Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A memorable date-time

Trying to post as close to ‎12/12/12 12:12:12 as I can so that my post on the occurrence of ‎12/12/12 12:12:12 would be at ‎12/12/12 12:12:12 central US time.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Reading news/blogs over the last couple of days has brought Doug Englebarts bootstrapping concepts forcefully back into my head. To make anything go exponential you need a feedback loop. Digital technologies like the Internet are arguably the most potent source of feedback loops every created by humankind as the effort (time/money etc.) required to create the loop is so small. The so-called "social" technologies are feedback loop enablers. We have basically turned feedback-looping into a platform and are now laying down all sorts of boot-strappable things onto this feedback-based substrate in order to benefit from the bootstrap effects that Doug Englebart wrote about.

When history is written, what will be considered the first digital social network to leverage bootstrap effects? Perhaps the collaboration/bootstrapping in the open source movement? After all, many of the mainstream social technologies of today would not exist if it were not for the enabling components buried in the software stack that came from open source component bootstrapping of yester-year.

The speed with which boostrapped phenomena grow is, of course, amazing once they build up a head of exponential steam. We are seeing some of that amazement in popular discourse today...amazement at tablet penetration rates, amazement at Android growth, amazement at how quickly a new *thing* can go from 0 to mainstream - and also mainstream to 0..., and of course, amazement at our own amazement.

When history is written I think 2012 will be remembered as the year when the next big thing in bootstrapping started to percolate into our collective consciousness. I speak of 3D printing. Why is this a game changer? Not because manufacturing of complex objects can now be done better/faster/cheaper than before. That is undoubtedly true.

No, what makes 3D printing fascinating is that we can now clearly envisage a future in which 3D printers are used to make....

.....3D printers.

Fasten your seatbelts all you bootstrappers out there. Doug Englebart, I hope you are enjoying watching all this unfold.

Friday, November 16, 2012

What Lawyers can learn from Accountants

Authentication of digital law...its all about the audit trails. See What Lawyers can learn from Accountants.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Truly the end of an era

One of my favorite book types of all time - the humble dictionary - is an endangered species in print form. MacMillian is the latest publisher to bow to the inevitable. My soft spot for big, thick books - especially dictionaries - will grow as their production declines....I have arranged my world so that I look at my favorite paper dictionary every day. Its a 1926 Websters. They don't make 'em like that any more.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

KLISS wins NASCIO eGovernment award

I am delighted to announce that KLISS has won the NASCIO 2012 State IT award under the eGovernment category. The full list is here: The link to the KLISS introductory video (90 seconds) appears to be broken on the above page at the moment so use this one if you are interested in an overview of KLISS.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Yes, the law is a fractal

Andrew Stumpff on the law as a fractal. I particularly like the explanation of Mannings "Law of Conservation of Ambiguity". a profound insight....and then there is this: "But despite a lawyer’s hopes, the rule-writer cannot provide every answer in advance. That a regulation may fail to address all the questions practitioners might have is not a flaw in the regulation, or a mistake by the regulation-writer. It is a feature of reality; part of the fabric of the universe." A fabric of the universe indeed. See Larry Tesler's Law of the Conservation of Complexity in which my ITWorld article from a few years ago is quoted re business process complexity. There is a lot of conversation going on at the moment about how similar laws and source code are in may respects. Clay Shirky's recent TED Talk for example. This is all fine and valid but for me, the most powerful similarity is the correspondence between unit tests and caselaw as a means to deal with the specificity problem Andrew Stumpff writes about in this paper. Simply put, when a question arises about what is "correct" in software, we write a unit test to test a specific case. The unit test corpus gets bigger and bigger over time, serving as a regression test suit for future questions of correctness. In law, this is called precedent. Fundamentally the same thing.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Indiana Legislature

We have started work with the Indiana Legislature on yet another very exciting Legislative project.

Friday, September 21, 2012

From Microcomp to XML

Interesting reading about the GPOs move to an internal XML system. I have a soft spot for MicroComp. In particular the very fine typographic control if afforded over layout of tables and as I've said before, separating presentation and content is easier said than done. Especially in legal materials. All in all however, XML is obviously the way to go for an organization like GPO but there are a significant number of important subtleties related to legispruduce that they will need to be careful with. Especially when it comes to the amendatory cycle of bills.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Yup. Its complicated.

Sean Blanchfield on Software Complexity. Well worth a read.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Netbeans and NASCIO Awards

Geertjan from Oracle on LWB's use of Netbeans in NASCIO award nominated LWB systems this year in Kansas and North Dakota.

Friday, August 17, 2012

GIS In the Legislative Process

Forrester's Jennifer Belissent talks about GIS and references a subject I am passionate about. Namely, smart-maps as an aid to the legislative decision making processes in Parliaments/Legislatures.

NASCIO Award and Legislative Workbench (LWB)

NASCIO (National Association of State CIOs) has announced finalists for the 2012 awards and I'm delighted to say that two of the finalists are projects based on Propylon's LWB solution.

- The LEGEND System (North Dakota). Finalist under Cross Boundary Collaboration and Partnerships

- The KLISS System (Kansas). Finalist under Open Government.

Details about the awards are here:

More information about LEGEND can be found here. More information about KLISS can be found here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Unit tests are not echo chambers

Margaret Heffernan: Dare to disagree. Interesting stuff. Medical focus but I cannot help but relate it to the problem of producing good unit tests. Unit tests create a sort of constructive conflict with the corresponding application.

Most excellent new word of the day


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tools of Change 2013

I have never attended a Tools of Change event. Next year may be the year, for a variety of reasons. I really like going to conferences in NY. I don't get up there often enough to feed my inner Deli.

New Jython released

Jython 2.5.3 to be precise.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

McGrath's 142857'th Law

The 142857th law states that the number of laws with the same overall shape as Moore's Law doubles every 18 months.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The myth of non-repudiation

Excellent piece by John Gregory on the very thorny non-repudiation question.

Give every fact a home page

Jon Udell says "lets give every fact its own home page on the web.

Absolutely. Numeric quantities, in particular, need this. The web needs to get a lot better at slinging numbers - not pages - and update events around the place.

Its starting to happen. Mostly, I think because of the emerging "web of things". Things like cosm and things like Personal Event Networks need "facts" to work with and a goodly number of said facts are numeric quantities.

Now it can coherently be argued that RDF makes numerical facts just drop out of its grander epistemological theory but I worry that RDF is seen as overkill for situations where it really is just a number you are looking for.

If the URI is All I want to do is to a HTTP GET and get back 4487000.

The simple case should be simple.

Friday, July 13, 2012

NCSL conference in Chicago, August 7-9

It is NCSL time of year again. Its hard to believe a year has gone by since the last annual NCSL event in San Antonio, Texas.

This year its Chicago. I hope its cooler than Texas was....Probably not.

We will be exhibiting @ booth 813, talking about eDemocracy, eLegislation, 21st century law-making, Legislative Transformation.

If you are going, please stop by and say hi.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Today's MicroXML brings back memories of
sml-dev and Common XML. Hopefully, MicroXML will succeed where these two efforts I was involved in, did not.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ohio State Legislature

We are now working with the Ohio State Legislature on an LWB implementation. Similar in scope to the Kansas State Legislature's KLISS system that was the backdrop to the series of posts titled What is a Legislature?

The Ohio system has a very strong focus on machine readable data formats and Web feeds which is a very exciting aspect of the project.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Authenticity and the Law

I find myself disagreeing with Sunlight Foundation. Worrying about authenticity is not a "red herring". It is profoundly important and critical if we are to move to paperless legislative processes and "born digital" law corpora.

It really is not all that complicated once you take a pragmatic approach to it. Sadly, there is much confusion and mis-information around digital signatures and crypto and the very meaning of the term "authenticity"...

There is no technological silver bullet here. What Congress needs is a Legislative Enterprise Architecture that is designed from the get-go to enable authentication not just of XML but of all promulgated artifacts. Doing that has a lot more to do with provenance than anything else and provenance is something you embed at the heart of your Legislative Enterprise Architecture.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rational..but uncoordinated

Subway structures for example. Fascinating. Many interesting real world systems we try to model with software are rational-but-uncoordinated.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Apache OpenOffice

Good to see a new release of OpenOffice from Apache.

Monday, April 30, 2012

GIS in eDemocracy

My slides from last weeks MAGIC conference are now online at My talk was on GIS in eDemocracy and in particular, bringing the power of GeoInformatics "under the dome" in Legislatures/Parliaments.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Avoiding bugs in code

Its really very simple. It goes like this:

1 - the more code you write, the more likely there are to be bugs in it.

2 - Inverting (1) we have : the less code you have, the less bugs you have.

3 - When programming, it is good to avoid bugs. Therefore, following (2), write less code.

How to get the job done but write less code? Spend more time in *design*. What is the minimum amount of new (and therefore buggy in unpredictable ways) code you can write to get the job done.

Programming is Haiku, not Victorian Novel.

Yes, its art. But there is a science to the art.

Good programmers write less code. They take the time to ensure they are brief in their code expression.

There is no more important skill in software engineering in my opinion. Its all about the code you *dont* have to write.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

ROIs for GIS

Over the last couple of years I have become increasingly involved in GIS and applying it to legislative informatics and legal/regulatory content in general.

Its great to see ROI case studies like this one from King County on the Web.

I first found out about the King County case study at last years URISA conference.

Oh, and on the subject of GIS, I will be speaking at the MAGIC conference later this month on GIS in the context of eDemocracy.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

They don't make kids like they used to

Amazing isn't it. Kids have no fear of technology. Skip the packaging, skip the casing, expose the guts of it, keep the price low and this happens.

I thought I was out on the edge with my Sinclair Spectrum 1k model but I was clearly a complete wuss by today's standards.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Authentication of legal materials - how hard can it be?

Wow. Two minutes after I post about UELMA I get asked "how hard can it be?". A flavor of the issues that must be addressed can be found here.

UELMA and authentication

I see that three US states have introduced UELMA (Uniform Electronic Legal Materials Act) bills.

That is great but the hard work begins once these bills make it and government agencies (executive, judicial, legislative) grapple with the realities of the "how".

The good news is that it is doable but it involves - in my opinion - looking at the problem from the perspective of provenance aware storage combined with point-in-time, permanent URLs. That necessitates looking at the problem from an end-to-end "enterprise architecture" view of Legislative Informatics. No bolt-on at the end of your law-making process will be good enough to stand up to judicial tests of authenticity in my opinion.

LWB goes to great lengths to preserve provenance and provide point-in-time citation precisely to enable legislation like UELMA to be complied with.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The future of user interfaces

Interesting article from Mark Shuttleworth on HUD.

Today's games developers are a great leading indicator for where user interfaces of all forms are headed. The kids growing up with all todays amazing game technologies will one day put on suits and/or beards and go into business. When they do, they will bring models for HMI with them that are very different from the Text heavy, Form-Oriented, Bar Charted models of their parents.

Facts and opinions

Inside every spoken "fact" lies one or more unspoken opinions.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

A new form of "Engrossing"

Law making revolves around a process called engrossing and so when it came to naming the Propylon band...Well the name "Tyson and the Engrossers" fitted the bill nicely. The Tyson here is Tyson Deines. A legislative business analyst with Propylon but also former full time musician/singer/song-writer.

Some videos from the Propylon XMas party here : Tyson and the Engrossers

The Engrossers are:

- Tyson Deines : Drums, Vocals, Guitar
- Bill Hastings : guitar
- Sean McGrath : guitar, harmonica
- Beth Rice : Base, Vocals
- Matt Smith : keyboard
- Warren Smith : vocals
- Alex Smith : vocals

GIS in the future of law/rule-making

Last year, I had the pleasure of presenting the closing keynote at the GIS Pro conference. The videos have been posted:

Main Talk Part 1

Main Talk Part 2

Main Talk Part 3

Main Talk Part 4

Also, lightning talk here.