calendar August 26th, 2007 by md

Miss Teen SC in the Miss Teen USA pageant tackles a tough question on the failings of the US educational system. Yikes.

Fasten your seatbelts.

I would strongly urge each state Miss USA board to institute a writing and speaking test. I have no illusions that these contests are decided on the basis of intellect or personality. However, I think that being unable to form a paragraph to speak in complete sentences — even when you are nervous — should be disqualifying.

calendar July 5th, 2007 by md

From the cow to your belly ... it's homemade butter

There is a medium-sized list of things that I should do less. On the list is “eating butter.” However, when I saw a recipe in the NYT sunday magazine for homemade butter — alongside a compelling essay about one man’s experience with fatty, yellow heaven — I had to try it. So I just finished making the butter and I feel as if a fountain of blogging energy is a gushin’.

Before I share the magic recipe with you, put aside your image of me wearing a bonnet while I churn some piece of frontier barnyard hardware. I did this with only a mixing machine, heavy cream, and time. In only ten minutes, I had accomplished something that I didn’t know was possible: making my own homemade butter.

I encourage you to do this because of the valuable lessons you can learn and share. First, this is an important thing to do with your friends and your children so that they can understand how various dairy products are related to one another. It is also a lesson in how hard the pioneers and farmers had it before the Industrial Revolution. Finally, it is also a lesson in why doing things yourself is more fun. Please try it and let me know what you think.
Here’s the step-by-step from this past Sunday’s NYT magazine:

Homemade Butter and Buttermilk

6 cups organic heavy cream

Salt to taste (optional)

1. Pour the cream into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a wisk. Tightly cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and start mixer on medium-high speed. The cream will go through the whipped stage, thicken further, and then change color from off-white to pale yellow; this wil take at least five to eight minutes. When it starts to look pebbly, it’s almost done. After another minute the butter will separate, causing the liquid to splash against the plastic wrap. At this point stop the mixer.

2. Set a strainer over a bowl. Pour the contents of the mixer into the strainer and let the buttermilk drain through. Strain the buttermilk again, this time through a fine-mesh sieve set over a small bowl; set aside.

3. Keeping the butter in the strainer set over the first bowl, knead it to consolidate the remaining liquid and fat and expel the rest of the buttermilk. Knead until the texture is dense and creamy, about five minutes. Strain the excess liquid into the buttermilk. Refrigerate the buttermilk.

4. Mix salt into the butter, if you want. Tansfer to an airtight container and refrigerate. Makes about 16 ounces (2 cups) each of butter and buttermilk.

calendar June 21st, 2007 by md

The ride in question

16-year old lost both feet on a Six Flags ride. It’s a terrible thing. Hopefully they can find the feet and reattach them. I don’t know much about microsurgery required to do that, but I hope it’s possible.

calendar June 3rd, 2007 by md

Design thinking process - cup holder

Several students in Creating Infectious Action (MSE288) at Stanford came up with a very cool way to explain design thinking to others by executing, and documenting by video, a rapid design process. The four students, Mada, Ana, Dot, and Mannan are masters students in the class which I co-teach. They captured a totally authentic look at the design process as practiced at the d.school. Not only did they create a cool product that solved a real need, they also created a teaching tool that we will for sure use in future classes on design thinking. Check it out

calendar May 31st, 2007 by md

Dancing cadet video

This is truly hilarious…a cadet at the Air Force Academy caught dancing in his room alone. He didn’t know that his roommate had rigged up a video camera to catch it all for us to see. Most of the versions of this have been pulled down from YouTube for copyright infringement (I guess because the owners of the song complained?) but here’s the google video one. I guess one of the benefits of losing the video war is that you get to keep some cool content longer than the leader does. :)

calendar May 29th, 2007 by md

Courtest of Getty Images

There was a hilarious sidebar in today’s NYT that recounted a focus group exercise conducted in Md — here’s the scoop…

From the New York Times, May 29, 2007:

Imagine that the top presidential candidates are all at an airport trying to get on a flight. There is one seat left on the plane and there are six people ahead of them in line. What does each of the candidates do?

The scene was described last week to 12 voters at a focus group in suburban Baltimore by Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster, on behalf of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. The voters — half Republicans, half Democrats, and varied by other demographics — had a pretty easy time picturing how each would behave.

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, they said, would both politely negotiate their way through the line.

John McCain would “go crazy in line,” one voter said. Another said he would “make a scene.”

John Edwards would pay the people ahead of him to get on, one person said; another said he would “turn on the Southern charm.”

Rudolph W. Giuliani “wouldn’t even stand in line,” one said. Another said he would “ask to speak to the pilot.” Someone else said he would “push his way to the front.” Yet another said he would cry out “9/11!”

Hilary Rodham Clinton, one voter said, would tell everyone ahead of her that the flight was canceled. “Her people would handle the details,” said another. A third said the Secret Service would get her a seat. One, a 23-year-old man, said: “She’d be polite, assertive and strong.”

KATHERINE Q. SEELYE

Personally, I’ll take Rudy. But holy smokes is that part about Hilary telling the other folks the flight is canceled funny.

calendar May 29th, 2007 by md

Opentable logo

My good friend and former colleague Jeff Jordan just was named CEO of OpenTable, the online reservation agent for dining out. This is a huge coup for OpenTable and the beginning of a great new adventure for Jeff. I was very lucky to work with Jeff both at Disney back in the mid-1990s and then again at eBay for seven years up until last summer when we both left the company after a great experience :) . He’s a funny, kind human being, and a top notch exec who values results and gets things done (just look at his track record). It’s a good sign when growth companies are selecting results-oriented executives of substance to lead them. They obviously care a lot about growth and getting things done — two of Jeff’s specialties. Congratulations Jeff and OpenTable!

If you haven’t used this service, check it out. It’s a great convenience and a terrific tool.

calendar May 28th, 2007 by md

US Soldiers in Iraq

There is a really sobering piece in today’s NYT (“As Allies Turn Foe, Disillusionment Rises in Some GI’s” – Michael Kamber, pA1.) on the rising disillusionment among GI’s who’ve discovered that Iraqi army soldiers — who’ve been receiving weapons and training from the US — are among the insurgent forces attacking US forces and civilians in the civil war. I can understand why the US soldiers, including those who once supported the mission wholeheartedly, are feeling like it’s past time to go. I think the current situation has gone far beyond unacceptable. I cannot imagine looking the soliders in the eye and telling them that this is a mission worthy of their talents and bravery. Here’s one that is –

  • First – The US should begin construction on two very large, permanent (as in 99-year leases) military bases in Iraq. The largest should be located in the southern region, near Basra where many of the pipelines connect to the Persian Gulf. The second one should be located in or near Mosul. Basra will give us easy access to defend oil infrastructure — the true reason the region / country is strategically important to the US. Mosul will provide a major disincentive to the southerners to stir trouble in Kurdish Iraq, which supposedly is a relatively peaceful and secure place right now. Both placements will put long-term brakes on Iran’s ambitions in the reqion, and we can get back to doing what we do best — strategically projecting power into a region to influence events (this is the direct opposite of what we are doing now: tactically policing / supervising a civil war without the tools or numbers required to achieve outcomes).
  • Second – We should substantially realign the oil infrastructure. First, terminate the pipeline that flows from Iraq to Syria. If we are going to try to ensure outcomes that are beneficial to our interests, we should not be shy about discriminating between friend and foe. If this disadvantages Lebanon, we should arrange for some long-term alternative for them. I don’t think they would mind getting oil from someone other than Assad. Second, create a connection between the oil fields in the southern part of the country directly to the Saudi infrastructure. This will have the advantage of making us less dependent upon the chokepoint at Basra, flowing the oil through a much less volatile region. You will need some kind of payment system between Iraq and Saudi Arabia to ensure that Iraq is compensated to the point of economic indifference. This is all about securing the flow of oil: our top strategic interest in the region, and the Iraqi people’s sole source of the capital required to improve daily life that has been so terribly damaged by Saddam and multiple wars.
  • Third – Once the first two things are accomplished, or perhaps when they are mostly in place, we should totally withdraw from the current mission. It is a tragedy that Iraq was put in the current state by the interaction between Saddam Hussein, failed US foreign policy, and radicalized groups among the country’s religious sects. But that’s where we are. Hussein is dead; that’s a plus. Now the rest is 100% up to the Iraqi people. We are in no position to impose or project our 21st century definition of peaceful transition and democracy onto another country. Our own history was sickeningly bloody as we lurched from independence to civil war through industrialization, civil rights, on and on. Every time we made it through one of these periods, the pain produced heroes, principles and values that made us stronger for the next one. Iraqi people deserve the same opportunity to create their own future or fail trying. The unique fact of their oil reserves — the real reason we care so deeply about that region — is only rationale enough for the bases, not for a paternalistic occupation of the cities and streets.


We should not be ashamed or embarrassed to state clearly: we want Iraq to succeed as a free and properous country — an outcome that has always been totally up to Iraqis — but we will not tolerate disruption of the flow of oil. Additionally, if they fail in their attempts to build a free and prosperous society, we will not tolerate Iraq becoming a harbor for terrorists who seek to destroy our interests or kill our people. (The irony that we contributed to the conditions that make it an ideal harbor for terrorists is, sadly, a repeating pattern in history — check the serial numbers of the weapons fired against our soldiers in Afghanistan.) Read the Times piece and let me know what you think.

calendar May 25th, 2007 by md

I don’t know why feral pigs are so interesting. To me, the pictures of them lying next to their killers are oddly compelling. I wrote about Hogzilla a while back and saw this AP story on Drudgereport today (one of the best sites on earth.) Truly a shocking story and image. I can’t wait for the Hogzilla movie they mention in the story.

calendar May 23rd, 2007 by md

Recently we had a good discussion of an interesting topic in Creating Infectious Action — a course I co-teach at Stanford. The conversation was about widgets and the unbundling of cool content from the url where it originated. Widgets — small, portable units that are essentially mini-windows onto an application or pieces of content — are turning out to be pretty cool ways to spread things way beyond the reach of a single site. The students have picked up on this and are building widgets instead of sites to increase the mobility and reach of their content / message. Here’s one example, powered by widgetbox (the specific project they are working on right now is for Global Giving, an online marketplace for philanthropic giving mostly focused on developing countries).

In hindsight, widgets are kind of like a fusion of ad publishing, affiliate networking, and lite application development. I really like that widget thinking is driving people to further break down the idea that high-traffic urls are the be-all-end-all and that products, services, and experiences can be unbundled, made portable and consumed in lots of places around the web. (It will be interesting to see how well the media companies adopt this idea. My hunch is that they will find it irresistable to try to control content and drive traffic back to their own urls. This would be flawed thinking to consider widgets to be ads rather than experiences unto themselves.)
There are a bunch of companies vying to power this for the masses. The one that’s impressed me the most is widgetbox.

They are taking a very open-market approach to widgets — lots of categories, user created widgets, enabling a great diversity of experiences for users, access to a marketplace and to creating widgets at the point of consumption (off their core site). I also think that Rockyou is doing a great job in the personal expression domain (although their homepage is incredibly painful to my aging ears), as is Slide. I know people at all these companies either personally or by reputation and they are a talented bunch. As always, the users are the winners when lots of smart people compete to meet their needs. That’s a good thing. So is the destruction of walled-garden thinking.