side, I found that several features (turning to additional pages on a story, printing, drop-down lists) did not work in my default browser, FIREFOX, though they all worked find in Google's CHROME browser. I will die on the barricades before I'll open that turkey and Web security disaster, Microsoft's INTERNET EXPLORER.

I am hopeful that Mark will be among those retained as Gannett downsizes; the only question is how having half the newsroom staff is going to affect coverage on the ground

As I remarked to Mark before his interview for the 'new' job, Plainfield had proved an inexhaustible source of Page One stories and helped make him 'reporter of the year', despite the fact that we don't have all those desirable advertisers. (Truth is, the benefit to the Courier is that Plainfielders SPEND with all those desirable advertisers, no matter what kind of shopping experience our business districts offer.)

So check out the makeover, and hold out high hopes Plainfield coverage won't suffer in the new world order.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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UPDATE: Man jumps in front of train at Plainfield station, with links to Courier, Ledger

Plainfield Station, looking east.
UPDATE: 12:45 PM: The papers have briefs online, see the Courier here, and the Ledger here.

A man jumped in front of an arriving NJT Raritan Valley Line train at the Plainfield station I learned about 2:15 Saturday morning, in an apparent suicide attempt.

The last scheduled train in from Newark Penn Station weekdays was slated to arrive at 1:59 AM.

I am told the unidentified man landed under the platform next to the train. He was extracted by police, fire and EMS personnel, and was alive at the time I got word.

More as details develop.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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BREAKING: Two shot in Plainfield early Saturday

Plainfield started off the weekend with two Hispanic males being shot near West Front and Central Avenue just after 4:00 AM.

I am told one was hit twice, in the back and abdomen; the other was shot in the hand.

Gun violence involving Hispanics has been relatively rare until recently, and I am told is associated with turf wars between the MS-13 and Latin Kings gangs.

More as info develops.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Laxity, lack of planning set stage for schools' security breach

It was like a castor-oil moment.
Thursday night's special meeting of the Plainfield Board of Education put me in mind of those end-of-winter spoonful-of-cod-liver-oil sessions my brother and I were subjected to as kids.

Mom, Dad and village wisdom all dictated that it was good for you, but that didn't make it any less distasteful.

The subject matter was a presentation to the public on the recent security breach of the District's web-based Genesis parent/administration portal (which I wrote about previously here).

Despite assurances by the District's I.T. staff and Interim Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles that fewer than one percent of the system's records were vandalized and that no data was lost (well, it seems it
actually was but it was later recovered, but that's a quibble), the bottom line is that laxity and lack of planning left the District open to the attack.

When the public was given time to ask questions, resident Scott Belin (who also chairs the Zoning Board of Adjustment), pressed the staff and interim superintendent on the District's I.T. plans, policies and procedures.

It came to light that while the District has a Disaster Recovery Plan for its computer networks and website, there is no Security Breach Incident Plan.

Ms. Belin-Pyles remarked that this was because 'security breaches are relatively new to the educational community'.

This took my breath away. For years now, those responsible for computer networks and Internet security have known, reported and discussed the ubiquity and persistence of attempts to breach, hack, vandalize and steal from their systems.

How could Plainfield's little corner of the universe have escaped noticing?

Best practice on the part of I.T. professionals is to ASSUME your system will be the target of attacks.

And to plan on it and have procedures in place for the eventuality.

It seems that the issue in this instance at Plainfield was laxity with regard to passwords.

Somehow, someone got access via a valid administrator's password to the system.

It does seem, from the crowing about the incident done by the intruders on public discussion boards, that the intent was to vandalize student records and wreak other sorts of havoc on the web-based system (such as $9,000 lunch fees) and not to STEAL commercially valuable data.

This is not the kind of behavior that serious hackers, intent on stealing valuable information (personal data, Social Security numbers, credit card info, passwords, etc.), participate in. They are intent on NOT BEING FOUND OUT, on NOT CALLING ATTENTION TO their intrusion.

So, the District caught a break this time.

And we were told there will be a tightening-up across the board: a new and stronger password policy, updated security procedures for all servers, and the development of a Security Breach Incident Plan including a clear chain of communication up the ladder.

That's all to the good, and we can hope it will be sufficient -- with vigilance -- to guard the District against future incidents.

After the public (there were five in attendance, if I count myself in) had its chance, Board members asked their own questions of the I.T. staff and Ms. Belin-Pyles.

This was where the scary side of small-d democracy came to the fore.

It became quite clear that the Board members, with all due respect, do not really grasp the nature of the problem. They pressed for details that can not be divulged while there is an active investigation, and showed a sketchy understanding of the District's computer network and internal policies and procedures concerning it.

That in itself is not so scary as realizing that the Board members will now be responsible for adopting policies and procedures to defend against future attacks. How will they know what are good policies and what are not?

It was surprising, and somewhat dismaying, to learn that only about 500 parents are signed up to make use of the Genesis student records system. I don't know how many parents (or households) there are for an enrollment of approximately 6,500 students, but surely 500 participants is a LOW number if not VERY LOW.

While the expense of the system may be justified by the number of teachers and administrators who use it (700, we were told), and the hours saved in preparing required submissions to the state, it would behoove the District to have a plan in place for increasing parental use of the system. What happens to those who don't participate? Are they simply left out of the loop? Or does the District have to go to the lengths of preparing and distributing duplicative paper-based info, which Genesis is supposed to do away with in the first place?

There was, however, one more issue that did not get any discussion: a District crisis communications policy.

Notice from District website

Following is the timeline presented by the I.T. staff and Ms. Belin-Pyles --

  • Tuesday, January 18, the attack began approximately 6:30 PM; the system was vulnerable until approximately midnight;
  • Wednesday, January 19, the Help Desk began getting calls that users could not log in at 8:00 AM;
  • Wednesday, January 19, I.T. staff restored the Genesis system on, but limited access;
  • Wednesday, January 19, a notice the system was unavailable was put on the District website;
  • Wednesday, January 19, law enforcement and educational authorities were contacted;
  • Thursday, January 20, principals and secretaries granted access to Genesis;
  • Saturday, January 22, Interim Superintendent's letter posted to website;
  • Monday, January 24, teachers granted access to Genesis; and lastly
  • Monday, January 31, expected parents will be granted access to Genesis system.
Except for the brief, uninformative notice on the website, it took FOUR DAYS for the District to address the issue with a letter from Ms. Belin-Pyles posted to the website.

This is hardly comforting and suggests the lack of any clear crisis communications policy, a lack that should be addressed by the Board of Ed as it works its way through the aftermath of this security breach.

Ironically, when the letter from Ms. Belin-Pyles did appear, it seemed to follow an outline I proposed to Maria Pellum (see here) last week, based on my experience as the city's public information officer.

Part of the District's responsibilities to the taxpayers and other stakeholders is timely, accurate and informative communications concerning breaking and/or crisis issues.

It goes with the turf, and I hope this will be addressed in a formal manner with procedures and policies.

Lastly, the venue and sound.

Holding the meeting in an auditorium that holds 1,300 people for an attendance of 11 (including staff and lawyers) besides the Board was wasteful of taxpayer dollars (heating the space). It was like a Leni Riefenstahl setting, without the crowds.

Couldn't there have been a Plan B, such as using the much more accommodating PHS Library?

Also, the sound system was execrable.

Well, not the system itself, but the use made of it. I had to ask for Board members to speak into the mikes, but they soon relapsed into speaking without pulling them close; Mr. Bloom was clearly audible even without the mike, but Mr. Sears waved the mike around but failed to hold it close enough for us to get the benefit of all but a few words he said. This is just a matter of someone teaching folks some good manners about using mikes.

Surely there is someone on the District's 1,000-member staff who could do that?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Reader-submitted snow pix: January storm

More storm pix, these from Plainfield's late-January seventh snowstorm of the 2010-11 season.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow, snow, snow: Reader-submitted photos

Reader Jose M. had to start here...
With Plainfield buried under its seventh snowstorm of the 2010-11 season, here are some reader-submitted pix from the December storm.

...And then deal with this street scene.

A series from reader Rob, from top --
West 8th Street facing west; the French School of Music and Victorian next door;
Higgins Home for Funerals; Library Park from his front porch; and West 8th Street toward Park Avenue.

These shots from reader Nancy U. are from her Sleepy Hollow Lane neighborhood:
Homes across street; Sleepy Hollow Lane plowed but empty; and a car waiting to be dug out
at Fernwood and Sleepy Hollow Lanes.

Lastly, reader Joan sends a snap of her deck, referencing the national anthem
with the title 'And our flag was still there'.
Have some interesting shots of this latest storm?

Forward them to me at plaindan at gmail dot com and I'll put them up. (Details about location appreciated.)

Now, pardon me while I get out the shovel and get to work...again.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Muhlenberg: McGee's sudden departure from Solaris raises eyebrows

Ernestine's switchboard lit up over the weekend.
 The sudden resignation last Friday of John McGee, CEO of Solaris, parent company of Plainfield's former Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center (now a Satellite Emergency Department of JFK), had eyebrows flying.

What no handing-off-of-the-baton photo? No celebratory banquet (or even luncheon)? No gold watch?

Did he jump? Or was he pushed? became all the talk of the switchboard circuits over the weekend.

As with other abrupt departures 'to pursue other interests' (at least we were spared the pols' usual fallback, 'to spend more time with family'), Muhlenberg and Solaris watchers had plenty of questions.

It's no secret New Jersey's hospitals are in financial difficulties, and JFK is no exception. As a relatively small healthcare system, Solaris has been viewed by healthcare professionals as top-heavy with highly paid administrators. Besides McGee, the system has CEOs for it JFK unit as well as the rehab/nursing homes (which includes Hartwyck at Cedar Brook in Plainfield). If no replacement is made for McGee, the system doubtless looks at a savings in the mid- to upper-six-figure range, money that could be well-spent elsewhere.
Plainfielders and those of the surrounding communities who relied so heavily on Muhlenberg are sensitive to issues around the continued existence of the SED at the Muhlenberg campus.

I am told that the usage numbers continue to run in the range of 20,000 or so ER visits per year, and that the imaging services numbers are also running about on par.

With Solaris formally committed to the Muhlenberg SED into 2013, per the agreement with the state on closing Muhlenberg, the question arises as to whether Solaris will pull the plug in Plainfield.

I tend to think that won't happen for TWO reasons: 1) the JFK Emergency Room situation is reportedly overstressed and sometimes chaotic (why aren't the mainstream media all over this one?), and 2) Solaris is facing an unexpected rise in uncompensated charity care from an entirely unexpected direction: Edison's South Asian immigrant community, a future that Muhlenberg's snootier stepsister JFK never imagined for itself. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Lastly, for Plainfielders, is the future of the Muhlenberg site.
The City Council has asked for input from the Robinson-Briggs administration about whether the property or a portion of it is subject to being put on the municipal tax rolls, since the reasons for which is was originally made exempt no longer apply.  Specifically, there are the facts that the dialysis center is a for-profit entity as well as the imaging services located in the main complex. Plainfield's tax assessor has been reviewing the situation, which seems likely to result eventually in making at least a portion of the Muhlenberg property subject to municipal taxation.

Beyond the tax issue, however, is the general fate of the premises.
The developer spoken of at the Planning Board last fall (see here) is evidently still waiting in the wings, with two matters unresolved and keeping talks from moving forward --
  1. 'Show me the money' -- Neither Solaris nor the Robinson-Briggs administration has received detailed financial information from the putative developer and Robinson-Briggs has already signaled she will not go forward without at least a memorandum of understanding outlining a potential deal (someone put a good idea in her head on this one).

  2. $17 million due to New Jersey -- The state's stipulation that any deal include repaying $17 million in monies extended by it to Solaris has been a deal-killer, as almost everyone recognizes. It would seem to me to make sense to try and get the state to drop the requirement or outright forgive the amount due. In this regard, one would hope the Solaris board was savvy enough to understand the need to have someone who could both argue from familiarity with facts on the ground in Plainfield and have the possibility of a friendly hearing from Gov. Christie. Such a person would more likely be someone like Plainfield native and Republican Assemblyman from Westfield Jon Bramnick than anyone else who could come to mind.
A very last 'little' fly in the ointment which could be an impetus for Solaris to get the ball rolling is, I am told, the $1 million+ per year in costs to heat and air condition the main building of the campus, even though most of it goes unused.

Maybe with McGee gone, some of these issues will begin to be resolved?

We can only hope so.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Assemblyman Green, Gov. Christie on affordable housing merry-go-round?

Plainfield Assemblyman Jerry Green just ain't gettin' nothin' but disrespect from Gov. Chris Christie, who yesterday conditionally vetoed the affordable housing bill over which the Assemblyman has labored so mightily since last Spring.

In his veto memo, Christie said --
If the goal of this legislation is to replace an already broken system for providing affordable housing with a common sense, predictable and achievable process, then this bill sorely misses the mark...
Each of the three news reports cited below gives a good summary of the legislation's progress so far, though I think the NJ Newsroom version is ahead by a nose.

Will the legislation, which I think will be seen as Jerry's enduring legislative legacy after a long career in the Assembly, ever get signed? Sen. Lesniak thinks so.


But as far as Jerry and 'respect' go, I cannot help but notice that every time the bill is in trouble or being dumped on, it is Jerry's bill, and when folks are lining up for the celebratory photo opportunity, it is Sen. Lesniak's bill.

What kind of 'respect' is that?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Google affirms Dan, if ever so briefly

The kindness of the Google algorithm to Plainfield Today this morning (click to enlarge).
While waiting in the rotunda for the Plainfield City Council to wrap up its executive session, Courier reporter Mark Spivey told me that he had gotten inquiries from some out-of-town newspapers of note about the developing Plainfield school district's computer breach.

This morning, thinking to see whether in fact the story had gotten 'legs', I turned to Google -- and got the pleasantly surprising results shown above as the first page in the series.

The story has indeed spread -- and may continue to do so for a few days.

Even if the Interim Super doesn't want to take reporters' phone calls.

Here is where the story has shown up so far --
As for having Plainfield Today turn up in the top three returns on this particular search, I would offer an update of Blanch DuBois' famous remark in A Streetcar Named Desire, 'I have always depended on the kindness of strangers' algorithms'. You can see Vivien Leigh in a YouTube clip of the 1951 movie adaptation here.

Thanks to the algorithm, it's just as likely it won't be me at the top of the list the next go-round.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Plainfield Schools website breach: Worse than being let on?

Screen shot, District website, Monday morning.

Is the website breach at the Plainfield Public Schools worse than is being let on?

The Genesis parents' portal was apparently hacked around 7 PM this past Tuesday, as was discovered by Maria Pellum, a parent and user, on Wednesday evening. The system has been unavailable since then (it seems to be online Monday morning), without explanation until a letter from Acting Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles was posted to the website late Saturday afternoon (it is time-stamped just before 6:00 PM).


Student information modules offered.
Genesis is a turnkey software system which manages student information for the entire school district as a web-based application. The company (see their website here) has 160 installations in New Jersey, including six K-12 districts in Union County, and an unnamed Plainfield charter school. Teachers input student grades and other evaluations; parents access the information through the portal.


The site was hacked by members of 4chan (see more here, and here), an amorphous mob of hackers, pranksters and anarchic types, who shortly thereafter posted their exploit to a high-traffic message board, (see here).

Besides posting a username and password to access the system (the password 'poopnuggets' hopefully was the hackers' substitution and not the official District password), the hackers seem to have wreaked havoc on student records, including changing names, grades and disciplinary records. There is also talk on one of the message boards of their having prepared a 'bomb threat' notice (which was never delivered), as well as destruction of backup records (for this, see the thread here).

By the time I began researching the matter Friday evening, the images of student records posted to the message boards had been taken down, though both the thread and another at Reddit (see here) were still up.

Reddit is a highly popular online message board/news source, mainly technology slanted, that happens to be owned by Advance Media, the Star-Ledger's parent company. If you read the Reddit thread carefully, you will note these are sort of the 'white hat' guys -- pointing out the deep doo-doo the hackers are getting themselves into.


While the District will no doubt have to spend time combing the records to see how many of the several modules have been sabotaged, an immediate worry is whether the records of the Senior class, those who will be looking to enter college next fall, have been compromised.

Searching and fixing these records, and then eventually those of the entire student base will be made harder if complete 'paper' backup records have not been kept for grades, etc.


Why did it take until Saturday evening to put out a response?

While we cannot know exactly how the system was hacked, and certainly won't be told while the incident is under investigation, questions arise (from the comment threads) as to whether the system was actually hacked by OUTSIDERS. The same threads give rise to how the whole security of the system is handled, including password storage and backups of the databases of information. To which can be added the matter of a strong password policy (I am told by parent/users they have never been asked to change their passwords since originally signing up in 2009).

If the Genesis portion of the District's infrastructure was vulnerable, what about other portions, such as those that have the credit card information of parents paying for school lunches online? Or the social security numbers and other personally identifying information of the students?

If I.T. policies and procedures, training, or supervision have been lacking in any way, how will the stakeholders know that deficiencies are being addressed and corrected?

And, lastly, there is the matter of the symbiosis between the District and the City with regard to I.T.

Not only has the City recently inked a 'shared services' agreement for information technology, but the City's I.T. director was previously the District's.

Is the same set of circumstances which made the District vulnerable been brought over to City Hall?

Bears thinking about.

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Hidden Plainfield: January 23 home ID

    There are probably hundreds of similar 'workingmen's cottages' in the Queen City.

    In a sense, the commenters on yesterday's 'Hidden Plainfield' home are right: the locations they mention (Leland Avenue, Essex Street/Spooner Avenue) do have homes similar to this one. There are probably hundreds scattered around the Queen City.

    But the one pictured above is on DeKalb Avenue, where it intersects with Bradford Street.

    House, on a double lot, is just a short block from the old Mack plant.

    Just a short block from the Mack plant, this was the heart of one of Plainfield's blue-collar neighborhoods back in the day when manufacturing was a much more important component of the local economy.

    Where shall we go next week?

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Sunday, January 23, 2011

    Hidden Plainfield: 'I Remember Mama'

    This well-maintained older home reminds me of the TV show.

    I love this well-maintained older Plainfield home, one of perhaps hundreds like it scattered around town, because it reminds me of a favorite childhood TV program, 'Mama' (also recalled as 'I Remember Mama').

    Set in turn-of-the-century (20th!) San Francisco, the series chronicled the adventures of the Norwegian-American Hansen family. Each week, Mama would open the family album as daughter Katrin's voiceover would say she remembered 'the house on Steiner Street'.

    It may have been big to a child's imagination; in reality it was much like the one pictured above, which in their thousands filled immigrant and working-class neighborhoods across America from the 1890s to World War I.

    Our example above is quite typical except for one thing: instead of being set cheek-by-jowl with its neighbors (as in Katrin's family album and elsewhere in Plainfield), this one sits magnificently plunked in  the middle of a double lot, making it even more striking.

    Dagmar, Nels, Momma, Aunt Jenny and Papa Lars. Katrin, chronicler of the family is missing.
    My other memory of the show is that Mama was always taking down a canister of Maxwell House coffee to brew a pot. The Hansen family seems to have run on the stuff, as did our own.

    Is that the reason I still drink Maxwell House today, in spite of the glut of blends, grinds and roasts available to the modern upscale tongue?

    Do you know where this home is? Answer tomorrow.

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Saturday, January 22, 2011

    Plainfield Public Safety Director Hellwig on unexplained leave

    An update on Public Safety Director Hellwig's unannounced and unexplained leave I mentioned Friday (see here): I have since been told that the Director is away on a family matter, attending the funeral of a relative.

    Captain (and former police chief) Edward Santiago is in charge of the Police Division in the Director's absence.

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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    Friday, January 21, 2011

    UPDATE: District notice on Plainfield schools' website hacking

    Visitors to the District's Genesis portal got this message today.
    UPDATE, SUNDAY:  Maria reports the District has put up a press release on the hacking incident (see here, PDF). Not exactly rapid response, but it does the job. Question: It's from the Interim Super, on letterhead; was it mailed to all stakeholders, or just put on the website?

    Genesis, the Plainfield
    school district's parent/teacher portal, evidently was hacked sometime during the week.

    The first I knew of it was in preparing this morning's CLIPS blog, where I found mention by Maria Pellum on her blog (see here), though evidently the problem has existed since Monday.

    Received an email from Maria this afternoon advising that personal information about at least one student had been posted on the Ledger's NJ forums (she says it has subsequently been taken down). Here is a link to a screenshot (here) of the image posted on the forums.

    Maria's question is whether the parents should be told.

    Putting on my old public information officer hat, here is my suggestion --

    ABSOLUTELY there should be a public notice put up on the website and sent out to the media, with at least the minimum following details:
    • Info about what portions of the Genesis portal were hacked
    • When the District found out
    • What the District has done/is doing about the problem
    • Apology for any inconvenience
    • What remedy the District will pursue once the perpetrator(s) are identified
    • Contact information for queries to the District
    Alacrity and transparency when it comes to accidental divulging of information about stakeholders will go a long way to reassure everyone that the situation is in hand and remedies are being devised.

    And, it will reassure the public that PROFESSIONALS are in charge at the District.

    It is quite disappointing to find at 3:30 PM that no further information is available on the District website about a problem that is several days old. In addition, there are worries about whether the credit card numbers and passwords of parent who pay for school lunches through the Genesis system have been compromised, as well as whether students' Social Security numbers have been stolen.

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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