NALIT Newsletter, Spring 2012

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Chair’s Corner

Be Super!
As I mentioned at the PDS in Portland last year, many of the staff sections were actively working toward a joint PDS in Madison Wisconsin for 2012. Well…we’re on! Six staff sections have agreed to support our first ever “Super PDS” from Oct. 8-12. NALIT, LSS, LSSS, LINCS, NLSSA and RACSS have committed to the event. There will be overlap and a variety of beginning and ending dates for each staff section—NALIT’s PDS is scheduled for Oct. 9-12. 

One of the goals for the Super PDS is to foster interaction and the exchange of ideas between staff sections. PDS content and training usually are discipline-specific, and we stick to our own silos.  We are making a concerted effort at the Super PDS to provide topics and content that interest all the staff sections and will foster interaction, cross-pollination and exchange of ideas. 

You will not be short-changed! The NALIT PDS planning committee is working hard to provide relevant and cool content for our portion of the seminar. We are planning on topics such as Windows 8, Security Myths, Supporting BYOD Environments, Cloud Computing, Social Media Revisited and a look at Bill Drafting systems from several states.

A joint reception has been tentatively scheduled at the Wisconsin State Capitol as one of several opportunities to foster interaction between staff. We also are considering some shared plenary sessions that I think you will enjoy. As usual, count on a NALIT Dutch Treat dinner as an opportunity to shoot the breeze with your technology counterparts from other states.

This will be an awesome PDS. Hope to see you there!

Rich Beckwith
Director of Information Systems
Missouri House of Representatives

Telepresence Station - Alaska

By Curtis Clothier

With the ever growing numbers of consumer electronics (such as iPads) entering our work environment comes an expectation that many of their associated apps (such as Skype or Facetime) should also work at the office.

During the past few years, we have had increasing requests to provide video conferencing services between the Capitol, and remote locations throughout our state. As you know, Alaska is very big, and some of our communities are days away by road or plane. The Alaska Legislature’s Legislative Information Offices use Cisco MeetingPlace to allow our citizens to call into committee meetings from anywhere in the state to testify on bills and other meeting items. While the MeetingPlace solution has worked very well for audio, a number of legislative offices have been asking for a video solution that would provide a more collaborative experience.

In 2011, we used Microsoft’s Office Communicator video chat service between several of our remote offices, which were also on the State of Alaska network. This ad-hoc solution worked well, except that it was limited to high bandwidth sites located on our state network (for security and quality of service issues).

With the recent addition of our Public Wireless network in the Capitol and the proliferation of iPads and their video chat apps, our Legislative Information Office decided to build a portable Telepresence Station, which uses a 42” plasma TV on a rolling cart with inputs for an iPad or laptop with Skype or other video chat software.  To avoid conflicts with our state data network, bandwidth for the Telepresence Station would be provided “off-net” via Wi-Fi or 3G service.

Our first tests of the Telepresence Station were promising. Using Skype between devices on our public Wi-Fi (within our building) worked very well. However, using Skype in a production environment was a little different. 

Here’s what we’ve learned.

Bandwidth: Using Wi-Fi or 3G is problematic. In the Capitol, our wireless network, as well as AT&T’s 3G service, are swamped by all the devices competing for bandwidth. With no quality of service guarantee and with hundreds of visitors in the Capitol, Wi-Fi service seems to degrade when meetings are in progress.

User Error: While our staff is familiar with the system, there are no guarantees that users on the other end of the video call are proficient with their computer set-up.

Archiving: Any testimony provided over the system must be recorded for the public record. An audio feed is necessary for the committee room recording system.

Equipment: While the iPad appears to be a good device for personal chat, a standard laptop with better audio-out features make it a better choice for recording the meeting testimony.

Since our initial tests of the station, we have modified our configuration to include a laptop computer (replacing an iPad) and are now using a VPN to a cable modem (better than wireless) for communications.  In order for us to use a cable modem, we had to hardwire a wall jack in our HSS committee room to our stand-alone cable modem. With these modifications, our user feedback has been very good.

Going forward, we will consider expanding this service to other committee rooms. If there is a consensus to provide this service in other rooms, we will need to run additional Ethernet in order to isolate this service from the state network and still have a dedicated wired connection. 

Another issue we face is the amount of support time needed to coordinate a video chat call for a meeting. If we eventually have two or three requests for simultaneous video chat meetings, we may quickly run out of support staff. Training committee aides to use these Telepresence Stations appears to be in our future.

Why the Raspberry Pi Is Relevant

byJack Wallen (

Recently, a tiny piece of hardware was released that will not reinvent the way you work, won't make you more social, won't crunch your numbers, doesn't handle multi-touch, and probably won't make you more popular or sexy. But the Raspberry Pi will serve a purpose--and it's one I hope we can all learn from.  Read more...

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) - South Carolina

By Gigi Brickle

We are starting pilot projects of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and the implementation of a Network Access Control (NAC) System so that legislators can bring their own devices to the Capitol. We hope this will decrease the amount of desktops and laptops we have to purchase and maintain, and we feel it will be much easier for legislators to manage. 

We know potential security risks exist with VDI technology, but we also recognize the importance of ease of use and convenience; therefore, we are working to balance these needs. Our design, based on Citrix, includes a Netscaler in the DMZ, a web server for pass-through authentication, Xendesktop controllers to broker connections, a license server, an SQL server for user rights and server configurations, Xenapp servers for applications, and provisioning servers to provide and distribute operating systems to the clients. We will use VMWare for virtualization rather than Microsoft’s Hyper-V.

We have purchased some Wyse Terminals to use in appropriate places and will convert PCs to dumb terminals for internal thin clients. 

All these changes represent a significant financial investment. We plan to implement these changes before approaching a Network Access Control System that will complement the VDI system.

I have found that we need more skilled experts in the areas of intrusion protection, monitoring network performance, project management and technical writing. I will be addressing these issues as well as searching for a new network manager to be our chief technical human resource for the General Assembly.

Facebook Cuts Six Degrees of Separation to Four

By Emma Barnett, The Telegraph

The Facebook era and rise of social networks means that people are more closely connected than ever before, with four degrees of separation having become the norm.  Read more...


Death of the Password

By Jerry Gamblin

Passwords have had a great 2130 year run since Polybius recorded how the Roman Military distributed their watchword of the day in around 118 BC. This should be the year we stop using passwords and move to the more realistic and reasonable pass-phrase.

What is a passphrase, you ask? 

In its most pure form it is a phrase made up of more than three words.

For example, here are some recent passphrases I have used (and am no longer using because passwords are only good for at the most 90 days, but that’s another article.)

• “Mizzou to the sec?”
• “Its almost Christmas!”
•"Do the chickens have large talons?” (We were on a serious Napoleon Dynamite kick in our office for a while.)

Why are these passphrases so great?

1. They meet all realistic password complexity requirements because they use upper and lower-case letters and punctuation.
2. They are easy to remember. It is MUCH easier to remember and type a sentence or funny quote than to remember what most people would consider a secure password (ex: J3ff!3rs0N).
3. Because of the length, they are more secure. Even the worst-case passphrases, such as "this is my password" is much more secure, at least when compared to their single word equivalents (ex: password).

So, 2012 is a great time to move yourself, your staff and your legislators to adopt passphrases for security and ease of use. You also will be greatly surprised about how few sticky note passwords you see when you move to passphrases.

On a technical note, since Windows 2000 Microsoft has supported passwords of up to 127 characters, passphrases should work on every Windows network in existence. 

As always, if you have questions, contact me at Until then, I will be thinking of more Napoleon Dynamite quotes to use as my passphrase.  

Save the Dates!

NCSL Legislative Summit, Chicago, Illinois, August 6-9, 2012

The annual NCSL Legislative Summit is the largest and most substantive meeting of its kind in the nation. Last year NALIT members joined more than 4,800 legislators, staff and others who attended informative sessions and heard from nationally renowned speakers. The NALIT Executive Committee will be planning several sessions designed specifically for NALIT members. Make plans now to join your legislative colleagues in Chicago, Ill., August 6-9, 2012.

NALIT Professional Development Seminar, Madison, Wisconsin, October 9-12, 2012

The NALIT 2012 Professional Development Seminar will be held in Madison, Wisconsin, Oct. 9-12. The NALIT meeting will be part of a “Super PDS”—several NCSL staff groups will meet concurrently in Madison that week. The other groups also meeting in Madison include:

            Leadership Staff Section (LSS)
            Legal Services Staff Section (LSSS)
            Legislative Information and Communications Staff Section (LINCS)
            National Legislative Services and Security Association (NLSSA)
            Research and Committee Staff Section (RACSS)

Although some sessions will be joint with other groups, NALIT will offer training and information designed specifically for legislative IT managers and technical staff. In addition, Wisconsin’s Legislative Technology Service Bureau staff will host tours and IT briefings at the Capitol. Please send your ideas for session topics or speakers for the Legislative Summit or PDS to Rich Beckwith or Pam Greenberg at

NALIT 2011 PDS in Portland a Success

NALIT members from 21 states and Australia and Canada attended the 2011 NALIT professional development seminar, held in Portland, Oregon, last October. The seminar sessions received high ratings from attendees.

The seminar included sessions about Constituent Management Systems, Enterprise Development, Mapping and Geocoding, Applications Development for Mobile Devices and the Web and iPads in the legislature (with one session via Skype), and more. NALIT’s traditional “Five Minutes of Fame” session also was very popular, highlighting the importance of the seminar as an opportunity to learn from and share experiences with IT colleagues other states.

The NALIT PDS was held concurrently with the Research and Committee Staff Section (RACSS). The two groups had separate agendas for Monday and Wednesday and shared programs for a full day at the Oregon State Capitol on Tuesday.

Shancy Saban, CIO of the Oregon Legislature, along with other Oregon legislative staff, planned an excellent day of activities for NALIT and RACSS members. In addition to tours of the Capitol, members heard from Oregon staff about systems in place at the legislature for committee agenda scheduling, constituent and email management, voting, audio and video recording, and more.

Oregon Senator Bruce Starr, NCSL President-elect, spoke at the group’s luncheon at the Capitol and spoke appreciatively about the important role of staff in the legislative process. Later, Michael Adams, NCSL staff vice chair and director of strategic planning for the Virginia Senate (and former NALIT chair), spoke about how staying involved in staff organizations such as NALIT can help legislative staff keep on top of the many changes and challenges they face today.

Rich Beckwith, NALIT chair, brought energy and enthusiasm to the seminar in his role as “master of ceremonies.” Many thanks to Rich and the other members of the PDS planning committee, as well as to the NALIT members who spoke at the seminar, for their contributions to a great seminar.

Special thanks also to Shancy Saban and Bill Gross, legislative media supervisor, along with other Oregon IT staff (especially Andy Markishtum, A/V specialist) who made possible the live and recorded broadcasts of sessions at the Capitol and who produced a highlights video for the seminar.

You can watch the highlights video and selected sessions from the seminar, and view seminar handouts and presentations here.

From the NALIT Secretary

Interested in sharing with your NALIT colleagues news about what your IT department is doing, or are you wanting to share some of your "tech" knowledge with us? If so, please submit an article for our next NALIT Newsletter.  Contact Troy Adkins at