Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Lessons learned this Christmas

We had a wonderful Christmas at the Klau house. But I feel compelled to share a few lessons learned this Christmas:

  • Amazon.com needs to mark their boxes as “wrapped” or “unwrapped”. There is nothing more annoying than opening a box with a gift for you in it, unwrapped… and no way to see who it’s from without reading the packing slip. (Corollary to this: it should be impossible to ship anything via Amazon.com in the weeks leading up to Christmas without having the items wrapped. But that’s anther matter.) Any box marked “wrapped” can safely be opened and stacked for the march up the stairs to the tree; anything marked “unwrapped” needs to be handled either by a neutral party or someone gets to bite the bullet and peek to see who it’s for.

  • The wonderful shipping desk at Kohls.com has apparently never celebrated Christmas or learned about the existence of “families”. My oldest son’s godparents sent a number of gifts via Kohls.com to our kids. There were several boxes in the shipment, so it seemed fair (especially once the boxes were opened and there were wrapped presents inside) that each package was for one child. Oh no. Each shipment contained multiple items — for different kids — wrapped as one “gift”. Try explaining to a three year-old boy why he’s just unwrapped a pink bib. Go ahead. Try it.

  • Wrapping gifts with your Dad (who’s visiting for the holiday) while drinking Guiness and watching Christmas Vacation is an excellent pre-Christmas tradition.

  • The kids’ ecstasy of opening lots of presents will be matched by your agony at bundling up the recycle (wrapping paper, cardboard boxes, toy boxes, shipping materials) and lugging it to the curb. The pile of recyclable paper at the curb will be orders of magnitude larger than the pile of gifts under your tree.

  • When winecountrygiftbaskets.com “guarantees” delivery before Christmas, what they mean to say is “it’ll probably arrive on or before New Year’s Day, unless it doesn’t; and if it doesn’t actually arrive before Christmas like we said it was guaranteed to, we’ll give you 5% off the order since we didn’t actually charge you for shipping and why are you complaining?”

What lessons did you learn?

Monday, December 26, 2005

iPod Video

The big gift under the tree this year was a video iPod, and I’m in love. I’ve already started loading it up with some video blogs, and I’m currently experimenting with the best way to rip DVDs to video that the iPod can see. So far, the easiest option seems to be PQ DVD, which will cost $35 if I want to rip more than 5-10 minutes at a time. An early test of the Springsteen Born to Run DVD seemed to convert pretty well.

Mark Pilgrim has a detailed how-to if you own a Mac, but of course, I don’t own a Mac. Engadget has a decent write-up on going a similar route with Windows, but I ran into a problem with DVDx that prevented me from proceeding (something about an “auth.dll” process not working), so I had to try something else. In the comments to the Engadget thread, there was a recommendation to use Fair Use Wizard, a free option but which takes a long (really long) time and my first test resulted in an unplayable file (codec problems).

Bottom line? Ripping video is clearly nowhere near as straightforward as ripping audio; it will likely (hopefully!) get easier. TiVo’s got a soon-to-be-released upgrade that will let me transfer my TiVo recordings to my iPod — which is a great answer for TV. Wonder whether iTunes will come up with a way to rip DVDs that’ll satisfy the studios but allow me to playback my movies on the device (you have to assume they will).

Anyone have any other recommendations for ripping video reliably to the iPod? I’m hesitant to pay for anything, since I assume that a future version of iTunes will include the ability to do this natively (though I could certainly be wrong).

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Funniest thing I've read in years

Oh my God, this post by Heather Armstrong (aka “Dooce”) will leave you gasping for air. Riotously funny.

Bush lies regarding wiretaps

DNC blog, giving us the President’s quote on April 20, 2004:

Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires — a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way.
New York Times article that broke the story on Friday about the Bush Administration wiretaps:
Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.
Lest the DNC be accused of fabricating the President’s quote, it’s currently available here at the White House website.

But remember, this is the guy restoring honor and dignity to the White House. When he lies, it’ll only be about national security, civil liberties or the Constitution. Not, you know, about a girlfriend. That, well, that’d be impeachable.

Performancing for Firefox

Om Malik on Broadband : » Performancing for Firefox, Awesome

In fact, if I have to use a PC, then this will be my choice of blogging application. Performancing for Firefox is just the kind of simple, lightweight application I had imagined was possible when researching my story, Microsoft’s Worst Nightmare.
Totally agree with Om: this is a fantastic Firefox plugin. Go to Performancing’s site for the plugin, you’ll be glad you did.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Four years

Wow, I almost forgot. I started this blog four years ago today. The blog is directly responsible for my last two jobs, led me to meet too many people to name individually who I know consider close friends, resulted in me meeting one presidential candidate, hosting a hopefully future presidential candidate in my family room, and has made me smarter, more curious, and more aware of just how much I don’t know.

Between my feed stats and my server logs, it appears that a little over 1000 people per day view the stuff I write. That’s more than a bit overwhelming when I think about it, and makes me grateful for the feedback, corrections, input and advice you’ve all provided over the years. Dan Gillmor often talks about how his readers are smarter than he is, and that’s surely the case here as well. Thanks for sharing your time with me, and for giving me a platform to speak from; I’ve wandered quite a bit over the last few years and will no doubt continue to float between technology, politics, law, business, and who knows what else. Thanks for sticking with me.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Patriot Act infinite loop

Brad Feld posts about the latest odd Patriot Act foolishness: the requirement for a non-PO Box mailing address. In Brad’s case, that’s impossible since he doesn’t have a physical mailing address. And, as he notes, it’s rather ironic, since the government won’t let you use a government-provided mailing address as your official mailing address. Seems like the government — which is worried about people spoofing their identity by hiding their address — could solve this issue by oh, I don’t know, maybe instructing those federal employees who work at the government agency to, well, have people who ask for PO Boxes to verify their identity in some meaningful way.

Brad’s figured out a solution to the problem, but isn’t spilling the beans.

This is how it starts, Brad. First stop, you’re fighting unseen powers in the government. Before long, you’re changing your identity and on the run from shadowy figures with bad accents who are hell-bent on destroying you. Then you have to change your identity, living your life on the run. Take solace in the fact that it’ll make good TV.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Duckworth website

Just found Tammy Duckworth’s website here. There’s some info on her stance on the issues, and a collection of news items as well. According to the events page, she’ll be doing her formal campaign kick-off at campaign headquarters in Lombard today at 1pm.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Scoble meets with Darcy Burner for breakfast

Darcy Burner is an ex-Microsoft employee who’s running for Congress in the 8th District in Washington. She dropped Scoble a note, and after meeting for breakfast, Scoble had a few suggestions for her about how to use the technology well. Scoble’s last comment caught my eye:

Oh, she did get something right, though. She promised me she’d keep blogging if she gets elected. Why is that important? The guy she’s running against has only come back twice to have a conversation with people in the home district.

Bing, bing, bing! Darcy is not Howard Dean (who never blogged himself and stopped talking with all of us after he lost the Iowa primary).

I left a somewhat lengthy comment, not so much to defend Dean as much as it was to articulate why I think Dean’s talking to supporters (or not talking, as the case may be) is kind of beside the point. Would be curious to hear your thoughts…

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Memo to DNC: Go get some coffee

The reactions to my comments about Tammy Duckworth’s campaign sure have been interesting. As expected, some of the comments (and private e-mails, of which there have been a number) express support for Christine and dismay at the DCCC’s handling of the race, a few have expressed support for Major Duckworth, and a few even addressed the substance of what I was writing about: the ham-handed efforts by a couple of local party officials to restrict Duckworth’s ability to solicit support at party functions.

And then there was this comment left earlier today by “Lisa”, who says she lives in Melissa Bean’s district and lays out why she thinks Duckworth is the right candidate. Interestingly, the IP address associated with Lisa’s computer is owned by the Democratic National Committee headquarters:

OrgName: Democratic National Headquarters

Address: 430 S. Capitol St. SE – 2nd Floor
City: Washington
StateProv: DC
PostalCode: 20003
Country: US

Next time the DNC wants to leave comments here (and they’re certainly welcome to!) but don’t want people to know that it’s the DNC, maybe they should use a Starbucks hotspot so the IP address won’t immediately identify the DNC


Update: The DCCC is located on the 2nd floor of the building, so it’s entirely likely that this comment is from the DCCC and not the DNC

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

What Erik's learned

Erik’s post today on lessons he’s learned is just a terrific read. There are any number of things the Internet’s made possible in my life — but meeting Erik and counting him as one of my closest friends is certainly at the top of that list. I feel quite fortunate to have known Erik for the last 11 years (though it was nearly 2 years before we met face to face), and that we’ve been writing partners throughout almost that entire time. I don’t know that I can say it’s Erik’s best writing — that’s a pretty crowded collection — but it’s certainly well worth the time to read.

Friday, December 9, 2005

Tammy Duckworth running for Congress

Update 12/19/05: Lots of incoming traffic looking for info on Maj. Duckworth. Her campaign website is here, ArchPundit interviews Tammy here (follow the links to snippets from the interview), and Rich at Capitol Fax interviewed her on Friday, details (and lots of comments) are here.

As many readers of this blog know, when not running around the country spreading the good word about RSS, I’m also politically active in Naperville, the city where I live. My original involvement started with the Dean campaign, then transitioned to more local actions on behalf of a number of local and state candidates. That led to being asked to run the local Democratic party, something I’ve done for the past 18 months.

My tenure as party chair has been mixed with success and failure, as any political endeavor is likely to be. But I’m proud of the fact that we’ve brought more people to the process, encouraged vigorous debate on issues that matter to our members, and provided a forum for people from various points of view to engage our members.

Rumors started swirling a few weeks ago that Rahm Emanuel, the chair of the DCCC (the campaign committee in Congress) and the lead recruiter for Congressional candidates nationwide, had found a candidate to run in the 6th District, the seat that Henry Hyde is leaving next fall. Christine Cegelis, a friend of mine and someone who I’ve periodically counseled in her race, ran against Hyde in 2004 and won 44% of the vote — an impressive showing for a first-time candidate. She’s running again, has an active volunteer base behind her, and has raised a decent amount of money so far. I say “decent” in that it’s more than she raised last time around, and it’s definitely not a paltry sum. But she’s spent a lot of it (often considered a no-no this early in a campaign), and it’s not as much as is often believed to be needed to run competitively (especially when the Republican opponent has raised quite a bit more).

The candidate Rahm found is Tammy Duckworth, a decorated Iraq war hero who lost both legs in a Blackhawk helicopter accident (she was the pilot). More on Tammy here, here and here. Rahm’s calculations here are that the Democrats need to throw a well-funded, nationally-recognizable candidate into the race, and fears Christine is not the right candidate for that role . That’s disappointing to me personally — I like Christine, like the campaign she ran in 2004, and feel she’d represent the 6th District well in Congress.

But I’m appalled by what some local Democrats are doing to try and sabotage Duckworth’s campaign before it gets out of the gate. I received an e-mail last night that copied me in on a letter written to Duckworth (and Emanuel). Written by a fellow local party chair and speaking on behalf of the entire township party, the letter starts out by saying Duckworth’s campaign is “emphatically unwelcome” and calling Duckworth a “carpet bagger” (she doesn’t live in the 6th District — a curious complaint, as I don’t remember many Democrats worried about the fact that Melissa Bean doesn’t live in her district). The letter goes on to express a lack of support for her campaign, and while she is welcome to attend this group’s upcoming meeting, “please be aware though that Duckworth’s campaign workers will not be allowed to speak nor will they be allowed to appear in her behalf.”

You can see some other reactions from local Democrats by visiting Daily Kos’s Tammy Duckworth page. Many of the reactions are of the “how dare Emmanuel decide who can run”, “why meddle in this race”, and “why fight Christine’s grassroots support” type. I just don’t get this. Why does Emmanuel get involved? Because he wants to win, and he’s not sure Christine can win. Congressional candidates need a million dollars or more to be successful, and Christine’s fundraising to date certainly leaves open the question whether she can get there. (Could she do better with institutional support? Sure. But could someone else bring more to the table? Maybe. That’s what Emmanuel’s trying to do.) Why meddle in the race? Because he wants to win. Local Democrats should want the same thing: to win. If Christine’s the right candidate to win, great. That’s why we have primaries: determine who’s the best candidate to represent the party, then go into the general election to let the voters decide who’s the best candidate to represent the district.

I was asked to join this party chair in barring Duckworth from running for Congress, something I absolutely refused to do. Here’s the text of the letter I sent in response to that request:

I appreciate [his] position, and though I’ve supported Christine’s campaigns (2004 and 2006), I do not see the basis for challenging Tammy’s right to run. It’s not my position to do so, and I’m strongly in favor of quality candidates who want to serve the party and their constituents. Do I know whether Tammy’s the right candidate? No. But I think it’s her job to make that case, not someone else’s job to shut down that avenue for her. As for the residency requirement, that’s a non-issue. We didn’t complain when Melissa Bean lived outside of her district, and there is no residency requirement written anywhere that says you must live in the district you run in.

I want to see Christine win in the primary, and beat Roskam. But the way to get her there is not to remove potential competitors. It’s to win by attracting a higher percentage of the vote than any competitors, and by outraising her competition. Shutting down potential competitors before they’ve had a chance to establish their fitness for the position is undemocratic, unfair and ultimately irresponsible.

Local Democrats should be thrilled that this race will now receive higher visibility, more money, and greater attention from state and national Democrats. Christine has been running for two years, which gives her a big head start (more than 1,000 contributors in this election cycle alone, hundreds of volunteers, some early endorsements). She’s a committed candidate, has assembled a good team around her and is working hard to win. I understand her supporters wishing they didn’t have an opponent in the primary, but for a party chair to try and rig the primary to remove any competition just because he disagrees with Emmanuel’s assessment of Christine’s chances is inexcusable.

We’re better than that. Or, I hoped we were.

Update: Michael at Damn Liberals disagrees with me here.

Late update: One Man weighs in.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

San Francisco to ban video cameras

OK, San Francisco isn’t actually banning video cameras. But perhaps there should be an IQ test before obtaining one. Remember the 49ers video debacle this summer? (If not, there’s some background from Cyberjournalist.net here.)

With that fresh in their minds, you’d think that San Franciscans would be a bit gunshy about pulling a similar stunt, just a few months after the 49ers had to fire some personnel and take a considerable amount of heat from local officials. Right?

You’d be wrong. Now the city is suspending 20 cops for a rather similar scenario. Unreal.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Congress Voting Records in RSS

Almost exactly 3 years ago, Jen Klyse came up with a cool idea: create RSS feeds for members of Congress. She didn’t end up developing the concept, but it looks like the Washington Post just did. Here’s Barack Obama’s voting feed. Very cool.

Hat tip to 37 Signals for catching this (and Eric Olson for pointing out the 37Signals post).

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Crazy busy

Just got back from a crazy couple of days in Los Angeles. Scary stat of the day? I flew four hours from L.A. to Chicago tonight, and the air temp dropped 80 degrees. Whoa.

Last night started out strong — I got to have dinner with a former co-worker, John Lipsey, who just bought a place in the Hollywood Hills (nextdoor neighbor? Danny Bonaduce) — and just got better. In the middle of dinner, I got a call on my cell from David Lawrence, who invited me to join him on his nightly radio show, so I ended up finishing the evening with an hour in studio on The David Lawrence show, talking about FeedBurner, the dubious flurry of stories about “podjacking” (kudos to David for digging into that particular story) and the state of feeds in general. Other than David’s odd fascination with my shaving habits (sorry, you’ll just have to listen), it was a great time, followed by a great meal (yes, I had two dinners last night – is that an L.A. thing?). David’s a fascinating guy — and I hope I get to visit him again on the show.

Today was a flurry of meetings, followed by a mad-dash to LAX. When I got to the rental return at 3:45 (for a 4:25 flight), I was sure I’d miss my flight and end up on the red eye. A nearly 15 minute shuttle bus to the terminal would seem to have sealed it. But then it was a total of five minutes from shuttle bus to check-in, security, and gate — something I thought I’d never again experience post 9/11. I even had time to buy a book before the flight (State of Fear by Michael Crichton, which, in spite of my Democratic leanings, I’m really enjoying). Nuts.

I’m in the office tomorrow, and for those of you in Chicago who might be interested, I’m speaking at the Publicity Club of Chicago on Thursday with the Tribune’s Eric Zorn about podcasting, blogging and RSS. I’ve never met Eric, should be a lot of fun.

Next week, Syndicate in San Francisco, then rumor has it a holiday when I can catch my breath.

Must… sleep…

Sunday, December 4, 2005

Kevin Kuwik on his way home

Kevin Kuwik, the Ohio assistant basketball coach who got called up to Iraq last year (rather unexpectedly), is coming home from Iraq, most likely early this week. Very, very good news.

Welcome home, Kevin!