11/07/2008

So, we did it. Now what? Obviously, some celebration. But, what's next as far as political priorities?

Obama seems to be on his game already - he's already got an impressive web site up called change.gov, soliciting opinions and input, explaining positions and giving transition news. Here's my contribution:

President-elect Obama:

First off, congratulations, and thank you for working tirelessly for this.

Here's my input as far as what I'd like to see you prioritize. Aside from the main things I know you'll obviously be working on diligently (the Iraq war, the economic crisis and expanded health care), I see three main priorities I'd love to have you tackle head-on:

1. Teacher pay. You talk about it in every rally, so make it happen. A small symbolic increase to start, with a plan to get teachers up to real world salaries within 4 years. It'll cost money, but if you pair it with more useful evaluations (to weed out poor teachers) and rewards for high performing teachers that inspire kids, it'll be easier to swallow.

2. Government transparency and citizen input via the internet. You're obviously already doing it, which rules, but please - recruit the best minds from the progressive technology community (guys like Bill Joy and Bruce Schneier) to help you figure out how to do it right, so that we can actually do things like vote and give meaningful (auditable, authenticated, secure) feedback on issues from big to small (using open software). And cast some sunlight on the congressional process (that you know so well) so citizens can help combat pork spending and have the budget better reflect our priorities. You KNOW that, given the chance, the tech community (bloggers on both sides of the partisan divide) will jump on that and vet bills way more efficiently and comprehensively than senators and congresspeople can (no offense - there's just way more folks with way more time on their hands). They just need the tools and the transparency.

3. Healing the divide. 40-something percent of the country is disappointed and maybe angry right now, and I know how they feel, because it's how I felt in 2000/2004. Ask them what is irking them and commit to compromises. Reach out right away. Go on Rush Limbaugh's show, talk to Hannity and that bunch, and ask them with an open mind: "What can I do to earn your respect?" It might be just a symbolic gesture (i.e. in some of those cases, their industry is built on stirring up hatred, and respecting you would be tantamount to giving up their livelihood). But I think it would take the wind out of a lot of haters' sails, and send a message to heart-felt conservatives that your rhetoric about bridge-building wasn't just talk. You've convinced 52 percent of us, but please, use some of the next two months to reach out to the other half. Ask how we can bridge the gap about abortion (all commit to a detailed program of reducing unwanted pregnancies), spending (commit to how you're going to cut pork and be very transparent about it all), and other hot-button issues. You'll never win 'em all over, but please listen to them. That is exactly what Bush did NOT do (and couldn't ever have done), and I know at least a few conservatives who would really look at you differently for that.

And, moreover, please continue to communicate. A lot. Write up detailed, wonky explanations of what you're doing, and why. And then have legions of smart writers and educators summarize things and make them clear enough for the rest of us to understand, too. We may still disagree or second-guess you, but we'll all be better off operating in a high-information environment. If you're doing things wrong, or for the wrong reasons, you seem like the kind of guy who will take our advice and change course.

Mr. Obama, we are psyched that you have been elected, but now we're counting on you to step up and do things that aren't just the will of corporations or powerful people, but will move us forward. You can do it.


So, my conservative friends and readers, on that note: what do YOU want now? To reduce wasteful government spending? To focus on ending abortion? To bring more fairness to the tax code? Lay 'em on me (or go tell the Obama administration yourself). When Bush entered office, he (and, to a lesser degree, the conservative half of America) basically said "F$@% you, liberals - you lost, and we're going to do whatever we want". I don't want to make that mistake this time.

11/04/2008

Go Go Go, Obama

I woke up at 4:30 this morning. Maybe it was the Pizza Hut I ate last night in a moment of weakness. Or, maybe ... this is a long shot ... it's the election.

I'm nervous and agitated - physically - about today's election. I've never felt this way about a presidential election in my life, even the Kerry boondoggle of '04 (which made me sad and slightly nauseated, but didn't wake me up at 4:30 in the morning).

I've heard people talk about Obama fans as "drinking the cool aid". I've followed sites like FactCheck.org that chronicle misrepresentations and lies from both sides in this election. Etc, etc. He's still a politician, and I know that.

But honestly - his candidacy actually gives me true hope about this country. That there's actually something indomitable and special about America. That a smart, scrappy guy who didn't come from money could inspire people and shatter the existing political machines to become leader of the free world. And that together, we can make the world better, by making good decisions that work for the greater good, and by believing in integrity and mercy and humility and progress.

Go get 'em, O.

9/22/2008

ACL

So, Austin City Limits festival is coming up this weekend. I'll be playing with Black Joe Lewis on Saturday at 4pm on the Austin Ventures stage. Come see us if you'll be at the festival! :)

Here's some other stuff I'm going to go see. Let's see if this works ...



BTW, we're also playing an aftershow on Friday night at the Parish, which should also be fun and might be more available to those of you not going to the festival itself.

8/30/2008

Palin

Here's a quick note from my friend Candice, regarding McCain's VP pick:

"If you all have been watching, McCain just picked Sarah Palin, govenor of Alaska, as his VP, one heartbeat from the presidency. During her acceptance speech, she ran off her short and thin resume:

1. Soccer Mom of Five
2. Head of the PTA
3. Member of the city council
4. Mayor of Wasilia

Ok. Let me pause there for a moment. I just got back from Alaska, living about an hour away from Wasilia, so I can paint you a picture of this place. Population is about 8000 people. There is one hospital. One movie theater. One radio station. And a Wal-mart. It's a decent town and god were we happy to get out of the woods and see anything remotely resembling a city, but it's hardly a microcosm for America. Let me pull back the lens a bit and look at Alaska as a whole, or the part I saw of it, which was definitely more rural than some places can be. There are more trees than people in Alaska. There is no law in this place. My purse was stolen and it took 2 hours before I got a phone call from the Talkeetna trooper, who then did nothing. I got sick there once and the ALL volunteer EMTs came to help me 3 hours after the call. Bear and moose attacks are a daily concern.

The closest towns to Wasilia, where Sarah Palin was mayor, are Anchorage and Talkeetna. FYI--Talkeetna's mayor is a cat!! His name is Stubb's. I petted him once.

5. Gov. of Alaska (for a mere 18 months--Stubb's the Cat has held his post longer!!)

This decision shows the worst decision making I have ever seen! A 72 year old man who has had 4 bouts with skin cancer is saying that Sarah Palin is ready to be president on day one???

Put a bow on that woman. Christmas just came early for the Democrats!"


Indeed. I know that McCain is probably trying to court the Hillary Clinton supporters who have vowed never to vote for Obama, and I'm sure he'll get some of them. But I wonder if he'll simultaneously turn off an equal (or bigger) chunk of good old boys who'll stay home before they vote for a woman VP. Who knows.

OK, back to putting my head in the sand ... ;)

7/29/2008

So, how do you really feel about your iPhone?

Over a year ago, I posted my reaction to the newly announced iPhone. I was incorrect in a couple of the details (GPS and pricing) at the time, as well as about when my Sprint contract was up (it was actually a year longer than I thought). So, sadly, I skipped version 1.

But no more. Version 2 is out, and Uberjam and I were first in line to get one (well, OK, 39th in line, but close enough). Behold:

iPhone


It really is awesome - I feel like I'm living in the future. :) The attention to detail in this UI goes beyond anything I've ever seen. It's not perfect, but it's pretty damn great. Here are the ups and downs:

Ups:
  • I've found myself listening to a TON more music than I was before, simply because I don't have to worry about listening for the phone. When you're listening to music and you get a call, the music automatically fades out and pauses so you can answer the call. Then, when you're done, it automatically un-pauses and fades back up. That's a small thing, but it makes me more likely to be listening to music all day long, b/c it really doesn't get in the way.
  • The headphones have a mic (so you can talk on the phone without taking them out) and a little squeeze control to pause your music or skip to the next track. That's really nice when you're running or something, no fumbling with the controls.
  • There are a ton of apps in the app store, many free; and you can also basically elevate iPhone web apps to nearly full app status by putting an icon on the home screen, which means that many more are already available (google cal, bloglines, remember the milk, etc.)
  • Syncs to google contacts, which is huge for me. I wrote an export from my self-created contacts database (with thousands of listings - basically, everybody I've ever met in my life) into Google, and from there it just syncs to the iPhone when you dock it.
  • GPS will (theoretically) enable very cool new friend locating & sharing apps. I look forward to trying this at ACL, SXSW, etc. Time will tell which of the location apps (Loopt, Whirl, etc.) will be the platform of choice.


Downs:
  • BATTERY. The battery does not last long enough on this thing, even from day one. I'm having to recharge at least once in the middle of every day. That's not acceptable - at a minimum, it needs to be able to go full tilt for a whole day and recharge at night. Fail on that, Apple.
  • No 3rd party push notifications, YET - though that's supposed to be coming in the fall with the next version of the SDK. That means that for now, it can't give me push notifications of new emails - but honestly, that's OK. I don't really need to be pinged by every email.
  • No ability (that I've found) to use different outgoing aliases for emails.
  • A few apps that aren't there that I wish were: Google cal sync to iphone cal, native Flickr uploader, remote terminal / ssh app. But I'm sure they'll come soon, with many I haven't even thought of yet.
  • Sometimes the GPS just doesn't seem to work, even when I'm outside on a clear day. What's up with that? At the very least, I'd like it to give a status screen with more info, besides just waiting with no indication of whether it's getting a signal, etc.

On balance, definitely psyched about it.

And now I promise not to talk about my iPhone anymore.

6/07/2008

Across The Pond

So, Uberjam and I recently returned from a quick vacation overseas, to visit our good friends Mo & James in London. It was a fantastic time. Here are a few highlights:

Drinking shandies on the pebble beach in Brighton:

Brighton Beach


Seeing "Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Globe theater:

Crowd @ The Globe


Traipsing around Paris:

Jam on the Seine


Having a few pints at London's coolest ancient-underground-labyrnth-cum-trendy-new-bar, Shunt:

Bar @ Shunt


Riding in the London critical mass (here's our route, as well as a photoset by a Londoner with several shots of us in it):

Critical Mass


Plus many other adventures with some of the most excellent folks on earth. Lots (loads) more photos here on Flickr. (JAM's got some too on her Flickr page.)

Good times! Can't wait to travel again, it is good for the soul. (If, perhaps, a little rough on the wallet, with the exchange rate being rubbish at the moment).

5/13/2008

I, for one, welcome our new Google overlords

So: my semester is done. I think it came out well, though we'll wait for the grades to say for sure. Since the end of the semester, I have:
  • Gotten all 120 stars in Super Mario Galaxy (plus another 10 as Luigi)
  • Recorded a full length album with Black Joe Lewis
  • Taken pictures of our new house, which is now framed
  • Caught up on all my emails and feeds, and all the other work I'd been shirking during crunch time
  • Made a couple other changes (???)
Now, the wife and I are preparing for a vacation in sunny old London, starting late next week. Lo and behold, Google Maps has taken it up another couple notches since last I looked, and is now totally usable as a one-stop vacation planner:
  • You can create your own maps with placemarks, shapes & notes, and collaborate on them with other people
  • You can turn on a Wikipedia layer that shows geo-located wikipedia links for anything on the map area
  • Not to mention all the other layers that you can turn on now in Google Maps, for restaurants, coffee shops, etc.
Here's the neighborhood we're starting in. Any suggestions?

5/06/2008

Food vs. nutrition: Michael Pollan @ Google

This is a fantastic video lecture by Michael Pollan (who wrote the Omnivore's Dilemma).

4/28/2008

The Home Stretch

$5 for breaking the build

I've got about 10 days of productive work left before the end of the semester, so I'm battening down hard at the moment. In celebration thereof, here are a few procrastinatory web goodies:

TV = 2000 Wikipedias a year: Looking at how much time people spend watching TV in units of "wikipedias" - that is, the estimate of how much human effort has gone into wikipedia (around 100 million hours). How many wikipedias are spent watching TV each year? 2000.

A good quote from an article on SuperMemo:
Given the chance to observe our behaviors, computers can run simulations, modeling different versions of our path through the world. By tuning these models for top performance, computers will give us rules to live by. They will be able to tell us when to wake, sleep, learn, and exercise; they will cue us to remember what we've read, help us track whom we've met, and remind us of our goals. Computers, in Wozniak's scheme, will increase our intellectual capacity and enhance our rational self-control.
I welcome our new robot overlords.

Paul Graham considers whether benevolence might be the wellspring of corporate profit:
"Don't be evil" may be the most valuable thing Paul Buchheit made for Google, because it may turn out to be an elixir of corporate youth. I'm sure they find it constraining, but think how valuable it will be if it saves them from lapsing into the fatal laziness that afflicted Microsoft and IBM.
Another good quote: "truth = statelessness":
Being good is a particularly useful strategy for making decisions in complex situations because it's stateless. It's like telling the truth. The trouble with lying is that you have to remember everything you've said in the past to make sure you don't contradict yourself. If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything, and that's a really useful property in domains where things happen fast.
Here's a cool artwork / game where you can see the code that's running the game and interact with it while the game is running: The Naked Game (Don't worry, SFW).

Ok, back to trying to get my last 9 stars in Mario Galaxy working on my Data Mining and Software Validation projects.

ps - Here are some pictures of the newly poured foundation of our house: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

4/13/2008

Goings On

Been quiet on this blog for a couple months, eh? Well, as they say, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. :) Not that I have anything particularly un-nice to say, I've just been busy ...

What's new? Last weekend, Jill and I went to the wedding of our good friends of many years, Emily & Matt. We went to Balcones Springs, which was amazingly beautiful

Tree-filled


Balcones Springs


More photos here. They allow dogs, which Mr. Emmet was very excited about:

Let's Go Already


I'm now entering the last month of classes (just finished my last mid-term, and now I have two projects left to go), so don't expect to hear much out of me until mid-May. Not that you did anyway. :)

2/03/2008

Yes We Can

So, I've been reading Obama's book, and I have to say: I will be pretty excited when he is elected president. He's a smart, inspiring person who tends to bring people together, which is exactly what we need. This video captures the feeling pretty well:



Can you imagine such an honest, heart-felt video starring a speech by Senator Clinton? I can't.

Also, the white house is not a time share. :)