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 tagrag.com. 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 DraftObama.org. (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”:http://www.suburbanchicagonews.com/napervillesun/news/103209,6_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”:http://www.illinipundit.com/2006/04/10/giannoulias-financier-for-criminals/.

  • 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 techdirt.com, 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 Pet-Abuse.com, 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.

PME Wrap-up: Back to the Future

I spent the weekend in lovely beautiful sunny (yeah, at least it was sunny) Ontario, CA for the Podcast and Portable Media Expo. In its second year, it brought together over 2,000 attendees who ran the gamut from new podcaster up to some of the most widely-known podcasters around (yes, I met the ninja and lived to talk about it!). I gave a presentation on Friday about the basics of creating and enhancing a feed — I’ll link to the audio when it’s available; I’ll upload my slides as well and will point to them once I get to that. (To those in the audience — sorry for the delay, I’ve had almost no time at the computer since Friday and am now playing catch-up on e-mail. I’ll get there.)

One of the highlights of the show was reconnecting with a former high school classmate, Tim Coyne, who is the host of The Hollywood Podcast. Tim recognized me while walking the show floor, and we spent a fun few minutes reminiscing before we both had to get back to work. I’ve now subscribed to his feed (he wisely uses FeedBurner!) and had a blast catching up on his life while flying back from LA yesterday.

One episode in particular stands out: his interview of Christian Finnegan, another former classmate of mine (Tim was a year behind me, Christian was two years behind me) and fellow St. Elizabeth’s parishioner… Many of you will know Christian as Chad on Dave Chappelle’s Mad Real World sketch, or as host of VH1’s Best Week Ever. I knew him as the lead in Grease (a sophomore getting the lead in a high school play, that was a big deal back then), interacted a bit as a result of the band, and my girlfriend in high school was very active in the theater group (as was Christian). Amazing to find out what a career he’s already had — even moreso given that I’d seen Mad Real World at least a half dozen times and never connected the dots that this was the guy I knew in high school.

The first of many interviews I did while at PME is up at the San Francisco Chronicle, I’ll post links to the others when they’re out if they’re worth listening to. (I progressively lost my voice throughout the show thanks to a late summer cold; by the end I think I sounded like Chewbacca. Not a good thing at a podcast conference.)

It was great to get some time with David Lawrence, who’s just a fun guy and who can cause me to burst out in hysterical laughs with the merest mention of Mexican Sugar Wafers (yeah, you probably had to be there). Other folks who were great to see, in no particular order: CC Chapman, Paul Colligan, Kris Smith, Shel Holtz, Evo Terra, the Sex is Fun crew, Keith & Doug from Ask a Ninja, Scott Simpson and Pete Alcorn from Apple, Mark Chernesky, Frank Barnako, Holland Cooke, Greg Cangialosi, Tim Bourquin, and I’m sure I’m leaving out tons of others.

It was overwhelming to hear such consistently great feedback from podcasters who love FeedBurner — many signed our t-shirt (much like last year’s poster, and the crew back in the office has already had fun seeing a bunch of familiar names on it.