How to get my nerd vote

I've been thinking lately about a dream candidate for my nerd habits, my nerdy business, and the way I live my nerdy life. Regardless of party affiliation, if you're running for an office from as small as city council all the way up to president, if you hit on any/all of these things, you just might get my vote.

  1. Broadband Everywhere. I want crazy South Korea/Japan style broadband I've heard about for years: 100Mbps (upload and download) fiber connections for less than $50/month with unlimited bandwidth and the ability to run your own servers. I know the US is a big spread out country and it makes this stuff somewhat difficult/costly, but it's an ambitious goal with a ton of payoff. We don't have manufacturing jobs in the US anymore: we don't make things, we don't build things, we don't sew things here, but we do have lots of ideas and inventions.

    The economy of the future in the US is going to be intertwined with the internet and if every man, woman, and child in America has all the internet access they could ever need and could quickly program, build, and deploy their own stuff on their own mega-fast lines, we'd have a million and one programmers and designers and crafters and more contributing to a new vibrant future economy. If fiber everywhere is too much, at least get 3G coverage in more places.

  2. Universal Healthcare. Everyone I know that freelances or works a day job and wishes they could quit and follow their dreams of launching a company complains about the lack of healthcare. Whenever I used to talk about freelancing at tech conferences, the first question was always about healthcare coverage. I've heard that in places like Berlin where you don't have to worry about where your healthcare is coming from or how much it costs, up to 35% of working age adults are freelancers. It may sound crazy and anti-capitalist to consider healthcare for all, but if we flipped a switch tomorrow and everyone had health coverage I swear a million small businesses would launch overnight. I know lots of people that keep a job just to get healthcare that are wasting their creative talents because they had a cancer scare or were born with a defect or otherwise are deemed uninsurable on their own.
  3. No federal taxes on internet purchases. It's worked out well for over a decade, let's just stick with not charging tax on online shopping.
  4. Renew a commitment to Education. Yes, we already spend a lot on education, but it's nothing compared to what we spend on defense. There are loads of possibilities to reform education at all levels with the goals being well-informed kids that love learning in a safe environment and can grow up to attend any college they want to (hopefully cheap or free of charge).
  5. Renew a commitment to Science. Bring back NASA and let's really fly to The Moon and Mars again. Don't let local school boards dictate that it's ok to prevent teaching proper biology (yes, the scientific method and evolution) to students. The US spent the last hundred years being at the forefront of science only to begin abandoning it as we passed into the 21st century. Engineers and scientists will continue to lead innovation in America and it seems silly in this day and age that we even have to defend the basic tenets of science from constant attack.
  6. Real changes to transportation. Increase MPG requirements for all carmakers selling vehicles in the US. Engineers love a design challenge and making a Chevy Suburban get 25mpg may seem impossible today but I'm confident a design team could develop one quickly if given the proper resources. We flew to the freakin' moon 40 years ago on the computing power of today's $5 solar calculators — we can make cars burn fuel more efficiently.

    Regarding alternate fuels, stay away from net-zero energy fuels like Hydrogen and corn-based Ethanol (for now, keep researching them though) and instead focus on what works today using existing technology. Biodiesel could work in many cities and in many cars today given the proper tax incentives to car owners and fuel station owners. Keep researching other fuels (switchgrass ethanol sure would be nice) but it feels like we're ignoring the low-hanging fruit that is biodiesel.

    Decrease foreign oil use by giving tax incentives to people that work at home, to people that ride a bicycle or walk to work, and to those using public transportation. Want to move to be closer to work? Get rid of capital gains taxes on homes sold less than two years after you take up residence if you can cut your commute in half or more.

  7. Allow early voting by mail. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love the way Oregon works with regards to voting in all elections. You get voter information packets about 4-6 weeks before an election, then your ballot arrives about 2-3 weeks before the deadline. You can vote at your leisure, using wikipedia, google, and anything else you need to research your vote as you cast your vote.
  8. Revamp Copyright/IP law. Using the internet means you are making a perfect digital copy of everything you ever read, see, and hear, and it doesn't always jibe with existing copyright law. There is lots to say about this, but I wish we were a little more Lessig and a little less Disney when it comes to this realm.
  9. Fund the patent office so it can do a better job. Software patents almost universally suck and stifle innovation.
  10. Open government. Open source voting machines, xml data for every vote on every bill by every legislator. Public Domain dumps of every photograph, recording, film, and publication commissioned by the government in an easy to retrieve place.

These are all pretty much self-serving: I was a science major in college and grad school, I work from home (and am enjoying a fast fiber connection), run a company that is considering employee healthcare, my wife drives a diesel car, and I previously worked at a non-profit cofounded by Lessig. I know there aren't a ton of details and there are downsides to many things I've mentioned but I came up with my own dream list.

I know I must be missing something, what would you throw on the nerd wishlist for candidates?

TLFT*: Michael Phelps

Watching some recent olympic track and field events still sitting on TiVo, I’m finally starting to understand how amazing it was for Michael Phelps to swim 17 races and win 8 medals and break multiple records over the span of just a few short days. For some reason I wasn’t really that impressed by the announcers constantly repeating it. It’s just swimming in water right? You don’t even sweat while doing it!

Watching the track events and seeing the people that do multiple events have to go through heats (like Phelps did in the water), I’m completely and totally amazed by some track stars doing three different events over the span of a couple days. I guess it’s because I ran cross-country and longer track events at one time in my life, and that I can see they are totally exhausted at the end of each heat, but I am amazed at the insanity of running full bore several times a day over the course of a couple days.

Then I realize Phelps did about three times as many heats/races in a similar timespan, and that the few times I’ve been in an olympic-sized pool exhausted me almost instantly, and I have a new appreciation for the insane amount of sheer exertion that kid put himself through.

* too long for twitter

Podcasts are officially better than radio, thanks to user experience

The other day I realized that although I was skeptical of podcasting going all the way back to 2004, I have to admit that now in 2008, I vastly prefer the experience of listening to a podcast, when compared to listening to the radio (say, NPR as I am comparing voice podcasts vs. talk radio).

In my early college years, I delivered pizza and drove around for hours a day in my car, listening to mostly talk radio (KFI in Southern California) to keep myself from being bored. When I had a long commute in college for a few years, I started listening to NPR. I would drift in and out of stories and reports as I dropped off a pizza or had to run to class from the parking lot and I never really got the hang of the broadcast schedules. I haven’t had to commute by car regularly for over five years so I don’t have 5-10 hours to kill every week in a car and I listen to NPR much less.

So the other day I was running errands around town like I usually do. This entails driving a couple miles to my bank, a couple more miles to a downtown shop, and a few more miles to the grocery store. It’s a series of stops and starts and I have to pick up my mail down the street from my house and sometimes I get hot chocolate or food in a drive-thru and I realized the user experience of radio sucks for this. There are nothing but interruptions as I go about my day. I know I’m spoiled by having the internet around for so long and having a TiVo for the past 8 years. Everything remotely entertaining and informative in my life is completely on-demand for me — I can watch, read, or listen to anything I want, whenever I want, wherever I want.

Except Radio. With radio, I can’t follow every episode and I can’t even remember when stuff is on. While I long wanted to have a “TiVo for radio” what I really wanted was a On Demand radio service with pause capability, and that’s pretty much what podcasting gives you.

I know it’s still a pain in the butt to download and run iTunes, then sync to a device like an iPod/iPhone, then it’s a whole can of worms to get it playing back in your car, but once you’ve done the legwork, it’s a pretty amazing thing. I find in my regular in-town driving for common errands I have about 2-4 hours a week to kill in the car listening to music or podcasts. Currently, this lets me dutifully follow every show that I’m a fan of, and I can hear every segment of every episode without missing a beat (thanks to the mighty pause button) and it doesn’t entail sitting in a parking lot for 15 minutes waiting for an amazing interview to conclude. Over the course of the past year, I’ve worked through almost the entire back catalog at MaximumFun.org and I follow a couple of NPR’s podcasted shows, listening a little each time when I’m out driving around.

My truck came with XM radio and I get several NPR stations where I live, but ever since I started listening to podcasts on my iPhone in the car, I noticed I really don’t turn on the radio anymore, and it’s not because of the program quality. It’s all about the user experience.

Keynote Index Fund

A few months ago I was thinking about Apple’s rise in value after the iPhone and how Steve Jobs does a great keynote every year, and naturally I thought “I wonder if there’s a way to make money off quick investments around the keynotes?” Then I thought “What if you did this every year, for just a day or two of investment?”

I ran the numbers and here they are, on this new 1-page website: Keynote Index Fund

What if cupcakes could somehow become more awesome? HOWTO

I’m a big fan of cupcakes, huge fan. 30lbs overweight fan.

Anyway, a couple months ago, my wife gave her students some cupcakes and someone BLEW MY MIND with a simple hack that solved one of cupcakes’ few failings: sometimes there’s just too much frosting, they’re too tall for your mouth, and/or the frosting/cake mix is all wrong in your mouth.

Behold my illustrated guide to How to eat cupcakes

The Future of the Music Business

In the age of the mp3, label musicians and the labels themselves are fighting for survival. As the cost of music is driven down to near zero, they’re doing everything they can to reverse that trend — and yet, the trend continues. I’ve been thinking about music costing effectively nothing and the future of the business and my musician friends for the past few weeks, and some half-assed ideas popped into my head.

Classical Music. Classical music is our future so take some time to consider it.

1. People rarely spend money on classical music itself. I bought a Bach or Mozart CD once when I was 19 when I needed background sound while studying. For the last few years, whenever I want to hear some classical, I just put on the one radio station that plays it or I pick any random classical listing in iTunes’ streaming music area and let it play. It’s basically free and plentiful.

2. Old classical music has no copyright, anyone can cover anything by Beethoven and not owe anyone a cut. You can remix sheetmusic from the 1700s all you want and call it your own. If you’ve got access to an orchestra and a recording device you can go nuts making music and never need a lawyer for any of it. Everything before 1923 is in the public domain: it’s like a Creative Commons wet dream.

3. Classical music fans are tech savvy and embrace the internet. The majority of them rip music, and a sizable chunk own iPods and pay for downloads.

Despite these doomsday notions, classical music remains an industry and there are tens of thousands of professional classical musicians worldwide that make a living from it. It’s not all glitz and glamor, but there are classical music labels that are doing alright and plenty of live events generate a decent amount of revenue even in modest-sized cities. There may not be crazy millionaire Kanye West platinum sellers (aside from maybe Yo Yo Ma?) in the classical set, but they’re not all starving artists.

The popular music industry of the future isn’t going to be anything like it is today, but if you’re an indie rocker in 2007 worried about what the future might bring, don’t listen to what the labels are saying, think more about the 2nd chair clarinet in the Berlin orchestra.

update: Andy was kind enough to send more evidence along: NYTimes, NPR, and The New Yorker all on how despite being plentiful and free like I mentioned, classical was the fastest growing segment of music sales last year, thanks in part to the tech savvy listeners paying for downloaded music.