The Web sometimes works in mysterious ways.
On July 10, GCN posted an article by Senior Technology Editor Rutrell Yasin, “USPS goes open-source with tracking system,” about how the U.S. Postal Service was upgrading its Product Tracking System to a Linux environment. It drew a fair number of GCN readers, as you might expect, whether they were postal employees, contractors or any number of people interested in open-source software.
But, curiously, it also drew a huge audience — thousand of readers — from Spain. Why so many readers there were interested in a USPS upgrade might be something of a mystery, but the how was easy to explain. The story was posted on www.meneame.net, a Spanish, Digg-like participatory news site where subscribers post stories, vote on their viability — giving each entry a karma rating — and then comment con gusto.
What were they saying? The site is in Spanish, but with an assist from Google Translate, we got a rough idea, though only a rough one. The exercise was as much a lesson in the limits of computerized translation as anything (the link above is to the translated page).
Aside from a reference to Kevin Costner and “The Postman” and some heated, apparently ongoing debates about karma ratings, the readers mostly wanted to talk about Cobol and Linux. GCN’s story explained how USPS was using Micro Focus’ Compiler for Linux to move Cobol code to the Linux portion of the mainframe without rewriting the source code.
Several contributors touted the flexibility and affordability of Linux, while others seemed to think moving to Linux was a bad idea. A few made disparaging remarks about Cobol, drawing a charge from one writer of: “Heretics! Signed, Cobolera Liberation Front.”
And one writer remarked on the longevity of Cobol, which turns 50 this year, by saying: “Operating systems go.… Cobol remains.” That’s a fact of life for many network administrators, no matter what language they speak.
Some issues of computing remain universal.
Posted on Jul 16, 2009 at 7:05 PM0 comments
So much can change in a year!
Last July, when we compiled our first annual Great .Gov Web sites
compilation, we wanted to defeat the stereotype that government Web sites were staid, unexciting places. We found 10 innovative and useful sites that could hold their own with what was being offered elsewhere on the Web. And we saw how government Web design teams moving beyond the static Web-page-as-a-brochure approach and toward offering more transactional-based services that citizens could use.
This year, of course, with federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra's charge to expose more government data, government Web sites have been getting more exposure than ever. And recently introduced sites such as Recovery.gov have been pushing the envelope as far as making more government information more easily understandable.
"It boggles the mind that the coolest things on the Web are being done by the U.S. federal government," one of our associates from the IT industry told us.
So, for GCN's July 27 print edition, we would like to profile 10 more great government Web sites. We're not running a formal "Best Of" contest (there's just too much good Web work going on in government for us to compile the definitive list). Rather, this story will be a virtual walkabout to see some of the interesting work that you and your peers are doing.
If you know of a federal, state or local government-run site that we should take a look at (including your own — don't be shy!), please drop us a line, either at email@example.com, or in the comments section below.
The sites we're looking for could be great in any number of ways: They could be displaying government data in innovative but easy-to-comprehend ways. They could be saving citizens time and effort by offering services. Or they could be allowing people to participate in the process of government by providing a social forum to discuss the issues. Or they could simply be nicely designed sites, ones that are the envy of Web designers or Web programmers. If it is interesting, we want to see it.
We have no official entry form, so just a link would be needed, along, perhaps, with a few words about what features of a particular site we should examine most closely. Deadline is next Wednesday, July 15.
Posted on Jul 09, 2009 at 7:05 PM0 comments
In April 2008, GCN ran an article, “The return of Ada,” about how the 1970s programming language commissioned by the Defense Department never really caught on, but never really went away either. Ada is still used in aviation software and other circles, where developers tout its security and reliability. But it never saw widespread use because of its difficulty.
The article was posted on Reddit over the weekend, where it drew a lively discussion about Ada and how it compares to other languages, from C and C++ to Haskell, Lisp and Erlang. If coding is your cup of tea, you might want to check it out.
A comment on the story to GCN, meanwhile, disputes the idea that a language can be inherently secure. “Programmers do write bad code in any language,” he writes, although he does say Ada can be used to “generate quite robust, cross-platform reliable code.” Ultimately, though, the degree of difficulty can come into play, apparently. “I'm glad Ada isn't gone,” he concludes, “but I'm glad I'm retired.”
Posted on Jul 06, 2009 at 7:05 PM0 comments