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Originally published February 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 26, 2009 at 11:09 AM

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Brier Dudley

It appears agencies lack basic PC skills

Excerpts from the blog Here are a few ideas to save the state a bunch of money. They could also bypass roadblocks that bureaucrats are seeking...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Excerpts from the blog

Here are a few ideas to save the state a bunch of money. They could also bypass roadblocks that bureaucrats are seeking to make public records less available to the public.

If you missed the story we ran Sunday, there are a couple of bills in the Legislature that would make it more expensive and difficult for the public to see records that public servants are creating and maintaining on the public's behalf.

Proponents say government agencies are spending too much time and money disclosing e-mails and documents being requested by the public.

An example the story mentioned involved the Everett School District, where a parent asked for e-mails sent by nine district employees over a two-week period. She wanted to prove the district was making decisions about her autistic son's placement without consulting her, as required by law.

The district tried to bill her $1,275 to see the records, saying that's how much it cost to provide them.

Taxpayers should be outraged. Not at the parent, but at the district, which apparently has no employees able to use the "search" function built into every e-mail system. Either that, or the district paid employees $1,275 to do something that should take less than five minutes.

Fortunately, Microsoft is offering a solution, in addition to that "search" feature in Outlook.

The company announced Sunday that it will offer 1 million vouchers for free computer-training courses. It also created a Web page, www.microsoft.com/ElevateAmerica, where you can learn basic computer skills.

Let's make sure the Everett School District — and any other public agency that says it will cost a fortune to unearth e-mails or Word documents — gets a few of those vouchers.

Another idea: Why not let the public bring USB memory sticks to collect records requested from government agencies? The documents could be loaded onto the sticks almost instantly, with no printing costs.

Better yet, why not put all the records online so the public can find them at its own cost and print them at home?

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Most government documents are now digital and accessible via the Internet, but access is limited. Microsoft and Google would surely be happy to help index and expose the files to their search engines.

More than chatter

If you're the sort who likes to send messages to interactive TV shows and vote on contestants, you'll love the new application that Redmond's Mobui is launching today.

Called Mobile Audience Chat, the software is aimed at TV networks that want to add a new level of interactivity to their shows.

The system lets them create chat rooms that match programming or "host celebrity-moderated chat rooms to allow the audience to interact with on-air talent when the celebrity's show is airing," the release said.

It runs on more than 100 mobile phones, including the iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Java and Brew platforms.

Audience members can set up their own chat rooms, invite friends to join, create profiles and manage friend lists.

A doctor in space

It turns out that Medina billionaire Charles Simonyi won't be the only Washingtonian aboard the March 26 rocket expedition to the international space station.

No, it's not Simonyi's pal Bill Gates. Not this time.

Also onboard will be flight engineer Michael Barratt, a native of Camas and graduate of the University of Washington.

Barratt now lives in Houston — he's a NASA astronaut and flight surgeon — but his parents live in Camas and his sister and brother-in-law live in Issaquah. His NASA biography says the father of five still considers Camas to be his home.

Perhaps Barratt and Simonyi can trade tips. The March flight will be Barratt's first trip into space, although he's worked with the space station for years, serving as its medical operations lead and lead crew surgeon in the past.

Or they can talk about boats — Barratt owns a sailboat, and Simonyi owns the 233-foot megayacht Skat.

This material has been edited for print publication.

Brier Dudley's blog appears Thursdays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Brier Dudley

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.
bdudley@seattletimes.com | 206-515-5687

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