Christmas Trains

When I was little my Dad used to bring the trains out at Christmas. Twenty years later the old train table is in my basement. This morning the boys and I took it out and got it running.


It took a bit of work to get decades worth of corrosion off the tracks, but eventually we got it working, and Conner was thrilled.


After her nap Allison even got in on the fun...


The kids got a kick out of conducting the trains, but they seemed to get the most joy out of crashing them.

Conner is completely enamored with the trains. When I explained that these were the tracks that Pop made for me he said "Next time we see him I'll say thank you!" and then he sat down at the controls and played and played...


Taking Care of Baby

The other night Allison went off to her room and grabbed her doll and the baby wipes.  And then she did this.  



Once she got things started the boys joined in. Conner pulled out all the wipes...


Alex explained that they had to remove the baby's diaper to properly change her...


We went through a lot of wipes, but Allison had a really god time.


Chopping Firewood

One of the perks of our new house is the wood burning fireplace. The previous owners even left us with a bunch of potential firewood around the house.

Today Conner and I picked up 6 lb axe. He insisted on the yellow one. When we got home I split some wood as Conner cheered me on. Alex even helped once Conner went in for his nap. Alex is quite the woodsman.

Alex Chopping Firewood

Digg Yahoo Pipe Fixed after Digg API Change

A few days ago Digg changed the way their API returned data. All the data is still there, but it's named differently. This caused my Digg Yahoo Pipe (unfortunately named Digg Dev 7) to stop displaying showing images, the digg count and category info.

All of the cool Digg look and feel mojo was gone! :(

I tried ignoring it, but I really missed the Digg Look and Feel.  So as of a few minutes ago the DiggDev7 pipe is fixed and good as new.

It turns out the API changes weren't that bad. All they did was clean up the attribute names. I'm not one for changing the names of things in APIs just to clean them up, but the new version is a lot easier to work with.  Just in case they go back to the old version I kept a copy of the old DiggDev7 pipe.

Usability Hack for Gmail Macros Greasemonkey Script

There is a great greasmonky script, Gmail Macros, that adds a bunch of keyboard shortcut coolness to gmail.  The part I like the most is to be able to add a label by typing "L" and then typing the label.

The Usability Problem
Labels are automatically applied as soon as a match is found... Without the user taking any explicit action...

For example:

I have a label called "house".  When I have a house related email I want to label it "house" so I hit "l" and start typing "house". Super Cool!

The label is applied automatically when I type "ho" because "ho" is a unique match for "house" out of all my labels at that point.

But my fingers keep going because I can't keep all the unique match character limits straight in my head. "ho" for "house", "gar" for "garden".

So as my fingers keep typing a bunch of weird stuff happens because all of the remaining characters in "house" those being "use" are treated as keyboard shortcuts.

All of a sudden my label is applied and gmail is doing all sorts of crazy stuff.
u = nothing, but I swear I hear gmail ululating
s = star
e = archive

What I really want is:
  1. For gmail to stay calm. No surprise ululation.
  2. Let my fingers keep going and let me decide that I have the label I want.
  3. Let me hit return and then have the label applied.
The Solution

I tried whining about this, but nothing happened so I finally broke down and made a change to the original script to make it do exactly what I want. My updated Gmail Macro script is available here.

The only change from the original is it requires you hit "return" in order to apply a label. That's it!

Thanks to Mihai Parparita. He did all the hard work writing the original script. All I did was change one line of his code.

Important note, if you use the Gmail Labs feature called "Right Side Labels", neither this script nor it's predecessor will work. I used to use that labs feature, but it was worth giving up for keyboard shortcuts for labels.

Wait Wait Don't Tell Me! Live!

Last Thursday night Christine and I went to a live taping of Wait Wait Don't Tell Me at the Wang theater in Boston with my brother and parents.

The show aired on November 8th, and is available via mp3 via their podcast.

It was a lot of fun to watch them tape and we learned answers to some age old questions:

Q: How come they never stutter or mix up their words?
A: They do, but they have a producer that sits there with their script and marks all the lines they mess up. At the end of the show they go back and re-record parts.  It's kind of fun to watch because they just stand around saying all these out of context lines from the show.

Q: How come the audience doesn't shout out answers to people on the phone?
A: They do, the person on the phone can't hear them.

Q: Does Carl Kasell travel from Washington to Chicago every weekend to record the show?
A: Yes

Trick or Treat Photo Journal

This year we celebrated Halloween family style. The entire Russell tribe, John, Sara, me, Christine, Nanna, Pop and all the Russell kids went out together. Here are a few pics from that night.

Halloween 2008
The Russell Children prepare to Trick or Treat

Allison Witch
Allison Works her magic!

Christine's Pumpkin Handy work

Christine received a lot of complements on her pumpkin carving

The Loot!
The boys divvy up their loot!

After Trick or Treat

First Step for the New Administration:

Since Tuesday night I've been happily detoxing from scores of political feeds. According to Google Reader, on average I was reading 265 posts a day for the last 30 days.

Even though I'm happily ditching many of the campaign related feeds the one thing I want to keep an eye on is what Obama is doing next.  Voting him into office was a critical first step but the job of a citizen isn't finished at the voting booth. 

The Sunlight Foundation is a great place to look for government transparency info, but I was hoping Obama would make his administration at least as transparent as his campaign without relying on others to drag it out of the dark corners of his administration.

So when, 36 hours after the election, Obama's campaign blog had gone basically dormant I was a little concerned. Sure he's busy, but now is not the time to go into isolation. But once again Obama didn't disappoint. His new website and blog is up and running!

From their site:
Throughout the Presidential Transition Project, this website will be your source for the latest news, events, and announcements so that you can follow the setting up of the Obama Administration. And just as this historic campaign was, from the beginning, about you -- the transition process will offer you opportunities to participate in redefining our government.

 The site seems like it's just coming up to speed, but it's a good sign and a great start!

Barack Obama's Grant Park Speech November 4th, 2008

Text as prepared:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It's the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.

It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.

I just received a very gracious call from Senator McCain. He fought long and hard in this campaign, and he's fought even longer and harder for the country he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine, and we are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader. I congratulate him and Governor Palin for all they have achieved, and I look forward to working with them to renew this nation's promise in the months ahead.

I want to thank my partner in this journey, a man who campaigned from his heart and spoke for the men and women he grew up with on the streets of Scranton and rode with on that train home to Delaware, the Vice President-elect of the United States, Joe Biden.

I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last sixteen years, the rock of our family and the love of my life, our nation's next First Lady, Michelle Obama. Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House. And while she's no longer with us, I know my grandmother is watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight, and know that my debt to them is beyond measure.

To my campaign manager David Plouffe, my chief strategist David Axelrod, and the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics - you made this happen, and I am forever grateful for what you've sacrificed to get it done.

But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to - it belongs to you.

I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn't start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington - it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.

It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation's apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory.

I know you didn't do this just to win an election and I know you didn't do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime - two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage, or pay their doctor's bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek - it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers - in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House - a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, "We are not enemies, but friends...though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection." And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn - I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world - our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down - we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security - we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright - tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

For that is the true genius of America - that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing - Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons - because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America - the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that "We Shall Overcome." Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves - if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:

Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Live Blogging Election Coverage

John couldn't come over to watch the election coverage with us so we set up a virtual chair for him.

John Watching the Election Coverage

It was just like he was sitting in the room with us. We watched the same thing at the same time and even talked to each other over Skype. It's like he was replaced by a computer sitting on a chair right in the room.

This is a screen shot John sent me of his view over Skype.

Johns view

Update 11:02PM EST


When the Daily Show ended John got a peaceful view of our fireplace.


Update 11:22PM EST

John McCain is showing a lot of class in his concession speech.


msnbc obama wins

Update 12:57AM EST

Obama gave an amazing speech at Grant Park marked by the promise "Yes We Can!"


I'll post a video of the speech tomorrow.

There is still hope for people...

sign I always wondered where they find those people who hold political signs on street corners. Now I know. They are people who volunteer to "Get Out the Vote", and just happen to be standing around when some campaign strategists decides to "Mobilize every available resource for a visual counter".  That means the other party has people holding signs on a corner and your party needs to be there as well with an equal or greater presence.

That's how I ended up standing on a corner in Nashua NH, during rush hour, holding an Obama sign, surrounded by super energized partitions from both parties. There were probably 40 people all together and our job was to stand there and wave at cars.  It wasn't at all what I wanted to be doing, but I had made my mind up to go volunteer, and this is what they said they needed, so there I was...

Even for someone of my limited athletic skills, sign holding and waving is actually a very easy job. It left me a lot of time to chat with people and think. My first thought was "This is an extremely stupid way to spend campaign resources."

Seriously, who were we going to convince to change their vote by holding a sign and waving at people?  But as I watched I realized our goal wasn't to convince people to vote a certain way, but rather to make them feel like part of a larger group and thus comfortable voting a certain way. Here's how I think it works:
Imagine you drive by a corner and there are a bunch of people holding Obama signs. They all look happy and are waving at you.This makes you (an Obama Supporter) feel like you belong to something. You have a connection to these people. You agree with them, and their presence, even on a very subconscious and childish level, reinforces your comfort with supporting that candidate.

Now imagine the opposite. The people are all holding McCain signs, waving and chanting McCain 08.  It probably won't change your vote, but it's a paper cut in your armor for supporting that candidate. You feel left out. Enough of those and you may start thinking of supporting the other guy just to fit in.

As best as I can tell, the people who stand on corners holding signs are engaged in a form of reverse peer pressure.
So there I was, feeling like an idiot holding this sign. Fairly confident that this sort of ridiculous sign waving wouldn't work on me, but still along for the ride.  After a short time I got over my discomfort and started talking to a few of the other people there. There were people from ages 2 to 70, and most of them were very friendly. I was amazed by the different races, religions, and careers represented in that small group.  It's an interesting place to network.

Unfortunately there were a few people on both sides that decided there job was to verbally assault each other. The mood quickly became caustic as they started yelling some very nasty stuff.  It struck me that this was totally counter to achieving our goal because as they stood there attacking each other they were ignoring the people we were supposed to be courting. Yet on they went.

I was standing next to an exuberant and friendly black guy named Claud.  Claud is the sort of person that's the live of a party; Really animated and he had so much positive energy he just made people happy.  He wasn't getting involved with the fighting, but he became the target of the attacks when someone from our side yelled "Racist" and the other guys started directing their attacks at Claud... 

Keep in mind that out of the 40 people only about 6 were actively taunting each other. Multiple attempts were made on both sides to calm these guys down, but they kept flaring up again.

This went on for about an hour.  Even thought it was only a small group of obnoxious people, it seemed to me to be the focus of the night.  That sort of caustic talk tends to suck all the life out of everything else going on.  Except Claud... Life of the party...

When the traffic died down we all packed up and that's when I saw the thing that gave me hope.  The noisy guys got distracted (they probably saw something shiny and ran off after it) and left the rest of us alone.

Claud picked up one of the other camps signs and brought it over to one them.  I had long since forgotten that there were only a few noisy assholes and was honestly expected a brawl to break out.  But their body language suggested otherwise.  Claud and one of the other camps guys shook hands and wished each other good luck. Just like that the lines between the camps faded away. The rest of the sign holders from both sides started talking.  There was almost no way to see who was in which camp.

And that made me smile.

The day before the end of a 20 month campaign, these people are voting for different candidates, have just stood out in the cold with people yelling obscenities at each other, and yet they didn't get taken in by the fighting. They shook hands, helped each other carry stuff back to their cars and wished each other good luck.  Not good luck with the election, but good luck in life, which seems so much more important.   It was a mutual respect I hadn't expected.

The final parting gift to my sense of where to draw the campaign battle lines came as we waited for a truck to pull up so we could load the Obama signs for their trip back to campaign headquarters.  I think I have to give up on stereotypes because I never expected one of these to show up with an Obama sticker.

Hummer H3 with an Obama Sticker

Digg Yahoo Pipe Update

I couldn't sleep last night, and was too distracted to do anything productive, (I can't wait till this election is over) so I made some updates to the Digg Yahoo Pipe I built a while back.

Change Log:
  • Added a default image to every post. It provides a big target to click on to get to the posted article
  • Removed the digg mirror sites. They never seem to be up
  • Added a direct link that takes you to the posted article
  • Fixed the comments link
  • Cleaned up some formatting with the submitters avitar
These changes basically make it easier to pull up the linked article from Google Reader even if your using the Better GReader addon for Firefox.

On Yahoo Pipes [very geeky stuff]:
Yahoo pipes is an amazingly powerful tool, but the developer interface drives me crazy... Not a good crazy... When you start using it, the ability to drag and drop elements and combine them with simple mouse clicks makes it seem like a dream tool, but that quickly fades.

Most of their GUI requires very find mouse movements, and there's a nasty bug in the item auto population where it deletes numbers from the item name. If you are going to bother to auto populate values, at least auto populate them correctly. Best of all, when you have a syntax error the debugger simply says "Error Parsing" on a screen that is usually full of output data. It would  be more helpful if they said "Error Parsing, And that is all we have to say about that! Via Con Dios" so that I didn't waste time looking for some hint as to what it thought the error was or where it happened.

As much as I complain about it being a pain to use, it's still by far the best thing out there for feed manipulation.  And since it's totally free I really shouldn't be complaining. It really is an amazingly powerful tool. Thanks Yahoo!