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.