Friday, August 31, 2007

Sell your photos

We take more photos than any family I know, enough that our kids probably think their parents have lenses attached to our faces.  When you take that many pictures, some of them are bound to turn out to be interesting enough that somebody else might want to buy them.

I have no interest in going through the trouble to get extra change from this, but a friend at work recently wrote up his experiences selling to sites like Shutterstock and iStockPhoto. He makes about $150/month, on a few hundred images he's uploaded over the years. Basically these sites give you a cut (25 cents or so) per photo their users download; users are charged from $1 to $10+ depending on the resolution.

Most of the pictures people buy, apparently, are travel-related; something to consider if you go on trips to places like Switzerland, Argentina, or China.

Thank you Maureen

She pulled her signs today, right after I received a response from a friend of her campaign insisting that she has every right to keep them up.  Off-island people don't understand how annoying it is to drive past those signs every day, especially when the election's not till November.  Thank you for cleaning up.

Now when's somebody going to take down those Jane Hague signs on Island Crest Way?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

$50 Maureen Judge Signs

I laughed so hard that my camera phone shook too much to get a good photo:

The sign in the middle is one of the Maureen Judge campaign signs, to which some prankster has attached a fake $50 bill. I saw it on my way home this evening at the stop sign on the I-90 exit to East Mercer Way.

Funny because maybe the prankster knows her campaign is based on money from people who don't live here, and even funnier because the sign (and prank) wouldn't be there if Maureen had gotten around to cleaning up her mess. It's been a week and a half since the election and apparently she still hasn't had time to come to Mercer Island and put away her signs.

I wonder if it's considered vandalism to deface a campaign banner? What if the sign has been abandoned?

Incidentally, several people have written to say I'm being too hard on her -- that she's a smart, highly qualified leader and that her off-island money is just the way local campaigns work for first-time candidates. What do you think?

Update: I received several email comments about this, including this reference to an article from the Seattle Times:

“According to state law, a person may not remove or deface lawfully placed political advertising, including yard signs or billboards, without permission. Knocking over or stealing a sign are both considered third-degree misdemeanors and may carry up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for each count. If a person is found guilty of stealing signs worth $250 or more, collectively, the crime is considered a Class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Out-of-Staters for Steve Litzow

If you are impressed with the off-island campaign contributions to Maureen Judge, you will be astounded at the success of Steve Litzow, current Mercer Island City Councilman who is running unopposed for reelection this year.

He's unopposed, so he'll win even if he raises no money at all. But in spite of that, he has more donations than any other candidate: over $20K so far. And look who’s donating:

I should point out that virtually all of his Washington state donations are from Mercer Island.

I guess it should make us proud that so many people across the country are interested in the race for Mercer Island city council, but here are some other facts:

  • The top five donors contribute half of his contributions (and all are from out of state)
    • The biggest contributor (from Los Angeles): Michael Hand, who lists his occupation as "insurance".
  • He has almost no donations from "special interests" (unlike Maureen, who gets almost as much from those groups as she gets from Mercer Islanders)
    • Well, not quite. The Affordable Housing Council (registered in Bellevue) gave him $100.
  • About half his donations are small: median amount is $50. Considering the size of his war chest, the money certainly isn't needed, so you could think of these as "token" gestures of people who want to go on record supporting him. For example, the following people gave him $50 each:
    • Fred Jarrett (State Representative)
    • Blair Rasmussen (basketball star and Boys & Girls Club exec director)

Maureen's donors are mostly from cities close to Mercer Island -- people who potentially have an interest in what happens here on issues like the i-90 bridge or the future of Luther Burbank park. But what about people from California or New Jersey, some of whom may have never set foot on our island? Why would they write these huge $2500 to $5000 checks to reelect somebody who has no chance of losing?

Any ideas? Let me know.

[Full disclosure: I have not contributed to any candidate]

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How societies grow and innovate

My new job puts me back in marketing, doing a new phone, but one special thing about the team is that I'm part of Microsoft Research.  My VP, Rick Rashid (who grew up right next to Wisconsin, in Iowa, by the way) is an old-timer who has followed computer technology forever and has a good sense for what will happen in the future.  Today I listened to a podcast interview with him where he speculates on a few key trends:

  • Yes, the world is moving to 5 big computers that will be run by Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, and
  • Communication -- the biggest barrier to innovation -- is undergoing a huge transformation as new technologies (search, social networking, etc.) make it far easier for people in different fields to share their similarities and breed more solutions to common problems.
  • Massively-distributed sensors, measuring everything from weather to traffic patterns, will enable another level of understanding about the world and our ability to manipulate it.

It would be interesting to pair Rick up with Paul Romer, subject of another podcast interview on Econtalk this week, who studies economic growth.  Romer, an ex-physicist turned economist was trained to think about conservation of matter and wonders how economists can talk about "increased output" and "productivity growth" when the total supply of inputs in the Universe is constant.  The answer is that the way things are organized is what leads to innovation and what makes the world a better place.  Rick and the 800 PhDs of MSR are right at the forefront of figuring out how to organize things better.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Recommendations for a visit to Sunriver

If you're thinking of a visit to Sunriver, Oregon, here are some recommendations:

There aren't many good places to eat so definitely get a place with a kitchen and plan to pack your food. We ate at only two restaurants all week:

  • El Pescador (57191 Mall Drive) for lunch. It was reasonable Mexican food at unreasonably high prices. Nothing special.
  • Barking Squirrel. A Lebanese restaurant with good, eclectic middle eastern food. They seemed to be out of everything the Wednesday night we went (no pita?!) but they made up for it with good service and tasty hummus, lamb kabobs, and chicken.

A talkative local told us there are only two restaurants worth visiting: Blondies (for pizza) and the new Hawaiian BBQ in the mall. But we weren't able to try either.

One of our bikes broke down and we had it fixed at the Chrome Pony. The mechanic, John, was excellent. While he was fixing the derailleur, he also reattached a child's carrier that had been improperly installed back in Kirkland. I thought the prices were great, especially considering the quality of work and comparing to what we're used to in Seattle.

The observatory at the Nature Center is worth the visit just to see through all the telescopes. But try to arrive right when it opens at 9am so you can view the telescopes before the crowds. Definitely skip the slide show, which for us didn't start till almost 10pm. The guide kept asking endless questions of the kids in the audience and the show itself was on one of those ancient slide projectors, with crudely-made slides that looked like they came from the 1960s. You're better off going home early to watch the Discovery Channel.

Finally, if you're looking to rent a place for the week, don't go through the mainstream web sites run by the property management companies. There are many private home owners who would be happy to rent at much lower rates. Call the following number instead: 541-593-5163. (It's a business phone, so just leave a message if you're calling late or on a weekend).

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Off Islanders for Maureen Judge

Maureen Judge did quite well in the August 21 primary election, winning 1300 votes -- 300 more than the next-highest candidate Mike Cero. No doubt part of her success is thanks to her fundraising.

All candidates for public office, including local elections like City Council, must make their donations public. In her case, by mid-August she reported a total of about $15,000 (the highest among City Council candidates so far). Here's a breakdown of where the money comes from:


She enjoys about 100 individual contributors so far, nearly all of them off-island.

  • None of her top 10 contributors are from Mercer Island.
  • The only Mercer Island contributors in the top 25 are Robert and Amanda Clark, who together donated $750.
  • Her largest individual contribution is the $1000 donated by Bothel Real estate agent Dan and Shauna Willner.
  • Of the top 50 contributors, here are the only ones from Mercer Island (each contributed $100):
    • Pat and Dan Braman
    • Judy Clibborn (state Representative)
    • Mike Grady (City Councilman)
    • Brian Weinstein (State Senator)

Next: I'm working on a similar breakdown of the other candidates.  Has anybody else already done this?  Anybody want to help?

[Full disclosure: I have not donated to any candidates]

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Raw Milk

After reading that NYTimes article last week, plus follow-up at and the What To Eat blog, I just had to try raw milk for myself.  Well, it turns out there is a supplier right here on Mercer Island!  Dungeness Valley Creamery is a family farm north of here in Sequim that delivers fresh, unpasteurized milk here every Thursday. Where I grew up in Neillsville Wisconsin, that was no big deal: most people drank milk freshly squeezed from the cows that morning. These days, hyper-protective regulators have made it illegal in 15 states (including, if you can believe it, Wisconsin!) 

After reading Omnivore's Dilemma and hearing an excellent podcast interview with its author, Michael Pollan,I've been exploring family farm eating options in the Seattle area, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that at least one farm delivers right up the street from us.  The cost, $8.25/gal is much more than we pay for Smith Brothers, but the same thing at Whole Foods is $13!

I should point out that I'm not an earth-loving hippie by any stretch.  Modernization has plenty of problems, but generally I think the world, and humanity's future, is much brighter today than it has ever been. I think it's wonderful that industrialized farmers are able to create so much food and sell it so cheaply.I'm not afraid of GMO, and I actually enjoy eating at McDonalds.    For me this is purely about flavor and variety.

 So what about it? How does it taste?  As you would expect from the milk of a Jersey cow, it's very creamy -- rich, like ice cream. The kids like it, though they prefer their regular milk in a blind taste test, but I think that's due to familiarity more than anything.  I can't wait to test it with my Espresso Vivace in the morning.

If you're interested in trying it yourself, I'm happy to tell you my source, though I'm hesitant to mention it publicly. The woman who runs the Mercer Island drop does it out of her garage, in a very informal setup that won't scale if she gets too much business. Call me, or send me an email and I'll give you all the details.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

City Council Position # 3 Debate

Too bad City Council is limited to only one person in Position #3 because I liked all the candidates at tonight's debate at the Mercer Island Library.  The place was packed--standing room only--full of various people associated with Mercer Island politics: I saw former mayor Jim Horn, candidate Patti Darling, councilman Steve Litzow, and zillions of seniors. I'm not sure why Maureen Judge wasn't there, but it was just as well: as a relatively recent Island resident, she would have felt out of place next to all the old-timers.

Calling it a "debate" is a bit much, since there wasn't much disagreement, and members of the audience weren't able to ask questions. The Mercer Island Republican Women who sponsored the evening kept all questions pretty uncontroversial.  Who's going to disagree about funding for fire trucks, or the need to maintain Mercerdale Park?

The only question with much spark was the one about PEAK, which surprised me since the PEAK advocates talk as though the project is a done deal. Mike Cero clearly won this part of the debate, rattling off statistics about the high cost and impact on the neighborhood when the Council starts giving away impervious surface and other exceptions to land use codes.  Bob Bersos piled on, reminding everyone that part of the deal includes reverting the current Boys and Girls Club site to private developers, ceding one of the last open spaces on the island to home construction.  Jon Friedman's answers, by contrast, were non-specific and general:  PEAK is about kids and I support kids.

Friedman did much better on the Renton Airport question, reminding everyone that he's a licensed pilot and then listing off a bunch of facts that affect the issue (for example, I didn't know that Boeing Field is a busier airport than SEATAC).  Cero's answers were more process-oriented and less specific, though he did sneak in the best sound bite of the evening when the subject shifted to overall land use issues:  Mercer Island "will get affordable housing if the Renton Airport expansion goes through".  Bersos' answers amounted to: we have to work with everyone but if they cause harm to Mercer Island I'll fight.

So who won? I liked each candidate for different reasons, but here's how I would summarize their differences:

  • Mike Cero is the most strategic. He answers all questions by reminding everyone of the overall context, of the need to look outside the obvious and ensure the city has the right processes in place regardless of the solution.
  • Jon Friedman is a good tactician. If it's something related to his personal expertise, he rolls up his sleeves and pulls out the answer. If it's outside his experience as a home developer or pilot, he'll rely on his friendships with other businessmen or councilmen.
  • Bob Bersos is a normal guy. He doesn't dress in a suit, doesn't run a fancy campaign, and just wants to do the right thing.

Ultimately the August 21st primary election will come down to voter turnout.  I think Mike Cero will do best among school age families and senior citizens -- people who relate best to his process-oriented and everyone-is-equal approach.  Jon Friedman will appeal to the waterfront property owners and downtown business types who like his hands-on instincts.  Bob Bersos will do well among his many personal friends and anybody who knows him as a regular guy.  Maureen Judge will win nationally among those who want Mercer Island to focus on pressing international issues like Global Warming and reproductive rights.

How about you? How will you vote?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Hostile interview training

I'm going on a press tour soon, something I haven't done in a while, so this week I attended a special training class that our agency conducts for people like me. The instructor, Betsy, is an old pro who worked as a television reporter for many years and really knows the business. I was particularly interested in learning techniques for dealing with a journalist who is less than friendly, perhaps hostile and predisposed to report negatively.

Here's some of what I learned:

  • News articles are called "stories" for a reason, so make your information memorable, through personal anecdotes, colorful language, or proof points.
  • Don't talk unless you're ready. Unless it's a live TV interview, dead air is your friend. Go ahead and pause as long as you like, until you know precisely what you want to say and how.
  • Quit when you're ahead. When you say transition words like "in additional" or "plus", that's usually your cue that you need to shut up and wait for another question.
  • Bring it back to customers, particularly on tough questions. Say "our customers tell us…"

The highlight of the class was the practice interviews. Here's my first one of the day, with me trying to explain our product. What do you think? Should I try to say "really" more often?


Video: Interview Question #1

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Ignite Seattle is tonight

Shoot, I'm missing it again!

My friend Lesley points me to Ignite Seattle web site:

The next Ignite Seattle is August 8th at the CHAC. The evening will be a combination of Half-Baked Dotcom and Ignite talks. This time we are doing something special and we’re going to have a contest amongst the speakers. Four speakers will get a chance to do their Ignite talks at Gnomedex, Chris Pirillo’s Seattle-based event. RSVP at Upcoming.

Some of the interesting talks I'd like to hear:

  • Shawn Murphy - Hacking Chocolate
    Anybody can create interesting and new chocolates with some basic ingredients, imagination and a little technique.
  • Deepak Singh - Small medicine: Nanotechnology and biology
    The start of the art in the applications of nanotechnology to healthcare and medicine
  • Rob Gruhl - How to buy a new car
    Get your next new car for the best price.
  • Maegan Ashworth - No, not skin: Epidemiology for the layman
    Some basic epidemiologic concepts that can help you evaluate biomedical reporting in the popular press.

The “CHAC” is the Capitol Hill Arts Center, on 12th Ave E just north of Pine in Seattle.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Early morning deliveries from AmazonFresh

Here's a great reason to use AmazonFresh (looks like they want you to spell it as one word): 4-hour delivery windows.  It's past 10pm right now and I can still order breakfast delivered to my door at 5am.  Look at this screen shot:
















Although it's nice to know they'll deliver on such short notice, I'm disappointed at the relatively minimal selection. They carry the standard items you'd expect in a typical grocery store -- a far cry from the "long tail" of hard-to-find items you expect from Earth's Biggest Bookstore. For example:

  • Coffee: basically just Folgers, Starbucks, Tulleys, and a few other national brands. No Espresso Vivace, no Cafe Vita.
  • Ethnic food: just your normal salsa, soy sauce, and asian noodles. No furikake.
  • Bakery: the fresh bread all comes from the artisan baker, Essential Baking. But if I order it now for deliver in the morning will it be fresh-baked (as in hours old), or will it be 24 hours old?  The site doesn't say and I'm not going to take a chance.
  • Cheese: boooring.  Yes, they have Beechers, which is nice.  But no sheep cheese? Come on!

Oh, and the free pickup they allow at designated pickup locations?  For now it's just at Amazon's offices in downtown.  I guess that would be convenient if you were an employee, but otherwise nobody would make a special trip there for pickup.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Steven Pinker and Genealogy

Steven Pinker's new book, The Stuff of Thought, will be out next month (I just pre-ordered it on Amazon) but he doesn't discuss it in his recent interview on Point of Inquiry.

He also published an interesting piece on genealogy in the August 6, 2007 issue of The New Republic [free subcription required]. Why are we so interested in our roots, he asks. We're all descended from famous people, so looking for famous ancestors is like "shooting ducks in a barrel". It's provable biologically that we tend to favor our relatives; in fact, some cultures, like Iraq, encourage first-cousin marriages, resulting in a society that favors kinship over nationalism.

I having my grandmother's DNA analyzed right now. The results should be back in a week or two. I've been looking into this whole DNA analysis stuff a fair bit for the past few years and, once Grandma's results are in, I'll probably take the plunge myself. If you've ever tried it, I'd be interested in hearing your experiences too.

The ultimate status symbol

What to get for the couple who has it all?  Salon as a nice discussion of that NPR piece about how the big trend among rich people is to have more children:

Historically, the country-club set has had the smallest number of kids. But in the past 10 years, the number of high-end earners who are having three or more kids has shot up nearly 30 percent.

Some say the trend is driven by a generation of over-achieving career women who have quit work and transferred all of their competitive energy to baby making.

They call it "competitive birthing."

The Salon author is critical of the NPR piece, and of women who choose to raise large families.  Real women, she thinks, "enjoy getting out of their houses, care about what they do professionally, like having a life outside their family, and value their economic independence, not to mention an identity not directly linked to their ovaries."

In a hundred years, is anybody going to know or care what your identity was?  Whether you are a man or a woman, the only part of you that will really last is the children you raise. Throughout history, children have always been the ultimate luxury.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Come watch at the Youth Theatre Northwest, starting August 3rd. Order tickets online or at the door for $15.

Show times Fri, Sat, Sun at 7pm, or Sat/Sun at 2pm.

Directed by Amanda Lee Williams (and starring my daughter!)

Amazon Fresh

I see their trucks regularly, and now apparently the full news has been leaked to TechCrunch and even the Wall Street Journal: Amazon delivers groceries to Mercer Island.  (Sign up on line)

  • No minimum order
  • Free pickup and delivery
  • Pick up same day at their local station
  • Delivery in a 1-hour time window you specify

We used WebVan quite a bit when we lived in California, at least at first, and occasionally still use the free delivery that Safeway offers locally.   We couldn't live without our weekly milk truck or the separate organic food delivery, but I'm not optimistic about a general-purpose system like Amazon:

  • It doesn't truly replace grocery shopping. They screw up the order often enough that we often end up going back to the store anyway to get one thing we forgot -- and then, what's the point?
  • I don't trust the produce unless I can look at it first.  Pioneer Organics tells me up-front that the order will have variability -- the straight-from-the-farm aspect is part of their appeal.  But how do I know if Amazon's blueberries are really ripe?

I hope they stay in business, though, if only because I like the peace of mind to know that I can order online when necessary, like if we'll be returning from out of town or if we ran out of something and don't want to go to the store before tomorrow morning.

Anybody else on Mercer Island had experience with Amazon Fresh yet?

Call me

I've been playing with a new service from Google called GrandCentral.  They let me select a phone number from any area code in the U.S. (I picked one from Silicon Valley) and now if you call that number, it will automatically ring my mobile phone here on Mercer Island.  There are a zillion other cool features, like

  • Call screening for voicemail: I can listen to somebody record a message, then decide if I want to answer immediately.
  • Voicemails are emailed to me as attached audio files
  • Record calls on the fly
  • Switch phones in the middle of a phone call

and much more. 

Try it yourself!  Call me, right now, just by clicking the following button: