Clay Johnson

Chairman of DOBT.CO and author of The Information Diet.

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 30, 2015


Clay Johnson@cjoh · Chairman,
Hi! I'm Clay Johnson, the co-founder of Screendoor. Prior to starting Screendoor, I was a Presidential Innovation Fellow at the White House, author of The Information Diet and founder of Blue State Digital -- the company that build the technology behind the Obama 08 campaign. I'm the chairman of the Chattahoochee Hills Charter School board, and I also used to wait tables at Waffle House in Atlanta. If you pay attention, you can probably hear me screaming at government websites for being so terrible. Ask me anything!
Nikita Bier@nikitabier
@cjoh I've heard you can make a world-class Thanksgiving turkey. Is it true?
Clay Johnson@cjoh · Chairman,
@nikitabier You wouldn't believe it. Last thanksgiving I smoked a turkey in a woven blanket of bacon. The key is sourcing your turkey. Lots of people want you to get a heritage organic grass fed nonsense turkey. And I'm sure they're good. But Empire Kosher makes a great turkey and you can pick it up in the grocery store. One thing about these turkeys, though, is that they've usually got some feathers still on 'em. So after you thaw them, make sure to give it a once over. Roasted feather is super gross. Thaw your turkey in the fridge for about 2 days, then take it out and put it in brine for another day. Your brine concoction should be one cup salt to one gallon of water. There are brine kits that have all kinds of other bullshit in them, but at the end of the day what you want is salt, and water. Nothing else is going to make it into your turkey or flavor the turkey considerably at this phase. Grab an aluminum roasting pan and cut russet and sweet potatoes in half. Line the bottom of the pan with that. Thickly slice some onions and create another layer on top of the potatoes. This is your roasting pan. Don't worry about those weird trays they sell in the high end stores. Next, cut up a stick of butter into half-tablespoons (precision doesn't matter here) and take that butter and stick it *under* the breast skin of the turkey. You might need a butter knife to separate the skin a bit. Be careful, don't tear the skin. Grab your favorite rub, douse your turkey with it. Put it in your roasting pan, and then stick it in your smoker (anything from a pricey big green egg to a webber grill with some indirect heat) for an hour and a half at 350-400. Next, go weave yourself some bacon blankets. Youtube how to do it. After 60-90 minutes, take your bacon blanket and toss it on the turkey. This does two things: it cooks you bacon, and the rendered fat *bastes* the turkey as you go! Neat huh? Now you're just aiming for an internal temp of 165. Stop there and let that sucker rest for a little while (20 minutes or so). Also, if the bacon starts to burn, put some foil on the top. save some for me!
Clay Johnson@cjoh · Chairman,
Seriously not a single Waffle House question so far? I thought that would be a winner! Too many West coasters in the demo.
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
@cjoh What's the biggest misconception people have about gov't and tech? Furthermore, what do you want people in tech to know about gov't?
Clay Johnson@cjoh · Chairman,
@andrewmettinger I think the biggest misconception people have is that it's impact is limited to "poor user experience" -- it isn't. When government cannot deliver services well, it's not a technical problem or a user experience problem, it's a social problem. This isn't one of those wonky edge-case issues: if government cannot use technology, and use it well, then government isn't really going to be able to exist. Here's a simple example: let's say that High Frequency Algorithmic Trading is solely about buying up as many CPU cycles as possible. Last I heard, 60% of the market was traded by algorithm [citation needed] How can government regulators regulate financial markets if they're at least 18 months behind the market in terms of technology purchasing? Or more on point: veterans are literally dying because we cannot get their EHR records from the DoD into the VA fast enough. This is unacceptable. We can do better. So that's what I want people in tech to understand in government. That with your help, we can do better.
Clay Johnson@cjoh · Chairman,
@andrewmettinger Another thing -- and this relates to both the Information Diet and my civic work: *please start local*. Let me tell you from experience having both worked in the White House and in a public elementary school: you will be more impactful and help more people and feel more rewarded if you show up with your skills to an elementary school and say "how can I help." Yes, the national stuff is sexy. But it's also largely a fuction of getting dollars out of the treasury and into on-the-ground problem-solving. So why not start on-the-ground?
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
Hi Clay! Great to have you here. Who are some of your other favorite thinkers in the space? Who's someone you disagree with?
Clay Johnson@cjoh · Chairman,
@jacqvon I tend to disagree a lot with the Federal civic tech crew. Nothing against them, they're doing great work, but I don't believe the USDS/18F thing that they're doing (hiring a bunch of smart people to work inside of government) will work particularly well in isolation, and would like to see a lot of stronger movement on revamping the contractor ecosystem. So if you're looking for people in particular that I disagree with, I'd say the leaders of those organizations right now. Why? Because by any back of the napkin calculation, we're talking about a quarter million people that contract in Federal IT. Hire all the people you want, Congress isn't going to appropriate enough money to keep up with a quarter million people. So we have to shift the way government contracts out in order to solve these problems. The answer to that isn't to hire a bunch of smart people and let them loose. The result there is what you've seen: beautiful websites and sophisticated technology that solve no problems. I'd rather see us revamp the front page of to make it so new players can enter the market, increase competition, and create a shift in the quality of available talent for government. In other words: *yes* it's important to have great talent on the inside of government. But if you don't *also* work to change the contracting infrastructure, you're basically just ants trying to move a mountain. I think the feds are giving themselves a nice pat on the back for getting tech superstars to go work in government, and not going far enough in solving the real underlying, bottom-of-the-stack problems.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@cjoh What's the biggest misconception people have about their reading/information consuming habits?
Clay Johnson@cjoh · Chairman,
@bentossell Just like with food, it's that it has anything to do with quantity. People seem to think they're doing a good job on an information diet by "quitting social media" or taking an iPhone break. Ask anybody that's lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off for any period of time, and they'll tell you that for them it was about a shift in mindset. It's not about fasting, it's about shifting your relationship with information and developing healthier habits. Everything in the Information Diet is common sense, not rocket science: stay local, make the information you consume actionable and relevant to you, and try to be ethical about it. Read. Not too much. Mostly facts.
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Clay! Welcome. As it relates to The Information Diet, what information would you like to remove from your daily diet?
Clay Johnson@cjoh · Chairman,
@rrhoover Really good question. I've only recently taken my own advice from the Information Diet to focus more on local issues and let that percolate up to national ones. That's why I decided to join my local school board, and lead a public school in an area of the country (South Fulton, GA) that's typically been deprived of quality education. If I could subtract something out of my information diet, frankly, it'd probably be test scores. Even though our test scores are out of this world for our region, I find that when you get excited about the numbers, you stop getting excited about the mission: the hearts and minds of our 363 children. But a charter is a charter, and public schools be public schools. Can't ignore the tests :)
Jeff Umbro@jeffumbro · CEO of The podglomerate
Hi @cjoh - two questions: 1) What do you propose to fixing the bureaucracy behind Government websites - and how can a web developer fix an issue that has made it's way across every facet of government? 2) what campaigns are you working on for the 2016 election?
Clay Johnson@cjoh · Chairman,
@jeffumbro Hi Jeff I'm going to try and answer both your questions at the same time. The first thing you can do is keep your eye on the ball. The mess that we're in is because of us. We (the american electorate) *suck* at hiring people. We tend to suck at it because of the way our electoral process is framed by media. We are trained (from when we're school aged) that we should vote for someone that we agree with the most. Imagine if you hired someone at your company like that. Not based on competency, not based on experience, not based on work ethic but based on whether you agree with them the most. Would you get a single investor if you told them that you were going to exclusively hire people who owned guns? Would you build a sports franchise based on whether or not the whole team was pro-life? That's how we hire people to represent and govern us in Washington, and it's insane. And it's hard to get out of that because it's literally all the information we're provided. Fortunately there's a lot more data out there about our political candidates than what the media provides. I'd say let's look towards that (how many bills has your legislator sponsored? How many have made it through Congress? What were they? How well is their office managed? Who likes working for them?) and a little less towards whether or not you agree with someone. And I said it before and I'll say it again: START LOCAL. As local as you can get it. Whether it be your homeowners association, your civic association, or your town. Show up and see what happens. You can do it and you'll usually be welcome with opened arms.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Hey Clay! 1) Who are some authors/thinkers who have most inspired you? 2) Tell us how and when you knew you had to write this book.
Clay Johnson@cjoh · Chairman,
@eriktorenberg I knew I had to write the book when I saw a sign in front of the White House that said "keep your government hands off my medicare" Obviously that's crazy. But it got me thinking that all this open data stuff doesn't much matter if people choose to hear affirmation over information. That they'd rather be right than informed. I mean who wants to hear the truth when they can hear that they're right? Affirmation is the biggest drug that we have in an attention economy. Big thinkers in the field? I have a hard time not mentioning Jake Brewer. Jake worked on the same stuff that I did, but did so without ever getting cynical. That seems crazy to me. Mad props to him. Waldo Jaquith, head of US Open Data, is also a big deal and a great thinker in this field, as is Carl Malamud. I hope both of them continue being radicals and working to change the system, collaboratively and antagonistically if possible
Fevi Yu@feviyu · Founder & Chief Pet Sitter,
Hi @cjoh thank you for doing this AMA. I am particularly interested in your work with the WH. I have been trying to pet sit for Bo and Sunny Obama. I wrote a letter to the president ( sent it both electronically and snail mail as well as tweeting everyone in the WH. I have no connections to make an introduction. Whats the best advice you can give me to make this happen? Thanks :-)
Clay Johnson@cjoh · Chairman,
@feviyu For lack of better options, I'd say: START LOCAL! :)