Life is a Mystery

31 October 2008 . Comments Off on Googling PDFs

Googling PDFs

Google now lets you peek inside image-only PDFs, searching any text they happen to contain. This opens up a whole new class of documents to searching. For example, try this search: steady success in a volatile world. Check out the “view as HTML.” Download the PDF and try to select the text.

Now, imagine Google starts doing this to all image files. License plates? Business cards? Name tags? Sites like EverNote already offer this functionality. How long before it is part of search as well?

31 October 2008 . Comments Off on Download Obama

Download Obama

Call me dense. I’ve spent the whole campaign working on Obama stuff and never noticed that the Obama website has a “downloads” section! Everything you could want is there and available for you to adapt into your own organizing, art, or life: from logos to signup forms, from posters to desktop art, from buddy icons to a blueprint for change. This campaign has allowed people to make it their own campaign. Is it any wonder the whole campaign has gone viral?


Mary points to a wonderful collection of Obama art that goes well beyond the bounds of the official campaign look and feel. But that extension beyond those bounds is why this campaign has felt so broad and rich.

Four more days.

30 October 2008 . Comments Off on Mysterious cycle

Mysterious cycle

Through the uses of corporations, banks and securities, new machinery of industry, of labor and capital—all undreamed of by the Fathers—the whole structure of modern life was impressed into the service of economic royalists. It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control of government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction. In its service new mercenaries sought to regiment the people, their labor and their property. And as a result the average man once more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness. Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of the Government.

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

FDR, 1936

30 October 2008 . Comments Off on An agent of calm

An agent of calm

Because it so directly mirrors my own experience, I just want to quote a passage from Freddie deBoer’s response at Culture11 this evening to Obama’s 30 minute commercial.

I have not had what you can say is unshakeable confidence this electoral season. Can you blame me? I gained my legal right to vote just in time to vote in 2000. You know how that turned out. I sat through demoralizing failures in 2002 and 2004. It’s been easy to be pessimistic. So I’ve often felt a little jumpy about November 4th except when I’m watching Barack. It’s been a strange facet of this election season. When Palin burst on the scene, I felt panicked. When McCain got his convention bounce, I was deeply afraid. When I watch Obama surrogates on television, I rarely feel assured. When he is getting attacked again and again in some stump speech somewhere, it depresses me.

But every time — every time — that fear and worry evaporates, as soon as I see Barack. When he appears on TV and addresses the latest events, I suddenly feel calm. I feel like we can actually win this thing. If I ever give myself over to the hopelessness that electoral politics can engender in any of us, I’m always cured by listening to him. Not because he’s my perfect candidate; he’s far, far from it. Not because I think he can’t lose, because he can. It’s simply that there’s something about him, some ineffable and brilliant quality, that radiates calm to me.

When I watch Obama I get the sense he’s saying both “I got this” and “I can do this if you give me a hand” at the same time. The calm comes from steady leadership that is empowering me to make a difference. I have “agency,” as Mary might put it. I feel a sense of control.

29 October 2008 . Comments Off on Making Mary’s Day

Making Mary’s Day

Mary stayed up late tonight to prepare her online course. It looks like MTV has a reward for her: MTV Music. Virtually every music video (or at least 16,000 and counting) just landed on the net for free in Flash video format. Here’s one for the love of my life:

The bad news? These only play in the USA. Grrr.

28 October 2008 . Comments Off on This is what it takes

This is what it takes

Obama turned out in the rain today. So did 9,000 supporters to be a part of history. Next week may be rainy and miserable, we just don’t know. But if it is, we have to turn out anyway, just like this, to get the deed done.

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28 October 2008 . Comments Off on White House 2

White House 2

Obama may have some ideas about reorganizing government to be more visible to the rest of us and more responsive to our priorities, but he won’t be alone!

Techpresident today points to an effort by Jim Gilliam to jump-start some prioritization by “we the people.”

So, why not go to and give it a try! My priorities start with universal, single payer healthcare. I believe the rise in costs driven by insurance companies that long ago forgot how to do their real job is eating away at the foundations of this country. I’ll put that number one. What will you list as your top priority?

28 October 2008 . Comments Off on Book search business model

Book search business model

Today we begin to see the business model behind Google Book Search. Google announced a settlement in the lawsuit brought by the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers, some individual authors against Google Book Search. Amazingly enough, it not only leaves Google Book Search intact, but to my eye it seems to expand its offerings substantially. It almost appears that Google used the suit as an educational opportunity and convinced authors and publishers that the service Google could offer would be a win/win for all. Of course, they also paid $125M for the scans they made without permission (but that money goes toward setting up a Book Rights Registry which will try to determine who owns the copyright to out-of-print books so that they can be paid for any sales).


If this works, then the “snippets” will disappear from the out of print results; instead we will see full page results. Furthermore, for a (yet to be determined) price, we will be able to license access to the full books and put them on our Google “bookshelf.” That price is a key to the business model and the agreement, I’m sure. Suddenly authors and publishers have a way to “monetize” the “long tail” of the out of print catalog. That’s pretty revolutionary.

Now the urgency of Google’s effort to scan every work in some major libraries begins to make sense. With the competing Microsoft-led effort already hitting the skids it looks like Google will have some time to polish this model before the competition gets tough.

Of course, this agreement still has to be ratified by the court, so it may not be the shape of what is to come. Keep an eye on this space.

UPDATE: Harvard University Libraries opt out of the deal for many interesting reasons.

28 October 2008 . Comments Off on My favorite architect

My favorite architect

My favorite architect is, of course, the one we hired! John was just breaking away to start his own firm, Shelter Architecture, when we hired him to design our third floor “subtraction” for our house. My study at home is part of the space that was made alive by the light and air John added to our lives.

Today John was interviewed about a wonderful new house he just completed in Minneapolis. Once again, it looks like John really lived into the dreams of his clients, building a simple modern house that, it turns out, gets the highest possible LEED certification for sustainability. It is an outstanding house! Take a look for yourself.


The interview is well worth listening to, along with its slideshow. The priority on this house was less on fancy new energy technology than on solid foundations of materials along with a flexibility of internal infrastructure that leaves this house efficient today and ready to adopt even more efficient technology tomorrow. The slides are also fun because you’ll catch a glimpse of John!

Congratulations to John and the whole Shelter team. They must be doing well, I notice that they are moving into new space next month. Listen to the team talk about their commitment to “cause architecture.”

27 October 2008 . Comments Off on In one week

In one week

Do you need your batteries charged for this last push toward November 4th? Mary and I voted today so that we would be available for that whole day, but there’s plenty of door knocking, phone calling, and general organizing to do all week long. If you are worried or weary, give this video a glance. It is how Obama made the case for giving it your all in Canton, Ohio today.

Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 /