BART Goes Wireless

imagesIn a story that we’ve been following in the past week, it seems the survey that was sent out to BART users last week is not simply a “feeler”. When BART users received the email from the Bay Area mass transit service requesting participation in a survey, it suggested that the organization was considering some level of wireless connectivity, but as best as I could tell, it did not suggest such access was imminent.

Thomas Hawk, who I’ve previously referred to as the best photographer on the web and is also a client of mine, apparently got a chance to try an initial pilot phase out and reported some problems logging on.

the San Francisco Chronicle reports that BART has signed a 20 year deal to provide wireless internet access in it’s entire system, but the news does not disclose terms of the deal or who would actually be managing and deploying the service. The story does indicate that access would be provided via fiber as opposed to satellite or cellular.

Google Blows Up, Suggests the Internet is Harmful

It appears some sort of bug has snuck into the Google secret sauce. A feature that was intended to warn users of potential phishing sites has jumped the shark declaring the internet harmful. That’s right, every single result is deemed by Google to be harmful.

This is surely a bug and will be fixed but these guys really should be running some QA testing before rolling new releases.

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Modern browsers give the opportunity for you to select your default search provider for your in-browser search box. Traditionally, my search box has been set to Google. However, it’s set to Ask.com right now, and so far I’m happy with the results.

Update: TechCrunch had it first.

Update 2: Google Mea Cupla – it was the fault of a slash (/).

President Obama Throws a Super Bowl Party

With the Super Bowl a few days away, I have yet to figure out where I’m watching it. However, President Obama knows where he’s watching it. He is throwing a party at the White House for a handful of elected officials.

  • Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)
  • Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
  • Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA)
  • Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD)
  • Congressman Artur Davis (D-AL)
  • Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)
  • Congressman Charlie Dent (R-PA)
  • Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA)
  • Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ)
  • Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ)
  • Congressman Paul Hodes (D-NH)
  • Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC)
  • Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-PA)
  • Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI)

I presume Sen. Specter, Sen. Casey, Rep. Dent, Rep Doyle, and Rep. Murphy will be rooting for the Steelers. Likewise, Rep. Franks and Rep. Grijalva will be rooting for the Cardinals. I presume Rep. Cummings, my Congressman, will be a Cardinals fan on Sunday too, considering his district is in the Baltimore area. And, of course, our President has defied logic, as a man from an NFC town who now lives in an NFC town, by declaring his support for Pittsburgh.

For my part, I’m loving me some Red and White.

Dan Mintz: Government 2.0 is an Experiment

Lately, I’ve focused quite a bit in the government technology space. With the new administration and the apparent focus on open technologies and dialogue with the public, it is clear that government is going to become more transparent and will likely adopt (and maybe re-engineer) some of the technologies that the private sector has taken advantage of over the last five years.

Dan Mintz, formerly the CIO for the Department of Transportation reiterates my assertion, in an interview with ExecutiveBiz, that the Government knows that no one is an expert in this area but is willing to work with competent individuals and companies who are willing to partner in learning the space:

This is still an experiment so therefore “˜how this will play out’ will require people who are comfortable with experiments. The government has a tendency to be risk-averse, which is understandable. It will be very important for the leadership within the departments and agencies to provide support for people who are willing to do the experiments. The second important factor to remember is that it [2.0 activity] will be user driven, not IT driven.

In my earlier article on this matter, I stated:

What [self-described Government 2.0 experts] don’t realize is the government they wish to work with understands that Government 2.0 is new and that very few people are experts. The government, I believe, is looking to partner with people who have the chutzpah to become experts. Who have a firm grounding in communications principles and web savvy. They understand that the next year will make experts if the right candidates, firms and contractors are chosen. They are looking for people who have the savvy needed to guide and advise, with the understanding that it’s a completely new playing field. My instinct says that the government knows that they are getting prepared to experiment and want someone to experiment with.

Sounds like we are saying the same thing. It’s just a shame that Mr. Mintz is the former CIO of the Dept. of Transportation.

BART Says: We Can (or Want to) Do Wireless!

With all the talks of Government 2.0 lately, we haven’t talked about those who are embracing it in a meaningful (and useful) way. Peter Corbett and iStrategyLabs could be lauded for spearheading Apps for Democracy, a contest that brought Web innovation to the District with apps like iPark. Certainly, there are plenty of folks in the private sector chomping at the bit to do something useful for the government.

imagesBut shouldn’t we laud the governments that are actually listening to the public and trying their hardest to adjust?

Organizations like the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) who just posted a survey for Bay Area riders looking to understand the wireless needs of their customers. In other words, they are listening. It, of course, remains to be seen if they will follow through.

Wireless technologies (notably WiFi) are amazingly absent in mass transit. As far as I know, no US-based system has incorporated things like free (or even paid) wireless in their trains or buses (cannot support this with evidence, so I’m happy to be proven wrong).

Here in the District, Metrorail has wireless carrier access – if your wireless carrier is Verizon Wireless. In the Bay Area, iPhones rule the day and though I don’t live there enough to know if AT&T works underground there, I can say that giving the tech-heavy Silicon Valley access to their mobile devices will help bring along ridership. Ridership means fewer carbon emissions from fewer cars and a bonus to traffic. (We all know that Scoble is surfing the web on his iPhone while driving. Wouldn’t it be better if her used the train instead? ;)

Security Problems and Government 2.0

The other day, I made a very serious point about the fad that is “Government 2.0″. I was pleased by the amount of attention it received and the large number of very reputable and poignant comments it recieved. However, it was largely a philosophical post, and did not provide anything concrete.

Today, that concrete example fell in my lap as I read this post by IT Security company, Websense. The post outlines how malicious users added an image to a “user generated” section of My.Barack.Obama. The image led to a trojan download site that is infecting user computers.

Granted, the MBO site is not a government site, but it is certainly related, wouldn’t you say?

Veteran federal IT Administrators are vicious about protecting internal systems and intranets. Trust me, I know. I come from a Lockheed Martin, CSC and Northrop Grumman background where projects I worked on were all government-facing or oriented. This is what we did.

For as much complaint as there is about the lack of transparency, the lack of public facing services that engage the public in a Web 2.0 way, I’d point out that there is a valid reason for it. I would love to see the Government opened up to more Web-savvy ways, but there are very tangible reasons why they are not!

This is also why Government 2.0 will not rule the day. At least not soon. Until there is a sensible way to prevent user-generated content from being user-generated security nightmares, such as this incident was, Government 1.0 will rule the day.

Security will always trump anything else and right now, there is too much opportunity for mischief to entrust the federal systems to user-generated anything.

25 Things

I posted this on my Facebook profile. I’ve been nagged and tagged by all kinds of friends to participate in this 25 Things meme. The rule is I have to post 25 things about me. I did. Here they are:

1. I eat my meat medium rare
2. I’m an avid gamer (if you call actually playing my Xbox 360 less than once every other week “avid”)
3. I have the largest non-political blog in the DC Metro
4. I’m still self-conscious around people from high school
5. I am a beer snob, but I understand my genetic propensities so I do so carefully
6. My doctor tells me I need to eat right, sleep better and lose the stress. My room mate calls it the “Prime Directive”
7. I am anti-religion, but pro-faith. My faith is inline with the traditional Christian faith, but do not consider myself “Evangelical” due to my perception of incompatibility between modern “Evangelical Christianity” and Jesus’ two commands “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself”. Evangelical Christianity, as a political force, seems to miss the second command altogether.
8. My favorite cities in America are Boston, New York and San Francisco.
9. I see Obama as someone who can restore American faith in the Office of the President: Much like Lincoln, FDR, Kennedy and Reagan did.
10. I am a fan of the Dragonlance books. Very teenagerish, but the stories are rich. If I were any of the Heroes of the Lance, I would be Raistlin: Intelligent, self serving and with a bit of an evil streak. Sue me. At least I’m honest. :-)
11. My 5 year old son makes me extremely proud. :-)
12. I can’t wait to go on my next trip, whenever that will be.
13. Everyone thinks I’m a marketer. Maybe because I don’t confuse communicating with an industry.
14. My favorite past time is photography. You can see my best work at http://photos.aaronbrazell.com
15. Someday I’ll learn how to golf.
16. I went to 8 schools growing up
17. I’ve lived in Africa. CNN reported on the Rwandan refugee crisis in the early 90s from my back yard in the Democratic Republic of Congo, on the border with Rwanda.
18. The last time I “worked in an office” was in 2006
19. I remember the panic on people’s face at the government agency I worked at on September 11, 2001.
20. I remember the panic I experienced when the Gulf War bombing began. I was 12.
21. I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up or where I will be in 10 years. Don’t ask.
22. I am a World War II history buff
23. I own a 2001 Ford Taurus that is holding up, despite the fact that I abuse it
24. I am not impressed with celebrity – major or minor.
25. I own a Seagull acoustic guitar and a PRS electric.

Help Wanted

Over the past month and a half, I’ve been working tirelessly on building out the consulting arm of what I do. Recently, I posted a consulting page here that outlines some of the work I do and can do for clients and people like Thomas Hawk have been actively promoting me. I can’t say enough in thanks for all the people who have passed my name along to interested parties, both as potential employment material as well as consulting material.

Though my search continues, I am pleased by the amount of inquiries I have gotten during this time. Though I am still looking for a big longer term project of 4-6 months, I am feeling confident that I can sustain the work I do here based on a myriad of smaller projects from WordPress migrations, sponsored plugin development, strategy consultation as well as SEO.

Historically, I have turned away work that involves design, for instance, because I am not a designer. However, the amount of work I’ve turned away is significant and noticeable and I no longer want to do that. There are also other positions I’d like to fill.

Ux Developer

First I am looking for a Ux Developer. As the most critical part of this position, I’m not looking for someone who has a firm understanding of usability. At this time, I am looking to retain the actual HTML/CSS coding but I am looking for a Photoshop ninja – someone who can take specs, work with me as well as clients on look and feel. We will use Conceptshare and Basecamp, or similar, as jumping off project management and collaboration tools. I will run the business side of things so you will not have to negotiate with anyone but me. Please send resumes and examples of logos and website design work to me. Please include general flat-rate ballpark figures for such work. This is for ongoing project work as it comes in.

Business Manager

Second of all, I’m looking to pay someone on a percentage basis to develop business. This is a typical BizDev role where you will talk to potential clients, work out deals and earn more money for more business you secure. You will work with me to vet projects and determine feasability, viability and develop requirements if necessary. Please send resumes and a short note to me.

Writers

Of course, the strength of Technosailor.com is in the writing. If you are interested in writing here at Technosailor.com and gaining notoriety and readership, please send examples of your work and a pitch to me. This is unpaid for now, but you wil have immediate access to the large and influential readership here. Areas of focus are web, technology, entrepreneurship, etc.

If You're a Government 2.0 Guru, You have no Business in Government 2.0

This past week, we witnessed history with the election of President Barack Obama. He is certainly America’s first black president, but unfortunately, that’s where the highlighted differences seem to end. Little coverage is given to the fact that he is also the first Gen-X president. He is the first tech savvy president. And of course, he is the first “internet president”, having used social media and the netroots effectively.

Even WhiteHouse.gov is seeping with Web 2.0 goodness (though admittedly, it is not quite as savvy as Change.gov, the official transition team site of the Obama administration).

Conventional wisdom says that the federal sector is about to change dramatically. That the adoption of a national Chief Technology Officer, and the pledge to open up the doors and windows of government to the public, will bring about new opportunities for an online world that thrives on transparency and open dialogue. There is no reason to believe that this will not be the case.

Along comes the newest buzzword of the day, Government 2.0. As with anything that includes a software-styled decimal iteration, this heralds a new and improved government. A better one that offers more functionality, usability and interactivity.

Geoff Livingston points out, accurately, that this new openness in government has apparently created a sector of carpetbaggers that have labeled themselves “experts” in the field. I think his cynicism is warranted. Capitalism at work. Anything to make a buck.

Here’s the stark reality of the Government 2.0 space: There are very few gurus and taking on that mantle will doom your ability to work in the sector.

Let me explain.

There are actual real experts that have been toiling for years trying to get government to adopt new and innovative technologies, communication channels and bringing a forward thinking mentality to those in service. These folks have had a degree of micro-success, but it’s been limited since the government, as a whole, is not very open. It’s changing – possibly a result of the hard work put in by these experts – but it’s still a very closed space. Those experts are experts because they’ve put in their time, toiling and pushing and fighting the system. They understand the system, as it is, not simply as they would like it to be. They recognize the need to work within the constraints that have governed the government for many years with a hope that they can change it over time. They are experts because they are not flash in the pan and know it will take a long time.

See, they understand that two governments exist. There is the elected government which changes every 4-8 years and sometimes longer (in the case of Congress and State legislatures). As well, there is an established government – career feds who are never fired, and rarely quit their jobs. They just move between agencies with established patterns and principles in tow. They are the foot soldiers who actually do the work. The established government is where the real change begins.

Very few of the so called experts can truly be experts by any reasonable standard. They have appeared on the scene in recent months, read the blogs and brushed up on their government-fu. They probably come from traditional, and sometimes social media communications backgrounds. They have been working with small companies in the web space or otherwise, and expect the principles which have governed their trade to transcend the halls of Commerce, Agriculture, State and Defense. Therefore, they believe, they are experts.

What they don’t realize is that their self-branding actually poses the risk of hurting their business – especially if, in a down economy, they expect to sustain their business in a new an growing sector. What they don’t realize is the government they wish to work with understands that Government 2.0 is new and that very few people are experts. The government, I believe, is looking to partner with people who have the chutzpah to become experts. Who have a firm grounding in communications principles and web savvy. They understand that the next year will make experts if the right candidates, firms and contractors are chosen. They are looking for people who have the savvy needed to guide and advise, with the understanding that it’s a completely new playing field. My instinct says that the government knows that they are getting prepared to experiment and want someone to experiment with.

Are they looking for complete rookies? Hardly. But they are looking for the chops to brave this new world with some degree of sanity.

If you’ve got those chops, you might become an expert. Chances are, though, if you lie to them and say you’re an expert now, they simply won’t hire you.

How We Moved Thomas Hawk to WordPress

It’s been about a week and I haven’t said a whole lot about one of the most special projects I’ve ever worked on. Thomas Hawk has been one of the people I’ve most looked up to since I began shooting photography. I’ve never met the guy before, but I hope to at some point. I also keep my eyes and ears open to absorb anything and everything he ever says about photography in a hope that I will learn from him. Mentor from a far? Maybe.

A few weeks ago, a comment was made on Friendfeed (I don’t remember how it started) and it became clear to me that Thomas desperately wanted to get off of the Blogger blog platform. I can’t blame him. I’m always looking to help people move to WordPress so I asked him to contact me. As a veteran of “moving people to WordPress”, I was sure I could help him out.
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We exchanged emails over the subject and his biggest hurdle seemed to be the number of comments that were housed on Blogger. He was concerned, naturally, that all of his content would not be able to come over. I asked him to give me a shot at it and he obliged.

Blogger Problems

As I’ve mentioned, Blogger can be a bit of a pain. While it used to be the great granddaddy of blogging software, Google has done little to keep it nimble and competent. That, I hope, will change in the months ahead as my friend and colleague, Rick Klau, formerly of FeedBurner has taken the reins as the product manager and has been incredibly helpful working with me on this project.

The problem was a pretty common problem. It didn’t take long Googling around to find hundreds of other people who were having problems with Google having a 5000 comment cap on their export. In other words, if you had over 5000 comments (Thomas had over 21000), you were screwed and could not get all of your data.

I went to Rick and asked if he could help me get this problem solved. He happily obliged, asked me to wait a few days, and went off to his team. Within a few days they had solved the problem. Not only for me, they solved it for everyone.

WordPress Problems

For an unknown reason, though, the WordPress Blogger Importer did not work the way it was supposed to. Though it now accurately reported that there were over 21,000 comments that could be imported, it failed to do so. As a result, I was forced to improvise using the Blogger-supported format for data portability – a super large Atom-format XML export that included all the data I needed. Unfortunately, importing this data was now impossible in its present form unless I decided to build a WordPress import script for the occasion. Instead, I discovered the Google provided Blog Converters, open source scripts that could convert WordPress or Movable Type exports into Blogger Atom formats and vica versa. With this tool in hand, I was able to successfully convert the Blogger Atom file into a WordPress native WXR file.

Importing the new file was a breeze but created a new problem. I needed to maintain all of Thomas’ permalinks for the search engines. Blogger has a strange way of creating permalinks that involves breaking the title of the post into “word chunks” then piecing together a permalink out of a seemingly random number of words. In WordPress, permalinks are generated by taking all the words in a title, and piecing them all together to make a link. So I needed to find a way to preserve all of this.

I found the Maintain Blogger Permalinks plugin, a single use plugin that would alter the post slugs to the previously used Blogger slugs. Unfortunately, it relied on content that was pulled directly out of Blogger, on import, using the Blogger import script. Since I had gone around that by using the Blogger export format, I had to figure out how to get that data. Fortunately, it was as simple as actually running the Blogger importer. Since the importer only did not work with comments, all I had to do was make some simple PHP changes to the script in order to make it not skip over already existing content, and instead update that content with the appropriate data I needed.

I could outline those details, but that is special sauce. I’m happy for you to pay me to do this for you. ;-)

WordPress Perks

Once all the data had been moved over and Thomas had blessed the “flipping of the switch”, we kicked it on live. All the permalinks still worked. All the data was successfully moved into its new home. Comments were good. Posts were good. We had a nice minimalistic theme that brightened up his digs. I used the Picturegrid plugin to pull in his Flickr photostream.

We, of course, encountered some problems involving caching. WordPress still doesn’t do well on high traffic sites without some caching. I implemented WP-Super Cache, an absolutely essential plugin for high traffic sites.

I am Available

This was a special project for me as Thomas is someone I look up to. At the same time, it’s what I do. It’s how I make a living. And it’s how I am able to continue keeping this site going. Contrary to popular belief, it is not sustained by advertising.

In the next few days, I will face the darkest time of my life so far. At this time, I have exactly one week to extend my pipeline with additional work, find viable employment elsewhere or simply… I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it. The economy sucks right now, and I’m in the middle of it. Though I know everyone is tight and hiring is frozen, there is still some liquidity available. I am asking, even begging, that if I can help you with WordPress (or any) consulting work – even short term – that you let me know. I hesitate to strike this tone, yet I am in in dire straits right now and need a breakthrough.

If you work for a company, go lobby for them to employ my services. If you are a CEO, I ask you to consider if you could try to get me for a discount. If you are an entrepreneur, I ask you to consider if you are able to pass me projects that are filling your plate. I have put up a consulting page to provide an overview of some of the services I have done and can do for you.

Thank you all, and thanks Thomas for letting me work on your site. It was great fun.