Monday, December 31, 2007

Three days away

In less than 72 hours, we’ll know the results of the Iowa caucus. Iowans will have made their choice, and they will set in motion a series of events that will result in the Democrats picking our nominee. I’ve been unabashed in my support of Barack Obama from day one: indeed, I wrote on this blog more than three years ago that I hoped we’d have an opportunity to vote for him for President soon. I never imagined it would be this soon, yet I’m increasingly convinced that if we pass up this moment, we’ll be doing ourselves and our country a grave disservice.

It’s hard to survey the state of our union today and surmise that it’s anything but at risk. Our country was founded on a Constitution that established limits on our government and inalienable rights for man. Yet t(ioday, our President is far more concerned with expanding the government’s powers while simultaneously limiting our rights. That’s an imbalance of power that goes beyond one office, or one party.

More important than blaming President Bush (who, it should be clear, deserves much of the blame for the current state of affairs) is determining how we got here. We are a divided country today. Red states and blue states, the coasts and the heartland, north and south, white and black… you name it, we’re polarized. This is not a new phenomenon – but it seems we’ve lost our ability to think of ourselves as one country. It’s not enough to be an American – I fear that too many people today would define themselves as a Christian, an Evangelical, a Democrat, or some other trait that talks about what divides us before (if ever) talking about what defines us as a nation.

Three years ago, Barack Obama gave a breathtaking speech at the Democratic convention. In his now famous refrain, he spoke movingly of us not having one Red America and one Blue America, but a United States of America.

I can’t help but think of the upcoming primaries and caucuses in those terms. In Hillary Clinton we have a woman who once complained of a “vast, right-wing conspiracy” on national television. In John Edwards we have a candidate who castigates corporations and their gains – as if capitalism itself is to blame for the excesses of a few.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ll take an imperfect candidate who believes in evolution and ending the war in Iraq (to name two popular topics) over any of the current crop of Republicans. But the only candidate I see on either side of the aisle who actually stands a chance of bridging the bitter partisan divide is Barack Obama. I don’t want a 50% + 1 vote President. I want a landslide. Rather than defining our party in terms of what we’re not (we’re not Republicans, we’re not Bush…), we have what I see as a rare opportunity to nominate a candidate who has a significant shot at attracting a substantial amount of support from across the political spectrum. In Barack Obama, independents and even Republicans see a man who could single-handedly redefine how we present the US abroad, how we define our principles, and how we judge ourselves. This is a chance we should not miss.

Iowa: vote wisely. I’m hopeful that tonight’s poll is a harbinger of things to come.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I need your help!

We moved to California in July. We moved into a new house, and of all the things that have been a challenge with this move, one was particularly unexpected: getting our mail. We’ve entered a wormhole, one in which mail never predictably gets to us. It’s not our old post office in Naperville – they’re clearly forwarding mail as it arrives, without any issue at all. No, the problem is squarely on the shoulders of the San Ramon post office.

At first I figured it was just a hiccup – we were new, the post office needed to get our address in the system. Or something. But no, it’s far more interesting (read: infuriating) than that.

It turns out, our post office refuses to deliver to new developments. I can’t begin to fathom the rationale behind this – but it’s beyond my ability to convince them to actually, you know, deliver my mail to me. Because that would be too easy.

So I have to go to our post office to pick up the mail. Couldn’t Robin go? Well, sure. But there was that one day that she went with 2 of the 3 kids, and the supervisor on staff actually yelled at Robin for suggesting that they hadn’t given her all the mail. So Robin isn’t exactly interested in going through that again, and I can’t blame her.

On at least a half dozen occasions, after a week or more has gone by between pick-ups, I’ve been shocked to see a mail count in the single digits. As in, 8 pieces of mail. After a week. A normal day for us in Naperville was in the neighborhood of 15-20 pieces of mail – between bills, personal cards, catalogs, etc. And we’re averaging around 10% of that here in San Ramon.

In several cases, the original postmark has preceded the mail’s arrival in my hands by more than two months. The pony express had a better track record than this!

And in many other cases, the mail simply doesn’t arrive. Bills don’t show up – for months – then we get phone calls asking why we haven’t paid. It’s so bad, that I tell anyone who needs to get something to me must use FedEx or UPS: both deliver to my door, and both are accountable (and seem interested in making their customer happy, a terrific bonus).

The staff at the post office is beyond unhelpful – they actually resent the suggestion that there might be more mail waiting, despite the fact that we’ve been right more often than not. (Me: “Surely there’s more mail.” Them: “No, I’m sure this is it.” Me: “Could you check?” Wait ten minutes. Them: “Here you go, I found some more.” Me: Head explodes.)

Today, it happened again. Hilariously, there was 12 pieces of mail. After 11 days between pickups. One of those was a Christmas card. In years past, we’ve received on average 100 or so Christmas cards. This year? Four so far.

I have spoken with the US Postal Service Customer Service Department. I have spoken with the Oakland Postmaster. I have spoken with the San Ramon postmaster. Yet mail still goes undelivered. My head continues to explode. And the San Ramon Post Office staff continue to act as if this is my fault. For moving into a new house, I guess.

I’m no longer requesting that the San Ramon Post Office own the resolution of this. I’ve called my Congressman, and hope that his staff can apply some pressure to them to get their house in order. (I figure four months of my efforts dealing with this is more than enough time for them to figure out what’s wrong and fix it.) In the meantime, I’d like to try an experiment. This is where you come in.

I would like you to send me a postcard, a letter, whatever. I’d like to have a record of exactly what pieces of mail are on their way to me, when they were sent, what zip code they were sent from, and then when it arrived (oh, to dream!).

So, dear readers, can you help me out? Send me a postcard (removed address, experiment over --Rick). Once you do, send me an e-mail (rick at and give me all the relevant info.

I should have done this months ago when it first occurred to me. Oh well, at least I’m doing it now. To those who can help, thanks in advance!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Predictions for the '08 primaries

No real time to write a long post about this, but here are my predictions for Iowa and beyond:

  • Barack wins Iowa, with 30%+ of the vote. Edwards comes in second, with 20-25%. Hillary comes in third.

  • Barack wins NH, Hillary comes in second.

  • Barack wins SC, Edwards comes in second.

  • Going into Super Tuesday, Barack has the momentum and the money.

  • In the final weeks ahead of the caucus, I see Bill as a liability for Hillary’s campaign. As her campaign struggles to find its footing against Obama, Bill is clearly inserting himself into the process more and more. That will cause friction inside her campaign – and it will call into question how in control of this campaign Hillary is. We’re already seeing reports of rifts within her campaign – and Bill taking a more public (and uncontrolled) role will only bring those rifts to the fore. Look for more media coverage of disagreement within Hillary’s inner circle about whether they should continue to listen to Mark Penn (her pollster) or not, and if not, how much free reign they give to Bill. And if by a minor miracle she wins in Iowa, does she really want the narrative out of Iowa to be that Bill saved her campaign? I’d argue that that would be almost as fatal as a big loss in Iowa – she needs to be her own person, and appear to be in complete control. But is there any controlling Bill, especially when he points out to all of her staff that he’s the only one to have run a successful Democratic run for the presidency in the last 30 years?

  • A third place finish in Iowa, particularly if she’s more than 10 points behind Barack, will be a terrible blow to Hillary. Her entire campaign has been run as if she was an incumbent – and if she can’t win in Iowa (and in fact gets beaten soundly) it’ll shatter the whole “electability” argument she’s worked hard to build.

  • Trend-wise, a win in Iowa gives Barack enough of a boost that he could take NH comfortably as well. Back-to-back losses for Hillary would be disastrous (see point above).

  • I think it’s going to be hard for Hillary to move the needle in these last few weeks. Everyone knows her, they have a pretty firm idea of who she is, and going negative at this point (see this week’s attack on Obama’s drug use as exhibit #1) runs a huge risk of backfiring on her.

  • Only wild card in Iowa, as far as I can tell: Michael Whouley. Who? This guy.. The guy who single-handedly handed Iowa to Kerry in 2004. So don’t count Hillary out… no doubt her ground game will be impressive: it’s just that all the ground game in the world won’t help if your candidate can’t actually deliver the momentum. And right now that all seems to be going Barack’s way.

On the Republican side, I honestly have no idea. Given the Wayne Dumond situation (Huckabee personally intervened in the case of a convicted rapist and murderer, encouraging the Arkansas parole board to parole him early; less than a year later, he raped and murdered another woman), I can’t imagine that Huckabee survives to the nomination. But I also can’t see any of the others surviving either. At this point, I’m standing by my prediction from more than 3 years ago: Hillary Clinton will not be our party’s nominee (check out this comment!). That nominee will be Barack Obama. And I don’t see a Republican who can beat him right now.

Update: I drafted this this morning, and today’s news makes my predictions seem ever-so-slightly less bold: three polls have Barack leading with over 30% of the vote in Iowa, Hillary’s starting to lower expectations for Iowa, and the Clinton camp is trying unsuccessfully to figure out how to plant seeds of doubt in Obama. We’re definitely in the end game now, and Christmas break is going to be all kinds of exciting. (Yeah, I’m a junkie. I admit it openly.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Randy Pausch got a role in upcoming Star Trek movie

A few months ago, I (along with most of the rest of the blogosphere) was moved by Randy Pausch’s last lecture at Carneige Mellon. Pausch, you may recall, has a terminal diagnosis from an aggressive cancer, and has just a few months left.

Not surprisingly, many people were moved by his lecture. Here’s the transcript, it’s been translated repeatedly (Chinese, German, Italian), and a book is in the works.

But coolest of all is news that JJ Abrams, director of the upcoming Star Trek movie, sent Randy an e-mail and offered him a role in the film. (Details are here, no permalink though.)

The film will come out a year from now. I think the odds of Randy being around for its premiere are slim… but what a wonderful tribute to an incredible man.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Your Republican nominee

My immediate reaction to seeing Huckabee’s answer to the “Do you believe every word in the Bible?” question at the YouTube debate last week? He’s your Republican nominee:

A home run answer if ever there was one. He’s someone who, though I disagree pretty fundamentally with many of his positions, I could easily see supporting as a genuine leader who would have the country’s best interests at heart.

(Where have I been, you ask? Uh, busy. Who knew Google would be such a busy place to work?!)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Barack Obama at the Jefferson Jackson dinner

The campaign’s already got the video up on YouTube:

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(You can see it here if you’re having trouble seeing the video in a feed reader.)

Four years ago, Robin and I drove to Des Moines to see Dean and the other candidates at this same event. It was a remarkable night, not so much because the speeches were new, but because we were participating in the process, and seeing the mechanics of the Iowa caucus machine up close. It was fascinating, and I can still recall much of the evening as if it was last night.

I thought Barack’s speech tonight was good. He was stronger than he’s been in prior events, and he drew sharper distinctions between himself and Hillary than he has before. I thought Edwards’ speech was excellent, Biden’s “joke” trying to needle Obama’s supporters was weak (the guy just has no sense of time and place, you know?), and Hillary saying she wants to attack America’s problems instead of her opponents is a nice gesture, but I think a mistake. Voters want to know why they should support her instead of one of her opponents – and with Barack and Edwards in particular pointing out her vote for the war, her support of the Lieberman/Kyl amendment (authorizing Bush to rattle the saber towards Iran) and her inability to unilaterally denounce torture of POWs, it’ll be hard for her to ignore those attacks and remain the front-runner.

In 2003, I was surprised at how coordinated Kerry’s supporters were. And that was an early indication of how well-organized his Iowa operation was – a key factor in his eventual victory there. As The Politico notes, the JJ Dinner is a chance for the candidates to see whether their operations are up to snuff. From my vantage point (courtesy of C-SPAN), Obama’s supporters seemed to dramatically out-number the others (but see the comments on my 2003 post to see that my ability to judge supporters’ numbers is at least of questionable accuracy), and more importantly, they were very well organized.

Think Hillary’s campaign took notice? You bet. Check this out (again, from Politico):

At least two of Hillary Clinton’s upper-echelon advisers, Mandy Grunwald and Mark Penn, were decidedly unimpressed .

“Our people look like caucus-goers,” Grunwald said, “and his people look like they are 18. Penn said they look like Facebook.”

Penn added, “Only a few of their people look like they could vote in any state.”

Nice. Insult the supporters – a sure way to win favor as you go into the Caucus. Watch for this over the next few days – if the breadth and depth of Obama’s support in Iowa gets any traction in the press, the Clinton camp will try to argue that they have “real” supporters and Barack doesn’t. This is a tough line to walk: arguing that the old folks support you and those crazy kids aren’t worth paying attention to, well, I can see a few ways that might bite you back in the weeks ahead.

Don’t get me wrong – Obama’s got a decidedly younger base of support, and younger voters aren’t exactly known for putting in the hours in January necessary to make it through the Caucus. But I think he did well tonight, and I expect we’ll see the race continue to tighten in the next few weeks. (Oh, and remember my prediction earlier in the week about how he’ll win? Look at that – the race is already tightening in New Hampshire.)

Update: Garance Franke-Ruta, who I fell in love with as a result of her early coverage of Dean in 2003 (“Dean makes you feel like you’ve been waiting your whole life for someone to say what he says”) was in the balcony and has a great write-up of her impressions, writing that “Barack Obama, on the other hand, finally gave the speech his supporters have been waiting for him to give all year. If anyone comes out of this dinner with The Big Mo, it will be him.” Michael Crowley from The New Republic says the night didn’t change much, but that Barack was the clear winner, and that Hillary’s presentation was stilted and ineffective.

Friday, November 9, 2007

MoGo Bluetooth Mouse - Best. Swag. Ever.

I spoke at Blogworld Expo yesterday and the speaker gift was a Bluetooth mouse from MoGo. It’s a PCMCIA (PC Card? I can’t remember what we’re supposed to call those blessed peripherals any more) card that charges its battery while inserted. When removed, it’s a wireless mouse that connects to your computer via Bluetooth. The form factor is terrific – surprisingly solid for such a thin device – and it slides easily on a flat surface.

I ran into one of the guys from MoGo who asked how I liked the mouse, and I told him I was really impressed. Funnily enough, I didn’t realize I actually had a PCMCIA slot – I thought I just had Express Card slots. At which point he pulled out the newer MoGo mouse, which is an ExpressCard model – and is both a mouse and a PowerPoint remote (including a laser pointer). My presentation was an hour later, and I used it to drive my presentation. It was great – really a nice addition to the laptop. Thanks to MoGo for the gift!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

How Barack will win

I’ve been having this conversation a lot lately, so it seemed worthwhile to try and organize my thoughts a bit and see if I can’t make the case here. My support of Barack should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, but lately a ton of you have been asking (mostly with an air of resignation) whether the Democratic race isn’t already over. After all, Hillary seems to be holding steady in the polls in the high 40s (a few weeks ago she’d even crested 50%) and Barack doesn’t seem to be making a dent.

I’d love to have Barack in the lead in those polls, but I don’t see them as really indicative of much. National polls — especially at this stage in the game — are popularity contests that gauge little more than name recognition and comfort. Hard as it is to believe for us political junkies, the rest of the country is only vaguely aware that 47 different men (and one woman) are running for President right now (at least I think that’s the number, I lost count). So when a national poll asks who you’re likely to vote for for President, the responses are really more reflective of the voters’ overall comfort with Clinton as a potential candidate, not a referendum on whether Barack should win.

More important than the national polls are the polls in the early states: Iowa and New Hampshire to be precise. Right now Iowa is awfully tight – the latest polls I’ve seen have Hillary and Barack within a few points of each other, within the margin of error. (You can see this poll and all others aggregated at Slate’s magnificent Election Scorecard if you’re interested.) And while New Hampshire is less tight – Hillary leads Barack 40-20 there – that’s less of a concern. Remember 2003? At this point in Iowa, Dean led Kerry by double digits, and was up in New Hampshire by 40 percentage points. A 3rd place finish in Iowa (thanks to a rejuvenated Kerry campaign, a masterful push by Edwards, blistering attacks on Dean by Gephardt and a complete implosion by Dean) and the New Hampshire lead evaporated, and Dean was toast.

Which brings me back to how Barack will win.

Back in January I asked whether this country really wanted to keep the White House in the family:

Look for everyone on both sides of the aisle to ask rhetorically whether we want to keep the Presidency in the family. As in, “since 1988, we’ve had two families control the Presidency: Bush and Clinton. Do you want to give those families another 8 years in charge?” (It’s pretty amazing, when you think about it: if Hillary were to win, that would mean that two families controlled the White House for 28 consecutive years.) I think that’s a surprisingly powerful argument against Hillary, regardless of how you feel about her, her politics, or her suitability for the office.

Surprisingly, I haven’t seen this issue get raised in any concentrated effort. That’s not to say it’s not being discussed – it most certainly is. But given the earlier dynamics – that the race is still early for most observers – I think we’ve not yet seen this point reach its crescendo. And once it does, Hillary will have a very hard time fighting it – because, as I observed in January, this is not a critique of her credentials, or of her suitability for the office. It’s much more about how we see ourselves. And if the drum gets beat loudly enough, often enough, I think you’ll find larger and larger groups of people looking for an alternative. (Come to think of it, 36 years is the even more dramatic number: Bush’s Dad was in the White House starting in 1980… and a Bush or Clinton has been there ever since.) If she’s elected, nearly half of the country will have lived in a time when only a Bush or Clinton occupied the White House. That will, I believe, strike many people as instinctively wrong.

Lest it seem that I’m ignoring Sen. Edwards, I’m not. But I think he’ll play a spoiler role in Iowa – he is ratcheting up the attacks on Senator Clinton, at precisely the time that she’s showing ever so slight signs of pressure. (Her waffle on drivers licenses for illegals runs the risk of becoming this season’s “I invented the Internet” meme – completely unfair, but it’s a thread that reinforces preexisting concerns about the Clintonian triangulation that drove Clinton’s critics up the wall.) Let’s not forget that Edwards was a legendary trial lawyer, known for his ability to synthesize complex cases into a compelling, comprehensible narrative. If he can chip away at Clinton’s armor – and I think he may well sow seeds of doubt as people look ever closer at whether or not she should be president – I think the most likely result is that he opens the door for Barack to surge ahead. (See Taegan’s thoughts on this as well – I agree with his take.)

I won’t go so far as to suggest Barack is a “darling” of the Republican crowd – but for an unabashedly liberal Democrat he sure is garnering lots of praise in unexpected places. I recently pointed out praise from Reagan and Bush speechwriter (and WSJ columnist) Peggy Nooonan but it was this month’s article in The Atlantic by Andrew Sullivan (yes, that Andrew Sullivan) that demonstrates the role Obama can (and I think will) play in 2008 and beyond.

Obama’s candidacy in this sense is a potentially transformational one. Unlike any of the other candidates, he could take America—finally—past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us. So much has happened in America in the past seven years, let alone the past 40, that we can be forgiven for focusing on the present and the immediate future. But it is only when you take several large steps back into the long past that the full logic of an Obama presidency stares directly—and uncomfortably—at you.

… If you are an American who yearns to finally get beyond the symbolic battles of the Boomer generation and face today’s actual problems, Obama may be your man.

In the aftermath of the Bush Administration, Democrats are desperate to win. Right now, casual observers assume that a Clinton is our best chance at doing that. I disagree. I see her as a polarizing figure – one who would energize the Republican base, and not only make the Presidential contest tighter, I think she’d hurt candidates down the ballot as a result. In a tight race, she could easily mean the difference between picking up additional seats in Congress and losing ground we made up in 2006.

Contrast that reality (I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that there are countless Republicans who have a very personal dislike of Hillary Clinton) with the reality that more Republicans favor Barack than any other Democrat. For those voters in the primaries who are momentum voters – they go with who they think can win – I think Barack becomes a consensus choice in much the same way that Kerry’s win in Iowa helped him run the table and win the nomination.

A lot has to go right for Barack to be our party’s nominee. But he’s raised more than enough money to be competitive. I think everyone who will have an opinion about Hillary already has an opinion – and in many cases, those opinions will make her election in November of next year more difficult. As more Democrats pay attention to the presidential race, they’ll take a hard look at her and look at their alternatives.

If Barack is our nominee – and I’m confident he will be – then, to borrow the words of a Republican I admire, it’s his race to lose. That makes for a very exciting year.

We will elect our next president one year from today. Let’s get to it.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Guitar Hero for the Wii rocks

No, I won’t win any awards for most creative post title. Sue me. I picked up Guitar Hero for the Wii today while we were out running errands, and I had more fun playing this game than any game on the Wii to date. Best of all, it supports online play, so those of you who own the game can take me on in a shred-off. I’d write more, but I can barely feel my fingers.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Update to the update

Umm, so I don’t think I was very clear last week. The feed updates are for the “shared items” feed, not for the blog feed itself. In other words: if you weren’t subscribed to my “shared items” feed before, the post didn’t/doesn’t apply to you (and sorry for the rambling). If you were subscribed to the shared items feed, then you should update the URL you’re subscribed to. That’s all.

For those that don’t know, the shared items feed is a simple way for me to mark blog posts as interesting; when I read them in Google Reader, I click “share” and they’re immediately inserted into the shared items feed. If that sounds interesting to you, you can subscribe here.

Sorry for any confusion.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Administrivia - update my shared items feed

I’ve been using Google Reader’s shared items for a while now, and originally ran the resulting feed through FeedBurner. Truth be told, I don’t need the metrics (it’s mildly interesting that there are three dozen people subscribed to my shared items feed, I suppose). More importantly, some useful context with respect to the items is lost when the feed is run through FeedBurner. So… I’ve deleted the feed from FeedBurner, which should permanently redirect you to the original source feed, which is here. However, it appears that there may be some funkiness if you try to unsubscribe to the old feed after subscribing to the new. Please unsubscribe from the shared items feed and resubscribe to the original feed produced by Google Reader. If you’re not subscribed to the shared items feed at all, give it a try. There’s a whole lot more content in there than there is in this blog lately…

That is all.

Voce 5x5 interview

Meant to post this a couple weeks ago when it went up, but I’ve been on the road and didn’t get a chance to get to it.

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It was fun to sit down with my former law school classmate (and now social media guru) Andrea Weckerle, who’s now at Voce Communications. This interview was the inaugural episode of their video interview series at Voce Nation. Thanks, Andrea – it was fun to talk about FeedBurner and what’s going on at Google.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet (3rd ed.)

I don’t spend much time in the legal world these days, but I did spend time over the past year updating a book for the American Bar Association, the Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Now in its 3rd edition, it’s a book that I think will help law firms of all sizes prioritize where they want to spend their time (and money) online. We talk about blogs, podcasts, e-mail, website strategies, how to hire consultants, the ethics of online advertising, and often try and identify options for when you’re on a tight budget or when you’re at a big firm looking for the creme de la creme. This isn’t a theory book at all: we deliberately focused on practical tips that you can implement as soon as you’ve read them.

My co-authors are a terrific bunch – Greg’s been doing this longer than anyone (his law firm website is well into its second decade, and he wrote the original edition of this book), and Deb is proving to be one of the savviest marketers around, with a terrific ability to distill key learnings from hundreds of websites to identify what actually works. Collaborating with them is a joy.

Thanks to Ernie Svenson, Dennis Kennedy and Elizabeth Lampert for providing us with helpful feedback on the manuscript, and a huge thank you to ABA employees Bev Loder (actually, former employee, but Bev deserves the lion’s share of the credit for shepherding this book from day 1 and hounding us to get it done) and Tim Johnson (who made sure the finished product was one we’d all be proud of).

I’ve heard that some reviews are coming out shortly; I’ll point to them when they’re up.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Back from Yosemite

Just got back from a wonderful three day vacation at Yosemite National Park. This is my fourth time to Yosemite – and my first in the fall. Wow… the park is a remarkably different place in the fall. The lack of crowds was certainly nice, but it was like exploring an entirely new park.

Lots of pictures to upload, tag, etc. But check out this sunset over the Yosemite Valley:

The fog was setting in, so the sun actually set below the fog and above the mountains. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen, and the effect – pink, orange, yellow, white… it was just breathtaking.

Oh, and the reason for the vacation? 10 years married to my wonderful wife.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Peggy Noonan on Barack

What a difference a few years makes. In 2005, after he’d been elected to the Senate, Barack Obama wrote a small piece in Time magazine about his political hero, Abraham Lincoln. WSJ columnist (and presidential speechwriter) Peggy Noonan was aghast. “There is nothing wrong with Barack Obama’s résumé, but it is a log-cabin-free zone. So far it also is a greatness-free zone. If he keeps talking about himself like this it always will be. Obama said he keeps a photographic portrait of Lincoln on the wall of his office, and that ‘it asks me questions.’ I’m sure it does. I’m sure it says, ‘Barack, why are you such an egomaniac?’” Back in December, Peggy Noonan appeared mildly skeptical that Barack was legit, and wondered aloud whether he wasn’t really just an ego-centric, selfish, standard pol.

Which is what makes today’s column all the more interesting. Perhaps what she saw as selfish is really more about confidence, intelligence, and commitment: “You get the impression Mr. Obama trusts himself to think, as if something good might happen if he does. What a concept. Anyway, I’ve started to lean forward a little when he talks.”

I’m glad. Here’s hoping the Democrats do the same.

Speaking of trusting himself, let’s not forget that Barack trusted his own instincts five years ago on a topic that put him in a small minority of the country. We now know he was right, and the words from his speech given five years ago today are painful to hear. What would our country be had we had someone like Barack in office in 2002? Let’s find out by putting him there in 2009.

[youtube AUV69LZbCNQ]
(Click through if you’re not seeing the video; it’s worth it.)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Feeds in search results?

A good discussion is going on at Joost de Valk’s blog about situations in which feeds do/don’t show up in search results. (Short answer: they shouldn’t.) I provide some clarifications about what we do at Google insofar as feeds and search behaviors are concerned, and answer a few questions that (hopefully) clears up some misconceptions about FeedBurner, Google and feeds in general. Worth a look if you’re into that sort of thing.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

eBay and Skype not going so well

John Paczkowski at AllThingsD writes that the honeymoon is most definitely over in the eBay/Skype marriage:

This morning the Internet auction giant said it was taking a $1.43 billion charge for its acquisition of the Internet telephone provider and that Niklas Zennström, a co-founder of Skype, was stepping down as chief executive of the division. The charge announced today reflects the “updated long-term financial outlook for Skype,” eBay said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

When I wrote about this at the time of the acquisition, we were all trying to figure out why eBay bought Skype. The canned response from eBay at the time didn’t make much sense, and I thought I had the right answer: eBay was angling to be the virtual Kinko’s. Think about it: FedEx bought Kinko’s in part to become the brick-and-mortar operation for small companies and sole practitioners of all stripes who didn’t have shipping or communications departments. You could send and receive faxes, ship boxes, use their computer applications to lay out publications, print up signage, even use their a/v equipment to do videoconferences. I mentioned at the time that eBay was already offering healthcare for those high-volume ‘power sellers’, PayPal had added transaction management, its integration with the USPS and UPS made logistics increasingly seamless – and its conferences of power users were becoming industry events unto themselves. For the increasing numbers of individuals who were turning to eBay to build a business – of acquiring and selling goods, with eBay as their storefront – I thought (but clearly was not thinking the way that eBay management was) that eBay’s move was downright elegant: add IM, phone (inbound and outbound) and voicemail to the virtual storefront. Seemed like a good idea at the time – and, come to think of it, it still seems like a good idea to me.

Guess I’d like to know what % of transactions are handled by ‘power sellers’ (I’d guess the number is approaching 75% if not higher). Of those, I’d want to know how many are individuals (and not just the auction group within a more traditional retailer/seller)… if that number is sizable (my hunch tells me it is), then adding telecom to its suite of services just fits.

Or maybe I’m wrong. Whatever… sounds like pressure is building for eBay to sell the company. That could get interesting, no?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Long overdue update on my Nikon D80

You may recall that I received a loaner Nikon D80 from Nikon earlier this year, part of their “Picture This” campaign. Absolutely no conditions were placed on the loan – it was an opportunity to put a sophisticated camera in the hands of a decidedly unsophisticated photographer. And I’ve pretty well lived up to that lack of structure – what with an acquisition, a sudden move, and untold upheaval, I’ve been a pretty poor test case. That said, some of my pictures from the past four or five months are on Flickr, and I uploaded a bunch last week. I’m excited about next week, when Robin and I (and the kids) will head to Yosemite for a short vacation to celebrate our 10th anniversary. I’ll have a ton of good pictures to share from that trip…

Before getting into my thoughts on the camera so far, one thing that is unique for me that I think added immeasurably to my early experience with the camera had nothing to do with the camera: the Flickr group that 25 of us joined to exchange ideas, answer questions, and showcase our favorite pictures so far. More than any other aspect of this experiment, this was a revolutionary process for me: instead of experiencing the camera in a vacuum, I had access to a similarly situated group of camera users (mostly enthusiasts, but all of different abilities) who had an interest in helping each other out.

The only other time I experienced anything remotely like this was a (short-lived? I don’t know) experiment Gateway tried 15 years ago with their phone support line. Callers were put into a party-line phone queue, so instead of listening to hold music, as many as 5 of us would be connected to a tech at once. The result wasn’t the cacophony you’d expect, it instead led to a number of people connecting – and helping – independent of the tech. It was fascinating.

Back to the Nikon. Whether or not it was Nikon’s goal (or their PR firm, MWW group, who’s organizing this project), it seems to me that this could be a huge step forward in creating and cultivating passionate users. Think of it as communities developing around the products you love – you get to meet others who can help, suggest hacks, or offer critiques/praise on techniques as you ramp up. In the first month or two, I didn’t feel like I was playing with a camera so much as I was joining a community: and that was incredible. (Then I went radio silent, and am only just now emerging… sorry guys!) I have no idea if Nikon plans to expand this – the Flickr group was, I believe, started independent of Nikon or MWW and may have been a happy accident – but if they’re looking for feedback as a result of this experiment, let me be clear: this had a huge, positive impact on my ability to get value from the camera. More like this, please.

Back to the camera. As you may remember, I received a D50 just months prior to this as a Christmas present – so I was already familiar with the Nikon DSLR in general. Moving to the D80 was easy: much like buying an Acura after owning a Honda, it felt familiar while also being obviously “upgraded”. The first thing I noticed was the lens: the 18-135mm lens really made a difference: In the months I’ve owned the camera, I’ve never once felt the need to use the 55-200 I had for the D50. 135mm is plenty for most zoom situations, and the quality of the optics, not to mention the convenience of not having to change lenses, made it an easy choice to leave the lens in the bag.

The camera feels wonderful in your hands – if you’re looking for a point-and-shoot this isn’t your gig – and the start-up time and focus are nearly instantaneous. As another project participant noted over the summer, it’s impossible to take a bad picture. But as you get more advanced in learning the ins and outs of the camera, it’s also possible to take some really remarkable shots.

I’ve kept a set at Flickr of my favorites, and all of the recent additions are taken with the D80. In particular, here are some of the pictures from our recent trip to Mt. Shasta that I consider to be above-average, thanks in large part to the camera and its capabilities:

At Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Mt. Shasta

Sunset, driving away from Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park

There are others in the Favorites set, feel free to poke around there if you’re curious.

Is the camera worth the price? I can clearly see the advantages of this camera over my D50 – the enhanced image finder with 11 auto-focus zones (versus the 5 in the D50), the higher resolution (10.2 megapixels vs. 6.1) and the better lens all result in superior photos. It’s not cheap – the camera today would cost you about $1100 – but if I were in the market for a superior camera without paying the exorbitant prices for a true “pro”-level camera, this would be what I’d buy. I’m probably a year or more away from outgrowing my D50, and the D80 would give me more room to grow.

I’m re-reading the Learning Digital Photography book before heading to Yosemite, and will post those pictures when we’ve returned. I’ll update the site with additional observations about the camera once I’ve done that.

Here's to the crazy ones

I don’t have an iPhone – I must be getting older (come to think of it, I do turn 36 later this month which is starting to sound decidedly un-young), but it just doesn’t hold much fascination for me. Sure it’s an elegant piece of equipment, but I just need my preferred phone/device to make calls and make email and mobile browsing manageable. The iPhone is a decent phone (er, well, for some but not others) and its interface is nice, but do I need to spend $599 $399 for it when my Blackberry does just fine? Just never had a burning need to go and get one.

Nevertheless, I am amazed by the turn of events over the last week as Apple bricked a ton of phones, many belonging to their most passionate supporters. In response, someone created a beautifully apt parody of my favorite ad ever that really makes its point well:


(Click through to the site if you’re not seeing this in your reader – it’s worth a minute of your time.)

Tracking Twitter

Twitter’s new track feature is really remarkable. Back in March, I  asked (on Twitter, naturally):

So… if I wanted to monitor the twitter public timeline for mentions of “FeedBurner”, how would I go about doing that?

I ended up answering my own question, and it spawned a nice comment from Chris Thilk who implemented my hack (using Google’s site search) to monitor his own topics of interest. A few months later, David Churbuck at Lenovo realized he needed to be monitoring Twitter as well, and went the same route as I had.

But now there’s a far more efficient, not to mention comprehensive, way to do this: implement the Twitter track feature, and you’re notified in real time as people make a comment about the term you’re interested in. I’m now tracking “FeedBurner” and so far am seeing far more twits than I’d seen using my Google search hack. Nice.

As Twitter makes replies more visible (in the past, replies were harder to see if you weren’t already following the person who replied to you), this ability to create a unified notification mechanism for terms of interest is really valuable. Anyone out there who wants to monitor how their company/brand/product is being discussed online can now be alerted instantly when a conversation happens; from there, a quick reply (replies on Twitter are designated with “@username”) can be used to participate in the conversation.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Randy Pausch

Not really sure that there are words that would do justice to Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture”, given at Carneige Mellon recently. Randy’s home page has a number of links to recent media coverage, but here’s the short version: he’s 47 years old, a legend in computer science (particularly in video game design and virtual reality), and learned earlier this year that he has terminal cancer. He has a few months left, and delivered his “last lecture” to celebrate a life of accomplishment and dreams fulfilled.

He’s an inspiration on a number of levels – for his commitment to his family, his desire to translate his passion to a new generation of students, and his incredible ability to achieve his dreams in spite of some remarkable obstacles. This lecture is one you need to watch.

I’ve always wanted to know how to actually write software… I can dabble with web apps, but actual code development has always been beyond me. Inspired by Randy’s lecture, I downloaded a copy of Alice and will give it a whirl. I’ll report back once I’ve played with it a bit. (Randy is the director of the Alice project, among a whole host of other accomplishments.)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Residence Inn Balance

I saw a shorter version of this ad at and had to find it on Youtube so I could share it:

[youtube 9TV1NyLYoQI]

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Best of luck to Eric

Almost exactly two years ago, Eric Olson contacted Dick about interviewing him for a podcast. Shortly after that, Eric asked Dick whether he thought the “business development associate” role was something he should apply for. We hired him almost immediately.

I was fortunate to have Eric work for me for the next 18 months. FeedBurner’s growth is by now well-known, and the outcome (our acquisition by Google) certainly validates the hard work that we all put into seeing FeedBurner succeed.  Eric’s contributions over those 18 months were many, perhaps none more important than the boundless energy he brought to the team. There were days it felt like he willed certain tasks to completion. I feel fortunate to have been able to hire him, and it was certainly a privilege to have him on my team.

Sadly, today is Eric’s last day at Google. He recently announced that he’ll be moving to New York to help BuzzFeed grow, and while he will be missed, I’m certain he’s going to be as valuable at BuzzFeed as he was at FeedBurner. Thanks for everything Eric.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Back on Twitter

Like Dick, I struggled to see the value in Twitter. In May, I declared that it wasn’t doing it for me and I didn’t check it for months. But then Scott Karp made a compelling case last month that there was more to Twitter… and I started “getting it”.

I’m not sure I’ve progressed much past the group-wide IRC-like environment, but I’ve found it’s an increasingly useful place as more of my colleagues are using it. (All together now: Duh.) In any event, if you’re getting value out of Twitter and want to add me, I’m rklau. You’ll notice by looking there that I’ve been a bit more active on Twitter than on my blog of late. (Whether I’m saying anything of substance is another matter, and one best left unevaluated.)

For those of you who don’t know what Twitter is, I tried explaining it this spring.

One last comment: without question, part of the growing value for me is due to finding Tweetr, a cross-platform Twitter app that is quite elegant on the PC. It makes updating Twitter easy, and following the conversation (whether through public posts, replies, or direct messages) a very seamless process.

Oh, and if you’re wondering: no, I have no idea when I’ll start posting more than four or five posts per month. A little busy lately. :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Upgraded to WP 2.3

Experiencing serious blog issues (which is why I’m upgrading – maybe that’ll exorcise the demons?). Stay tuned…

Update: Huge thanks to Aaron Brazell who was extraordinarily helpful in isolating the issues behind the wonkiness.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Michael Lewis: The Blind Side

Michael Lewis was one of this week’s Authors @Google (that link should have his visit online in a few days), and I’m really glad I went. I picked up a copy of his most recent book, The Blind Side and finished it tonight: it’s as good a book as you’ll read this year. It’s ostensibly about Michael Oher, an abandoned child from the Memphis ghetto who, through a variety of circumstances, is adopted by a wealthy, evangelical Memphis family and gets a chance at an education. He’s 6’5”, well over 300 pounds, and ends up on the football team. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, yet his enormous physical ability makes him a near ideal specimen for left tackle.

Even if you consider yourself a football fan, you may not know (I sure didn’t) that the left tackle is the second highest paid position on the field (behind quarterback). In classic Lewis fashion (I thoroughly enjoyed The New New Thing, Moneyball and Liar’s Poker), Lewis finds more of a story here. It’s about the evolution of the left tackle. And football strategy over the past three decades. And class, race, and the questionable practice of college athletes who can’t be paid for their service. This is a page-turner: you cannot wait to turn the page to find out how Michael’s story turns out. But it’s Lewis’s fascination with Michael’s evolution from one of society’s least valued members (a homeless, abandoned child with almost no formal education) to an individual who, six years later, is going to likely be a first round draft pick in the NFL draft, all but ensuring him a $50 million+ windfall for a few years of his service.

After reading this book, I’ll never watch a football game the same way again. And I can’t wait to follow Michael’s career.

Friday, September 7, 2007

A surge of confusion

Here we go again. Despite what you may think about our mission in Iraq, it’s hard to imagine anyone looking at the state of affairs in Iraq and concluding that things are going well. Yet our President today declared that “we’re kicking ass”. Really? In what alternate reality must one live to conclude that we’re kicking ass?

My cousin arrived in Fallujah this week for his first tour of duty with the Marines. I’m extraordinarily proud of him for his service, but I can’t help but wonder that if our Commander in Chief looks at the current state of affairs in Iraq and concludes that we’re kicking ass, whether my cousin is in the best hands when it comes to making decisions about what his mission should be and how it will be executed.

Here’s the thing: the President gambled with the lives of our servicemen earlier this year by stunningly doubling down: in the face of growing evidence of a failing (failed?) strategy in Iraq, after having lost control of Congress in an election many saw as a referendum on the direction we were heading in in Iraq, the President did the unthinkable: he sent more troops into harm’s way. Dubbed “the surge”, the point of the surge was to apply overwhelming force to accelerate political progress in the Iraqi government, ease sectarian violence, and reduce the prevalence of terrorist attacks in Iraq.

We set 18 benchmarks for judging whether or not the surge had worked, and asked General Petraeus to come to Washington DC the week of September 10th to report on those benchmarks. Ahead of his appearance next week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that a full 13 of 18 of those benchmarks are unmet. If that’s “kicking ass”, I guess it’s now easy to understand how President Bush was able to declare “Mission Accomplished” over four years ago.

Yet the White House persists in claiming that the surge is working. (Gen. Petraeus, in an interview with the Boston Globe today, declares that we’ve made real progress with the surge.) However, civilian deaths are going up (though there is considerable debate about who’s right in reporting those deaths). The Iraqi government is an abject failure (citing the heat, they took the entire month of Iraq off!). Sectarian violence is up. Our troops are still dying, at a rate of more than 2 soldiers per day. The last remaining argument for us staying in Iraq – the determination of Al Qaeda to wage war in Iraq – may be entirely off the mark. And the government seems committed to collecting information to support its conclusions, rather than evaluating the information on its merits. Which, given how we got into this mess, I suppose shouldn’t really surprise any of us. Is there any more depressing quote than this (from the Bush Administration’s own Iraq Study Group, lest you think I’m citing some partisan shrill?):

“Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals.”

That about sums up this administration, come to think of it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Joining Augsburg Fortress Board of Trustees

Just under two years ago, I participated in a panel at the Publicity Club of Chicago with Eric Zorn from the Trib and Elizabeth Berglund from Hill & Knowlton. It was a pretty straightforward presentation for me, but at the end of the discussion, one guy worked his way up from the back of the room. His exact words, as he approached the table: “You need to speak to Lutherans.”

Now, I’ve given a lot of presentations in the past decade, and I’ve received feedback from the very positive to lukewarm to downright negative. But never had I heard that.

The guy was John Brooks, who works for the ELCA. He didn’t know that I was a member at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Naperville – he just knew that the folks he works with would be receptive to me talking about blogs, podcasts, RSS, etc. We kept in touch, and true to his word, John hooked me up with the staff planning their Communicators Conference – a gathering that happens every other year in which the communicators from around the ELCA come to Chicago to discuss ways in which they can better communicate the Church’s mission. They added me as a keynote speaker, and though I wasn’t certain I’d be a good addition to the program, I went. (If you’re so inclined, you can listen to the presentation here. It’s interesting how differently I’d present this today: I’d probably not say a word about MySpace, I’d talk a lot more about Facebook, and I’d ignore Second Life.)

In more than 10 years of speaking in front of audiences, it remains my favorite presentation. The audience was as far outside my comfort zone as I’ve ever spoken to – which is to say, this wasn’t a room full of techies, or lawyers, or marketing types. Probably more significantly, they weren’t there to hear a technology presentation – so I had to work hard to make sure that the presentation was connected to the practical benefits they could expect to achieve if they actually implemented any of what I talked about.

Something clicked: more than a dozen people in the audience started blogs within a couple days of the presentation. The feedback was uniformly positive, among the best I’ve ever received. And it kept coming – this post came nearly six months after I gave the talk. Needless to say, it was a humbling, gratifying experience.

Then a funny thing happened: I heard from someone who wasn’t in the audience that day, but who’d heard from friends that she and I should connect. She was Beth Lewis, CEO at Augsburg Fortress (the publishing house of the ELCA). Beth and I corresponded for months, and eventually met this spring when she was in Illinois for a conference. Beth, who’s a blogger herself, is a sharp woman who’s working hard to build on Augsburg Fortress’s successes and stay true to its mission. Based on our conversations, Beth asked whether I’d consider serving on her Board of Trustees – an invitation I was more than happy to accept. Because of its affiliation with the ELCA, the appointment needed to be voted on by the churchwide assembly, which occurred in Chicago earlier this month. Two weeks ago, I got a note from Beth confirming that I’d been elected.

One year after I gave that presentation in Chicago, I’m now part of a small group of people tasked with helping a storied publishing house think about its transition to a digital marketplace. I’m quite excited about this next step – it’s a six year term, which I hope gives me plenty of time to learn how I can best contribute. To Beth, thanks for your faith in my ability to contribute. And big thanks to John Brooks, without whom this amazing series of events never would have happened.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Polished presentations at SES

I attended SES San Jose this week, and gave two presentations – one on podcast/audio search optimization, the other on blog and feed SEO. Both are versions of presentations I’d given at past SES shows (NYC, Chicago) and they went pretty well. By the turnout here and in NYC in April, it’s clear that the awareness of blogs and feeds as strategic assets is growing (in both cities, the audience numbered well over 300). Podcasts are still of interest, but not quite seen as critical for organizations looking to make the most of their search engine marketing efforts. That’s partly due to the audience, which skews towards search engine marketers – not necessarily the same folks who’d be tasked with creating/managing a corporate podcast.

The feedback was quite positive, which is always reassuring. You never know going into this what level the audience will be at, and whether you’ll be patronizing them by speaking too much about basics, or shooting over their head by blitzing them with advanced stuff that’s beyond what they’re looking for. I think for the most part, we got it right. (I would say that when you have a 90 minute panel, perhaps giving each speaker 15 minutes instead of 10 would go a long way to making the content more digestible. Small quibble.)

Which brings me to a final point:, it is on. In writing up our session, Ken Grobe,’s Product Content Manager, had this to say about me: “Obviously a smart guy, he came off as quite affable.” Nice, right? Ken Grobe, I salute you. Sadly, he couldn’t stop there – oh no, there had to be a “but”. Here’s how the whole sentence read: “Obviously a smart guy, he came off as quite affable but lacked the polish of most of the other Google speakers I’d seen. Maybe because FeedBurner is such a recent acquisition? Pitcher of Kool-aid, table two, please!”


Those that know me know that me and polish had a bit of a falling out a couple years ago. I don’t like to talk about it much, and I hate to blame PowerPoint for all my woes, but back in 2004 there was a rather famous ill-timed slide fade and a cough from the audience. I’ve never recovered.

Apparently it even came up during the acquisition discussions: “We like you guys, but man, that Klau sure is sketchy.” Whatever, they took a gamble. I think Dick even needed to promise that he’d use his Second City and Annoyance Theater experience to try and soften some of my rough edges. And come to think of it, I did get an e-mail from HR a month ago talking about required polish classes, but I ignored it: speaking Polish had nothing to do with RSS, and I resumed my hunt for the best free food on campus. (Thank you. I’ll be here all week. Don’t forget to tip your waitress.)

Alright, Ken. You want polish, you’ll get polish. Drinks on me at the next SES if I’m outshined again by my fellow Googlers.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Home for sale in Naperville, Illinois

Our house in Naperville has been on the market for a little over two months, and now that we’re finally starting to settle into our home in California, I wanted to take a few minutes to tell you about the home we left. I’d love to sell the house – two mortgage payments are never fun – but, truth be told, it’s more than that: we got almost seven good years out of that house, and I’m surprised that the right buyer hasn’t fallen in love with the house the first time they lay eyes on it. I figure I’ll share some details, and a few of you reading this might link to it, and maybe someone out there thinking about relocating to Naperville will search Google for their new home. And maybe they’ll see this, and we’ll have our match. Who knows – can’t hurt, right?

We first saw the house on a whirlwind househunt the weekend that President Bush was inaugurated. Given Naperville’s demographics, it should come as no surprise that there weren’t a lot of home buyers out that weekend! It was a cold day in January, there was a ton of snow on the ground, and it was late in the first day of looking. We walked into an empty house (much like it is now) and tried hard to ignore the ugly wallpaper in the dining room, the dark wallpaper in the study, the mismatched wallpaper in the kids bedrooms (are you sensing a theme here?) and the ugly lighting fixtures in the kitchen and dining room.

What we saw was a house with beautiful lines (Robin calls them bones – I’m going with lines). Arched doorways. An expansive view of the big backyard through the kitchen door. A study on the first floor that could be a bedroom if we needed it to be. A huge, unfinished basement. Two attics. A floor in the attic over the garage, inviting us to store lots of stuff. A great layout in the kitchen, giving us access to the cooking area while still being able to interact with guests. An open floorplan that, as our kid (we only had one at the time) learned to walk, would invite him to run laps. A neat neighborhood. The elementary school was around the corner; a fishing lake was across the street. (Granted it was iced over at the time, but we were grooving on the vision thing.)

In the six+ years since then, we’ve done a ton of work on the house. We stripped the wallpaper in every room and painted. Added a chair railing to the molding in the dining room. Painted Becca’s room, and her Grammy painted a gorgeous mural on the walls. Replaced the light fixtures. Upgraded the countertops in the kitchen. Replaced the french door from the kitchen with a slider, making it easier for the kids to come and go. I finished the basement, giving me a media room (since the Bose speakers were built in, they remain installed in the ceiling), a bar (with wine and beer fridges!), and a place for my poker table (sorry, that followed us out here). We put a closet system in the boys’ room (who were sharing a bunkbed). Replaced the aging dishwasher and refrigerator, and got rid of the heinous glass cooktop stove, replacing it with a JennAir dual fuel stove with a double oven.

We put a raised bed garden in the backyard, which gave us an incredible collection of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and tons of herbs over the years. The backyard got a fence, giving our beloved dog room to roam and the kids a safe place to run around. We landscaped the backyard, adding dozens of perennials that stagger their colors from spring through fall. We got to know the neighbors, instituting an annual lobster dinner for 20, fireworks viewing off of our back deck, and regular swingset swapping among the kids.

And maybe most significantly, we loved how close we were to some of Naperville’s gems: Ribfest (walking distance to that most gluttonous of charitable events!), Last Fling (seeing They Might Be Giants a couple years ago was a highlight), and the Riverwalk. We spent a ton of time walking around downtown – between the library (#1 in the country!), the restaurants, Andersen’s bookshop, events like Oktoberfest, there were plenty of opportunities – which was just a mile away.

We added a bit of history to the house, hosting Barack Obama for a fundraiser during his 2004 Senate run.

In all, it was a great six+ years. We’re thrilled to be out in California, but know that we had something special in Naperville. It’s a wonderful town, and the person who buys 1416 Oswego Road is going to find themselves surrounded by great neighbors (with kids ranging from 2 to 20) and they’ll be close to the schools, the shops (there’s a Starbucks that’s even within walking distance!) and many of the events that have come to be synonymous with Naperville.

Sound like your next house? Head on over to our realtor’s site, where they have the info about our Naperville home for sale.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Safer toys

Several months ago, I wrote about the horror I experienced reading about Magnetix toys in the Chicago Tribune. These toys – dozens of which were in our house at the time – had killed a young boy and injured many others. What was worse, the manufacturer and the government were both made aware of the hazards in the toys well ahead of the death. I decided that there had to be something that we – concerned parents – could do to remedy the under-staffed government agency tasked with managing toy recalls. My summary:

Give thousands of parents the tools to easily identify harmful products, leverage the community’s ability to provide visibility to legitimate threats while minimizing less serious risks, and quickly disseminate information that could be instrumental in avoiding a serious accident.

I reached out to friends – Asha, Matt, Evan, Raanan, Ross, Dermot, Sean, Ray, and Dan and Genevieve from – to invite their input to flesh the idea out. Ross graciously contributed a Socialtext workspace so we could brainstorm a bit on what this site should do, how it should function.

Then Google bought FeedBurner, I found out I was moving, and now we’re a couple weeks away from September. Sheesh.

Somewhere in there, I installed Pligg on the domain I registered for this project – I’ve had no time to tweak it beyond the initial setup, so it is unfortunately not that user-friendly to the tech novice. But in light of recent news – the Thomas the Train recall, this week’s Mattel recall, the Chinese company’s CEO’s suicide – I decided that if this idea is at all likely to have an impact, it’s better to get an unfinished site up and invite feedback than it is to sit on it while I wait for more time. (Time which I think I may get sometime around 2011.)

With that, I present SaferToys is running on Pligg, an open-source Digg clone. Users can submit stories (links, original commentary, etc.), or they can simply visit “upcoming news” and look at what others have submitted. Any stories that a user feels are worthy of increased attention, that user should vote for the story. The more votes a story gets, the more visibility it gets. (By contrast, the more people who ‘Bury’ a story, the less likely that story is to be seen.)

A note on upcoming news: to seed the site, I have Pligg monitoring a number of different sources for stories. Google Blogsearch, Google News, and are all feeding with stories that may be of interest. You’ll see stories submitted by “STANbot”, where STAN = SaferToys Automated News. Seemed cute at the time, now, not so much. Whatever.

This is very much a work in progress, and I would love to see a few people with more time than me chip in some of their time and energy to help get this site ready for primetime. Specifically, the site will need some explanations/FAQs – what is it, how do you use it, etc. A more user-friendly theme would be a big help – if this is successful, it’ll be used by people who have no idea what Digg is (nor should they). Finally, I’d like to use Pligg’s tags more effectively – right now, those are a bit more rigid than I’d like. (Ideally, tags would become a useful way to navigate the site if someone came looking for info on a specific toy.)

Thanks to everyone who contributed ideas up to this point. I’d hoped to be a bit more deliberate in guiding this to a more formal unveiling, but circumstances got in the way. I’d love to hear what you think, and hope that you find SaferToys a useful resource.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Sonos + Rhapsody: Nirvana

Over a year ago, Fred Wilson raved about Sonos, and I’ve been jealous pretty much ever since then. But his music dialtone post earlier this year sealed it for me: I needed one of these things.

For those that don’t know what it is, the Sonos is a multi-room music system. They are tiny-ish boxes that are either powered (so that you can plug speakers directly into them) or unpowered (so you plug them into a stereo), and they communicate with each other and the wireless controller via ethernet and/or wifi. In addition to sharing your entire MP3 collection throughout the house, Sonos integrates with Rhapsody and Pandora, in addition to a slew of Internet radio stations (browsable by region as well as by genre). In short, more music than you could ever listen to is available at the touch of a button. The sound quality is spectacular, and the setup was surprisingly easy. (Like Fred, I highly recommend the Sonos/Rhapsody combo: the ability to access a library of 3m songs instantaneously and send it to any room in your house is breathtaking the first time you do it.)

I got the Sonos bundle at Amazon, and I couldn’t be happier. If you’re a music lover, you need one of these. It’s as revolutionary for audio as TiVo was for video.

Thanks, Fred!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Thanks for the ride, pup

Eleven years ago, Robin gave me a trip to California as my law school graduation gift. There really wasn’t much choice about where we’d go once we got to San Francisco: I’d visited Yosemite as a kid, and couldn’t wait to see the park again. It touched me like few places had (or have since), and as we drove east out of the park, we saw a sign for Tioga Pass. We both looked at each other, and though to this day we couldn’t tell you why, we both agreed that Tioga would make a great name for a dog.

We didn’t get a dog for another two years – by then we’d married and bought our first house. We first met him in May, 1998, a couple weeks after he was born. We picked him out of a large litter, and immediately bonded with him. A year later, we moved to California, and that first walk in Foster City was hilarious: he couldn’t go more than two steps without burying his nose in another bush, completely entranced by the new smells. We liked to think that he was just connecting with his “home” state… of course that wasn’t true (he was born in Massachusetts) but it fit. The dog just belonged in California.

We eventually moved to Illinois, where he was happy as ever. He was a Golden Retriever, after all. But sure enough, when we got him off the plane last week and took him on his first walk back in California, he was just as excited to smell the smells as he was 7 years ago.

But tonight we went on a walk and something wasn’t right. He’d go 20-30 feet and pause, seemingly unsure whether he wanted to continue. We’d go a little further, and he’d pause again. Eventually Robin took Robby and Becca ahead while Ricky and I waited with Tioga while he laid down. Robin came back with the car, and we drove him home. I knew something was wrong, hoped it was as simple as something he ate… but it seemed more serious than that.

It was. Late stage cancer, with internal bleeding. It’s hard to believe he’s gone – it happened so damned fast. Tomorrow’s going to be brutal as we break the news to the kids, but they’re resilient. I already miss him, and he’s only been gone a couple hours. It seems fitting that he made it back to California before leaving us, in a way.

We will miss the big guy. He passed with his head in my lap, while I rubbed his ears. It’s been a hard night, but knowing that he didn’t have to suffer long is some solace. He was a phenomenal companion, and we won’t forget him.

Monday, July 30, 2007


A song that was in heavy rotation on KFOG when Robin and I were out here to do our househunt was “Blessed” by Brett Dennen. I’ve since listened to all of his songs on Rhapsody, and “So Much More” has become one of my favorites. In particular, a line from the song keeps resonating for me, on so many levels:

I’d rather be stuck up in a tree than be tied to it.

If you haven’t listened to Brett, check him out. Good stuff.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Living in San Ramon

The moving truck arrived yesterday morning and unloaded our stuff into the new house. It’ll take a while for us to get settled, but we could not be more thrilled to be in San Ramon. I have a gorgeous view of Mt. Diablo from the front of the house, and the Livermore hills to the south are a pretty beautiful sight to wake up to in the morning. I think I’ll feel more or less caught up by next week, at which point I hope to start regularly posting again… lots to talk about going on.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I'm not dead yet...

…but wow, I’d forgotten how painful moving is. Not painful in the “so sorry to see you go” way. No, the goodbyes have been sweet, and appreciated, and since we’re moving to the Bay Area, we’re already scheduling visitors – it’s not like we’re never seeing our friends again. No, it’s painful in the “what day is it? What thousand things need to be done by noon or this entire plan we’ve constructed will fall apart?” kind of way.

In other words, this week has been grueling. It’s hard to remember that I found out I was moving just a scant six weeks ago. In that time, we’ve listed our house (after doing a solid 2 weeks of non-stop fix-it work), bought a house (and closed – yesterday!), donated approximately 30 car-fulls of stuff to Goodwill (no, Betsy, nothing you’d really go for), scheduled our move, and, here we are, right in the middle of the move, and Robin and I are still speaking to each other. So I consider the move an unmitigated success. So far, at least. :)

I’ve got a whole blog post on the amazing apps/services that have made this move possible. On this kind of compressed timeframe, it’s just unfathomable to think of how much harder this would have been without Sittercity, Angie’s List, Google Docs, and others. But one app I stumbled on to last night that has already proven tremendously useful, and 24 hours in, I can tell it’ll completely change my day-to-day productivity. I’m talking about Remember the Milk, a web-based todo list. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Except that it syncs with Google Gears, so you can have an offline copy of your todo list (which is editable offline, and will re-sync with the cloud when you’re back online.) And a mobile version, so you can view it from your Blackberry. And todos can be e-mailed in. And, the piece de resistance, an incredibly elegant (that’s actually not doing it justice) integration with Google Calendar. I’m late to the party; Lifehacker of course wrote about these guys nearly two years ago, and quite a bit since then, more recently here sharing how RTM + GTD = acronym bliss, not to mention actual productivity nirvana.

Put it all together, and my web-based groupware OS is complete. Gmail (plus the required GTDInbox Firefox extension), Google Calendar, Google Docs, and Remember the Milk. I now have e-mail management, shared calendars, shared documents, and shared tasks. (Even better, I can keep work and personal info separate – while still getting a complete view across both – thanks to the seamless integration of these systems for both corporate and personal use.)

I’ll write more up on this later – I’ve just spent the last 6 hours plowing through the day’s e-mails to stay on top of work, and the movers show up early this morning to finish packing us up. But I just couldn’t resist plugging this incredible service – is it really possible it’s just two people? That’s nutty.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Traveling with pets - fly Continental

Among the thousand and one things we need to nail down before actually moving to California (estimated time of departure: 2 weeks away) is getting our dog out to California. When we moved to Chicago over six years ago, it was touch-and-go: American Airlines will not fly pets if either city in the trip will be below 40 degrees or above 85. That’s because the cargo compartments are not well insulated, and prolonged periods of time on the runway/tarmac can result in either very cold or very hot conditions.

One of the recommendations our relo service gave me was, a company that specializes in transporting pets. I called them to get a feel for what was involved (having already flown our dog once, I didn’t know if there was some aspect of this that I was missing, necessitating a service to cover our bases). If you don’t want to think about any of the details, PetRelocation is a good answer: they’ll pick your dog up, deliver him/her to the airport, coordinate travel, and then pick the dog up at the airport and deliver him/her to your door. That service doesn’t come cheap, though, so I opted to pass for the all-inclusive package.

But PetRelocation did tell me one interesting thing: they only fly Continental. Turns out, Continental is extraordinarily pet-friendly, and has the same air in the cabin that’s in the cargo… meaning that the pets are in a temperature-controlled environment for the duration of their trip. Continental doesn’t fly direct, so our dog will get a connection through Houston – where they will transport him in an air-conditioned van that’s specifically for transporting pets. He leaves Chicago a couple hours before us, and arrives an hour after us. (We’re flying direct… both for our own sanity as well as that of our fellow travelers. Nobody wants Becca on a connecting flight.)

The cost varies by weight, but our guy will be just over $300. For the peace of mind alone, that’s a very reasonable cost. Kudos to Continental for addressing this need so well; and thanks to PetRelocation for the recommendation.

Monday, June 25, 2007


I’m too tired to give this entry the proper sarcasm it deserves, but let me try and be brief:

Dear Comcast, if I call to order your service, try not to talk me out of actually, you know, ordering your service just because my new home’s address isn’t in your database. Maybe do a little actual work and send someone out to verify that I’m not lying about the new home so you can take my money. Sincerely, Rick Klau.

Dear AT&T: I’ve been a paying customer of yours for more than a decade. Counting college, actually closer to two decades. In any event, when I try to use your website to order new service, let’s try to avoid creating infinite loop redirects so that my browser crashes, shall we? Cause that would be, you know, annoying when I’m trying to continue giving you money (against my better judgment, given the last 2 years of nightmarish, Kafkaesque billing quagmires we’ve encountered). Many thanks, Rick Klau.

Oh, and the irony? Trying to use AT&T’s AnyWho toll-free directory to find AT&T’s toll free residential service order number. Go ahead, try it. Did you find AT&T’s toll free number? (It’s 800-288-2020 in case you’re wondering.) Nope, neither did I.

I feel better now.

Plaxo - wow!

Plaxo logoLike anyone who’s been on the net for more than a few years, I’d learned to loathe the Plaxo e-mails that inevitably resulted when a colleague uploaded their Outlook contacts to Plaxo. The concept behind Plaxo was always wonderful: shift the burden of keeping your addressbook to the people in your addressbook; when their info changes, they update their contact info, and that update flows through to your addressbook. In reality, things were a bit messier: your colleague would sign up for Plaxo, then Plaxo would send out a mass update to every one of their contacts requesting an update. In a good week, you could get more than a dozen of these. What was worse, most of the people causing this quasi-spam had no idea they were doing it.

So imagine my surprise when I swung by last week and was stunned to find a genuinely useful service. My original need was to simply de-dupe my contacts folder; with nearly 2000 contacts (about 15% of which were dupes and/or out-of-date), I had no interest in manually sorting and updating the contacts. After a few minutes searching for a good answer, I saw a couple blog write-ups about Plaxo. I put my long-ago annoyance aside, and man, am I ever glad I did.

First off, Plaxo makes it easy to get your contacts into the system; since I’ve been a Gmail user for the last 6 months or so, that’s where my most recent, polluted store of contacts was. An export from Gmail and an upload to Plaxo, and I was good to go. (Yes, Plaxo has Gmail sync, but I’m using Gmail behind the firewall at Google… so it was a two-step process for me. Those of you at can have Plaxo import your contacts directly.) Next up is Plaxo’s de-duper, part of their premium suite ($50/year), but available for free for 30 days. It’s definitely worth it – it correctly identified the 300 dupes in my contacts list, and gave me a step-by-step wizard to merge the dupes. I have a few minor quibbles with the way they merge: it’s a winner-take-all approach (with one version of the contact effectively nuking the other; if both have some data that’s valid, you have to manually merge them). A better approach would be to let you pick the fields from each contact card that you want to keep – like I said, it’s minor, but it would’ve saved me even more time/data entry if they’d given me more granular control.

With that done, Plaxo then ‘connected’ my addressbook to their userbase (15m and growing); contact info from anyone whose info was more current than mine had their info updated in my addressbook. End result, I not only had removed all the dupes from my contacts folder, I also had updated contact info from another 10% of my contacts. Others whose updates I want, I can either have Plaxo selectively send an update request (something that, given my prior experience on the receiving end of those updates, I’ll use judiciously if at all), or simply update the contact in Outlook, on the Blackberry, or at directly.

Getting the contacts onto my Blackberry was a little circuitous, but that’s not really Plaxo’s fault. I installed Plaxo’s Outlook sync, and then installed Blackberry’s desktop manager to sync the Blackberry with Outlook. I don’t use Outlook for anything else, and would prefer to have Plaxo talk directly to Blackberry (wireless sync would be ideal – and something I’d pay for – but just a connector between Blackberry and Plaxo on the client side would be fine too).

One recommendation I’ve already made to Plaxo: work with Anagram. Anagram is one of those ideal pieces of tiny software that make life so much easier. When you see a block of text that is someone’s contact info (like their e-mail sig); you just copy it to your clipboard. Anagram parses the block of text into the appropriate contact fields, and saves the contact info. I have a license for Anagram, so I suppose I’ll just use the Outlook connector – but hooking Anagram up with Plaxo would be killer.

A usability tweak – Plaxo gives you the ability to flag “old” e-mail addresses that correspondents might have in their address books; Plaxo will notify them that the e-mail address is no longer valid and offer up your updated contact info. Not realizing the significance of this feature, I added my ‘’ as an ‘old’ address… which triggered a notification to a fair number of my contacts that the address was no longer valid. Some confusion ensued, as people wondered what was going on… but it’s mostly my fault for not realizing what ‘old’ address really meant. (Suggestion for Plaxo: a pop-up window indicating that a notification will be sent to Plaxo users instructing them that this e-mail address is no longer valid would be a helpful way to avoid others repeating this mistake.)

Given how important accurate contact info is to anyone – personal or professional – you’d think other companies would be trying to solve this problem. (I’m not aware of others trying to do this; if I’ve missed them, let me know.) Plaxo is one of those eminently useful services that gets better as more people use it. Yes, I (and many others) found their abundance of e-mails rather frustrating back in the day. But I have to hand it to them – the service as it exists today (particularly version 3.0, which is available in preview mode) is remarkably comprehensive and wildly useful.

A final observation – in the past few days, I’ve sent in a handful of recommendations and asked for support. Each time I’ve received a prompt reply, and helpful feedback. I’m impressed! Once I’m settled in in Mountain View next month, I’ll have to swing by and say hi – they’re next door to a couple of our buildings. :)