Setting the Standards for Open Government Data

City and state governments across America are adopting Open Data policies at a fantastic clip. Technology hotbed San Francisco has one, but places far from Silicon Valley – like Pittsburgh, PA – are also joining the municipal open data movement. The increasing availability of free tools and enthusiastic volunteer software developers has opened the door for a vast amount of new government data to be made publicly available in digital form. But merely putting this data out there on the Internet is only the first step.


The Iceberg of Knowledge: A Quick Parable on Learning

This was inspired by Dawn Casey’s article on learning programming.

Personally, I like to think about knowledge on any particular topic as an iceberg. There are three types of knowledge, and learning is the process of moving around the iceberg of knowledge:

What you know you know – this is the part of the iceberg you can see from where you’re standing at this very moment.

What you know you don’t know – this is the other side of the iceberg, that you can’t see from where you’re standing but is obviously the other side of the iceberg, just over that peak in front of you. It may be slightly larger than you expect, but in you’ve got a good idea of the shape of it from looking from where you are. You may climb to a higher point on the iceberg to see more of it.

What you don’t know that you don’t know – this is the majority of the iceberg, underneath your feet. It’s large, and epic. It’s always bigger than you can reasonably imagine. It takes specialized equipment and knowledge to be able cover every inch of it on the outside, and careful dissection to get to the center.


A Brief Summary

After a hackathon a few months back, we were joking about creating an easy way to take the data we’d painstakingly parsed from PDFs, word documents, and XML files, and “translate” it back into a format that government agencies are used to. Many of us have been shell-shocked in dealing with PDFs from government agencies, which are often scanned documents, off kilter and photocopied many times over. Fundamentally, they’re very difficult to pry information out of. For the OpenGov Foundation’s April Fools’ prank, we created, a tool to convert plain text into truly ugly PDFs.