Dad. Assistant City Manager. Surviving.

Category: Open Source Page 2 of 3

Code for America 2012 Fellowships Open

“What if we could help your city work better, just by using your smartphone?”

-Biz Stone, Twitter Co-Founder

“What if city hall spoke with citizens the way citizens speak with each other?”

-Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Co-Founder

Code for America is announcing their call for 2012 Fellows.  The Code for America Fellowship Program connects web developers and entrepreneurs with communities and cities in need. They strive to make government more open, efficient, and responsive, through the use of new technologies. And all the while, they provide leadership training and career support.

You can find out more about Code for America here. And you can apply for the Fellowship Program here.

The Need for Government Data

The City of Seattle’s CTO (Chief Technology Officer) Bill Schrier writes an interesting blog, and recently posted about the need and usefulness of local (and state and federal) government data.  He notes the iterations of government presence on the Internet/web:

  • First, simply putting information online for citizens.
  • Second, online transactions (paying bills, reporting problems, applying for permits, etc.).
  • Third, “expanding information to include this bulk download or easy, machine-readable, querying of data.”  (He also notes, “in this wave of innovation, government diverges significantly from the private sector. Few private businesses will want to place large amounts of data collected at their own expense in the public domain for anyone to see and use.”
  • Fourth, sites where “constituents can not only report issues online (using a map-based interface in the case of see-click-fix) but also see what others have reported and even rank the importance of the issues which have been reported.”
  • Fifth, allow citizens to track issues (and resolution of the issues) online.
  • Sixth (and this is done by citizens and not government), citizens use government data sources to make applications (‘apps’) to inform policy-making.

Overall, this is a very good read from “the Chief Seattle Geek.”

Incredible Historical National Archives Photostream

I saw this on the White House Twitter: the National Archives photostream on Flickr.  The National Archives has uploaded some really interesting and incredible material to Flickr.  I am a history nerd, but look at all the finds:

And the best part is that most (if not all) of these documents are in the public domain, meaning you can reproduce them with no worry of copyright infringement.

Links: Complaints via Twitter, Smartphones, Eagle Scouts

To follow up on my last post, here are some more random links that have recently come across my radar.

First, I am writing this in version 2.8 of WordPress.  WordPress 2.8 is an incremental improvement on 2.7, but it really rocks.  Here is the post announcing WordPress 2.8 (check out the video for the highlights) and here are some tips and tricks for using WordPress 2.8.

And because of the new WordPress release, I have fixed up a few things around here.  I disabled WP-Super-Cache (this takes a bit of load off the server by generating static HTML pages instead of querying the database ever page load) because it was messing with the Twitter bar on the right (really old tweets were showing up).  I will likely reenable this is traffic every picks up, but for now the site doesn’t need any caching.

I have also changed the byline of this site (again).  It began as Life in Athens, GA, then switched to Life in Lawrence, KS (when I moved to start grad school), then to Life in Jefferson County, CO (again, when I moved to Colorado).  These were all adequate descriptions of the site, but it needed something more.  WordPress includes that byline in the page title, so it shows up when you search on Google.  So I decided to use a more applicable byline for what I’ve been writing about.  Now the page title (and Google) read Chris M. Lindsey: Technology and Social Media in Public Administration.  I’m not completely sure about this, but hopefully it will last for a while.

Now for the links:

  • This article from the New York Times introduces the country to a 31-year-old Brian Deese, who is a major player in the automotive industry recovery.  Great article, and great job for Brian.  I hope more young people can make it into positions of influence, because I know we can bring a lot to the table.
  • The City of San Francisco is accepting complaints from citizens via Twitter.  I think this is the biggest of all the links, because it shows a city trying to connect with their citizens in the ways they communicate.  And you know what, this probably didn’t take very long or cost much (if any) money to implement.  Here is the Twitter user that is accepting the complaints.  More governments need to be doing this.
  • The New York Times says that smartphones are a necessity.  Especially if you are out of a job (sarcasm).  Seriously, why do jobless people need to be spending the money for a smartphone?
  • Ars Technica reviews the Palm Pre smartphone.  What I find interesting here is the discussion on the second page about having better contact integration.  It doesn’t necessarily need to be syncing (because who wants to have all of their Facebook friends or Gmail contact listings on their cell phone address book), but you should be able to access the contacts on these services.  And search all of them from one place.
  • Time has a great article on whether computer nerds can save old-fashioned journalism.
  • Gina Trapani linked to this great article in the New York Times that profiles Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great.  If you’ve read the book, read this profile.
  • Last but not least, the Athens-Banner Herald covers an Eagle Scout project.  Paul (a fellow Eagle Scout) sent me this link.  Jamie Jackson of Athens went above and beyond the call of Scouting and created a fish habitat from discarded Christmas trees.  The fish habitat is quite needed at Lake Chapman (in Sandy Creek Park, Athens) because of the way the lake was constructed (pretty much all lakes in Georgia were man-made), it cuts down on natural fish habitats.  Way to go, Jamie Jackson!

That’s it for today.  I hope to be writing more as I get into a more regular schedule with work.

Some Random Links

I’ve recently moved out to Colordado (for my job with Jefferson County). Lots of links piled up, and I wanted to share some.

The Wall Street Journal had a great story on how Google uses complex algorithms (imagine that) to project which employees are likely to quit.  Governments are beginning to need to project retirements (really, they have been trying to do this for a while), and a little Google help could go along way.  There are so many factors that go into employees leaving or retiring, some real science would be really helpful.  I’m optimistic.

This story broke while Emily and I were moving, when it was featured on Good Morning America.  Everyone was saying that the Ida fossil was the “missing link”.  I was skeptical after the GMA report and interview, because a long time ago, a good anthropology professor told my class that there is never a “missing link” find.  All finds look to be a missing link because they have never been seen before, but each only adds to our knowledge.  The theory of evolution almost details that there will never be one missing link, because changes are gradual over long periods of time and these are difficult to be found in one fossil.  And then Ars Technica followed up all the hype by detailing the media circus and the long-term damage done to science.

Lastly, ComputerWorld has an excellent article about the advancement in municipal technologies (dubbed “City 2.0”).  Besides the fact that I hate everyone using the 2.0 deal to classify anything as new, there is a lot of good stuff here.  The article talks about new electricity initiatives and technology, the use of social media and social networking in local governments, city-wide wireless internet possibilities, sustainable data centers, and use of the cloud.

This little bit, though, bugs me:

San Jose, Calif., is one of the most high-tech cities in the U.S. Over the next few years, the city will create a social network on Wikiplanning that helps citizens learn about the city, chat over instant messaging, complete surveys and download city podcasts.

What bugs me is that the technology exists to deploy this, for free (see WordPress, BuddyPress, Jabber, etc.), right now.  And it’s easy to do!  A city might need a Linux server, but this can be deployed very quickly.  So why is this going to take years???  You can use these technologies to increase the communication with your citizens and stakeholders right now!

Ok, enough for now, I have to get back to unpacking.

When The Internet Goes Out

Early on April 9th, the City of Morgan Hill (California) experienced a mass internet outage, started by a targeted infrastructure attack.  Bruce Perens has a good outline of what happened, why, and the lessons to be learned.  Especially important are the local services that went down:

That attack demonstrated a severe fault in American infrastructure: its centralization. The city of Morgan Hill and parts of three counties lost 911 service, cellular mobile telephone communications, land-line telephone, DSL internet and private networks, central station fire and burglar alarms, ATMs, credit card terminals, and monitoring of critical utilities. In addition, resources that should not have failed, like the local hospital’s internal computer network, proved to be dependent on external resources, leaving the hospital with a “paper system” for the day.

The City of Morgan Hill, prepared for natural disaster, reacted quickly and used local amateur (ham) radio operators to reroute emergency services and other essential communications.  It is surprising (to me, at least) that the local community made it through this emergency with little harm.  The warning, though, should be clear: our communities are becoming dependent upon internet access, and when access goes down, so do many of our everyday systems.

Update (4/23/09) – Scott at the CIO Weblog provides a calmer reaction to the situation in Morgan Hill, but he still sees room for improvement:

My own preference is not to avoid new technologies and outsourced services, but instead to focus on independent and redundant lines of communication with which to reach them. This approach is much less reactionary, is less costly overall, and pays much greater dividends in the event of trouble than does basing all services at your own site.

The problem with this thought is when there is only one fiber provider in town, you are stuck with the level of redundancy the telecom company builds into their infrastructure.

Tracking Governments Use of Open Source CMS

I’ve created a new page on this site to list governments that use open source content management systems.

I look at quite a few government and related sites in the course of my day (for personal, work, and school related reasons).  I take notice as to what content management system (CMS) is being used on the site, and it is generally easy to determine which sites use open source CMSes (here is a list open source CMSes).  I recently started keeping a list of these sites, and I have decided to share this list.

I was trying to limit the list to only governments and agencies, but I have included some big names that use open source.  If the list expands, I will likely remove those in the efforts to keep this list to merely the administrative branches of government.

Hopefully someone somewhere will find this useful, whether for work or scholarly research.  I will continue to update this page on my own as I spot new government websites sporting open source.  If you notice any or know of any, contact me or leave a comment and I will add them to the list.

City Saves Using WordPress for Website

I had this link sitting in my RSS reader for a while, thinking about a follow up to my earlier post about good looking government websites.

The City of Albert Lea, Minnesota (more on Wikipedia), recently updated it’s website’s look and converted to using WordPress (open source software that runs this site and millions others) as a content management system.  Head over to their site, it looks great.  Staff at the City of Albert Lea estimated that they would have to spend $20,000 for a new website, but a city resident volunteered to do the work for just $720.

There is a really good article in the Albert Lea Tribune about the move to WordPress.  A good quote:

It is a Web-based content management system that allows officials in each department to change their pages without needing much knowledge of Internet language, said Teresa Kauffmann, the city’s public information coordinator.

And about the ease of updating the new website:

The old site was created in 2004. Hosted by Austin-based Southern Minnesota Internet Group, it left city officials several hoops to jump through for basic changes. Basically, SMIG had the keys. The new site’s host is an Internet company called 1&1 but because of the CMS nature of WordPress templates, Kauffmann and city officials have the keys. No more calling Austin. Now, they simply go to a special administration site that manages the main site.

And the most important part is that they aren’t finished yet:

She said she will head focus groups comprising Albert Lea citizens. She said she seeks members of all ages, backgrounds and computer skills. People interested in being on a focus group for the city Web site can contact Kauffmann at 377-4380 or tkauffmann@city.albertlea.org.

This is really great.  I’m going to keep a lookout for more local government websites using WordPress.

H/t to Ma.tt.

Open Source to Save Money

Slashdot links to a BusinessWeek article that introduces open source and reports on companies using open source to save money.  Some popular software they list as cost-conscious include Linux (operating system), Apache (server), MySQL (relational database), Firefox (web browser), Xen (virtualization), Pentaho (business intelligence), OpenOffice.org (full office suite), Drupal (content management system), Alfresco (content management system), SugarCRM (customer relationship management), and Asterisk (telephone switch/PBX).

UK Prime Minister’s Site Uses WordPress

Three days ago, the new website of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was unveiled.  The WordPress Publisher Blog spread the exciting news that the new site is powered by the open source software WordPress.

I’ve been drafting a post about open source software being used in big ways, in an effort to dispell the idea that utilizing open source is a security risk.  The PM’s site is a big addition to the list, and should show the detractors that if the PM’s office thinks WordPress is secure, you should too.

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