August 2008 Archives

The Ticket

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After a vacation from the campaign trail and a week of speculation heading into the Democratic National Convention in Denver, It became official this morning, 3:43 am CDT, when the text message went out[1]; Senator Obama has asked Senator Joe Biden to join his race to the White House as the Vice President. No matter who Senator McCain picks it seems obvious, with Biden, current Vice President Dick Chaney and to something of a lesser extent former Vice President Al Gore, the days of choosing a VP to unify a divided party after the primaries just past or a choice to gain favor in a pivotal state in the general election yet to come is waning.

The Vice President may still be without official power, other than to oversee the Senate, but it seems just as true that the position is no longer, as John Adams once wrote, "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." Now the Vice President has become, to some extent a Cabinet position[2], a special advisor to the President, to give his advice and experience, in the case of both President George W. Bush and potential President Barack Obama additional foreign policy knowledge, unto the contender.

While Senator Biden maybe considered a policy wonk, he's not new to the presidential campaign trail. Yet he has never made it past the primaries, in part because of his lack of appeal with voters outside of Delaware. Which just proves the point, and perhaps the image this campaign is looking for. As Senator Biden said at today's rally introducing himself as the choice for Vice President, "these times require more than a good soldier[3], they require a wise leader[4]."

Mondale in St. Paul Campaign Office

No vacation of course for me or the state campaign. Instead we got a series of surrogates, including former Vice President Walter Mondale. While Mondale was on hand in the St. Paul office to kick of the Senior Citizens drive on the 73rd anniversary of Social Security, I wanted to hear him speak, if for no other reason, then to say I've heard him in person. As it turns out, it seems like I'll need to keep an eye out to actually introduce myself and meet him[5]since I found out from my Dad, after I sent out a photo from the event, that Mondale is a political hero of his since Mondale, as Attorney General for the state of Minnesota, lead an coalition of State's Attorney Generals who presented amicus briefs in the 1963 case of Gideon v. Wainwright that indeed the states need to provide counsel for the defendant if one could not be afforded.[6][7]

But for the most part my time has been building up office infrastructure, navigating issues of all shorts; gather cost, billing, shipping information for services of phone, Internet, etcetera in order to get more offices up and running in as sort as order as possible to call.

To bypass the long, tedious build out of phone lines at all offices via Qwest we've started adding and supplement offices with VoIP lines from Vonage. The cost, $10 a line, can't be beat and the plug and play nature of the devices means some offices can be up and running in no time. However, Vonage customer service sucks. The DFL, which has been handling the actual ordering, has had to deal with the fact that Vonage is consumer, not business (or political) oriented. Our quite large order has been ordered, put on hold, cancelled, put on hold and cancelled, quite a number of times. Luckily, the order includes all the devices we're planning on needing, so this won't be an ongoing struggle.

The other side of the problem means supporting the lines falls squarely on me. For the most part, this means optimizing the data compression/sound quality for the offices that have limited bandwidth (given that our offices are scatted all over Minnesota, we have a mix of speeds from a collection of various different cable and/or phone providers) which, thankfully, can be done remotely.

Alas, not all offices are open to a helping hand. Technically only three of our offices, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Duluth are outright Obama campaign offices. This means only three offices where I have absolute say. The rest of our offices are sub-leases of some sort, with us sharing the office with the state party and/or some local official. Which means local office politics have a greater influence on what I can and cannot do then any service provider issue.

While this issue had occurred to me in abstract, I was still knocked off balance by it while trying to wire up a local party official's office, which besides housing the regional Obama campaign staffers is also hosting several local campaign staffers. Ran head first into the issue in fact, which means I left, after driving half a day with install visits to several other offices "in the area[8]", with nothing installed after heated words and a fury of phone calls.

So, I'm certainly feeling a bit isolated. I haven't felt this way in quite some time. Which goes to show how much I'm missing Katie. While, I wish I could be working on the campaign in Chicago, being able to share more of it with her and having her with me, I'm glad I'm not. I doubt I could deal with the stress on wanting to get home just a few minutes earlier in the day to be with her. It's hard to be so separated, but it's helpful to be able to dedicate all the time and energy I need to for the job. I don't feel like I'm neglecting her or transferring my stress onto her.

The next best thing, I guess, will be having some volunteers or assistances. The nice thing about being in the Twin Cities is I'll be able reach out to a local tech community, via Craigslist, amount other boards and forums:

Minnesota Volunteer Tech Staff: Provide Windows Desktop Support; Network troubleshooting, Printer troubleshooting and Windows troubleshooting on a case by case basis.

The tech volunteer will be local point person for each office offering first level tech support, diagnosing desktop and network issues that include, but might not be limited to, accessing Web and Email, printing, network hardware and/or other Windows software related issues.

The tech volunteer will need to be able to organize and prioritize issues, be able to determine which issues can be solved on an individual basis and which need to be "escalated." The tech volunteer will need to provide support for non-technical volunteer/staff, pursue issues until resolved and follow-up as needed. As time allows, document evolving procedures and process and perform preventive maintenance such as apply software patches, keeping system software up-to-date.

Initially one tech volunteers per office, perhaps starting with individuals already volunteering taking on some tech responsibilities for each office they are located at.

  • Network Troubleshooting: Know how to access wireless network, be familiar with router/switches/hubs and be able to troubleshoot/restart if necessary.
  • Printer Troubleshooting:  Know how to troubleshooting printer issues; rectifying paper jams, resetting printers (Xerox or other brands), installing and configuring software drivers
  • Windows Troubleshooting: Know how to troubleshoot common Windows XP issues, configure network (wired and wireless) , install software drivers (most commonly printer) as needed, make sure Windows software up-to-date, be able to assist with common Windows software such as Microsoft Office
  • Familiarity with common office phone systems & BlackBerry smartphones
  • Familiarity with Macs (desired, but not necessary)


[1] I doubt the original plan behind the text message was to send a 3am message to supporters and for those who were curious. But by around 10:30 last night the news story started to break and given the promise of "being the first to know" - in trade for giving us your info which we then put in our database - the national campaign's New Media Group must have found itself in a bit of a pickle.

[2] Mr. Adams probably would have been just as unhappy if he did partake in President Washington's cabinet in some capacity given the political faults that developed between Hamilton and Jefferson, among others, in Washington's cabinet that then exploded during Adams' presidency, to such an extent that Adams simply by passed his cabinet (Jefferson as Vice President caring to have no role and sulking in Monticello) and kept his own counsel.

[3] A not so subtle dig at Senator McCain and his military service.

[4] A not so subtle dig at President Bush and his, um, unique ability to turn a phrase; "I'm going to try to see if I can remember as much to make it sound like I'm smart on the subject."--answering a question concerning a possible flu pandemic, Cleveland, July 10, 2007

[5] And find a book for him to sign

[6] Florida, sticking to that oh so familiar argument of the South had argued that it was a "State's right issue" to define if and when a defendant required legal representation if one could not be acquired. Alas, Mr. Mondale provide that, even if it was a state's rights issue, the view of most states was that indeed the ambiguity of if and when should be removed and a system of public defenders be expanded to provide legal counsel in all criminal cases if need be.

[7] If I do manage to meet Mr. Mondale, I doubt I'll need to express that my father is indeed a practicing lawyer. For only a lawyer, or in this case the son of a lawyer, would mention being honor to meet, not a former Vice President or former Presidential nominee, bit an attorney who help significantly reshape the criminal justice system.

[8] i.e. same side of the state. For example, I plan my trips such that if I'm heading to Moorehead, that I also have everything I need to St. Cloud.


The Olympic Movement

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When the week started out with political comparisons of Paris Hilton and Dead Presidents one has to wonder if the gutter can't be far below for the election as a whole. Sure enough it made it, but only after a little hearting "debating of the issues". 

Senators McCain and Obama debated their stance on energy, McCain sighting his preference to expanding oil drilling within the United States, mostly in terms of off-shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and nuclear power. While Obama stated his preference to alternative fuel research and corn subsidies for increased ethanol production. Of course between the public debate on issues each candidate managed to get in a few sideway insults, trying to brand the other as either anti-drilling - reason for high gas prices or anti-farmer - wishing to continue our dependency on (mostly foreign) oil for the sake of big oil companies. 

As is always the case the answer is somewhere in between and - just in case you've forgotten about her - Paris Hilton released her own "campaign ad" stating as much. More than a few critics mentioned her ad was; 1) funny, 2) better executed than any campaign ads that have run thus far 3) insightful.[1]

To be fair, Senator Obama has been trying to communicate his comments in "a compromise is possible" mode noting more drilling is possible, if any proposed energy bill also includes some repeal of tax cuts on auto manufactures and oil companies for funding of alternative fuel research.

Of course, to be fair to Senator McCain, to some extent subsides on corn, as well as other farm subsidies the federal government has maintained over the last 75 years or so is, if not exactly the definition of, is close to the definition of "pork barrel". In other words Obama, being from Illinois and counting on Midwest states, is pandering.

And then, the floor fell in. Just before the broadcasting of the opening of the Olympic ceremonies, John Edwards admitted to having an extramarital affair with another woman in 2006, after being picked as a VP running mate of John Kerry in 2004 and before he attempted to run for the 2008 Democratic nomination. [2] And this man was a likely VP candidate for Obama![3] Hell the man could have been the Democratic nominee![4] And there may be a possible love child![5]

Incredibly, neither candidate suggested that a safe and stable Iraq might result in short-term reduction in the near record high price of oil. Perhaps each side feared a rolling debate on oil and foreign policy that could not be "controlled" or "spun" in a helpful manner.

Meanwhile in Minnesota, Senator Obama made a quick appearance for a fundraiser in Minneapolis and a photo opportunity in St. Paul on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Having my own campaign duties our paths didn't cross so, as of yet I have not actually meet "my boss".

Not that I would be talking much about the difficulties of my job if and when I meet up with him. No, I doubt I will be listing my grievances that few people seem to consider IT issues, until it's an issue and that, as seems usual for most non-technology corporations, there is little "strategic thinking" of technology beyond, in the case of the Obama campaign, "new media[6]", which seems to boil down to - blogs, social networking and mass emailing as far as I can tell.

This means my stress results from trying to herd three organizations; the national campaign, the state campaign and the state party organization into a cohesive, well running technological infrastructure from wholly nothing; no IT staff, no coordinating staff or equivalent individual in the DFL[7], et cetera.

Sure I'm earning my pay, plus some. But that's not what I would talk about with my "boss". Nope got something else on my mind for that encounter.

[1] Why I haven't purchased my one-way ticket out of this country yet is beyond me at times like these.

[2] Oh, and two former Soviet states, Russia and Georgia are in a firefight over some disputed territory, but befitting the way the U.S. media has treated this story, we'll just mention it in a passing footnote. 

[3] Did I mention that Russia is invading Georgia? No, not the southern state within the U.S., the country. Yes, there is a country name Georgia, it is a former Soviet state, just as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan are.

[4] A region within Georgia, South Ossetia as well as another region, Abkhazia have been in dispute between the two states since the early 90s.

[5] Yes, there is a country name Georgia, why won't you believe to me? Um, I'm not sure if they have a large oil reserves or not, why do you ask?

[6] Xavier, the New Media Director, is part of the senior staff. I am not.

[7] Minnesota's state Democratic Party, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

What Day Is It?

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According to CNN the current estimated number of electors Senator Obama has for the Electoral College is 221. Senator McCain's count is 189. Of the 538 total available, 270 are needed for either candidate to win the presidency[1].  That leaves an estimated 128 "available".  Of those "available" the breakdown by state is:

  • Florida: 27
  • Ohio: 20
  • Michigan: 17
  • Virginia: 13
  • Missouri: 11
  • Minnesota: 10
  • Colorado: 9
  • Iowa: 7
  • Nevada: 5
  • New Mexico: 5
  • Hampshire: 4

It should be no surprise that the Democrats "just happen" to have scheduled their convention in Denver for August 25-28, 2008. The Republicans will be holding theirs here in Minneapolis the following week, September 1-4, 2008. Moreover, the rumor about the McCain camp is that current Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is a front-runner for the vice-presidential slot. In other words, Minnesota is a "key battleground" state for both campaigns.

This could get interesting.

Both McCain and Obama have taken some jabs[2], McCain for running some ads equating Obama to Paris Hilton, famous for flash but lacking in substance, and Obama for suggesting "the race card" when Obama noted that McCain's campaign was using its negative ads as scare tactics because Obama  "doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."

Of course, with the start of the Beijing Olympics less than a week away and the primary conventions just over the horizon, this amounts to nothing more that "trash-talking" before the big game.

For my first week, I have to say I think I'm starting to get a handle on everything. That's not to say everything can't blow up in my face tomorrow, but I feel a hell of a lot more comfortable now than I did on Tuesday when the lack of sleep and stress of trying to grab hold was getting to me.  As Tom[3] jokingly put it in a group email "Since arriving in Iowa, I have faced a barrage of how can I do this, why can't I do this and when are you going to get this setup for me? Anyone else heard this?"

This has made me push on an idea I had even before I came out here, but in which Brian had reframed in my mind on Monday or so, to develop a group of tech volunteers who can offer first line support for various issues. While I'm not from the area, I have the benefit of having some college friends[4], one of whom works in the local tech industry, for a basic search. I'm also thinking of posting a question on LinkedIn.

Why? Well it will only get worse as more staff is added and the intensity of a potentially close state race grows. If this week is any indication as for the most part my daily issues can include hurry up and waiting, wondering, for example, when data/voice setups from the local cable/phone companies will be installed such that I can move on to setting up networks.

But setting up is just the beginning, our main office has a data line from Comcast and for the most part the line is doing well. But one issue I've been trying to eliminate is our WiFi has at times been a bit flaky. Now the access point is not in the best location and is a combined router/wifi access point (Linksys WRT160N) for home, not office, use and we do have some competition from our neighbors. So for the most part I've been trying to lay down Ethernet to everyone's desk, which has put a run on what Cat5 I've had on hand. I should have more cabling and better WiFi access points in the next day or so, thanks to Mark[5], but I figure this is going to be an ongoing battle.

How do I figure? Well because the other half of my time this will has been dealing with questions of scaling resources. Specifically adding more phone lines, we're talking about VoIP as a cheap, fast solution and terminals, refurbished desktops or thin clients running off of a handful of new desktop computers  - looks we're going for refurbished desktops, it's the know quantity in terms of what to expect and plan for - for volunteers to work at.

Of course everything should be in place and sunning smoothly by sometime in December....



[1] Oh and we have to hold an actual election too, but why be so nitpicky?

[2] Egged on of course by everyone's not so impartial judge and jury, 'mainstream' 'mass' media.

[3] Tom C., Iowa IT Director

[4] Glenn and Cyndi

[5] Mark J., IT Special Projects Manager and Midwest and Southwest Regional IT Director who I blame for getting me into this mess since he is the one reasonable for originally sending out a email to me, among others, soliciting applications for various IT Director positions.

About the Author

Paul is a technologist and all around nice guy for technology oriented organizations and parties. Besides maintaining this blog and website you can follow Paul's particular pontifications on the Life Universe and Everything on Twitter.


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