Saturday, December 30, 2006

Wii friend code

No thanks to the many technical tools I used to try and find a Wii, we happened to get one last week when Robin got a call from a neighbor who fortuitously bought one from a Toys R Us employee with loose lips. (The neighbor overheard the clerk offer to sell one to a friend; when confronted, the clerk admitted they had “a few” but were supposed to wait until Friday morning to sell them. Having just seen the clerk willing to sell one early, the neighbor got one, and a few minutes later, so did Robin. Unreal.)

It’s been a lot of fun, Ricky already kicks my butt in bowling (he bowled a 207 last night – he’s six years old!), and Robby’s regularly over 100. I love boxing, but have doubts whether I can beat Kris next time we’re head to head.
If you want to send a Mii my way, my friend code is 2212-1297-9809-0553.

Loving my new camera

A Nikon D50 was waiting under the tree for me this Christmas, and I’m in love. We’ve been a little stir-crazy the last few days (thanks to pneumonia, asthma attacks and various other kid-related nuttiness), so we bundled everyone in the car and headed north to the Chicago Botanic Garden. If you’re in the Chicago area, it is absolutely spectacular. Here is the set of pictures I took today (note that if you’re not a friend/family at Flickr, you won’t see the pictures of the kids). My favorites are: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. I’ve got a learning curve to get a full appreciation for what the camera can do, but for someone who’s been away from SLRs for the past 10 years, it’s soooooo fun to be back. Not bad for my first day back… and I can’t wait to get more excuses to tote this beast around. It’s fun.

While on the subject, I’d love to hear any pointers any of you have on getting up to speed with a digital SLR.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Blogbeat integration around the corner

Steve pointed to a great writeup by Peter Kim about how much he likes Blogbeat’s functionality. Pete got to see the beta of our integration of Blogbeat into FeedBurner; if you’re interested, shoot me a note and I’ll put you on the list to get early access.

Monday, December 18, 2006

CIA security concerns

Searched for something online yesterday, and the result included a link to the CIA world fact book, which apparently is hosted at (not However, the CIA’s security certificate is for, causing Firefox to wonder whether “someone may be trying to intercept your communications with this web site.”

CIA security concerns


Friday, December 15, 2006

Sittercity update

Last month, I wrote about how impressed I was with Sittercity. It’s a clean site, focused on an important task (helping parents and babysitters find each other), and they’ve successfully built out a terrific community and what I presume is a very healthy business.

It’s interesting to me that this is the prototypical social networking site, albeit with a twist: it exists to facilitate strong networks of trust between individuals, so that one of the groups (the parents) can be social outside the house. The site doesn’t give you all kinds of ambiguous abilities to make friends, create complicated profile pages, or other fluff that is all too common on social networking sites these days: it just makes it easy for parents to find a qualified sitter, then leave feedback for other parents so that they can help future parents learn from their successes (“Sarah was outstanding!”) or failures (“Laurie never showed on New Year’s Eve, leaving us unable to go out with friends. Totally unreliable.”)

The first sitter we met could not be a better fit for what we needed: she’s personable, professional (she’s actually an elementary school teacher) and loves kids. She’s not so young that we’re worried about leaving her with all three kids, and she’s been incredibly responsive. Our house was actually cleaner when we got home than when we left. That’s nutty.

But now that I’ve had a few weeks to observe my interactions with Sittercity, there’s one other element of the site that reinforces my feeling that they simply get it. As I mentioned in my original post:

If you give it a try and mention my username (rickklau), you’ll get a discount (apparently 10% or more) and I’ll get a few bucks towards a movie ticket — which might be a nice way to spend one of those nights off once we find a couple sitters we like.
Amazingly enough, a few of you did sign up, and that means that I’ve now got several Fandango dollars to spend on an upcoming movie. (Actually, enough for two movie nights for Robin and I.) Rather than discount our monthly fee (why would you? We’ve already determined it’s worth paying each month), they’re actually giving us something that increases the likelihood that we’ll use their service: free money to go see a movie (necessitating a babysitter). That’s clever.

So… if you haven’t already given Sittercity a try, head on over there. I couldn’t be more impressed with the site. (And thanks to those who listed me as a referral!)

Seeing the forest

This post by Jory Des Jardins is one of the most meaningful posts I’ve read in a long, long time.

No sense in summarizing it, it’s a great read all around, and it really resonates for me. Thanks, Jory, for posting it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Wii are nerds

Mike brought his Wii over tonight, and Henry, Kris and I had far too much fun boxing and bowling. It’s every bit as good as advertised.

Word of warning: Don’t box Kris Smith. I don’t know what mojo he exercises over the nunchuck controller, but it’s wicked. He can’t be beaten.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Grassroots AdSense Strategy

Obama AdsenseBrowsing a news article today about Barack Obama’s swing through New Hampshire, I was struck by the AdSense ad block on the right: an ad for Barack’s own site at, an ad for, a site run by my buddy Ben Stanfield designed to encourage the Senator to run for President, and an intriguing third ad placed by Barack’s fellow Senator, Dick Durbin.

The purpose of Barack’s ad is clear: get as many people to visit his own site as possible by leveraging the surge in news coverage his book tour and possible presidential run, so that he can gather as many names and e-mail addresses as possible.

Ditto for Ben’s trying to grow his petition list as much as possible, to demonstrate the broad support Senator Obama will have should he get into the race. (Props to DraftObama for the time-sensitive ad copy, btw.)
Senator Durbin’s ad is a bit more intriguing to me. Why would he advertise his petition to encourage Barack to run for President?

My hunch: he’s trying to build his own e-mail list, and using the occasion of Barack’s probable run as a hook to entice people to sign up. The ad clicks through to this URL as a landing page, which then directs you to this page which looks like a Durbin campaign site but is really just designed to collect names and info which will then be shared with Senator Obama should he run. (Cet Active is a DC-based online constituent relationship management app used by hundreds of campaigns and non-profits.) Not only does he get a much larger list than he’d likely build on his own (Illinois politicians are hardly first-movers when it comes to online campaigning), he gets to demonstrate his value to Barack by having a larger-than-expected list when it comes time to actually hand over the list. Using AdSense is just a simple calculation: is it worth a few bucks to acquire lots of names, so that when you tell Barack you helped spread the word about his candidacy, you’ve got 20,000 names instead of 1800?

It’s a savvy move on Senator Durbin’s part, certainly smarter than the well-intentioned (but far less leveragable) effort by Barack’s former Springfield buddies, Dan Hynes and Don Harmon. They’re just sending people directly to’s petition, which means that while they’ll help that draft effort get going, there’s no way to either (a) benefit from the collection of names and info, or (b) demonstrate how much they influenced the petition’s success.

For the record, I think the “draft Obama” sites will be short-lived. I think he declares by mid-January (I have no inside knowledge of any timeframe, just what I read in the papers). And I think he wins the nomination and the Presidency.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Finding a Wii

Update 1/26/07: Looks like supply is starting to catch up with demand. I’ve seen several Wiis available at over the past few days; go here to see if they’re available. Good luck!

Wow, this is really nuts. I had a chance to get one with Mike when they were first available, but we were having friends over that morning, and sleeping at a Wal-Mart the night before having friends over seemed a little, um, not-so-smart. So I passed.

Three weeks later, there appears to be no real chance at getting one. I understand that demand far outstrips supply, but the completely haphazard delivery, clueless retailers and luckless shoppers seem wholly unnecessary. In a day of incredibly efficient supply chain management (pioneered by Wal-Mart, available on an outsourced basis by UPS), I cannot for the life of me understand why this is so difficult.

Monday night we were at the mall, and I asked the guys at Gamestop when their next shipment would come in. “Tomorrow!” they said, and hinted that getting to the mall early (i.e., 6 or 7am) would be a good idea. Only problem? The mall doesn’t open until 10, and I have a job. So I didn’t go, only to find out that they worked a deal with the mall to get everyone in line their Wii by 7:30am. WTF? (Oddly enough, Gamestop got more in on Wednesday and Thursday, though they said they had no idea that they were coming. Friday, 70 people stood in line all fucking day just in case a Wii showed up (it didn’t). Can you imagine wasting an entire day in a mall just in case your wish came in?)

Perhaps even more frustrating are the other retailers. I just called Toys R Us, who’s rumored to consistently have more inventory than anyone else. Before I could finish asking, the woman replied: “We don’t have any.” Me: “Do you know…” Her: “No, we have no idea.” Click.

Think about it for a minute: she’s annoyed with me that I want to spend money at her store. On a high ticket item no less.

I’m not just trying offline retailers, either. To give you an idea of the tools I’m using to try and procure a Wii (one of which actually produced a near miss), I’m subscribed to the feed for Wii Tracker, a site that somehow checks the various etailer sites on a near-real-time basis to see who’s got a Wii in stock. I’m also trying out these instructions, which involve downloading a site monitoring tool called URLy Warning to check another inventory-checking site, Nintendo Wii Preorders every minute to see if its contents change. (This was the near miss: I caught an alert, visited the site it claimed had one available, and I hesitated before buying the bundle that was offered. By the time I’d decided to bite the bullet and spend the extra $$, the unit was no longer available.)

That’s another thing: the seemingly endless groupings of “bundles” is breathtaking. I’ve seen bundles (keep in mind that the console itself is just $249, one of its selling points) that go as high as $750… taking this from an inexpensive nice-to-have and quickly making it an expensive endeavor.

Nevertheless, if I wanted a Wii before my kids actually played one, now that they’ve experienced a Wii (thanks to the Wii Mall Tour), I’m hell-bent on finding one. It was cool enough to see Ricky (my six year-old) pick it up pretty quickly. But when Robby (my four year-old, whose had a lifetime’s worth of medical issues in his four short years) picked up a Wii controller and, within 15 seconds, was pitching fast balls in the Wii baseball game? I became a man on a mission. They’ve been by the Wii display at the mall once more (tonight) and they played a different game (Excite Truck), and watching them effortlessly interact, play together and enjoy the experience, well, let’s just say I was sold. And Mike tells me that his wife (not exactly a gamer) has as much fun as he does, and this seems like a great family console.

If only I could find one. (Speaking of wihch, props to Erik, who’s trying to shortcut the process by offering a free provisional patent application in exchange for a Wii. I can’t beat that!)

By the way, if you’re part of the Wii-less and want to show your disdain for the sadly undeserving people who’ve been able to procure one before us, check out Wii Have a Problem. Some of these are priceless.

Signs of the apocalypse

If you have the stomach for it, this 22 minute recording= of a phone call with Verizon Wireless customer service is just staggering. Throughout the entire experience, noone — not supervisors, not account reps, not even the supervisor’s supervisor — are capable of recognizing that .002 dollars is different than .002 cents. That this guy stayed on the phone for as long as he did without spewing every profanity in the book is remarkable. I’d like to think I had his patience, but when you’re right, you’re dealing with morons, and they’re annoyed with you because they think you’re the moron, well, I don’t know how he held up.

Reminds me of my own experience with Verizon Wireless “Unlimited” Broadband here in the States, where my “unlimited” account somehow incurred overage charges, to the tune of $1300 in one month. Took five months to unravel, and I’m only just now able to expense it because it was so friggin’ confusing. I lost count of how many phone calls, but in my case, fortunately we were simply arguing over whether the term “unlimited” meant the same thing as “no overage charges”. (Fortunately they came to see my side of things.)

Friday, December 8, 2006

2 Shot at Quarles & Brady?

Our office is across the street from 500 W. Madison, which houses, among other tenants, Quarles & Brady. The Tribune is reporting on the shooting (the building is also the Metra station); according to the DHL delivery guy who was just in our office delivering a package, he was on the 36th floor (Q&B is on the 37th) when the shots rang out. From what he gathered, two were shot, and one person is being held hostage, though it’s not at all clear what, precisely, is going on right now.

What we do know: the Metra station and the rest of the building are being evacuated. Traffic is snarled.

Update: Tribune is now reporting four shot, one critical, though still no confirmation that the shooting was at Quarles & Brady. I’m basing that conclusion on input from the DHL guy who was in our office and said he was one floor down from their office, so it’s entirely possible that his info is incorrect.

Walking from our office to Union Station (where my train leaves from) was interesting; we gave Ogilve a wide berth, but you could still see thousands of people on the street, apparently waiting for clearance to get back into the Metra station.

Later Update: May not be Q&B after all, Chicagoist reports it may be a different law firm, Wood Phillips. One dead, 4 injured.

Even later: Tribune confirming the shooting was on the 38th floor, not the 37th. Looks like there are several law firms who share offices there, will find out more later.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Barack Hussein Obama

For those that missed this wonderful nugget on MSNBC last week, go check it out. A GOP strategist thinks he’ll score some points by race-baiting. “Count me down as somebody that underestimates Barack Hussein Obama,” Rogers said.

Good Lord.

My recommended come-back? “Sure, my middle name is Hussein. But to be honest, it’s not like Saddam’s still at large. Now, my last name? That rhymes with Osama, and he’s still at large five years after attacking the World Trade Center. Seems like that’s a bigger handicap.”

Obama’s staff did me one better. Calls to Barack’s office asking how to spell his middle name are answered succinctly, “Like the dictator.”

I love it.

Congrats to Jake and Natalie

Jake will share the details (and oh boy, what a backstory this one has), but for the time being: Congrats! Here’s to a long and happy life together.

Google Trends and Barack Obama

Over at his blog, Erik Heels suggests that based on current data, Hillary Clinton will beat Barack Obama. Only he gets it slightly wrong: he compared Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama. Here’s the chart Erik came up with:

Barak Obama (blue) vs. Hillary Clinton (red)
Barak vs. Hillary
I thought this was a bit odd: why weren’t there any news reference points for Barack? Then I realized: he spelled Barack’s name wrong. With Barack’s name spelled correctly, check out the difference:

Barack Obama (blue) vs. Hillary Clinton (red)
Barack vs. Hillary
Note that this doesn’t entirely challenge Erik’s reasoning: many people will spell Barack’s name wrong (my search logs prove this: several commenters referred to him as Barak on my site, leading to a lot of traffic as a result). But I think with the corrected name used as a reference point, plus the combination of the misspelled name and the corrected name, leads one to conclude that Barack’s doing quite well for a freshman Senator in overall national awareness and interest.

Dow Jones, our latest publisher

As I hinted last week, we’d have another couple big announcements coming shortly. The first of those is that Dow Jones is now using FeedBurner to manage all of their feeds. Not only is it a terrific validation of what we’ve been up to, it’s exciting to be a part of such a forward thinking strategic shift at a major paper. At a time when many are worried about the print media business’s prospects, Dow Jones has methodically built a case study in how to stay ahead of the curve. They have the largest paid subscription site on the web (, partnerships with some of the leading tech companies (Brightcove, Yahoo/, now us) and have demonstrated an eagerness to test out new stuff.

It’s been a pleasure to work with the team (especially Raanan Bar-Cohen, who managed to move all their feeds over right around the time his wife was having their first baby!) and I’m confident they’re going to be pushing us to innovate for a long time to come. Thanks to Dow Jones for the vote of confidence.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Lenovo Rides the Cluetrain

In the Cluetrain Manifesto, David and Chris and Doc wrote that “markets are conversations”. Much has been made of the importance of listening to your customers, and engaging them rather than talking at them. Remarkably, even when the perils of ignoring customer feedback have been made abundantly clear, companies that go the distance in this realm are the exception, not the rule.

Yesterday, in a keynote presentation at a web 2.0 conference hosted by Hothouse, an Australian consultancy, Ross Dawson used my experience with Lenovo this spring as a case study in how a company can get it right. Ross writes that to fully benefit from the web 2.0 ecosystem, marketers must:
  1. Listen to and learn from conversations

  2. Speak… honestly and transparently

  3. Provide compelling content in accessible formats

  4. Go where lead consumers are going
It’s exceedingly straightforward advice, but I think too often companies are concerned about doing it wrong and end up staying on the sidelines. Ross’s advice is useful, and it’s in the right order: if you aren’t engaged in a conversation about your product, company or industry today, start by simply listening to the conversations that are already happening. (They almost certainly are out there, you just have to find them.) Go to Technorati, search on obvious terms. Bookmark the sites, or, better yet, subscribe to their feeds in Google Reader, and use the “share” function to generate a link feed so that you can share useful posts with your team. Encourage them to do the same, and you’ll start exposing your key people to conversations they should be aware of… before long, they won’t be able to resist the urge to speak up and join in. At that point, the ball rolls downhill all by itself.

One last comment on the value of engaging consumers. When David Churbuck reached out to me — directly and immediately — he earned Lenovo a customer for life. (Despite other alternatives, when it came time to buy a new laptop this month, I didn’t bother looking at any other manufacturers: I wanted another ThinkPad.) But even more importantly, what the PR vets call “earned media” can pay for itself over, and over, and over. Consider a few of the places David and I are discussed, as a result of one phone call and one blog post:
This kind of ripple effect is very similar to something I observed when working with the tech team at the Dean campaign in 2003 and 2004. As much as the blog, MeetUp, and petition drives helped drive online contributions, the fact that it was indicative of a different approach to campaigning earned the Dean campaign a ton of “free” media. That meant increased exposure on CNN, in a ton of papers, eventually on the cover of all three news magazines at the same time. So the online engagement drove offline awareness, which drove online activity, which… well, you get the idea. When it’s done right, every part of your marketing strategy feeds the other pieces, and the ripples in the water get bigger. I think we’re clearly seeing that with David’s one phone call: over 6 months later, the people calling attention to that simple act are growing more numerous, the audiences who are hearing that message are getting bigger, and it only reinforces a few key points: Lenovo cares about its customers. Lenovo customers are passionate about Lenovo’s products. And in this age of decreasing customer loyalty, you can’t put a price tag on that.

We take customer service very, very seriously at FeedBurner. And it’s not about waiting for the phone to ring or the inbox to fill: that’s way too passive these days. We have nearly 300,000 users around the world who use our service, and nearly 30 million people subscribe to feeds that we manage. Questions, concerns, praise — it can come from anyone, A-list or ZZ-list. Thanks to services like Technorati (not to mention Google), their posts all have equal authority: they’re all discoverable, and they all have the potential to influence someone’s decision. Like it or not, the conversations are happening. We made the decision early on to engage in those conversations, and the results are remarkable. When Aaron Brazell, the tech wizard at b5 Media, posted some positive feedback the other day (mixed with some constructive suggestions for improvement), 16 comments showed up in 2 days, with my favorites being: FeedBurner rocks!, I can’t speak highly enough of FeedBurner’s customer service, and all the help I’ve received from the team, especially Matt Shobe., I love feedburner, and I had an issue with one of my feeds not being recognized and the customer support I received was stellar. They tried to help me in every way possible, even though the issue ended up being a DNS error with my hosting provider. Makes me glad I decided to go with them.

Get in the conversation. You’ll be glad you did.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Lots going on

Been a week since I posted here, which is partly explained by the Thanksgiving holiday, but is mostly a reflection of just how busy we are at FeedBurner HQ. If you want to follow what I’m reading (but not writing about during this craziness), just subscribe to my link feed.

In the meantime, here’s a quick update on what we’re doing at FeedBurner:

  • Along with my kick-ass team (that’s Eric, who celebrated one year at FeedBurner today, and Jake), we launched the Publisher Tips Blog to help our publishers get more out of FeedBurner’s services. (Here’s the feed.)

  • Today’s big announcement was that 20 of the world’s largest blog networks now use FeedBurner. For those who haven’t been following, the growth of these new media empires has been remarkable over the past two years. Gawker, Federated Media, Corante, Gothamist, b5 Media, BlogHer, Pajamas Media, Lockergnome, Know More Media… the list goes on. I’m really proud to have developed such great relationships with the teams at each of those organizations, and it’s a terrific feeling to know we’re contributing to their success.

  • Also mentioned in that release is that our ad inventory has tripled in the past few months. That means our feed and site ad network reaches well over 15 million people per day, scattered across every channel imaginable. If you want to reach the largest number of loyal, demographically-targeted audiences through feeds or blogs, we’re the go-to network. And we’re not done: stay tuned for a couple more big announcements on this front in the next couple weeks.

  • Our developers have been hard at work on a slew of new features, and I’ll get a sneak-peek at some very, very cool new stuff we’ll be rolling out soon. Can’t talk about it yet, you’ll have to trust me. :)

  • Next month’s EContent Magazine lists us “one of the top 100 companies that matter”:

  • At AdTech this month, Nielsen NetRatings proclaimed that the Web 2.0 space was the fastest growing segment of the Web, and that none other than FeedBurner is the fastest-growing site (topping a few names you might have heard of, like Digg, Wikipedia and MySpace).

I have three presentations at SES Chicago next week — if you’re in town, stop by and say hi!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Breasts on a plane

This is just ridiculous. (Originally spotted over at BuzzMachine.) By contrast, I recall flying to Palm Springs with Robin and Ricky (then about 6 months old). We flew on Southwest (rapidly becoming my favorite airline, by the way – that’s another post), and I was struck as we began our initial descent: I was surrounded by breasts. Yep, that’s right: at least a half dozen moms, in unison, detached their nursing bras and their kids started exercising their jaws, making the descent much more peaceful for everyone else around us.

What was funny to me was the fact that we were all up front: Southwest, who doesn’t do assigned seating, let parents traveling with infants pre-board. And we all picked the front rows: close to a bathroom if necessary, less walking on/off the plane, etc. But what it meant was that, when it came time to breastfeed, all the breasts were in close proximity to each other. I know that the few passengers scattered in the surrounding seats couldn’t have cared less… in fact, it was something of a joke, leading one passenger and one of the Southwest flight attendants to joke that we were sitting in “Breast Class”.

Freedom Airlines should be ashamed of itself.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

I want a Wii

Mark’s review just cements for me why I want this console: it’ll be fun to play with my kids. I haven’t owned a game console since Sega Genesis circa 1995. And before that, our only game console was an Atari 2600. Nintendo was never a staple in our house: no Zelda, no Mario… only periodic games at friends’ houses. And yet I find myself caught up in the frenzy — so much so that, had we not been having friends over this morning for brunch, I would’ve been right there with Mike camping out to pick one up this morning.

As luck would (almost) have it, I refreshed my browser at 10:01am this morning while on the Amazon product page for the Wii. And I was stunned to see the “add to cart” button show up. But upon pressing the button, I got an error message: “The Wii is no longer available.”

So close, and yet so far. (Amazon sold out their allotment in less than a minute.)

Here’s hoping I can find one in the next few weeks, this would be a treat to have under the tree next month.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Google Maps on Treo 650

Wowowowowow. I’d seen Google Maps on Java-enabled phones before, but it was never compatible with the Treo I’ve been carrying for the last couple years. The other day I loaded Google in my Treo’s browser, and saw a link to Google Maps for Treo. Smart move on Google’s part: they sniffed my browser’s user agent, saw I was using a Treo, and pushed out a link to install the app.

For Treo users, go to in your browser; for those reading this on a PC who want to read more, details are here. It’s great – you can find businesses, load a map of the area, get driving directions, and even see real-time traffic reports. Very, very slick, and a must-have for any Treo users.

Monday, November 13, 2006

PubCon in Vegas

Anyone reading this going to be in Vegas tonight through Wednesday? I’m speaking at PubCon tomorrow with Owen Byrne from Digg, Chris Tolles from Topix, and Niall Kennedy (humorously listed on the PubCon page as “Founder, Niall Kennedy” — I’ve heard of people reinventing themselves, but founding yourself? That’s cool.) tomorrow afternoon. If you’re going to be at PubCon or you’ll be in Vegas and want to have a drink or two, drop me a line. I get in this afternoon, and fly back on Wednesday.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

ThinkPad z61t - I'm in love

About two months ago, my old ThinkPad started to show signs of distress. The wifi couldn’t get an IP address at home (but it could at work). Then it stopped getting an IP at work, necessitating an ethernet cable strewn across the desk to get connectivity. Then overall sluggish behavior took hold, causing ever-lengthier boot-ups.

It should be noted that this is not a ThinkPad thing, it’s a Windows thing. (Don’t say it. No, really. Don’t. I don’t want to hear “get a Mac”. Don’t. Say. It.) And I tend to beat the hell out of my laptops – they stay on for days on end, going into standby only when I’m en route to the train station or the office… otherwise, they’re on non-stop. I install a ton of applications, because I do a lot with my computer. I could continue the “it’s not the machine, it’s me” defense, but let’s just say, I’m sympathetic when these things give up the ghost.

So it was time to replace my ThinkPad (a T42). Things I didn’t like about that machine: max resolution was 1024×768 and it was heavy (15” display and larger chassis translated to nearly 8 pounds, not counting the power cord). But after canvassing my non-Mac friends (Don’t Say It), I couldn’t really bring myself to look at anything but a ThinkPad. Readers of this blog know that I’ve long been a fan of ThinkPads (I’ve lost count, but this machine is either ThinkPad #5 or #6 in the past 7 years), and I’m thrilled to report that my newest (the z61t machine is a spectacular, shockingly good machine. Head and shoulders above any other ThinkPad I’ve had, mainly because, in addition to all its ThinkPad-y goodness, it’s also, dare I say it, just a little bit sleek. No, it’s not (ahem) Mac-like. That would be sacrilege for a ThinkPad. But this one sheds its boxy, Volvo-like blandness for a little bit of style. Added to its significant substance and it’s a winner.

First off, why do I swear by the ThinkPads? Let’s see: the keyboards are consistently remarkable, far superior to any other keyboard I’ve typed on (including desktop keyboards). I type a little over 100 words a minute, and when your fingers move fast on a keyboard that’s not responsive, your hands actually get tired. ThinkPad keys always bounce back without pushing back, and they’ve always felt solid. The trackpoint (the little eraser in between the g, h, and b keys) is something that once you get used to, you can’t live without. And the ThinkPad software — Access Connections (to manage connection profiles), File & Folder Security (solidy crypto to secure your files), and Rescue & Recovery (for pre-boot disk recovery) — have consistently been head and shoulders above what I’ve seen other manufacturers bundle with their products.

That said, I was torn. I found the T series to be heavier than I wanted, and the X series (their ultraportable) seemed a bit too small (their displays won’t show greater than 1024×768, probably because on a monitor that tiny, anything larger would be unreadable). (I briefly looked at the Lenovo v3000, but the lack of a Trackpoint and the “upgrade” from a pc card to an Express Card both were deal-breakers for me.) Somehow I’d missed the Z series — inexplicably smaller than the T, but bigger than the X. Whatever you call it, it’s perfect. It’s a widescreen display (currently set at 1440 × 900, which feels perfect), but in a smaller chassis than the T series – so the unit weighs just over 4 pounds. Aside from the display, it’s what this thing has built-in that really stand apart:

  • Webcam (not photo quality, but perfect for video chats and webinars)

  • Verizon Broadband (no more PC card!)

  • Memory card reader

  • 3 USB ports, 1 firewire port, 1 PC slot

  • DVD and CD burner

  • WiFi (a/b/g)

  • Bluetooth

With 1 gig of RAM, 100 gig hard drive, and a 2ghz Intel Core Duo chip, it’s all around just a spectacular machine. It’s noticeably lighter, the screen seems quite a bit brighter than the T42 it replaced, it’s far more functional than its predecessor (lots more built-in), and the integrated broadband wireless (you’ll recall I’m a fan of Verizon’s service) means that I can shed another peripheral and still remain connected whenever the laptop’s on. The unit seems to operate cooler than previous laptops I’ve used, too; only downside so far is that the speakers, while good, aren’t loud enough. (Oh – the sleek part? Rounded corners on the chassis, and — mon dieu! — a titanium cover. What will they think of next?!)

All in all, I’m thrilled. If you’re in the market for a new laptop, I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

Quote of the year

Robin and I took the better part of the last couple days to do some long-overdue cleaning around the house. At one point this afternoon, the boys’ bathroom was cleared out so I could scrub the floors and the sinks; our bathroom was in a similar state. Our bedroom, however, was mostly done, and the bags of goodwill donations were finally cataloged and in the car. Seeing the lack of bags in our bedroom, and the empty state of the bathrooms, our six year-old yelled down to us while we took a break to make lunch.

Ricky: “Hey guys?”

Us: “Yes?”

Ricky: “Are we moving?”

No, Ricky. We’re not moving. We’re cleaning. And I realize by sharing this, I’m shining a not-so-pleasant light on the frequency (or lack thereof) of our house cleaning habits. But let’s just say that the comedy trumped pride. (As well it should, no?)

Thursday, November 9, 2006

From Charlie Brown to Adam Vinatieri

Chris Casey neatly sums up with two WaPo editorial cartoons the last couple weeks for Democrats. From this:

To this:

With George Allen about to concede, the macro election (a few races are still in recounts around the country): the House and the Senate are again Democratic majorities.

Sunday, November 5, 2006


When we first moved here nearly 6 years ago, I was fortunate to have a co-worker whose daughter was eager to babysit. She was 13 at the time, and she turned out to be perfect: responsible, engaged, and she genuinely loved the kids. Of course, last year she went off to college, and now that we have a third child we haven’t felt all that comfortable picking a random neighborhood teenager to watch three kids at a time. Consequently, we don’t get out much these days!

On our ever-growing to-do list has been to check out SitterCity. I first heard about them from a local tech event — they’re based here in Chicago. (That’s right, another Web 2.0 company based in Chicago!) More about the company and their history here, and their new blog is here… I’m surprised we hadn’t heard about the site earlier: it’s an ideal resource that executes flawlessly.

In a nutshell, SitterCity makes it easy for babysitters (from the in-school crowd to full-time nannies) to list their qualifications, share references and skills, and search for current open sitting opportunities. Parents can browse the database of sitters and contact those who appear interesting, can read reviews left by other parents about the sitters, and can also post jobs (one-time or recurring) which are then e-mailed out to all sitters in the area. The site is a perfect blend of functionality and community, and I can already tell this site will help us find a few regular fill-ins for our former babysitter.

Rates are set by the sitters and parents, so there’s no attempt by SitterCity to impose pricing, nor does SitterCity get a cut of any jobs that get filled – the model is subscription based for parents and free for sitters. They even include a pretty useful rate calculator that helps you figure out what’s more-or-less the going rate based on your zip, # of kids, age of babysitter and years of experience. (First lesson learned? We were underpaying our former babysitter!)

If you give it a try and mention my username (rickklau), you’ll get a discount (apparently 10% or more) and I’ll get a few bucks towards a movie ticket — which might be a nice way to spend one of those nights off once we find a couple sitters we like. We meet our first potential sitter this afternoon — she lives nearby, is a teacher by day and is looking to make some extra money. I’ll post updates as we get more experience with the site, but so far, my first exposure is very positive.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Barack Obama in Maryland

He sure gives a good stump speech.

(Removed video due to feed-related problems; working with plugin author to fix asap!)
Available here if you want to hop on over to YouTube.

2006 Election in a Phone Call

Josh has the details. If I didn’t know Josh better, I’d swear he was making it up.

You should read the whole post. But here’s the quick summary: robocalls are illegal in Indiana. So, the NRCC, in an attempt to paint the Democrat in an Indiana race as soft on immigration, hired a phone banking operation to make the calls. One problem: the phone bank wasn’t in Indiana, but in India. And apparently they had accents.

So the purported beneficiary (Republican Mark Souder) of the calls is now up in arms over the foreigners making calls into his district. Hilarious.

Friday, November 3, 2006

Paul Curreri Has a New Album On the Way

What a great early Christmas present: Paul Curreri has a new album coming out soon, “The Velvet Rut”. The first track from the album is available over at Paul’s MySpace page, and all I can say is: wow. Talk about a new direction! It’s remarkable. Go listen.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Lawyers, Blogs and Music

Two posts lately by friends were an absolute joy to read: Erik Heels wrote about meeting a rock star at a Halloween party, and Marty Schwimmer wrote about a Springsteen tribute band.

Not only were these posts fun to read, but is there any doubt that if you were a musician, you’d hire these two in a heartbeat to protect your IP? Just great examples of how blogs can be used to market a firm’s expertise by showing off the personalities of the people who make up the firms.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Emerging from Sugar Coma, Enjoying Long Or Short

Long or Short Capital is evaluating the burgeoning candy exchange market, thinking about standardizing on the candy corn as the unit of candy reserve currency, and traders are shocked that the peanut isn’t contributing to a rise in peanut M&M values.

This is almost as good as the excess candy I brought in this morning.

(And yes, I realize that with this post, I’ve prolonged Halloweek for yet another day.)

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Startups and "normal" lives

Scott Converse, CEO at ClickCaster, wrote a thought-provoking piece the other day about being involved in a start-up as a 40-something. Some key take-away quotes for me:

I’m in my 40’s. I’m divorced. I’m in good health. I don’t feel much different than I did when I was 25. I don’t party like a 25 year old any more, but I have no problem staying up to 2am, working through weekends and doing whatever it takes. I also have no problem using my personal resources to make this fly, including my house as our office/development lab for the last year. Something tells me if I were married or had a live in girlfriend, that’s not something that would have been possible (or, if it had, not gone on for anything close to a year).

The reality with a startup is the work comes first. The big difference for me between this and most 40 something’s doing a ‘day job’ is it’s also my play. Given a choice in what I’d do in my ‘off time’.. well, this is it. So the two (personal and professional lives) merge and become one.

My guess is only a small percentage of marriages can survive it (and yes, some can). I know though I would not be doing this if I were married. I would not have turned down that mid six figure executive job at the fortune 50 company with my (now ex) wife looking over my shoulder. The privilege of creating something from nothing but your mind, and turning it into something real, useful and valuable in the world doesn’t carry the same weight as the big title and paycheck for many spouses.

The whole piece is worth a read; but these really hit home for me. FeedBurner has been the most challenging, time-consuming and fulfilling job I’ve had. Period. It’s also consumed more of my time than anything I’ve done since I started the Richmond Journal of Law & Technology while allegedly a full-time student… and instead of being 22 and uncommitted, I’m 35 and a married father of 3. It’s not easy.

The obvious things are the travel – leaving Robin home alone to take care of 3 kids for 2-4 days at a time is never fun – but even when I’m home, the job often consumes whatever waking hours I’ve got. There’s an endless stream of e-mails, the forums (if you ever wondered about our commitment to our users, check out how many times we’ve posted in response to questions from our users over the last couple years), the blog posts to respond to, IMs from customers and partners, and the persistent wondering whether we’re doing everything we can to hit this thing out of the park.

Steve noted the other day that there was a lot he got “wrong” about FeedBurner early on… that’s part of the fun at being at a nimble start-up, and having an executive team that can iterate quickly. (It’s to Steve’s credit that much of what he claims he got wrong is actually a series of examples of how much he and the rest of the team have gotten right.)

One example for me stands out – we had a rocky roll-out over the summer of a new feature; everyone was already insanely busy, and we didn’t do a good job of coordinating things between teams. That’s easy to do, but when the pressure mounts to get it right and you realize that things haven’t gone smoothly, it’s easy to get caught up defending why you did what you did instead of working to address the problem. We adjusted, Eric and Jake kicked ass in addressing our outreach efforts to publishers, and the end result was a dramatically improved process, tons of great feedback from our users, and a better overall service. All in about 10 days. Having worked at companies where everything had to be perfect before anything went out the door, I can say I greatly prefer this approach, even if it means for a bit more adrenaline when you’re in the middle of the iteration.

Startups work when there’s coordinated effort and shared sacrifice. One of the things I noted when I was meeting the FeedBurner guys for the first time was that all four founders were married, all had kids about my kids’ age, and they were around my age. Steve made a point of telling me that everyone had the occasional doctor visits, need to stay at home to deal with an emergency, etc., and that a work/life balance (to the extent that such a thing is possible in a start-up environment) was important. Sure enough, I’m working from home today (Halloweek continues!) — and that’s OK. While there’s no real way to avoid the occasional lengthy trips away from home, being able to see my 4 year-old parade around the block with his preschool class, and then 3 hours later see my 6 year-old do the same thing at his elementary school, well, that’s pretty cool. And I like that I don’t feel guilty when I do this – that even though I’m not in the office everyone realizes I’m still working my butt off.

Scott’s right: this life isn’t for everyone. And he’s also right that the fat paycheck and benefits that you can get with a BigCo can be alluring – but I’m a builder. I am immensely proud of what we’ve built at FeedBurner, and can’t imagine having done anything else over the last couple years. I was at my law school reunion a couple weeks ago, and when I told a classmate that I’d been part of 4 start-ups – one through acquisition, one through an IPO, one through a funding round, and now FeedBurner, through hyper-growth mode – she asked whether it wasn’t a bit exhausting. Of course it is: it’s more than a bit exhuasting.

But it’s exhilarating too. And when you can see the impact of the building we’re doing every single day, it’s incredibly rewarding. That it’s all happening while Robin and I are building a family means I’m spoiled by successes personal and professional… and not a day goes by that I don’t realize that without her and the kids, the professional stuff would seem a whole lot less exciting or fulfilling.

Is Scott right? Does being unattached help? Maybe. But for those of us who are neither 20-somethings nor 40-somethings and are very attached (!), I guess you just find a way to make it work. You just need a few more people trying to make it work for you to pull it off. I’m lucky to have them both at home and at work.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The big day is upon us

Just got back to my desk from the Innovation Awards, and look what was waiting on my desktop:


That’s right, IE7 just downloaded automatically via Automatic Update.

Now the fun begins!

Chicago Innovation Awards

Leaving the office in a few minutes to head on over to the Chicago Innovation Awards ceremony. Yep, that’s right: FeedBurner’s an innovator. Bet you had no idea! Along with local heavyweights Sara Lee, Motorola, and fellow Web 2.0 trendsetters 37Signals, we’re very proud to have been recognized as one of ten companies innovating in the Chicago business community.

Trying Google Reader

I’ve been trying Google Reader for the last couple weeks, and I really like it. The interface is very clean, and it’s taken very little time to get used to as my primary feed reading app. There’s also a mobile version, which renders very quickly on my Treo.

One nice feature is the ‘share’ button at the bottom of every item. Click it, and it’s automatically added to your Google Shared Items feed, which I’m now running through FeedBurner and using BuzzBoost to render the last 10 links on the sidebar at my blog. (Feed subscribers can subscribe to the feed.)

When did Halloween become a week-long celebration?

By my count, my kids have been dressed up at four events so far, and Halloween is still a day away. I hate to start sounding like Grumpy Old Man, but geez. This is nuts.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Tim Calhoun Effect

This is pretty funny. Four years ago, the Will Forte character Tim Calhoun made an appearance on Saturday Night Live, and I wrote about some of my favorite lines. (If you haven’t seen it, Tim Calhoun is a Senate candidate whose public speaking skills are atrocious. It’s well-written, and Forte is tremendous.)

Well, wouldn’t you know that I’m current #2 at Google when you search for Tim Calhoun, and judging by traffic overnight, lots of people like Tim’s prospects in the upcoming election based on his appearance last night:

Within minutes of its broadcast, nearly 200 people had dropped by.

Speaking of SNL, I’m now a Beck convert. His music was never my favorite, but last night’s performance – especially “Clap Hands”, along with the puppet stage alongside the live performance – was brilliant. Just brilliant.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Second Life

OK, I need someone to give me a crash course in Second Life. What do I need to know to get started? Any good tutorials I should read?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Rush Limbaugh

I used to think that Limbaugh’s shtick was just that: harmless mugging for the microphone, and the only scary thing was that there were some on the other end of the radio that actually took his shtick at face value. But no longer. His shameless attack on Michael J. Fox is unconscionable. (When you learn, as Olbermann points out, that Fox did a similar ad for a Republican candidate in 2004, Limbaugh’s “The Democrats are exploiting Michael J. Fox’s disease” argument sure loses its luster.)

That Limbaugh isn’t being universally castigated by the media is quite sad.

I can’t wait until this election cycle is over. This is really nauseating.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The brotherhood of man

We are at a crossroads here in the US, a critical juncture in choosing to either “stay the course” or to follow a path that doesn’t rely on fear, torture and intimidation to accomplish our goals. We are a country of ideals: that all men are created equal, that we all have certain rights that no government can eliminate, that our government exists to serve the people (and most definitely not the other way around). Yet we’ve let a cowardly terrorist not only injure us, in our response to his cowardly attack, we’ve debased ourselves by practicing the worst of what we’re capable of. We’ve held our own citizens without charges or access to counsel. We’ve tortured prisoners. We’ve created secret prisons so that we can hide prisoners from the world’s oversight. We’ve lied to ourselves, and we’ve lied to our Allies. Worst of all, this very week, our own Congress granted unheard of powers to an already power-hungry executive, shattering the foundation on which our previously-strong government was built. Terrorism didn’t make our Democracy weaker. We just did.

Two posts today crystallized for me what this war, and this election, are about. Both are worth reading in their entirety, but I will try to capture their essence. One, a citizen in Wheaton, Illinois, writes by e-mail (*update:* Greg Sargent at TPMCafe has the letter reprinted in full) about her brother serving in Iraq, and the fears she confronts every day. The other, the brother of Pat Tillman (former NFL star, Army soldier who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan), writes about his brother’s service and the choices we, as a country, have made.

Nicole Curtis-Torres writes:

Talking to [Tammy Duckworth] was the first time I could say, “I’m scared as hell.” She understands what I go through everyday. He’s my brother – he’s my hero. This has been my own daily struggle and Tammy understands what it feels like.

Despite political differences, one thing all Americans can agree on is that we are all proud of those who serve in our armed forces. This fall, I will be supporting Tammy Duckworth because she is the type of person we need in Congress – she understands what is going on in Iraq.

And Kevin Tillman writes that his brother’s birthday would have been this November 6, the day before the 2006 elections:
In a democracy, the policy of the leaders is the policy of the people. So don’t be shocked when our grandkids bury much of this generation as traitors to the nation, to the world and to humanity. Most likely, they will come to know that “somehow” was nurtured by fear, insecurity and indifference, leaving the country vulnerable to unchecked, unchallenged parasites.

Luckily this country is still a democracy. People still have a voice. People still can take action. It can start after Pat’s birthday.

Nicole and Kevin were writing of their brothers. But on this most important of elections, we are all brothers. This isn’t a Republican vs. Democrat thing. It’s an American thing: do you believe in the fundamental strength of our Constitution and the rights and protections it affords, or do you believe that when threatened, we must abrogate those responsibilities we’ve historically held dear so that we might succeed?

In the wake of 9/11, I wrote the following:

The evil, thoughtless, callous acts of hundreds of men have threatened our existence. They struck at us, took advantage of the very thing that makes us who we are – our freedom, our openness – and will no doubt do so again. Families have been shattered, lives lost. For what? The fear, of course, is that the country would react to this external threat by dividing itself: casting blame, pointing fingers.

I said this isn’t about Republican vs. Democrat, and that’s not entirely true: the Republicans, the party of “mission accomplished” and “stay the course”, will this weekend trot out campaign ads staring none other than Osama bin Laden. They will try and divide us, cast blame on the Democrats (who haven’t held a single branch of government in 6 years: how can they be blamed for the mess we’re in?!) and point fingers at anyone but themselves. I didn’t think there was any risk in September of 2001 of that coming to pass; I’m appalled that I was prescient.

If not for Nicole and Kevin’s brothers, then how about for us: let’s start electing people who aren’t afraid to face reality as it is, not as we wished it to be; who understand what it is about this country that makes us unlike any other in the world; and who understand that our Government derives its very existence from our consent. Let’s show the world and ourselves that we will not be motivated by fear, we’ll be motivated by confidence: confidence in our own founding document, confidence in our Government, confidence in our brothers.

Bush rethinking Iraq strategy? Good.

He can start by having one. It’s only 2 and a half years late, but apparently the prospect of losing both houses of Congress was enough to finally wake President Bush up to the fact that the vast majority of the country sees his approach to Iraq as worse than useless: it’s resulting in an escalation of violence, endangering the lives of our soldiers and Iraqi civilians.


(click image for story)

As Barack said a while back, if a bus driver drives the bus into the ditch, getting into an argument over how you ended up in the ditch probably isn’t that productive. Debating whether the bus driver gets to remain behind the wheel? Worthwhile discussion.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

With friends like these...

My friends make me look like a slacker. Here’s what a few have been up to lately:

  • Fellow Acton-Boxboro alumnus and rekindled friend Tim Coyne got himself on TV recently, which landed him a bed for the first time in something like 7 years, and a new lease on his relationship (which, if I’m counting right, is veering close into Hannah Swift territory). Fueling awesome. (Listen to the “unkempt” episodes for an explanation.)

  • Longtime buddy Ross Fishman took the wraps off his new website, with all kinds of great material. Any consultants out there looking for examples of how to build a great site, check out what Ross has done. Tons of materials, good sample videos of what he knows and how he speaks, and a great voice. Points off for the shocking lack of an RSS feed (oh, how my friends can stick a knife in my back), but nobody’s perfect. Ross: get yourself a feed (through FeedBurner, thank you very much) and I’ll explain the Matrix for you after all these years. Promise.

  • Mitch Ratcliffe, who I first got to know while at Socialtext, recently brought his latest project out of private beta — BuzzLogic (more discussion at their blog), a neat tool that Mitch told me about at Gnomedex. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I played a small part in the private beta, when I wrote about my ThinkPad problems this spring: BuzzLogic beta tester (and yet another friend) David Churbuck found my comments and was able to quickly act on them with the help of the BuzzLogic tool.

  • Betsy Smith, aka “the funny half of Croncast“ (I kid, I kid), recently launched Resale Queen, a site all about her hobby obsession profession addicition to acquiring used stuff and selling it for obscene profits. Truly, this woman should be famous. And I don’t mean Naperville famous, I mean famous famous. She’s hilarious. Hunting Good Will as an olympic sport? A pun and a crack on current events? I’m sold.

  • Jeremy Wright went and raised a few million for b5Media, which gives him a great foundation to build on. This is good news, because I can now explain that subscription to Lohan Groupie in my aggregator as “customer service”. ;)

  • Chris IM’d me today to tell me he had “big news”, then wouldn’t tell me what it was. (My guesses: 1) He traded in his new Acura for a Honda, because he heard the iPod integration was so good 2) he’s leaving Vista for Linux because GUIs are overrated, or 3) He’s starting a site to compete with Betsy to detail his yard sale tabloid site at Apparently I’m way off; who knew?). You know, Chris, if I thought you’d be mortified by it, I’d post that picture of you on the cruise. But somehow I think you’d actually enjoy that, so I’m back to just waiting for whatever your news is.

  • Ben Stanfield, who I got to know during the Dean campaign, just started (Yes, I hope to God he runs, and will do whatever I can to get him elected. More on that later.) The next frontier for presidential politics will be marshalling the 18-24 crowd through some of the social networking sites, and the fact that Ben’s already got a MySpace page and a Facebook group tells me that he could be getting a jumpstart for ’08.

My friends have had a hell of a month!

Illinois politics: Truth is way stranger than fiction

Since many readers of this blog aren’t local, you may not be familiar with the cornucopia of political plotlines brewing in Illinois. Here’s a rundown on just the last couple months in Illinois politics:

  • Ex-Governor (Ryan), who had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (for his work to reform the death penalty system in Illinois), sentenced to prison for brazen corruption

  • Current Governor (Blagojevich) under an increasing cloud of suspicion, due to questionable “gifts” (I wish my kids got 1500 dollar checks from my friends on their birthdays), and questionable “friends” (the latest of whom missed his indictment hearing last week for his fundraising tactics), leading some to assume he’ll be re-elected (only because the Republican is even less well-liked, and has less cash) but then indicted and won’t be able to serve out his term.

  • Just to my west, the Republican candidate for county board, after being arrested on a few dozen counts of sexually abusing two underage girls (he was a 36 year-old married father of four), committed suicide on Tuesday by driving his car into a concrete barrier at a high rate of speed. His name will “stay on the ballot”:,6_1_NA19_CRASH_S1.article.

  • The Speaker of the House, meanwhile, Illinois’ own Dennis Hastert, pledges he’s taking responsibility for the failure of the Republican Congress to keep Congressional Pages safe, while actively trying to lay blame at the feet of anyone but himself.

  • The Democratic candidate for State Treasurer’s family is alleged to have “ties to organized crime”:

  • The Democratic candidate running against Hastert, John Laesch, was caught on tape explaining that Abraham Lincoln freed slaves not because it was right, but because it helped the little farmer compete with Big Plantation. Abraham Lincoln: Fighting for the Little Guy. Oy.

And things are about to get even more interesting, with one of our sitting Congressmen (a Republican) about to be implicated in yet another page scandal, this one apparently concerning an underage girl. Good Lord. Update: Or maybe not.
And yeah, there’s more… I just hit some of the high (low?) points. Feel free to post your own favorites of Illinois politics from this cycle in the comments.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

IE7 Shipping - a comment on the stylesheet

Fred notes that IE7’s default behavior is to ignore a publisher’s XSLT stylesheet (if the publisher has pointed to one, which the vast majority of FeedBurner publishers have done), and he’s not exactly thrilled about this.

While poking around my computer config the other day, I noticed a new setting in “Internet Options” that addresses Fred’s issue (at least, on an end user basis): you can turn this “feature” off. Open Control Panel, click on the “Content” tab and then click the “settings” button next to “Feeds”:

Now uncheck the box next to “turn on feed reading view”.

From now on, feeds with a stylesheet will render as the publisher intended. That doesn’t help the vast majority of publishers whose readers will be using the default install of IE7, but it’s at least an option for power users who want some choice.

Friday, October 13, 2006

TechCocktail - a great party

Last night was the second TechCocktail event, and it was incredible. I had to miss the first because of a family commitment, but I’m really glad I got to make it last night. Eric and Frank really outdid themselves: over 300 in attendance when all was said and done. The founder of Vonage was there, the CEO of Orbitz was there, a number of VCs, developers, consultants, start-ups, sales guys… you name it. I didn’t get to meet anywhere near the number of people I’d hoped to, there just wasn’t enough time! Nevertheless, it was an incredibly well-planned event, and Eric and Frank should be very proud of what they pulled off.

Check out the pictures and blog recaps. Can’t wait for #3!

Special thanks to Jeff Pulver for buying the drinks. I kept wondering why so many people were “singing” the Vonage yodel, now I know why. :)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Techdirt Insight Community

I’ve enjoyed knowing Mike Masnick almost as long as I’ve been blogging (I used to work with a guy who was friends with Mike in high school, we got to know each other through Mitch), and I’ve always been impressed with the business he’s built around Techdirt. Most of us in the blogosphere know Techdirt as the great blog at, but the primary business has been their Corporate Intelligence service. When Mike called me last week to fill me in on their newly-launched Insight Community, I was convinced immediately. They formally announced the community today.

The concept is simple: Insight Communities leverage thought leaders in specific areas; companies engage Techdirt for confidential insight and analysis from those individuals. The people at Techdirt have always been good at weeding out the important stuff (that’s what makes their Corporate Intelligence service valuable, and their blog so good) — so identifying influential bloggers on key topics won’t be hard at all. Bloggers — never a group known for a dearth of opinions — get to trade on Techdirt’s name and access to corporate clients. The end result will be fast, informed opinion that will be quite useful to the companies who hire Techdirt.

Mark Fletcher thinks this is a shot across Gartner’s bow I’m not so sure it is in the short term. I see the two co-existing for a while, since the very notion of turning to bloggers (many of whom are proudly amateurs and will see this as only a secondary source of income) for actionable information will be anathema to a whole class of companies who wouldn’t bat an eyelash at spending big bucks to engage a more traditional analyst firm. But for those companies who are more aggressive, who are more comfortable making big decisions based on informed opinions by people who may not be traditionally seen as “pros”, this is an intriguing option. Seems very much like a classic Christensen “disruptive” market offering, actually. Can’t wait to see the impact it has…

Update on Outlook 2007 and RSS support

Thanks to Patrick Schmid, a Microsoft MVP, we recently discovered that Outlook 2007 doesn’t reveal itself in its user agent when requesting RSS feeds. It instead shows up as Internet Explorer 7. Microsoft has more details here.

While I’m not thrilled with the current state of affairs, I’m grateful to Patrick for identifying the original issue and working with us to isolate the situation.

Nine years

On this day in 1997, I married Robin. It was an incredible day — unseasonably warm in Alexandria, VA (where she grew up), and we were fortunate to have so many friends and family around to help us celebrate. The reception had its share of mishaps: the wedding cake fell over (bumped by an over-zealous dancer), the seating chart was screwed up (nothing like having both sets of parents confined to the corner of the ballroom), and the hotel manager tried (unsuccessfully) to prevent my brother from using champagne blessed by the Pope because Virginia law prohibits the serving of any alcohol not sold on premises. In spite of those hiccups (or perhaps because of them), it was a perfect evening.

The last nine years have been an amazing journey. We’ve had lots of highs, a few lows, and through it all, Robin’s been a wonderful partner. Robin, I love you. Thanks for making the last nine years so right.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Hastert: The buck stops... over there

I guess when he says he “takes full responsibility” he really means he’s going to take responsibility for firing other people. Nice guy.
He used to teach and coach at the high school level. Can anyone – Republican or Democrat – honestly say that if this were going on in a high school that the principal would still have a job when a teacher was found to have had dalliances with a number of underage boys? (Especially when it was established that his staff knew of this for years?)

And one other thing: let’s take Hastert at his word on the “vast left-wing conspiracy” that was out to use the Foley debacle for partisan gain. Let’s just assume (in the absence of any evidence supporting it) that it’s true. So the Democrats apparently blew the whistle on a chronic abuser of the public trust, a sexual predator who preyed on underage children. And the Republicans did what, exactly? At least some of them looked the other way. Some passed the buck and said (as did Reynolds) “I notified my supervisor” and did nothing else. In a situation in which children are being abused, which group is more culpable?

For the record, I’ve seen no evidence whatsoever that Democrats had anything to do with the leaking of this info to ABC News. But let’s just suppose that such evidence exists. They went public with it. And those Republicans who did know, preferred to keep this heinous crime private, and even encouraged Foley to run again to keep the seat in Republican hands.

You really don’t want to go down this path, Denny.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Added a comments feed

I can’t really think of a good reason that I didn’t offer this before, but for those who care: you may now subscribe to the comments that others make on this site. If you’re a regular reader in the aggregator, you may miss some good conversations that happen when others stop by and leave a comment.

Friday, October 6, 2006

Battlestar Galactica

No question about it: best show on TV. Sure, Lost is fun, and it’s great wondering where all the plot lines go. But for my money, this is just as good as it gets.

Wow. What a premiere.

(PS – Check out Technorati for a ton of BSG reviews. Some people aren’t thrilled at the rather overt parallels to Iraq. To which I say: it’s a TV show. It’s a good story, it makes you question your values and look at conflicts in a new way. But no, Ron Moore isn’t trying to get you to side with the terrorists. Settle down, it’s a TV show. And a damned good one.)

Lost Podcast

Two TV shows really set the bar last year for their use of podcasts to connect with fans: Sci-Fi’s Battlestar Galactica (season premiere tonight!) and ABC’s Lost. In the Lost podcast, I remarked this spring that “this podcast tells you about connections that even the most die-hard of Lost fans wouldn’t have caught. (OK, maybe the die-hards catch these things all the time. But I never do. So I like the podcast.) Great example of how a broadcast network can add value to a show.” The last episode of the podcast, in July, was a recording of members of the cast at ComicCon, answering questions from fans and providing a few details about what we’d see in Season 3.

So imagine my surprise when iTunes told me this morning that the feed is no longer working:


So on over to ABC I went, where they still talk about the podcast, but the click-throughs don’t work. It appears to be dead.

Meanwhile, there’s a link to a spiffy new video podcast! Great! Except, um, guys: where’s the feed? I can’t find it.

This reminds me of a comment I made at PME last week: publishers are inexcusably confusing in their use of terminology. Podcast is not just a video file, it’s something you can subscribe to. Linking to a podcast that simply opens a file in a Flash player on your site is absolutely not a podcast.

Well, well. Turns out if you go to iTunes, you can subscribe to it. Hey ABC — don’t hide this stuff. For anyone who cares, the URL you can subscribe to is here. I’m now subscribed, I’ll let you know how it is.

Update: Turns out it may just have been intermittent server problems at ABC, the original podcast appears to be working (albeit with no new content since July).

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Coral CDN - A new toy!

Unless I’m missing something, Coral CDN is a really big deal. How’ve I missed this? At dinner last week with David Lawrence, David mentioned in passing that he uses Coral CDN for all of his podcast file downloads. That means he incurs almost no bandwidth costs, and the CDN kicks in automatically.

Few steps back. Akamai is probably the most popular CDN — which is just a fancy acronym for a distributed group of servers (often throughout the world) that cooperatively share content and distribute the load so that the requested file doesn’t have to be delivered from one location.

Earlier today (before my webhost crapped out on me and left my server offline for a few hours), I was going to post a link to the Hastert robocall and assumed that it’d generate a lot of interest. I didn’t want to have thousands of people downloading a megabyte file — eventually that’d exceed my bandwidth limit.

Remembering David’s enthusiastic endorsement of Coral, I checked it out. I followed the instructions to add a few lines of code to my server’s configuration file (htaccess), and as long as I prepend files in my “/files” folder with the prefix “cdn-”, all requests for that file will get routed through Coral. How slick is that?

This also addresses my fears of uploading large-ish PowerPoint files (and, when I have them, MP3s) alongside my CV/Speaking Engagements page — over time, the costs associated with hosting and delivering that much content could be prohibitive. But now, if I understand this, there’s next to no costs. Joe, our Network Ops guy, pointed out that there is a quota, which I suppose could be an issue if I was serving up really large files, or if someone else was abusing it. I’ll keep an eye on it, but 250 gb of traffic seems like it would be sufficient for most stuff.

Hastert Robo Call in the 14th

Wow. Check out this robocall that the Dennis “The Buck Stops Here” Hastert campaign put out last night to “take responsibility”. That’s “take responsibility” as in “I take full responsibility for placing blame for a Republican congressman trying to engage in underage sex with teenage boys at the feet of Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton”. But hey — they say even the longest of journeys start with small steps, so I guess this robocall is their (admittedly odd) first small step of rejecting the partisan bickering and actually caring about the fact that a ridiculous number of teenagers were abused by a member of their own party.

Firefox 2 Feed Support

I downloaded and installed Firefox 2 RC1 last night, and on the balance I’m really impressed. The memory handling seems (so far) to be vastly improved over Firefox 1.x (I’ve had to kill the app pretty much once/day because of memory leaks). The UI is much more visually appealing, and they appear to have done a very good job increasing functionality in the core app (necessitating fewer extensions to get the app just right).

One area where it comes up short, in my opinion, is feeds. Here are some things it does that I’m not sure I like:

  • No XSLT support. Like IE7 and Safari, Firefox 2 ignores the publisher’s formatting instructions (if they’ve included an XSLT declaration) and instead formats the feed using its own rendering. I understand why they do this – having something readable is vastly superior to raw XML code. But where publishers include an XSLT declaration – especially where that XSLT is superior to Firefox 2’s own – they should pass it through. (Same goes for IE7.)

  • No full feeds. Even for publishers who produce full feeds, when the feed is looked at in the browser, Firefox 2 abridges the posts so you must click back to the publisher’s site to read the full content. If a publisher chooses to produce full text, why not display it on the page?

  • Imperfect “one-click” options. Unlike IE7 (which only provides an option to subscribe using IE7), I do like that Firefox gives you the option of using other apps to subscribe to feeds: Bloglines, Google Reader, My Yahoo! and FeedDemon were all listed on my options by defalut. But what about a podcast feed? I selected “choose application”, navigated to iTunes, clicked subscribe, and… Nothing. iTunes launched, but no subscription. For Firefox to get this right it needs to properly handle iTunes as an end point (and any other podcatcher). (Yes, I understand that sending iTunes a feed:// URL will not work, and that’s not technically Firefox’s fault. But how hard is it for Firefox to use the right iTunes string (prepend itpc:// or append .pcast, I think either works) to make this work? Having nothing happen is hardly a good user experience.

Overall, this is a terrific upgrade to the core browser. I’d been experimenting with switching to IE7, but I remain attached to Firefox’s customization abilities (though I suspect IE7 will be ideal for the majority of the mass market) and I like the overall look and feel. Just wish the feed support would be more in line with what I think the typical user will need/want… otherwise I think we’re still making feeds too hard for end users to adopt.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Animal Planet Hero of the Year

This is my week for reconnecting with far more accomplished friends than I… just this weekend it was my high school classmates who’ve gone on to show business careers in Vegas, LA, and NYC. Today, I got an e-mail from a college friend, whose sister is up for an Animal Planet Hero of the Year award. There are ten nominees in total, and Alison Gianotto’s a pretty worthy nominee.

She’s the creator of, the only directory of pet abuse cases around the world. She was spurred to action after her own cat was stolen, tortured and set afire. Taking advantage of the incredible support friends and acquaintances on the Internet showed her, she returned the assistance by creating what appears to be a tremendous resource.

So… vote early and often (you’re allowed to vote once/day) for Alison if you think she’s deserving of the award. I’m proud to say I knew her more than 15 years ago, when her sister and I were at Lafayette College together. Thanks.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Resume as a wiki

In the “eventually I’ll get around to it” file was a comprehensive resume on my site. (No, I’m definitely not looking for a job.) I’d been keeping an outline in Bonsai for a couple years, but it didn’t have the old stuff (where I spoke after I graduated law school, which articles I wrote, etc.) and didn’t have an easy way to publish in an elegant way to the web. (Bonsai has export templates, but every time I tried to use them, I found I spent more time tweaking the output than actually maintaining the outline itself, which defeated the purpose.)

A couple months back, I had a bit of a breakthrough: the CV needed to be viewable on the web and easy to update. In other words… a wiki!

Yes, the irony of a guy who once worked for the premiere wiki software company just now realizing the benefits of using a wiki in this case is, well… let’s not go any further. I get it, OK?

The real driver for this was that Blogbeat revealed something that hadn’t been obvious to me in 5 years of blogging: the most visited link on my site, each month, is the “About me” page. Up until a month ago, that link simply went to my LinkedIn profile… which is a tad dry, and misses a lot of info. (Like, where I’ve spoken, which articles I’ve been interviewed in, what books I’ve written, etc.)

I found a terrific wiki app for my site called PmWiki, and was off to the races. The finished product is here — more on how I did it after the jump.

After downloading the latest build of PmWiki, I followed the installation instructions and had the basic setup running in about 15 minutes.

I picked PmWiki for a couple reasons: the templates meant I could control the look and feel of the finished product pretty easily, it has a ton of tweaks that meant I could tailor it exactly to how I wanted it to function. Since this is my resume and not some community site, I didn’t want anyone to be able to edit it… PmWiki has a nice varitey of ways to secure the content — obviously I want anyone able to view the completed pages, I just want control over the modification of the pages.

With that in place, I then set out to create the content. PmWiki supports page inclusion: so the main resume page is just a collection of calls to the component pages (and some of those pages are themselves includes of subsidiary pages). If you’re interested in tweaking PmWiki, the Cookbook is an exhaustive list of things you can do to customize the app. I figure I spent a total of 2-3 hours tweaking things like file naming conventions, sidebar displays, security, templates, etc.

Now that it’s easy to update, I can keep the CV up to date with a minimum of effort. And I can easily capture additional content that I hadn’t done in the past, like links to blog posts made by people who wrote about my presentations. (Check out some of the “feedback” links on recent speaking engagements.) Going forward, I’m going to try to upload audio and/or slides when I can — it’s a shame I don’t have some of my older presentations, and this will make responding to the occasional requests for slides much easier.

The only downside to this has been the marked increase in cold-calls from recruiters. It’s actually hilarious the random stuff that’s getting sent my way — I should start posting some of the job descriptions. (“Web 2.0 Developer” was a favorite: what in my background suggested I was a developer? And since when was “web 2.0” a programming environment?)

That minor issue aside, it was a fun project to put together. And it’s nice to have everything I’ve done in one place… going forward, it will no doubt grow in depth and be even more useful.