DOD Open Technology Development Guide Released!

May 18 2011 Published by under No Category

The DOD’s second Open Technology Development Roadmap has been released: “Open Technology Development: Lessons Learned and Best Practices“. It’s a handbook for using and making open source in the DOD and the US Government, sponsored by the Secretary of Defense. It provides practical advice on policy, procurement, and good community governance, all under a Creative Commons license. I’ll be providing some more commentary later, but this is a huge step forward in the adoption of open source in the US Government.

Updated: Here’s the source document in ODF format: OTD2: Lessons Learned.


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SCAP: Computer Security for the Rest of Us

Sep 14 2010 Published by under No Category

A bike wheel locked to a bike rack.

When users are responsible for their own security, things go wrong. (Photo courtesy of billselak on flickr, licensed CC-BY-ND)

I’m setting up a new computer. I get through the registration screens, install my software, change my wallpaper, and everything’s working fine. I’m left, though, with a lingering, uneasy feeling: I don’t know if this machine is secure. I’m a computer guy, so I know how to set up strong passwords and firewalls, but I’m still not sure if I’ve done everything right. I turn to my vendor, who has hopefully published a hardening guide. If I’m very enthusiastic, I might even follow the NSA’s Security and Network Analysis Center Guides. If I do any of these things, I’m already being more diligent that 95% of users out there. And that’s a problem.

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The government doesn’t look good naked.

Sep 09 2010 Published by under No Category

A chubby toddler naked from the waist up.

Another 19 month old who I won't call ugly. (Courtesy mpisti on flickr, licensed CC-BY-NC-SA)

So 19 months into the Open Government Directive, we seem to have a backlash. The government has spent millions of dollars collecting, organizing, and cataloging its data to make it more available to the public. An unprecedented effort. Some of this data is frivolous, some of it is valuable, but I think we can all agree that more transparency is always — always — a good thing.

Not so, says Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation, one of the leading advocates for government transparency. On Tuesday at the Gov 2.0 Summit, she made it clear that transparency wasn’t enough. She also wants accuracy, relevance and quality in the data. Instead, Sunlight found $1.3 trillion in inaccuracies on She’s also got some choice words for and other Open Government initiatives. The keynote was a remarkable turn: the administration was completely eviscerated by one of its closest allies. Today, I read that Fast Company’s Austin Carr is similarly disillusioned by this week’s announcement of I think it’s safe to say there will be more pieces like this in the next few months.

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Larry Lessig is Susan B. Anthony

Aug 24 2010 Published by under No Category

I think I was a surprised as anyone when I heard that Larry Lessig was stepping away from Creative Commons. It seemed like a sudden change of direction, because Lessig has been a vocal advocate for freedom and choice for so many years. But as I hear Lessig describe his journey from Creative Commons to Change Congress, I’m reminded of Daniel Okrent’s history of the prohibition movement in the United States, “Last Call”.

In the book, Okrent reminds us that the prohibitionists needed major structural reforms in American politics before they could eliminate alcohol in the United States. The movement was composed and motivated largely by women, who at the time could not vote. The reforms they sought would only arrive once women were given the franchise. Also, the Federal government relied on alcohol taxes for 30%(!) of annual Federal revenue. So suffrage, the income tax, and prohibition are intimately acquainted even if they are, on their face, unrelated.

Susan B. Anthony was a passionate temperance advocate before she became the most famous suffragist. She left the temperance movement, in part, because temperance had many advocates, while suffrage desperately needed leadership. In this light, Lessig’s newest project suddenly makes perfect sense.

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Open Source in Government: Who was first?

Jul 29 2010 Published by under No Category

Brian Purchia of Burson-Marsteller has a post over on GovFresh about the value of open source to unions. His argument pivots on cost-savings. I think you could make a more expansive argument that includes risk mitigation and innovation, but describing the advantage to unions is an interesting angle I hadn’t seen before.

I noticed that Brian repeated the misunderstanding that San Francisco had the nation’s first open source policy. I don’t want to diminish his larger argument, but it’s important that we give credit where credit’s due. So for the record:

  • May 28, 2014: DOD issues the “Stenbit memo,” which assures readers that open source is commercial software under the law, and can be used in the DOD.
  • July 1, 2015: OMB issues OMB-04-16, making clear that open source can be used in the Federal Government
  • September 30 2009: Portland, OR is the first city to issue an open source policy.
  • October 16, 2009: The US Department of Defense CIO issues a memo reiterating that open source software is commercial software for procurement purposes, and encouraging DOD branches to include open source when they’re picking software.
  • January 7, 2010: California‘s open source policy is published.

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Sunlight Week: accountability for earmarks

Mar 15 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Earmarks are a notorious vehicle for pork, in part because they lay nestled inside opaque legislative prose. In the FY2010 budget, WashingtonWatch’s crowdsourcing effort identified 40,000 separate earmarks — about 75 for every elected official.

There was a lot of talk about earmark prohibitions earlier this week, and each party swears it will be responsible with earmarks this year. But how do we hold elected officials accountable to these pledges?

Well, we can start by ensuring that earmarks see the light of day. A coalition of transparency advocates, including Sunlight Foundation, Americans for Tax Reform, OMB Watch, and all call for earmark data to be published in a standard format, so they’re easy to find, easy to understand, and easy to analyze. You can show your support here:

And if you’re a developer, take a look at the schema. What kind of applications could we build on top of data like this? What if I could get an RSS feed of earmarks for my elected officials as they’re reported? What if we could automatically rank the worst earmark offenders? What if we could correlate earmarks with campaign contributions automatically? The mind reels.

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Education and the iPad’s Architecture of Control

Jan 31 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Like most of Jonathan Ive’s work, the  iPad is beautiful. Like most of Apple’s work, it also makes me uneasy. I was planning to write about this feeling of unease, so imagine my delight when I discovered that Timothy B. Lee and others have already done the work for me. In “Why Geeks Hate the iPad,” “Tinkerer’s Sunset,” and “Nothing Creative,” we’re treated to a thorough overview of what’s sacrificed when Apple compels you to trade flexibility and freedom for a shiny new platform. I believe you can apply this same analysis to the iPhone, the iTouch, and everything else in the Apple’s consumer electronics stable.

Put another way, the iPad and its siblings are not personal computing platforms. They’re Apple computing platforms. The hardware itself is sealed, discouraging anyone from seeing how it works or improving on it. The platform software is largely proprietary. The vaunted App Store, which brought to the computing public the same ease of installation and application management that open source users have been enjoying for years, is rigidly controlled to advance Apple’s interests. Just ask Google.

Now, this doesn’t make Apple evil. They’re obviously entitled to produce as many beautiful, locked-up devices as they like. It’s important, though, to understand just what you’re trading for Apple’s warm, comfortable architecture of control.

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DOD Information Assurance Policy Map

Dec 21 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

In case you needed more evidence that IA is a chaotic, arbitrary, and disorganized activity in the DOD, this map tries to impose order on the process. Lulz ensue. Driptray rightfully declares this mess a “glorious misuse of the portable document format.”

HT: The inimitable Mr. Carr

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What the Open Government Directive Means for Open Source

Dec 08 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

On the heels of the Open Government Memo of January 21st, 2009, the Obama Administration has issued the Open Government Directive. The Directive tells agencies what they must do to meet the expectations set by the Memo. The directive names many deadlines for agency compliance, most of them around reducing FOIA backlogs and increasing the amount of agency data released to the public. This isn’t surprising, since the Memo names transparency, collaboration, and participation as the guiding principles. Transparency is the easiest to articulate and implement — just get the data out there in a useful form. Josh Tauberer’s Open Data is Civic Capital: Best Practices for “Open Government Data” is an excellent handbook for doing this. If you want to track agencies’ progress, the Sunlight Labs folks have produced the outstanding Open Watcher.

What’s most interesting to me, and my friends at Open Source for America, though, are the more ambiguous orders. Although the Directive does not use the phrase ‘open source software’ at all, many of the principles and methodologies described are obvious references to open source. Many of these orders stand out as opportunities for open source developers, in the public and private sector, to demonstrate how our development model can help the Administration also make good on the last two principles: collaboration and participation. As Macon Phillips, the White House New Media Director said, “Open Source is… the best form of civic participation.”

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Open Courseware Runs Afoul the Free Market

Oct 18 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Higher education is now almost absurdly expensive. In an effort to reduce the cost of developing and delivering educational material, there are a number of initiatives around open curricula right now. The idea is that content generated by the academic community can be made freely available so that professors and publishers don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time. It’s basically a commons for educational content. The folks at the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (who have a pretty great blog on this subject) call it “OER.” Ultimately, advocates like CCCOER hope to make higher education more accessible. The Open College Textbook Act of 2009, for example, notes that 200,000 students do not enroll in a higher education system due to the cost, which includes an average annual textbook budget of $805 to $1,229. The bill appropriates $15 million in 2010 for one-year grants to anyone who wants to create open content.

A few weeks ago, the Obama administration announced a $12 billion investment in community colleges, and $500 million of that is allocated to sponsoring the creation of open courseware. As described by Inside Higher Ed:

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