Blog

  • Design Patterns for Government

    Mar 13, 2013 Clay Johnson

    The book "Design Patterns" sits on top of most a young programmer's bookshelf. It's almost a status symbol -- sort of a silent agreement between two professionals -- a display that says "I get it" even if it's gone largely unread by most of its owners.

    To grossly oversimplify, imagine that there's two different kinds of programmers: cooks and chefs. Cooks understand recipes, they can follow them, and when they follow them, their food looks and tastes good. But only chefs really understand the food. They are the ones who make the recipes.

    It's because chef understand how the food works together. They understand the fundamentals of flavor, and the interoperability of food. They understand the nuance of time and temperature, and how fat and protein work together. Asking a cook to change up a recipe is a recipe in trial and error. Asking a chef to do the same has a higher probability of success because the chef understands the patterns underlying the food.

    For a programmer, putting Design Patterns on your desk at work means "I want to be a chef, not a cook." (This also explains why so many copies of this book have been sold, yet so few people have read the book)

    As government increases its online capacities at the local and federal levels, it needs to make the transition from thinking like cooks into thinking like chefs. When you look at things abstractly, you start to see areas of opportunity to solve repetition.

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  • We Are Over Thinking Bulk Data UIs

    Jun 21, 2012 Clay Johnson

    I'm pretty excited about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's new consumer complaints data. While they call it a "database" it's currently more of a spreadsheet of complaints against credit card companies from consumers, and the broad category of what that complaint is. It's minimal data right now. They only are releasing data past June 1, 2012, and so far I can only count 171 rows. But it will grow, and hopefully over time, it will become useful.

    But more important than the data's release, the way that it's been released got me thinking that maybe we're overthinking how to provide online. To get to the data, you go to the consumer complaints database page, then click on the small "all data" link under the strange set of squares presumably to resemble a spreadsheet. This opens up a socrata instance, where you'll need to click up in the top right where it says "export" and then click where it says CSV underneath that.

    That's a lot of software to put a 172 row CSV file on the Internet.

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  • How to Prep for a Presentation

    Jun 20, 2012 Clay Johnson

    I knew that authors generally make more money from speaking than they do from royalties, so I wanted my talks on the Information Diet to be great. Before I first started my speaking tour for the Information Diet, I watched a lot of great speakers give great talks, and asked them how they gave such great talks. The universal answer is always: "I lock myself in my hotel room the night before and rehearse."

    So how do great speakers like Larry Lessig prep and rehearse for a polished talk? I still don't know: when I asked him, he told me he locks himself in a hotel room for 2 days and I didn't get any more specifics than that. But after giving about 30 talks on the Information Diet since January, I can tell you how I prep and rehearse for a polished one.

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  • Apple, Public Transportation and iOS6

    Jun 13, 2012 Clay Johnson

    In Apple's forthcoming operating system for the iPhone, iOS6, will replace the Google provided maps application with Apple's own maps application built on top of other commercial services like Yelp and TomTom. When the inevitable time comes for you to upgrade your iPhone, you'll find yourself with an App that looks and behaves similarly to the Maps app you've grown to rely upon -- but it'll be stripped of one core piece of functionality you may have grown used to: public transportation directions.

    To accomodate for this, Apple is relying on developers to make routing apps on top of the maps app to provide for this. For some, this means a minor inconvienence. What we'll likely have to do is, upon upgrading, install the Google Maps app, and it will likely provide the right public transit routing directions for us, provided that Apple allows Google to provide this service on the phone.

    This may be a big blow to open data and civic interoperability.

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Information Diet © 2011 Clay Johnson