Abhi Nemani on technology in government

Abhi Nemani of Code for America:

In departing, I wanted to share what I’ve learned about coding for America. At the end of the day, it’s not merely about technology and cities; instead it is about the optimism technology confers and the meaning that cities make us crave. What defines this movement is an unyielding belief in the possible. A constant and a fervent desire to try new things, to push new boundaries, to do important work. That’s rare, and that’s special.

Zuckerberg on NSA Allegations

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, on NSA surveillance allegations:

This is why I’ve been so confused and frustrated by the repeated reports of the behavior of the US government. When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government.

The US government should be the champion for the internet, not a threat. They need to be much more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst.

Encourage Startups in Your City

Working in local government, I hear lots of people ask how they can become the next Silicon Valley. How can they become a haven for tech startups. Read the magazines or the blogs and this is a common sentiment. And this is a really difficult question, because it usually requires a cultural change.

Wired magazine recently had an article about what Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is doing in Las Vegas. If you want to encourage startups to locate to your jurisdiction, go have a read.

The Value of Poli-Sci in Iraq and at West Point

From After Years at War, the Army Adapts to Garrison Life, New York Times (emphasis mine):

Captain Archuleta, 30, is the face of today’s Army, the kind of young officer who had experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan far beyond his rank. President of his 2006 class at West Point, he deployed a year later as a platoon leader to Babil Province, south of Baghdad. One day, his battery commander approached him with an unusual offer.

“He said, ‘I’m having trouble with the town council,'” Captain Archuleta recalled. “‘I know you are a wonky poli-sci kind of guy. I’m at a standstill. Can you contribute to this?‘”

Captain Archuleta joined a team of military representatives to the town council of Al Haq, where he helped oversee public services — water, roads, electricity — assisted in reconciliation talks with tribal elders and worked as a payroll officer to Iraqi security forces.

I was perusing the Times this morning and ran across this article. The discussion of the value of political science degrees (poli-sci UGA ’08!) gave me quite a bit of joy. I’m really proud that the Army recognized Captain Archuleta and has selected him to teach governance at West Point.

Remembering Aaron

Remembering Aaron – by Parker Higgins of the EFF.

Losing Aaron – A Boston Magazine interview with Aaron Swartz’s father, Bob.

It’s been over a year since Aaron took his life. I feel like I’m still dealing with my own feelings about Aaron’s passing. I was reading Aaron’s weblog today, specifically the post on his theory of change. His writing is still incredibly relevant today, and so are his causes. I hope we never forget the impact he had, and  I hope we never forget this man who could have accomplished so much more.

Political organizations often get stuck

Blogging pioneer Dave Winer named Nick Bilton as his honoree for Blogger of the Year. I love Dave’s writeup (my emphasis):

Nick Bilton decided that it was time to ask a question that the FAA didn’t want to deal with, or had no way to deal with, or couldn’t deal with for some reason. Political organizations often get stuck. The individuals inside may know it’s time to act, but they can’t pull it together.

Bilton asked a simple question that all of us who fly have asked. Would the plane crash if I kept reading a book on my iPad while the plane takes off? If not, why do I have to turn it off?

I’ve seen from inside government that people rarely ask the question, “Why do we do this?” Ask it and see the answers that you receive.

The State of Local Government Websites

Kansas classmate Josh Rauch and I wrote an article for the August issue of Public Management magazine. Josh and I opined “Overlooking Your Website? If so, residents and businesses may be overlooking you” for the International City/County Management Association members publication.

Ask yourself: Is your community’s website just a line-item expense? Or is it something your organization is using to give back to and engage with your community? Does your current design support users who visit your site? Does it look good? Can visitors read it? Can they use it easily? Are they getting the messages about your community that you want to deliver?

We believe government websites don’t have to be ugly. It may not seem like a pressing issue in the whirlwind of other responsibilities and challenges, but a well-designed website can be a tremendous help to staff, community residents, and visitors. Be sure to pay attention to it!

I’m really glad Josh asked me to help write this article. The two of us often discuss the state of local government websites, especially those of small towns. Many of these cities, towns, counties, and districts outsource their IT, and their website is an afterthought. And it shouldn’t be.

Josh and I are pretty passionate about providing small municipalities with a better option for a website, so I hope you’ll go read the article. I hope you’ll be hearing more from us on this topic in the near future.

Look in the mirror every morning

Great quote from Steve Jobs that I try to live by:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.