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Posts Tagged ‘cameras

“‘Big’ government? Who wants that? I just want effective government. That means America’s government needs to be big in some places, small in others and non-existent in others.”*… 

The Red would like to see less; the Blue, more– still, for all of their contention, the right and left in the U.S. agree that government isn’t doing the job that it could/should.

Indeed, the quantitation question obscures a qualitative issue: as our lives (and our businesses) have become more digital, governments have fallen behind in taking effective advantage of technology. Jen Pahlka, founder of Code for America, has devoted most of her life to precisely that problem. Now, she’s sharing the lessons she’s learned in a new book. Your correspondent has read and deeply appreciated it; but don’t take his word…

Beginning with “I’m Just a Bill,” an animated musical introduction to the American legislation system from Schoolhouse Rock!, Pahlka, the deputy chief technology officer during the Obama administration, delivers an eye-opening and accessible examination of why online interactions with government in America work—or, often, do not. The author provides numerous examples of failures, including a form for Veterans Affairs health insurance that only really worked on certain computers with certain versions of software; the development of healthcare.gov, where “the full set of rules governing the program they were supposed to administer wasn’t finalized until the site was due to launch”; or an “application for food stamps that requires answering 212 separate questions.” Through these and many other illustrative cases, Pahlka effectively shows that “when systems or organizations don’t work the way you think they should, it is generally not because the people in them are stupid or evil. It is because they are operating according to structures and incentives that aren’t obvious from the outside.” Indeed, by tracing the requirements of any technology developed by or for the government, it becomes increasingly apparent that simply adding new laws or throwing money at the problems fails to alleviate the confusion or waste. Throughout this empowering book, the author makes compelling, clear arguments, revealing inefficiency, bureaucracy, and incompetence, whether it stems from legislators, administrators, or IT professionals. “The good news is that software and the US government have something very important in common: they are made by and for people,” writes Pahlka. “In the end, we get to decide how they work.” Anyone dealing with the implementation of technology in government should pay attention to the author’s suggestions…

Starred review, Kirkus Reviews

An important– and eminently readable– exploration of the fraught intersection of technological innovation and government bureaucracy, and a guide to navigating it: Recoding America: why government is failing in the digital age and how we can do better, from @pahlkadot.

* Van Jones


As we get smart, we might spare a thought for Auguste Lumière; he died on this date in 1954. The son of a French portrait painter who added photography to his repertoire, Auguste joined with his brother Louis to pioneer a pre-digital technology that changed the world: cinema.  

Their father returned in 1894 from a trip to the U.S. where he’d been enchanted by Edison’s kinetoscope.  The brothers (who’d already pioneered new darkroom techniques for still photography) were excited…  until they understood that Edison’s display could only be seen by a single viewer at a time.  They envisioned something different: a projected image that could be shared by an audience, in the same way that audiences share a play.  With his brother’s help, Lumière designed the Cinematograph, a self-contained camera and projector that used a clawed-gear to advance sprocketed film. It was the first apparatus for making and showing films to audiences in a way that would be recognizable today as “going to the movies,” thus the Lumière brothers are often credited as inventors of the motion picture.  In any case, the principle at work in the Cinematograph was the principle used in movie cameras and projectors for more than a century afterwards.


I said “pinHOLE,” not “pinhead”…

Today is Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day— a global celebration of lens-less photography.

As we relax because we don’t have to worry about focusing, we might recall that it was on this date in 1990 that the (current) “mother of all cameras,” the Hubble Space Telescope, went into orbit, deployed by the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery (which had lifted off the day before).

The HST in orbit (as seen from Shuttle Atlantis)

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