Friday, June 30, 2006

Senator Edwards at Gnomedex

Interesting. In response to a question about framing issues, John Edwards just made an important point: “there are people who spend their lives figuring out what language to use framing issues. That’s not me. My job is to figure out where the country needs to go, which problems we need to solve. … Language will not control the presidential elections. People watch 2 candidates, then they decide – is that a guy I want to be my president. Do I trust them, do I believe they have integrity, do I think they’re strong enough to lead?”



Mitch Ratcliffe just suggested that, if (not a big if) Sen. Edwards is a candidate for president in 2008, then he should let a blogger ride along on the campaign bus (not the press bus) and document the campaign. Sen. Edwards seemed to agree it was a good idea…



Update: John Federico has a bunch more quotes from the session.

Conference mashups

Was talking with Josh Bancroft this morning about conference mashups, an idea whose time has come. Last year’s Portable Media Expo was held in the same building and at the same time as the Portable Sanitation Expo… wouldn’t it have been fun to combine the two conferences?



I’m staying at the Westin in Seattle, and it’s hosting the Association of Motor Vehicles Administrators, an exciting conference if ever there was one. Just think of the possibilities: send over someone from Gnomedex to talk about how Ajax could improve the DMV experience. Or have one of their people come over to Gnomedex to talk about, well, what? How to not listen to your customers? How to slow down Web 2.0? (Web .2?)

TechMeme hacked?

No, not really. Chris is making a point.

Get your FeedBurner stickers

You’ve been warned, most of the next 2 days of posts will be Gnomedex-specific.



If you’re at the conference and want a FeedBurner sticker (and, honestly, who doesn’t?!), find me and I’ll hook you up.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Off to Gnomedex

I’m en route to Seattle for Gnomedex. Looking forward to seeing lots of friends, and connecting with others who will be at Chris’s shindig. I’m staying at the Westin, drop me an email if you’re in town and let’s catch up.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Prague

Recently, I was asked to present at an annual meeting of an international association of law firms. They want me to talk about weblogs, podcasting and the like. (I have a hunch I’ll find something to say on the subject.)



The meeting is in mid-September in Prague, and I’ve never been. When I lived in Dijon, I had a Eurail pass and made it throughout Europe… Prague was always on my list, but it was just long enough by train that I always found an excuse to go somewhere closer.



I’m very excited to be going, and even more excited that Robin’s going to make the trip with me. I’m sure some of you have been to Prague before — any suggestions? We’ve only got three or four days (I think that’s the upper limit of how long Robin will allow us to be separated from our won’t-be-quite-a-year-old baby), and I’d like to avoid the cross-it-off-the-list sight-seeing mentality. I’m looking for memorable places, must-see buildings, etc.



Looking forward to hearing what you have to say…

Friday, June 23, 2006

Giving Netscape Beta a try

Lots of coverage last week about AOL’s beta of the new Netscape.com, headed up by Jason Calacanis. I’m pretty impressed. For those that don’t know what this is, it’s an attempt to let a community of users vote on which stories they think are most interesting. Services like del.icio.us, Digg, and many others are approaching this concept from a couple different angles. For Netscape’s intro, see here for a walk-through.
First, the good:


  • It’s pretty easy to vote on existing stories, and I like the breadth of the channels. Whereas Digg is tech only (though that’s about to change), Netscape.com is more across-the-board, with channels ranging from Politics, to Sports, Sex, News, Music, Video Games, TV, etc. Very broad.

  • Submitting a story is most easily done through a bookmarklet that lets you just add a site when you’re actually looking at it.

  • Unlike social bookmarking services like del.icio.us (which I still hate typing!), Netscape finds more in common with Digg in that it promotes three levels of usage: submitting a site, voting on a site, and commenting on a site. Not everyone who uses this kind of service will be a contributor – but you’ll get a lot of consumers who will vote (the more votes a story gets, the more visible it is on the site), and a few who will comment. It’s a good way of giving users multiple ways into the service.

  • I like the navigation frame, which gives you a way of seeing related stories to the one you’re reading, voting on them, and returning to Netscape.com. It does a good job of intuiting how you’d want to surf through these sites, and I like that it adds to my browsing experience. (If only I had a larger display!)


What needs work:

  • One of the things I like about del.icio.us is the ease with which my bookmarks are posted to my blog each day. I tend to bookmark stuff when I’m too busy to blog about it (or I don’t have much to say); del.icio.us integrates with WordPress and once a day simply posts a collection of my bookmarks to the blog, effectively sharing them with all of my readers. I don’t see any way to do that at Netscape yet; I’m sure it’s something Jason’s thinking about. This will keep Netscape from being a daily utility for me, as my intent in sharing bookmarks isn’t just to share them within the service’s community, it’s to share them with my readers. Del.icio.us lets me do that, Netscape.com doesn’t.

  • Though much has been made of the value of “anchors” (quasi-editors who do follow-up on stories submitted, and exercise a little control over the presentation of content), I’m not yet seeing the impact of that. I like the concept – most non-tech-savvy communities won’t like the free-form “web 2.0” lack of structure, and will appreciate knowing that there are trusted “anchors” watching over the site. I hope that as I spend more time on the site I’ll see more evidence of their impact.

  • No feeds! Anyone who wants to subscribe to my content needs to do it through Netscape.com; making my stories (and/or my votes and comments) available as feeds would let others follow my interests instead of having to come to Netscape.com. (In case you care, you can see my profile here.)

  • Not much use of meta data yet. Since I’m tagging my stories (as, presumably others will as they interact with my submissions), I’m surprised that on my profile page I don’t see an ability to go visit those tags directly. If Netscape.com knows which tags I care about, it should make it easy for me to go there; in fact, it should be suggesting stories for me based on what I’ve previously expressed an interest in; part of the goal of the way the system is designed is to foster discovery of content, not just share content you already know about with others.


Overall, I think the site has great potential. I love that Jason is actively using his blog to solicit feedback, and think that there’s going to be a great feedback loop for rapid iteration on this tool. I look forward to watching it evolve!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

links for 2006-06-20




  • WSJ interviews web design guru Jakob Nielsen about RSS. Can’t say I entirely follow the newsletter analogy – feeds are more flexible than just one mechanism for delivering info – but his comments about branding (“news feeds” makes more sense than “RSS”) were spot on.

    (tags: alertbox rss wsj)


Monday, June 19, 2006

links for 2006-06-19

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Paul Curreri house concert

Last night was a blast — Paul Curreri was in town and played for nearly two hours at our house. We had a nice crowd, and I think it’s safe to say Paul has a lot of new fans now. Thanks to everyone who came!



Evan has already put a couple pictures up on Flickr. And if you don’t have plans today, you should absolutely go to RuralFest in Lisle, where Paul is the opening act. Lots of great music throughout the day.



Update: Kris wrote some nice words about the party, and Mike Marusin talked about hearing Paul’s foot tapping while playing. Mike’s right: this was one of the things I remembered when I saw him play in Chicago a couple years ago. Hearing someone so talented in such an intimate setting is magical.

Friday, June 16, 2006

links for 2006-06-16

Metra update

I’m glad I was planning on working from home today. Yesterday’s snafu involving a white acidic powder that dropped on more than 26 miles of track proved quite difficult to clean up, and due to union protections against crews working too many hours in a row, this morning’s routes were all affected (some by a half hour or more).



Getting home was a bear, but in a gesture of bi-partisanship the likes of which historians will write about for generations, One Man was kind enough to give me a lift back to Naperville. I was on the 5pm train, we got off at Hinsdale at 6:20, had to wait until well after 7 before Henry could get there, and it was about 8:30 before I got back home. So much for skipping out of town a few minutes earlier to help out at home.



As Justin noted in yesterday’s comments: not only should you not ride a train with me, you should avoid meeting me at the train station.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Me and trains, not all that friendly

My latest snakes on a train situation.



Unreal.

SciFi makes its case for Emmy awards

Battlestar Galactica has my vote. (Well, if I had one, I guess.)

Local media training

One Man was on TV the other night, and complained that instead of saying something intelligible, he was quoted as saying this: “Aurora lost something unique to town, We don’t have a whole lot other towns next to us don’t have. It’s depressing.“ He really is a Republican! (If One Man can crack the Bush joke, then so can I.)



Reminds me of my first interaction with the local press here in town. Robin and I were gearing up to host our first political fundraiser, for Howard Dean, back in February of 2003. We thought that Democrats hosting a fundraiser in Naperville was newsworthy (we were right), so I sent an email to the local reporters and sure enough, two of them called back. Now you have to know that as a frequent company spokesperson, I’ve had media training for print and broadcast, I’ve been interviewed in dozens of publications, and have been on multiple press and analyst tours.



I share that not to brag, but to set up what happens next. Reporter from the Daily Herald calls, we do about a 30 minute interview, and I stay on message. Why I’m supporting Howard Dean, why I think it’s important so early in the ’04 race to be active, etc. At the end of the call, we’ve wrapped up and the reporter asks in passing, “You’re catering the event, right?”



I’m caught a bit off guard, as we’d been talking political issues just a moment before. “Um, no. We’re cooking.” She reacts, surprised. “Wow! That’s a lot of work.” “Nah,” I say, “it’s a good excuse to spend some time in the kitchen.”



Headline the next day?

“Naperville man believes he can change the world, one canape at a time.”

So, One Man, sometimes knowing what you want to say isn’t enough…

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Hotwire.com is a must for business travel

Hotwire One of the things that becomes second-nature when working for startups is an aversion to spending unnecessary cash. If you’ve ever been part of the company-wide conference call about whether or not you’re going to make payroll, you get a newfound respect for the value of saving every dollar that you just don’t have when you’re on an expense account with little oversight from the higher-ups. (Just in case you’re wondering, that phone call was a couple companies ago! Not fun, needless to say.)



And when you’re on the business side, you tend to be one of the ones in the company spending lots of that cash. Travel is ridiculously expensive — hotels in New York are routinely north of $300 per night these days. A four day trip to New York, when cabs, hotels, airfare and meals are factored in can easily run close to $2k. That’s nuts.



I first tried Hotwire.com when I was at Socialtext and needed to make a last-minute trip to Monterey to attend the Red Herring Spring conference. Hotels in Monterey were outrageous, yet Hotwire was able to find me a great spot, just a mile from the conference, for $80/night. A few months later, I had to spend a night by the San Francisco Airport. The various travel websites (Expedia, Orbitz, etc.) were all in the $150-200/night range; Hotwire got me a room at Homewood Suites (a Hilton property) for $49/night. I was hooked.



Hotwire is a travel site that buys unfilled beds from hotels, then resells them at a significant discount compared to what the properties will sell them for directly (they do the same with rental cars, airline tickets, etc. But I use them for hotels.). Last week’s trip to L.A.? Sheraton had a room for $260/night in Santa Monica. Hotwire got me the same room for $155. The catch with Hotwire — a catch that’s yet to be a problem for me — is that you don’t know which property you’re actually getting until you’ve paid for it. You do get details like quality of hotel (1-5 stars), amenities (Internet access, pool, restaurant, etc.) and neighborhood.



Here’s how I look at it: my last trip through New York I saved almost $200/night. In L.A., a one-day trip, I saved $150. Add that up across 5 or 6 trips per month, and I’m saving well over $10k per year.



Now I love frequent flier points, and the various rewards programs as much as the next guy. And when you book with a site like Hotwire.com, you’re not going to get Starwood points when you stay at the Sheraton, so there’s a little sacrifice involved. But if you can save the company $10k — and you get a bunch of employees doing the same — before long, you’ve got a free employee (probably in dev, at the rate we’re growing).



I’ve seen some reports about some hiccups with Hotwire.com bookings — not getting a non-smoking room, for instance — but knowing the art of being a demanding hotel guest is a skill that comes in handy in those cases. And there are cases where Hotwire.com isn’t perfect: if I need to stay at a particular property, it’s not worth the risk that Hotwire.com will put me in a property theoretically in the same neighborhood but a 15 minute walk from where I need to be.



Overall, however, I’ve yet to be let down when using the service. And tonight I got an email that shows they’re being smart with how their system gets used. I searched for a hotel for a trip next week to DC. I didn’t book a room — got distracted by a call, and didn’t finish the booking. This afternoon, look what showed up in my inbox:



Hotwire email



Smart.

Funniest. Podcast. Ever.

I dare you to listen to Kris and Betsy recount their vacation from hell and not laugh until you cry (part one, part two; part three is coming Friday). My sides hurt, in a “I feel your pain but it’s still funny as shit” kind of way. Jesus, there has to be a film that gets made of this trek… Vacation has nothing — I mean nothing — on their trip. That they’re still talking to each other, that they managed to survive this debacle of monumental proportions, is nothing short of amazing.



I wish Kris drank beer so I could have a few with him when he’s over Friday night…



Update: OneMan agrees that this should be a movie. (And OneMan, I know what happens next…)

links for 2006-06-14

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

links for 2006-06-13

The Zero Game

SCMZZZZZZZ.jpg” />I recently finished reading Brad Meltzer’s The Zero Game, a terrific book about a game gone horribly awry in DC. For political junkies, Meltzer provides plenty of detail on the inner workings of the Appropriations Committee (quite timely, actually, considering that there’s a nice little scandal brewing between an Appropriations Committee staffer, his boss Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and the staffer’s old lobbying firm), relationships between Hill staffers, and even the inner workings of the Page program. Throw in a little science (I won’t spoil the surprise), expertly-written suspense, and an all-around fun plot and it’s a book you won’t be able to put down.



The premise of the game is simple: and if it doesn’t exist in DC, it absolutely should. Bored by their jobs, Hill staffers begin a game: bets on trivial details that’ll seem to harmless to people not in on the game. Can you get a Senator to say “pepperoni pizza” on the floor of the Senate? $5 says you can’t. Can you replace a Congressman’s handkerchief with a pair of panties? $20 says no way. And so on. Whoever gets the high bet is then charged with making the thing happen; anyone else playing the game is then hell-bent to prevent it. An interesting twist: noone knows who else is playing the game. As a result, you don’t know if your co-workers are working against you. Or maybe the Senators themselves?



It’s a neat premise, and reminds me of promises many of my law school classmates made about if they ever became judge. One friend guaranteed us that every opinion he wrote would contain the title of a Beatles song. Another said that he’d find a way to work the names of Crayola Crayons into his opinions. You get the idea.



Predictably, the game takes a turn for the worse, and one of its players finds himself running for his life. It’s a great page-turner, it’s highly recommended.

Party orthodoxy

I can’t even begin to count the ways this angers and depresses me. Getting off the train last night, I found a piece of note paper tucked under my windshield wiper. Written on the sheet of paper:

“Democrats shouldn’t drive Jap cars!”



And on the other side:



“Asshole!”


Sad. Just sad. (My car – yes, a Japanese car – has a Naperville Democrats bumper sticker on it.)



Update: I love it. Thanks to Brett’s comment, I decided to find out where the Tribeca’s built. Anyone care to guess? Yep: Lafayette, Indiana.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Saturday, June 10, 2006

links for 2006-06-10

Friday, June 9, 2006

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

TypePad now integrated with FeedBurner

The very first week I joined FeedBurner, I talked with several friends who resisted using FeedBurner because they already had subscribers to their TypePad feed, and didn’t want subscribers scattered in multiple places. Tonight, that’s a thing of the past. Over at the Six Apart blog, Michael Sippey shares the details about the integration; both Mike Arrington at TechCrunch and Steve Rubel broke the story before we had a chance to spill the beans.



For publishers who want a complete view of their subscriber base, now they can route all feed requests to the same spot. Publishers who want to enhance their feed (with FeedFlare, del.icio.us links, flickr photos, etc.) can now do it and ensure that all subscribers will get the benefit of those enhancements. TypePad wins because it becomes the first platform to natively integrate with a service already used by more than 200,000 publishers… enhancing its value and showing its commitment to its users by giving them what they want instead of locking them in. (In case you were wondering, we don’t lock publishers in either.)

links for 2006-06-07

DuPage County Government, hard at work

Hiram did a great job accounting for the GOP’s failure to govern responsibly in DuPage County, but it comes at a time when others are (quite justifiably) raising questions about the Democrats’ failure to contest= the vast majority of county races (the Tribune had similar coverage). I’m a local party official, so I certainly share in some of the blame on that front: I’m neither running for elected office this cycle, nor did our township produce any candidates. The latter is a big problem.



Participating in local government is a critical part of civic life, and I’m terribly worried that we haven’t identified more people willing to run for office. I’m certain that they’re out there — but our inability to reach out to those potential candidates is a huge limiting factor. It takes money — lots of money (by local standards, at least — I’m thinking in the neighborhood of $10-15k per year) — to do regular mailings to everyone on the voter rolls in our township who’s either voted Democratic in the past or attended an event. That’s never been done. Not once that I’m aware of. (State filings will tell you that we currently have about $2500 in the bank, which, while better than the $300 that was in the bank when I took over the party a few years ago, is still abysmal.)



Furthermore, there’s is no concerted effort at a state-wide level to develop an infrastructure that would solve this problem. Could Mike Madigan single-handedly solve this problem? No, definitely not. But could he help? Absolutely. And he’s not, nor is anyone from the state party as near as I can tell. (And if I, as the township chair, can’t tell, chances are it’s not happening.) What does that mean? It means no guidance on the basic blocking and tackling of growing a party. No leadership on fundraising. No coordinated communication when party officials pass through town. (The Governor’s been in Naperville at least twice in the past two years, his wife once, our Attorney General a handful of times, countless other examples exist… and we always, always hear second-hand. I once fielded a call from the press asking what we planned to do with the Governor in town tomorrow. My response: “The Governor’s in town tomorrow?”)



This has a cumulative effect. When the party’s not visible, the voters — even when they believe, often passionately, in Democratic ideals — remain hidden. Why would they go out of their way to seek us out when it’s not obvious that we, well, exist? If they haven’t heard from us, aren’t seeing the impact of us advocating on issues that matter locally, they’ve got plenty of other things to keep them busy. Why contribute time to an effort that seems lackluster at best?



I’m by no means excusing our local group in this. I take full responsibility for the failure to grow the party beyond its limited effectiveness today. My explanation? Being a parent of three, a husband, and an exec at a company in hyper-growth mode that’s consuming 16+ hours a day of my time. I don’t have a lot to give… but I’ve been unable to find anyone who’s willing to step in and take a more active role, which leaves us rudderless. It’s frustrating.



I got re-engaged in politics in 2002 when I got concerned about the direction President Bush was leading us in. (And this was before warrantless wiretapping, an unprecedented number of signing statements, prisoner torture, domestic surveillance, and a desire to amend the Constitution to institutionalize bigotry, but I digress.) At the local level, I’m amazed that the Republicans have such a poor record locally and are so dismissive of genuine efforts by Democrats to get involved. It’s beyond patronizing when Kirk Dillard accuses us of wanting to “screw up” what the Republicans have built, when I and others are expressing a genuine desire to participate in local government. What’s he afraid of?



And I’m hopeful that we’ll find more candidates to run… but hope alone won’t cut it. We need a concerted, well-funded effort to find the candidates, groom them, and contest races that need contesting. Pinning all our hopes on Tammy Duckworth (as suggested in the Herald and Tribune articles) is disingenuous — we shouldn’t have all our eggs in one basket, and we shouldn’t be waiting around for the problem to fix itself.



Personally, I’m annoyed I don’t have more to contribute to solving the problem. It takes a considerable amount of time — time that I simply do not have right now. If anything, this discussion means I’ve got to redouble my efforts to find the people who do. If this sounds like you, drop me a line.



Meanwhile, you’ll be happy to know that the DuPage County government — you know, the one that’s 100% Republican — is on the front page of today’s paper making sure that county computers are safe from Solitaire. I, for one, will sleep more soundly tonight.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Feeding Geffen

I’m really excited to announce our latest customer over at FeedBurner, Geffen Records. I wrote about it over on the company blog, and apparently this new strategy has already lead to at least one album sale. Sometimes it really is that easy!



Here’s why I think what Geffen’s doing is important: instead of trying to ignore new developments like My Space, Tagworld, Pandora, or, for that matter, iTunes, Geffen’s embracing them. Using FeedFlare, they’ll be providing links to the communities that are developing (or have developed) around their artists, ensuring that Geffen’s part of those communities. By encouraging their growth, Geffen’s showing that they appreciate that these communities are an important part of their artists’ success – and that can only lead to a more meaningful relationship with the artist, and with the fans. In a market where there’s always competition for talent, I think that commitment will make a difference.



I can also thank Geffen for contributing some great new music to my collection, which stopped growing right around the time I got to law school. (Funny, that’s when I stopped being a radio DJ. Coincidence?) Currently in heavy rotation on my iPod: She Wants Revenge, The Like, Rooney, and Matt White.

Monday, June 5, 2006

links for 2006-06-05

Sunday, June 4, 2006

On CNBC tomorrow

I mentioned that I was on my way to L.A., and didn’t actually get around to saying why… if all goes well, I’ll be appearing on tomorrow night’s CNBC “On the Money” show to talk about a cool new customer win. I’ve brought my best paisley shirt and can’t wait to stare into the camera and forget my name.



Actually, this won’t be my first time on camera, but it will be fun to be in front of such a large audience. I doubt I’ll be but a minor piece of the overall story (the customer’s the more interesting angle, IMO) but it’ll be fun to be involved at any level.



Will post more tomorrow. In the meantime, set those TiVos! (7pm EST, no idea where in the broadcast I’ll be.)



Update: Taping went well, I don’t think I made a fool of myself though I think there’s room for improvement. :) In addition to airing tonight, apparently an extended segment will air throughout the day tomorrow. I’ll be in the air when it airs tonight, so I won’t know how it goes until after I land…



Late update: … or not. Watched the clip tonight, and I made it in, or more precisely, my NewsGator login made it in. Rumor has it my face will actually be in tomorrow’s segment. But on the bright side, I didn’t embarass myself or the company…

links for 2006-06-04

SeatGuru - required for road warriors

Not that it’ll come as a surprise to anyone reading this blog, but yeah, I’m a geek. How much of a geek? I’m glad you asked.



I’m flying to Los Angeles tonight and after getting upgraded to business class on the 747 we’re flying, I wasn’t sure whether the auto-assigned seat was a good one. (Granted, it’s business – so any seat would be fine – but I thought it would be worth figuring out if I had a good seat.) So after getting through security, I fired up my Verizon card, and went on over to SeatGuru’s map for this plane. Unlike the airline’s maps (which simply show you one seat to another), SeatGuru actually shows you whether the seats are worth sitting in. My original row, 25, was marked as “standard”, while the middle of row 26 was solid green (indicating good). Why? Here’s the screen shot of the map:



SeatGuru map for United 747



United’s got those self-serve kiosks, which let you swipe a card and check in… though I always wondered why they were also in the terminals after you walked through security. I had a few minutes to kill, so I thought I’d check to see whether I could use them to change my seat, and sure enough: three taps of the screen later, and I’m in 26 C.



I’m on the plane (again using the Verizon card, have I mentioned how I love the Verizon card?) and SeatGuru’s description was right on the money: a lot of extra leg room (I can’t even reach the row in front of me from my seat) and power outlets, which are all I really care about.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Strangest kids book ever

Reading Babar and the Succotash Bird to my kids tonight, I ran across the following paragraph. You may not agree, but it strikes me as among the oddest ever committed to the English language:

“Remember, Alexander, don’t jump to conclusions. There’s more than one bird who can call ‘Succotash!’ That’s how life is – right mixed with wrong. Like succotash: lima beans cooked up with corn.”

Let’s leave aside for the moment the incredible collection of non-sequiturs that lead up to this moment in the book. Re-read that sentence. I defy you to make sense of it. Is this really a kids book attempting to moralize by equating lima beans with all that’s wrong in the world?



I used to live in France, and I can genuinely say my year living there was a highlight of my youth. And I sneered at the knee-jerk anti-French sentiment around the time of the Iraq invasion, thinking it to be much ado about nothing. I may have been premature in my defense of all things French.



For purists among us, this isn’t actually an original Babar story. It’s the author’s son “reviving” (and I use the term oh-so-loosely) the Babar franchise in “the spirit” of Babar. If by “the spirit” of Babar he means “I dropped a tab of acid and then dreamed of electric birds who can shrink elephants”, then yes, Laurent de Brunhoff, I commend you. Mission accomplished. My wife reminds me that the original Babar stories were not exactly bastions of logic and reason, but still.