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Simon B
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 +Maria Konnikova's NY Times article about the role of time and attention scarcity in the cycle of poverty was arresting and important. It really echoed some of the issues that we've seen at +Code for America - there's a section at the end of the article that is going to be quoted often by people involved in the business of improving government services:

"If poverty is about time and mental bandwidth as well as money, how does this change how we combat its effects? 'When we think about programs for the poor, we don’t ever think, hey, let’s give them programs that don’t use a lot of bandwidth,' says Mr. Mullainathan. Instead, we fault people for failing to sign up for programs that are ostensibly available, even though we don’t factor in the time and cognitive capacity they need to get past even the first step.

“'If I give people a very complicated form, it’s a big demand on cognitive capacity,' Mr. Shafir says. 'Take something like the Fafsa' — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — 'Why is pickup for the low-income families less than 30 percent? People are already overwhelmed, and you go and give them an incredibly complicated form.'

"To him, the obvious conclusion is to radically change our thinking. 'Just like you wouldn’t charge them $1,000 to fill out a form, you shouldn’t charge them $1,000 in cognitive complexity,' he says. One study found that if you offer help with filling out the Fafsa form, pickup goes up significantly."

It starts with empathy

Jake Solomon has another take on the issue, which he explains so well in his post People, Not Data about the work he and the other Code for America fellows in San Francisco did last year to simplify the compliance for Food Stamp recipients.  

What I love about Maria's article, though, is that it gives another way of thinking about why complex government forms are even worse than they appear, especially when it comes to providing services to people least able to deal with them.

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"We don't need new policies. We need better implementation."

Last night, I hosted Oakland City Councilor and mayoral candidate Libby Schaaf at a house party to introduce her to my neighbors. In response to a question about what to do about one of Oakland's many problems, she said "We don't need new policies.  We need better implementation."  And in response to a question about disengaged city employees, she talked about the ones who really want to make a difference, and are just waiting to be activated.

That resonated so strongly with me, because just the night before, I'd been at a talk by +Mikey Dickerson about the rescue effort, which sounded almost exactly the same notes.  It's easy to imagine heroic Silicon Valley coders riding to the rescue, but Mikey pointed out that they wrote very little code.  Much of the rescue work was done by the same people who built the broken site.  What the Silicon Valley team provided was clear management focus from people who knew what they were doing. They were able to debug all the bad process and broken communications between the various contractors who'd built the site, figure out what they needed from each of them, and then encourage and bring out the best in those people. They also had the guts and the force of will to get the recalcitrants on board.  (I wrote more about this at )

So much of the work we do at Code for America is drawn from the same playbook (though we usually don't have the kind of mandate that the "Code Red" rescue team did!)  It's about debugging a process, making small tech interventions, but even more about helping "the system" to work better by understanding needs and figuring out why they aren't being met.  (See for example Jake Solomon's brilliant post about his work in San Francisco last year:

We have a constant parade of politicians who tell us what we want to hear: that they have a new policy idea, and that if we follow their advice, everything will be great.  This kind of "magic bullet" thinking is what gets us the same dismal results, over and over.  To be sure, there are times when we do need new policies, and I'm sure Libby has her share of policy ideas too.  But getting away from policy and digging into implementation is so important! So much of the problem isn't what we set out to do, it's how we do it.  I love hearing someone speak truth about that.

P.S. As a city councilor, Libby is in a non-executive role.  If she is in charge of actual implementation, I'm super-excited to see what she can do.  If you're an Oakland city resident, I hope you turn out and vote for her in November.  If you'd like to learn more, I'm co-hosting another, bigger event for Libby at the new (still under construction) BlueSprout Maker space in Oakland next Sunday.  Sign up to attend here:

Why is it that emails from sites often come from a 'noreply' email address and say 'Do not reply to this email - it is not monitored'.

......Why not ???

Especially when the same site probably has a contactus email address and/or form, so are clearly able to handle incoming emails 

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Interesting technique to allow a Win7 machine to be a temporary Wifi hotspot.

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Regulatory Capture at Its Worst: NC Car Dealers vs. Tesla

I really like +Leilani Munter's takedown of the crazy North Carolina law protecting auto dealers from Tesla's direct-to-consumer business model.  I just bought a Model S, and the consumer experience is superb - far better than anything I've ever experienced at a dealer. 

For most Americans, the experience of going to buy a new car is about on par with going to the dentist. The Tesla experience is very similar to what you experience in an Apple Store: so much better than the normal retail experience.  Should there also have been laws to protect Circuit City and Best Buy from Apple's direct to consumer model?

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A good reason, if any were needed, for a day out in the mountains

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"Don't penalize modern users - use conditional builds and parallelize those initial requests"

A+ write-up on deploying large JavaScript apps by +Alex Sexton - 
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