Dear NC Congressional Democratic Candidates

I’m not a one issue voter by any stretch of the imagination. But one issue that I’m most likely to actually speak up about is Network Neutrality. It’s one of a few issues that I could claim some amount of in-depth understanding about – and it’s one of the issues that I look for in any candidate for Congressional office (and it was one of two issues that first attracted me to the candidacy of President Obama – well before the Republicans completely lost any semblance of rational behavior and put Palin on their ticket and firmly nailed that coffin for my vote).

Richard Burr is one of the top recipients of telephone utility PAC money – and added his signature to a letter (PDF) (source: Cecilia Kang’s Washing Post column) on October 13th, 2009 to the FCC from GOP Senators expressing “fear” that the pro-Network Neutrality position that the FCC took in September 21, 2009 speech were “counterproductive and risk harming the great advancements in broadband speed and deployment that we have witnessed in recent years and will limit the freedom of the Internet.”

(p.s. Dear Senators – can you actually, you know, put your names in plain text on these letters? Some of you have absolutely unreadable signatures. To verify for myself that Burr signed the letter – I had to go through list of official statements and find another letter authored directly by Senator Burr and compare signatures.)

So, I think – it’s likely safe to say what position Senator Burr will take. It’s very definitely safe to say that I’m in opposition to Burr’s likely position.

So what about the Democrats? Well honestly, I have no idea.

Both Ken Lewis and Elaine Marshall have followed me in twitter – most likely because they are trying to follow folks in the region that follow President Obama’s twitter account – or some other NC Dem list of twitter accounts. Who knows. I seriously doubt they are going to get anything out of my twitter account that guides them to the thinking of their constituency.

But hey, the more the merrier, at least they aren’t following me because they think I front Owl City.

But I really wish that the campaigns would actually get a clue about Twitter and social media. When one of your constituents asks you a question in Twitter – say, I don’t know, Network Neutrality (p.s. Ken, your twitter “handle” was so much nicer, approachable and “human” when it was KennethWLewis).

Here’s the first clue: answer them back. It will take your campaign a few seconds. And I realize that your staff is pretty busy and probably already overwhelmed – but this is a substantive question – it’s a way to stake a position – or just engender goodwill. You don’t know me from Adam, maybe I’m a likely contributor, maybe I’m a likely volunteer. What I am – if I’m using the medium to ask you – is someone comfortable in it and most likely to echo and amplify your answers with others.

I’m not naive enough to believe you’ve actually developed a position on the matter. Your campaigns are likely just still developing your market and party tested sound bites on health care, immigration, national security, the economy. But you don’t need it. Here’s all you need: “@jasonadamyoung – thanks for the question – we’ve been focused on starting up our campaign so far – tell us what you think about it” You know what – you can use that, free of charge. Use a service like CoTweet to help spread the paste load among several of your staff.

Be human, answer questions, respond to folks. Don’t treat things like “Twitter” as a checkbox on your list to what a campaign needs – it’s not any different than having a ham biscuit on saturday morning in the country store in the myriad communities that make North Carolina great – have your ham biscuit with me and 1,000 other of your constituents in Twitter.

Either use or lose it folks – that’s your free “new media” advice of the day.

The Audacity to Review

The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama's Historic Victory The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory by David Plouffe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am coming up this summer on 18 years experience in my chosen career profession – starting humbly by inventorying cabinets of RS-232 cables and BNC connectors and all kinds of leftover watchamacallits from my employer’s years of government contracting – to today where I do, um, er, I do, well, “computing things”

You know, I have the hardest time describing what I do. I say that I do “systems administration” and “software development” and “project management” or sometimes “cat herding” – but all of those are 10,000ft views of my job.

It gets even worse when I try to tell people what I know. One of my colleagues asked recently “How did you know that?” – and about the best I could say was well, “I just knew”. Sure, I could rattle off a whole list of technologies, but I’d forget to list more than I’d remember to list – and for anyone outside my profession – and likely for most of the people in my profession, it would sound like some mishmash of buzzword bingo. I’m a problem solver. I’m good at it, as you would hope to be after 18 years in multiple computing platforms and roles and tens of thousands of little computing problems, tens of thousands of little failures and hopefully a few successes day in and day out that burn in neural pathways so that you just know.

I get the feeling that David Plouffe is a bit in the the same boat. The man clearly just knows how to run a campaign. He helped engineer the successful presidential campaign of Barack Obama – where words like “breathtaking” “amazing” “historical” even themselves can’t capture the event. I’m not sure that it’s all that possible to use hyperbole to describe the win. No matter your politics – even those with crazy conspiratorial theories – could really counter just how much of an watershed event that win was, particularly as a “professional” endeavor.

With that win, Plouffe has likely cemented his place in the history books as one of the best, perhaps the best, campaign managers ever. The environment conditions were right for an Obama win, and David just knew how to build and manage an organization that worked within those conditions. But he has the hardest time telling you how.

The Audacity To Win does highlight some of the tactics used in the campaign, and it provides some mention of the strategy – but with a few exceptions – it all feels incredibly generic. I guess I was expecting more details, more stories, more insight into the day to day decision making. It all feels like a 10,000ft view “We met our metrics, our supporters got nervous, we stuck to our guns, we laughed, we cried, we won.”

I’m being a bit hyperbolic – the book is better and more detailed than that – but most of the time it feels like that. You just know that David is the best at what he does, but you don’t get enough information as to why or how. I don’t think that’s a flaw – it’s really, really hard, at least in my own experience, to do that. The only way I know how to do it is to tell stories and weave them together in illustrative ways. And I guess that is what I was looking for – I was looking for more stories like this (Chapter 5, “Win or Go Home” – in the run up to the Iowa Caucuses):

“In early December on a Saturday night…, all thoughts turned to the Des Moines Register poll, which was scheduled for release in the next day’s paper… Generally, polls are a dime a dozen in a presidential race, and the sheer number of them makes each one seem less important. But the release of the Register poll is considered an event. Time stops and waits for the results.

My first experience with the poll was in 1990 when I was working on Tom Harkin’s Senate race. This was before the Internet, so if you wanted the scoop on the poll you had to go down to the Register’s loading docks around midnight and persuade one of the truck drivers to give you a copy before he left on his route. Harkin’s campaign manager called me into his office on a Saturday afternoon and told me to stay out of the bars that night and instead to go down to the Register building at midnight, get a copy of the paper, and then call him at home (cell phones were just large, toaster-sized oddities in those days) to give him the results and read him the story—then he would call the senator.

Sounds pretty pro forma and uneventful, but to a wet-eared twenty-three-year-old kid it was a high honor; it made me believe I must be doing a good job to be trusted with such an important task. Since then I have never seen a Register poll without thinking of that night and of how seemingly insignificant moments like that can have an outsized impact on your professional trajectory. Now I got to play the old hand: I told our mostly under-thirty staff about how we used to get the Register poll down at the docks because there was no Internet, and they would roll their eyes and look at me like I had escaped from the set of Cocoon.”

More of those would have made the book a five star book.

You certainly don’t walk away from this book empty handed, I’ve bookmarked a number of pages in my Nook – because I think there are some tactics that the campaign employed that highlight strategies for the ways in which you successfully engage people these days. Hints to the answers to questions about how you take an organization, use technology and communication – and engage people “on the ground where they are” – and what you choose to focus on and what not to focus, even in the face of the conventional wisdom. By all measures, the Obama campaign was an incredible success – and one that seems to be built on more bedrock principles than normal – and there are things to learn from that.

I just wished there had been more insight into the day to day execution. More stories, more 10ft views rather than the 10,000ft views.

View all my reviews »

How to lose an hour and a half without really trying.

Log in to your work gmail account and see:

(the “chat” block goes on ad infinitum)

And then watch your MailPlane application – and then Safari completely go into spinning beach ball of death. Then you:

  • Test another account – works
  • Test Firefox – works
  • Test Chrome – works
  • Remove labs, themes, clear out the inbox – go back, doesn’t work
  • Uninstall flash – doesn’t work
  • Resinstall flash – doesn’t work
  • You try to run Safari’s dev tools before it locks up  – get incomprehensible error codes from google’s minimized js
  • You get locked out of your gmail entirely because you keep trying too many different browsers
  • Lather, rinse, repeat

This is the kind of stuff I really don’t enjoy about my job anymore.