Saturday, December 20, 2008

Seven years and counting!

Seven years ago today, I started this blog. Though the frequency of posts has declined over time (thanks in large part to Google Reader and Twitter), this site remains an integral part of my online routine. Thanks to everyone who reads, comments, and stops by.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Going to the inauguration

Realized that I posted to Twitter last month but haven't said anything here: we're going to DC for President-elect Obama's inauguration. Who else is going? Anyone care to share two tickets to a ball? :)

The reason we're going is a bit different than you'd think. Back in March, during the interminable slog through the caucuses and primaries, we had CNN on watching the results. Robby (who turned 6 that month) asked, after Barack had won another caucus, whether this meant that he was the President now. No, I explained - and then, as best as I was able, explained to him how the primary season differed from the general election. To his credit, he got it. "So if he wins in November, he's President?" "Yep, you got it." "Is there a party?" "Well, yeah. In January, in Washington, DC. It's called the inauguration." "Then you're taking us, right?"

Hard to say no to that.

Our plans right now are very much open. I assume that we'll be standing on the Mall with a few million other Americans, watching from a great distance. Mostly I want the boys to know that they were there, that they heard President Obama deliver his inaugural address. I've asked for tickets from my Senators and Representative, but from what I hear the requests far exceed the supply.

Anyone else going? I'll be working from our DC office all week, so hopefully I can catch up with some friends I haven't seen in a while. Let me know!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Added a "wall" to the blog

I re-added the FriendConnect sign-in widget on the blog last week, and earlier today I added back the wall gadget. Interested to see how useful it is - feel free to share videos, add your comments, or ignore it. :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

California (Paul Curreri)

This is an unreleased track by Paul Curreri that I found on YouTube. As with every other song by Paul, I adore it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Quantum of Solace

Just got back from watching Quantum of Solace. It wasn't as shockingly good as Casino Royale, but Craig sure is a great Bond.

One nit: this director needs to watch his final print in a theater, and then tell me whether he can tell any of his actors apart during any of the action scenes. Because if he can, he's a better man than I.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Princeton Protests Proposition 8

"Traditional sidewalk values". Priceless.

Still struggling to understand the whole protest-after-you-lose-the-vote thing, but I guess those are details.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rebuilding the Republican Party

It may strike some as odd that my first post-election political post would be about the GOP, but there you go: I’m a maverick. (Is it OK to use that word again? Or will it forever conjure up images of Tina Fey hawking “Palin 2012” t-shirts on QVC?) I’ve been heartened in conversations with friends and family who are proud Republicans over the last two weeks to hear their resolve at taking a long, hard look at what went wrong. (And equally encouraged by their genuine eagerness to support Barack.)

I’ve made no secret of my Democratic party leanings – I’ve voted Democratic for every Presidential candidate I’ve been eligible to vote. Yet I grew up in a Republican household, spent many chilly fall days in Connecticut canvassing for Republican candidates (local and national). My Dad volunteered on George HW Bush’s 1980 presidential campaign. Gerald Ford once commented to my Dad at a state party meeting that my Mom was cute. (She is, by the way.) So I have mostly positive feelings about the GOP – the old GOP. And I know precisely - the actual day - when those feelings started eroding:

That’s Pat Buchanan delivering his address to the 1992 Republican Convention. He referred to the Democratic Convention as a “masquerade ball”, mocked its attendees as “radicals and liberals” – even blew the “cross-dresssing” dog whistle (get it? THEY’RE ALL GAY!). And then this:

My friends, this election is about much more than who gets what. It is about who we are. It is about what we believe. It is about what we stand for as Americans. There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself. And in that struggle for the soul of America, Clinton & Clinton are on the other side, and George Bush is on our side. And so, we have to come home, and stand beside him.

Much of the slash-and-burn tactics the GOP has deployed over the last 20 years trace, for me, to that speech. It’s possible they existed before – that religion was used as a wedge to scare voters into voting for the GOP – but I certainly didn’t see it. In President George HW Bush I saw a committed government servant, a modest man with a fearsome intellect who lost touch with his country. I voted for Bill Clinton, not against George Bush.

In 2000, I considered crossing party lines and supporting John McCain over George Bush in the California primary. I liked McCain, I didn’t like George W Bush, and I had originally supported Bill Bradley. (Family trivia: my first son was born on Super Tuesday that year. The political junkie thing runs strong in our family.)

And as President Bush betrayed his party’s ideals – on civil liberties, on government spending, on the separation of church and state, on scientific research, on diplomacy – I began to get angry. George W Bush did not represent the GOP I knew and grew up with: he led a religious coalition of social conservatives who sought to codify their beliefs through government intervention. When Howard Dean said “I want my country back!”, it resonated for me in a way that summed up much of what I felt was wrong. And when he followed it up by exclaiming that he was “tired of listening to the fundamentalist preachers!”, I remembered Pat Buchanan and his exhortations of a religious war.

Today’s GOP is coping with significant defeats across the board. I contend that this was a natural extension of Buchanan’s religious war: as Karl Rove (and Ashcroft, and Bush, and Palin, and countless others) played it to its logical conclusion, inevitably someone would show up and get us past it. But in those defeats, I’m encouraged – out of this will rise new thinking about what the party can (and should) do, most importantly from people whose voices must be heard in the party. Check out Rebuild the Party, or David Frum's announcement of the New Majority. Read Reihan Salam's posts over at The American Scene. Listen to former Congressman (and founding member of The Heritage Foundation) Mickey Edwards talk about the future of the conservative movement. They're not all in agreement - but they don't need to be. The key is that they're working hard to identify ways to reclaim the heart and soul of the Republican Party.

Many of my Democratic friends will no doubt scratch their heads, wondering why I would care: we won! But that's just it: I didn't support Barack Obama because I wanted to win. I supported Barack Obama because I believe in what Barack often spoke about: "disagreeing without being disagreeable". Politics for me is finding good solutions to hard problems, not demonizing the other guys because they don't agree with me.

Encouragingly, each of the links above demonstrate a positive, principled approach to defining what the Republican Party should be about. In none of those efforts do they spend any time figuring out clever ways to question my patriotism, my eagerness to destroy the family or my desire to wage war on people of faith. And that's a start. A very good one. Here's hoping they stay at it, and make progress.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Old WordPress posts are (mostly) redirecting

In moving 3,000 posts over from WordPress to Blogger, errors when users visit old links are inevitable. My implementation of WordPress published posts to URLs that looked like this:

I've converted to Blogger, and Blogger's permalinks are a tad different:

Specific differences: no /archives sub-directory, no /day in the path (just /year and /month), and the file extension is .html instead of .php. Ideally, I wanted a way to ensure that people visiting the first URL end up at the second.

For the most part, that's now happening. Using the WordPress Redirection plugin (I'll eventually move this out of WP itself and handle this in .htaccess), I'm using the following regex query:

And I'm redirecting those URLs to this string:$1/$2/$4.html

A few edge cases where this breaks: Blogger caps its permalinks at 5 words. So posts-with-lots-of-words-in-the-title.php become posts-with-lots-of-words.html, and my redirection won't work. Also, Blogger doesn't include the word "the" in permalinks, so the-day-is-here.php won't properly resolve to day-is-here.html.

Nevertheless, this is about a 98% effective solution, which I'm quite happy with. I'd love to have a custom 404 page so confused visitors could figure out what was going on - but on the balance, I've accomplished what I set out to do.

And so concludes this period of meta-blogging, in which I blog about the blogging engine that lets me blog. Even I'm a tad tired of it, so look for obsessive political blogging and the random nerd post to reappear any day now.

Feed readers, I'm sorry (but it's over now)

Yeah, I know I just basically spammed you through Google Reader (or whatever your favorite feed reader happens to be these days). But the worst is over: I've imported my entire blog and all posts are now live on the Blogger-managed blog here.

Last step in this migration is to use htaccess to rewrite incoming traffic from the WordPress URLs over to Blogger. May get to that in the next couple days, otherwise it'll be the weekend.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Thanks to Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell, the mastermind behind Technosailor, is, as they say, Good People. I pinged him the other night after banging my head against a wall trying to get my WordPress blog exported properly. The issue was my reliance on Textile when drafting posts (this started in Movable Type, and I continued doing it once I converted to WordPress. And the default export script in WordPress doesn't trigger any plugins when it exports the text, so my 2800+ posts were mostly useless for a Blogger import.

Aaron whipped up a plugin that did exactly what I needed, and I now have my entire WordPress archive in a usable export format. A "thank you" seems hardly sufficient, but I'll start there: Aaron, thank you. :)

Some other lessons learned: my first few attempts at exporting from WordPress failed and it took a few tries to learn what was up: the default timeout setting for PHP is 30 seconds. My WordPress install lives on a shared server, and exporting 2800 posts and 9000 comments was taking longer than 30 seconds. This page was what I needed: editing the export.php file (in wp-admin/includes/) and adding set_time_limit(120); to the script did the trick: that gave the script plenty of time to execute and ensure I got the entire blog exported.

The conversion will continue - next step is to import the posts into Blogger, then figure out the most efficient way of rewriting inbound links so that links to the old site (in the form are rewritten to the new site (which will be in the form That should be relatively straightforward.

In the meantime, FeedBurner subscribers should be seeing these posts now as I've updated the source feed to point to the Blogger-maintained feed.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sunday, November 9, 2008

WordPress to Blogger conversion

Wow, is this painful. Starting with my transition to Movable Type, I started using Textile, a Movable Type plugin that let you use text-based shortcuts for doing HTML markup. In the days before a rich text editor, this was a great time-saver.

A couple years later I switched to WordPress, but found a WordPress plugin that allowed me to continue to use these shortcuts. Not only did that mean that my past entries with the shortcuts included would still work, but it meant I could continue to use the same shortcuts - which I continued to do, even though WordPress had a decent rich-text editor.

(Can you guess where this is headed?)

Now that I'm converting to Blogger, I have around 4 years of posts that are largely useless when it comes to hyperlinks: insead of this, I have "this": With plugins installed in WordPress, it converts the short-hand to the proper HTML... but Blogger doesn't have any corresponding plugin.

So I've spent the last 2 days meticulously finding each hyperlink and updating it to the proper format. Not fun. Necessary, but not fun. I'll be done soon enough...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Moving to Blogger

Seven years after my entree to blogging (courtesy of a pre-Google Blogger), I'm coming back to where it all began. Stay tuned - migration of the blog from here (WordPress) to here (Blogger) will wrap up by early next week.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sonos upgrade is shockingly good

Sonos pushed out version 2.7 of its controller software last night, and I had a few minutes to play around with it before heading into work this morning. It’s awe-inspiringly good.

What is Sonos? I wrote about my purchase of the Sonos last summer, here’s my summary:

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

We’ve now enjoyed our Sonos for almost 18 months, and it now sits right alongside our TiVo as the family’s most loved pieces of technology. Here’s what’s new in this upgrade:

  • iPhone/iTouch controller: the additional remotes for the Sonos are pricey ($399 if memory serves); now an iPhone app gives you a free additional remote to control the Sonos from anywhere in the house. That’s pretty astounding – Sonos just made their system more usable and cannibalized one of their (presumably high-margin) accessories. Talk about being customer-focused!

  • Radio directory: The Sonos directory of radio stations worldwide was already pretty great… our favorite radio station, hands down, is MVY Radio out of Martha’s Vineyard. (Friends will recognize the blue lobster, which is one of my laptop stickers.) But the enhanced support for streaming radio stations is incredible: tell it your location and they instantly aggregate all available stations. Prefer those stations from the town where you grew up? Change your location, and there they are. More than 15,000 radio stations are indexed and easily searchable. Unlike over-the-air brodcast radio which often has pops, static or interference, radio streams are crystal-clear. (My only complaint with most commercial radio streamed online: the annoying rights issues with commercial actors whose unions didn’t grant streaming broadcast rights, resulting in pockets of dead air or muzak playing while the commercial airs but cannot stream.)

  • Pandora, are both free: looking for new music? Get started with either or Pandora (or log into your existing accounts) and you’re on your way.

  • Rhapsody: Streams are upgraded from 128k WMA to 192k MP3. We continue to subscribe to Rhapsody for on-demand access to millions of songs, though I have a feeling we’ll be playing with more now that it’s integrated.

Sonos upgraded its hardware a few months ago, and while still priced right under $1000, for anyone who listens to hours of audio at home I think you’ll find this a gadget that will thoroughly enhance your audio experience.

One final note re: Sonos. I’ve had a few interactions with their team by e-mail, and I’m really impressed at how dedicated they are to not only improving the product, but at how committed they are to ensuring customers genuinely love the product. Dave is right – Sonos (the company and the product) is universally loved – and for good reason.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Greatness and pettiness

Been thinking about this speech a lot in the last couple days. Jeff Bridges from The Contender:

Yes, I’m a sap. And a hopeless optimist. But I’d like to think that as a country we can avoid falling into the abyss of demonization and hate, and instead find greatness in our leaders.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

2008 ELCA Communicators Conference keynote

You may recall that last month I gave a speech in Chicago at the 2008 ELCA Communicators Conference. This particular conference is important to me, for a couple reasons. First off, my 2006 speech to this group was the most impactful speech I’ve ever given. It was wild to see so many blogs pop up, and to receive e-mails months, even a year or more after the fact. I can count dozens of friends on Facebook and regular e-mail correspondents from people who were either in the audience that day or who heard the audio online after the conference. It lead directly to being asked to serve on the board of directors for Augsburg Fortress, an innovative publisher who’s making incredible strides as it adjusts to a changing marketplace – a professional development that has been valuable in its own right.

Needless to say, I was excited to be asked back – and thoroughly enjoyed the follow-up presentation that I gave. This year the ELCA video taped the presentation, and were gracious enough to share the video with me. For those who are interested, this year’s speech is included below.

Thanks again to the ELCA for sharing the recording. Those of us who make technology our living tend to spend gallons of digital ink complaining about the hordes who don’t get it. It’s to the ELCA’s credit that they are trying very hard to learn these new media, experiment, figure out what doesn’t work, and iterate. I never expected to sit in a position of leadership within the church – not least of all because it’s my “adopted” church (I was raised Catholic), but also because, well, church leaders were them, definitely not me. It’s humbling to be in a position to influence how those decisions are getting made.

I’m incredibly proud of what those in the audience have accomplished. Whether it’s Ning-based social networks focused on the liturgy, countless Facebook groups whose members number in the thousands, or the fact that more than one out of every 100 books available on the Kindle at launch came from Augsburg Fortress – the church is working hard to apply these modern technologies to fundamental challenges.

I’m looking forward to hearing from those who watch the speech… what did I miss?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Got Google Questions? We got answers.

Very excited to announce a project that I’ve been working on for the past several months (in addition to a few others…) – the Content Central blog and the updated Submit Your Content page. Both are intended to bring a bit more transparency to how we distribute content for content partners at Google, and help partners find the tool(s) they need to get better results from working with us.

Congrats to Don, who was instrumental in seeing this through. And major thanks to Steffanie, JL and April (none of whom have a blog I can link to, as far as I know – hint, hint) who brought much-needed focus to the project. Keep an eye on the blog, lots of good stuff is in the hopper over there.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

John McCain's dishonorable campaign

Another day, another breath-taking ad from the McCain campaign:

Go read the supporting evidence at McCain’s site; here’s the relevant portion:

The Full Text Of S.B. 99 Included Changes That Would Offer Sex Education To Children Beginning In Kindergarten. “Each class or course in comprehensive sex education offered in any of grades K through 12 shall include instruction on the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including the prevention, transmission and spread of HIV.” (S.B. 99: Illinois Senate Health And Human Services Committee, Passed, 7-4-0, 3/6/03, Obama Voted Yea)

Now I realize it’s been a while since I graduated from law school, so perhaps my ability to parse legislation is a tad rusty. But a clear reading of that sentence — really the only way to read that sentence — indicates that the legislation simply added the requirement insofar as they were already taking in a class. In other words: if (and only if) there was a Kindergarten class teaching sex ed (can anyone point out any curriculum where this was on the agenda? I’ll be stunned to see any link to any Illinois school where that’s the case; it sure wasn’t in Naperville), then that class simply needed to add language regarding HIV.

Put more simply: no class in Kindergarten? No HIV talk. The bill just toughened up existing sex ed to make sure it was more effective. You know, so that kids might not, um, get pregnant and stuff.

But that’s an entirely separate discussion.

Why was Kindergarten even mentioned? As Hilzoy points out, it was because Barack felt that age-appropriate education might help protect children from pedophiles. Hardly the “comprehensive sex education to kindergarteners” claimed by McCain.

Let’s not forget:

Monday, September 8, 2008

The truthiness of Sarah Palin's maverick credentials

Yesterday, the McCain campaign launched this new ad, titled “Original Mavericks”:

“She opposed the Bridge to Nowhere”, the ad’s voice-over declares. Which is pretty great. Except, well, she didn’t.

She lobbied in favor of the bridge, going so far as to campaign in the city where the bridge would have terminated, and proudly displaying her support by sporting a “Nowhere, Alaska” t-shirt:

[caption id=”“ align=“alignnone” width=“278” caption=“Sarah Palin Nowhere, Alaska T-shirt”]Sarah Palin Nowhere T-shirt[/caption]

Caught in the lie, the McCain campaign now points out that, well, she didn’t really oppose it from the beginning, but she’s totally the one who killed it. Only that’s not true either.

Even richer? After having earmarked $200m+ from federal taxpayer money to pay for the bridge to nowhere, she petitioned Congress to keep the money even though they were not going to build the bridge.

And guess what? She got to keep it. More than $300 for every man, woman and child in Alaska. For a bridge that never got built.

Lest you think this is an aberration, as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, she took a town with no debt and left it with nearly $20m in debt – or over $3,000 per resident. Best of all, however, is her pride in obtaining several federal earmarks:

[caption id=”“ align=“alignnone” width=“391” caption=“Palin brags of earmark success”]Palin brags of earmark success[/caption]

Last note on those earmarks: they were opposed by none other than the Original Maverick Himself, John McCain:

In 2001, McCain’s list of spending that had been approved without the normal budget scrutiny included a $500,000 earmark for a public transportation project in Wasilla. The Arizona senator targeted $1 million in a 2002 spending bill for an emergency communications center in town — one that local law enforcement has said is redundant and creates confusion.

McCain also criticized $450,000 set aside for an agricultural processing facility in Wasilla that was requested during Palin’s tenure as mayor and cleared Congress soon after she left office in 2002.

What else is there to say?

Update: TalkingPointsMemo has a nice video response to this, with even more details:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Google at the conventions

Sarah Lai Stirland has a nice piece has a good piece over at Wired about what we’re going to be doing in Denver and in St. Paul at the Democratic and Republican conventions. I’ve been working on plans for the Democratic convention for months, and it’s hard to believe we’re just a few days away. One of the things we’re working hard on is making it possible for those who can’t be at the conventions to follow along online; I’ll post later in the week some links to gadgets and URLs that’ll get you started.

Monday, August 18, 2008

McCain and the Cross

Keep an eye on this: Andrew (and others) are poking around McCain’s cross anecdote, and so far can find no reference to it (not in a prior retelling of McCain’s Christmases in captivity, not anywhere before 1999 when it appeared in Faith of My Fathers).

If this has legs — that is to say, if McCain lied about an apparently transformative experience in captivity and exploited others’ faith in an attempt to curry favor with the Evangelical community — it would be a profoundly stupid move. Hillary’s comments about sniper fire in Bosnia were dumb, but ultimately harmless — they just showed her trying to maximize political gain by showing how tough she was under fire (literally, in that case).

My first reaction when I heard the story retold on Saturday night was that it was a great story, and I was puzzled about never having heard it before. Seems like the kind of thing that should have been indelibly connected to his public life as a candidate — and perhaps I’d just missed it (admittedly, I don’t follow him as closely as I follow Barack). But something here doesn’t add up. (As I’m writing this, Andrew finds further evidence it’s not McCain’s story — he first told it as if it happened to someone else.)

If he’s lying about this, it makes it extremely hard for him to use his captivity as a proxy for his character, faith and duty to country. Which is why it would be so dumb to embellish… but he’d hardly be the first politician to fall victim to that trap.

Time will tell…

Update: Andrew’s most recent post on this more or less puts this story to bed:
Day said “the only friendly thing the [guards] ever did was hit me on the leg instead of on the head.” But, according to Day, McCain wouldn’t condemn them all, telling the other men of the occasional act of decency he’d witnessed from his captors. Day says McCain told him how one of those guards had “made a cross with his foot and wiped it out.”

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Could it be... Hillary?

Like everyone else, I’ve wasted a ton of cycles wondering who Barack’s VP choice would be. For a long time, I’ve thought Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer — governor in a red state, fluent in Arabic, farmer, lived in Saudi Arabia for years — was a great off-the-radar pick. But picking him — or Tim Kaine, Kathryn Sebelius, or Tom Vilsack — would likely result in a loud, nation-wide “Who?”

And that’s not what Barack needs. Other front-runners bring as many negatives (Biden’s loose lips, Gephardt’s boring, Richardson’s got some Clinton problems of his own, etc.) as they do support, and what support they do bring is lukewarm among your average voter. (Is there really a Biden groundswell coming? I doubt it.)

What’s the most dramatic, news-worthy, guaranteed-to-bring-votes VP nominee Barack could name?

Much as it pains me to say, I think there’s just one name who fills the bill.


Not really sure how I feel about that — but the more I’ve thought about it over the weekend, the more it feels possible. And just a week ago I told a friend I’d be stunned if she were the pick… now I’m not so sure.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Blog? What blog?

Even I will acknowledge the irony of being the guy who has proclaimed — for years — that anyone who says they don’t have time to blog is lying, lazy, or both. So what’s my excuse? My last post was over a month ago. I don’t think I’ve ever gone that long between blog posts since starting this blog nearly seven years ago.

Let’s see. For starters, I’m still making a fair number of comments in two places: my Google Reader shared items (the Notes feature is the killer feature I’d been waiting for) and Twitter. And for the smattering of other content I create (Flickr, in particular) you can always get the aggregated, auto-updated list of stuff over at FriendFeed.

But the lack of blog posts is a combination of factors: the ease with which I can dash off a quick comment on Twitter or in Google Reader means that I have less need to compose more fully-formed thoughts on the blog. I tend not to write too much about Google-specific matters, and I’m not all that interested in breathlessly covering the latest tech news. On the politics front, my strong support of Barack doesn’t translate into a need to pontificate on why I support him – I think anyone who’s read more than a few posts here has a pretty good sense of why I support him and would have a hard time supporting Sen. McCain.

And, of course, there’s the easy cop-out: I’ve been busy.

Quick update on what I’ve been up to, for any who care: I recently took over as the content lead for Google Product Search (formerly known as Froogle). We are a lean team within the content partnerships group responsible for ensuring that PS has all of the merchants and product listings included, and that the product team has all the info they need to continue to innovate. It’s a great challenge, I love the team, and I’m really enjoying ramping up on something entirely different.

In addition, I’ve been working for months on our partnership with the Democratic Convention. (We’re an “official provider” to both the Democratic Convention and the Republican Convention.) That means I’ll be in Denver (working, I promise!) ensuring that a variety of Google products are used to help make the convention more interactive and inclusive. I’m stunned that I get to indulge my habit (politics) while “working” — to say I’m lucky would be an understatement.

I’ll be sure to have a number of updates once I get to Denver, and will be posting photos to Flickr and  Picasa. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

How Twitter and Google Earth Saved the 4th of July

When I say “saved 4th of July”, I really mean, “saved me from disappointing my children.” Which, as any parent would readily understand, means exactly the same thing.

We live in a new development in San Ramon (Windemere), and we didn’t move in until late July last year. Since my daughter needs to be in bed by 7 or so, having the whole family out to see the fireworks around 9:30 wasn’t really an option. I knew San Ramon had a pretty big fireworks show, but I had no idea whether we’d be able to see the fireworks from our house. As the bird flies, they’d be just 4 miles away or so… but between us and the launch site were at least two ridges.

It occurred to me that Google Earth might be able to solve this dilemma. I got the location of the fireworks (Bollinger and Alcosta), and navigated there in Google Earth. Just one problem: how tall do fireworks detonate?

I tried a couple Google searches, but the obvious attempts resulted in lots of fireworks regulations for home use, ads for fireworks, etc… not what I was looking for. So I asked my Twitter followers. Within a few minutes, I had replies from Sean, Julio and John. (John’s clearly a better Google searcher than I am. Please don’t tell anyone at work.) I love Twitter.

So, back to Google Earth. I added a polygon with an elevation of 300m at that location:

End result was a nice tall rectangle right at that spot:

For the last step, I needed to go to my house in Google Earth, enable terrain mode, and then look in the direction of the fireworks to see if I could see the polygon:

Sure enough, it looked like I’d be able to see the fireworks! (For those wondering: the satellite images of our new development are a couple years old.) Sure, they were a couple miles away, and maybe one out of four blasts happened behind the ridgeline… but the bottom line was that the boys got to see their fireworks, and Becca got to sleep (saving us all from 5th of July “fireworks” during the day).

Yep, I’m a nerd.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

McCainonomics - I'm going to be RICH

I know candidates tend to say the darndest things on the campaign trail (can you say cling? I knew you could!), but John “doesn’t really understand economics“ McCain’s latest foray into fiscal conservatism is a doozie. Kicking off his Last Economist Standing week, he explained how he’d balance the budget in his first term:

The McCain administration would reserve all savings from victory in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations in the fight against Islamic extremists for reducing the deficit. Since all their costs were financed with deficit spending, all their savings must go to deficit reduction.

More on this incredible policy announcement here and here.

Let me try and figure this out: after the Bush administration maxed out the country’s credit cards, President McCain would win the war (w00t!) quickly, and use the debt we’re not incurring (in McCainonomics, this is called “savings”) to balance the budget.

Now, I went to law school because there was no math involved. But is that really how it works? Because, if so, I’d like to make an announcement: effective tomorrow, Wednesday, July 9, I am leaving Google and will be purchasing Yahoo. Not shares of Yahoo, but Yahoo. How could I possibly afford to to buy Yahoo when Microsoft couldn’t? Glad you asked: the savings from not buying Google will more than cover my purchase price.

Next up? Microsoft. (Which I’ll pay for by not buying IBM, of course.)

See how easy this is? McCain’s a genius.

Zemanta Pixie

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

You need to read Cory Doctorow's Little Brother

A couple weeks back, my friend Mike Marusin from Naperville updated Twitter that Cory Doctorow would be appearing at Andersen’s Bookstore in my old hometown, Naperville, IL, for a book signing. He’d just published Little Brother, and I was jealous that Mike got to meet Cory. I’ve long been an admirer of Cory’s, and a few days later I stopped by Cory’s site to check it out.

Imagine my shock to find that I could download all of Cory’s books and short stories for free, pre-formatted for ebook readers. That meant I was able to grab a copy and throw it on my Kindle… which I did, but was in the middle of reading White House Ghosts (yes, I’m a junkie) so I forgot about it. I had some time on Sunday afternoon, so I pulled out the Kindle and started Little Brother. I finished it last night, and it was spectacular.

I’ve seen other reviews peg it as a young adult novel, which I think is a load of crap. It’s a good story, pure and simple. That its protagonist happens to be a 17 year-old is immaterial, I think, to the target audience. Anyone who wants to know more about the technology shaping our society should read the book – and Cory does a great job of explaining complex issues (cryptography, hacking, open source software, tunneling, to name a few) in ways that non-techies will be able to appreciate. (I’ve seen a couple reviews knock him for these explications, suggesting it drags the narrative down… I disagree. If you’ve ever hung out with an obsessive, talented geek who is spectacularly good at this stuff, you’ll know they can spend hours explaining what they’re working on. The only difference with Cory is that his explanations often make sense to the uninitiated.)

The book is a fast read, and it’s a great ride. Cory nails the technology, the politics are spot on, and the implications about our growing surveillance society are laid out in an uncomfortable progression that you’ll want to give thought to. I told Robin last night that if I’d read this book as a teenager, it would have changed my life: Marcus (the main character) is a remarkable kid, and I have no doubt that I would have aspired to his blend of political commitment and technical mastery.

If you spend any time thinking about politics and technology (and if you don’t, what in God’s name are you doing hanging out at this blog?!), you’ll want to get yourself a copy of Little Brother.

A postscript: as I noted, Cory gives his books away for free. He’s also a full-time author, leading some to wonder why the hell he encourages people to download his books for free. From his intro:

For me — for pretty much every writer — the big problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity (thanks to Tim O’Reilly for this great aphorism). Of all the people who failed to buy this book today, the majority did so because they never heard of it, not because someone gave them a free copy. Mega-hit best-sellers in science fiction sell half a million copies — in a world where 175,000 attend the San Diego Comic Con alone, you’ve got to figure that most of the people who “like science fiction” (and related geeky stuff like comics, games, Linux, and so on) just don’t really buy books. I’m more interested in getting more of that wider audience into the tent than making sure that everyone who’s in the tent bought a ticket to be there.

Ebooks are verbs, not nouns. You copy them, it’s in their nature. And many of those copies have a destination, a person they’re intended for, a hand-wrought transfer from one person to another, embodying a personal recommendation between two people who trust each other enough to share bits. That’s the kind of thing that authors (should) dream of, the proverbial sealing of the deal. By making my books available for free pass-along, I make it easy for people who love them to help other people love them.

Now here’s a particularly cool twist: Cory points out that many readers, after enjoying the free ebook, ask him if they can send him some money. He doesn’t want that – to do would be to encourage people to bypass his publisher, which he doesn’t want. Instead, he keeps a list running of librarians who need copies, and he invites readers to contribute copies to those schools/libraries.

I just bought four and had Amazon send them on their way… now 3 schools and 1 public library will have a copy of a book I think is critical for younger kids to read, and hopefully be inspired by. How cool is that?

I’ll repeat what I said four years ago: Cory Doctorow is a genius.

Zemanta Pixie

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Helping my 6 year-old learn to read

Long-time readers of this blog may remember the less-than-smooth toddler years my son Robby enjoyed. There were the febrile seizures (now outgrown, thankfully), the strabismus in his left eye requiring eye surgery in both eyes, and the speech and developmental delays that were thankfully diagnosed early (and for which he received regular speech and physical therapy). Compared to the more extreme situations many parents have faced, we considered ourselves quite lucky – and having recently completed kindergarten here in San Ramon, we’re quite proud of his progress. (Particularly on the speech: he was briefly in speech therapy here, only to be told after a month or so that he was sufficiently progressed that he no longer needed ongoing therapy.)

Every child is different, and the fact that his older brother was reading fluently by the middle of kindergarten was not in and of itself troubling. But we knew that entering first grade without reading comfortably would make first grade more stressful for him – so this morning I set out to see if I could find a good computer-based aide to help him read. (Tutoring was going to be tricky – we have a lengthy trip back east next month that’ll have the kids out of town for almost a month – so that seemed to be a non-starter.)

I quickly found two web-based solutions – ClickN KIDS and Starfall. The former was a sponsored link at Google in my early queries; the latter showed up in a couple blog posts I found from teachers talking about various in-class tools they used.

ClickN KIDS is $60 for one student, but it gave us a couple sample lessons, which I let Robby try. The interface was quite straightforward – it’s a Flash-based app, which means that we can do the lessons from anywhere we have a browser. (Given next month’s trip, this was a huge plus over installed software, which I’d have to install on multiple computers.) It acts as more of a self-guided program – which I like not because I don’t want to help Robby, but because I want him to learn to use the computer without me (or his oh-so-helpful brother!) guiding him along. We read to Robby quite a bit, and I wanted this to be something he could do on his own and feel a sense of accomplishment with.

Starfall, it turns out, was what Ricky used in his kindergarten. It’s free, but seems to work best in a teacher-led (or parent-led) environment. Early interactions were good – Robby enjoyed the stories and did well at the tests. We may refer to it occasionally as additional material, but ultimately I chose to sign up for ClickN KIDS instead.

What sold me on ClickN KIDS were a couple things: the lesson-based interface gives Robby discrete tasks to accomplish, and each one focuses on progressively more advanced phonics, sight words and letter combinations (the program goes from K-3rd grade levels). And it gives me a comprehensive report to show how he’s doing individually and compared against all users on the system, along with indications for each lesson of particular words or sounds that he struggled with.

He’s already done 3 lessons today – and he loves it. I’ll report back after we’ve been at it for a couple weeks to see how much progress he’s made – but I’m pretty optimistic so far.

BTW – if you’re interested, you can get $10 off the sign-up (and they’ll give me $5 too, for what that’s worth) if you use my e-mail address ( as your promotion code.

Anyone else have recommendations for computer-based reading programs? Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments.

Zemanta Pixie

Friday, June 27, 2008

Illinois campaigns: stop spamming me

I’ve lost count of the number of campaigns who’ve added me to their mailing list in the last year, but it’s hitting a crescendo and I’ve grown tired of the countless e-mails I’ve sent asking to be taken off of their lists. Only one of the campaigns so far is using a real e-mail distribution service (like Constant Contact, for instance) – every other one just sends a blast e-mail with no indication of how to be removed.

The first few I ignored, recognizing that as a former party chair in the state I was bound to be on some lists. But by winter I’d grown mildly curious: where were these guys getting my address? I’d keep making it clear I didn’t live in Illinois, I’d keep asking to be removed, and sometimes they’d acknowledge receipt (not often) and remove me. Too often my e-mail went unanswered, and I’d get the next randomly-timed e-mail blast from them, repeating the cycle.

If this were one or two campaigns I’d let it slide. But it’s growing – I estimate at least half of the Congressional races in Illinois have added me to their list. Where are they getting my name from? My blog is linked to from Rich Miller’s influential site – and they are apparently spamming everyone on that list. (Three of the campaigns have admitted this is where they got my name from; no clue if the others are following suit, but it sure fits the pattern.)

This raises a couple thoughts: first, these guys shouldn’t be spamming everyone on someone’s blogroll. Reach out. Offer to introduce the candidate, host a bloggers conference call, or forward some info that appears related to something that I care about. Impersonal spam is bad. Blank e-mails with Word docs attached (Press Releases!) are worse. I understand that they’re under pressure, everyone’s talking about Barack’s success online and translating that to “I gots to get me some blog action” but good God: is it really so much to ask to put 10-15 minutes worth of time into thinking this through?

When I left Illinois I was cautiously optimistic about where things were headed. The Democratic Party in DuPage County is stronger than it was when I left; Bowen ran a great race for Bill Foster in the 14th and won Denny Hastert‘s old seat. That tall guy with the funny name’s running a pretty good operation out of Chicago. But if the stream of spam in my inbox is any indication, the state of online campaigning at the Congressional level in Illinois is stuck circa 1998.

Here’s some free advice, guys. Talk to your constituents. If you have some bloggers in your district (chances are you do), engage them. Meet them for coffee. Call them. Invite their feedback on what the candidate should be doing. (Bonus tip: Listen to what they say! Their ears are often closer to the ground than yours.) If you’re doing something noteworthy online, take time to explain how it’s worthy of attention. (Second bonus tip: attaching Word docs to your e-mail is a near guarantee that no matter how innovative you think your online efforts are, they aren’t. No, really.) Don’t add people to a distribution list without giving them an option of being removed. Don’t send an e-mail without including a way to automatically remove themselves from the distribution. (Yeah, yeah: you’re a non-profit and CAN-SPAM doesn’t apply to you. But just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly annoying. And I’m pretty sure the “Getting Elected for Dummies” book doesn’t have a chapter about how annoying voters leads to earning their vote.)

And please, please, please. Take me off your list. I’m not naming names this time. Can’t promise I won’t be so aggravated that I’ll resist the urge a second time.

Zemanta Pixie

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Wii Fit is a hit in the Klau house

Wii Fit

Image via Wikipedia

Thanks to Naperville buddy Mike Marusin, we’re the proud owners of a new Wii Fit. We hooked it up last night, and I have to say: big win. The yoga is surprisingly effective – this coming from a guy who would never even imagine trying yoga. (I guess if they could find a way to make tofu blink I’d consider eating it. But that’s another matter.)

We’ve loved the Wii since we got it 18 months ago. And I’m amazed at how effectively they’ve catered to the various family interests: the 6 and 8 year olds are huge fans of Lego StarWars (both the Game Cube and Wii versions); I love Guitar Hero III and Wii Sports, and now Robin has her very own favorite. (Though I confess that the competitive instincts in me make me want to one-up Robin, leading to some pretty hysterical competitive yoga scenarios. Which I think isn’t reallyt he point of yoga. But I could be wrong.)

Kids haven’t had a go at the Wii Fit yet, but will probably get set up on it once school’s out this week.

BTW, saw Fred Wilson’s positive comments about Zemanta and decided to give it a look. If I understand what’s going on, it’s evaluating my post in real time, auto-tagging posts based on a textual analysis of what I’m writing (see the tags associated with the post), and giving me a gallery of images, blog links and contextual links (to Wikipedia, Amazon, IMDB, etc.) to enhance the post. Early impression: whoa.

Zemanta Pixie

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Senior advisors from both campaigns are confirming a series of Town Hall meetings across the country. Said Sen. Clinton of the plan, “As Congressman Paul and I both continue our quixotic quest for the already-decided nominations of our parties, we felt it important to let the American people see how narcissistic and counterproductive our campaigns had become.”

No word on when the Clinton/Paul Town Hall meetings will begin, but all signs point to the series continuing indefinitely.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I'm a switcher

I don’t know whether this is a record of any kind, but the last Apple computer I owned was an Apple ][+ in 1982. Here I am 26 years later, about to switch from my trusty ThinkPad to a MacBook Pro. This feels like a divorce – I love ThinkPads, have used them exclusively since 1999 – but my love of ThinkPads does not equate to a love of Windows.

Ultimately this switch comes as I’ve finally realized just how much time I spend grappling with Windows. Long reboots, inconsistent behavior resuming from standby, sluggish response times, I could go on.

Over the last two years, I’ve moved almost everything I do to the browser. I moved from Outlook to Gmail, from Word/Excel to Google Docs. Still, I ridiculed my co-workers. And I don’t mean teased, I mean ridiculed. I gave them endless amounts of shit for playing with a Mac. Serious computer users used ThinkPads.

When FeedBurner was acquired, we were given the choice: did we want a ThinkPad or a Mac. Like that was even a question! A ThinkPad, of course. (Making it my 10th ThinkPad in as many years.) But then a crazy thing dawned on me about a month ago: save a few apps that I used on my PC (TiVo Desktop, for instance), almost nothing that I use on a regular basis was PC-specific. After my office-mate switched, my defenses started crumbling.

The 11 minute reboot, increasingly sluggish resumes from standby, and overall slow system responsiveness convinced me that it was time to ditch Windows. (A few hours with Vista at the in-laws convinced me that I definitely didn’t want to stick with Windows any longer.) Yesterday I finally bit the bullet – and less than 24 hours, IT had a shiny new MacBook Pro waiting for me. It’s clear I have some learning to do – but already I can tell that this is a long-overdue switch. I will gladly put up with all the abuse that’s sure to follow from my co-workers who I’ve mercilessly teased over the years. Don, you have a standing invite to heap scorn in my direction… ;)

Now for some questions:

  • Why didn’t anyone tell me how pretty this OS is?

  • Am I the first to make the observation that the Mac just works? Because seriously, it just works.

  • Where’s the Registry on this thing? autoexec.bat?

  • It’s pretty here.

Consider this an open thread. What do you wish you knew when you switched? Any shortcuts? Which apps should I be installing? What cool stuff can I do with this OS that I couldn’t do on Windows?

Most importantly, if there’s a handy guide to how to show disdain for the poor, lost souls stuck on Windows, let me know. I promise, I’m a quick learner.

Obama campaign is hiring

My friends at the Obama campaign are eager (to put it mildly) to fill a number of tech positions. For those reading this blog, chances are that you have an interest in politics and you know something about technology. If you have some time on your hands and want to help ensure Barack is our next President, then drop me a line. I’ll put you in touch with the right folks.

Specific positions they’re trying to fill:

  • Web developers (PHP, CSS, AJAX, MySQL experience all pluses)

  • Online media buyer

  • Graphic designer

  • Search engine marketer

  • Ops director, Internet advertising

Drop me a line if you or someone you know is interested in helping out. Thanks.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Do you have a lower court case in need of judicial review?

If so, Tom Goldstein would like to talk to you:

In chess, all that matters is the king

At Dulles the other night, the couple that sat down at the table previously occupied by the defense contractors saw my Barack Obama t-shirt and struck up a conversation. While they were enthusiastic about his candidacy, the husband wondered whether Barack could do well “in the states that matter” – i.e., California, New York, Pennsylvania, etc.

You have to hand it to Hillary – that people are still holding on to this line of argument indicates the degree to which public opinion can be shaped by an oft-repeated argument, no matter how little that argument makes sense. Will Barack win in California? Yes. A Democratic ham sandwich would likely beat John McCain in California in November. Ditto New York.

But Clinton’s argument goes deeper than that. It’s as if she’s trying to paint Barack as a lesser Democrat because he wasn’t able to win in those states. And that argument is simply nonsensical.

Dial back the clock to late 2006, early 2007. Barack and a close circle of advisers are looking at the primary calendar, the nominating process, and Hillary’s all-but-certain campaign. Several things become clear obstacles to Barack securing the nomination: Hillary will raise a boatload of cash. Hillary has near-100% name recognition. The primary and caucus calendar is accelerated – leading almost everyone to conclude that the race will be over by February 5 (Super Tuesday). The bulk of the party infrastructure (party leaders and elected officials) still has warm feelings for the Clintons (indeed, many of them came to their current position during Bill’s 8 years in office).

But they look closer, and they see a ray of light. If they can just get an early win and hold on through Super Tuesday, the DNC’s proportional delegate assignment means that no candidate can score a knock-out punch. Indeed, a surgical campaign that looks at how every delegate is assigned – and a marrying of message and ground operation to those delegates – means that maybe, just maybe, they could compete. To do that, they’d need to match her cash without any national fundraising infrastructure, execute a flawless campaign where it mattered most (ground operation) without any benefit of party machinery, and overcome a sizable gap in name recognition. It was still a longshot on par with Abraham Lincoln being the Republican party’s nominee in 1860 – but it was a chance.

Securing the nomination for President as a Democrat is a ridiculously convolted process. But the rules were established years ago, and both candidates agreed to abide by them in an effort to win the nomination. Barack Obama looked 18 months ahead, and plotted out a strategy by which he neutralized every one of her advantages, while he surgically acquired delegates regardless of the state in which they were located. The result? The Clinton campaign planned ahead to February 5, assuming they’d lock things up. Barack planned ahead to the convention, and not only won 12 straight contests after February 5, he raised $55m without attending a single fundraiser. It was his February performance – after Super Tuesday – that made the difference in this contest.

While the Clinton campaign continues to try and move the goalposts (she won the primaries or at least the big primaries, she won the big states or at least the ones without caucuses, she won more votes if you count the states that don’t count, she won the swing states so long as you don’t count Virginia or Colorado, she wins more old people, she wins more white people…), there is just one metric by which this contest should be judged: who has more delegates. Tonight, Barack Obama secured the absolute majority of pledged delegates. That he leads Hillary in superdelegates, votes cast, money raised, states won is secondary.

In chess, nobody cares how many pawns you take. Or whether you sacrifice the queen early. All that matters is who gets the king at the end. When you really want to win, you think several moves ahead, no matter how strong you think your opening moves might be. Barack and his team planned ahead and won. Hillary’s team is trying desperately to get you to focus on entirely irrelevant factors like pawns captured, how many knights are still on the board, or whose rook is better positioned.

Barack’s the nominee. And I think the method of his victory – the precision with which the strategy was executed, the utter lack of drama from his campaign to get us to this point – says volumes about the bold, strong and capable leader he will be when he’s in the Oval Office.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Overheard at Dulles

At the table next to me at Max & Erma’s in Terminal B last night at Dulles, I heard this voicemail left by a guy who is apparently with a defense contractor:

“Jim, hi. Meeting went well today, we’re still on track for next week’s presentation to the President, Vice President and the Joint Chiefs. The Joint Chiefs will like what they see. The President won’t have any idea what he’s looking at, but he’ll like the pictures. It’s the Vice President we have to be worried about, he’ll be all over this.”

Think about how much better of we’d be if we’d been able to hear that voicemail 8 years ago.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Your nominee

AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

This has always been my favorite photo of Senator Obama; I recall seeing the Ali print in the office during the 2004 campaign and for me it captures the thinker and the fighter in one shot.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Kindle hacks

I’m a week in with the Kindle, and I am thrilled with it so far. It’s a bit pricey – $399 – but Amazon got a lot right with this device. Initial reviews talked about form factor (several techies pronounced it ugly), price and Steve Jobs famously dismissed it pointing out that nobody reads anymore.

As far as form factor, the Kindle comes with a leather cover which makes the Kindle feel very much like a conventional book. It’s not particularly heavy – it feels substantial without weighing as much as a hardback book.

I love that the books I download are fully searchable – I just read Stephen King’s latest (Duma Key), and at a plot development with a particular character, I couldn’t recall a detail about the character. Searched on his name, went back to the page that talked about the character, and then flipped right back to where I’d been. It’s a minor point, but lots of little points add up.

Much has been made of the bundled “WhisperNet” – not wifi, but built-in broadband wireless. Not only can you shop wherever you can get a cellular connection, but any book (currently more than 110,000) can be downloaded to the Kindle in under a minute.

Battery life is great – even with heavy wireless usage (browsing the store, using the built-in browser) you’ll go several days without needing to recharge. Without heavy wireless usage, you can get 5+ days between charges.

Here are some things I didn’t know about the Kindle when I got it, which I’ve found quite useful:

  • Attachment conversion/delivery. Your Kindle not one but two e-mail addresses. The first ( allows you to e-mail files that are converted to the Kindle format and then delivered wirelessly to your device in just a couple minutes. You’ll get charged a dime per conversion/delivery. For e-mail newsletters which publish in PDF (or Word), you could subscribe your Kindle’s e-mail address for delivery direct to your Kindle. Long PDFs, lengthy Word files, etc. – now you can read them easily on your Kindle instead of on your computer screen. (I can’t imagine reading 100+ page files on my PC at one sitting – the Kindle, on the other hand, is no different than reading a paperback book.) The second e-mail address is – instead of converting and delivering the file to your Kindle, it’ll convert it and e-mail it back to you, where you can sync it over the included USB cable. You’ll avoid the $.10 delivery fee, but you need to manually copy the file over. (PDF conversion is claimed to be ‘experimental’ – but several PDFs I’ve e-mailed have worked perfectly.) To prevent spam, you must explicitly whitelist senders so that no unauthorized content is sent to your device.
  • eBook compatibility: If you’ve got sensitive docs and don’t want to e-mail them to Amazon for conversion, you can download Mobipocket’s eBook Creator software for free. It will create a Kindle-compatible file that you can drag to the Kindle over a USB cable. I tested it out with a couple contracts in Word format, and the formatting was perfect.
  • Google Maps. Yeah, I’m a sucker for a simple Google integration… but check this out: while in the Kindle’s (somewhat limited) browser, click Alt+1. That’ll use the built-in broadband model to get your location and plot it on Google Maps. Alt+2 will get you gas stations nearby, and Alt+3 will get you nearby restaurants.
  • When reading, if you’d like to know what time it is, hit Alt+T. In the lower left corner you’ll get the time… and in a quirky twist, you won’t get the numbers. It’ll say something like “Twenty-two till Eleven”.
  • Newspapers and Magazines. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The Atlantic and many others are available. Magazines are in the $1-2/month range, newspapers range from $5-15/month. For newspapers, the Kindle downloads the full contents overnight, so when you’re off to work you have the entire electronic edition of the paper ready to go. (Some papers are more complete than others from what I can tell.)
  • All first chapters are free. Similar to browsing in a bookstore, you can download the first chapter of any book in about 20 seconds. Read the chapter, decide if you like it, and if you do, a purchase is less than a minute interruption before you can go to chapter two. Smart.
And I have a few things for my Kindle wishlist. In no particular order:
  • Better browser. While the browser supports javascript, it doesn’t handle pages with sophisticated layouts. Mobile pages work great, but I really want to see Google Reader in a browsable interface. (The mobile G Reader interface gives me just headlines, and requires multiple clicks to browse multiple stories… I’d prefer an interface closer to the existing G Reader interface.)
  • Better conversion of formatted docs. While text formatting translates pretty nicely, tables, images and heavy layout can get borked when displayed on the narrower and shorter Kindle display. Given that the iPhone has pretty well nailed dynamic resizing of browser pages, I figure this is a doable thing… but I’ll readily confess I’m in way over my head in terms of identifying the work involved. I just know that the end result – better fidelity in the display of the original doc – would be welcome.
  • Blogging My Clippings. I think I’m going to use the highlighting/clipping features of the Kindle. (You can flag passages by highlighting them, or annotate pages by typing in your own comments in the margin.) Brilliantly, Amazon syncs these clippings up to the cloud – Amazon’s servers – making them readily accessible in your account. I’d love to experiment with this feature by posting these clips to a reading blog – what a great way to share your thoughts about a book with a broader audience!
  • Group collaboration. I originally thought about this in the context of work – if co-workers had a Kindle, it’d be great to see their markup of a doc while I looked at it (similar to Word’s native Track Changes feature, for example). But I see equal (actually, possibly greater) value in this for book clubs or classrooms: if you and a small group of others are reading a book together, the Kindle could easily aggregate everyone’s comments and make those part of the text. Given the Kindle’s always-on Internet access, this could sync up throughout the day/week, and give users a great way to share their thoughts while reading, making subsequent discussion more fruitful. (Hell, Amazon could even insert themselves into the middle of this: for a few bucks a month, a virtual book club service that brings together buyers of the same book?)
  • Backlight. This is probably a non-starter given the e-ink display, but a way to read the Kindle in low light (or darkness – think a plane, bedroom, etc.) would be a nice improvement. For the time being, Amazon’s recommending standard book lights… which I may look into if I find I’m reading a bunch at night.
Bottom line, Amazon’s got a winner with the Kindle. The price point is likely confining them to early adopters like me and folks for whom $400 is little more than an indulgence… it seems like they’ll need to find a way to get the price down in the sub $200 range ($149 would be even better) . And the frequently updated content (particularly newspapers) should be cheaper… Amazon might want to underwrite the cost. After all, the more dependent I am on the device as my morning/evening reading device, the more likely they are to get me to make the impulse book purchase.

What are you waiting for? Pick one up, I think you’ll like it. And if you buy from that link, I’ll get a few free books for the Kindle.


Update: Scott Simpson suggests that perhaps the Kindle is just what we’ve been waiting for to make reading uncool again. Noted without comment.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

While in DC...

… my son visited the Supreme Court. Since he and his brother were out of class for a week, they needed to do an independent study which they would then present to their class. Ricky went to the Supreme Court, and built this PowerPoint presentation all by himself (OK, I helped with the template – but that’s it)…

I’m pretty proud. Particularly when he showed me all his PowerPoint hacks (yeah, they’re learning PPT in second grade).


Friday, April 25, 2008

The Kindle is Here

The Kindle showed up today, and it is terrific. I’ll be publishing a more detailed review after I’ve had a couple days to play with it. But my initial reactions:

  • the file-to-Kindle conversion service ($.10 for over-the-air, or free for file attachment by e-mail) is excellent. I’ve already added a number of PDFs from my hard drive for viewing on the Kindle, with mostly good results (some PDFs with complex formatting ended up getting a bit messed up).

  • downloads over the air are lightning-quick… not surprising, given the relatively small file sizes and straight-forward mark-up.

  • like Ernie, I will definitely be reading more books now.

More later. Really excited to finally get my hands on this.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pennsylvania Prediction

Clinton will win today in Pennsylvania, by 7 or 8 is my guess. Let’s call it 54-46. But the delegate count will be closer, and I think Barack stays within 10 delegates of her. Which will mean that she’ll be no closer to overcoming his delegate lead, and it will be all but impossible for her to overcome his popular vote totals.

And the agonizing campaign will continue.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Welcome to Cody!

Nearly nine months ago, our beloved dog Tioga died. It was just a week after we moved to California, and we missed him terribly.

At the end of last year, we started to feel ready for a dog in our house again. We reached out to the Northern California Golden Retriever Rescue group to see whether we could adopt a Golden who had been abandoned. After one false start, we got a call earlier this week that there was an 18 month old Golden who needed a home. Today we drove to Mountain View to meet Cody, and after determining that he was as personable as we could have hoped, we signed the paperwork and brought him home.

The kids (well, the boys – Becca’s not so sure she enjoys any competition for attention, but we’ll get her past that!) adore him, and he’s spent much of the afternoon and evening getting to know his new home.

Here are a couple pictures:


And yes, he’s on Dogster.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The April Fool's Day Joke That Almost Was...

Another oldie but goodie…

In 1997, Erik Heels and I created a fake law firm website (we were in the business of building law firm websites at the time). The firm we picked was that of Russell and Tate, the two characters played by Tracy Morgan and Tim Meadows of SNL in a few fake-commercials aired in ’96 and ’97. We thought the site was funny, it made the rounds among SNL fans, and that was that.

A couple years later, we revived Russell & Tate when we broke the staggering news that Visa bought the Internet and it was revealed that the multi-faceted firm of Russell & Tate was representing Visa in the transaction. Why Visa? Because, among other things, it wasn’t a publicly-traded company, so there’d be no claims of stock fraud if things got out of hand. We actually distributed the fake press release on, chosen because its TOS didn’t prohibit the distribution of fake news. Our fake press release was the most viewed press release on in 1999, possibly saying more about than our sense of humor. But I digress.

It was the following year that things got… well, interesting. We had registered, a misspelling of the popular site. We built a site that was a near replica of the “real” site, with one important difference: no matter what specialty you searched for, no matter what geography you included, produced just one result. You guessed it: that of Russell & Tate. Needless to say, the good people at Martindale-Hubbell (owners and operators of were not amused (though many others were, as you might imagine).

Fast forward a few months. News broke of the settlement between Microsoft and the Department of Justice. An intrepid reporter from Yahoo! Finance was eager to get the break on the story, and line up someone for an on-air commentary regarding the settlement. Off she went to, searched for anti-trust lawyers in San Francisco, and bingo! These Russell and Tate guys must be who the firm to contact. (Shocking that there’d be just one anti-trust firm in all of San Francisco, dontchathink?)

She sent an e-mail to the addresses (, listed on the firm’s “Contact us” page, and it immediately showed up in my inbox. Could we be on air later that morning to discuss the big break in the case?

If only I had known how to contact Tracy Morgan, something tells me he would have been up to the challenge… Sadly, I had to fess up to the embarrassed reporter that the site was fake, the law firm didn’t exist, and no, we couldn’t be on camera in an hour to discuss the anti-trust settlement.

(Bizarre postscript? Martindale-Hubbell, to whom we transferred ownership of, no longer owns Sheesh.)

The one where I punked the Vice President's Chief of Staff

While in law school, I worked at The Nature Company at the Mall of America on breaks. The store manager, Kathy, was a fellow political junkie who just happened to have been formerly engaged to Tony. Tony was at the time Vice President Al Gore’s scheduler. I went to law school in Richmond, Virginia – and when Kathy called to tell me she’d be in DC in April, I gladly accepted an invitation to tag along. I’d get a tour of the White House!

I showed up at the OEOB security gate, and was waived through. Remarkably, I was free to roam the halls of the OEOB. (I assume they do things a bit differently now.) Look! Warren Christopher! Hey – isn’t that Janet Reno?! For a 22 year-old who adored politics, it was too good to be true.

I found Tony’s office upstairs, and his first words to me (we’d never met) were, “Can you act?” I’m pretty sure my first answer was “No” (well, after lots of confused stammering), but he persisted. “Not act, so much as just ask questions and not laugh.” It was only then that I realized I was in the White House on April Fool’s Day. And that there was no saying “No” to Tony.

Tony and the rest of the staff had planned an elaborate prank: their boss, Jack Quinn (Al Gore’s Chief of Staff), was a big Utz Pretzel fan. I was to play the Utz Pretzel representative, there to inquire about Quinn’s love of all things Utz.

Into the Vice President’s Ceremonial Room I went to wait, until Jack Quinn was ushered in. Yes, it’s as imposing as it looks.

They had a script – 20 or more questions (the only question I remember: “Would you say peanut M&Ms are to President Clinton as Utz Pretzels are to Jack Quinn?” His answer: “Not many people know that President Clinton doesn’t like peanut M&Ms, so… no.”) designed to test even the most patient of men.

To his credit, he put up with the whole thing. Last thing I heard as his staff let him in on the joke: “Who was that?!”

And now you know why I’ll never work in Washington, DC.

(And Mr. Quinn, if you’re out there: sorry. Tony made me do it.)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Upgraded to WordPress 2.5

Drafting this new post in the WordPress 2.5, and I have to say that it’s the most impressive upgrade to date. Already a number of “minor” (no clue how much code it took) tweaks that make a big difference:

  • As soon as you start drafting the post, it auto-saves the post, updates the page to show you the permalink to the post and redraws the screen with context-sensitive buttons (preview, save, publish). It’s seamless and elegant… and all are nice usability enhancements. (For instance, in the rare cases when you need to know the permalink before you complete the post – having the permalink ahead of time is a great help.)

  • The media integration looks awesome – a powerful blend of file uploader and media manager. Click “add media” and you’re given the option of uploading a new file or browsing existing uploads. This is a huge improvement over past attempts at doing this.

  • I’ve finally gotten around to converting some categories (which I started using with Movable Type 4 years ago) to tags. I honestly don’t know if this matters or not, but it seems to be more lightweight and easier to manage as you compose a post. We’ll see. (If you’re already using WordPress, go to “Settings | Import | Convert Categories to Tags”. From there, pick the categories you want to convert, and click. Presto.)

  • If you’re using WordPress on your own server and you’re not using WordPress Automatic Upgrade, stop what you’re doing and install it. There have been times when I’ve gone weeks (in one case, I’m embarassed to admit, more than a month) before upgrading to the most recent version. It led directly to getting hacked, likely a result of a vulnerability in the older version.) Install the plugin, and every upgrade from there on in will take you all of 5 minutes and a half dozen clicks. Seriously, do it. You’ll thank me.

One thing that isn’t working for me, which I was really looking forward to: the plugin auto-updater. Whenever I click “upgrade automatically”, I get the following:

Fatal error: Cannot redeclare pclziputilpathreduction() (previously declared in /xxxx/yyyyyyy/public_html/tins/wp-content/plugins/wordpress-automatic-upgrade/lib/pclzip.lib.php:5421) in /xxxx/yyyyyyy/public_html/tins/wp-admin/includes/class-pclzip.php on line 5489

Anyone have any idea what that could be?

Overall, I’m really impressed. The upgrade was smooth and the interface enhancements are terrific. If I can get the plugin updater to work it’ll be a homerun.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Living green in California

Robin’s birthday is this weekend, and with the in-laws in town, it means we have babysitters. We’re going to do a quick trip up to Napa (it’s just an hour from our house) for a birthday dinner, a night sans kids, and a visit to a few wineries. Can’t wait.

The hotel is what is most intriguing: we’ll be staying at the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel, the first “green” hotel built in the state of California (it opened last month). Expedia had a $70/night sale which seemed way too good to pass up… and after reading about the hotel, I’m pretty excited to see it. I’ll report back after we make the trip.

Speaking of being green, I can’t remember if I mentioned that our house in California has solar panels. The builder (Lennar Homes) has made a big commitment to solar power in California, and our house is generating about 20% of its own electricity every day (news flash: it tends to be sunny here). On days that we actually generate a surplus of energy, it’s sold back into the grid at a dollar-for-dollar credit. The panels are also wired into the home’s network, which gives me real-time monitoring over the Internet of our home’s energy consumption (and production), which is helping us identify additional opportunities for conservation.

In other news, Google continues to be a leader in this space, which is gratifying. I drove one of our plug-in hybrid electric vehicles yesterday for the first time. I love that Google makes it so efficient to be responsible on this stuff: the shuttle makes my commute productive, which is a beautiful thing. When I’m on campus I have access to the RechargeIT PHEVs if I need them, and our solar panels generate a significant portion of our on-campus consumption.

Kermit was wrong. It is easy being green. (Sorry.)