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.