Want to know where to find the good toilet paper? There’s an app for that now!

Everyday I’m trying to post one item that makes me smile because it’s a great use of technology or shows adversity gives birth to innovation. Today’s winner is InStock! It’s a website/app where you type in the product you want and your zip code and it will show you the stores around you that should (or won’t) have it.

Looks like the scrap national stores (like Target) a couple times a day to get the latest on their stock and they have lots of disclaimers in case someone buys the last good toilet paper as you’re parking – but as they say…

This is just a tool to guide you in the right direction instead of randomly trying different stores.

I learned about it through IIA (Internet Innovation Alliance)…

After hearing news that many stores were having difficulty keeping their shelves stocked in the wake of COVID-19—leaving many shoppers venturing to multiple stores searching for certain items—two University of Texas computer science students decided they could help.

Rithwick Pattikonda and Darshan Bhatta spent their spring break developing the website Instok.org — or as they like to call it — the “Expedia of grocery shopping.” Users simply type in the item they’re looking for along with their zip code, and the site will show them a list of local stores that currently have the item in stock, saving time and trips for consumers as they stock up on necessities.

Cybersecurity Tips for Working at Home

Just a little help from the PinHawk Law Technology Digest for the many workers and students who are suddenly finding themselves working at home. There are advantage and disadvantages; being home with kids is a little of both. But definitely one challenge is not having IT staff on site. Here are some tips to keep you and your business secure.

  • Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
  • Make Sure Your Home Router WiFi and Firewall passwords are Not Default.
  • Access and view information in private.
  • Update your personal computer.
  • Separate personal from work.
  • Unplug all home listening devices.
  • Encrypt the Startup Disk.

Get the details from PinHawk Law Technology Digest.

How prepared are MN Counties to shift workers to remote work?

Roberto Gallardo and Richard Florida recently looked at how prepared US counties were to shift workers to online work…

Our analysis looked at how America’s more than 3,000 counties are able to implement remote work in terms of two key variables—how limited their digital connectivity is (including access to internet and devices) and those that have a higher share of workers employed in industries and occupations least amenable to remote work.

Nearly forty percent of counties had moderate to high vulnerability to remote work (27.7% moderate and 10.6% high vulnerability) compared to more than 60 percent which had lower vulnerability (34.3% low vulnerability, 27.4% of no vulnerability).

The counties that are best positioned for success with remote work are more urban, have larger economies, more educated workers, and higher incomes. Conversely, those that are most vulnerable are smaller, more rural, suffer from high rates of unemployment and have less educated workers.

They sliced and diced the number a variety of ways; one striking table shows the disproportionate percentage of counties that are highly vulnerable and conversely the low percentage of counties that are not vulnerable.

And of course I was interested in how Minnesota counties fared. Turns out no Minnesota counties were listed with High vulnerability. I have listed the low and medium counties below. (If your county isn’t listed you are not listed as vulnerable. Nice job!)

Low:

  1. Aitkin
  2. Anoka
  3. Becker
  4. Benton
  5. Brown
  6. Chisago
  7. Clearwater
  8. Cottonwood
  9. Douglas
  10. Faribault
  11. Freeborn
  12. Isanti
  13. Jackson
  14. Kanabec
  15. Kittson
  16. Koochiching
  17. Le Sueur
  18. McLeod
  19. Marshall
  20. Meeker
  21. Morrison
  22. Mower
  23. Nobles
  24. Norman
  25. Pennington
  26. Pope
  27. Red Lake
  28. Redwood
  29. Renville
  30. Sherburne
  31. Sibley
  32. Steele
  33. Traverse
  34. Waseca
  35. Wright

Moderate Vulnerability:

  1. Lake of the Woods
  2. Mahnomen – ranks 87 for access to broadband at speeds of 100/20
  3. Mille Lacs
  4. Pine – ranks 81 for access to broadband at speeds of 100/20
  5. Roseau
  6. Todd – ranks 79 for access to broadband at speeds of 100/20
  7. Wadena
  8. Watonwan

For the “medium” vulnerable counties I also checked with how they ranked with access to broadband at the 2026 speed goals (100/20). Access to broadband is a factor but you can see it’s not the only factor in making a county vulnerable to a pandemic and/or future. There’s also value in creating a culture that uses and assumes broadband access.

Rural Minnesota needs better broadband for students and workers to be productive

KNSI Radio reports…

Last week, Governor Tim Walz pulled the plug on $30 million dollars for rural broadband funding and reallocated it to the fight against COVID-19. Nathan Zacharias, with the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, says broadband internet funding should be considered an essential service.

“We’re going to see more pressure and more stress with the COVID-19 outbreak. And that’s putting pressure and stress on all our institutions, and it’s going to show that, really, broadband is no different than some of the other basic services that people need.”

The coalition estimates that 17% of Minnesotans lack broadband access. Zacharias says that means students won’t have access to lesson plans.

And makes the point that broadband would help workers and students during the COVID-19 pandemic…

Steve Grove heads the Department of Employment and Economic Development and says while they continue to push lawmakers to provide emergency assistance to businesses and their employees, they hope companies will be mindful of staff members put in tight situations. Some people he says won’t be able to check or send important e-mails, in addition to missing out on video conferences.

“We know that employers are already demonstrating extraordinary creativity during this time of crisis, and we ask that they continue to be collaborative and creative and help parents navigate school closures.”

That could include providing flexibility to workers who don’t have the capability or technology to work from home.

Education Commissioner Mary Catherine Ricker says the state isn’t just accommodating for a couple of snow days. They need to think about the long term.

Two great ideas: submit ideas to mitigate impact of COVID-19 & free broadband for all

Sometimes two great ideas hit your email at the same time – like peanut butter and chocolate. After a morning of reading pleas on social media for everyone to stay home, someone sent me an article by Harold Feld from Public Knowledge – Want to Keep America Home? Give Everyone Free Basic Broadband. (Inherent in that idea is that everyone has a home – but that’s a larger topic for a different blog.)

Feld’s idea is straightforward…

Medical experts agree that the most important thing we can do to support the efforts against the COVID-19 outbreak is a medical protocol known by the acronym STHH, or “Stay the Heck Home.” To keep Americans home, we need everyone to have broadband. It’s really that simple. Without telework, the economy would shut down completely. We would lose half a school year without distance education. But the value of everyone having a residential broadband connection goes well beyond that in the current crisis. Want to keep people off the streets to flatten the curve? Make it possible for them to shop online? Want them to access forms to receive government aid during this economic crisis? Cut down on physical doctor appointments to avoid infecting others? Fill out the 2020 Census so we don’t need armies of Census Takers going door-to-door? That all takes broadband.

But most importantly, human beings are social creatures.

Deploying is pretty simple too…

As part of the coronavirus stimulus package, the United States government will cover everyone’s broadband bill for a basic connection capable of supporting two-way video (ideally 25/25 Mbps, but we may have to settle for the Federal Communications Commission official definition of broadband of 25/3 Mbps).

Everyone is eligible and business bills back (a set and sufficient amount) to the government. The idea makes sense – but as I’ve said so often in the last week – for areas that have access. It make existing broadband affordable. Perhaps this guaranteed take rate would help make a business case work to deploy in new areas, especially if there was state funding to offset construction costs – something like the MN Border to Border gran projects.

The second great idea to hit my in-box? The State of Minnesota is looking for our ideas to support the MN economy during the COVID-19 crisis. If you have a creative idea, it’s a great place to share. Or you may have heard of a good idea, like increase funding to broadband grants, and you could share that too.

From coronavirus disruption comes innovation – get a MN soundtrack for your pet online

I love this story and not just because I love Minnesota music or because I enjoyed working with Seth Duin on a Dolly Parton Tribute fundraiser show earlier this year. I love it because this is such awesome use of broadband!!

The video below says it all but Seth is a musician. Like every other musician in the world, his gigs have been cancelled. So he went online and offered to write your dog a jingle for $5. Eventually he acquiesced and allowed cats too. Also part of the $5 goes to charity, because not only is Seth a great musician, he’s a great guy!

McIntosh MN: Part of their Reinvention is broadband (Polk County)

KAXE Radio featured the revitalization of McIntosh…

Twelve years ago, McIntosh, Minnesota’s downtown was a row of shuttered storefronts on dilapidated buildings. Today it looks much different and it’s all because of one woman with big ideas, the gumption to follow thru with them and the ability to inspire others to get on board with a new way of  thinking.

The story include profiles of locals; one spoke of the importance of broadband…

Katie Roed never thought she’d move to a rural community after she graduated from college.  Successful in the marketing and communications sector, she traveled extensively visiting clients across the United States, fulfilling their marketing needs.  In a somewhat surprise twist, Katie found herself in rural McIntosh.  Thanks to high-speed internet, she was able to start her own marketing firm from her home on Lake Sarah.  Today, she works with clients on both coasts and does it from the comfort ease of rural living, able to balance family and work at a pace that works beautifully for both.  Her company, SugarBrooke Creative, caters to high end clients including Microsoft, Dun & Bradstreet, and Digi-Key.  Her marketing prowess helped navigate the progress of the new downtown McIntosh and she couldn’t be more excited about the new life breathed into her community.