Tuesday, January 31, 2006

On winning elections

Michael Cousineau asks me why I wrote about Christine’s Q4 numbers. Mostly to provoke a discussion, which, thanks to Rich Miller and Michael picking up on my comments, it has. (For better or for worse.) It is certainly not out of animosity towards Christine (quite the contrary, I personally like her and did work on her 2004 and 2005 web sites), nor is it out of support for any other candidate. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve not had any interactions with Lindy Scott. I’ve spoken with Tammy Duckworth once, for about a half hour, by phone.

[Full post is here.

I take Michael’s comments to heart, particularly when, late in his post, he asks:

Are you really willing to believe fundraising is more important than having deep ties to the community and willing to sacrifice honest interaction with residents in order to buy more media? Are you cynical enough to put an attractive bio and electability ahead of deep ties to the district and first hand understanding of key issues?

Do you want to win this badly? As a leader in the local party who has worked very hard to advance the Democratic cause locally I can only hope what your answer is.

First off, yes, like it or not: fundraising is critical. Fundraising is to politics as running to first base is to baseball. On this front, Christine did a marvelous job in 2005. She raised nearly $250k, from thousands of contributors. That’s a remarkably broad donor base, using the same small-donor model that served Dean so well.

Like Dean, however, strong fundraising doesn’t guarantee electoral success. The money you raise needs to be spent wisely, and you need a war chest if you’re going to go to battle. Spending all but a few dollars with 60 days to go means that you won’t have access to cash when the inevitable gournd and air wars begin. As ArchPundit asked today, “my biggest concern is how do you afford the mail you need at the end of a campaign?”

I’m puzzled by the talk of “infrastructure” when Michael points to it as Christine’s competitive advantage. Is that where all the money’s been spent? If the numbers we were looking at were $235k raised and $50k spent, it’s an entirely different ballgame. But Christine has spent almost all of what she raised (her burn rate, as I mentioned, went from spending nearly 90% of what she raised in Q3 to spending over 110% of what she raised in Q4), leaving her precious few resources to compete in the home stretch. All the volunteer legwork in the world will not reach the casual voters who will likely make the difference. A motivated base is great, and I’d love nothing more than to see it in full force on primary day. But a motivated base alone will not win this election.

I remain of the opinion that traditional manifestations of successful campaigns — specifically, direct mail, broadcast advertising — are critical. And with the least amount of cash on hand of the three candidates (Lindy’s given himself $70k, Christine’s given herself $40k, which essentially makes up all of the available cash either candidate has to spend right now), she’s got a tough road ahead.

As for the closing comments in Michael’s post, which ask whether I’m quite so cynical, I’m not really sure how to answer that. I trust the process, and I trust the voters. The reason we have primaries is to decide who the right person to represent the district is. The recipe for how you go about convincing those voters is pretty straightforward — get out and meet voters, get your message in front of as many of them as possible, answer their questions. That middle piece — getting in front of them — necessarily includes broadcast advertising and direct mail. Those are expensive. Without it, you’re hamstringing your efforts, and even the strongest political machine will have a hard time overcoming the ubiquity of a candidate who can afford to reach out to the mass market.

This isn’t just about raising and spending money. Michael’s right to point to the numbers of people who are energized by Christine’s race, and for that I applaud them. As the chair of the local party here in Naperville, I want people who feel like they’re part of the process, like their efforts pay off. But as excited as I am by the enthusiasm for her campaign, I’m worried about the Christine-or-I’m-out attitude that I’m picking up in some blog posts, comments at local meetings, etc. My goal is to build a strong party. That doesn’t mean sacrificing my ideals, but it does mean focusing on the ultimate objective: winning elections. And all the excitement in the world is for naught if candidates don’t raise strong money and spend it in a way that is likely to get them elected.

When i see comments about Rahm Emmanuel being evil, I worry that the focus has shifted from winning elections to proving people in our party wrong. When I see comments about Tammy Duckworth being a pawn, I get concerned that for some, the race isn’t about getting a Democrat elected, it’s about demonstrating who has more clout in a certain area.

I want to win. I want to reestablish Democratic prominence in the House so that the destructive and corrupt policies of the past 6 years are corrected. I want to see a Democratic Party in DuPage County that recognizes the tremendous gifts the grassroots have to give, at the same time acknowledging that those who’ve a) raised considerable money, b) won elections and c) established credible organizations in their own right have a fair amount of assistance they can offer. Cynical? Hardly. If anything, it means I’m a bit idealistic.

IL-06 numbers are in

Some of the numbers are in for the 6th Congressional Democrats. And while I’ve been a supporter of Christine’s in the past, I have to say these numbers don’t look good:

  • Raised: $68k

  • Spent: $77k

  • Cash on hand: $39k

  • Debts owed: $39k

Once you subtract debts from cash on hand, the Cegelis campaign has $184.54.

Lindy Scott, on the other hand, raised $50k in Q4 (and $71k total, not the $100k plus promised to Hiram a couple weeks back) and has $49,033 cash on hand (that’s after you account for the $30k debts owed). For a first-time candidate in a competitive race, that’s a solid showing by him. Update: Scratch that. He contributed $42k to himself, and loaned his campaign $30k. So he’s actually raised just $29k.

(Rather than comment on the rumored numbers I’ve heard for Duckworth, I’ll wait until I see confirmation in any of the online databases at fec.gov.)

Bottom line: absent a miracle, Christine will have no way to get her message out while Scott and Duckworth fight it out on the airwaves and in the mail. Voter outreach in the final weeks will be expensive, and without any money to spend, she could very easily finish third in a three-way race. Considering that she’s raised over $200k this cycle (nearly matching what she raised in the entire 2004 cycle, including the primary), that’s unfortunate (to say the least).

Back in November, ArchPundit commented on Christine’s burn rate, noting that it should be 35% or so and it was in fact 89%. Instead of fixing that, Christine actually increased her burn rate — to 114% (she spent nearly $78k and raised $68k). Amazing.

I hesitated writing anything about this, considering the venom being spewed about this particular race. It’s incredibly disappointing to see such pointless, counter-productive commentary being levelled. I even heard from one township chair this weekend that a precinct captain who supports Christine — a precinct captain! — vowed to tell everyone in his precinct to vote Republican if Duckworth wins the primary. Talk about missing the bigger picture!

Anyway, I decided to note these figures since I haven’t seen any commentary yet anywhere else. Interested in anyone’s thoughts on the 6th. (Though it should be noted ahead of time, I’m not interested in hearing grand conspiracy theories about Cook County Democrats’ plans to invade DuPage County, or the latest rumors about Rahm Emmanuel eating his young. Please, I beg of you, let’s try and focus on what’s important: getting a Democrat elected in November.)

Update: Michael in Chicago responds. I’ll post my thoughts on this later tonight.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Top business ideas of the year

Very cool. Business 2.0 rounded up its top 10 business ideas of the year, and puts RSS on the list as the “smartest technology”, “letting RSS do for online media what the Web did for the Internet.”

(Click for full-size screencap.)

Friday, January 27, 2006

WeatherBug weirdness

Back at Gnomedex, Steve Rubel and his client (Weatherbug) gave a presentation about using the blogosphere to counter a negative impression of their company. It was a decent talk, and I was impressed that they handed out registered copies of the “plus” version of WeatherBug. As I wrote then:

Jeff’s got CDs of WeatherBug Plus in the back (I just installed it, holy cow — it’s 96 degrees back home right now!) and is essentially representing that the company’s open, willing to engage the community and also willing to listen. …Having just installed the app, I’m pretty impressed. They’re creating a community of users (8,000+ weather stations at schools around the country), they’re engaging the community, and listening.

Well. On January 1, my “registered” copy somehow turned into an unregistered free copy of WeatherBug, and I’m getting all kinds of prompts to “upgrade” (for a fee). I was puzzled by this, and even contacted their support desk asking why my registered copy of WeatherBug plus converted itself to an ad for the “upgrade” to a product I thought I already had. I received an auto-reply, then nothing else since then.

Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t pay for WeatherBug Plus, so if what was actually handed out at Gnomedex was a time-expiring copy, fine. But that’s not what was communicated at the time, and it’s puzzling that I inquired about this two weeks ago and have heard nothing back.

For what it’s worth, the “plus” version is definitely worth it. I’ve found the free version to be more of an interruption (maybe I’d configured the Plus version to bug me less with pop-up alerts), but the free version is much more insistent about reminding you that it has alerts for you… And while I like having the current temp in my system tray, I’m inclined to simply remove it.

Reconnecting with old friends

2006 is the year of reconnecting for me so far. First, I heard from Femke, one of my close friends from the year I spent living in Dijon, Frace (1991-1992) — Femke’s from Maastricht and we hadn’t talked since 1996. She looked me up in Skype’s directory, and a couple weeks ago, I got an IM from her at 6:30am. It was great to hear from her and catch up, and hopefully we won’t lose touch again. (With any luck, I’ll find an excuse to get Robin and the kids over to France, and now I’ll have someone to visit!)

A week later, a law school classmate of mine listened to my interview on The Hobson & Holtz Report, and dropped me a line to catch up. Andrea worked with me on the Richmond Journal of Law & Technology, and maintains a terrific blog about PR and communications (an area in which she consults). If you’re at all interested in PR, you need to be reading her blog. She’s only been at it since late last year, but you wouldn’t know it from reading her posts — she’s a pro, and I’m thrilled to know about her site.

This week I heard from a neighbor from my freshman year of college at Lafayette College. (Hard to imagine that was nearly 17 years ago! That makes me sound really old.) The alumni magazine did a brief profile on me, and he looked me up to drop me a note to say hi. Tom has been a producer at ABC News for quite some time, and was actually Peter Jennings’ producer up until his death last year. I’m in New York in a couple weeks, and we’re going to have lunch and see each other for the first time in 13 years. I love it.

I don’t know what’s in the air that’s making these connections happen, but it’s fun.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

FeedFlare is big. Really big.

Forgive the multiple company posts, but our latest announcement is one of those deceptively simple things that takes a while to sink in. And I’m hoping that by documenting why I’m so excited about it that you might play around with it and use it (if you’re not already).

Last month, we announced FeedFlare. It generated quite a bit of excitement at the time, because it was the first fire-and-forget enhancement to your feed that let you dynamically add stuff into your feed — like exposing inbound links to the content via Technorati, one-click bookmarking to del.icio.us, and so on. Yesterday, the other shoe dropped, and we’ve now given you the ability to do the same thing back on your site.

Some of the techies who read this will say big deal, I hacked Movable Type/Word Press/whatever to do this ages ago. You’re right, no argument from me: if you know how to get in and hack your blog engine, FeedFlare doesn’t on the surface give you anything you can’t already do by yourself. However, the power of FeedFlare starts to get interesting when, in a couple weeks, we’ll open up the API. Now that’ll mean that with one click in your FeedBurner account, you’ll be able to dynamically add new web services — instantly — in your feed and on your website.

As Eric (our CTO) points out, there’s an additional benefit to our role in this process:

There’s one other very powerful thing about FeedFlare on the site: we are using all of the metadata and expressive power of the feed to inform the FeedFlare on the site. Since FeedBurner is processing your feed, all of the structured information is available to help generate the FeedFlare on the site. No having to scrape an HTML page like other scripts are forced to do — we can use the upstream information that simply isn’t available in the final, rendered page.

We’ve been brainstorming internally about ways to extend FeedFlare once the API opens up. We’ll publish that list (we’re gunning for 101 examples out of the gate) when we launch the API, but of course the community will figure out tons of ideas that haven’t occurred to us. I can’t wait.

On the tactical side, I’ve made some changes to my site to incorporate this. In no particular order:

  • Removed links to ‘trackback’ on the main blog page and individual entry pages. Now that FeedFlare dynamically updates the Technorati “flare” with all known inbound links, I don’t have to rely on trackback — which, since not all blog platforms support trackbacks, means that FeedFlare is now exposing more inbound links than Trackback ever did.

  • Added the ability to bookmark any page/item with del.icio.us, which should increase the likelihood that users will bookmark my content. This theoretically will expose more people to my content by making it easier to add tags to my pages.

  • Within the feed, added an ‘email this’ button that will let anyone reading an item in a feed reader forward the item to a friend.

When the API opens up, there will be a lot more options for enhancing a feed, and I’ll be making some changes to incorporate those new features. The good news is, once they are available, all I need to do is click a button at feedburner.com and my feed and blog will automatically inherit the new functionality — no rebuilds, no template hacking, nothing. Sweet.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

iPod radio interference: Treo "remote"?

While listening to or watching my iPod lately, I’ve noticed that if my Treo gets too close to the iPod, it has the ability to change the volume. This isn’t a random occurrence, I can reproduce it frequently. It appears to be when the Treo is exchanging data — like a send/receive in e-mail — and the iPod’s volume starts jumping all over the place.

Sure enough, I’m not the first to notice this. Engadget mentioned it in November, and in the comments on the original site that observed the phenomenon, a commenter suggests that simply turning the “hold” switch on will eliminate the issue. It’s apparently due to Apple manufacturing the click-wheel this time around (prior versions of the clickwheel were made by Synaptics), and their clickwheel is far more sensitive to radio interference than the Synaptics clickwheels.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Narnia Rap Battle

Inevitable, I suppose. There’s now a west coast answer to the Samberg/Parnell Chronicles of Narnia rap from a couple weeks ago.

Quite funny, actually.

Blogging Delivered. Just not searchable.

You may have seen the AT&T billboards claiming “blogging delivered” for AT&T (er, sorry – that’s at&t). I love that this blogger called them out, and pointed out that the word “blog” is nowhere to be found on the at&t site.

One billion dollars. On marketing. Maybe the website was an extra hundred mil, and they had to cut something, somewhere.

FeedBurner welcomes USA Today

Very excited to welcome USA Today to the growing list of publishers using FeedBurner to manage their feeds. As the press release makes clear, part of the attraction for the team at USA Today is our newly-announced “Feed Foundry”. From the announcement:

FeedFoundry provides mass feed importing, management and analysis. The service was built for commercial publishers and content providers with large numbers of feeds, potentially across multiple properties. FeedFoundry’s advanced reporting capability allows publishers to group sets of feeds and identify trends, activate services in bulk, maintain performance history and design custom reports, specific to each company’s priorities, using a standard dashboard.

I’ve helped some publishers get started who have more than 200 feeds; adding FeedFoundry to our product mix makes the setup, management and analysis a simple process that’s far more powerful for larger publishers. Initial feedback has been great — kudos to our design and development teams for cranking out another market leading app.

As always, if you’re one of those publishers who fits the above description, call us and dive in! The water’s warm.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Tennessee vs. Duke

Watched the Tennessee-Duke women’s basketball game on ESPN2 tonight. (Naperville native Candace Parker is a Tennessee freshman.) It’s brutal. Duke can’t miss, and Tennessee couldn’t hit the ocean from the back of a boat right now. As I write this, Duke is up 25 27 with 4 minutes to go. Unbelievable. Tennessee was ranked #1 going into the game, they could fall hard tomorrow.

Update: Duke won by 22. Turnovers killed Tennessee, and Tennessee couldn’t play consistent D. (An indication that this isn’t an isolated problem for Tennessee — coach Pat Summitt’s complaints two games ago about Tennessee’s ineffective play on defense against Georgia: “I wanted to put on a uniform for the first time in a long time to go play defense,” she said. “Y’all believe that. I just got really frustrated with our transition defense and halfcourt defense. “We’re living on the edge.”) They fell off the cliff tonight. As Rebecca Lobo asked on the broadcast: this may be Parker’s first significant setback of her career. Will be interesting to see how she rebounds.


I just know that Feld will be all over this.

Don’t let this info fall in the wrong hands.

Update: Sigh, Brad already saw this. The man’s a machine.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

First they wiretap us, now they look at our search history

At what point does the Bush Administration outlaw front doors, window blinds, and curtains? I mean, if you’re not doing anything illegal, why wouldn’t you want the government looking through your window, right?


Unreal. Today comes word that the Bush Administration wants Google to turn over:

A broad range of material from its databases, including a request for 1 million random Web addresses and records of all Google searches from any one-week period.

Talk about casting a wide net.

Does this sound like a democracy? Unfettered wiretaps. Imprisonment of citizens without access to counsel. Violation of international treaties whenever it suits them. Repeatedly claiming to be above the law. Labeling of those who do not unflinchingly support you are your aiding and abetting the enemy. Requiring oaths of loyalty before letting people attend “public” events. Just unreal.

The hilarity of spam

Early yesterday morning, I got a piece of spam. Thinking nothing of it, I deleted it.

Five minutes later, I received a reply to that spam. (Who does that anymore?!) It turns out this spam was special. Rather than send an e-mail out to thousands of people, the spammer instead did something infininitely funnier (in a twisted way): he compromised a mailserver, and set up the recipients as subscribers to a mailing list. Then he sent the spam to the mailing list.

Result? I’ve received at least ten messages per hour from recipients to this spam from people around the globe, complaining about the spam. “Why are you e-mailing me?” “Shut up! “Fuck you!” “Take me off your list or I’ll report you to the authorities!” “Stop emailing me!” “How did I get on this list? I never visited your website.” “I’ve reported this to Interpol.” “Shut up!” “Stop replying to these messages!” “But you just replied.” “You sent me a virus!” “Shut up!” “Who are you and why are you emailing me?” “I’m in Costa Rica, how did I get email from someone in South Africa?” “Shut up!” “Get a Mac!” “Fuck all of you!”

And on and on it goes. (All are direct quotes, by the way.)

What’s perhaps most shocking of all are the domains these e-mails are coming from. How do people who send the above messages get jobs at JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, EW Scripps, Ernst & Young, Patton Boggs? Amazing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

FeedDemon 2.0 beta rocks

Saw Brad’s comment that he was excited about the FeedDemon 2.0 beta, so I decided to give it a try (I’ve been using the prior beta, 1.6, for several months). It is, in a word, incredible. The updated UI is a dramatic improvement over what was already a clean, usable interface. Now it’s incredibly powerful, giving you terrific control over feed presentation, filtering, and searching. You can filter and search at the feed or folder level (folders let you group feeds logically), which makes quick scans of groups of feeds very easy.

I’m really impressed — so much so that I actually invested a little time in cleaning up my folder structure. At some point in my NewsGator for Outlook/NewsGator Online/FeedDemon experiments, the synchronization had gone a bit haywire. Now it’s humming along smoothly, which will mean I can set up a filtered view of my feeds to read on my Treo when I have downtime. Very cool stuff! Congrats to Nick and team who pushed this out the door – it already looks great, and isn’t even a released product yet.

Boing Boing discovers the joys of "smart" elevators

Boing Boing today reports on the “smart” elevators being installed in Seattle. Yeah, that will go over well. We tried to warn you.

In the future, everyone will wait longer for elevators. Brilliant.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Check out the timestamps...

… on this picture Traci snapped in Vegas. Or this one (taken just a bit earlier, when we cashed out before heading back to the bar). A Vegas initiation indeed.

Conan meddles in the Finnish presidential election

Too funny. Conan O’Brien is meddling in the Finnish election. Erik should be enjoying this.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Griffin TuneCenter for video iPod

Well, add another very cool new accessory for my video iPod: the Griffin TuneCenter. This is exactly what I want to add to my home audio/video system.

What does it do? It sends videos to the TV via s-video, streams Internet radio, plays your songs through the stereo (and shows song and album cover info on the tv), shows pictures on the tv, etc. Fantastic addition to the iPod. $99.

On my first trip to Vegas

Last night I lost my Las Vegas virginity, spent nearly 5 hours playing blackjack on the strip. (I won a few bucks, which certainly felt good.) Here, in no particular order, are some things I learned:

  • Returning to your room and finding tomorrow’s newspaper on the door already means it was a long night.

  • It’s entirely possible to feel exhausted at 7pm (4 hours of sleep the night before, up at 4am for your flight) and completely awake at 2am. Dick says this is due to oxygen being pumped into the casinos. Whatever it is, it was an odd realization when I realized that after sitting still for 3 hours at a blackjack table, I felt like I’d had a full night’s sleep without ever closing my eyes, and could barely keep my eyes open before dinner. Wild.

  • Vegas is really, astoundingly, big.

  • Aleve does nothing for a headache. (Your mileage may vary, of course.)

  • “Free” drinks in the casino are possible because they cost 10x what they should in the bars (and wines are equally overpriced in the restaurants).

  • Blackjack is a lot of fun. It’s even more fun, as Dick wisely pointed out, when you’re winning.

Ton of fun. Way more fun than I’d expected.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Tammy Duckworth endorsed by AFL-CIO

Rich at Capitol Fax has the scoop: the AFL-CIO just endorsed Tammy Duckworth in the primary race where she’s running against Christine Cegelis and Lindy Scott.

iPod fm tuner and remote control

Yep, I want this. Very cool.

And the other Mac announcements (particularly the photo sharing, blog updating and video updates) are enough to convince me that our next home computer will be a Mac (sooner rather than later, our home PC is on its last legs).

Best news of all? My iPod’s not obsolete. Looks like the iPod Pequeno is still a few months away. Phew!

Friday, January 6, 2006

Markos of Daily Kos coming to Naperville

I’m excited to share the news that Markos Moulitsas (founder and owner of DailyKos.com ) is coming to Naperville in a couple weeks to help us kick of 2006 and talk about what’s needed to build a strong, permanent Democratic presence in DuPage County.

Details are forthcoming — like last year, our silent auction will have some goodies from Democratic party notables, so bring a few dollars to spend! — stay tuned.

Forgive the lengthy absence. I was foolishly under the impression that with two holidays and a couple days off in between I’d get a chance to relax. Silly me. Still catching up, will be back to normal shortly.