Monday, February 28, 2005

Another blawger in Naperville

Just got an e-mail from a fellow Naperville resident, Evan Brown, who maintains a new blog, His site looks great, and he’s got a podcast feed to boot.

Cool! Will have to grab a beer with Evan one of these days, and make sure he joins us for the blogger dinner next month at TechShow.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Political video blogging

Congrats to Raymond Kristiansen, who today launched political video blogging. This is a neat development, one which is sure to be followed by candidates and political parties well outside Norway’s borders.

The Long Tail and KM

On our corporate blog, Ross mentioned that a focus of last week’s company retreat was whether we felt we were satisfying our mission of serving as the long tail of wiki usage. Now before anyone accuses us of abusing multiple buzz phrases in one sentence, I’ll cop to it. Nevertheless, this is a topic I’ve been meaning to return to — not Socialtext per se, but how the long tail concept factors into our understanding of KM.

I wrote about the long tail last month, and have been intrigued by it since my initial reading of the Wired article. A quick summary: the long tail was Chris Anderson’s recognition that a significant percentage of online retailers’ revenues came from items that aren’t even stocked in their brick & mortar competitors. (Barnes & Noble only stocks 130,000 books, yet more than half of Amazon’s revenues from books comes from titles outside of the top 130,000 books.)

The more I thought about it, the more I came to believe that there was a corollary to what wikis do for knowledge capture and knowledge management. When I spoke at a KM Chicago meeting earlier this month, I spent a few minutes elaborating on this. What if, I asked, more than half of the institution’s knowledge wasn’t even captured, let alone leveraged? What if the reasons for that failure — lack of adoption, poor implementation, difficulty of encouraging use — were similar to the reasons brick & mortar companies don’t stock an endless supply of books? (I may be stretching the analogy, but bear with me: shelf supply is limited, inventory is costly, it’s hard to know which low-volume titles will sell well… in much the same way that time is limited, technology is expensive, and it’s hard to predict what information people will have that the company wants to capture.)

Socialtext makes the capture of information simple: you see something wrong on a page? Click edit, update the page. Have something in your inbox that needs to be archived? Forward it to your workspace. With RSS integration, you can expose feeds of information to the group with nothing more than the site’s URL. Now it’s not hard or expensive to capture and share useful information, and less thought needs to go into thinking about how people will want to use the site: they’ll figure that out on their own, and the workspace will likely evolve in unexpected directions to satisfy the users’ needs.

In one of my first posts on this blog in 2001, I linked to a 1999 Peter Drucker article in The Atlantic in which he suggested that successful companies will increasingly focus on attracting, holding and motivating knowledge workers. I agreed with Drucker, but suggested that the firm would need to actually enable and reward those knowledge workers to be successful.

I think I was wrong. Framed in that context, success is contingent on a top-down approach to the business. In the year I’ve been at Socialtext, I’ve seen numerous examples where organizations have encouraged those in the trenches to use the tools they need to get their work done; management remains focused on the metrics that drive the business, while workers remain focused on getting the work done. Rather than suggest a wholesale shift in how management and employees interact (a nice concept, but overly utopian in practice), these organizations have simply looked to adopt lightweight tools that make it easier for their employees to get their work done.

And that’s where I think the long tail comes in. Organizations that look to capture and leverage the knowledge that’s historically been so hard to manage will find they’ve got a competitive advantage. I got challenged on this point during my KM Chicago presentation; one of the people in the audience correctly pointed out that the long tail focused exclusively on consumer businesses where the difference — brick and mortar vs. digital — was far clearer than in the business context I was suggesting.

I don’t disagree, yet the notion of the long tail has been like a loose thread I keep tugging on… in much the same way that my initial exposure to weblogs and RSS in 2001 led to a slow-to-crystallize view that they changed everything. My intuition proved correct where blogs and RSS were concerned, maybe I’m in the ballpark on this one?

Let me know your thoughts.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Will on Shakespeare

Quoth Will Cox:

Mr. Charles Dickens never found a word he couldn’t squeeze into a sentence somewhere, eventually finding his point somewhere between the beginning of his artful construction and its punctuation, on a course more meandering than not, but placing the antecedent somewhere towards the end of the sentence, with the prepositions scattered before it, renders his meaning hard for little ears to capture.


Back in Action: An American Hero

My good friend Jason Smith recently pointed out that a high school buddy just published a book, Back in Action. As it happens, while traveling last week I caught a brief mention of the book on Lou Dobbs’ show on CNN. By all accounts, Captain David Rozelle is someone we should all be incredibly proud of.

Serving in Iraq, an anti-tank mine ripped his foot off. After getting fitted for a prosthetic foot, Capt. Rozelle returned to Iraq as the commander of an armored cavalry troop.

The book chronicles his rehabilitation, dedication, and service to his country. Looks like it’s worth a read.

And in a semi-related note: Jason (a Texas resident) will be intrigued to hear his name came up at Sunday night’s county-wide (in Illinois) Democrats dinner, where a couple regular readers of this blog asked, “Who’s that Rainmaker guy who leaves comments on your site?” Let’s just say our politics are different, but our goals are the same: encourage people to speak up, take an interest in how the government affects their lives, and be informed on the issues. That we disagree (often!) on the right answer to whatever challenges we face is almost beside the point; our system works well only when both sides have eager and articulate advocates.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Bose SoundDock

SCMZZZZZZZ.jpg” align=“right”>As long as I’m talking about Bose toys, I should note how amazing the SoundDock is. When we moved the TV from the family room to the basement, the biggest adjustment wasn’t the lack of TV, it was the lack of music. Rather than get a stereo for the bookshelves, we instead got the Bose SoundDock.

It’s so good that you wonder why you’d listen to music any other way. For those that don’t know, the SoundDock is a docking station for your iPod: just drop the iPod in, and it acts as two Bose speakers for your music.

It’s shocking how good the sound quality is — room-filling, actually. It comes with a tiny remote to control volume and skipping ahead or behind in the playlist, and charges the iPod while docked. If you own an iPod and want to have thousands of songs accessible in your house, this is a great way to go. I really can’t recommend it highly enough. (Warning, however: spouses may exert increased ownership of the iPod once it’s in the house and so usable…)

TiVo Rewards

A few months ago on a lark I signed up for TiVo Rewards, a referral program that lets you get credit for your friends signing up for TiVo. I posted a few times on the blog about it, and sure enough, a few of you actually listed me as your referral.

Result? Last night, I ordered the Bose noise cancelling headphones as my “reward” from TiVo. Pretty cool.

Thanks again to those who’ve listed me as their referral (I only get first names from TiVo, so I don’t know who some of you are). And if you’re getting a TiVo, feel free to list me — — as your referral. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Results are coming in

DuPage results are coming in. With 100% of precincts reporting, Tom Weisner has 47% of the vote, and Richard Irvin has 34% of the vote. Turnout is unsurprisingly low — just 1856 votes cast in the 26 DuPage precincts in Aurora (about 7% turnout).

Kane and Will County results are also starting to come in. With 41% of the precincts reporting, Tom Weisner is at 43% and Richard Irvin is at 38%. Turnout was stronger in Kane and Will County, but overall still pretty low — about 15% of registered voters cast a vote today.

Looks like Tom and Richard will be the two to go on to the general election in April. Congrats to both.

Update, 9:20pm: More Kane & Will results in, Weisner’s holding steady at 43% and Richard slipped a couple points (with Wyatt being the beneficiary). Tom’s to be congratulated on being the top vote getter, but he has to be a bit worried; he was the only Democrat running, while there were four Republicans vying for the slot. Richard not only beat Wyatt 2-1, he can probably count on most of Wyatt’s supporters coming into the fold for the general election in April. This is a horse race.

Aurora results

This site appears to be the unofficial results for today’s election in Aurora. Polls close in 40 minutes.

EEJD blog

Sweet: Denise today caught that Brandon Rash, a student at my alma mater (Richmond School of Law) has a new blog: the EEJD blog (that’s EE as in “Electrical Engineering” and JD as in “Juris Doctor”).

Welcome, Brandon!

Matt Freeman for Naperville City Council

My friend Matt Freeman has a website up for his race for Naperville City Council (the election is on April 5). It’s been great to get to know Matt and help him on this race. He’ll be a fantastic addition to the Naperville City Council — be sure to take a look at his site and help him out.

Aurora primary

Aurora’s primary is today, polls close at 7pm. I’m guessing the top 2 finishers will be Tom Weisner and Richard Irvin. Will post an update when I start seeing returns online.

If you live in Aurora (I don’t, I’m next door in Naperville), get out and vote!

Friday, February 18, 2005


On the road for a few days, posting is light. As Linda Richman would say, “Tawk amongst ya’ selves.”

Monday, February 14, 2005

Obama on Amtrak

In today’s Chicago Tribune:

“Every year they make the same proposal and some of it is just ideological,” Democratic Sen. Barack Obama said today in Chicago. “It strikes me that we should make a greater investment in upgrading our rail system rather than eliminating the subsidies that already exist.”

More on this here.

Visualizing data

Will notes that has some incredibly neat pages that show different ways of visualizing data. I agree.

Kudos to Will, who poked around after I pointed out the attempt at determining the airspeed of an African swallow (unladen, migratory) and found a few other gems. is the work of 13pt, where Jonathan Corum is the principal. Very cool stuff.

How times have changed

Maybe it’s because it’s Valentine’s Day, but I saw this story and instead of thinking, “My, airports really aren’t safe”, I instead thought, “Wow – dating sure has changed.”

The jokes pretty much write themselves.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Chairman Dean

Two days after the Red Sox historic sweep in last year’s World Series, I said only half-jokingly to a friend, “I think there’s still a way they could lose this thing.”

top2.dean.thumbs.ap.jpgIt was a similar feeling to one I had over the past few days… could Howard Dean really be the next DNC chair? It was all but a done deal once Roemer and Fowler dropped out — yet I still hesitated. After all, I remember what it felt like in December, 2003… Dean on top of the polls, raised the most money of any candidate ever — what could possibly go wrong?

A lot, as it turned out.

Yet here we are, a year later, with Howard Dean now officially the chair of the Democratic National Committee. I’m thrilled — Howard Dean empowered a generation of citizens who realized they could be participate in the political system rather than simply observe it. Let the Republicans claim to be excited (and amused) by his selection; his election is not about them, it’s about us. The biggest problem with the Democratic party today is its lack of connection with the people who vote Democratic; when people like James Carville claim to be embarrassed by the grass-roots energy behind the selection of Dean as the party’s chair, well, I think that tells you just about everything you need to know about the state of the party today.

Iowa and New Hampshire used to have a monopoly on retail politics, getting the early exposure to presidential candidates who had no choice but to patronize every diner, PTA meeting and ice cream social. The Internet leveled the playing field, gave us all a taste of what having access (and input!) to the process felt like. Once you see how easy and fulfilling that is, you don’t go back to sitting idly by, waiting for someone else to come along making empty promises about how things will get better: you demand their attention, urge honest answers, and pledge your time to work towards genuine progress. With a more vibrant party committed to growing the ranks of candidates at all levels, we’ll know our candidates better, be more committed to their election. And we’ll hold them accountable.

What makes me most excited about Howard Dean’s chairmanship is his commitment to getting Democrats to run in every race. His closing lines in today’s acceptance speech give me much of the same enthusiasm I had when I first started paying attention to him well over two years ago:

Election by election… State by state… Precinct by precinct… Door by door… Vote by vote…

We’re going to take this country back for the people who built it.

I’m excited about the next four years. Congratulations, Howard Dean. And thank you, DNC. Let’s get to work.

If you’d like to contribute to the DNC to welcome Howard Dean to the Chairman’s role, click here. Thanks!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Amtrak on the chopping block

This is tough: the Bush budget proposes eliminating Amtrak’s federal subsidy entirely (it’s currently at $1.2b). This would probably push Amtrak into bankruptcy, and result in the elimination of long-haul rail travel throughout much of the United States.

Now, this is a perennial budget target, and the MSNBC article linked above suggests that Amtrak will probably survive to fight another (similar) battle next year. But in less than five minutes of looking, I found a very interesting strategy document from Amtrak’s CEO from two years ago. If you’re interested in rail travel, his debunking of the “six myths of Amtrak” is compelling.

On a personal note, long trips on the train occupy a special place in my heart. Last year’s trip to New Orleans was a superlative family vacation. I was in the air on September 11, 2001, and got stranded in Dallas. I was fortunate to get one of the last tickets on the Dallas to Chicago train on Amtrak, and spent the next 36 hours on the train. Except for brief periods where the cheap radio I picked up before the stores closed in Dallas would get radio reception, I spent most of the trip in quiet contemplation of that attack. I still think I’m fortunate to not have had the TV nearby for the first couple days following 9/11.

We’re currently planning another trip — this time on the Empire Builder line from Chicago to Glacier National Park — with friends (likely Spring of 2006). I sure hope Amtrak is still around!

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Monday, February 7, 2005

Barack Obama at Naperville Town Meeting

Just got back from Barack Obama’s “listening” event at North Central College. Pfeiffer Hall at NCC was packed, with a good mix of students and residents. Barack got a standing ovation from the auditorium, which he seemed genuinely appreciative of. He took questions for about 45 minutes; the original plan was to stay longer, but a vote got called in the Senate. He left to go directly to O’Hare in order to fly back to DC for the vote this afternoon.

First off, for the record: even though I’m a big fan of technology in general, and its applicability to politics in particular, I was not the guy who asked Barack what he would do to fix spam and viruses. Really. It wasn’t me. Honest.

That surprising question came on the heels of a question about Social Security and gay marriage. His answer on Social Security was pretty powerful — you could see heads shaking. An older couple in front of me looked at each other, mild surprise on their faces, as if to ask, “This is the ‘crisis’ the President keeps talking about?”

He presented it simply: in around 40 years, Social Security will be able to pay out only 75-80% of promised benefits for those who will be of retirement age. So while it won’t be perfect, it won’t be bankrupt either. The President’s plan, as explained by Barack, would divert some percentage of younger wage-earners’ income into “private accounts”, in the hopes that those retirement accounts would earn a higher rate of return than that promised by Social Security. Unfortunately, in order for those younger wage earners (that’d be me) to see a dime of increased benefits under the plan, those private accounts would need to grow 15+% above inflation annually every year until retirement. (Historical average over the past sixty years? About 6-7% growth annually). Why does the gain need to be so high? Because part of the President’s plan to “fix” Social Security is to cut benefits for those far-away retirees by 40%.

But wait — what of the money those younger wage earners aren’t paying into Social Security? That money, which would have gone to current retirees, now is going into private accounts.

And that’s when the other shoe dropped: the President is proposing to borrow a lot of money (I’ve seen differing numbers, Barack claimed $2 trillion) to cover the gap. In other words: to fix something that will be marginally broken in 40 years, we’re going to go further into debt today (at a time when we’re already in debt to our ears), and we’re going to put younger wage-earners in a tenuous investment position where they are almost certain to lose money, and will probably face fewer benefits than they would if nothing were done.

Now — I’m well aware that there’s two sides to this story. Jason does a good job of laying out the Republican argument. I look forward to paying more attention to this issue over the coming months; it’s an important discussion, one which deserves close scrutiny and a lot of questions.

Friday, February 4, 2005

Rosenberg out, endorses Dean - that's the ballgame

Over at his website, Simon Rosenberg has announced:

Effective today, I am ending my campaign for chair of the Democratic National Committee. I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to share my vision with Democrats around the country, and I remain encouraged by the depth and thoughtfulness DNC members have brought to this important process of picking our next chair.

Today, I am endorsing Governor Howard Dean to be the next Chairman of the DNC. While we have not always agreed on every issue, I believe his passion for our Party, his remarkable fighting spirit, his direct and powerful way of speaking, and his commitment to bringing regular people back into our Party will allow him to revitalize our Party and help us win again in the 21st century.

I call upon my supporters, and Democrats from all parts of the Party and all parts of the country, to join me in supporting Governor Howard Dean as the next DNC chair.

And the official Dean blog is announcing a new round of endorsements, which would appear to seal the nomination for DNC chair a week ahead of time.

Barack Obama coming to Naperville

Barack Obama will be in town on Monday, part of his multi-city “listening tour” throughout Illinois. It’s great to see him spending a ton of time in Illinois.

Upcoming presentations

I’m presenting at next week’s KM Chicago meeting, talking about Socialtext, social software, and where this is all heading. The meeting is Tuesday, February 8, from 5-7pm.

Also, next month I’ll be joining fellow legal bloggers Ernie, Dennis, Tom, Ron Sabrina, Jeff and several others (I’m sure I’m leaving a bunch out) at TechShow. I’m looking forward to presenting with Ron & Simon on collaboration tools (I’ll be talking about Socialtext, wikis, and the emergence of “tagging” for developing context about content), then sitting in on a “Meet the bloggers” panel with Sabrina and Ernie. Last year was a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to another good year at TechShow.

Thursday, February 3, 2005

Kevin Kuwik in Mosul

Kevin Kuwik notes today that turnout in Mosul was higher than expected, and he ate the first meal in the dining tent that replaced the one destroyed by a suicide bomber in December.

How to win an office Super Bowl pool

Ernie: “I’m just like a real journalist: getting recognition for being an expert in something that I barely understand.”

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Dean DNC Chair Update

Been really busy with work stuff the past few weeks, and have been pretty silent on the local political scene. I find it interesting that Illinois Democratic Party Chair Mike Madigan is now on the record as endorsing Howard Dean. (Kind of late to the party, but better late than never: on Monday, he was abstaining.)

Also notable from the Illinois contingent: Iris Martinez, secretary of the Hispanic Caucus, and David Wilhelm, whose endorsement is pretty solid (especially considering that David chaired the Kerry campaign in the midwest):

“There is no question in my mind that Howard Dean, by dint of his experience and his idealism, is the right man at the right time for this job.

Howard Dean will bring stature to the role of DNC chair. He served as Governor of Vermont, chaired the Democratic Governors Association, and ran a tenacious presidential campaign that stunned the pundits who had consigned his bid to underdog status. Indeed, this campaign virtually revolutionized Democratic Party campaigning as we know it at the presidential level-cementing Howard Dean’s reputation as an innovator.

“This campaign also revealed Howard Dean’s proven skills as a communicator. He understands that effective political communication starts with clear messages that offer a compelling contrast to the positions of one’s opponent. He is tough without being mean, impassioned without being extreme-and he has the guts to stand up to the GOP and play hardball at the level of anybody on the other side of the aisle.

Howard Dean will bring the combination of clarity, vision, and innovation that Democrats will need to win in 2008.”

Jerome has the latest endorsement update, with Howard Dean holding a not-quite-insurmountable lead of 166-13 (there are a total of 447 votes, 224 are needed to win).

Almost there. Of course, I remember the last time I thought we were almost there, so I’ll hold off until I see the votes. The official vote is taken on February 12, at which time I think it’s quite likely that Howard Dean will be the new chair of the DNC.

Teaching, learning and understanding

Some of the best writing I’ve come across over the past month has been Eric Liu’s columns over at Slate. Some of the columns are drawn from his book published late last year, Guiding Lights : The People Who Lead Us Toward Our Purpose in Life, which only means I’m going to pick up my own copy to read more. The columns have really been spectacular.

I’ve been blessed with a few outstanding teachers through the years, and reading Liu’s columns has made me want to seek others out. His columns (so far) are here:

  • How to speak music, in which a Julliard professor teaches Eric the language of music, and in the process Eric learns how to improvise. As someone who worked hard to learn how to improvise (after more than a decade of playing clarinet, I managed one truly good jazz solo), it’s really interesting to see the process broken down by a master. Makes me want to re-learn the piano. Again.

  • How to pitch, where a Seattle Mariners pitching coach teaches Eric how to throw a change-up. The relevant quote:

  • He’d used the fastball interlude as a distraction and had gotten me back onto my original objective—throwing a good change. Like any good teacher, Bryan is a master of misdirection: working on a fastball to improve a change-up, using dry work without a ball to sharpen performance with a ball, and talking about how to keep a quiet head when, in fact, we were talking about how to keep a quiet mind.

  • How to act, where Eric learned from a Hollywood acting coach how to act.

  • [Teachers] manipulate. And that’s not inherently a bad thing. When you think about it, every act of teaching is a kind of manipulation. We hope—we trust—that the manipulation is well-meant, guiding us to discovery and to a clearer sense of our own voice. But ultimately, we can be sure of that only by trying, by entering into the apprenticeship. That is the risk that every actor, on every stage, is asked to take.

  • Being a Marine Drill Sargent, where Eric (who had spent two summers at Quantico’s Marine Officer Candidate School in college) learned how to command a squad of Marines at Camp Pendleton.

I look forward to reading more of Liu’s stories, and giving more thought to how they apply to organizational learning (which isn’t so much about individual teaching as it is about group dynamics and a collective desire to learn and improve). Much to digest!