Monday, April 30, 2007

Naperville needs Democrats

I couldn’t stop chuckling at this article in yesterday’s Naperville Sun:

With Democrats controlling all three prongs of Illinois government – the House, the Senate and the governor’s administration – Naperville needs an insider to fight for the city, Mayor George Pradel said.

“It makes so much sense (having) Democrats down there,” Pradel said. “They know all the sides to work and how to work them.”

While it’s nice to see the city acknowledge the positive impact on the community that Democrats can have, it’s equally nice to see the local party making strides on its own. I’ve been completely absent from the Naperville Democrats for most of the last year, but it’s clear that transitioning to Tom Wronski as Chair was a good move – and it’s equally clear that the party is going to play an increasingly important role in the community.

Blogroll chaos

Picking up the thread, Erik points out that there’s a lot of room for improvement when it comes to blogrolls. I’m not sure that FeedBurner’s the right answer to solving all of the things he points out (traditionally, we republish and/or manage existing info, rather than creating it originally), but I like where this is heading. Given Google’s emphasis on blogrolls, I anticipate we’ll see a lot of innovation in this area in the next twelve months.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


In between mowing the hay, getting the garden ready and chasing the kids, I got a little housekeeping done on the site today:

  • Fixed the search engine. It was pointing to the internal WordPress search engine, which wasn’t working. I didn’t have the energy to debug that, so I punted and just pointed the code at Google Co-op. Which rocks.

  • Added a blogroll. No, it’s not complete. And if you’re not listed there, drop me a line. This was a response to the recognition that blogrolls do matter. (Side note to Erik – linking directly to feeds is probably not the best practice from an SEO perspective. That means links aren’t reciprocal, which means that you’re less likely to get the benefits of having the links on your blog in the first place. At least as I understand it, links to other sites are better, since those sites can reciprocally link back to you, which establishes legitimacy in the link and adds value for both. SEO pros, feel free to point out just how much of this I don’t understand in the comments.)

  • Reinserted a “subscribe” widget on the sidebar, so that, you know, the guy who runs publisher services at FeedBurner actually has a visible RSS feed icon on his blog, along with an e-mail subscription form and one-click options to add the feed to Google and NewsGator. Many thanks for not pointing out the hilarious absence of said widget from the latest redesign.

  • Used the BloggingPro bottom “sidebar” (that’s what they call it, stop snickering) to display most recent inbound links, most recent posts, and most recent comments. I actually like the way that lays out (though I want most recent comments set to 10, and so far I’ve had no luck figuring out where that preference is set).

Remember, before you complain about the content-free nature of posts like this, far more interesting things are in my recommended links (feed).

Nikon Picture This

As you might recall, I got back into “real” photography this past Christmas when I received a Nikon D50. The last four months have been a ton of fun as I’ve re-learned how to frame shots, tweak the aperture to force perspective, and play with ISO and shutter speed to get just the right shot.

Then last week I heard from my friend Chris Thilk, who mentioned that I’d been picked to participate in Nikon’s “Picture This” project. Nikon’s sent out several dozen D80s to bloggers for six months – the cameras are loaners, after which we can return them or buy them – to play with and write about (if we want to). Why me? I’m certainly not a “photo blogger”, and there are certainly higher-profile bloggers out there. But as Chris’s colleague Tom Biro commented, a variety of factors went into who got picked. I’m certainly not complaining!

The camera showed up on Friday, and I have had a few minutes to play with it so far. Over the next several months, I expect to share some pictures and my experiences (good and bad). MWW (Chris’s PR firm) has offered a half hour with a camera pro to get up to speed, something I plan to take advantage of in the next week or so. While I feel like I’ve got a good handle on the D50, it’s clear that the D80 is several steps up, and to get the full benefit of the camera’s capabilities, I’m going to need to get some pointers.

For those who are interested, you can keep an eye on my pictures at Flickr.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Subscribe to SEL or the Dog Gets it

After seeing Danny’s post about getting to 50,000 subscribers, I just couldn’t resist this version of his big feed icon:

SEL feed

(With apologies to National Lampoon.)

The future of distributed media

Google Reader shareHad a great conversation with Barry Parr today, and one of the observations I shared was how much fun I’m having with Google Reader’s “share” function. For those that don’t know, Google Reader has a feature that lets you “share” any item in the reader. (See image to the right.)

I take the feed that Google Reader generates of my shared items, and run it through FeedBurner, where I can add features, track the number of subscribers (amazingly, 30 of you subscribe to my shared items feed), and republish the feed on my own blog.

Tehnosailor - sharedIn talking with Barry, I told him that part of what makes it fun is recognizing that each time I share an item, I’m giving that publisher increased visibility – exposure that the publisher would not necesarrily have received. Even cooler is that periodically, items I shared show up in a feed I subscribe to: Erik Heels’ shared items feed. For instance, Aaron’s post about a little geek humor involving Yahoo and an outfield marker made me chuckle. So I shared it, and then Erik saw it, presumably had the same reaction I did, and shared it.

In other words:

Technosailor —> Google Reader (me) —> My Shared Items —> Google Reader (Erik) —> Erik’s Shared Items —> Google Reader (me)

Now, I recognize this is a little circular. But for the fact that I was seeing a post I’d already seen (there’s something gratifying in knowing that something I shared was also interesting to Erik), the point remains that there’s a significant opportunity as publishers have their content remixed and republished, all because they make the content available in a feed, and applications like Google Reader make it easy to share.

Oh, and notice the ad running in that original post? Because Aaron’s part of b5Media, and b5 participates in the FeedBurner Ad Network, Aaron (and b5) gets credit for the ad generated as a result of this resyndication.

Loss of pagerank

Well, it was bound to happen. My recent attempts at “fixing” things on my blog – rescuing orphaned URLs, eliminating SEO-unfriendly things like underscores in posts titles, etc. – resulted in a loss of PageRank. I was a 7, now I’m a 5.

Do you think they’ll still let me speak at SES?

Akismet update

Last week I wrote about problems leaving comments on blogs using Akismet to protect against spam. Thanks to some assistance from Matt Mullenweg, whatever gremlins I was offending are now happily approving my comments. Which makes me happy.

Thanks, Matt!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

FoxyTunes rocks

Fred Wilson wrote last week about a browser plugin I’d never heard of, FoxyTunes. It inserts a browser control in the footer of your browser:

FoxyTunes - browser control

FoxyTunes - artist pageWhat’s perhaps most incredible about it is what happens when you click on the artist/track in the browser control. It takes you to a page devoted to that artist, with calls out to Flickr, Youtube,, Pandora, Rhapsody, and many more. (Click the image to the right to see a fullsize screen-capture.) If you’re looking for a way to see info about your favorite artists – including videos, lyrics, pictures (yes, that screencap includes a picture of Paul Curreri taken in my basement last year!) and similar artists, FoxyTunes is by far the best of what I’ve seen.

Fred provides more info about how far the FoxyTunes crew has gone to leveraging social media:

You can also tag anything in delicious, blog anything, share on Facebook, with one click in FoxyTunes Planet. The whole service has been optimized for social media.

But recently they launched one more thing that Ethan turned me on to this weekend. If you add the TwittyTunes extension to your browser, you can in one click send a message to Twitter telling everyone what you are listening to with a link back to that song’s or artist’s page in FoxyTunes Planet. Here’s my Twitter profile and you can see that I’ve done that three times in the past twelve hours.

Wow. Go check it out, it’s excellent.

Announcing AdClimate

Over on the company blog, Brent has a post announcing our latest release, AdClimate. The idea is pretty simple: advertisers who are particularly worried about their ad running alongside specific types of content can leverage this new feature to ensure that the ad doesn’t run. While some will focus on the inevitable cases of situations involving bad words, I think the more intriguing application is the brands who want to reach valuable audiences but don’t want to have an ad run alongside a mention of their company (good or bad). In many cases, those connections lead to undesirable results – and when you manage (as we do) feeds on behalf of thousands of publishers, there are bound to be cases where advertisers would rather control when and how their message appears.

We feel very strongly about the decentralization and distribution of content representing the future of media. It’s fun to be in the middle of that evolution, and it’s great to see our dev teams iterate quickly when customers indicate a compelling need. Nice work, team!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

200th DNA exoneration tomorrow

Today’s Chicago Tribune has a remarkable article about the exoneration of Jerry Miller. Miller, an Army veteran who’d never been convicted of a crime, was identified in a police line-up by two eye-witnesses, and ended up serving 25 years in prison before being cleared by DNA collected at the scene of the crime. The Innocence Project was instrumental in his exoneration, which will be the 200th exoneration in the United States as a result of DNA evidence. (More about The Innocence Project here here’s their blog.)

A couple of facts stood out for me after reading the Trib article:

  • In cases overturned by DNA evidence, 75% of the convictions were a result of faulty eye-witness testimony. You can read more about mistaken identification “here”:

  • Even more incredibly, confessions are also to blame in mistaken convictions. In more than one out of four wrongful convictions, the suspect actually confessed to the crime – even though DNA evidence later demonstrated that they did not commit the crime in question. (More about false confessions here.)

Fewer than half of the states in the United States have compensation provisions to compensate prisoners who have been wrongfully imprisoned as a result of a mistaken conviction. Think about that for a minute: in 29 states in the U.S., you can be convicted of a crime you didn’t commit, sent to prison, later found innocent and released. Without so much as an apology. In the case of Jerry Hill, the man who served 25 years for a crime he did not commit, he’s eligible for a total of $35,000.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Memo to Intuit PR

TurboTax logoListening to this piece on NPR yesterday, I had one reaction to Intuit’s spokesperson’s claims that Intuit’s problem of handling tax filings on the evening of 4/17 was the fault, in the words of Harry Pforzheimer, of “late” filers and “procrastinators”.

Hey, Intuit: here’s a few other words I’d use: “customers” and “on time”. As in, “customers who are filing their taxes on time.”

I was just about to post this when I saw this wire piece in which Intuit CEO Steve Bennett had this to say, one day after Harry Pforzheimer’s comments:

“We deeply regret the frustration and anxiety this caused our customers,” said Steve Bennett, president and chief executive officer of Intuit. “This is not the experience customers have come to expect from Intuit. It’s not acceptable to us, and we will do right by our customers who were impacted by this delay.”

Someone figured out that the first attempt at blaming the customers wasn’t the right approach. Note how he refers to “our customers”, lays the blame for the delay squarely at Intuit’s feet, and owns the resolution? Good for them.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Labour Government is listening

Wow. It’s like Tony Blair is channeling Jeff Jarvis.

[youtube tF_8MTxir-o]

(hat tip Zack Exley)

TPM goes backstage with Colbert Report

It’s pretty cool to see a guy I’ve known for over a decade rise to the top of his game. Josh Marshall and I were competitors in the web design for lawyers business (he was a founder at College Hill Internet, and I was at We got to know each other, mostly because we were the same age, living in the Boston area, and in a pretty small industry. Today, he’s the founder of TPM Media, which until recently was a collection of hard reporting blogs (his original site Talking Points Memo, scandal rag TPM Muckraker, policy wonk group blog TPM Cafe, and election blog Election Central).

He’s just branched out into video with a new site called Veracifier, and so far it’s been a great blend of reporting and insight. The most recent episode (below) is a combination interview with John Kerry about his new book along with a sneak peak at what Stephen Colbert is like backstage. (Colbert appears with two minutes or so left in the video.)

[youtube 3ZSw6TQUhPY]
(Click here to watch at YouTube.)

Josh is a terrific guy who followed his instincts in starting TPM several years ago. It’s now not only his own full-time gig, it’s also a full-time home (with benefits) for a growing stable of reporters. And as the Los Angeles Times noted last month, he’s reinventing journalism and showing what’s possible with these new media. It’s exciting to see.

Akismet hates me

Akismet spam countAkismet, the brilliant spam plugin that makes it possible to let people leave comments on a blog (in a year, it’s stopped more than 180,000 spam comments, or nearly 500 spam comments per day), doesn’t like me. As you probably know, I’m pretty proactive (along with Jake and Eric) about reaching out to publishers who post comments to their blog about FeedBurner. Even built a little app to monitor the comments that we respond to, so we can keep tabs on any resulting conversations. It’s pretty cool.

Except that lately, I’m lucky if 1/2 of the comments I leave actually ever get posted. Why? Akismet, in its infinite wisdom, is quarantining my comments and flagging them as needing moderation (if not outright labeling them as spam). The result? Many times, even though I’ve taken time out to answer a question posted by a blogger (and they ask lots of questions), the blogger never knows because the comment never gets published. Needless to say, this is annoying. (So now, in addition to posting the comment, I also seek out the author’s e-mail address and separately e-mail them to find my comment. Not exactly efficient.)

I tried contacting Akismet a few weeks ago, but have yet to hear anything back. I’m just looking for either an explanation of why my comments are getting flagged, or a way to get whitelisted (a la TypeKey) so that the answers I post to blogs don’t disappear into a black hole of comment spam.

Any ideas?

Blogrolls matter

I haven’t had a blogroll on my site in years. Turns out that’s a mistake. I’ll be working on remedying that in the next few days…

Recommended books

A feature I had on the site about a year ago was the Now Reading plugin which gave me an easy way to use WordPress to manage the books I was interested in, a way to log my thoughts on the books as I read them, and a neat archive of the books I’d read. In a site redesign (I don’t remember which one), I dropped the plugin, and stopped updating the content.

Last night I downloaded the newest version of the plugin and got back up to speed. I love it. Here’s what I’m now able to do:

  • Keep an easy log of books I intend to read; as people recommend books, I can add them.

  • Expose what I’m currently reading in the sidebar of my blog (linked to Amazon, where I’ll get a small referral fee if anyone buys a copy)

  • Keep a library of books I’ve read (and plan to read)

  • Link each book’s page to any blog entries mentioning the book (see the page for Daemon to see how this works)

I’ve been reading a lot more lately, and I haven’t done a good job of sharing my thoughts on books that I know friends would enjoy. (Daemon is the notable exception. Read it if you haven’t. Now!) I think this will help me be a little more diligent about it in the future.

Some implementation notes:

  • I recently switched themes (my inability to stick with a theme – this one lasted barely three months – is surely a sign of something. Let’s not dwell on that, shall we?) and the one I’m using (Blogging Pro) is widget-ready. Enabling the “Now Reading” widget in the sidebar was as simple as dragging it to the sidebar in the Sidebar Widgets editor.

  • I needed to tweak the default library.php and single.php templates, as they were causing funky formatting with the existing theme. Rather than try to deconstruct the CSS of the Now Reading templates, I just took the relevant Now Reading code and inserted that into a copy of the Blogging Pro template page, and all was well.

  • I need to clean up the started/finished date and timestamps on existing books; that’s not quite ready so the default library presentation is a bit funky with some of the specific data.

All in all, Now Reading is a powerful extension to WordPress (it has its own API, which means other plugins can extend its functionality) and one that will ensure I’ll post book-related content a bit more regularly.

Full vs. Partial Feeds

I just wrote up a post I’m pretty proud of over at Burning Questions. It’s specifically about the full vs. partial feed debate, but from a different perspective than most discussions on the topic. Specifically, I looked at the likelihood of partial feeds generating clickthroughs (low), the ability to increase clickthroughs by adding FeedFlare, and, in a topic near and dear to my heart for a long time now, the ability for an aggregator to look at links between posts in your subscriptions and interpret those links. Once you see it in action (go grab the latest FeedDemon beta if you want to see one take on this), you’ll wonder how you lived without it. It opens up a whole new way to browse your subscriptions.

I’ll be interested in the feedback – this is a topic I talk about quite a bit at SES and elsewhere, and I’m eager to hear others’ take on the subject.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Elizabeth Edwards on today's tragedy

I’ve heard remarkable things about this woman, and these words only support them. What a gift for reocgnizing the grief, the sorrow, and the unthinkable traumas that the families, and roommates, and classmates are all going through… and then for ultimately identifying that we all share an obligation to fix whatever’s broken in our society that would produce such a disaster:

I remember writing after the death of the 1000th American in Iraq — and there were 40 more names released this week who died in Iraq and Afghanistan bringing the total to over 3300 — that it wasn’t one thousand but a thousand ones, each with a family, each with corsages or boutonnieres pressed between the pages of a book, each with dreams and plans. And so it is again with at least thirty-two young people of promise. At least thirty-two ones, each a treasure, each a joy, each a story to learn and repeat, so that the madness that took their breath will not also steal their stories.

We don’t know the stories yet, but surely we will. And we don’t know why, and likely we will never really know and certainly we will never truly understand.  But for each of them, we have to try, we have to learn why this tragedy repeats itself here, in this country of the greatest possibilities, a country built on the right to pursue happiness. Why here?  We have to figure this out. And then we have to get about the business of fixing it.

For them, and for us all.

Courage and peace and mercy.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those lost today at Virginia Tech. It’s sad to think that just five days ago I wrote these words:
Peace be with you all, and may we all bear witness so that in time it is only the museums that force us to remember the horrors humanity can inflict upon itself.

If only it were that easy.

A TiVo innovation I'd love to see

I was meeting with Ad Age editor Jonah Bloom last week, and threw out a suggestion that didn’t cause him to burst out into fits of laughter. Which tells me that either it’s not a bad idea, or he’s really polite. I prefer to think it’s the former.

I’ve been a TiVo subscriber for over six years. I cant imagine life without TiVo – my children actually get annoyed when they can’t pull up “their” television when we’re in a hotel. One byproduct, however, is that the only time I see ads anymore are during sporting events when I’m watching live. (Even that’s in jeopardy though – the number of slasher flicks and other “adult” ads that are completely inappropriate for my 5 and 7 year-olds have me watching more and more sporting events on a TiVo-delay so I can skip ahead through the commercials.) So unless someone sends me a pointer to a particularly good ad on YouTube, I’m almost certainly not going to see an ad.

Here’s where TiVo comes in. They’ve connected TiVo to the Internet. It’s a podcast client, among other things. They’ve also done some integrated ads with brands like Lexus, some of the broadcast networks, and others. (When you are watching a show you’ve recorded with the TiVo, periodically you’ll see pop-up cues that let you request more info, or watch an extended version of the commercial.) I think those efforts miss the mark. What I think would be a great feature would be a dedicated part of TiVo’s menu (under “Now playing”?) that’s just ads. TiVo has a recommendation engine – let me rate the ads. I’d like to see ads others have rated highly – and given the amount of demographic data TiVo has about me and my viewing habits, odds are good they could do a pretty good job matching the ads to my tastes. Not only would this be an entertaining time waster while playing with my TiVo, the market research would be invaluable for TiVo.

The combination of demographics, trends, and usage history would be data that could be aggregated and sold to ad agencies, who would positively drool over this. It changes the ad mechanism from one which is purely interrupt-driven (and in an age of DVRs, less and less likely to succeed) to one which is far more consistent with how people seek out content today.

Face it: there are lots of good ads out there. TiVo today makes it less likely that I’ll see them. The Coke Zero ads (by Crispin Porter) are perfect examples:

[youtube mrJ9hrAAeIU]
(Click here if you’re not seeing the video.)

If you don’t know the story behind the Coke Zero ads, here’s some background. Good stuff.

What do you think? If you have a TiVo, would this YouTube-like integration work? Would it add value to TiVo?

(On a related note: thanks to those of you who’ve listed me as your referral source when registering your TiVos. Amazingly, 11 of you have done so so far. Thanks!)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Putting it into perspective

Thanks to Don for this great video:

[youtube rvTFKpIaQhM]

Chicago Olympics

Chicago 2016I’m very excited to see that Chicago is the U.S. bid city for the 2016 Olympics. There’s a long route between now and the pick for the host city, but an Olympics in Chicago would be an incredibly exciting event. I have a few friends involved in the bid process, and I’ve been threatening to get involved for more than a year. Guess it’s time to saddle up!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Holocaust day of remembrance

The United States Congress established Sunday, April 15, 2007 as a national day of remembrance to honor the memory of the millions who perished in Germany during the Holocaust. I recently ran across a piece I wrote 14 years ago, as I thought about what the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in 1993 meant to me. I’m reprinting the original essay I wrote in April, 1993, in anticipation of Sunday’s day of remembrance.

Today marks the opening of the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC. Elie Weisel, Lech Walesa and other dignitaries were on hand to help President Clinton commemorate this somber occasion.

The phrase at the entrance of the building is the key to the museum, in my opinion. “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” It is nearly impossible to comprehend the deaths of over 6,000,000 people without having some focal point. It is my sincere hope that this museum helps people confront and accept this tragic event.

Seven years ago, at the tender age of 15, I traveled to France to stay with a French family in the Alsace region. About a week into the visit, the mother of the family suggested that we go to Struthof, a village just west of Strasbourg. The name didn’t mean much to me, but she and the girl I was staying with explained that the village was the site of the only German death camp in France. It seemed very important to Mme. Mosser that I go, so I agreed.

The first thing that you remark about Strutof is how removed it is. The village sits at the base of the mountain in a small valley about 35 km west of Strasbourg. To get to the Strutof camp you must drive through a dense forest on steep, narrow roads. Once at the top, the village is barely visible. Not surprisingly, the camp is not at all visible from the town. If you didn’t want to know it was there, you wouldn’t.

The camp has remained in tact since it was liberated in late 1944, save for the museum that was burned to the ground in 1978 by a right-wing extremist group claiming it was a sham. Many of the artifacts in the museum were destroyed, but they rebuilt it 18 months later and displayed more of the remnants of the death camp.

You enter through a 15-foot tall barbed wire fence, and the guard tower stands ominously above you, daring you to leave. The dirt path takes you right by a monument that stands five stories tall. It is made out of white concrete taken from two of the housing units where the Jews were kept. An emaciated figure is carved into the sculpture with its hands outstretched inviting you to share his pain, perhaps, or possibly to hear his cries for help. The expression on the face, even from a distance, exudes fatigue, helplessness and hope at the same time.

A sea of graves sits in front of the sculpture, most of them nameless. The dirt path continues, drops about 10 feet, and turns 180 degrees and goes right past one of the inmates’ dormitories. About a football-field of work area comes next, and at the bottom of the camp is the execution building. The building is non-descript and gives no hint of its sinister past. The incinerator is perhaps the most striking, especially after the guide explains the systematization of the killing. Hair was shaven and shipped to Berlin, where it would be used as insulation in soldiers’ coats. Gold fillings were taken and shipped elsewhere, to be melted and reused. Finally the individual would be strapped to the iron stretcher and slowly inserted into the chamber. The heat from the incinerator was piped into the officers’ living quarters to keep them warm during the long Alsacian winters.

There is also a gas chamber (innocently designed to look like a group shower) and a medical examining room. The floor of this room is slightly concave with a drain in the center.

After exiting the building, you proceed half-way back up the hill and into one of the dormitories. The units, no larger than 10X10, were expected to house up to 10 people. Because the detainees were so weak, security was not a problem, so most of the units are made of wood.

Messages from decades past decorate the wood and dry-wall; you search in vain for “authentic” messages from prisoners during the days of the war. Instead, you find many comments from visitors who have been coming to the camp, like you, to see for themselves the tragedy.

Before leaving the camp, you must walk through the museum. A sign greets the visitor, in French only. [the translation is mine]

“Whoever you are,
French or Foreigner,
You who have come to meditate
at this solemn place
where so many men suffered
in their flesh,
their soul
and their heart,
where so many men gave
their lives for Liberty
humanity should never
have to see this again.”

Each corner you turn brings with it more pictures of naked, teenage boys who weigh half of what they should, corpses piled on top of each other, guards pointing guns at peoples’ heads, experiments being performed on the less fortunate, and the overwhelming despair of the six years that this quiet village in France helped perpetuate one of our race’s greatest crimes.

A “Witness book” sits on a pedastal near the exit, where any visitors can leaf through it and write down their own personal messages. Some relatives of those who died in the camp have written notes in German, Polish, French and other languages, other messages are heart-felt reactions from thousands of visitors to the horrors that were witnessed while visiting the camp.

I revisited Strutof a year ago when I was in France again, this time with the benefit of five more years of history and maturity. The impact it had on me as a 15 year-old was tremendous, and yet the second time was just as powerful, if not more so. A week or so later, French TV carried images of the rivers of blood in downtown Sarajevo after several groups of Muslims had been murdered by Serbs. Does it ever stop?


Peace be with you all, and may we all bear witness so that in time it is only the museums that force us to remember the horrors humanity can inflict upon itself.

Rick Klau
April 22, 1993

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Sunday, April 8, 2007

Accept all changes

Dick Costolo, writing at Ask the Wizard: “Why? Because no lawyer has ever used the ‘accept all changes’ button in MS Word, that’s why.”

Have truer words ever been spoken?

Friday, April 6, 2007

Turk on Thompson

One of the highlights for me at Politics Online a few weeks back was meeting Michael Turk. Turk was the eCampaign chair for the Bush/Cheney ’04 campaign, and held a similar role at the GOP. In a panel discussing online campaign tactics, Turk consistently made sharp points, showed a depth of understanding of the need to integrate online tactics with offline tactics to have an effective campaign strategy, and clearly enjoyed what he did.

We ended up talking for 15 minutes or so after the panel, and my impressions during the panel held up: great guy. Since then, I’ve been enjoying reading his blog and his posts at TechPresident. Tonight’s post about Fred Thompson tells me that my instincts last night about Thompson being a formidable potential candidate aren’t that far off the mark. As more conservatives get increasingly frustrated with the top tier, Thompson will look more and more attractive. In a week when Gingrich insults Hispanics (“Spanish is a ghetto language”), Rudy says that public funding of abortions is a Constitutional right, Mitt claims he’s a life-long hunter (where “life-long” means once when he was 15, and last year), it’s clear (to me, anyway) that the Republican field isn’t exactly scaring away other potential entrants…

Oh, and one other reason (for me) to be intrigued by Thompson: his wife’s from Naperville. For those who forgot, Naperville’s last contribution to Presidential campaign trivia is that the Bush/Cheney major league asshole gaffe happened at Naperville North High School.

OK, back to praising the Democrats. I was fortunate to spend a couple hours with the tech team at Obama’s campaign HQ yesterday, and will report back shortly on my impressions. Lots to be excited about.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Thoughts on 2008

Barack’s news yesterday that he outraised all other presidential candidates in the primary (Hillary raised a bit more, but her number includes money raised for the general, which she can’t use unless and until she gets the nomination) is a remarkable turn of events. While I’m mostly thrilled, on a very personal note, I think this means that it’s very unlikely that he’ll ever step foot in my house again. :)

On a more serious note, I think this changes the dynamics of the 2008 race in some very fundamental ways. I’ve been saying for a long time that I think the biggest thing Barack has going for him is not that he energizes a tremendous number of Democrats – though the fact that he had more contributors than Edwards and Clinton combined is rather stunning. The biggest thing he has going for him is that there are so many people from across the spectrum who see him as a candidate they could support. It’s not that they support his positions 100% of the time – in some cases, they may not support many of his positions at all – but in him they see a man who’s smart, articulate, curious, and perhaps most importantly, a man whose judgment they will trust.

As the guys over at RedState point out, there’s more of a narrative to Barack’s candidacy, and that narrative is something that many, many people are getting excited about.

I think Barack is going to change things for the Republicans, too. Assuming that Barack gets the nomination, they’ll have to contend not only with his fundraising prowess (which, compared with the 8 years that Hillary’s had to build up her infrastructure, is especially impressive) but with his strong cross-over appeal. On the theory that you’ve got to counter strength with strength, I think the Republicans have to go with a charismatic, strong, likable individual who can motivate tens of thousands of individuals to donate money and time. If Rudy’s comments on publicly-funded abortions (he’s in favor of them) don’t sink his campaign, then his positions on gay rights will, or his personal relationship with about-to-be-indicted Bernie Kerik will (let’s not forget that Rudy personally recommended him for Secretary of Homeland Security!). Or his messy divorces (that’s plural) and fractured relationship with his kids will. You get the idea. I think McCain’s already cooked (if you can’t raise money after spending 8 years waiting to run for office again, you’re incapable of putting the right team together and won’t get a chance to survive the primaries), and I think Romney’s shifting positions on key conservative positions will leave the motivated primary voters feeling lukewarm (at best) about him.

Which leaves the Republican I most want to see get the nomination, Fred Thompson. He’s not yet in the race, but I can’t imagine he goes another 3 months without formally announcing. His conservative bona fides are strong, he held elected office (8 years in the Senate), and is universally known thanks to his role on the 24×7 Law & Order franchise (where he played the DA). Why do I want him to be the nominee? Because I think he’s an individual who would very clearly articulate the Republican platform. I think he’d attract more people to the process (I don’t care that it would be because of his Hollywood fame – I just want more people involved). And I think many people would feel good with him in office, even if they didn’t vote for him.

After the last 6 years, finding two candidates – either of which would make us feel good about the person sitting in the Oval Office – would be a huge step forward.

Oh – and if you want to see a small gesture that I think says a lot about who Fred Thompson is as a person, I thought this anecdote was priceless. (And yes, for those keeping score at home, I just linked to RedState twice. In the same post.)

Tuesday, April 3, 2007


A little over a month ago, I got an e-mail from a marketing person at a small publisher in California. We have a book we think you’ll like, she said. Can we send you a copy? she asked.

Now, I’ve received a handful of these e-mails in the past few years. I have a blog that has a few inbound links, and a fair amount of traffic, and apparently the publishers are always looking for a way to get some buzz in the blogosphere.

I’ll be completely honest: I figured the book would be so-so at best. I’d never heard of the author, Leinad Zeraus. I didn’t know the publisher, Verdugo Press. And if they were reaching out to me, well, they were probably scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Guess what: the book is Daemon by Leinad Zeraus, and it’s remarkable. No, really. I can remember the feeling I had, sitting in the audience as the credits rolled after seeing The Matrix on opening day. I knew I’d seen something that was different, important, and something that I’d want to see again. And again. When I finished Daemon this afternoon, I had that same feeling. Daemon is to novels what The Matrix was to movies. It will be how other novels that rely on technology are judged.

The premise is both outlandish and not all that farfetched: a genius programmer has developed a daemon (that is, a computer proram that waits for a predefined trigger in order to execute a series of commands) that looks for word of his death. Once his obituary is published, all hell breaks loose thanks to this computer program. Things quickly spiral out of control, with a computer program exerting increasing influence over individuals, corporations, and even governments.

Remember when you read an early Michael Crichton book, you marveled that he got the little stuff so right? In Andromeda Strain, he knew the brand names of the filters that identified the alien particles. (Millipore, if you’re wondering.) There was just something about it that as you read it, you knew he got it. And he could tell a good story to boot, so the whole experience was satisfying.

Daemon goes quite a bit further. It’s not enough that Leinad Zeraus (the author – a pseudonym? I don’t know) gets all the tech details pitch-perfect, or that the plot is intriguing. It’s the implications of the myriad technological improvements we’ve experienced in the last few years that Zeraus foresees that makes this book such a mind-bender. Is it far-fetched? Yeah. But only in the aggregate: each component on its face is completely reasonable… and as he starts to stitch together where he thinks things might end up, things get scary.

Techies will adore that he gets the details right: cracking a WPA key on a wifi router, scanning a webserver to see if the security patches were applied, tracking a suspect through an MMORPG… it’s all completely authentic. Thriller fans will appreciate the twist on the typical government conspiracy novel: in Daemon, the government may not have the upper hand. And for the politically savvy among you, you’ll enjoy the implications of technology making it easier for “stateless” actors to play a major role on the national stage.

Zeraus weaves these details into a compelling story that is thoroughly engaging. While I doubt we’ll see a scenario quite as terrifying as Daemon play itself out, I do think several of the elements of the book are already upon us. (Indeed, the links at the book’s website point to news stories from the past year that show scenarios quite familiar to the book’s audience.) As Zeraus points out: the video game industry is now bigger than Hollywood. Computers are involved when we talk with friends and family, when we purchase food, entertainment, and travel, and less and less of the details of our daily interactions have physical document trails. GPS makes our location increasingly easy to find, and transmit. The implications of all of this are intriguing, to say the least.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s been years since I was so eager to see where the story went, and so genuinely excited by the attention to detail. I’ve lost count of the number of times an author sullied their work by paying no attention to the technology and just phoning it in. I imagine I’m not the only one who notices when that happens, and anyone who does will be thrilled at Zeraus’s ability to pull it off. If you’re looking for a good read, go buy a copy.