Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Meanwhile, in the echo chamber

Haven’t seen one positive comment about Schwarzenegger’s speech over at the Daily Kos open thread.

Schwarzenegger's Barack moment

Over at Daily Kos, there’s some guessing going on as to why rumors are flying about Mitt Romney’s speech tomorrow night. Some speculate that it’s simply to build buzz prior to the speech, in an attempt to generate similar reactions to Barack’s speech. And after reading this comment I think it neatly sums up why I think we just saw our Barack moment of the RNC. Here’s how John Campanelli sums up what Barack’s speech meant:

  • It articulated and encapsulated the vision and philosophy of the Democratic Party.

  • It inspired by appealing to the better angels of our nature.

  • It brilliantly celebrated both the commonality and differences among us.

Schwarzenegger made a convincing play for the middle when he laid out what Republicans are about: fiscal responsibility, free enterprise, government accountability. (That the Bush Administration has come up short on these criteria is conveniently overlooked.) He spoke glowingly of the American Dream, appealing (in a different way) to the same “United States of America” that Barack did. And he talked directly to what unites the country, while at the same time celebrating our differences.

For those that love political rhetoric, regardless of your political persuasion, there’s no denying that he gave a great speech. Of course, when you dig beneath the surface you’ll see that Schwarzenegger spoke admiringly of the Republican Party of old. It bears little resemblance to George Bush’s Republican Party. But that distinction will be lost on the majority of people who watched. What they heard was a brilliant speech, delivered expertly by a very capable politician who stood up for his president.

Coupled with rumors of a shake-up coming at Kerry/Edwards, I think Bush will see a nice bounce out of this week. And I’d say Bush owes Schwarzenegger big time.

Schwarzenegger at the Convention

Wow. I was really underwhelmed with last night’s speeches. McCain’s reads quite strong, but his delivery was weak. Giuliani needs a better speech writer if he really wants to make a play for the bigtime, and his delivery was dispassionate, devoid of the awe and enormous respect he commanded in the wake of 9/11.

Schwarzenegger on the other hand, just gave a speech every bit as good as Obama’s. He gave a tremendous speech, offering up examples of how you know if you’re a Republican, with statements geared to easy conclusions. (He came close to crossing into Jeff Foxworthy’s Rhetoric for Dummies, but fortunately avoided, “You know you’re a Republican if…” Come to think of it, that would be a fun fill in the blank game…)

He had fire in the belly, and spoke from the heart. He was unabashedly partisan, taking shots at John Edwards’ “Two Americas”, and at the economic “girlie men” who think the economy isn’t strong. (Sure, the Census Department just released figures showing 1.3 million more people slipped into poverty, and more people are uninsured, but why let facts get in the way of the fact that the speech worked.) Like Reagan, he was able to speak in big, broad themes. He poked fun at himself. He showed ease in front of the crowd, and a mastery of the well-timed pause.

In short, he nailed it.

And then, the Bush twins. Oof. I’ll bet the Cross guys liked ‘em. But I doubt that was really ever in doubt. Swing voters, on the other hand, probably don’t want to hear two 22 year-olds making fun of married people who have sex but never talk about it.

Disney's Social Software Service: Magical Gatherings

Color me a bit surprised. My parents are planning a big family get-together next spring at Disney; it will be their first chance to get all four grandkids together in over a year. After a few e-mails back and forth about some details (dates, location), I got an e-mail from Dad inviting me to download Disney’s Magical Gatherings “planner” software. Once downloaded, it’s a fully-featured social software application for families to plan their vacation.

The main features are group e-mail (to specific people or to the whole group), voting, personal and shared bookmarks (within the disney.com domain), notes (groupwide and private) and shared browsing with a chat window. The application also tells you when other group members are online, and has a calendar that includes (among other things) a countdown of how many days until your vacation.

It’s a nice example of an application add-on to a website; it relies on your Disney login (I had forgotten, but had an old Starwave account from the early ESPN days that Disney, to their credit, still had in the system) to activate, and uses a unique ID for your group vacation (which makes calling the Disney operators that much easier and more efficient). While browsing the Disney websites, you can always click “add to my favorites” — and the site will now be bookmarked in your planner (and shared with the group). As you discuss restaurants, places to stay, and rides that might be of interest, it streamlines the process to ensure everyone has the same stuff in front of them.

It even periodically pings the site, and Tinkerbell’s lantern will glow in your system tray if you have new info.

The benefits for Disney? Great demographic data: how large are the families planning the vacations? The market research must be fascinating: after years of getting one phone call to book a room and maybe some follow-up calls to schedule specific details, now they get to watch a vacation grow organically as decisions are made by a group. They can start to see how different ideas are floated to the group, then decided on. It helps them see which sections of their site are most useful, and how they get browsed.

One thing they should add: a button that connects you to a chat window with a Disney representative. The woman I spoke with on the phone yesterday was wonderful, but there’s no reason our conversation couldn’t have happened online. The benefit to me? I’m already in the Disney application; a chat conversation could be archived for future reference (“What was that restaurant they recommended?”) and optionally shared with others in the group.

All in all, a very interesting extension of the social software concept tied to a particular goal. It reinforces something we feel strongly about at Socialtext: if you have a specific goal in mind, you (and others in the group) are far more likely to be successful using the software. In this case we are a motivated circle of users, looking forward to what should be a fun vacation.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Judy Baar Topinka

Judy, Judy, Judy. Brian Sebby just IM’d me from a restaurant where they had the TV tuned to WGN. They were interviewing IL State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, who was asked about, what else? Alan Keyes.

She noted that Keyes wasn’t her “first choice”, that she hadn’t yet seen him in New York, and that he hasn’t done anything with the party. Wait, it gets better: “He’s one of those candidates where it’s all about him.”

This is strikingly similar to this quote from Topinka in today’s Tribune:

“He has his own agenda. He doesn’t necessarily work within the confines of the Illinois Republican Party,” she said. “So, we really don’t know what Mr. Keyes is doing, when, until he alerts us. He lets us know—when he feels so moved to let us know—where he is.

“I don’t know if it’s a good thing,” for the party, she added. “It certainly seems to be his way.”

(Don’t forget, she’s the party chairwoman.) Oh – and if you haven’t watched Keyes demonstrate what “his way” really is, you should. Holy insanity, Batman.

In case you’re wondering why the highest elected official in the Illinois GOP (and its chairwoman) is distancing herself from this political dirty bomb, she’s stepping down as the party chair, and she’s probably laying the groundwork for a run against Governor Blagojevich in 2006. Who knows, maybe Keyes will challenge her for the seat? He’ll have lived in Calumet City for almost two whole years by that point!

Quotes of the day

Courtesy of PoliticalWire come these gems:

In an interview with Time magazine, President Bush declared the war in Iraq a “catastrophic success.”

Sen. John Edwards responds in the Washington Post: “I, like most Americans, have no idea what that means.”

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Starved Rock and Geocaching

Days don’t get much better than this. After a lazy morning (thanks to a way-too-late night with the Cutlers eating fondue and drinking too much), we threw the kids in the car and set out for Goose Lake Prairie State Park, mainly because it was within an hour of the house and the weather was perfect (70 and mostly sunny).

After an hour hike on one of their trails with my four year-old, we got back in the car for a leisurely drive back home. Then a strange thing happened: as we worked our way north to the highway, we saw a sign that said we were just 10 miles from Starved Rock. We’d heard a few friends mention Starved Rock but didn’t know anything about it. Why not?

Are you kidding me? Look at these photos — that’s not Illinois, that’s California! 18 canyons, 13 miles of trails, a gorgeous campground with wooded lots… if you thought we were obnoxious about how much we loved Illinois before, well, now we’re going to be pretty much unbearable.

Starved Rock is a state park that also has a phenomenal lodge on the grounds. The lodge includes 20+ year-round cabins, as well as 70+ rooms in the lodge itself. For the first time since we moved here, we actually experienced elevation!! Even better, it was elevation in a forest! (Trust me, as nice as Illinois has been, you can get spoiled camping on the valley floor at Yosemite and hiking the Summit Trail. Illinois, by comparison, is flat. And pretty much tree-less.)

We’re already planning trips back to Starved Rock — if we’re lucky, we’ll get at least one camping weekend in before it gets too cool.

Was also interested to see a link to letterboxing at the Starved Rock site; it’s similar to Geocaching. It occurred to me that Geocaching might just be the ideal hobby for us — we love the outdoors, the kids love maps, and it’s a great way to see the surrounding area. (It doesn’t hurt that it satisfies my technology fetish as well.) Anyone have any recommendations for gear, getting started tips, etc.?

Rogue policy group at Pentagon

And here’s the other shoe dropping. Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Glastris reveal that the real issue here was not just the hand-off of confidential policy information to Israel, but a much more serious rogue policy operation within the Pentagon that created an unauthorized back-channel to Iranian dissidents.

On Friday evening, CBS News reported that the FBI is investigating a suspected mole in the Department of Defense who allegedly passed to Israel, via a pro-Israeli lobbying organization, classified American intelligence about Iran. The focus of the investigation, according to U.S. government officials, is Larry Franklin, a veteran Defense Intelligence Agency Iran analyst now working in the office of the Pentagon’s number three civilian official, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith.

The investigation of Franklin is now shining a bright light on a shadowy struggle within the Bush administration over the direction of U.S. policy toward Iran. In particular, the FBI is looking with renewed interest at an unauthorized back-channel between Iranian dissidents and advisers in Feith’s office, which more-senior administration officials first tried in vain to shut down and then later attempted to cover up.

Read the whole article.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Various sources name Larry Franklin

Several sources are naming the individual under investigation as an Israeli spy as Larry Franklin, though CNN states that “more than one government employee is under investigation.”

More on the alleged spy

War and Piece, Laura Rozen’s blog, has the complete update. Turns out that she, Josh Marshall and Paul Glastris have been on this story for quite some time, and have details not previously disclosed on the matter. Read Laura’s update, and keep an eye on the site. As she says towards the end, there’s clearly more than is out right now, and we’ll likely be hearing a lot more.

One thing appears certain: the original leak of damaging info on Chalabi, now this. If this is politically motivated, someone inside the Bush Administration is playing hardball to get rid of Perle, Feith and Wolfowitz.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Israeli spy with ties to Feith, Wolfowitz?

CBS News is reporting:

CBS News has learned that the FBI has a full-fledged espionage investigation under way and is about to — in FBI terminology — “roll up” someone agents believe has been spying not for an enemy, but for Israel from within the office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon. …

CBS sources say that last year the suspected spy, described as a trusted analyst at the Pentagon, turned over a presidential directive on U.S. policy toward Iran while it was, “in the draft phase when U.S. policy-makers were still debating the policy.”

This put the Israelis, according to one source, “inside the decision-making loop” so they could “try to influence the outcome.”

The case raises another concern among investigators: Did Israel also use the analyst to try to influence U.S. policy on the war in Iraq?

With ties to top Pentagon officials Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, the analyst was assigned to a unit within the Defense Department tasked with helping develop the Pentagon’s Iraq policy.

This so royally screws up everything we’re doing in Iraq in so many different ways that it’s hard to count them all.

Coleman & Weinstein

Another new advertiser, a law firm! Welcome to Coleman & Weinstein, a law firm who’s been advertising on blogs for some time. (I still love their original ad, whose tag line, “Speak Yiddish, Dress British”, is one of the funniest I’ve seen.)

Named partner Ron Coleman is known for, among other things, his Internet savvy — last year, he defended a blogger who was in the NY Times’s cross-hairs for publishing a parody of the nytimes.com site.

WP's Best Blogs

In a shameless attempt to boost their traffic, the Washington Post has encouraged us to shamelessly promote our own sites:

So… swing on over to the Washington Post and nominate this site, or any of the other fine sites out there.

In the immortal words of Bartles and Jaymes, thank you for your support…

Thursday, August 26, 2004

New advertiser - Bob Hertzberg

Take a look at Bob Hertzberg’s site at changeLA.com. Bob is running for mayor of Los Angeles, and has a blog to which he and his staff contribute.

The race is interesting — the election isn’t until March, the current mayor has already indicated he won’t attend the first scheduled debate, and there’s a federal investigation underway of the mayor’s office. Give Bob a look.

Amazon removed JD Lasica's review?

No sooner do I praise Amazon that I read this report that they removed JD’s review of Dan Gillmor’s We the Media for inexplicable reasons.

Easy come, easy go.

Gmail invite-o-rama

OK, gang… Google has bestowed on me another 5 10 Gmail invites. Send me an e-mail with some indication that you’re a regular reader and I’ll send you an invite.

First come, first served.

No wagering.

Update: Google just upped my supply. And demand has been rather light thus far. So let me know if you want a Gmail account (1 gig free disk space) and I’ll set you up.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

James R. Wasser at DuPage Democrats meeting

John Kerry’s second in command in Viet Nam on PCF-44, spoke at tonight’s DuPage Democrats meeting. Wasser was one of the 13 men who fought alongside Kerry in Viet Nam who was on the podium with Kerry at the Democratic National Convention last month, and talked for over an hour about his impressions of Senator Kerry.

Wasser is not a polished politician, which in tonight’s case was a good thing. Rather than coming off as a slick, packaged spokesman, Wasser came across as the real deal: a union electrician from Kankakee, Illinois, who feels that to stand alongside John Kerry now is to stand alongside a fellow veteran and soldier he stood with over 35 years ago.

He’s apparently gone toe to toe with a number of the Swift Boat Vets for Truth, on Hannity and Colmes, Fox & Friends, and other shows. It would be fun to see him in those arenas, as I have a feeling his conviction and straightforward approach present well.

What struck me most was how personally he took the SBVFT claims. “When they attack his purple hearts, when they claim there was no enemy fire, they’re questioning my reputation and those of my men. That hurts.” He admitted to being angry when he saw Kerry testify before Congress in 1971, only to later realize (he said it was around 1974) that Kerry was right, and that he later respected Kerry for doing what he did. Today, he says, “If John Kerry walked through that door and said we had one mission left to fight, I’d follow him into hell. And I wouldn’t be alone.”

It will be interesting to see how tomorrow’s press reports on the story; Katie Foutz of the Naperville Sun was there, and WGN-TV televised the meeting. I think if they were looking for controversy, they’ll focus on his strong statements regarding the SBVFT; in one breath he’d say he doesn’t speak ill of other vets, only to then call John O’Neill a liar. (Wait a minute, this just in: that part’s true.)

Anyway, if they were looking for tales of bravery under fire, Wasser provided several. If they were looking for whether Wasser was the real deal, speaking from the heart about a man he clearly admires, they got that. We’ll see.

The room was pretty packed:

(Taken from my Motorola V600 camera phone.)

I respect all who serve our country honorably. By all accounts, Wasser is one of those men. It’s not often that you get to hear them speak of their experiences, and some of his very frank stories about “Charlie” surprised some in the audience, but spoke of bravery, and fear, and luck, and honor. I’m glad I went.

Update: Naperville Sun article here and Naperville Daily Herald article here.

More on astroturf

“Astroturfing” is nothing new. There have been plenty of stories about letter campaigns to newspapers that were clearly pre-written by interested parties. However, as the political season heats up, the practice is apparently increasing rapidly and upsetting plenty of editors, who don’t quite know what to do about it. Of course, as the first article notes, most of the astroturfing campaigns seem to come from just a few sites. Considering the number of tools out there for teachers to catch plagiarism by searching online, you would figure it wouldn’t be that difficult to set up a similar offering to catch astroturfing. Still, some argue that the angry reaction from editors over astroturfing is blowing the situation out of proportion. The people who cut-and-paste are still making their opinions known, even if they’re not really exactly their own opinions — and some believe that’s worthwhile, as cutting-and-pasting is more action than no action at all. [Techdirt]

OK, OK. I’m going to follow up on the astroturf issue. Really. Stay tuned.

Caption contest

Haven’t done a caption contest in a long time. This one struck me as amusing for some reason.

Photo by Reuters.

Leave your caption in the comments.

Corporate voices and online communication strategy

Erik notes that he received some e-mail from eBay recently that got flagged as spam, for a variety of reasons. Implementing a fix should be relatively simple, if eBay finds out about the problem.

As Erik writes:

Naturally, I tried to contact Ebay about this problem, as I assume they don’t want their email looking like spam. But Ebay makes it really hard to send them email. You have to send them email from their website and choose a pre-defined topic, but the topic of my email didn’t fit into one of their pre-defined categories, so I chose “Report fake eBay emails (spoofs) and unauthorized account activity.”

Ebay did reply, but it was a canned reply that did not address the subject I had written about. Lovely.

I’m a big fan of eBay, and generally think that they have done a terrific job of thinking things through… back in April when I listed a number of DVDs on eBay, I was impressed with some significant improvements they’d made to their listing process.

But Erik points out what is an important element of customer service, one I think is often overlooked with companies who operate online. Specifically, the need to provide humans on the other end of an e-mail address. At Socialtext, we get hundreds of requests a month for free trials, and I respond to every one. I hadn’t thought of my non-form e-mails as a big deal, until one prospect specifically pointed out that our “personal” e-mails were a welcome exception to the canned spam he received from other companies.

The gold standard here is Amazon.com; a simple feedback form is provided (though Erik dislikes having to use eBay’s web form, I actually think routing customer communications through a common interface is OK, and it should result in a more appropriate targeting of a response) and I’ve always heard back from Amazon.com within two hours, often within 30 minutes. When I hear back from them, I don’t get a generic reply, but one obviously typed by someone who’d read my original note. In one case it took a series of e-mails to resolve the issue — and it was obvious at each stage that the person on the other end was reading my comments and responding appropriately.

As comfortable as I am with the technology (I realized the other day that this is my fifteenth year online), I’ve often been reluctant to use e-mail when corresponding with corporations. E-mail can be great for corresponding with people, but sending a message into a nameless, faceless organization is a leap of faith that is often not met with success. Amazon.com got me over the hurdle, and for me sets the standard by which other companies should operate.

Developing an identity in this way is similar to how businesses can use blogs, by the way. Give your company a voice, give it a face, and above all, make it distinctive. The benefits are real, and customers will appreciate it. Scoble has done wonderful things in personalizing Microsoft (as have the hundreds of other Microsoft bloggers), and Jonathan Schwartz’s blog (he’s Sun’s COO) is another great example of corporate personality (I smiled at Schwartz’s admiration of Carly Fiorina’s “titanium spine”).

As for the larger strategy? People have relationships with individuals, not businesses. (Consumer brand loyalty notwithstanding, loyalty to people is far stronger than loyalty to brands.) As the software market starts to commoditize, one defense for companies who want to succeed is to develop and sustain those identities. The individuals become representative of the whole; the company’s values become obvious, and help customers decide which companies to do business with.

This started out with a simple observation about mal-formed e-mail headers, but got me thinking about how companies communicate with customers (and vice versa). Amazon.com has shown me that its customers’ opinions matter. Microsoft and Sun, in their own way, are showing me how they think (and therefore demonstrating what they think matters).

Would that the current election worked on the same model. One step at a time.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Jabra bluetooth headset on its way

One of the reasons I bought my Motorola V600 (note: now $49.99 with rebates!) a few months ago was its Bluetooth capabilities. In particular, I planned to get a Bluetooth headset so that I’d have a wireless earpiece for the phone; friends had raved about them and I figured it would be a nice addition. (If I decide to switch back to Outlook for e-mail, I’ll also use the Bluetooth sync with my PC to get my contacts and calendar on the phone.)

I just ordered the Jabra BT250 earpiece, which should be here in a couple days. An upgrade from the 200 model, it apparently holds its charge for nearly 8 hours — which will make it a very capable complement to the phone. I’m looking forward to it.

One question: does anyone know of an adapter that will let me use the adapter on a traditional landline? I have an AT&T speakerphone that has a headset jack — seems to me that an adapter that would talk to the Bluetooth headset and plugin to the landline would be a nice addition, and would make the headset that much more useful.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Socialtext closes Series A Round

I’m very excited to announce we closed our series A round of funding today with a mix of prior investors and new investors (most notably, Omidyar Network, the company founded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar).

Special congrats to Ross who worked tirelessly to make this happen, in addition to his normal CEO duties like, oh, running the business, closing deals and making the company a fun place to work.

Stay tuned!

A preview of the next two months

This whole swift boat thing is getting goofy. It reminds me of the Bush camp’s use of Hitler in one of their web-only ads a couple months ago.

Somehow, this election promises not to be about ideas, but about who can be more outraged at the other side’s outrage, and who can get John McCain to be on their side first. Sheesh.

I’m beginning to think that the JibJab parody of the campaign season would be a step up in quality of discourse.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Handy Backup - backup made simple

Last month, Erik gave me a hard time about my utter failure at back-up, and concluded by saying that “I hope to convince Rick to back up his data.”

I’m happy to report that I’m now backing up my entire hard drive on a regular basis, and it couldn’t be simpler. In the past, I’d passed on online backup solutions, because the prospect of paying what amounted to “insurance” (pay a set fee per month in the hopes that you never need to use it) seemed like a situation I’d rather avoid. Furthermore, I didn’t want to put my faith in a service that might disappear tomorrow; a few years back I used a couple online file storage sites (akin to web-based hard drives) which vanished unexpectedly (with no prospect of rescuing the files I’d stored).

In any event, I’d seen a couple positive reviews of Handy Backup, a tiny program you run on your PC. After just a couple weeks, I’m hooked.

Here’s what Handy Backup lets me do:

  • schedule backups of selected files/folders, to run whenever I want (I have /My Documents backing up nightly, at 3am)

  • synchronize folders across our home network (so I can mirror my documents and my wife’s, so that we always have two copies of everything)

  • store copies of my backups remotely (in my case, using unused disk space at my personal domain) via FTP (currently it uploads a 80 megabyte backup file nightly at 4:30am)

There’s more that Handy Backup can do, but this alone has created a remarkably robust backup solution for me (and my wife) — all for $30. How can you beat that?

Friday, August 20, 2004

Hyde just wants some dignity

From an observer at the dedication of the Hyde Atrium at Midwestern University earlier comes this gem from Henry Hyde: “When I first entered Congress I wanted to change the world, now I want to be able to walk out of the room with dignity.”

Come on folks, give Henry the dignity he obviously wants. Let him retire. Chip in a few bucks for Christine Cegelis.

(BTW – Rumor has it he’s accepted a debate invite.)

State Republicans on Keyes

I think it’s safe to say they’re definitely not lining up behind Keyes. In today’s Pantagraph (from Bloomington-Normal) was this report chock full o’ good quotes about what Republicans are saying about their candidate:

  • “I’ve got some people who are not real happy that he is from out of state,” said state Sen. Dan Rutherford, a Chenoa Republican. “My response is that it’s done and that we have to move on.”

  • “I know that there are those who are disturbed by the fact that he’s not from Illinois,” added McLean County Republican Party Chairman Mike O’Grady of Hudson. “He’s ultra-conservative. There’s not a lot of room for the moderates in there. That will be a struggle in some cases,” added O’Grady.

  • State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, said, “Obviously the difficulty is that he is not a resident of Illinois.”

  • “A lot of the mainline Republicans in our area would like to have seen somebody who isn’t so far right,” said state Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria. “We’re going to support Alan Keyes and hope for the best.”

  • Former U.S. Senate candidate Jim Durkin, a Westchester Republican who lost to incumbent Democrat Dick Durbin in 2002: “I hope he listens more and talks about issues that are going to unite the party instead of divide the party.”

I’m submitting this in the hopes that the sheer quantity of quotes overwhelms Josh in his quest to find the weakest endorsement of Keyes by a state Republican.

Government, charity and entitlement

While catching up over at Texas Rainmaker, I found this thread a pretty compelling deconstruction of the traditional liberal vs. conservative argument on social programs.

I’ll be gathering my own thoughts on this subject soon. But Jason’s original comments, coupled with the back and forth in his comments, is a good start.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Hedge Fund Mistress

Interesting… PoliticalWire reports that a former girlfriend of John Kerry’s has decided to take down her virtual scrapbook after receiving hundreds of hate e-mails from both Democrats and Republicans.

Someone should explain the Google cache to her.

Kinda makes you wonder what a Teresa blog would look like…

Update: Google’s cache now shows the deleted page as well… Oh well. I can confirm that the stuff was not controversial. Weird and a little spooky. But not controversial.

Blogger, ATOM and FeedBurner

I just got a heads-up that UserLand is beta-testing Atom 0.3 support for the Radio/Manila aggregator. This is a huge deal, because there are quite a few RNC feeds that are from Blogger sites, and they only have Atom feeds, and the authors don’t understand why we can’t process them. Now, hopefully, we can. [ Scripting News ]

While strictly speaking Dave is right (Blogger does only provide ATOM feeds from its sites), it’s not really a big deal. FeedBurner’s SmartFeed will convert your Blogger ATOM feed into any flavor of RSS that you want. So Blogger users would be well served to sign up for a free FeedBurner account, and point to their FeedBurner feed instead of their ATOM feed. ATOM readers will handle the switch fine, but it will also expose the feed to countless other aggregators that may not support ATOM.

FeedBurner has a lot of other cool tricks which I’ll be documenting in the next couple days.

Iraq official confirms Iran infiltration

Last week I noted that This is Rumor Control was reporting rumors of Iranian money and weapons finding their way into Iraq, an Iranian strategy to bloody the U.S. ahead of any U.S. invasion of Iran.

Today, TiRC is confirming that story:

The Interior Ministry said that it would release a videotape of the arms, which showed the Iranian weapons. The video was released, as promised, on August 15 — and showed arms in boxes with Farsi markings on them. A public photograph on the website of the Multi-National Force-Iraq also seemed to confirm the confiscations. “There were Farsi language marks on the boxes containing the arms and heavy machine guns laid out on the floor with serial numbers on the sides of the guns,” a reporter on-the-scene told This Is Rumor Control.

Here we go…

Eric Zorn's blog turns one

Eric Zorn notes today that his blog experiment is one year old and reflects on what he’s learned. It’s a great write-up from an established journalist who’s not only glad he did it, he’s cutting out his Sunday column in the Chicago Tribune in part to spend more time on his blog.

And in a related development I meant to write about when it happened, famed newspaper man Jack Mabley retired from his daily columns last month and opened up a shingle on the Internet. You can find Jack’s weblog here, and a nice write-up of his transition from columnist to blogger by none other than Eric Zorn here.

Obama blog hand-off

By the way, since a few have asked: I’ve turned over maintenance of the Obama blog to the campaign; my job was to help get it off the ground. Now that Barack has an opponent (and what an opponent he is!), the campaign should start to use the blog as an integral part of its overall communication strategy. Better to have people inside the campaign posting than to have someone on the outside doing it.

Best of luck to the team as they take the baton from here.

Multiply this!

Too good to pass up:

The feature I’d most like to see in any new social network: Import from some other social network. Get me out of the middle of re-re-re-re-confirming that I am so-and-so’s dear friend.

These social networks in my experience continue to be all maintenance and no value. [ Joho the Blog ]

Now, I’ll agree in part: when Multiply invitations started, well, multiplying in my inbox last week, my first reaction was an overwhelming sense of dread. Here we go again, I thought. It was bad enough with Orkut, which coincidentally timed itself right as the Dean campaign was imploding. All those Deaniacs needed somewhere to cement their relationships before leaving Burlington and various state outposts — and the resulting flood of Orkut invites was almost unbearable. (I complied, verified all my “friends”, and then wondered, “Now what?” I haven’t been back to Orkut in at least four months.)

Don’t get me wrong: it’s nice to know that people want to stay in touch with you. But honestly, why should I bother?

Where I disagree with David is on the “all maintenance and no value” comment. I’ve actually found LinkedIn to be pretty useful — I’m not getting an inordinate number of requests to establish contact, and find that those requests I do get are often at least moderately useful to the person they’re intended for. The requests provide a nice opportunity to periodically touch base with people in my circle I might not otherwise ping from time to time, so I find that my forwards often include quick updates or requests to stay in touch. In one case I helped an old boss of mine find a VC to talk with about a new business opportunity; in another, I helped a friend connect to a potential employer (which accelerated the job application process considerably).

Let me second David’s request, though: an ability to sync the various social networking services so that users like me don’t have to recreate our networks (or spam our friends in the process). Yes, I know this is what Marc has been talking about for some time now. I get it now. It’s about FOAF’ing time.

Bill O'Reilly on the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth

Wow. Kudos to Bill O’Reilly for condemning the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (ahem) ad:

“I believe Jim Rassmann when he says that Kerry saved his life by pulling him out of a Vietnam river while under fire. Rassmann is a former Green Beret, a former police officer and a long time registered Republican until earlier this year. If he says John Kerry is a hero, nobody should doubt it. Rassmann has earned the right to be trusted and insulting his testimony is way out of line…

“It is absolutely wrong for Americans to condemn Kerry’s war record because he demonstrated provable valor. However, those who distrust him do deserve to be heard although facts not emotion should be demanded.

“I think the Swift Boat political advertisement calling Kerry a charlatan is in poor taste, and if this kind of thing continues it might well backfire on the Kerry haters. Most Americans are fair minded, and bitter personal attacks do not go down well with folks who are not driven by partisanship.” Via Salon. [ Pandagon ]

Bloggers declare candidacy in Iraq

This is great news, courtesy of This is Rumor Control:

From The Command Post today comes some interesting news about the blending of blogging and politics in Iraq. …

Now two popular Iraqi bloggers are stepping into the political arena. Ali Fadhil and Mohammed Fadhil, of Iraq the Model, have announced their candidacies for the Iraqi National Assembly.

The two are running under the banner of the Iraq Pro-Democracy Party. Their press release goes into further detail about their inspirations for seeking pubic office:

Through our writings in our weblog and communication with different opinions and view points we find ourselves committed to reconsider the way in which we can serve our nation.

We also saw that our somewhat daring opinions were accepted by many people whether westerners or Iraqis and we see that we have the capability to clarify our vision about Iraq’s future through talking to Iraqis directly.

Our work on the weblog opened our minds more, made us bolder and encouraged us to communicate with our ellow citizens as they’re the ones who can make the change and they’re the ones we started to write for their sake.

[ This Is Rumor Control – News & Analysis On the Appalling Mess We’re In ]

Three bloggers walk into a bar...

Met OneMan and Hiram out for drinks last night. Jake was supposed to join us, but claimed a work-related obligation (I think it was that he just wanted to drive Cross’s 300m a little more) and had to take a rain check.

It was a fun night, we’ll have to do it more often. See? Politically opposed bloggers can hang out together!

By the way, both are interested in my astroturf project, and I’ve got a couple others who responded via e-mail yesterday. Will be announcing more details shortly.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Joe Corrado, Editor in Chief of Sun Publications responds re: astroturf

Yesterday, I wrote about a local publication that ran two fabricated letters to the editor (also known as “astroturf”). I sent a brief note to the Editor in Chief of Sun Publications alerting him to the fact that both letters weren’t original letters but were in fact created at President Bush’s reelection website.

To his credit, Joe Corrado wrote back this morning. With his permission, I’ve included his response to my note (my original e-mail is below):

Hi Rick,

Thank you for the note. Yes, we’re aware of the problem, and like you, we do consider it a problem – we want our letters to be original compositions by our letter writers. It came to our attention earlier this summer, and since then, we’ve tried to be particularly diligent in weeding out form letters from original letters. We’ve been aware of the Bush site and have made it standard practice to check not only it, but other political sites as well for letters that aren’t a writer’s original work. I don’t know how many letters we’ve received, traced back to those sites and have held, but it would be in the dozens.

These slipped through, but shouldn’t have, and we’re doing what we can to keep more instances of that from happening again.

Thank you again for raising what I consider a serious issue.


Joe Corrado
Editor in Chief
Sun Publications

——-Original Message——-
From: Rick Klau [mailto:rick@rklau.com]
Sent: Tuesday, August 17, 2004 5:57 PM
To: thesun@suburbanchicagonews.com
Subject: Form letters to the editor

[Not a letter to the editor, but a heads up to your LTE department.]

Hi –

Wasn’t sure if you were aware of this, but in the past month you’ve run two “form” letters to the editor, both supporting President Bush (here
and here).

Both contain the exact language available on this page at “>the President’s website.

I’m not sure what your policy is on so-called “astroturf” – Editor and Publisher talked about this last year.


Rick Klau

I give Joe a lot of credit for his prompt reply and his efforts at preventing this kind of form letter advertising-by-proxy. (And as I noted in the comments on my previous post, I don’t like this kind of tactic when employed by the Democrats either.)

I’m more than a little stretched thin right now, but I have an idea for how to solve this problem. If anyone’s interested in helping out, it would be a clearinghouse of astroturf language that would automate the process by which publishers could do a quick check against known astroturf campaigns. Let me know if you want to help out, I think with a handful of people we could tackle this in a weekend.

In perpetuity

Ernie: “You know, I don’t know if you are all aware of this, but ‘perpetuity’ is a really long time.”

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Astroturf, local edition

Kos discovered another astroturf operation from the Bush campaign.

Sure enough, the Naperville Sun (Correction: the letters ran in a sister publication, Fox Valley Villages) ran two of the form letters as letters to the editor last month (here and here.)

In a nutshell, the Bush campaign: you can come hear us speak only if you already agree with us (and sign an oath of loyalty). We’ll tell you what to say to others (but let you pretend you said it on your own). And we’ll distort what others say if it helps our cause.

Think that’s what the framers had in mind when they drafted the First Amendment?

Monday, August 16, 2004

MT Blacklist is live for Movable Type 3.0

Not a moment too soon, Jay Allen has released an “emergency release” of MT Blacklist, the comment spam blocking plugin for Movable Type. Jay recently won the developer’s contest sponsored by Six Apart, and his victory was well-deserved. Unfortunately, a public release of his phenomenal tool wasn’t available until today for those of us who’d taken the plunge and upgraded to MT 3.0.

Installation took just about five minutes, and I’m now live on the plugin. It’s obvious that a lot of work went into this (and that’s an understatement) — it’s the difference between a hobby and a career. MT Blacklist was a neat idea, but was clearly thrown together to do its job. (That’s not meant disparagingly, by the way. I think Jay would admit as much.) But the new version is as slick a plugin as I’ve seen for Movable Type — and is, by all appearances, spectacular.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been deleting on average 50-100 comment spams per day. Bob@y6870.com (and all variations thereof), Dante has a special circle of Hell reserved for you. Courtesy of Jay Allen, you may now go there. :)

Update: Predictably, less than 20 minutes after install, MT Blacklist claimed its first victim. Bob, couldn’t happen to a nicer guy:

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Barack Obama's Dreams of My Father re-released

If you’re interested in learning more about Barack Obama’s background, you can pick up a copy of Dreams of My Father, his auto-biography he wrote ten years ago. It’s been out of print for a while (leading to a crazy couple of weeks on eBay, where copies could be bought for a few hundred bucks), and is now out in a new printing. Give it a look.

Baker & McKenzie Restructures Business Model

Today’s Chicago Tribune has an interesting story on the front page of the Business section on Baker & McKenzie. Baker is the largest law firm in the world (by number of lawyers; Skadden and Clifford Chance both bring in more in revenues), and is based here in Chicago.

The justification for chairman Christine Lagarde implementing a number of changes?

s more U.S. law firms have established foreign outposts, partners at Baker & McKenzie decided they had to reshape it into more of a corporate firm from what had been a loose federation of law offices in which quality of work and compensation formulas varied from country to country.

Lagarde’s decisions are surprising, given the size of the firm:

She pushed to consolidate back-office administrative functions among its nine North American offices, saving $7 million a year. Departments were reorganized around specific industries and every key corporate client was linked to a partner who can be called upon regardless of the advice needed.

Her most difficult challenge was selling a radical change in compensation for North American partners. In addition to the traditional emphasis on billable hours and seniority, the new system added subjective contributions, such as client service and professional development of young associates.

The belief is that by sharing revenues instead of an “eat what you kill” approach, the firm will transcend parochial interests and encourage attorneys to work closer together, Lagarde said. (emphasis mine)

Two years ago, I talked about Wilson Sonsini’s efforts to reshape the compensation model and the inherent differences between the British “lock step” compensation model and the American “eat what you kill” model. Today’s Trib article points out that this will be the first year that Baker relies completely on the new model, in which revenues are pooled and then divvied up according to metrics other than simply who billed which hours. It will be interesting to watch.

The theory, at least, in encouraging: that Baker (and other firms who have adopted this approach) is asking lawyers to focus on the health and strenght of the firm, rather than simply on maximizing billable revenues. Long-term, the result should be stronger client relationships (which means a more loyal client base) and a more cooperative firm in which information is more freely shared. Should that happen, one would assume the firm would be more profitable and far more successful.

Best of luck to Christine and the team at Baker. Hopefully this will be the leading indicator of where the business of law is headed. (A good first hint that the model is working? Baker’s profits per equity partner are up 29% between 2000 and 2003, to $761,000.)

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Watching the Olympics with my son

I have vivid memories of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, Chuck Mangione playing in the background, watching on my parents’ RCA TV and marveling at the sports I had never heard of. I remember watching people who were the best in the world at what they do compete against the underdogs who were the best in their country at what they do.

I can remember every Olympics since then, though the last decade or so has fewer vivid memories for me. As a 20-something in law school, then a newlywed, then a new parent, watching the Olympics wasn’t high on my priority list.

But now my oldest is 4 years old, and the past hour has been a non-stop series of Wow! and Cool! and What are they doing?! He’s literally breathless – he just watched an Italian gymnast execute a flawless Iron Cross on the rings, then three Romanians in a row demonstrate amazing skill on the pommel horse. Then we watched women’s swimming. Then women’s volleyball.

While watching the voleyball match (China beat the U.S. 3 games to 1), he wanted to know where China was, so we pulled his globe out and found it on the map.

The next couple weeks are going to be a lot of fun.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Iran fighting the U.S. in Iraq

This must be why the “we’ve turned the corner” language is no longer in the stump speech. From This is Rumor Control:

“The rhetoric coming out of the Bush administration has convinced Iran that military conflict is inevitable and rather than await an attack at a time and place of America’s choosing, the Iranians will try to inflict significant damage to U.S. forces on Iraqi soil by means of the Mahdi Army and other Shi’a groups,” an informed intelligence source told This Is Rumor Control. Senior officials of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency would not comment on these reports, but a former senior intelligence officer said that the conclusion was “a no brainer.” As he noted: “If you had U.S. troops on your doorstep and George Bush calling you a part of the axis of evil you would take steps to protect yourself. And it would be better to protect yourself on Iraqi soil than to have to do so on Iranian soil. That is what they are doing. Are we surprised? We shouldn’t be.” (emphasis mine)

Read the whole report. Really an incredible read.

Sidenote: do you think this is evidence of what Howell Raines meant when he said blogs are unsourced rantings? Get a clue, Raines.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Arnold on billboards

This is too funny:

The billboard is in Atlanta, Georgia. (Link courtesy of It’s Life’s Illusions I Recall.)

McGreevey resigns

Governor McGreevey (D-NJ) resigned this afternoon after a former male aide apparently tried to extort money from McGreevey in return for not revealing their affair. McGreevey’s resignation is online through the CBS affiliate in New York.

Monday, August 9, 2004


Anyone visiting this site in a browser may have seen that the ad for Tom Cross’s office changed over the weekend. What was a simple ad about how the GOP isn’t the devil (talk about a message!) is now something much more intriguing: a web-based documentary about Tom Cross’s efforts at winning back the Illinois House. (Cross is the Republican who is the House Minority Leader.)

Note that signup page before you get to watch the trailer? Cross’s team has figured out that splash pages like this are a terrific way to gather names and e-mail addresses (if I were them, I’d add a zip code field too) for future communication. You should sign up – the trailer is excellent and is a harbinger of things to come. What Cross & team have figured out is that the web is a unique medium that can make people feel like they’re part of the team. Cross is taking pages (chapters?!) out of the Dean team’s playbook, and executing them masterfully. Watch the trailer (and episodes to come) and you’ll feel like you’re on the inside. You’ll see that there’s a strategy behind their efforts, that they’re thinking several steps ahead and experimenting a bit. (And as a teaser: there’s more to come, straight out of Dean’s campaign. Stay tuned.)

Your homework? Compare and contrast with the Illinois Democratic Party’s website. I’m not sure, but I think Madigan might want to hurt me with that gavel. (Memo to the team: our candidate is John Kerry, so you can update this page. And would it kill you to have links to all the other candidates?)

Bottom line: Cross, unique among Illinois politicians at all levels, is embracing the technology. They’re not doing it for technology’s sake: they’re doing it to engage their supporters (and, more importantly, those who are undecided) in a way that’s entertaining and informative. Want to bet they swing a few minds in the process? Henry’s concerned that the Republicans in Illinois are missing the boat. If Cross is any evidence (and I think he is), they may just have signs of life after all.

Sunday, August 8, 2004

Eau de Keyes

Want to “own a part of American history”? This may not be what you had in mind, but how many people can really claim to own an Alan Keyes sweat-soaked napkin?

(On second thought, I’d really prefer not to know the answer to that question.)

Update: Mat just pointed out that the item is in Naperville. For the record, I did not list this item.

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

TiVo can innovate

While it’s good news that the FCC has given TiVo permission to offer their TiVoToGo service it still raises serious questions about why any company should need to ask for permission to offer an innovative service? It sets a bad precedent for the entire industry. [Techdirt]

I wrote about this a couple weeks ago, when the NFL’s obstruction got me all worked up. I’m really happy to hear this news, though I do agree with Mike’s assessment above. As I wrote a couple years ago, the law should not be used to make breaking the law impossible. It should be used to provide recourse for those who are harmed when it’s broken.

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

And then there were two...

Looks like the Illinois GOP has narrowed it down to two choices to face Barack Obama: Alan Keyes or former Deputy Drug Cczar Dr. Andrea Grubb-Barthwell. They’ll announce tomorrow.

So-Called Austin Mayor had a great suggestion, but it looks like the GOP will pass.

Update: Josh Marshall has some thoughts on the two choices.

Visual Google News

This is seriously cool: Visual Google News. (Link from Nate knows nada.) It’s a visual overlay to Google News. Probably won’t be around very long. But it’s a great example of how textual information can be presented visually.

You know what they say...

If you missed last night’s Daily Show, try and catch the rerun. (Or look for it in a few days online.) Jon Stewart lit into Henry Bonilla (R-TX), who was on to talk about his experience as part of the Republican rapid response team last week in Boston. It’s a pretty dramatic take down, and it started so innocently.

Stewart asked about the “first and fourth most liberal Senators” claim that’s become a Republican talking point in the past month. Bonilla clearly had no idea where the claim originated, just that it must be true. “But which group ranked them?” asked Stewart, appearing completely sincere in his desire to find out. Bonilla hedged, claiming it was a collection of unnamed “groups” responsible for the ranking. “Is this making sense?” he asked Stewart. “No, not really,” was the reply. Stewart asked at least a half dozen times, demonstrating again and again that Bonilla didn’t have a clue but believed it 100%. (Remember: it’s not a lie if you believe it.)

Turns out Stewart knew all along who had come up with the ranking: the National Journal, which looked at roll call votes in 2003 to come up with its ranking. Only problem is, when you rank on those same criteria but include all votes, turns out that Kerry and Edwards are much closer to the Democratic median — with Edwards being slightly to the right of the median. (An excerpted transcript of the exchange between Stewart and Bonilla is here, courtesy of Angry Bear.)

Monday’s NY Times has an op-ed from the Brookings Institution on this subject, and Spinsanity (who wrote an op-ed of their own in the Philadelphia Inquirer on the subject) links to the University of Houston study that establishes the broader voting record and ranking of the two Senators.

Stewart’s clearly annoyed at the punditocracy and spinning that’s shaping views. Last week, in response to Tom Brokaw’s question about whether Stewart was concerned that many 18-34 year-old’s get their news from The Daily Show, Stewart responded, “I’m concerned about the incredible number of people who say they get the news from you guys.” Ouch. He concluded last night’s show by pleading with viewers: “Do yourself a favor. Turn your TV off, and try thinking about the issues yourself. Whatever you do, don’t listen to this guy…” Pictures of the talking heads on TV started appearing, eventually covering the screen. “Seriously. Make up your own mind.”

Trippi's book - quick review

Since Kos weighed in a couple weeks ago, and Cory just posted his review, I figured it was high time I get my own review together.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is a terrific read. You’ll get through it in a day or two – because once you get into it, you want to read all of it. The book is not a day-by-day deconstruction of the Dean campaign. If you’re looking for that, you’ll have to wait for someone else to write it. (And I’m certain those books will come.) Instead, it’s a singularly compelling story that takes you from Trippi’s first forays into grassroots organizing, up to the present day, where he has a unique view of the intersection of technology and politics.

I found the back story of his involvement in the Kennedy and Mondale campaigns most interesting, for it lays the groundwork for what’s to come. And it gives you an intriguing view into the very small network of people who’ve been at this for decades.

It’s still sad for me to think about what we had last year and lost — but Trippi presents the entire story as a case study for where things are headed. Ultimately, we helped rewrite the rules for what insurgents are capable of doing. And there’s no doubt in my mind that what we did will serve as a blueprint moving forward.

Though the book is obviously focused predominantly on politics, it’s by no means just a political book. Joe’s inspiration for the Dean model arose out of a community that started on a stock message board, and Joe ties the threads together in the final section of the book by talking about how corporate America will have to learn the same lessons — of transparency, of empowerment, of decentralization — if they want to excel in the years to come.

For anyone who thinks that the technology we’re playing with today will make a differece tomorrow, you must read this book. Joe was intrigued to hear that there are Republicans who worship at the Trippi altar — and that’s just proof that this isn’t a partisan thing. Any candidates who follow this model are destined to effect great change. Ultimately, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised offers all of us a glimpse of where we’re headed — and makes those of us who were involved in the Dean campaign that much more proud of what we did.

Joe could have phoned this in and traded on the currency of the topic for some quick sales. Lucky for us, he didn’t. I think the book — and its message — will persist. It’s the rare combination of timeliness and vision that will help evangelize to the unconverted and encourage the disciples.

Monday, August 2, 2004

All politics is local, all politics is RSS

Over the weekend, I did a soft launch of the new website for the Naperville Democrats, the local Democratic Party (of which I’m the current chair). The site is built using CivicSpace, the Drupal-based grassroots organizing tool that grew out of DeanSpace. (Regarding the Naperville Democrats site: look & feel still have a bit of polish to be added, when our volunteer graphics person adds her magic. But overall functionality is fairly well settled.)

In any event, one of the elements of CivicSpace is a web-based aggregator. I wanted to seed the aggregator with feeds from political sites, blogs, and hopefully a few campaigns.

That’s when it hit me: every Democratic candidate I’ll vote for in November has an RSS feed. Sure, we know that John Kerry has a blog, which has its own RSS feed. And Barack Obama, who’s got a blog. Then there’s Gloria Andersen, running for US Congress, who has a LiveJournal diary. Rob Freedman, running for Clerk of the Circuit Court, has an RSS feed for the site and he maintains a blog at the site (with its own feed) as well. Mike Kisler is running for County Coroner, whose site publishes an RSS feed for all content. Hiram Wurf is running for County Board, and uses his blog to talk directly to potential voters (great article about how blogs can change the nature of local races is here). There are other candidates nearby — Christine Cegelis is running for Congress, who maintains her site in MT, including some non-blog portions — who also have feeds.

(Disclosure: I maintain the Obama blog. And I set up the sites for Rob, Hiram and Christine.)

Even more interesting? Of the seven candidates mentioned, four different applications are being used to generate these feeds. Kerry, Hiram, Christine and Barack are using Movable Type. Rob’s using Drupal. Gloria uses LiveJournal. Mike Kisler’s using e107.

How many other areas can boast RSS feeds for every candidate from County Board all the way up to President?