Category Archives: transparency

and everyone shall be heard

Good article in today's NY Times by Saul Hansell on President Obama's open government initiative, Ideas Online, Yes, but Some Not So Presidential.

On Jan. 21, his first full day in office, President Obama promised to open up the government, ordering officials to use modern technologies like Internet message boards and blogs to give all Americans a bigger voice in public policy…

…The experience so far shows just how hard it is to allow all voices to be heard and still have a coherent discussion. When millions of Internet users are invited to discuss every regulation, how can any real work get done? On the other hand, why bother opening up the government if views that are outside the mainstream — as defined by the usual collection of lobbyists and think tank scholars — are summarily dismissed?

The responsibility for sorting it all out falls to Ms. Noveck. She has permitted any proposal that was not abusive or repetitive onto the brainstorming site, just as the Obama transition team did not stop visitors to its Change.Gov site last fall from voting marijuana legalization as their top concern for the president-elect.

She argues that the experience of collaborative Web sites like Wikipedia proves that groups of users can police sites to keep small groups from spoiling things for everyone else. During the public brainstorming about rules for open government, the White House asked visitors to vote on the best ideas by clicking a thumbs-up or thumbs-down button, much as people vote on the most interesting news articles on sites like Digg.

I agree with Clay Shirky's statement:

“This is Obama’s Madisonian moment,” said Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University and the author of “Here Comes Everybody,” a book about Internet collaboration. Just as James Madison, the nation’s fourth president, argued during the drafting of the Constitution that the government must protect the minority against the tyranny of the majority, Mr. Shirky said that government must also prevent small groups of loudmouths from hijacking the public debate. [emphasis added]

It is amazing how small but loud voices, obviously in the minority but well-funded or well-organized (or both), can steer the conversation, sometimes to very frightening places.

simplicity, and cameras, and libraries

Simplicity

Wikipedia says, In photography, the technique of simplicity is used to achieve the effect of singling out an item or items from their surrounding.

I also like this definition from Bluemoon: the understanding of what is and is not important in a design. Details that do not have a major impact to the design are omitted to keep it uncluttered.

And Princeton is perhaps a bit more to the point, the quality of being simple or uncompounded… absence of affectation or pretense.

Olympus today announced a new camera, the E-P1, and you can read all about it over on my favorite camera equipment blog, Digital Photography Review. Why do I think I might like this camera so much, and why do so many others think they'll find it so potentially appealing? Simplicity. Efficiency of design.

Simplicity is why I love my little Canon G10 so much. The G10 is not perfect. It's got rather evident noise in the higher ISOs and the viewfinder is a bit small. It's also a bit expensive in relation to some of the smaller DSLRs out there. But the G10 gets several things right: it takes excellent images below 400 ISO, it's got great image stabilization, it shoots in RAW, it has a gorgeous three-inch LCD, and it feels right. In fact, it feels great. The mode dials are solid metal with firm detents and a very stiff movement, which is great when you want to prevent accidental changes when the camera is dangling around your neck. The body is metal-clad, and the camera is, well, dense. It's heavy. It "feels" solid. I don't recommend trying this, but just yesterday I dropped it in my driveway and it seems to have suffered not a bit. In many regards (and I am by no means the first to say this) the G10 "feels" like a rangefinder from the 1950s. Solid. Metal. Simple. Pick it up, turn it on, set your aperature, and shoot. Simple.

So when I see the new Olympus E-P1, which takes everything I just mentioned about the G10 and adds a bigger (and less noisy) sensor, interchangeable lenses (Leica M series glass, anyone?) and striking styling, well, you may understand why I have suddenly developed a serious case of technolust for this new camera.

But this got me thinking. Why do we crave this style of camera? I have a great DSLR that does pretty much everything I can ask of it. But it's big. And the shutter is a little noisy when trying to shoot in quiet places. The menu structure can get complicated, and there are a lot of choices, if I want to dive down into the camera's many functions. And, while I have some nice lenses, they're big, too. Sometimes it's nice to just have that small G10, an unobtrusive and quiet camera that you can hold close and shoot discretely with when needed. Easy to use. Fast to handle. Feels good. Uncomplicated.

Allow me here to introduce one of my heroes, Henri Cartier-Bresson:

Reality offers us such wealth that we must cut some of it out on the spot, simplify. The question is, do we always cut out what we should? While we're working, we must be conscious of what we're doing. Sometimes we have the feeling that we've taken a great photo, and yet we continue to unfold. We must avoid however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter our memory and diminish the clarity of the whole. (PhotoQuotes.)

And what did HCB shoot with? A simple Leica. And this is what he was able to do with it. Here, too.

Simplicity.

Enter today. Enter libraries.

(Or any organization, for that matter.)

These are times that call for simplicity. The economic downturn. The pressure to become ever more efficient, pressure to stretch budgets further and farther. Pressure to keep your job.

And what, unfortunately, do so many managers and leaders do at times like this? They do two diametrically opposed things: they increase workload expectations on staff and they introduce changes that complicate procedures and work processes. What are workers to do, short of imploding?

The pressure of the workplace, of the need to get the job done well, causes many people to seek complicated solutions instead of simple ones. I, myself, need to be careful of this. I allow small things to cause me to respond disproportionately. A small abuse of the email system has me wanting to institute draconian email guidelines. A communications breakdown has me flooding email inboxes with angry missives.

We all need to be careful. We need to pay attention to what we are asking our staff, our loyal workers, to do during these difficult times. Some things must, obviously, continue. We have laws and policies to abide by, and we have buildings and websites to maintain. And we have customers/patrons/users to serve. But we have fewer dollars and fewer staff and many of those users are in a rather testy mood of late. Understandably so.

So what do we do if someone makes a mistake or slips? Do we set about writing new guidelines and adding several hundred lines to our work manuals? No. We take a deep breath and go on. We suck it up, so to speak.

I'm reminded of the Alan Alda line from Crimes and Misdemeanors: if it bends, it's funny; if it breaks, it isn't. And right now, we don't want anyone or anything to break. We want simplicity. Times like this have us craving the easy-to-use, the things that we can operate blindfolded, the processes we're comfortable and at ease with. We don't want new procedures right now. We don't want complications. When possible, save the new models and studies and modified workflows for later. Yes, this might be difficult. But when things break, it can get very expensive, very quickly. Let's get through these difficult times with our morale intact.

Simplicity.

the transparent library: be selfish, promote service

Be Selfish, Promote Service
By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens — Library Journal, 6/15/2009

Now, More than ever, we need to deliver our best customer service. No library users should walk away feeling that their questions or needs were not fully addressed. No teen should come to the reference desk only to be met by a sarcastic answer and a hand gesturing them to some distant region of the stacks. No senior should be expected to use our newest technology without being offered a training session.

Is this hard in today's tighter economic times? Absolutely. Time is at a premium, as is money, but right now, you, you, need to be selling yourself…

…So what can you do, especially if you're already busy and working as hard/fast as possible? As silly as it sounds, bring a smile to your tasks. Volunteer for teams and committees. This is a great way to get yourself recognized by administrators and management…

…When you're at the desk helping customers, be sure to get out from behind that counter and walk customers to the shelves. Use that time as an opportunity to tell them about new services your library might have. Are there upcoming events you can bring to their attention?..

…We don't work in a for-profit world but rather in public service, nonprofit agencies. We need to serve more people with less because what we do is so darn good and important. Everyone from front-line staff to the top dog needs to understand this. But it is possible to excel during times of sacrifice.

If you can find it within you to embrace this downturn as an opportunity to shine and to grow as a team player, you will find that when better times return, you will be rewarded. Anyone can shine when money and time are in abundance. It takes a positive and progressive individual to stand out when things are difficult.

Full column available online, for free, at Library Journal.

iranian revolution of 2009

Having just written about social software and national security, I find the situation in Iran to be rather fascinating. It's amazing to see the huge role that social sites are playing in the 2009 Iranian election and, perhaps, the 2009 revolution.

Social Networks Spread Iranian Defiance Online Iranians are blogging, posting to Facebook and, most visibly, coordinating their protests on Twitter, the messaging service. Their activity has increased, not decreased, since the presidential election on Friday and ensuing attempts by the government to restrict or censor their online communications.

Latest Updates on Iran’s Disputed Election – excellent and very frequently updated coverage from the New York Time's blog, The Lede.

Flickr coverage from mousavi1388 and Dateline: Iran. (Warning: some of the images are graphic and contain violent scenes not suited for some audiences.)

Twitter coverage from mousavi1388.

UPDATE: good photos from .faramarz on Flickr.

UPDATE 6/16 22:38: Lens Blog photo series. Excellent.