Friday, September 30, 2005

Barack Obama speaks up on partisan politics

Someone asked me the other day whether I had political aspirations. I answered that I don’t, at least not for a long time — but I did say that I’ll do whatever I can to ensure that Barack Obama is elected president as soon as possible.

Today, in a diary post over at Daily Kos, he responds (and I have it on good authority it was all written by him) to recent criticism of a number of Democrats by various advocacy groups on the left. And it just reinforces my belief that he would be a spectacular leader running our country. While 2008 may not be the right time for him, I think the country would be well served with him at the helm. I’m not excerpting anything from the post — take a few minutes out and read the whole thing.

And while we’re on the subject, yes, I’m quite proud of this. :)

Friday, September 23, 2005

Link love

Any man who calls me God is OK in my book. I’m not entirely sure what I’ve done to earn such high praise, but it sure made my Friday. Rich, for the three of you left in Illinois who don’t know, consistently writes the best insider’s look at Illinois politics. It’s not only where the news is discussed, but increasingly frequently, it’s where the news is made. (On more than one occasion, comments to posts at Rich’s blog have generated AP stories about brewing controversies in the hallowed halls of Illinois government.)

Many thanks for the kind words, Rich. Keep up the great work!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Recording Skype calls into MP3

A number of people have asked how I recorded the call with Chris Batty at Gawker last week for the FeedBurner podcast. I figured a quick recap was in order. The issue, for those who care, is that you need some way to capture both audio streams (your voice as well as the audio coming in from Skype), and Windows by default has no simple way to mix those streams into one channel that a recorder can handle. Consequently, Audacity (my audio editor of choice) can only record one stream at a time.

What’s most surprising is how difficult the “simple” instructions are online. Some ideas I found and discarded, due to complexity and/or reliability:

  • running multiple profiles in Windows XP, installing “virtual audio cables” and conferencing the profiles together via Skype.

  • on-the-fly tweaking of Windows audio properties, or (in the comments), connecting multiple computers via audio cables

Other ideas involved some variations on those themes, but the bottom line was that none of them were simple, nor (in my quick testing) reliable. Fortunately I stumbled upon HotRecorder — a very simple, very inexpensive application that just works. It acts as a helper app for Skype (and, for those who care, Google Talk, AIM, Net2Phone, Yahoo! Messenger and Firefly). Not only will it record Skype calls (amazingly, by just hitting the record button! Can you imagine? No cabling, multiple computers, or anything else!), it also serves as a voicemail application for supported apps. The recordings can then be saved and exported to various formats (current supported formats are Wav and Ogg Vorbis), which can be manipulated in whatever sound editor you favor.

The application costs $15, and once installed it’s available with one click. In the case of the phone call with Chris last week, I started the call, then once we were connected, clicked record in Hot Recorder. That’s it. It’s simple, dirt-cheap, and it works. A much better answer in my book than trying to route around all of the issues addressed in the complicated pages above.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Uhhh... Did I learn nothing as a college disc jockey?

It’s official, episode 1 of the FeedBurner Podcast is now live, hosted by yours truly. I say “uh” quite a bit. On the positive side, doing an interview via Skype, recording the call and getting into MP3 couldn’t be easier. Pretty slick.

It’s a start, but there’s lots of room for improvement. If you’re a FeedBurner user and want to send us your thoughts, give me a call on Skype or send us an e-mail at

Friday, September 16, 2005

Mirra acquired by Seagate

Wow, Seagate just acquired Mirra. I’ve written about the Mirra here. Great news, congrats to the Mirra team!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

NJ Governor's race gets HOT

I’m admittedly not a campaign veteran, so it’s entirely possible that porn has been used in a campaign ad before. (Not likely, but, who am I to state it categorically?) But I think I’m safe in saying it’s probably the first time that porn has been used in an online effort to help get out the vote.

If you dare, here’s the campaign ad from Michael Latigona, independent candidate for NJ governor. It’s all there: sex, bribery, corruption… I’ve never, ever seen anything like this.

And hopefully never will again.

Update: Received an e-mail from someone at “dudenj@*******.net” claiming to be from the campaign. They’ve asked that I remove a claim that the animation contains racial slurs. I’ve watched it again, and agree that my characterization was a bit harsher on that point than the animation warranted. Character assassination? Yes. Racial stereotyping? (A la Italians as 20s gangsters.) Yes. But racial slurs? No, I guess not. So, wish granted — I’ve removed that from the original language above.

Oh — and they also dispute my use of the word porn. “this is not porn, and is nothing worse than is on TV. It is risque, but certainly not porn.” I guess if your campaign has to argue whether or not an ad they’ve put out is porn, the campaign is no longer focused on issues that matter. They’d like me to point out that on the candidate’s website, there’s a lengthy (and boy, do I mean lengthy) defense of the animation. Judge for yourself…

One final comment — in that defense of the animation, Michael claims that those of us who claimed offense at the ad are hypocrites: there’s a novel concept. I never said Michael couldn’t do what he did, I said he shouldn’t. And I hope others choose not to. There’s no honor in heaping scorn on your opponents, questioning others’ motives, railing at the media, and belittling those of us who question your tactics. And it’s almost certainly not the way to win an election.

Caption contest

OK, this picture has stunned me into abject horror. As I type this, I’m curled into a fetal position, wondering how in the world this can possibly be real. And yet, there it is:


Source: Reuters. Really. The Reuters caption, for the record:

U.S. President George W. Bush writes a note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a Security Council meeting at the 2005 World Summit and 60th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York September 14, 2005. World leaders are exploring ways to revitalize the United Nations at a summit on Wednesday but their blueprint falls short of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s vision of freedom from want, persecution and war.

If you dig a hole...

My new favorite Google mash-up: dig a hole from your house and figure out where you’d come out if you kept digging, straight down.

Love it. (Originally seen at OnSquared.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

We're hiring

If you’re in the Chicago area and are interested in working for a fast-growing company that’s got the locals all a-buzz, then you should drop us a line. We’re got a number of positions open, including one working with me on the business development side. (Whether that’s a pro or con is not my place to judge.)

Who’s the ideal candidate for the business development position? If you’re a hungry, Internet-savvy individual who likes working with tech-oriented customers, you’ve got a good start. You’ve probably got a few years of sales or business development background, you can not only spell API and RSS, you know what they mean (and why they matter). You probably know that flickr doesn’t have an ‘e’, you know where the periods go in delicious’s maddening URL, and you don’t get a quizzical look on your face when someone says “web 2.0”. You can work on deadline, like to have fun, and are willing to use a PC so you can help me keep the PC/Mac balance in the office just right. (We might be flexible on that last point.)

If any of this sounds like you, send me a note at Thanks.


Steve defines skeptorati. Yeah, I know the type.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Brian Williams blogging the news

If you are interested in a view from the inside of a network newsroom, you should be reading Brian Williams’ blog at MSNBC. He’s the managing editor for NBC News, and his blog is a mix of behind-the-scenes nightly news assembly, daily commentary, and just a pinch of discussion that’s almost (but not quite) opinion (he is an anchor, after all!).

His appearance on the Daily Show last week was without peer; while he begged off pointing fingers, his comments on the disaster in New Orleans were poignant and carried the weight of a man who wil live with the visions of what he saw for years.

As for the President’s excuse today that what he meant to say when he said “nobody expected the levees to break” was that it was, well, the media’s fault, Williams digs up the transcript from NBC’s coverage that first night. The moral of the story? Maybe the President should turn off Fox News once in a while and watch NBC.

Why eBay bought Skype

So it’s now official: eBay bought Skype for $4.1 billion. That’s a lot of money, and probably buys at least a significant percentage of Estonia (economic peaks notwithstanding). Ross thinks that eBay bought Skype for the conversations this will facilitate; I have a slightly different take, though it’s more an elaboration of Ross’s point than a disagreement.

eBay already offers power sellers healthcare — and I think this acquisition allows eBay to become a powerful “virtual company” provider. Now power sellers can get their phone service from eBay — giving them a virtual storefront that goes wherever their laptop goes. If I’m right, then look for eBay to acquire one of the popular fax-to-e-mail providers before too long, and maybe even acquire (or build) their own web mail solution.

Some who read this blog may not know much, if anything, about Skype. It’s a fully-featured messaging platform, offering voice (computer-to-computer, computer-to-phone, and phone-to-computer), voicemail, and instant messaging. I wrote about it a while ago, and am pretty impressed with it. The acquisition by eBay insures it’ll only get better.

Friday, September 9, 2005

Anatomy of a Sale: Inc. Magazine

If you haven’t read this month’s Inc. Magazine, you’re really missing a great cover story — it details the sale by German publishing giant Gruner + Jahr’s sale of Inc. and Fast Company to Morningstar founder and CEO Joe Mansueto. It’s a great read, and really gives you an eye into the magazine business.

The ads congratulating Inc. (and Mansueto) from various advertisers were a nice touch in the print version. I think it’s safe to say nobody — advertisers, staff, readers — will miss G+J.

Three wishes on NBC

On the airplane back from New York today, United had an “exclusive” preview of NBC’s Three Wishes show. It debuts in two weeks, and all I have to say is that the tissue industrial complex is sneaky. I mean, they had their own cable channel (Lifetime), but that apparently wasn’t enough. Now they’ve gone network, and man, this show does everything but chop onions in your face to make you cry.

The premise is that country music star Amy Grant, accompanied by two dudes and some other girl show up in a small town, troll for the most heart-wrenching made-for-TV sob stories, then set about filming how great they are by granting the three wishes. The first episode (and I swear to you, I’m not making any of this up):

  • they find a young girl who was in a car with her father when their car was struck by another vehicle, and, Amy Grant patiently explains, “the bumper of the other car hit her face”. She’s missing parts of her skull, she wears a helmet to protect her brain, and she can no longer participate in the sports that she excelled in prior to the crash (gymnastics, softball, swimming). As if that weren’t enough, we learn that Mom, a 911 operator, was actually the one who took the call about the accident and had to be told while on duty that they were airlifting her possibly dying daughter to a hospital.

  • they find a young boy, who loves, loves loves his step-father. This boy lost his father at age 6, and the deputy sheriff in town stepped in and “saved our family”. The boy’s wish? Get adopted by his step-father. (More syrupy sweet goodness: Sheriff sold his coveted Ford truck to help the family make ends meet.)

  • finally, they found a group of cheerleaders (yay! cheerleaders! in uniform!) who wanted to get a new field for their football team. Apparently their field is so bad it’s basically a mud pit, and players are getting injured in the mud. But there’s more (no, really): their cheerleading coach is dying of acute leukemia, and though she can’t come to town to make the plea in person, the girls assure us that their coach really wants this field for the boys. (Sure enough, footage of the coach on her hospital bed confirms this.)

What transpires is an hour of NBC lavishing more money on this town than they know what to do with: they get Ford to give the Sheriff a new F-350. The SF Giants not only give Sheriff and family tickets to a Giants game, they get him on the field to throw out the first pitch. Not only does NBC foot the bill for a trip to Sacramento to get the girl to see specialists about reconstructive skull surgery, they build her a playhouse (complete with a donated “never ending pool” and a plasma TV). Then they put on a carnival (complete with Amy Grant belting out a few tunes) in which the town is asked to chip in money to cover all of her medical bills, but apparently the town comes up short because NBC kicks in the balance. And they get the boy adopted by his Dad. And they get a high-end astro-turf company to donate a $1m+ field to the school. In all, I’d guess the total value of everything donated on this one show alone amounted to $1.5m, maybe more. The tax implications are very real, and I wonder how these needy families (and/or towns) can afford to accept such largesse?

If this all makes me sound terribly cynical, maybe I am. But while I applaud anyone who seeks to do good (and Grant’s heart sure seems in the right place), the show itself was so saccharine, so cloying, so manipulative in its tear-jerking moments (all 178 of them) that it made it exceedingly hard to watch. I’m sure I’m not the target demographic, but still.

On a more serious note, I wonder if this vicarious philanthropy, in which viewers can watch needy individuals get showered with assistance, encourages people to give or (more likely, I’m afraid), makes it easier to feel like they don’t need to chip in.

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Best connectivity is in the Bronx

Absolutely fantastic article over at the IEEE website about Urban Telephone and Video, two entrepreneurs who’ve delivered the “triple play” (phone, TV, Internet access) to households in the Bronx for $99/month. (Hat tip: Techdirt.) Here are two guys (Doug Frazier and Stuart Reid) who sum up their business strategy with a local saying:

“An old saying in this community is ‘Don’t talk about it, be about it.’ And we realized long ago that once you begin to be about it, people will continue to let you be about it. So even though you’ve got something different or something new, if you’ve got the evidence that you aren’t just talking about it, people are going to pay attention.”

These guys compete with the heavyweights, continuously innovate their offerings, respond to their customers, and give back to the community. As they say, “New York City is so big and so dense that you don’t have to be terribly successful to be terribly successful.” I love it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Upgraded to MT 3.2

Just updated the application running this weblog to Movable Type 3.2. Will be updating you over the next couple days over comments, thoughts, etc. The UI is quite slick, there’s a lot of polish that went into this.

Stay tuned…

FEMA willing to help, so long as you use Windows

MSNBC reports on this troubling scenario over at FEMA’s website — namely, that you must be using Internet Explorer 6 (available on the PC only) in order to file a claim.

The shockingly, jaw-droppingly, appallingly incompetent actions of FEMA and others last week were bad enough. This is just plain stupid:

When reached Tuesday afternoon, a FEMA spokeswoman said they were aware of the problem and had passed it along to their tech guys to try to resolve the issue. The spokeswoman I spoke with declined to venture a guess on when the problem might be solved, however.

Folks. Designing a website that’s accessible to all is not rocket science, and the “Requires Internet Explorer version ___” went out of style about 6 years ago. Come on folks. I don’t think it’s too much to ask of our government (especially in a time of crisis) to try just a little bit harder to actually make their site work on more than one browser.

Saturday, September 3, 2005

Donate to the Red Cross

It’s been hard to comprehend the enormity of the devastation in New Orleans this week. The Red Cross has already collected an enormous sum of money, and is marshalling thousands of volunteers and tens of millions of dollars to help in the relief effort.

At FeedBurner, we wanted to do something to help support this effort, and have added a feature to your account that will insert a Red Cross banner ad into your feed. The ad looks like this:

It will get inserted as an ad banner in your feed, with a link back to the Red Cross site where visitors can contribute money. It’s a small gesture, to be sure, but seemed the least we could do to help (and to encourage others to do so as well).

If you have any questions, let me know. Thanks for helping.