My OSCON 2009 Talk on Open Source in Government

The good people at O’Reilly have posted my Open Source in Government talk at OSCON 2009 on It’s also on YouTube. I’ll admit to cringing a bit when I started watching, but I’m pretty happy with how it all went. Here are the slides.

In the panel afterward, someone asked my why open source developers should be helping companies make money on open source software, or helping the military-industrial complex or the prison system. I completely sympathize. There’s no reason whatever that someone should help the military or the prison system if they don’t want to. Those were just the examples that I used. There are many opportunities to work with the government elsewhere, especially at the local level. A good way to start is by finding something that’s annoying or broken in your local schools or library, and use open source software to fix it. Open Source for America should be making it easier for people to find these opportunities. But more on that later.

Open Source on the Battlefield

Two soldiers in a hastily built watchtower.

In Iraq, Sergeant 1st Class Martin Stadtler had nothing. He was stationed near Mosul, at a base that covers 24 square kilometers. Surrounding the base was a wall, and at intervals along that wall stood watchtowers. Those towers were improvised; they were large concrete water pipes, stood on their ends.

Inside each tower is a pair of soldiers. They’re watching for insurgents. To communicate with the home base, they had standard-issue tactical radios. Unfortunately, these radios couldn’t reach home base — the base was too big. Soldiers had to play a game of Telephone to reach the base: one tower radios the next until they are finally in range of the home base. Obviously, this would not do.