Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Inside baseball: The Democrat Party

A lot of sites have pointed out recently that some Republicans like to “slur” the Democratic Party by dropping the ‘ic’ and calling them the “Democrat Party”. Greg over at TPM raises it today on TPM, pointing to a Washington Post article that contains this graf:

Some liberal bloggers and party strategists saw the president’s omission of the last two letters of the party’s proper name, Democratic, as a sign of insincerity in preaching bipartisanship.

Here’s a funny thing: in perusing the Clinton@Marist archives I mentioned last week, I found a thread that’s rather interesting:

Date:         Wed, 2 Sep 1992 19:24:15 PDT
Reply-To: Discussion of campaigning for
President by Bill Clinton
Sender: Discussion of campaigning for
President by Bill Clinton
From: (Name Removed) (removed@removed.BITNET)
Subject: RepubliCANT

On the lighter side, during the Republican
Convention I heard many, many Republicans
in speeches and interviews consistently
refer to the Democratic party as the
Democrat party. Democratic sounds loftier,
so the Republicans decided use the shorter

Anyway, a TV journalist tried to correct
Quayle during an interview, but the gist of
Quayle’s reply was he could call them whatever
he wanted, so Democrat it will stay.

Here we are, almost 15 years later, and we’re still worried about whether the Republicans are calling us the Democrat Party or the Democratic Party? This is beyond inside baseball, it’s just silly. Let’s get a thicker skin and focus on the big picture.

(For what it’s worth, I’d settle for the Majority Party for now…)

Azizah al-Hibri wins First Freedom award

From the press release, here are details about one of my law professors receiving a prestigious award last week:

University of Richmond School of Law Professor Azizah Y. al-Hibri [was] awarded the 2007 First Freedom Award, by the Council for America’s First Freedom, to commemorate the anniversary of the nation’s first law guaranteeing religious liberty.

Past winners include Tony Blair and Vaclav Havel; along with Prof. al-Hibri, this year’s winnes included former Secretary of State Madeline Albright.

I took a couple classes with Prof. al-Hibri while at University of Richmond, and was part of a small group of students who worked with her on a conference that would have brought the Pope and several world leaders to our campus to discuss religious freedoms. She is among the world’s foremost authorities on Muslim law, a founding editor of Hypatia: a Journal of Feminist Philosophy, and is founder and president of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. Though the conference we worked on didn’t come to pass (my memory is a little fuzzy, but I recall she’d made progress before running into insurmountable scheduling conflicts), I remember being amazed at her drive, her absolute certainty that what she worked on would be successful, and her commitment to listening to all sides of a discussion before forming an opinion. I always get a kick out of hearing her interviewed on NPR (especially post-9/11, she’s been quite in demand) — there’s no doubt that she’s very deserving of this award and recognition. Congratulations, Professor al-Hibri!

Ugandan discussions

Has to be my all-time favorite political inside joke: Ugandan discussions. (Originally referenced in this article at Slate about rumors of a relationship between Maria Bartiromo and Citigroup exec Todd Thomson (which may or may not have led to Thomson’s ouster).

Who said bloggers had exclusive dominion over printing inuendo?

Interview with Tyme White

Tyme White, community director at blog network 9 rules, recently asked her readers for questions about FeedBurner to send my way. The result is a two-part interview (part 1 and part 2) that covers a lot of ground. Tyme and I will be doing a podcast follow-up (probably next week). This was a great process — thanks to Tyme and her readers for putting the time in, I really enjoyed it, and it’s clear that a lot of people appreciate the information.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Clinton@Marist lives on

Earlier today I mentioned an e-mail list I participated in back in 1992, the Clinton@Marist list. Formed in August of ’92, it was the first use I know of by a presidential campaign of the Internet. Part discussion list, part campaign coordination tool, part rapid response vehicle – hard as it is to believe, it was politics on the Internet before there was a Web. (No, really.) The list had a profound impact on my early political involvement, and led to some friendships I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. (GMP, may you rest in peace.)

Over the years, I’ve looked online to see if the archives were available on the web. Turns out they are, but only back to 1995… and I was active on the list in ’92 and ’93. Well, spurred on by my own recollections this afternoon, I checked out the Marist website, and sure enough, Lee Sakkas (the founder and owner of the Clinton@Marist list back in ’92) is still at Marist, and she wrote back this evening with an FTP site where I could log in and download the archives. Even more shocking? The original Clinton@Marist list lives on… over 1500 posts this month! Lee tells me there are some of the original subscribers still on the list, which fascinates me.

What a blast. I’ve downloaded August of 1992 through January of 1993, and appear to have crashed the FTP server. (Sorry, Lee!) Hopefully it’ll get back up and I can resume my retrieval of the list. Not sure if it would be kosher to convert the entire thing to a web archive, but I’ll probably raise that with Lee and see if it’s OK. It’s an important milestone in the history of campaign technology, and it’s absolutely made my weekend to see these e-mails that have been invisible to me for nearly 15 years.

If you know of a good program to take a mailing list archive (in plaintext format) to turn it into a webpage, I’d be tremendously grateful. My ideal would be a threaded archive that would also be searchable, but I’ll take any suggestions I can get.

The one where Bowen owes me dinner

Back in October, I was IM’ing with Tom Bowen, a good friend who I got to know during the 2004 Obama campaign. After the campaign, Tom set out for NJ where he ran a bunch of successful state campaigns, then helped out with a Senate campaign out west in the ’06 race before returning to Illinois to help out the Duckworth campaign. In short: Tom knows his stuff.

So it was kind of funny that night that we were chatting about whether there would be new technology that would play a part in the ’08 race, much like blogging redefined the ’04 presidential race. Youtube was an obvious candidate, but I was pretty sure social networks would have far more impact than they did in ’04. Sure, Dean had DeanLink, an early candidate to help supporters network. (Inside joke: yes, Clay, it was all yours. I can’t help it if Joe wrote something in his book to the contrary.) In the IM session with Tom, I was specifically thinking of Facebook and MySpace:
[21:49] tomb82279: i would be intrigued

[21:49] tomb82279: if there was a huge following that grew out of something like this

[21:50] RickKlau: i guarantee you the myspace and facebook stuff will do exactly that

[21:50] tomb82279: think so? what would be amazing is if they could double (or at least get as many) new members

[21:50] tomb82279: as BO has email addresses

[21:51] RickKlau: i’ll bet you a dollar that myspace + facebook = 200k within 9 months

[21:51] tomb82279: really?

[21:51] RickKlau: now, how many are voting age and/or registered, that’s another matter.

[21:51] RickKlau: but yeah, absolutely

[21:51] tomb82279: i’ll buy you dinner

So, fast forward a few months. Tom pinged me yesterday – proving he’s an honorable sort, since I’d probably have missed this otherwise: sure enough, someone created an Obama for President Facebook group. Adam Conner blogged about this over at MyDD, noting that as of yesterday they had more than 90,000 members. This morning, I checked: over 100k.
Someone else created a “tribute” page at MySpace, which as of this writing has over 22k friends.

I think Tom’s going to owe me dinner. More importantly, I think Facebook in particular has the potential to be a tremendous mobilization tool for campaigns if used well. My first political activity was as an Internet volunteer on the ’92 Clinton campaign. We self-organized largely via e-mail mailing lists – but for a college student, it was invigorating. Jock Gill, who would go on to be Director of Special Projects in the Office of Media Affairs, was the guy who spearheaded that effort. Policy papers would go out via e-mail. Rapid responses got delivered whenever a falsehood about Clinton’s record showed up in the press. Appearances on the campaign trail would be mailed out. Our job? Distribute the e-mails locally – to the local press, to campus papers, to supporters.

The smart campaigns will see Facebook as a multi-faceted tool: as a proxy for enthusiasm among an oft-under-represented demographic (the 18-25 crowd) it’ll be useful for some earned media and talking points; as an organizational tool it’ll be great to reach out to campus groups to organize events, volunteer activities and the like; as a networking tool for like-minded potential voters to discover each other and encourage themselves to get more active. Are all 100k of these names “real”? (That is, are they all potential voters?) Absolutely not. Contained within that number, are there people who can contribute real work to the campaign? Most definitely. It’ll be fun to watch as it grows…

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Da Bears

I absolutely love the interview Jake did with Aaron Brazell over at Suicide Fan about the Bears upcoming appearance in the Super Bowl. I think I worked with Jake for 9 months, and knew him for more than 2 years, before I knew he’d played college ball. He really knows his stuff (on football that is. Politics? Misguided… but that’s for another post) and it’s a fun interview.

Go Bears!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

My new measurement of time in L.A.

From now on, whenever I’m driving in L.A., I’m going to measure the elapsed time in ‘episodes’. As in episodes of 24.

Example: “Wow, the last time I had to go from Geffen’s offices in Santa Monica to Burbank, it took me two and a half episodes.”

Newt Gingrich: the Howard Dean of 2008

Remember my comment last week?

I think conditions are very ripe for the GOP to see a Dean-like candidate rise from nowhere. What I mean by that is that there’s considerable dissatisfaction within the rank and file. The leadership appears to be out of touch: the party of small government has radically grown the government. The party of fiscal discipline has plunged the country into record deficits. … These conditions – multiple apparent front-runners, lots of consternation from the base, lack of clear leadership at the top of the party – all contributed to an environment in which Dean went from no-name to front-runner in a matter of months. Could Gingrich be the insurgent to ride a wave?

Taegan has a great post over at PoliticalWire that suggests this is, indeed, Newt’s strategy:
On the other presidential candidates, Gingrich says, “We’re not in the same business. They are running for the White House. I am trying to change the country.”

I like Newt’s chances. I don’t agree with many of his politics, but I think it’s high time the country had a principled debate about the issues that matter. Say what you will about him, but I think he’s genuine in his desire to “change the country”. It’s a similar message, albeit with a very different method, to Barack’s goal. I think that’d be a great race.

Interview with Business Week's Heather Green

For those who want to hear me pontificate on the state of podcasting, this week’s Cutting Edge podcast is a chat between Business Week’s Heather Green and me about podcasting, what FeedBurner sees happening in the podcasting space, and how my mother-in-law uses iTunes. (Not really, but sort of.)


Monday, January 22, 2007

Your interesting pictures on Flickr

This is really cool: Flickr’s “interestingness” algorithm has always intrigued me (interested me?), and someone has cobbled together a way to check to see which of your pictures are considered “interesting” by the Flickr gods. Go check it out and have a blast. (If you’re, um, interested, mine are here.)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

How Zune could beat the iPod

OK, here’s my crazy idea for the week: Microsoft should update the firmware for the Zune to add podcasting support, then cut a deal with T-Mobile/Starbucks so that every Zune owner within a few yards of a Starbucks would get free wifi access. The pitch? In the time it takes to order a coffee, your Zune would update all the podcasts on your playlist; get your coffee and go, with hours of new audio to listen to.

This feels right to me: it’s coming at Apple sideways. You’re not going to win by competing with iTunes – so forget about trying to make a better iPod/iTunes combo. No. Make the Zune the ultimate mobile podcast client, and then market the hell out of it. Microsoft has already proven they’re willing to pay studios a few bucks per unit in order to keep them happy, so who’s to say they wouldn’t be willing to throw a few dollars T-Mobile’s way? T-Mobile gets a nice revenue stream, Microsoft gets a little of the ‘cool’ factor by partnering with Starbucks, and by more explicitly promoting podcasting, they go after a perceived Apple strength (podcasting) by doing something that no Apple device can do today.

Yes, I’m setting aside the many UI and overall usability complaints that others have had… but in the abstract, this would be a pretty compelling move, don’t you think?

Google Reader feature request

I really enjoy using Google Reader as my online feed reader. But I just realized I wanted to do something that isn’t currently supported. Not sure whether this needs to be baked into the Google Reader code, or is doable via a Greasemonkey script: I want to be able to expand a feed (or a folder) and filter the items in the reader window by tag/category. When I’m not in a position to read everything in my reader (which is pretty much always), it would be really cool to be able to drill down just to the stuff that was highest value, regardless of the publisher.

So, lazy web… how about it?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Thoughts on 2008

Was talking with a friend the other night, and on the off chance that any of these ideas come to pass, I get to point back to this and show off how smart I was. And if none of it plays out, you’ll all graciously forget I ever said it.

  • “Experience” is not a deal-breaker for newcomers. Gov. Vilsack had the perfect answer on this issue in an NPR interview last week: he pointed out that we had tons of experience in the current administration, and it led to Iraq. And ill-advised tax cuts. And any number of other bad ideas. Establish that you have good judgment, can articulate what’s important, and make decisions, and voters will listen. Right or wrong, candidates will point to Bush as an example of when an experienced administration can go disastrously awry.

  • 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.

  • I think conditions are very ripe for the GOP to see a Dean-like candidate rise from nowhere. What I mean by that is that there’s considerable dissatisfaction within the rank and file. The leadership appears to be out of touch: the party of small government has radically grown the government. The party of fiscal discipline has plunged the country into record deficits. Right now the smart money is on McCain (whose ‘straight talk’ image is suffering of late, as he’s tacked to the right to try to win over movement conservatives and shore up the Republican base), but other oft-mentioned candidates are Giuliani, Romney and Gingrich. Giuliani’s infidelity and 3 divorces, coupled with his spotty record in NYC pre-9/11 I think rule him out almost entirely; Romney’s difficulty establishing his conservative bona fides (he was for gay rights before he was against them; the endless videos appearing on YouTube showing how moderate he was in the 90s in Massachusetts) will make it hard to win primaries. These conditions – multiple apparent front-runners, lots of consternation from the base, lack of clear leadership at the top of the party – all contributed to an environment in which Dean went from no-name to front-runner in a matter of months. Could Gingrich be the insurgent to ride a wave? Maybe. Or maybe there’s another little-known national figure in the GOP who will appeal to fiscal and social conservatives who are eager to see new blood in the party leadership.

  • I think Barack is a formidable candidate in both the primary and the general, for different reasons. I’ll spell those out in more detail in a later post.

What do you think? What’s going to surprise us about the 2008 race?

Update: Check out what Bill Tancer has to say over on the Hitwise blog in comparing traffic to Barack’s and Hillary’s sites. Very, very interesting.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Barack Obama for President

As you’ve likely seen all over the web today, Barack Obama announced he’s formed an exploratory committee and will formally announce his decision about running for President on February 10 in Springfield. I am elated at this news. More later (I’m traveling for the next few days).

Monday, January 15, 2007

Learning digital photography

A few weeks ago I asked for pointers to help get up to speed on digital photography. Now that I have a “real” camera (with each day, I find yet another incredible feature of Nikon D40 6.1MP Digital SLR Camera Kit with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor Lensmy D50; if you’re in the market for a digital SLR, you could do much, much worse), I’m really eager to learn how to take photographs instead of snapshots. It’s been so long since I’ve had to think about things like f/stops, ISO settings, shutter speeds, etc., that I found myself starting from scratch.

In addition to the camera, I got a great DVD: Introduction to the Nikon D50 Digital SLR. It’s both a terrific intro to the camera – which, it should be said, isn’t that difficult to learn once you get past the overwhelming notion of multiple dials, lots of buttons, and a dozen or more decisions you can make with each shot – and a good primer on basic photograph techniques. But it was Ernie who recommended The Digital Photography Book by Scott Kelby, and wow, am I glad I listened. The book is as close to perfect as you’ll find: it’s not a treatise on photography; as Kelby explains, it’s as if you and he are out on a photo shoot, and you want to know how to do something. He won’t go into a long dissertation on depth of field, he’ll tell you to get low to the ground, set the f/stop at 2.8 and zoom in on the flower so that everything behind the flower is blurry, while the flower is “tack sharp”. Or he’ll tell you to get 6-8 feet away from the person, set the f/stop at 11, and go for an uncomplicated background out of direct sunlight to get a great portrait. And he’ll beat you within an inch of your life if you don’t buy a tripod. (OK, not quite that severe. But he makes it clear that if you dump a ton of dough on a camera and don’t get a decent tripod, you’re wasting your time and your money.)

What elevates the book from a good tutorial to an essential companion (thankfully, it fits quite nicely in my Tamrac Adventure Messenger 4 DSLR Camera Bag!) is that Kelby’s writing is crisp, he’s hilarious (I actually laughed out loud several times over the weekend), and his advice is superb. I can’t think of another “how to” book that made me as excited to jump in with both feet as Kelby’s book did.

One recommendation from Scott that I followed last night: downloading and installing Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0 (trial download should be available here). Nikon ships a decent photo organizing/editing suite called Picture Project with its cameras, but I found the editing capabilities limited. After just a couple hours banging around Photoshop Elements, I found it to be a very capable editor with an elegant interface and some sophisticated tools well beyond my current abilities. The major missing feature (and I’m hardly alone in identifying this): no Flickr integration. Given that PE supports tagging, geo-location markup, sets, and pretty much the same features that Flickr supports, getting the two to talk to each other ought to be a no-brainer.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Mom will be so proud

Yesterday’s post debunking the claims of rampant pornography on the Wii got picked up in today’s New York Times blog The Lede (courtesy of a follow-up post at Techdirt – thanks, Mike!).

At least I’m a “techspert”!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Site update

A long-overdue site update is now more or less in place. While I was originally pretty happy with the look and feel of the prior design, it started misbehaving in a couple of browsers, and I’d grown tired of having to constantly tweak stuff to keep it working. I found a new theme I quite liked, and spent a couple hours tonight adding back in the stuff that I’d added to the last one. There are some minor CSS modifications remaining, but the bulk of the design appears to be in place.

Let me know if you see anything funky.

Update: Because I can’t leave well enough alone, I also upgraded WordPress to the latest released version, 2.0.6. So the odds of something breaking just went up a bit… please shout out if you see anything. Thanks!

Wii - gateway for porn?

Wow, I guess it’s come to this: seen over at TechDirt was the alarmist report at WFAA-TV in Dallas that the Wii console can be a gateway for porn. Here’s the logic: the Wii has the ability to connect to a home network through its wireless Internet connectivity. Furthermore, the Wii has a web browser available for beta testing (it’s a version of the Opera browser). And (GASP) web browsers can access pornography. Ergo, the Wii is corrupting our children.

Indeed, late in the report, is this quote:

Other parents, however, complain that Nintendo’s scheme is unsatisfactory, and that the Wii browser lacks a “cyber-nanny” or filtering function.

Ummm, except for the built-in parental controls on the Wii, that is. Geez.

Based on this, I sent a polite note to the journalist who reported on the story:

Read your article about the Wii as a “porn gateway”, and as a parent of three children (2 of whom are old enough to play) this is certainly something to consider. However, your statement that “Nintendo’s scheme is unsatisfactory, and that the Wii browser lacks a ‘cyber-nanny’ or filtering function” is just false: upon installation of the Wii browser, there is a very obvious setup feature to set parental controls for all Internet use, requiring a parent-created passcode that must be entered before the browser can be started. In addition, the browser must be acquired via download from the Wii Shopping Channel, which itself can be blocked using the same parental access controls.

I have found the Wii to be a tremendous asset to our family activity; so much so that my in-laws were able to play a video game with their 6 and 4 year-old grandsons… the Wii is absolutely the only console on the market to be that friendly to three separate generations, and I’d hate to see parents misled into thinking it was “porn-friendly” when in fact it’s the most family-friendly gaming console I’ve seen.

I’d hope you consider updating your readers/viewers with this information.

But upon re-reading the original article, I was intrigued by this quote (it’s important to note that this is a quote, I’ll explain in a moment):
Young kids get it. In a blog, one child boasted, “The first thing I thought of when I downloaded the Wii browser was also porn.”

Now, I’d like to see the link to that blog post. A search at Technorati and at Google Blogsearch for that exact quote show only blogs talking about the WFAA report, not the alleged blog entry itself. (For those who are wondering: Technorati and Google index millions of blogs often within minutes of updating, and provide a near-real-time archive of what’s written in those blogs.) It would appear, actually, that the journalist is quoting this comment (where the full comment reads: “Like any red blooded American male ages 18-45, the first thing I thought of when I downloaded the Wii browser was also porn.”) over at Kotaku, left by Jay. Some other comments from this “child”:

  • “As the other guy who enjoyed Third Age, I applaud your bravery for coming out and representing us.”

  • “Nice post, that was almost Florian-esque.”

  • “The Ghostbusters were also supposedly “scientists” but all they did were make wisecracks and hit on Sigourney Weaver.”

  • “No video game tattoos are a good idea. All they do is guarantee you will have a very uncomfortable time if you ever went to prison.”

  • “Well, this is British, so its slightly funnier if you imagine some Benny Hill music in the background.”

In other words, Jay sure is one precocious kid. It’s bad enough to do a shoddy report claiming a kid-friendly console is actually out to harm them, another to quote someone entirely out-of-context, and even worse to mis-identify them as a child when they’re almost certainly an adult.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor issue, and I’m almost embarrassed for taking 15 minutes out of my day to comment on it. But how hard is it to get this story right? It’s an incredible family gaming console, by far the only one that grandparents, parents and kids can play together and all enjoy. Everything about this machine screams kid-friendly, from the Mii design to the preference for fun over eye-popping bleeding-edge graphics (a la PS3 and XBox 360) to the gameplay itself to, well, the parental controls.

OK, I’m done ranting.

Eric Zorn v. Ann Althouse

I am so disappointed I can’t make it to this event tonight in Naperville; it would be a blast to listen to both talk about how blogs can influence the debate.

Eric – enjoy your visit to our fair city!

Thursday, January 4, 2007

FeedBurner releases site stats

I mentioned this last week, and we’ve now made it official: as of today, anyone using FeedBurner can add site tracking to their website. Go to the post to find the cool little bookmarklet I hacked together that gives you instant access to your page stats from any page on your blog.

I’m particularly excited about what this means for the remainder of the year… there’s a lot of opportunity for us to provide increasingly detailed, actionable information that spans every area where your content is consumed: in your feed, on your site, in a widget, etc. As content becomes ever-more decentralized, the need for comprehensive analytics that understand all of those consumption points is critical. We’re on our way.

Thanks to everyone who beta-tested the stats offering before we launched, and kudos to Jeff, John, Jessie and the rest of the team who worked their butts off to get this out the door.