Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Safer Toys

Right before Google bought FeedBurner, I was inspired to set up a site to try and help parents stay on top of which toys might be harmful to their children. The site is called, and the concept is simple: create a crowd-sourced site where parents can submit stories about harmful toys, or simply vote up those news items they thick deserve more attention.

But as I noted at the time, I had zero time after the acquisition. And now that I'm getting a sense of just how busy the Blogger gig is going to keep me, I have even less. :) I haven't touched the site in 18 months, so the site really isn't doing what it could.

I still want to see this site succeed. Anyone have any thoughts about how to put the domain (and, if appropriate, the app itself) to good use?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Looking for a job?

A couple weeks back, I indicated I was interested in adding a job board to my site to help out my friends who are currently looking for work. The suggestions that people provided me with in the comments and on Twitter weren't really satisfactory: most of the services I looked at seemed designed to either monetize the process (i.e., charge employers to list their job) or towards employers (streamlining the process of letting people upload their resume).

Here's the use case: I get calls from recruiters on occasion. I love my current job on Blogger, and have no interest in leaving Google. But I have a number of friends who are recently laid off, stuck in a crappy job, or otherwise eager to see what's available. All I really want to do is connect the two.

I'm going low-tech - I created a Google Group that you can join if you're looking for work. The membership is not shared - noone other than me can see the list, so your membership won't be visible to your current employer. :) Currently, messages are moderated - members can post, but I'll need to approve. This helps avoid situations where users mistakenly reply to the group (instead of privately), and also helps ensure that someone doesn't join with the purpose of spamming the group.

So... I'm hopeful this is useful, and helps some of my friends find work in a tough economy. If you're interested, go ahead and join.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Pinewood Derby success

The boys had their first experience with Pinewood Derby, and despite not having the fastest cars on the track, they definitely had some of the most stylish. Robby placed 2nd in his den for design, Ricky placed 3rd. :)

Not bad for a first year!
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Thursday, January 22, 2009

I, Barack Hussein Obama...

President Obama re-took the oath of office yesterday, due to an "abundance of caution" (per new White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs).

I have an idea for Macon Phillips, the White House Director of New Media: Barack should take the oath of office every day and put it on YouTube. Think about it - you could do themed oaths ("Today, in honor of the President of China who will be joining us this afternoon, I will give the oath of office in Mandarin Chinese." "Today is my daughter's birthday, and I am going to let Malia take the oath on my behalf." "Today's oath of office will be given by the 33rd Brigade Combat Team of the Illinois National Guard." "Today I've asked Chief Justice Roberts to repeat the oath from memory."), and it would get to the point where you couldn't imagine the oath spoken by anyone but Barack. Periodically, the White House could pick their favorite citizen oaths uploaded to YouTube, and the mash-ups of citizens taking the oath would go viral pretty quickly.

I realize President Obama doesn't exactly need help dominating views on YouTube, but I actually think this would be a fun recurring bit on the White House site.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Shovel-ready rail projects

My old friend Hiram Wurf has an absolutely awesome Google Map showing which projects around the country are "shovel ready" once the infrastructure stimulus bill passes. First, the map:

View Larger Map

Just a great example of how to use a Google tool to organize a set of data. Hiram used My Maps to build the map, and he told me this morning that a person testifying to the House Rail Subcommittee next week will be using this map (among other pieces of info) to show what can be done.

Kudos, Hiram. Nice work!

When will America become America?

In June, 2004, I posted the lyrics to "Become America" by The Call. It remains a favorite of mine - I think Michael Been does a wonderful job of capturing the mixture of patriotism and frustration that I felt throughout much of President Bush's term. Thanks to the iLike gadget, I added a clip of the song (not sure why only a clip - the other songs are full-length) to the site.

Re-reading the song, it reads differently to me. We're not there yet - but it feels like we've made progress. And that's a good thing.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What the inauguration means to me

We are one. Yes we can. Hope.

In a campaign known for its slogans, I find it hard to reduce my thoughts about President Obama inauguration to a few words. But if I had to choose, I'd have to start with my kids.

I suppose it was inevitable that I would look at my children's early years in a semi-political context: my oldest son was born on Super Tuesday in 2000. We went house-hunting in Naperville during George Bush's inauguration, with Ricky sleeping in the back of the rental car. Some of Robby's first words were the call/response of a chant for Howard Dean in a Labor Day parade in 2003.

When September 11 happened, I hoped our President would seize the opportunity to confront the threat but reinforce what makes us great. Sadly, he chose a different path. I had trouble articulating my dissatisfaction with President Bush, until I had a phone call with a Greg Siskind, a good friend and a well-known immigration lawyer. Greg had a client who'd been locked up. Spent weeks in government custody, without access to counsel - nevermind that he was a citizen. His crime? He was Muslim, and this was in the months following September 11.

For those who don't remember those days well, let's bring back President Bush's Attorney General, who spoke the following words before Congress:

To those who pit Americans against immigrants, and citizens against non-citizens; to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty; my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists – for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies, and pause to America’s friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil.

I've often gone back to those words, and to Greg's client. Attorney General Ashcroft all but accused millions of Americans (myself included) of supporting terrorists, and had the audacity to suggest that my faith in the Constitution was tantamount to treason. On the phone, Greg asked me a simple question, a question that dramatically changed my priorities. It led me to call Burlington, Vermont in 2002 and volunteer for a then-unheard of candidate running for President. Which, when his campaign ended in a scream in early 2004, led me to chair the local Democratic party. Soon after, many of the techies who had run the Dean campaign's web operation opened a consulting shop, and one of their first clients was a little-known State Senator in lllinois. Given my proximity to the candidate (they were in DC), they asked if I would be able to do some consulting. That resulted in me running Senator Barack Obama's campaign blog throughout his Senate race, and culminated in Robin and I hosting him at our house for a fundraiser.

About his client, and our troubled times, Greg asked me: "When our kids study this period of history in high school, what will we tell them we did?"

Every thing I've done in politics since that call can be seen through that prism. As the Bush Administration came to resemble less and less of what I thought I knew about our country, I held out hope that we were better than this. The Constitution - the bedrock on which we built this great nation - demonstrated that freedom came not from citizens who were expected to trust their government, but from a citizenry trusted by its government. Howard Dean earned my support when I learned of his early embrace of civil unions in Vermont and his vocal critiques of an administration led by evangelicals seeking to impose their interpretation of "faith" on the rest of the country. Barack Obama, running for US Senate, earned my support when he spoke out loudly against "dumb wars" and a foreign policy that acted out of fear, not reason. Whether it was running the local party, running for office, phone banking for candidates, marching in parades, fundraising, or hosting events with candidates: all of it was so that I could have an answer for my children when they looked back on these last eight years and asked, "What did you do?"

This. This is what I did. I, and millions of Americans, chose to see what could be. We saw our country for what it is: a beacon, a nation not afraid to reevaluate itself, not afraid to admit its mistakes. Most importantly, a country not afraid to hope. George Bush's America was deeply nervous: nervous that our Constitution wasn't strong enough to sustain us when we were attacked. Nervous that our fellow citizens couldn't be trusted without a wiretap to make sure they were being lawful. Nervous that if we failed to do something - anything - well, the bad guys would strike again.

No more.

When I chronicled my thoughts in the wake of September 11, I quoted FDR's famous words about what has often been called "The Greatest Generation":

“There is a mysterious cycle in human events.
To some generations much is given.
Of other generations much is expected.
This generation has a rendezvous with destiny.”

Eight years ago, I hoped our President was up to the task: "The fear, of course, is that the country would react to this external threat by dividing itself: casting blame, pointing fingers." Sadly, that's exactly what happened. Much is being asked of our generation - even more than in 2001, as President Bush compounded those demands by isolating our country, dividing the populace and eviscerating the Constitutional foundation on which the country was founded.

Robin and I will be watching Barack Obama take his oath of office this morning - from home, with our children. We planned to be in DC to celebrate, but as we looked at the challenge of getting a 6 and 8 year-old in and out of DC in freezing weather (the 3 year-old was going to stay with the in-laws), we realized that they'd likely not enjoy the moment as much as we'd want them to. Instead, we'll be warm, in our house, watching as the 44th President is sworn in. Though part of us wishes we were in DC, this feels like the right decision. I suppose I could have told Robin that I needed to go, to witness the event first-hand. But that would ignore the reality that I wouldn't have met Barack were it not for the kids, wouldn't have worked so hard over the last six years to change the path the country was on. To miss the chance to experience Barack's inauguration with the kids would be to miss the entire point.

The words I closed with back in September of 2001 seem just as appropriate today: "more than ever, it is critical that we lock arms, stand firm, and hold our heads high. Anything less is a victory for the fear that our enemy so desperately wants us to feel."

We are one.

Yes we can.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Fixing the screen resolution on my Comcast HD tuner

A couple weeks ago, Robin and I took a look at some of our bills and realized we were over-paying for several of our basics. We had TV and Internet through Comcast, and phone service with AT&T. By bringing the phone over to Comcast, we cut our monthly costs for the three services in half. We also got rid of the Comcast DVR in the bedroom - it was costing $15/month and as I'd mentioned on more than one occasion, I despised the DVR with every fiber of my being.

I had a Comcast HD tuner in the family room that we only used for On Demand - which, thanks to TiVo, we rarely used. So I took that tuner up into the bedroom, hooked it up to the TV, and we were all set.

Well, almost. Robin pointed out tonight that "faces seem to be sort of stretched" ever since I switched tuners. Sure enough, the screen resolution was off - even though we have an HD TV, the screen was showing up letterboxed. I clicked "Menu" on the Comcast remote, and found no settings that would change how the signal was sent to the TV. A little bit of Googling showed this site walking through changing the settings for the Comcast DVR (which in my case didn't apply, but the solution worked for me nonetheless).

In its eminent wisdom, Comcast hides things like, oh, screen resolution, in a hidden menu that's only accessible when the tuner is turned off. Yeah, I know.

So after you turn it off, you hit menu. (Get that? Turn it off in order to configure it.) Then look for screen resolution, and force it to 16:9. Now turn it back on, and presto!

Come to think of it, this makes me wonder whether my prior run-ins with the DVR were all because I failed to turn it off before using it. At the very least, it would have caused me less stress had it been turned off.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Collaborative playlist on the sidebar

I mentioned last night that you should "join" my site using FriendConnect, Google's service for adding social tools to sites. What I've enjoyed so far about FriendConnect is the way in which it makes public the individuals who hang out here. I don't have a huge audience, but those who do hang out tend to come back relatively frequently. In much the same way that Google Reader's sharing has connected friends of mine who previously didn't know each other, I see FriendConnect facilitating relationships among my readers that might not have otherwise been able to develop.

There is a bit of a challenge here, however: for a blog that's been around for more than seven years, a non-trivial number read the blog in their aggregator. Which means they never (or rarely) come back to the site. That's a discussion for another day.

In any event, I added the iLike gadget (if you have a site, go to your FriendConnect dashboard and click on "social gadgets") to the site. It allows you to add songs to my playlist -- provided that you've joined the site. See? There are privileges of membership. ;) You can find out more about the playlist gadget from iLike's blog. Neat idea.

Eager to see if people find this interesting. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Have you joined my blog?

I'm going to start playing around with my FriendConnect-enabled page, so if you haven't already, head to the site and join up.

Job board

One of the hardest things to hear from a friend is that they've lost their job. Doesn't matter if it's a lay-off, a personality conflict with the CEO, a start-up changing directions... I've lost count at the number of close friends who are either actively looking for a job or giving serious thought to changing their current situation.

I got a call this morning from a recruiter. I could not be happier in the product org, helping to build Blogger, so I generally indicate that I'm not interested at this time, but to please e-mail me some info about the position and I'll be happy to give it some thought.

In reality, I rarely get back to the recruiter. And I'm probably missing an opportunity to help some friends who might need that connection - the job may not be right but the recruiter might have other options to pursue. Which got me to thinking...

I want to add a job board of some kind to this site. Any time a recruiter contacts me looking for a recommendation, I want to post that job description to the board. Any time a friend tells me they're looking, I want to share their details with recruiters and employers who might need their skills. LinkedIn feels too passive for this, but maybe there's a way to make it work.

Other ideas I've given: a Google group that I can post to, which anyone can subscribe to (seekers and recruiters alike). I could take the RSS feed from the group and post it to the sidebar on the blog. Job board companies like job-a-matic, jobcoin, etc. all seem to charge potential employers to list the job. That's a nice model, but I'm not looking to monetize this: I want as little friction between the employer and the seeker, and charging the employers seems like it'd reduce the likelihood of getting their participation.

So... what say you? Any suggestions for how to scratch this itch? The best possible outcome would be for one or more of my friends to get the right job. Hope I can help.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Test post

Just downloaded "a-blogger" from the android market, an early Blogger client for Android.No label support, doesn't look look like text auto-correct or images are supported either. More soon.

Poker night

One of the things I miss about living in Illinois was the regular group of friends I had over to play poker. A wonderful byproduct of the never-ending basement finishing project was that I had room for a poker table. Every few months, I had a bunch of friends over, and usually lost money while having a great time.

Here in California, I finally got around to scheduling a poker night and invited a number of co-workers and neighbors. And two days later, Rick's second law of poker night was proven true: everyone on the distribution, once they accept the invitation, must immediately proceed to explain to everyone else how they barely know how to play poker.

Direct quotes from the e-mail thread:
"sounds like you will be taking the money from me."
"I haven't played in (many) years. But, after losing so much $$$ in 2008, why not lose a bit more to friends over beers."
"I'm not much of a poker player."
"I am a real novice at poker and know only the basic rules."
If the past is any guide, I'm going to lose money on Friday night.

The hilarity of spam (State Dept. edition)

Three years ago, I had a pretty funny run-in with a spammer with a sense of humor. Instead of just spamming people, he hacked a mailing list, and spammed the mailing list. What's funny about that? Everyone who replied replied to the mailing list, which meant that each complaint generated more complaints, and so on and so on. It really was rather hilarious.

Well, Secretary of State-designate Clinton might want to consider adding e-mail etiquette to the State Dept. training classes: diplomats aren't so (ahem) diplomatic when they're on the receiving end of a similar fiasco. The AP has the details.

$100 campaign contribution to any Senator who asks Senator Clinton about this during her confirmation hearing today.

Commencement Speaker: Me?

Got a call yesterday from the Dean of my law school, who was calling to let me know that the student committee responsible for picking a commencement speaker had asked to invite me. I'm more than a little blown away by this: it's an incredible honor, but it's also daunting (to say the least).

So while I give the Law School a day to figure out that they've made a terrible mistake, I'm genuinely interested (particularly from the lawyers who drop by here from time to time): what would you tell a graduating class of lawyers if you had the chance?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

LinkedIn company profiles

Earlier today, I had what I thought was a great idea for LinkedIn: publish the title distribution within a company. You know how start-ups and banks give VP titles to anyone with a pulse? I often wonder when I see someone's title whether they are in fact senior in the org and have a lot of responsibility, or if the fact that they're a "Executive Senior VP" is merely indicative of the fact that even the janitors are actually "General Manager, Sanitation Services".

Turns out LinkedIn already does this. I first checked Google, and wasn't surprised to see that we're a company full of engineers.

LinkedIn also shows you which companies employees came from who end up at Google. Not surprisingly, they often come from Microsoft:

And Yahoo:

Lots of interesting data in there. Wouldn't it be interesting if LinkedIn published similar data for schools (which employers tend to hire from which schools), and cross-referenced job titles with education/degrees held? I'll bet there's lots of data mining one could do in there.

Separately, LinkedIn's "recent hires" and "recent promotions and changes" are fascinating for what they say about each company.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Photoblogging from my Android phone

I've been having a lot of fun playing around with the G1 the company gave out as holiday gifts, and have found the camera is actually quite decent. It's a 3 megapixel camera - and in addition to making it a great barcode/QR code reader, it takes decent snapshots.

When I redesigned the blog the other day, changing which elements were on the page, updating overall look and feel, I decided I wanted to add a little more visual punch. I'm in the process of migrating from Flickr to Picasa for photo storage and sharing (I still owe Evan a post on why, I'll get to that), and Blogger has a nice Picasa widget that lets you show pictures from a particular Picasa album.

Once you install the Android Picasa app, uploading your picture to Picasa is as simple as selecting "Share" and then picking the album. As I was walking to my building this morning, I saw a cool milk truck:

Within a minute, the picture I'd taken from my phone was visible in the "My Photos" gadget on the sidebar.

Yes, I could have used the Blackberry Curve's built-in camera, but the combination of the resolution (I believe it was a .3 megapixel sensor) and the slow data speeds made it cumbersome and an exercise in extreme patience. The Android phone is quicker and better quality, which makes it a win in my book.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Bot-mediated reality

If you're looking for some background on the technology and thinking behind Daemon, this hour+ presentation Dan gave last summer is as good as it gets:

Have I mentioned Daemon is out now? Buy your copy today before it looks like you're just jumping on the bandwagon. :)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

QR Code Generator

If you were intrigued by today's post about creating a QR code for your blog, be sure to check out this site, which makes it easy to create QR codes for contact info, calendar events, geo locations, phone numbers, SMS messages, plaintext, or URLs. Slick, slick, slick.

Create a QR code for your blog

You may have heard that we were fortunate at Google to receive the Android phone (what T-Mobile calls the G1) as a holiday gift from the company. I was out the day they were distributed, so I didn't get a chance to play with the phone over the holidays, and instead picked mine up on Monday. I don't have a SIM card for the phone yet - still trying to decide whether I'll ditch the corporate Blackberry in favor of this device - but I've thoroughly enjoyed using it as a wifi device for the last couple days. (With wifi at work, on the shuttle home, and at home, the device does quite well as a browser/Twitter client/e-mail client.)

I'd seen a number of QR codes pop up on campus lately - at the entrance to meeting rooms, at the top of stair landings, etc. - and hadn't bothered to ask anyone what they were. Last night, while poking around on our intranet to see what internal apps I could install for my phone, I finally saw a reference to the QR codes: if you have the Barcode Reader app installed on your phone, the 3 megapixel camera built into the phone can scan and identify the QR code and do the right thing. In the case of the QR codes I'd been seeing around the office, they're URLs - which pull up a map of the building and show where I am.

So here's the cool part: the Google Chart API server can generate QR codes on the fly. Here's the QR code for my blog:
The URL is here:

Note that the last part of the URL is the address of my blog; swap out that URL for your own and you have your very own QR code! Documentation on the Chart API is here; have fun!

(BTW, these QR codes aren't limited to just the Google phone - there are QR code readers for the iPhone, Nokia phones and many others.)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Daemon is about to be a bestseller

Long-time readers of this blog will remember my enthusiastic support of a novel called Daemon. (See here for my original review, and here, here, and here for subsequent metions.) I've been holding off on writing this post for a while, so be warned: this will not be a brief post.

It's not enough to say that I loved Daemon: after reading it, I felt compelled to do whatever I could to make Dan Suarez successful. (The author originally published under the pseudonym Leinad Zeraus - Daniel Suarez in reverse.) I don't know how to explain it, exactly: I've read plenty of books where I've loved the premise, thrilled at the story, or enjoyed a clever new way of telling the tale. But Daemon was different. Dan had self-published Daemon, and was a systems consultant when he wrote Daemon in his spare time. That struck me as, well, wrong. I finished the book on the plane back from a vacation, turned to Robin across the aisle, and told her: "I need to make this guy famous."

Let's start with that ridiculous comment: I don't make people famous. I realize that. But that wasn't going to get in the way of doing something - anything - to chip in. Soon after my review, Dan and I began swapping e-mails and became friends. I introduced him to some other folks who I thought would like the book - and each time, their reaction was the same as mine: Where'd this guy come from? And how can we help?

Eric Olson loved it, and got copies to give out at Tech Cocktail. Steven Vore loved it. CC Chapman loved it. Jim McGee loved it. Matt Cutts loved it, leading to a number of his readers to buy copies and tell their friends. John Robb loved it, and introduced Dan to a few of his friends. Craig Newmark loved it and gave Dan a blurb for promotional materials. Somewhere in all of this, after a few months, things started to snowball. I shared it with a number of co-workers at Google, where it became something of an underground hit - I know of several dozen now who've read the book and swear by it. (Erica even bought a copy for every one in her department!) Eventually, a copy found its way to Stewart Brand (co-founder of The WELL, founder of the Long Now Foundation), who reached out directly to Dan.

Last spring, I got a note from Dan: did I still have an extra copy of Daemon lying around? It turned out that Wired was doing a story on Daemon, and the journalist needed a copy that day. Since it was self-published, there were no copies in the Bay Area at local bookstores. Dan sent a courrier to my house and we got a copy to the writer; the article that resulted is here.

A couple months later, I got an amazing e-mail from Dan: that morning, he'd signed a book deal with Dutton. Daemon was going from a self-published novel to a mass-market hardback release! And, though I couldn't tell anyone at the time, he was in negotiations to sell the movie rights.

Here's where things get a little nutty. That night, at Google's weekly TGIF meeting (our end-of-week what's-going-on-in-the-company meetings with the exec team), we were celebrating the upcoming 25th anniversary of WarGames - so instead of a typical company meeting, we had a copy of the movie that we were going to watch, and we had the screen-writers and a consultant to the original production on hand to answer questions about the film. (Bear with me, this is related.)

The consultant was a guy named Peter Schwartz. And somewhere in the Q&A, he mentions Stewart Brand in passing - apparently Stewart was a business partner of Peter's, and had a connection to WarGames. Dan's e-mail about his book deal was still on my mind, and I knew Stewart was involved (he'd had something to do with getting Dan introduced to the people at Dutton), so I figured it was too odd a coincidence to pass up. After the Q&A, I walked up to Peter, introduced myself (with the caveat, "I know this is odd, but...") and mentioned that a friend had just received a book deal, that Stewart was partly responsible, and as a friend, I just wanted to say thanks.

"You're talking about Daemon!"

How'd he know? Well, it turns out Peter was who introduced Dan to Dutton, not Stewart. (Stewart introduced Dan to Peter, it was Peter who had the connections to Dutton.) And we both instantly turned into fanboys, both exclaiming our awe at what a great story it is, and how bizarre it is that we'd connect in such a random fashion.

But it gets better. Peter points to Walter Parks - one of the screenwriters who'd been on the Q&A panel. Walter, after a successful run of screenwriting credits, eventually became the head of Dreamworks. And he was who was negotiating with Dan to acquire the movie rights to Daemon.

If you tried to script this, noone would believe that the three of us would be in the same room together - on the day the book deal signed, no less. Yet there we were. Peter walked me over to Walter, introduced me "as the guy who wrote the blog that was in the Wired article" and Walter quickly jumped into his own recollections of his favorite moments from the book.

That the team that brought us WarGames - the seminal cautionary tale of computers, national defense and unintended consequences - would be the same team responsible for making Daemon into a hit, well, it's poetic in the extreme.

Here we are, seven months later. The hardback is out in two days, and it's getting rave reviews. I spoke with USA Today's books writer (who covers thrillers) and she was hooked. It's a starred review at Publishers Weekly ("Suarez's riveting debut would be a perfect gift for a favorite computer geek or anyone who appreciates thrills, chills and cyber suspense"). Booklist called it a "thrill-a-nanosecond novel". USA Today's piece ran yesterday (yes, I'm quoted in there), and Dan tells me more publicity is on the way. Steven Vore notes that Daemon will be in front of every Barnes & Noble starting Thursday.

I eventually met up with Dan in person a few months ago for drinks, and I was glad to find him to be an incredibly engaging, bright guy who was humbled by his soon-to-be success. I couldn't be more excited for him - this is well-deserved. I realize that stories like this are all-too-rare, that many authors struggle to ever find an audience, and few get the kind of trajectory Dan is on now. But I wanted to document just how things played out. What are you waiting for - order your copy now!

The only bad news in all of this? The sequel won't be out for more than a year. ;)

Update: has a great interview with Dan where he talks about the origin of Daemon, the process of going from self-published to an author, and how he stays current on technology while writing Freedom™. I love CrimeCritics' prediction:
Daemon has the potential to be this year’s “Da Vinci Code”. Remember when Dan Brown’s book hit that tipping point, and it seemed like every person walking down the street was holding a copy? It was like an adult Harry Potter, with everyone talking about the book and comparing notes and swapping stories. Daemon is a far better read and has the sort of broad appeal and tight writing that could easily become a cultural phenomenon. And a deserving one, at that. So here is your choice: Do you wait until your aunt Susan calls you and asks if you have read the book, or do you grab it before the revolution starts so you can calmly tell aunt Susan, “Susan, I read that book back when Daniel and his wife were Xeroxing them in their garage”.

Update 2: Completely forgot about another great aspect of this. Last spring, my phone rang. It was Billy O'Brien, a fellow University of Richmond alumnus who wanted to talk about working at Google. Billy had an interesting background - he was a former assistant to Vice President Cheney, and at the time was the White House Director of Cybersecurity. We talked about Google, then when I mentioned we should connect when we were in town in July on vacation, he offered to give my kids a tour of the White House. (Score!) Soon after, I called to thank him, and told him there was a great book that he really ought to read, given his current role. Not only did he like it (doesn't everyone?!) but he gave the book a great blurb, which I understand is on the back jacket:
"Greatest. Techno-thriller. Period. Suarez presents a fascinating account of autonomous, logic-based terrorism, incorporating current and anticipated technologies to create a credible and quite clever story. Experts have long feared the Internet doomsday scenario; the Daemon is arguably more terrifying."--(Billy O'Brien, Director of Cybersecurity and Communications Policy, The White House)

Joining Blogger

For those wondering why I would go ahead and move my blog off of Wordpress, I can now answer: I'm joining the Blogger team. Seemed like a good idea to make sure I re-acquainted myself with the service. :)

More than 7 years ago, I started this blog on Blogger - even becoming a Blogger Pro user. It took about 6 months, but I moved off of Blogger to Radio Userland, then to Movable Type, and then to Wordpress. It's fun to be back on Blogger - as a user, I've found it far more flexible than I expected, and I was excited to see Google Operating System identify Blogger as one of Google's top 10 products in 2008.

I'm joining the product team as a "business product manager" - meaning that I'll be working with Siobhan to help manage Blogger's roadmap. It's exciting to be close to a product again - for the last 18 months at Google, I've been on the business side, executing deals and negotiating partnerships. I enjoy that aspect of the business, don't get me wrong - and at Google, those discussions tend to take on a scale that you don't experience every day at a start-up. But this opportunity - to join an already excellent team, to take a product that's already in a leadership position and figure out how to strengthen that - well, it was too good to pass up.

Regular readers of this blog can expect to see more frequent posts and more blogging about blogging (sorry, just warning you ahead of time). I'm excited.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Easy come, easy go

After making the commitment to going to the inauguration later this month, Robin and I have decided to cancel our plans. This wasn't easy - believe me, it wasn't easy. We'd booked our flights (mostly on miles, which will thankfully refund to my account), had plans to stay with my in-laws near DC, and even had a pretty good lead on tickets to the standing room area for the swearing in.

So what changed? Well, most importantly were the growing chorus of concerns about logistics on inauguration day. With a six year-old and an eight year-old in tow (the three year-old was going to stay with the in-laws for the day), the prospects of making them walk 5+ miles in potentially freezing weather weren't exciting to us (not to mention hours without access to a bathroom). The last thing I wanted to happen as a result of this trip was for them to have horrible memories from the inauguration. And the more we played out these scenarios, the more we saw lots of potential for a disastrous day.

We're disappointed - to say the least. But this feels like the right decision. And there's always the second term. ;)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Facebook is for friends, not "friends"

Nick perfectly captures something I experienced about a month ago as well: accepting every friend request from everyone renders Facebook all but useless. Early in December I did much the same thing - removed a number of "friends" who were either people I hadn't met (but knew, more or less, online) or people with whom I had only a passing relationship. Nick says it well:
So, don’t take it personally if I un-friended you – it probably just means you’re a geek, in which case you should be following me on Twitter instead :)
I felt odd about doing this at first... but Facebook is far, far more useful to me now. It's primarily friends from high school, college, and law school, past co-workers and a few others. I find I'm sharing things on Facebook that are much less techie, and post work and geek stuff to Twitter. (For those who are interested, I'm on Twitter at My blog has suffered in frequency over the last few years (indeed, it's declined in frequency every year since 2003 - yikes!), something I aim to remedy in 2009. If you're reading this and I un-friended you, please don't take it personally. But my blog and/or Twitter are likely to be more along the lines of what you're looking for. :)

Friday, January 2, 2009

TiVo + Netflix is outstanding

Last month, TiVo pushed an update to Series 3 (HD) boxes that supports Netflix's Watch Instantly feature. In short, Internet-connected TiVo boxes can now stream movies/TV shows from Netflix. This had been promised for years, but it's finally here, and it's great.

I'd previously enjoyed Amazon's Unbox service on the TiVo, watching several movies which downloaded to the TiVo in just a few minutes. Amazon's pricing is often better than the same movie on demand from Comcast (though Comcast is in HD, while Amazon is not), and it was pretty convenient.

But this is much, much better. I first tried Netflix in 1999, paused my subscription in 2001 and came back in 2005. I stopped using it in late 2006 after we stopped watching as many DVDs, and this announcement convinced me to try it again. First things first: kudos to Netflix for preserving all of my ratings (nearly 500 of them) - Netflix remains a terrific predictor of what films and tv shows I'll enjoy based on past ratings; had this info been nuked when I cancelled my subscription (which would be well within their right), the service would be far less valuable to me when I went to resubscribe.

The TiVo/Netflix integration could be better: you can't browse the Netflix library on your TV, you must do that from your computer, add movies to your "Watch Instantly queue" and then select a movie or show from your queue to watch on the TV. And the Watch Instantly Queue is apparently time-limited, so instead of putting movies in my queue that I'd like to watch eventually, I'll have to re-load the queue to replace any movies that I didn't get to watch by the deadline. Those quibbles aside, pulling up a movie is easy: from your TiVo menu, select "Video on Demand" and then Netflix - your movies will show up after that.

First up has been Friday Night Lights, a show I'd never seen but heard terrific things about. I'm seven episodes in, and it's every bit as good as I'd heard. The video quality is good - not always great, there are occasional pixellations that are visible - and it's exceedingly easy. I much prefer the all-you-can-eat pricing model to the pay-as-you-go model (like Amazon's Unbox or Comcast On Demand): this way there's no incremental cost to watching another show. (This is also why I love Rhapsody for music instead of buying CDs.)

Overall, I'm quite happy with this. The Watch Instantly titles are a bit more sparse than they could be (12,000 out of 100,000 titles) but that will no doubt improve with time. Since I don't really care to have the physical DVDs mailed to me, I'd love for Netflix to offer an online-only option (right now the least expensive plan that includes online streaming is the $8.99/1 DVD at a time option), since presumably I'd be saving the company some money by not incurring any postage on the DVDs or physical distribution costs.

In any event, if you have an HD TiVo and a few bucks a month to spare, I'd strongly recommend the Netflix integration: it makes the TiVo box much more useful, and ensures you'll have something worthwhile to watch.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Learning to play guitar

Santa was good to me this year: in addition to a Flip Mino HD to replace the Mino that was stolen at the Convention in August, I also got a guitar. I learned to play as a kid, but haven't played in decades. One of my 2009 resolutions is to re-learn the guitar, and I thought it'd be helpful to document what I got to make progress on that front:
  • Jasmine S35 Acoustic Guitar: Just $89, it's a natural finish acoustic guitar and it sounds pretty good. I'm not looking for anything fancy, and this seems to be a good fit so far.
  • Korg TM-40 tuner and metronome. Makes keeping the guitar in tune a breeze, and the metronome will be helpful as I learn more than a handful of chords. :)
  • Guitar Method v4.0: This software appears to be pretty decent - the UI isn't the most polished I've seen, but the addition of videos, audio and interactive fret displays makes learning pretty straightforward. The reviews are pretty helpful there, suggesting that some online sources are good complements to GM, so I'll likely check those out. (I got this because it's Mac compatible, there were a couple other options for the PC that I ignored.)
  • Gripmaster Hand Exerciser: The fingers on my left hand need some strengthening (to say the least!), and this is going to help build them up. I'll probably pick up the callus builder clips for the exerciser too.
  • Guitar stand: So that my guitar can be easily visible to remind me to practice.
What did I forget? Any tips, tricks, things I should know about as I head down this path?