The best government program you’ve never heard of

Want to reconnect with nature this summer?  See part of the country you haven’t been to before?  Just get away from it all?  The National Recreation Reservation Service at has you covered.  They offer campsite, cabin, and lookout reservations/rentals online at National Parks and National Forests across the land.

About a month back I stumbled upon the site while looking for camping options in Idaho and western Montana.  You tell the site what dates you’re travelling and where you’d like to go.  It comes back with a list of places available to rent.  For the trip I was planning, we ended up finding the Jerry Walker Cabin in the Nez Perce National Forest.

View Larger Map Get Directions View Bird’s Eye

As you can tell from the map, the Jerry Walker Cabin is truly in the middle of the wilderness (there are 400 permanent residents in the 40 square miles around it).  According to a brief history provided in the cabin, the structure was built around 1930 as a summer home by Robert “Shorty” McMillan.  Its current namesake, Jerry Walker, entered the picture when he purchased it in 1967.  In 1980 the special use permit that allowed him to use the cabin as a recreational residence expired and Mr. Walker decided to donate the building to the U.S. Forest Service.  Now you can rent it for $20/night at

It doesn’t have water or electricity, but it is outfitted with a wood stove for heat and another for cooking (there’s also an ample supply of firewood chopped by the Forest Service in a shed behind the cabin).  It’s very close to the abandoned mining town of Orogrande and hiking trails to the Orogrande Summit and Buffalo and Gospel Humps.

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Thanks to Colin for taking and sharing the pictures!

We stayed at the cabin as the annual thaw was just getting underway.  While the last 45 minutes of road were still fairly muddy and icy, things were passable (4 wheel drive or snow experience highly recommended).  Hiking required snowshoes and the wood stove for heating was crucial to making the cabin comfortable, but the cabin’s appeal was already apparent in early April.

The scenery is beautiful and the remote location (and lack of cell service) made it very easy to feel away from it all.  During the height of summer, it could only get better.

So as you put together your own summer travel plans, consider a trip off the beaten path at – the federal government’s treasure trove of adventures.  (I’ve got my eye on some of the Northwest’s former elevated fire lookouts, myself).  Happy travels!

Got a Windows Phone? Some of my favorite free apps

One of the numbers they like to tout frequently is the total number of apps available for Windows Phone.  But while the total number has passed 16,000 recently, all that really matters is finding the good ones.  Especially the good ones that are also free.

Thought I’d share some of my favorite freebies; what are yours?

Screenshot of Wordament app

Wordament pits you versus the Internet in a multi-player word game similar to Boggle.  Find as many words as you can in 2 minutes, then see how you stack up versus everyone else who just played that round.  Great for a quick mental break, just try to avoid being sucked in for more rounds than your planned.   And bonus points to the app for how easy it is to get a username and get started.
More info | Download

Screenshot of 4th and Mayor
4th and Mayor

If you use both Foursquare and Windows Phone, 4th and Mayor is the way to go.  Faster than the “official” Foursquare app and with more features.  I’m especially a fan of the Explore and Nearby Specials features.
More info | Download

Screenshot of Groupon app
Screenshot of Groupon appGroupon

Sure you can find the new Groupon deal of the day, but even better is remembering to use the ones you already bought.  You have a fighting chance with the app that brings them with you on your phone.
More info | Download

Screenshot of the Bank of America app
Bank of America

The ubiquitous bank comes to Windows Phone.  Great for checking account balances or finding a branch that’s open, but Washington and Idaho customers can’t use billpay. 
More info | Download

PS – Don’t keep a savings account balance like the one in the screenshot at Bank of America. Find someone who will actually pay you some interest.

Now if only there were an easier way to share apps from the Marketplace than writing a blog post…

Let’s all go to Washyourhandsington to get ourselves a treat

Heard these on the radio a few times – they’re just begging to be shared.


Try it again, this time with a little more soul…

Washyourhandsington with Soul

The 50’s-styled campaign, from the Washington Department of Health’s (DoH), is definitely cheesy (Tim Church, the DoH communications director acknowledged as much in an interview with Spokane’s The Spokesman-Review), but the idea seems to try to be weird different enough that people complain talk about it.  More Feed your Kids the Arts than The More you Know.


All well and good, but does it actually work?  How does the DoH know that the expense was worth it?  The campaign outreach page assures visitors that the state spent no money on it – the campaign was paid for with a federal grant for flu prevention.  How do the feds know that money they sent to Washington State was well-spent?

Choosing a measure of success

You could look at the number of people who get the flu and compare it to flu incidence in previous years, but there are far too many factors at play.  Sure, a downturn in cases could be caused by the campaign, but it could also be caused by a weak flu strain or a particularly good match for the strain in that year’s vaccine concoction.  Or maybe the weather was just warmer.  There’s a lot going on, so tracking the number of flu cases doesn’t seem like the right measure of campaign effectiveness.

Instead, the campaign’s call to action is about proactive steps people can take to protect themselves from the flu.  Washing hands and getting the vaccine both lower your chance of getting the flu and are behaviors the campaign could reasonably hope to influence.  I’d say make those the key metrics.  If the campaign increases the number of people washing their hands and getting the flu vaccine, it’s a success.

Designing the campaign to succeed

So why am I writing this post? I started out just to share some ridiculous radio spots, but the more I thought about it, the more the campaign seemed like a waste of money — and not for the reason you may be thinking. While the creative is laughable, that doesn’t doom the effort (in this case, at least, the camp appeal seems to have been a conscious decision). No, the worse offense is what appears to be a key flaw in strategy backing it up — a reliance on TV and radio.

Not only is impact hard to measure with these traditional placements, but they also just seem like a poor fit. The trouble is, with specific hand-washing and flu shot metrics in mind, I think you succeed with an effort centered on timely reminders and local outreach rather than on TV and radio spots.  People already know that hand-washing and flu shots exist, so broad awareness efforts seem misguided.  The key would be to remind people to wash up and get a flu shot at moments they can act on the reminders.  The campaign could still be ridiculously cheesy (in fact we’ll take as a given that it has to be, based on Washington’s recent history with PSAs), but the application of the Washyourhandsington big idea needs a different orientation to actually affect real people’s behavior in a measureable way.

How could it work?

To get people to wash their hands, you need reminders in place where people should remember to head for a sink.  The state could give out free boxes of tissues emblazoned with a sticker reminder to take a trip to Washyourhandsington after reaching for a Kleenex.  Door handle hangers with a similar reminder provided to local businesses (who have a vested interest in keeping employees well), nursing homes, and hospitals would remind people to take a quick detour to Washyourhandsington while they’re headed down the hall.

The campaign could also bring Washyourhandsington locations out of the bathroom and into the public square with hand sanitizer stations.  Put the stations up in public places and offer retailers and restaurants a small subsidy toward installing their own.  In addition to the same branding as on other campaign pieces, each of these pop-up Washyourhandsingtons could be registered as places for people to check-in on Foursquare or Facebook.  Washyourhandsingtonians should be able to advertise each visit to their new home out to their network of friends back in regular old Washington (even if they’re doing it with an ironic smirk).  Then you’ve got a truly viral campaign on your hands (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

As for flu shot part of the efforts, radio and TV doesn’t seem like a bad place to start reminding, but the campaign could do more. It should take advantage of the personal interaction patients have with the medical practitioners giving the flu shots to turn patients into advocates.  The campaign could provide a packet of materials with the batch of vaccines. Suggest that before giving the shot, the practitioner mention the campaign and hand-washing stations and reinforce the importance of getting vaccinated to validate the trip.  Once the vaccine’s been administered, provide the patient with a sticker to wear for the day telling everyone that they’ve gotten the shot.  Even bring the two prongs of the campaign together by having a hand sanitizing station to use after getting the shot (or a free box of tissues?).

Budget-wise, I think you spend at least half of the money on these types of outreach initiatives.  Once you’ve got good coverage on the free tissues and hand sanitizer station fronts, then you can put the rest of the budget into media for awareness of the cheesy message.  Some banner ads online, Hulu PSA spots, pre-movie spots in local theaters, and sure, some local TV and radio.  Media should be cheap – it is a PSA, after all.

But will it blend?

Now the moment of truth. This rejiggered approach would be much easier to measure than TV and radio spots alone. To see if the effort is working, you monitor the number of posts online about the effort, the number of check-ins at Washyourhandsington portable locations, the number of businesses that install hand sanitizers (and how many refills they need to order), and the number of people getting flu vaccines.  Add to that a survey on hand washing habits for a small cohort before, during, and after the campaign and you’ve got a decently measured effort with a glimmer of hope for figuring out if the whole thing worked.

The next time around the block

It’s too late for this flu season, but I submit that a metric-driven approach is something to consider for next year (if that federal grant comes around again).  Measuring effectiveness can be cheap and easy if you design it in from the start.  Plus, it ends up forcing a critical look at whether your ideas would have any real impact early on — the perfect time to consider those questions.

Even if the state decides to repeat this year’s strategy again, here’s hoping that at the very least they hire a different agency next time around.  Maybe get the guy behind Read a Book? He seems to know how to add an entertaining slant to a PSA while retaining a super-clear message. Smile


Extra bonus PSA.  Washington’s government seems to have a particular weakness for cheese.  This video is an old TV spot, but there’s an updated TV spot and a similar song still runs on radio…

Drive Hammered? Get Nailed. Yeah, they went there.

New theme, old posts. Some early spring cleaning.

A bit of a change of a scenery today with a shiny new theme (let me know what you think!).

Some more details on the theme transition: I switched from Lightword over to Twenty Ten, with a few tweaks of my own via a custom child theme.  There’s a great tutorial on making child themes, super useful if you’re looking to customize a WordPress theme without having your changes overwritten each time the theme gets updated.  The images at the top were put together with some pseudo-Bokeh via a helpful Photoshop tutorial.

Now, what’s up with the new posts dated before this blog started?

Way back in 2007 I had my first blogging experience with a blog dedicated to chronicling a summer abroad in Madrid over at Windows Live Spaces.  With Spaces closing down later this month, I took the opportunity to upgrade my Space to then brought the posts over here to (a smooth process, I must say).  The imported posts are a little trip down memory lane — all of the posts are dated May and June 2007 and are tagged My Summer Abroad.