Friday, May 25, 2007

Obama Facebook app

This week’s news that Facebook is re-launching itself as a platform is important, for a number of reasons. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, Facebook has become part of my routine: it’s a way to connect and keep in touch with friends, and it’s proving to be a fun tool to use. It’s designed well (unlike some other networking apps which make my eyes bleed), they seem to keep the user’s interests front and center, and they’re consistently innovating. But this week’s announcement radically reshapes Facebook – for the better.I saw Alan Rosenblatt’s post at TechPresident last night about the Obama Facebook app, so I gave it a look. Wow.

Facebook Obama app navigation menuWhen you add the application to your Facebook, it adds a navigation item to your Facebook navigation menu (see image on the left), and adds a widget to your profile that shows recent videos from the campaign, recent news, and calls to action. It’s a great way to let supporters show their support for the campaign, and further builds community (by exposing which of my friends are supporting Barack.)

When you click the video (“Meet Barack” in this screen cap), it plays inline, which means visitors don’t leave the page they’re on, and can get the benefit of the info right away. I assume that this widget is dynamic, meaning that the campaign can update the content in it as they wish – I’d expect to see petition signings, specific calls to action, and other time-sensitive references in the widget as time allows. And in addition to showing how many of my friends have added the app, I think showing how many people in total have added the app would go a long way to showing the vibrance of the community.

Facebook profile widget

Facebook Obama appBeyond this, the app itself has a home page, which contains further campaign-centric applications. Aside from advertising upcoming events (like Saturday’s Walk for Change), two things on this page stand out: first, the focus on the early states, which helps you identify which of your friends are in the early primary/caucus states, which can make it easier for you to reach out to them and encourage them to support your candidate. While building community and engaging others is a noble goal, it doesn’t hurt to reinforce to everyone in contact with the campaign that the goal here is to win:

Facebook Obama - early states

Facebook Obama app - Michelle videoThe second impressive item on this page are the one-click ‘share’ buttons next to all media. This is true for videos (like the video of Barack’s wife, Michelle), as well as news items. If you’re interested in exposing your network of friends to info about Barack, the campaign is making it a one-click affair that greatly simplifies the redistribution of campaign info.

This is an early first effort, and there will no doubt be other innovative uses of this platform. (I’d like to see this become a two-way mechanism for information to filter back to the campaign, and round-trip back to the community, and I’d like to see streamlined voter registration options.)

It’s smart for Facebook, because it reinforces their role as facilitator of the community… no doubt many people already go to My Barack Obama, but there’s a non-trivial number of people who want to hang out on Facebook and show their friends what matters to them. (Keep in mind, these people are not all college students, not by a long shot.) By embracing this, the campaign ensures that they’re where their supporters want to be, and aren’t forcing them to come to the campaign’s website in order to engage with the campaign.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lost Season Finale

Uh, whoa.

Couple questions:

  • When Jack was in the hospital and was confronted by the chief surgeon, he yelled: “Get my father down here, right now. If I’m drunker than him, you can fire me.” But this is supposed to be in the future. And Jack’s Dad died before the flight took off, before he was on the island, and before he’s back in the hospital, going all Rush Limbaugh on us.

  • What’s up with Walt being back on the island, several years older? Where’s Michael?

  • Who was the corpse that Jack visited (in the “future”, or whatever time warp period he was a bearded oxycontin addict)? Sawyer? Locke? Ben?

I’ve got more, but those are the ones that really stood out for me.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Behind on e-mail

Grandpa’s memorial service was wonderful. His sons (my Dad and my Uncle Chris) both spoke, as did the four grandchildren (me, my brother, and my cousins Lauren and Heather) and a few others (including Mel, who met Grandpa just a few years ago, but amazingly enough went to the same high school in Milwaukee nearly 60 years ago!). It was a standing room only crowd, which spoke to what a friend Grandpa was to so many of the residents at Lake Port Square and how loved he was by his family.

To all of you who left comments, thanks so much. I’m fortunate to have such a great collection of friends and colleagues who shared such kind thoughts.

One anecdote from Saturday that was uplifting, albeit surprising: one of my Uncle’s distributors looked up my Grandpa’s name on Google on Friday to see if he could learn anything about him. Turns out, my post from Wednesday was the top hit. Amazing, and wonderful.

If you sent me e-mail anytime after Thursday, chances are I’ve not yet read it. It’ll take a day or more to catch up; bear with me. Thanks.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Remembering my Grandfather

My grandfather, Richard Wallace Klau, died tonight. My Dad’s been with Grandma and Grandpa for the last week, and I got the news a few hours ago that he’d finally lost his battle with the infection that the doctors couldn’t get a handle on. He was 79 years old, and was approaching his 60th wedding anniversary this summer.

I grew up in a small family – it’s just my brother and me, Mom and Dad both have just one younger brother (Mom’s older brother was killed when she was young), and I have 3 cousins. I was fortunate to grow up with both sets of grandparents, though we lost my Mom’s parents within a few months of each other in 1991 and 1992 while I was studying abroad.

So it’s been a long time since I’ve lost a close member of the family. I feel the urge to tell you about this man who just left, this man who raised two wildly successful sons, watched as four grandchildren grew up, and got to meet all five of his great-grandchildren. You probably never met him, but I hope to help you understand what a great man he was.

I’m aided in this, interestingly enough, by my Grandpa himself. For my birthday a couple years ago, he and Grandma filled out memory books that Robin sent them. I will not share its entirety with you, but there are several passages that stand out. It is a wonderful gift – both from my wife and from my Grandfather – that I’m able to flip these pages tonight. They’re helping tremendously as I reflect on the 35 years I knew this man and contemplate his death.

Grandpa grew up in Milwaukee. As a kid, Greenfield Park was a favorite hangout, and he played baseball in the summer and skated in the winter at Washington Park. He skipped the sixth grade (which, he admits, may have been in part influenced by the fact that my Great-Grandfather was on the Milwaukee School Board.) At 13, his first date was with Audrey Schmidt – at a dance at Cudworth Post (the American Legion Hall in Milwaukee). Performers at this dance? None other than Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra. Talk about a good first date! (Grandpa’s brush with fame didn’t stop there, by the way. During World War II, he served in the Coast Guard, and was stationed in Brooklyn, NY. His watch commander? Alan Hale, Jr. Yes, that Alan Hale.)

Grandpa and Grandma had their first date in September of 1946 and married in July of 1947. From his journal to me:

When we were going together, I worked part-time at the Boulevard Inn, a very nice restaurant about a block from where Grandma lived. On the nights I worked until 9pm, if any “mistakes” were made in the kitchen (someone ordered lobster and then changed their minds), I would bring the “mistakes” to Grandma’s Dad. Boy was I popular. Normally he’d be in bed by 9 but on the nights I worked and was coming over, he’d stay up to 10 or later. What a guy.
One thing I’ve always loved about Grandpa is that he took risks at a time when it was almost unheard of. Married 5 years, and with their entire extended family living within a few miles of each other in Milwaukee, he moved the family to California to make it on their own. They spent two years trying to make it work in California, and when it didn’t, moved back to Milwaukee. Just a few months later, Grandpa took the exam for a Government Printing Office position in DC. He got the job, and Grandma, Dad and Uncle Chris followed him out once school was up in June. They remained in Maryland for 30 years.

My first memories of visiting Grandpa are in his house in Edgewater, Maryland. Vivid for me (I was 9 or 10) was the finished basement (he had a bar! In his house!), the saloon-like doors going into their kitchen (as a parent, I have newfound admiration for the Herculean patience they must have had to put up with my brother and I endlessly pushing the doors open and shut, open and shut), and his laser disc player. Yep, I come by my gadget lust honestly: my Grandfather, hardly a man who would consider himself wealthy in the early 80s, had a laser disc player. Kelly’s Heroes has to be one of the first “grown-up” movies I ever got to see, and it was at his house. I like to think that in addition to the affection for gadgets, I inherited Grandpa’s fascination with film.

Grandpa and meGrandpa and Grandma moved to a house on the Chesapeake Bay in ’83. I had a number of great visits to that house – how could you not love a Grandfather with a boat?! – but the highlight had to be the summer of ’86 when I spent almost a full month alone with Grandma and Grandpa. I ate more crabs, watched more movies, and slept later than I thought possible. Seriously: look at that picture: tell me those two guys aren’t deliriously happy.

After the GPO, Grandpa worked for a long time as a civilian in the printing office of the US Air Force. I always loved the plaques that hung on his “Ego Wall” (his words!) – the drawing of the SR-71 flying over the Pentagon was a favorite – and his retirement ceremony was, in the words of one of the Colonels who attended, one of the nicest ceremonies ever given for a civilian. He took pride in his work, and it showed.

In June of 1992, Grandpa had “had enough of the cold weather so we packed up and moved to Florida. Except for missing the family, that was a good decision.” The next sentence in the journal cracks me up every time I read it. You have to understand: when he did this, his handwriting was a little shaky. So he and Grandma collaborated – he spoke the answers and Grandma wrote down what he said. “Grandma was a good sport and supported me in all my decisions.” What do you want to bet there was some interesting body language accompanying that transcription?!

Of being a parent, Grandpa had some great memories to share of my Dad. Proving that I come by my own big-picture focus honestly, Grandpa relays this great anecdote:
I took Ricky [that’s my Dad] fishing one day while Grandma was at work. Never dawned on me to take a lunch, so when I bought bait I also picked up some candy bars. That’s all we had to eat all day. Grandma was not happy when she heard that. [Don’t you love that Grandma was writing this all down?]
The weekend we got married, Grandpa repeatedly pulled Robin aside. “Promise me you’ll name your first child Richard,” he would implore. This happened at least a half dozen times: at the rehearsal dinner, at the wedding reception, at the brunch the day after the wedding. It was critically important to him that we name our son Richard. When we were lucky enough to get pregnant with Ricky, Robin insisted on getting an ultrasound to find out whether we were having a boy or girl. I thought it was because Robin really wanted to know… but it was (so she claims) so we could let Grandpa know that we were going to live up to our promise. Ricky was born in 2000, bringing a 5th Richard Klau into the world. And for 7 years, 4 of the 5 generations were with us. That’s pretty damned cool, and it was clear that becoming a Great-Grandfather meant a lot to him.

As my own family has grown, it’s become increasingly difficult to get down to Florida to see Grandma and Grandpa. Yet we had some great visits: in 2001, with Ricky nearly a year old, we got to spend a couple days at their house in Lakeport Square. In 2003, with Ricky now nearing 3 and Robby almost a year, we went to Disney World and Grandma and Grandpa came down for a weekend. They babysat Robby while we took Ricky on his first Disney visit. In 2005, my Mom & Dad, my brother and his family, and we all went to Disney, and spent an afternoon at Grandma and Grandpa's. And last year, Grandma and Grandpa headed north to see my cousin Lauren graduate from college (where they also got to meet their fifth great-grandchild, my daughter Becca). We last spoke a couple weeks ago, as I shared the stories of his great-grandsons’ birthday parties. Ricky’s Star Wars birthday party excited him to no end.

I will remember Grandpa for the immense pride he took in his successful sons. I will always envy him for the love he shared with Grandma. They were married just a couple months shy of 60 years. That’s amazing. I will always strive to live up to the example he set of always working to provide for his family, even when it wasn’t easy.

Grandma and Grandpa’s song was I’ll See You in My Dreams, a popular song in the 20s and 30s. Grandpa told me that every night before going to bed, he would say “I’ll see you in my dreams” to Grandma, and I have to imagine that not hearing it tonight is absolutely brutal for Grandma. But the remainder of the chorus seems appropriate:
I’ll see you in my dreams, Hold you in my dreams;, Someone took you out of my arms, Still I feel the thrill of your charms!
Good night, Grandpa. We miss you already, but we will always feel the thrill of your charms. We love you. We will see you in our dreams.

Matt Cutts liked Daemon

Courtesy of a recommendation a couple weeks ago, Matt Cutts ordered a copy of Daemon and so far, it’s his favorite of the summer books he’s read.

Rock on.

Great tracking shots

If you’re a film buff, you absolutely have to stop what you’re doing and go visit this page, a collection of some of the great tracking shots in film. To the ones on that page, I’d add (as others in the comments noted) The Contender and Swingers.

And do yourself a favor: while the tracking shot in Children of Men will likely be considered among the top 3 tracking shots of all time as more people see it, make sure you see it in the context of the film first. And, as the author notes, the shot near the end of the film in the building under siege is equally gripping (slightly less technically sophisticated, but as impressive for different reasons).

(Link was today’s pick at Very Short List. If you’re not subscribed to their e-mail, you’re missing out. I make it a point to read their e-mails every day, the things they find are rarely “popular” yet but almost always fascinating, valuable or entertaining. And many times, they’re all three.)

Twitter v. Facebook

A couple months back, I wrote about giving Twitter a look. In the past few months, I’ve found it’s never become part of my daily routine. It’s somewhat interesting to see what others are up to, but the signal-to-noise ratio is higher than I need. I tried using a stand-alone Twitter client (Twitbox for Windows) to be more aware of what was going on, but it ended up suffering a number of memory leaks. I didn’t like the noise getting sent to my phone, so it ended up being just one more webpage I had to go visit… which ended up not being all that regular.

The bottom line is that the micro-blogging that Twitter encourages isn’t something I find I have a great need for. Certainly not something I need an entire service devoted to.

Facebook, on the other hand, is proving to be quite useful. As Don discussed last week, more and more adults are finding Facebook to be valuable.  And none other than skeptic Nick Denton wrote this about Gawker Media’s adoption of Facebook:

But Facebook invitations seem to be, at least for the moment, of a higher quality: people I might want to list. And, because it’s a general-purpose networking tool, rather than simply for the purpose of business, it feels less cheesy. We’re getting everybody at Gawker Media to set up Facebook accounts, if they don’t already have one, and migrating our staff directory to the system. I would have been mocked for using Linked In for that purpose.

Facebook includes the ability to update your status – effectively the same thing as a Twitter post. Those updates can be posted via SMS or via the web, much like Twitter. And the status updates page provides a running tally of your friends’ posts, similar to how Twitter keeps you in the loop about what your friends are up to. Facebook is a well-designed site, it’s easy to use, and its already large audience is growing quickly. Their inclusion this week of free classifieds makes a ton of sense, and the fact that its raison d’etre is not micro-blogging ensures that as needs change they will still have a reason to use Facebook.

I haven’t checked in on Twitter in almost a week. And I don’t miss it. Ironically enough, I just tried to go to Twitter to find out when my last post was, and it’s down. As Jason notes, this is an unfortunate byproduct of Twitter’s growth… he and others are finding it to be a valuable part of their day. For me, I’ve found Facebook to be more my style.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Greasemonkey extension - TinyURL for Gmail

This is a neat little hack for Gmail: if you find yourself pasting in links in the message window that are unruly, you can highlight the URL, hit ctrl-shift-T and Greasemonkey will auto-convert your URL into a TinyURL. Neat. (If you have Greasemonkey installed, click here to install the script.)

I ran into a problem though: ctrl-shift-T is the Firefox key-combo to re-open the last closed tab… which results in all kinds of excitement when you invoke this script. If you right-click on the Greasemonkey icon in your Firefox toolbar, select ‘manage user scripts’, find the Gmail TinyURL in the list of scripts, and click ‘edit’. In the text editor, look for this snippet of text:

if (event.ctrlKey  true &&
event.shiftKey true &&
event.keyCode 84) {

That “event.keyCode84” is a reference to the number associated with the letter T. I found a list of numeric codes that go along with event.keyCode here with that, I was able to change the active key from ‘T’ to ‘U’ (number 85), thereby avoiding the tab-reopening craziness. Save the text file, and now you hit ctrl-shift-U to perform the Gmail + TinyURL magic.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Google Suggests... phone numbers?

This is a little curious. I mistakenly started typing a phone number in the Google search bar in Firefox the other day, and before I realized it to switch back into the contact window, the Google suggestions engine kicked in, and produced the following “suggested” numbers:

Google suggested phone numbers

The first one produces no results, which is even stranger. Included in that list are a Comcast service number, the DuPage County Bar Association fax number for resumes, a collection agency, an escort service, and a mortgage company.

Try it for your area code: type in the first three digits and a dash, then wait for the suggestions to appear. Anything interesting appear for your area code? (If you don’t have this in your browser, you can visit this page at Google with the suggests feature enabled.)

Interview on Total Picture Radio

Last month at SES, I sat down with Peter Clayton to talk about FeedBurner. The interview ended up covering far more ground than I expected; how I got my job at FeedBurner, how I hired Eric and Jake, the guy who got me into blogging (John Robb), Daemon, search engine optimization, FeedBurner’s growth, and much more.

Peter is a great interviewer, really knows how to keep the conversation moving. And he also edits well – you almost never hear the tremendous racket going on behind us.

The full interview is here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Naperville profiled on Colbert Report

Sort of, anyway. In his “Hometown Hero Town” spot, Stephen glowingly reviewed Naperville for a recent news story that profiled a tow truck service to tow you and your car home if you’re drunk. As Stephen noted, the cost is $85, but it’s $65 if you have a reservation. “Finally, folks, you can schedule your incapacitations. So thank you, Naperville, it’s so rare to promote road safety and binge drinking at the same time.”

In our quest to reclaim our rightful place as the #1 city to raise a family (last year’s #2 spot was such a disappointment!), clearly the local businesses are pulling out all the stops.

(Hat tip to Bowen for letting me know about this, I missed it last night.)

VW Phaeton ad

Few people know that Volkswagen has a super-luxury sedan called the Phaeton (in the US, it’s no longer sold, and only a few thousand are on the road here). Its price tag was north of $75,000, and most US buyers think of VW as the Jetta/bug/Cabrio company, not an Audi A-8 competitor. I saw one in a dealership once (gorgeous), and talked to a guy at a rest area who was driving one (he adored it)… but hadn’t really thought much about it since then.

Very Short List today pointed out a brilliant ad for the Phaeton that, as VSL points out, is most certainly art. Check it out:

[dailymotion 4GJMSfys9PLLt7sfc]
(Click through to watch if you’re in your aggregator and not seeing the video.)

Monday, May 7, 2007

Open source parenting

If you’re a parent, particularly of boys, you need to stop what you’re doing and read the Tribune’s special report on Magnetix. It’s breath-taking, and not in a good way.

I’ve stolen a few hours this evening brainstorming how the tech community might bring its resources to bear on this particular challenge. It’s already proving to be an interesting experiment: if the government is under-staffed and under-funded to help parents avoid harmful toys, then why can’t we help ourselves? I mean, come on: this is how the CPSC chooses to tell us about potential risks. Anyone think that’s a particularly useful/effective way of getting the word out?

I’m thinking equal parts Digg, Snopes and a wiki thrown in for good measure. 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.

This is a non-partisan thing, but if successful would have ramifications in the political realm. Most importantly, it might very well save a few kids. So… if you’re interested in participating in this experiment, drop me a line. Right now I’m particularly interested in folks who can assist in thinking through the architecture of such a thing… then we can start reaching out to those who can lend particular talents and/or resources to build it. Evangelizing the end product will be easy; we all know a few people who’d love to help spread the word if successful.

C.C. liked Daemon

Go read C.C.‘s review of Daemon. Steven Vore also liked it.

Next up, Matt Cutts bought a copy for his summer vacation.

I’m a man on a mission. If you are reading this blog, chances are you like tech. You will love this book.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Darth Vader on line 2

Sean showed this to me yesterday, and it’s still cracking me up:

[youtube MDJ8-Kcan6M]
(Click through to the post to view if the video’s not showing in your aggregator.)

Naperville Riverwalk Amphitheater

Naperville Riverwalk Amphitheater

Took a walk this morning with Robin and the kids, and I loved how the shadows of the trees showed up in contrast with the brick labyrinth pattern at the Riverwalk Amphitheater. (Original photo, with larger sizes, is here.)

Disclosure: the camera I’m using for the next few months, the Nikon D80, is a loaner from Nikon. It’s part of the “Picture This” project, which I discuss in more detail here.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Gordon Biersch comes to Illinois

Gordon Biersch logoRobin told me last night we had to get something at Ikea before we could get on with our night out. (Be honest, what good date doesn’t start with a trip to Ikea?) But as we got close, she turned into the new mall area anchored by Macy’s, and much to my surprise, there it was: a Gordon Biersch restaurant. Readers from Silicon Valley know Gordon Biersch well; and though I doubt many in Illinois know how good the beer is, last night’s two hour wait for a table tells me word’s spreading fast. (Fortunately for us, there were seats at the bar open, and we were able to eat a burger with the all-important garlic fries right away.)

Details on the Bolingbrook location are here if you haven’t been, it’s well worth a visit. (In case you’re wondering, I had the Czech Lager, since the next beer I’m brewing at home is a Pilsner Urquell clone. As with every other Gordon Biersch beer, it was excellent.)

Flagpole Sitta

This may be the best recruiting video ever made. Tell me you wouldn’t kill to work here (btw, it’s Connected Ventures if you’re wondering) after watching this:

[vimeo 173714]

Friday, May 4, 2007

Obama and MySpace

Maybe you saw the news about Barack Obama taking back his MySpace profile from a volunteer. Jerome Armstrong, co-author of Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics with Markos Moulitsas (the guy behind DailyKos) shared his thoughts on what this meant, and Joe Rospars, the director of Barack’s New Media operation, shared his side of the story on the official campaign blog.

While some facts are in dispute, the basic chronology is below. Note: While I was very involved in Barack’s 2004 Senate campaign (I ran the campaign weblog, and wrote many of the posts) and I know several of the team at the campaign, I have no inside information on this particular situation. This is all my opionion from the outside looking in.

  • A volunteer named Joe Anthony created a MySpace profile for Barack over 2 years ago at the MySpace URL

  • Once Barack was officially a candidate, Joe Rospars and team worked with Joe Anthony to ensure that the volunteer work being done on the site complied with FEC rules (including, for instance, not working on the site during work hours), and coordinated efforts to ensure that the campaign had the ability to update the site when Joe Anthony wasn’t able to (like during work hours).

  • This relationship continued for some months, and Barack’s “friends” grew from 40,000 to well over 100,000.

  • MySpace began promoting the candidates’ MySpace profile pages, leading many Barack supporters to add themselves as friends to Barack’s page.

  • At some point, the campaign and Joe Anthony had a disagreement about how to proceed. Anthony was putting hours into the site cultivating the community, and was starting to sacrifice other commitments. I’ve been there, it’s not fun. The campaign suggested coming to Chicago, that wasn’t interesting to Anthony, so they discussed a hand-off.

  • This is where the facts are cloudy, to say the least. What we do know is that Anthony presented the campaign with an invoice of sorts, suggesting that the cost to compensate him for the community he’d built was $39,000.

It seems that the campaign saw this as an attempt to cash in on their candidate’s popularity, so rather than negotiate with Anthony, they simply went to MySpace and exercised their right to claim the “/BarackObama” URL – a URL which, according to MySpace’s Terms of Service, is rightfully theirs. MySpace complied, and now the page belongs to the Obama campaign.

If you’re looking for a good perspective on this, you should read Zephyr Teachout’s recap of the Dean campaign, which provides some useful context for how campaigns struggle with developing communities as campaigns scale.

While the debate about how to value the community is intriguing, I think it misses the point. As Mike Turk stated at Politics Online, much of the MySpace community are people who aren’t necessarily indicative of likely voters (or even possible voters). It should be noted, however, in the TechPresident thread about valuing a MySpace group, Mike had a different approach:

These are probably more comparable to the good, qualified names you would get through your own ads or through organic growth. They want to be with you, and are more likely to engage than names off a rented list….I’d guess that $4 per name is not at all unreasonable given the quality. More importantly, what is the value of all the second degree contacts in a word-of-mouth effort? Those 160k people could easily reach 10-20 times that number if you don’t piss them off by shutting their community down. The old saying in retail is if you lose one customer, you’ve really lost ten. How many did Obama just lose?

Well, OK. But of those 160k participants, how many knew or cared that Joe Anthony was behind it, and how many were on it because of Barack? The profile, which had to start from scratch, is already back up to 40,000 friends – in just a few days. I think it’s eminently reasonable to expect that most of that 160,000 will re-add themselves to Barack’s “official” profile – and those that don’t were probably less engaged in the campaign, and of less real value, as a result.

Perhaps I’m being cold, but this doesn’t really seem like a case of Barack’s team “not respecting the community”… it seems like a case of Barack’s team recognizing that the potential blowback from a bad decision – made by someone not accountable to the campaign or even legally allowed to act at certain times of the day when news cycles are measured in minutes and not days – was far worse than a hiccup in establishing ownership of something that was rightfully theirs.

Do I think MySpace will win or lose the primaries? No. Do I think it will have a measurable impact on the election? Possibly. Will it afford some people the ability to engage in a process when they might not have otherwise? Absolutely. This isn’t about “top-down” control at all… Barack’s been clear about empowering people to speak up and act, to get involved in the campaign, and to participate in the campaign in ways that most never have. (Yes, many of these ideas were tried in the Dean campaign; successful as it was, nothing in it approached the scale of what Obama’s or Edwards’ campaigns are doing so far ahead of the primaries.) So why would he want to have to deal with an intermediary – well-intentioned or otherwise – when he could get one step closer to the community, get one step closer to his supporters?

If I were in their shoes, I would have advised them to do exactly what they did. Sure, there’s potential for some blowback. But in the long run, they get control of a critical asset for mobilizing a visible segment of the population – one which can be tremendously valuable when foot soldiers, phone callers, and others are needed as the primaries draw near. A little bit of friction today is worth a lot of leverage in six months.

Update: TechPresident reports that things are resolving between Joe Anthony and the Obama campaign. Good.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Photography lessons

Full moonSaw the full moon last night over our back deck, and remembered reading in The Digital Photography Book that there were some cool ways to use Photoshop to take two shots of the same image, then combine them to show the moon in its detail while simultaneously showing the surrounding area. (Scott documents the process on his website, in case you’re interested.)

So I gave it a shot, recognizing that what I was trying to do was a bit different than what Scott documented: there was no skyline or other detail to view, just a dark outline of the trees in the backyard. But it was fun to experiment, and while I’m not entirely happy with the end result (as I note on the Flickr page, I think it looks a little too obviously manipulated), it was a great learning process. Here’s what I did:

  • Put the camera on a tripod, took two shots (in RAW, more on why you should shoot RAW here): one at 1/20 shutter speed (f14) to capture the detail on the moon, and one at 5 seconds (f20) to let a little light in to see the trees.

  • In Photoshop Elements, used the RAW import to set the white balance on the detailed shot of the moon to get as much clarity as possible, while upping the contrast on the second to see as much of the trees as possible. (I actually may re-try this, see below for some guesses as to why I don’t like the finished product.)

  • With that done and both pictures opened in Photoshop Elements, I used the ‘magnetic lasso tool’ to circle the moon in the detailed shot, then cropped it to just that. Select all, then copy, then go to the shot of the trees, and paste. Since the pictures were both oriented in the same place, it pasted where it should have, I didn’t need to move the “detailed” moon at all in the shot with the trees.

Now, a couple things stand out for me in the finished product: depressing the brightness to get the clarity on the moon ends up making the moon too different from the “glow” of the second shot. The result is too jarring, I think. If I try again, I’ll probably try and blend them a bit more – decrease the halo in the second shot (without sacrificing the detail on the trees) while upping the brightness on the detail of the moon – and I think the result would be a little more subtle (and more effective).

One other thing I learned: as Kelby wrote in The Digital Photography Book, I need a better tripod. In several of the shots I tried, when you zoomed in, you can actually see the movement from my finger depressing the shutter release. Not good. Until I invest in a better tripod, I’ll just start using the camera’s timer to push the shutter release, then step back so that the camera has a second or two to steady itself before firing. (I’ve also got my eye on the Nikon ML-L3 Wireless Remote Control.)

Disclosure: the camera I’m using for the next few months, the Nikon D80, is a loaner from Nikon. It’s part of the “Picture This” project, which I discuss in more detail here.