Read. Not Too Much. Mostly Facts.

Who wants to hear the truth when they can hear that they are right?

Can We Fix Operation Enduring Wait?

Last night, the Daily Show ran a great segment (watch it!) on the billion dollar technical catastrophe called the VA and DoD’s health record interoperability program. Essentially, it asks a good question: if the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012 could so quickly unite large disparate databases in order to elect our president, then why is it taking years and billions to streamline health IT for veterans? The segment ends with:

02.02.2017 - 06:36


On Yesterday's Senate Failure

Trying to create laws that prevent specific past events is sort of like trying to stick your finger in a dam and hoping that fixes the problem. It’s neither here nor there whether this law would have stopped the senseless murder of twenty children under the age of eight, and eight adults. If we could invent policy like that, with the exception of the National Rifle Association’s leadership, I’m sure we would all go back in time, and strip Adam Lanza of all ten of the rights granted to him in our bill of rights. Besides that, I’m not sure there is a possible way of stopping Adam Lanza. He’s already dead, and the deed’s been done so there’s no point in trying.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


The Law Everyone Should Hate

Let’s say you ran one of the Fortune 10 companies. And for some reason, you wanted to ensure that this business would be hated by its customers, forever. What would you do?

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Design Patterns for Government

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.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


We Are Over Thinking Bulk Data UIs

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.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


How to Prep for a Presentation

When I started writing my book, 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.”

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Apple, Public Transportation and iOS6

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.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Death to The Lunch Economy

The Lunch Economy is an economic marketplace by which high-value expertise is traded for food, alcoholic beverages, or in some cases, even coffee. Anybody that’s ever been an expert at anything has at least dipped their toe in the lunch economy. At first it’s flattering – someone you know or respect sends you an email saying: “Hey, I really like what you’re doing with XYZ, can I buy you lunch and pick your brain?”

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Child Poverty, The Kardashians, and Information Diets

In most of the talks I’ve given about the Information Diet, I’ve asked two questions:

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Instapaper vs. Readability

Instapaper and Readability are two services that allow people to more easily “read” content on the web. You sign up for these services, and they give you a little bookmarklet to install on your browser. When you’re reading an article you want to read later, you simply click on the bookmarklet and the content you want to read, is taken off of the website it’s on, and put onto one of these organization’s servers. Then it’s available to you in a beautiful format wherever you want to read it.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


How to Fix Government VI: Improve Government Culture

The Information Diet concludes around this theme: “Washington isn’t the land of vast, radical changes, it’s a battleship waiting to be nudged in the right direction. Let the legions of information-obese fight on the front lines, and join me in nudging the small nuts and bolts that hold the ship together.” This week, I’m writing a post a day talking about those nuts and bolts. I hope you’ll join the discussion.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


How to Fix Government V: Smarter Transparency

The Information Diet concludes around this theme: “Washington isn’t the land of vast, radical changes, it’s a battleship waiting to be nudged in the right direction. Let the legions of information-obese fight on the front lines, and join me in nudging the small nuts and bolts that hold the ship together.” This week, I’m writing a post a day talking about those nuts and bolts. I hope you’ll join the discussion.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


How to Fix Government IV: Real Time Procurement

The Information Diet concludes around this theme: “Washington isn’t the land of vast, radical changes, it’s a battleship waiting to be nudged in the right direction. Let the legions of information-obese fight on the front lines, and join me in nudging the small nuts and bolts that hold the ship together.” This week, I’m writing a post a day talking about those nuts and bolts. I hope you’ll join the discussion.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


How to Fix Government III: Universal Access to Justice

The Information Diet concludes around this theme: “Washington isn’t the land of vast, radical changes, it’s a battleship waiting to be nudged in the right direction. Let the legions of information-obese fight on the front lines, and join me in nudging the small nuts and bolts that hold the ship together.” This week, I’m writing a post a day talking about those nuts and bolts. I hope you’ll join the discussion.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


How to Fix the Government II: Experts

The Information Diet concludes around this theme: “Washington isn’t the land of vast, radical changes, it’s a battleship waiting to be nudged in the right direction. Let the legions of information-obese fight on the front lines, and join me in nudging the small nuts and bolts that hold the ship together.” This week, I’m writing a post a day talking about those nuts and bolts. I hope you’ll join the discussion.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


How To Fix The Government I: Identity

The Information Diet concludes around this theme: “Washington isn’t the land of vast, radical changes, it’s a battleship waiting to be nudged in the right direction. Let the legions of information-obese fight on the front lines, and join me in nudging the small nuts and bolts that hold the ship together.” This week, I’m writing a post a day talking about those nuts and bolts. I hope you’ll join the discussion.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


We Need Better Social Mirrors

A few weeks ago I tweeted: “Now that privacy is dead, maybe some of these big data companies can tell me who I am,” and I wasn’t kidding: I want to use the data that I’m generating for these companies to understand more about myself. The Information Diet makes the case that personalization in news does happen, and yes, filter bubbles exist but they’re nothing new they’ve existed for as long as culture has. They’re created by user choice – filter bubbles are a reflection of the user’s behavior and choices, not a corporate conspiracy to eliminate diverse opinions.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Make More Time by Scheduling Your Media

Mom was speeding back home. It was 1991 and the season premier of Northern Exposure was on at 8pm. We had to hustle, I’d been at a friend’s house and if we didn’t make it home in time, she’d miss it. So we sped down the streets of Atlanta, inches away from certain death so that we could see if Dr. Fleishman and Maggie would finally get together. She had an appointment with them, and it could not be missed.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Free Mac Tools That Make Writing Easier

Some tools have been making it easier for me to write lately, and I thought I’d share them with you. Over the course of the last three weeks, I’ve found them indispensable. They’re all free, and all worthwhile.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Change Dot Biz

update: Change.org responded. See below.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Kickstarter's not even close to the NEA

Last week, Kickstarter’s co-founder Yancey Strickler made an unfortunate comparison. After getting million-dollar projects funded in a row, Strickler told Carl Franzen of Talking Points Memo that “it is probable that Kickstarter will distribute more money this year than the NEA National Endowments for the Arts”. His rationale? Kickstarter will distribute over $150 Million to user’s projects. NEA’s FY 2012 budget is $146 Million.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Kickstarter vs NEA with Real Numbers

Kickstarter by the Numbers

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Information Diet Remainders

Information Diet RemaindersI Just finished watching Kirby Ferguson’s beautiful and well done “Everything is a Remix”. It reminded me: the concept of an information diet isn’t my own – it’s nobody’s. I’m just the first guy to write a book and call it that. Instead, I think there are lots of people talking about this idea that industrialized media, and our desire for cheap information is having strange undesirably long-term effects on society.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


A Disclaimer is Not Transparency

Let’s clear something up. A disclaimer is when you say something like: “Disclaimer: I am an investor in the company that I’m about to write about on my major media outlet that covers technology startups.” When you’re disclaiming something, sure, you’re being transparent about something in particular. But you’re not “being transparent.”

02.02.2017 - 06:36


500 Words before 8am

I was forwarded this comment on Reddit, which is so very close to my advice in the book:

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Notifications are evil

What’s your maximum NPH? How many notifications are you exposed to every hour? Let’s take a second to think critically about these constant requests for your attention: what do they mean? Who is making them? Why are they there? Before I wrote the Information Diet, I audited myself and found I was receiving upwards of 10 notifications per hour: one every six minutes.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Sloppy Reporting on the Self Driving Car

I get a lot of critique these days from my term “infoveganism” – it’s earned me a 2 star review on Amazon (somehow the reviewer thinks I mean to say Infovegans shouldn’t read fiction – I submit that infovegans should just understand when news is disguised as fiction), and a few fairly contentious arguments with some smart folks that I respect.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


What is Free Information Costing You?

Ad-based content isn’t “free.” It’s costs just aren’t transparent. While I’ll agree that the Volkswagen Star Wars ads are the most interesting things to happen to the franchise since 1983, I think it’s time we started asking ourselves: what is advertising really costing us?

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Clicks Have Consequences

When you clicked this link to get to this article – or when you found it in a google search – you informed a whole bunch of people about that choice, and in essence, even before reading this article, you cast a vote to say “make more headlines like this” on the Internet. That vote, informs me, the editor of this blog, to write more articles like this if I want more traffic.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


How to Be a Better Activist

Yesterday was a huge day for me, having the privilege interviewing 9 experts about everything one might need to know about how to be a better activist, and hearing both from accomplished organizers on the outside like Lola Elfman and Karl Frisch to people who play the inside game: people like Republican lobbyist Andrew Shore. We even had two people with experience in answering the phones come in and chat about how that process works and what’s involved: Annalee Flower Horne and Sarah Shive.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Congress Being Stupid on Technology is a Bigger Problem than You Think

The SOPA/PIPA bills in the United States Congress have the Internet’s elites in an uproar that hasn’t been seen online since the 1996 Communications Decency Act protests. The difference is that in 1996 there wasn’t nearly as much money at stake in regulating the Internet. So now, Congress is taking it seriously but they don’t understand the Internet, and as I noted a few weeks ago, the Internet doesn’t understand Congress either. While it’s a problem for this piece of legislation, it’s a much bigger problem than you think.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Why Horses Are Not in the Constitution

Neither the word “gun” nor “rifle” appear in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, or Federalist Papers nor does the word “newspaper” or “web site.” But guns, rifles, newspapers and yes, websites are vital for the health of our nation. Of course, it does mention the words “press” in the first amendment to the constitution, and the word “arms” in the second, and those are the things that give us the right to have our guns, rifles, newspapers and websites.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Healthy Information Diets are about Quality, not Quantity

When I first started researching The Information Diet, I researched the modern food diet, and came across the grandfather of the modern western diet book: William Banting. He wrote the Letter on Corpulence and created the first “fad diet” in modern western culture. One particular passage that didn’t make the book still struck me:

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Reviews of the Information Diet

02.02.2017 - 06:36


How to Start Your Information Diet

So 2012 is nearly upon us, and a lot of people – people like Gina Trapani, Tim O’Reilly, and Ev Williams – are planning a New Year’s resolution of an Information Diet. Here are some tips for how you can get started:

02.02.2017 - 06:36


A Primer: How Money Influences Congress

The idea that corporate interests are buying votes by sending a lobbyist to go meet with a member of Congress and to write a check so that they’ll vote the way they want is largely mythological. My Book is about getting beyond rhetoric and trying to deeply understand a system. That’s definitely the case when it comes to money and politics: it’s more complicated than buying votes, and if you’re interested in changing the system, you should understand how it works.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


How to talk to Congress

This week was a busy week – besides the great Forbes Review of the Information Diet, I also spent some time on the Kojo Nnamdi show, and wrote a somewhat controversial op-ed for the USA Today. But nothing went so big as my post Dear Internet: It’s No Longer OK to not know how Congress Works. One particular comment though got a little under my skin – this one from Jon Wright. Jon Writes:

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Dear Internet, It is No Longer OK to Not Know How Congress Works

This weekend I read a post titled “Dear Congress: It Is No Longer OK To Not Know How the Internet Works.” The author, Joshua Kopstein, is right: it’s not ok to not know about something before legislating or regulating it. The confessions by members of Congress that they are “not nerds” is frustrating at best because these guys, the guys that are regulating the Internet can’t tell a server from a waiter.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Twitter and Facebook are an Important Part of a Balanced Information Diet

I get wisecracks all day long: “You don’t find it ironic that you are promoting a book called The Information Diet on Twitter.” Or “Is this a book about why you shouldn’t use Facebook? Then why are you posting on Facebook about it?” Or my favorite “If you’re such an information diet guru, how come you tweeted 9 times today.” Who’s counting?!

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Values are Features

Today Google announced that it gave 1.5 Million Dollars to Code for America, an organization I helped to start and still advise, and another undisclosed grant to the most effective Open Government advocate in the United States, Carl Malamud. Beyond my own area of work, they spent $11.5 Million in grants to flight slavery, supported girls education and STEM classes, and all in all gave over 115 Million Dollars to good, smart social causes. Having dealt with the grant-givers over at Google a few times, they’ve got a tight due-diligence and evaluation process – they’re thoughtful about who they give their money to and the impact that their dollars have.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Modernize the Post Office to Save It

Whenever I think of the United States Postal Service, I think of Joseph Story, former Supreme Court Justice who wrote “Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States” which, according to Wikipedia is “one of the chief cornerstones of the early American jurisprudence.”

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Slow Your Bandwidth to Increase Your Focus

My super secret weapon in writing The Information Diet was that I could afford to take a month off, go into seclusion, and get this book done. Few frameworks I can offer can afford you the freedom from distraction that I got working from inside a remote cabin off of coastal Georgia. The most important thing I had there wasn’t scenery – mosquitoes ate me alive every time I went outside – it was the miracle of slow bandwidth. Where I was at only had about two consistent bars of EDGE level service from Verizon, and only then, at certain times of the day.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


The Federally Financed Dilemma

It’s likely that the Occupy Wall Street movement will turn to corporate influence in politics as its single demand. After all, lobbying and corporate money are really messing with the priorities of Washington. It’s remarkable, for instance, that we’re prioritizing BP’s rights to drill in the ocean over the average American lifespan going down as a result of obesity. One of these things is a vastly more important discussion than the other.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Better Headphones

When the first census drew to a close in 1790 here in the United States, there were a little under four million people in the United States. For comparison’s sake, that’s roughly the same population as the urban Washington, DC metro area today. When that first census wrapped up, we had 65 members of Congress. Divide the numbers, and you’ll see that each member of the House had just about sixty thousand people to represent*.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Procurement is America's Big Problem

Much of our political debate involves how our tax dollars are spent. Look at the roots of the Tea Party, and you’ll see that their anger stems from the TARP and Recovery packages from the Bush and Obama administrations respectively. Ask a progressive about government waste, and they’ll likely use oreo cookies to point to the trillion dollars spent on war over the past few years. Forever we go chasing donkeys and elephants around the carousel of blame talking about who wastes more of our money, the social programs of the left, or the military programs of the right.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


The Organizing Gap

There’s a giant organizing gap between politicos and the rest of the world.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


In Defense of Lobbying

Last weekend Eric Schmidt stated the obvious. “The average American doesn’t realize realize how much of the laws are written by lobbyists,” he said, noting that “it’s shocking how the system actually works.”

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Tomatoes and Election Season

I hate the heat, and so the close of the summer and beginning of autumn is something I look forward to. As usual, it’s been one of the hottest summers on record here in Washington and it’s nice to open up the windows and let the non-refrigerated air into the house. There’s not much I’ll miss about the Summer in DC.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Tracking Government Spending

Here’s an experiment to try: Grab a glass of water. For good measure, pour some red food coloring in it— enough to make it really red. Visit your local swimming pool. Now, take an eye dropper, and drop every bit of red water in your glass making sure to count every drop you put into the pool.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Manage Pixels Not Monitors

My How to Focus article got a lot of people thinking about attention fitness and how they could use interval training to increase their attention spans. One thing I mentioned was quite controversial— that I got rid of a second monitor. A lot of people disagreed — People love their multiple monitors, and we’ve been told over and over again that multiple monitors “boosts productivity.”

02.02.2017 - 06:36


The Distractions of Online Petitions

The truth is, online petitions to Congress and others are pretty much a sham. Most of the time, the organizers don’t follow up on the petition, some of the time the vendor has some kind of bug and they don’t end up being delivered. If and when they do go end up getting delivered, members don’t read them. There’s no possible way they could — according to the Congressional Management Foundation, the House of Representatives got 99,053,399 messages via the Internet in 2004. That’s 227,708.9 messages per member of Congress. If a member took an average of 30 seconds to thoughtfully read each email they received in 2004, it’d take them 79 days solely to read their mail from the Internet. For a member of the Senate it’s worse: 288 straight 24-hour days worth of constituent communications at 30 seconds a piece. Most people don’t spend that many hours awake in a year.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


How Did Weather Data Get Opened

Weather data is one of the datasets the current administration loves to talk about. Indeed, it’s proof that transparency goes beyond accountability. The data from the National Weather Service supports a huge industry. According to the American Meteorological Society, the total size of the private sector weather market is greater than 1.5 Billion Dollars. Keeping in mind that it isn’t its core function to support industry, a federal agency that has a billion dollar annual budget is supporting a more than billion dollar private industry through the release of its data is a great lesson in the power of open data.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Agribusiness and Infobusiness

The premise of The Information Diet is that we have to start looking at information consumption like we look at food consumption. We’re suffering from new problems our species hasn’t dealt with before — problems of abundance rather than scarcity. Our brains, like our stomachs, are finite in throughput. As such, we need to start being selective about the information that we consume before we consume it. This is the beginning of what I’ll call, for now, the case for conscious information consumption.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


We Need a GitHub for Data

The biggest problem many data-driven apps contests have is that it’s too hard to get started. A developer has to download some strange dataset off of a website like data.gov or the National Data Catalog, prune it, massage it, usually fix it, and then convert it to their database system of choice, and then they can start building their app. It reminds me of being a Linux user before APT existed. While fun, it was still a hassle to get all dependencies and compile everything from source.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Information Obesity and Food Obesity

Modern dieting was first popularized by an undertaker named William Banting in 1863. In his best selling pamplet “A letter on Corpulence” he took advice his physician gave him (cut butter, sugar, bread, beer), popularized it and created the first diet craze and like Dr. Atkins, named it after himself. Before then, according to Banting, dieting was focused primarily as a treatment for diabetes, or as a training regimen for fighters. William Banting not only kicked off a trend, but an industry— there’s over 56,000 books on dieting on Amazon.com. Atkins, Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig aren’t just hobby organizations, they’re big businesses.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


How to Focus

Most of the people who click on this article from somewhere won’t finish reading it. So says Nick Carr. The New York Times will remind you that you’ll probably forget reading it in a few minutes. The idea has gotten so prevalent, even the Onion has started to take its jabs.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Founders and the Future

I like Gov2.0. I think that what it’s going to do, eventually, is make it so people have better access to their government and better control over it. It’s an important new movement that, like Open Source Software, will change the way people think about their government. I’m happy to be as much a part of it as I can.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Selectivity vs. Critical Thinking

Earlier I suggested that we weren’t dealing with an information overload problem but rather an information overconsumption one. Increasingly, people are searching for new ways to focus. Startup operatives are turning to drugs like provigil with the promise that if will help them focus on what’s important. The issue is that we’re dealing with a new problem for our species: abundance. Information, like food, has been key to our species’ survival, and we’re hard-wired to seek it out. We’re playing our consumption games under the rules of scarcity, and the rules changed.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Why I Don't Trust Julian Assange

Wikileaks is on an unstable path because of Julian Assange. It’s an important service for opening government and holding government accountable, but it seems like it’s beginning to get unstable due to one man’s messiah complex. The organization is seemily accusing everyone it can (add me to the list friends!) of trying to take it down. Assange is afraid of coming to America because he might be killed. Though not a shred of real evidence has been produced along those lines.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Measuring Corruption

One strong reaction to my article on transparency from last week was that my logic was off. I used the increase in lobbyists and spending on lobbyists as an example that transparency wasn’t actually solving any corruption problems. It was pointed out that an increase in spending could be an indicator of success— if the cost of lobbying is going up, some argue, that must mean that its getting harder to do. The problem though is that that, too is conjecture. How is the transparency community supposed to be successful without meaningful ways of measuring success?

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Facts Don't Change Minds

The Boston Globe had a fascinating story a few days ago called How Facts Backfire. You should really give it a read. It talks about how, even with facts and irrefutable evidence in front of you, it’s really difficult for you to change your mind. In fact, often times it has the opposite effect: you get more entrenched in your beliefs. That’s right: hearing facts that are contrary to your beliefs entrench you further in your false beliefs most of the time.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


How Transparency Fails and Works, too

Disclosure, proponents say, along with the miracle of the web will allow for ordinary Jane and Joe Watchdogs to scour public data and flush out corruption in Washington, DC. “If we could just get members of Congress to list their financial holdings,” they say, “we could show the public that they’re benefiting financially from the decisions they make as legislators.” And to an extent, they’re right. I’d bet that it’s an easy case to be made that members of Congress benefit financially from being members of Congress in non-salaried ways. I’d also bet that most of the public has come to expect it.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Dealing with Information Overload

Did you know the term information overload has been around since 1964, and that the concept pops up as early as 1755? Check this out from French philosopher Denis Diderot:

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Build Communities Not Contests

Part of the Open Government Directive provided instructions and encouragement for government agencies to hold contests. It even instructed the White House Office of Management and Budget to publish guidance on how agencies can develop innovation challenges in the federal space, and maintain compliance with existing procurement laws. As such, we’ve seen in just a few short months, a handful of innovation challenges pop up:

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Why Won't Journalists Link To Bills?

Part of being an infovegan (and having a healthy information diet) means seeing through cruft and staying low on the “food chain” of information consumption. When we talk about legislation, the furthest down we citizens usually get to see is in the document containing the individual piece of legislation. We call that a bill. Through the magic of hyperlinks and sites like Govtrack.us and OpenCongress.org, linking to particular bills is hassle free.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


Beyond Transparency

Today, after two years of service, I’m wrapping up at the Sunlight Foundation. It’s a great goodbye— I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish there, but my job there is done. I’m not an investigative reporter, after all, and there’s only so much watchdogging I can take. There’s much more to be done in this field than demonstrating the novelty of government data, and making government more accountable. But there’s also another side to the problem.

02.02.2017 - 06:36


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