Monthly Archives: January 2004

Fight for it

I’ve written a few posts about technology, and about the upcoming Oscars, but I can’t bring myself to post them. They seem so insignificant compared to the political process in front of us.

The Democratic Party has lost its way. I’ve never been more disillusioned with government and the people’s power to effect change for our common good than I am right now.

Congress has failed us. We need someone with real backbone in the November election, someone who can bring this party back on track. That person is not John Kerry.

I’ve never given money to a politician before, but I did last week. I’ve never written letters to undecided voters in another state urging them to support a candidate, but I did last night. I’ve never made the leap from disgruntled voter to political activist, but I am right now.

Say what you think, believe what you say, fight for what must be done.

Dean’s comeback

I have no idea what will happen in New Hampshire tomorrow. The media slammed Dean all last week, but it’s clear if you pay attention to the polls and the turnout for Dean’s events that the winds are shifting again. People are coming back to Dean. If he had another week I’d say he’d come away with the win in New Hampshire, and the momentum to have a strong showing in the next batch of states. With just one day left… who knows.

I thought a lot about how I should deal with politics on this weblog. Many bloggers who I respect have chosen to keep their opinions to themselves. I was going to do the same, and the few political posts I’ve made to this blog over the last year I’ve kept non-partisan.

But the last week I have been completely obsessed with the post-Iowa coverage, and I can’t see myself continuing to think and write about this election without being clear in who I support.

Howard Dean is the real deal. The other candidates are above average, but Dean is the most honest, has great accomplishments to show as governor of Vermont, and is the strongest candidate to face Bush. When Dean speaks it really resonates with people, gives them hope for this county. Despite the loss in Iowa, his grassroots campaign is impressive, with average contributions less than $100, and hundreds of volunteers traveling from other states to help the campaign. I still believe that the way he can win in November is by exciting new voters and getting Democrats and Independents (and Republicans?) to turn out in record numbers.

I subscribe to the other main candidates’ weblogs as well. Dave Winer criticized the Dean weblog for not going far enough, but the other weblogs are much worse. They are updated infrequently and usually lack any personal touch. John Edwards doesn’t even provide summaries in his RSS feed. But the topper is this headline from Kerry’s weblog yesterday morning, where they misspell “bloggers”. Oops.

Kerry's bloogers

Sure, that’s a silly criticism. It was clearly just a typo, and actually the Kerry weblog has improved considerably over the last week. But it’s funny because it plays into an assumption that Dean is the only campaign that really gets the technology of this election. Which, from my experience, is true.

Online activism will be huge this year. The power of and the Dean Meetup is in providing a channel for ordinary Americans to effect an election instead of sitting at home grumbling that “there’s nothing I can do.” It’s about bringing more people into the process. But to do that right, we need a candidate who can speak passionately to the issues and inspire voters. That’s Dean.

Iowa Caucus

I was watching’s live broadcast from the Iowa caucus in Dubuque County. Watching online because my cable went out today (“a fiber line was cut”). It’s laughing at me because we’re keeping cable primarily to watch the campaign!

This caucus is one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever witnessed. It’s funny, really — an elaborate game with some politics thrown in for good measure. People are making arguments trying to get people to change sides. Organizers are running around with calculators doing the math to determine total delegates for each candidate.

Peter Jennings just came on ABC with a brief message that entrance polls suggest Kerry with the win and Dean/Edwards close for second.

Checked the CNN web site which showed Kerry with 37%, Edwards with 33%, and Dean with just 18%.

The C-Span coverage for Dubuque precinct 20 wrapped up with 6 delegates for Kerry, 3 for Edwards, 2 for Dean, and none for others. Wow.

The last few days I’ve subscribed to the main Dean blog, the BloggerStorm blog, and Dave Winer’s new Channel Dean. Plus the Edwards blog and a handful of other news sources. The flow of information coming in from the ground in Iowa is amazing. I think the talk of how blogs are changing news reporting is even more of a reality for an event like this. First-person blogger accounts of news as it happens is only a small part of the full picture, but it’s a really interesting one. For this race you have hundreds of bloggers, and together there is the potential to not just see all the interesting personal accounts but also to see the trends across all the posts from different bloggers.

I’m not sure where the Kerry win is coming from, but I’m sure it will be analyzed to death until New Hampshire votes.

Productive week

I think I do some of my best work when we first start development on a project. No one is paying particular attention, the user interface is flexible, and bugs are inevitable and okay. As we get closer to shipping I always slow down and am hesitant to make major changes. At that point it’s all about testing and cleaning out any quirks in the final product. But right now I have no problems ripping up the code and trying new things.

So the last few weeks I’ve been very productive. That is, I was until GarageBand arrived today.

Jakob Nielsen, Sun, and 3d interfaces

I like Jakob Nielsen. He was practically the lone voice of reason when Flash web sites, splash pages, and graphics-heavy design seemed poised to take over the Internet and render it useless.

But lately I’ve been ignoring his Alertbox columns. This quote from one of his latest really annoyed me:

“Judging by many of the messages we tested, email design is often a side effect of the software implementation and consists of copy written by the programmer late at night.”

Really? Late at night, eh? It’s bad enough that programmers are writing email copy, but when they do it late at night… Whew.

Meanwhile, some good UI observations on Sun’s Java Desktop from Buzz Andersen:

“I’m not formally trained in human/computer interaction, but to me it’s simply common sense that any UI design should be judged both on its ease-of-use and its heuristic value to the user. Put another way: a large part of the responsibility of any interface design is to stay out of the user’s way while helping him or her perform an action or get to a piece of information as quickly as possible. Usually, slavish emulation of the real world isn’t the best way to achieve this goal (otherwise, what’s the point of using computers at all?).”

And this is what I had to say in a comment on his post:

“Great post, Buzz. At least Sun correctly called it a prototype. (But then they also called it a ‘revolutionary evolution’, whatever that means.)

“And I agree with Jon — the mouse is not the right device to interact in 3d space anyway.

“Expose works so well because it actually solves a real problem (managing too many open windows). Sun appears to be reinventing things that already have good solutions (e.g. iTunes live search).”

Another comment on Buzz Andersen’s site connects this all back to Jakob Nielsen. In The Anti-Mac Interface, Nielsen and Don Gentner outline how tempting it can be to get lost in the metaphor-ness of interface design.

But the main layer of problems with Sun’s 3d experiment is something that Nielsen has hit upon many times, the most famous being his Flash 99% Bad article: that increasing eye-candy often decreases usability. I’m also reminded of the HotSauce experiment that R.V. Guha developed at Apple to show off MCF, a predecessor to RDF. In hindsight, is “flying” a web site really such a great idea?

Don’t answer that. I’ll leave the MCF trip down memory lane for another day.