There was a short article in the New York Times the other day about a quietly launched new government website called data.gov. The purpose of the site is to collect the amazing wealth of information created in the agencies of the US government in one place and make it freely accessible to anyone.
We open source-minded folks think that is just swell. In fact, this subject has been of interest to me for a long time. When I was right out of college and working for the literary agent Rafe Sagalyn, we actually wrote two books intended to help people find the great information the government was putting together for us, but not doing a good job actually getting to us.
The first was a book called Uncle Sam’s Guide to the Great Outdoors, which told you how and where to write or call the government to get information sent to you before you planned a trip into the American wilderness: national parks, forest, wildlife preserves, and whatnot.
It was all great until this dumb Internet thing came along and made it easy for people to access this sort of information online. Now that book is a relic of a bygone era of phone calls and manila envelopes.
But actual government datasets… that’s a much more complicated issue. Until now, it’s been very hard to get broad, searchable access to these datasets without advanced knowledge or tools. And they’ve certainly never been in one place and one standard format before. Data.gov is just a start, but I love the philosophy of the site so much I’m including it here:
Books are important to me. Growing up, almost every free wall in my parents’ house was lined with bookshelves, some of them stacked two deep. I spent most of my pre- Red Hat career in book publishing, first working during college at The University of North Carolina Press. After college, I went to work for a literary agent named Rafe Sagalyn in Washington DC. Working for Rafe was a great experience because he built his reputation on big think/idea books and business books.
His first big book was the huge bestseller Megatrends by John Naisbitt back in the early 80s. When I was there, I personally got to work with, among others, Bill Strauss and Neil Howe on their great books about generational patterns in society (check out The Fourth Turning… very prophetic these days) and Don Peppers, author of some books back in the 90s like The 1:1 Future about relationship marketing that were the grandparents of today’s books on social media marketing.
I also got to play agent and author myself too. As an agent, I represented some of Tom Bodett’s work (yes, he is the Motel 6 guy, but was also a commentator on NPR) and sold a wonderful novel called The Frequency of Souls to FSG. As author, I helped Rafe write two “cutting edge” books about getting free and open access to government information (they have not aged well, I’m afraid).
After I left book publishing, reading became fun again. I read novels and travel literature for a while, nothing that made me think too much. But when I got to Red Hat, I relapsed and started reading the big think books like the ones I used to work on with Rafe. I thought it might be worth taking a few minutes to try to remember the books that have been the biggest influences on my thinking, and get them all down in one place, so here goes:
Without these ten books, Dark Matter might not even matter to me.