Monday, August 08, 2005

Police story

OK, nothing exciting seems to be happening here, so I thought I’d pull up some old stories, in the hopes of providing some amusement. Start up the Way Back machine, Sherman! (come on, there have to be some Rocky and Bullwinkle fans amongst us)

Back in San Diego I once had the pleasure of helping found a computer software company. Bill was the money man, had a good idea for a computer program, and somehow I was forwarded as the programmer that could make it happen. I still have 100,000 shares of stock, so if this company ever rolls over again I might at some point make some money (dreams of $$$ - well, make that Euros, as we don’t seem to be doing that well globally). (What is the keyboard symbol for Euros? Not on my US standard keyboard it isn’t).

The programs were designed for police departments, to help street officers with their paperwork and forms. Most US police departments are active consumers of paper, and most officers spend hours daily filling out said forms. Our primary example is the local city police officer that might arrest someone for drunk driving. Drunk driving is a popular activity in America, some statistic I read says that if you are driving after midnight probably 20% of the cars along side you are being driven by someone legally drunk. If an Escondido officer, for example, arrests someone he then has about four hours worth of form filling to do. This is basically the same form for the city of Escondido, the city of San Diego (being big they want to know everything that happens near by), the county of San Diego, the California Highway Patrol and the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Of course, each agency asks for the same stuff – who, what where and why. But they each make you use their own forms, the other guy’s not being good enough.

So I designed a program that just asks an officer questions, then prints out the required forms. Using an HP LaserJet printer I was able to make pretty good replicas of all required forms, except for the colors. The Highway Patrol had multi part forms with pink and green and yellow pages. So on the bottom of their forms I printed ‘yellow copy’, ‘green copy’, etc. My reproductions were good enough that we were able to get all agencies to accept them. This was a first, as until then each agency wanted you to by their forms, and fill them out directly.

Several positives to this approach: an officer just asked simple questions, and the computer picked what forms to fill out. A spell checker was used, to correct any strange entries. The department didn’t have to buy and stock all of those forms, which of course they ran out of quite often. Each page printed out, so handwriting was not important. And since each form had a big essay section, the poor officer did not have to print out the same multi page story multiple times. By the fourth telling there were sure to be differences, in addition to being illegible because the officer was really tired of writing the same stuff over and over and by now he was falling asleep and getting hand cramps, and when the case eventually went to court a good lawyer would pull out the multiple forms and point out the differences and get the case thrown out. (I’ll tell you about Mr. Ticket and Mr. DUI – other customers - someday)

Oh, gd, an aside – I’m listening to the local radio, and just heard an ad from “the Medical Spa at Summerlin”. It was a story of Sleeping Beauty, whom the prince refused to kiss because of her skinny lips. So if she only had called the Medical Spa at Summerlin they could have given her “lip enhancement surgery” and made them kissable. I can only picture Pamela Denise Anderson Lee (Pammy to those of you that know me) who originally on Tool Time looked pretty hot, but now after who knows how many surgeries has been so enhanced in so many areas that I am surprised she can talk, or even walk with so much plastic up front. At least if she falls down she probably bounces right up again. (Sorry Pammy, couldn’t help it) Back to our program, which is already in progress.

I worked for almost a year with the Escondido Police Department, and the Oceanside Police Department, to make a pretty good program. Officers would have a laptop computer in their car, and could fill out forms there, or used computers back in the office. Then I worked with the Anaheim Police Department to hook laptops up to cell phones (yes, quite a few years ago) and be able to contact the office computer for information and to file forms. They were so proud of this, a first in the country I was told, that they wanted to show it off at the Chief of Police convention that year. Side story: the Anaheim Convention Center, across from Disneyland, was the site of the convention. The big hall was used for demos – it was full of booths of vendors. The Anaheim PD got a big booth, and put a patrol car inside with a laptop and officers to demonstrate. Co-sponsor was Airtouch Cellular Service (now part of Verizon) because they wanted to sell air time and this was a good place to do it. Setting up the booth the night before the convention we found out that because of the big metal building cell phones did not work inside. Not too good for demonstrating how good cell phone computer communication was. So Airtouch technicians spent the night putting antennas and a repeater inside, so that their cell phones would work. This is now standard equipment in big halls (and the London tube I understand) so people indoors can make calls. But it was hot stuff back then.

As part of our sales effort Bill wanted to create a demonstration CD. This would let people see how nice our program was. By then the company was up to twenty people, but I still liked to do most of the low down stuff. I created a demo version of the program, and Bill, being the talker and up front guy, created a bunch of demo situations that he put into the program. We created a stack of CDs, and the marketing guys created nice brochures and mailed a bunch out to police departments across the US.

Bill was up in Washington state a while after this, visiting his parents and making sales calls. We had sold a Washington State police department the program, and created the forms that were required up there. Each state took quite a while to program for, and get approval for the forms we printed. Like California, Washington had it’s own versions of everything. While driving Bill was pulled over by a police officer for speeding. Bill did like to push his foot down when driving. The officer started filling out a speeding ticket, then remembered seeing a notice about Bill and his car – he had driven his own Lexus up there and was not in a rental. So he proceeded to handcuff Bill and take him back to the office. Being a small station, they did not throw him in a cell, but just had him sit in the office while they tried to figure out where they had read about him. After going through all the local flyers, and state wanted information, they were proceeding to the FBI national database of ‘wanted’ people. While talking Bill, ever the salesman, started discussing their computer use and how he had a program that might help them with their arrests. Suddenly a light came on; the officer in question had recently tried out our demo program. One of the cases that Bill had put in involved himself, using his real name and address, and his car, using his real license plate number, and a drunk driving accident and arrest. The officer was remembering this information, and not something off of a wanted poster. They pulled out the CD, and sure enough, there was Bill in there as an arrest example. So Bill was unlocked and driven back to his car with an apology.

Moral of this story: if you ever have to make up a story, or give a presentation or fill in sample forms, do not get lazy and use yourself. Putting in your own information is a standard computer programmer testing technique – after all, you know your name and address and social security number, and can easily see if the program you are testing messes things up. And after putting in dozens or hundreds of sample people you often get tired of making up so many variations of John Smith at 21 Main Street, Anytown USA (common dull US names/addresses). So you put in yourself, which is what Bill did. Fortunately he only lost four hours, but did not make a sale there. I can picture him being locked up for days as they try to find out why a cop remembered reading about him. ‘Cause officers usually remember the bad people: better to keep yourself out of trouble.

I was just in a demonstration here last week, where the programmer showing off his new program had put himself in. Since we do credit card stuff here at the bank he was down as being refused credit for a bunch of reasons. I can just see that application accidentally being sent to our credit bureau, and getting stuck on his permanent credit history. Never being able to buy a house or get a loan again because of he couldn’t make up a person that he could remember easily. Standard test person here is named “Bob Cardholder” – except we now have about a hundred variations on this name since the computer always remembers, and when you need to create a new application you need a new name and address: Bob Cardholder II, Bob A. Cardholder, Bob B. Cardholder, Bob Cardholder Junior, etc.

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