The gojūon is a Japanese ordering of kana named for the 5×10 grid in which the characters are displayed. Each kana corresponds to one sound in the Japanese language. Today I learned about いろは (iroha) a different way to learn Hiragana than the gojūon (五十音) ordering I learned in my Japanese class, where the characters are displayed in a grid. It makes sense to teach that way since it is easy to see which share same beginning (consonant) sound or ending (vowel) sound.

However, I knew the characters once and wanted to make my study session more interesting. I had forgotten about half the characters since first studying Japanese four years ago and wanted to review using actual words. If I could learn the characters with the context of real language then I could learn vocabulary at the same time. I wondered if there were a “quick brown fox” (pangram) for Hiragana.

I quickly found いろは (iroha) an ancient Japanese poem:


This poem not just an arcane bit of trivia, but a real ABCs of Japanese, where the ordering from the poem is still used today. I found a wonderful video What is “いろは iroha”? that tells the story of this word which means “basic” or “fundamental” in Japanese. I learned that the first 7 characters are used for musical notes (the way we use A-G, in Japanese they use いろはにほへと. I read elsewhere that theater seats are often ordered this way.

I realized that if I could learn this poem, I would also learn other useful aspects of the Japanese language and a glimpse of the culture as well. I wanted to hear it while I studied, and found answers via my new twitter friend Charelle Collett (@Charcol1900)

Here’s someone singing it in a child-like ABCs — no idea what the words on the right are, but this is the very clear to follow along and practice reading while hearing the characters pronounced:

and here’s Hatsune Miku (Vocal software) singing it:

This second one is really interesting since it also shows the evolution of early Japanese script into modern Hiragana and then shows some more variants — here’s some detail on the first three.

  1. Man’yōgana: an ancient writing system that employs Chinese characters to represent the Japanese language
  2. Chinese Cursive Script from which Hiragana evolved
  3. Modern Hiragana

The project I’m working on, Midas Innovation Toolkit, was developed in the open from day one. It started as a Presidential Innovation Fellows project, sponsored by the US Department of State.

Both the State Dept and Health and Human Services (HHS) are actively working to pilot the software within each agency to foster collaboration within different target communities. Developers at each agency are leveraging each other’s efforts by submitting changes (via pull requests) to a common shared codebase (hosted on github).

It’s exciting to see this cross-agency collaboration through open source. The software is designed to help agency employees collaborate across team boundaries, and it’s wonderful that we’re doing that with the software itself using the entirely different mechanisms of open source.

I’m relatively new to the project and still learning about it myself, but would welcome volunteer contributions — or feedback on how to make the project more welcoming to people who want to help. It uses Nodejs and Sails with Backbone on the front end, and we’ve just started writing some Chef recipes for automated deployment. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit in the github issues list.

Would love to hear what you think about this project specifically or government open source in general!

As a developer and a citizen, I am excited about open source in the US Government. I recently joined 18F, a new digital services delivery team within the federal government, part of our General Services Administration (GSA). Last week, we announced our open source policy where our source code is developed in the open from day one as public domain (CCO).

As a citizen, I believe open source makes best use of our tax dollars:

  • Leveraging open source tools & libraries is not just about saving licensing costs, it saves time. We can evaluate a library or tool by actually using it, without up-front analysis and a time-consuming procurement process.
  • New contractors can pick up a project easily, which will drive competition and reduce switching costs.
  • Different agencies in federal, state and local governments can easily leverage each other’s code through coder social networks like github. This happened recently with the 18F Answers platform, based on Honolulu Answers, developed by Code for America, and now being leveraged to improve the immigration experience (USCIS).

As a developer, open source encourages me to apply best practices: effectively communicating the impact of the code I write making choices that will yield high quality, secure code, and embracing volunteer contributions that are aligned with the project’s mission.

On a personal level, it is an amazing professional development opportunity. A long time ago, a conversation with Rob Savoy, forever changed how I thought about the personal impact of developing open source software. He said that, with rare exception, all the code he had written was available to him in any future project. Imagine if that were true for me… if the source code of After Effects, Flash video, and Shockwave (or their open source equivalents in a parallel universe) were available on my next project.

This is even more compelling for the now-defunct proprietary software I’ve create. Adobe ScreenReady turned any document into a high quality image with anti-aliasing and alpha channel (turning the “paper” into transparency). PACo/QuickPICS enabled long-format synchronized audio-video off CD-ROM (which at that time had a comparable bandwidth to a 14.4 modem). Both these products didn’t make sense to continue from a business perspective, but had passionate customers and could have evolved into powerful tools or libraries accelerating innovation in both private and public sectors.

At 18F the software we develop is for the people and by the people. Open source gives us a firm foundation to make a lasting impact for our country and for the world.