Monday, May 28, 2007 Data Mashup & Clean Elections

I had an opportunity to tour the congressional search a couple of weeks ago. At their launch party in Palo Alto, they showed their new search and discussed how their data analysis relates to clean elections and why it's important to be able to combine this data to see the realities of what's happening in terms of campaign contributions and legislative voting records.

One example from their statewide program shows a bill where bottled water manufacturers gave a legislator money the day before he voted against a bill that would mandate stronger bottled water standards. It could be a coincidence, of course, and there's always a chicken-egg scenario in these cases but the combined data is fascinating regardless. is a Berkeley-based nonprofit with a mission of "illuminating the connection" between money and politics. The congressional search and the California state search are both now up on their web site.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Back in the Metaphorical Saddle

When I began this blog, I vowed to keep it up as much as possible but not to sweat it if I got behind on occasion. The past few weeks have been that occasion. As a relatively new mom who works part-time, writes part-time, volunteers part-time and recently bought a new house, I'm totally over-committed, so for a few weeks, blogging had to take a back seat. We took a family trip, then I came home and looked at the piles of boxes cluttering our floors and I'd had enough. So I spent last week unpacking the rest of the house.

My friend, Sherri, tagged me over the weekend and I haven't blogged about what's up with me for a while anyway, so for friends and family who visit this site, here's the latest update: we're now mostly moved in, thankfully. We still have a few more things to purchase - rugs, deck furniture, lighting, curtains - but it's looking like a home now. Our daughter is growing fast, but of course we're behind on putting photos up on her site so one of these days that will happen (that's the self-appointed job of el spouse). We've been spending a lot of time researching and visiting preschools since she'll be there the next time we blink.

On the writing side, I have a couple of projects in the works. One is a site about home networks that will launch soon - I'm writing articles for that - and the book proposal I've been working on and off on this past year is going through one more revision for a publisher that's very interested. Yeah, you can say I'm excited about this, but I won't disclose any more until there's a signed contract. I have another potential paid blogging project I'm considering as well.

I'm still consulting - doing work for nonprofits and political organizations helping them with their networks, web sites, online marketing, email processes and content management. I'm taking on fewer clients right now until J is in school - our time together is precious so writing gives me more flexibility to be with her. And then I'm still involved with the Jr. League of Palo Alto/Mid-Peninsula and the Ballet San Jose. We always attend other fundraisers for community organizations but we're slowing down on that for a while. My recovery from J's birth is still moving slowly (nerve damage - supposedly nerves take the longest to heal) so I'm trying to focus on that as much as possible. Next year, we bought Theatreworks season tickets so we're looking forward to trying that out.

That's the news from the personal side of things. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Billy Joel's Still Rock & Roll in Detroit

My musical tastes range from Beethoven to Metallica - anything with a good melody I like. I've blogged before about a few concerts, but nothing compared to the variety of what I've had the privilege to see. One of my favorite musician-performers is Billy Joel, and last night I had the opportunity to see him in Detroit. He definitely has his groove back - after a few difficult years - this may have been the best performance of his I've ever seen. (And the tickets were reasonably priced - he doesn't like to stiff his fans.) Sadly, he won't be in the Bay Area on this tour but I'm hoping he'll do another one soon.

Starting off with "Angry Young Man", he got the crowd moving in the Palace at Auburn Hills while we watched his fingers and thumbs rapidly graze the piano keyboard - I'm always amazed by that one. (If you're not a Billy Joel fan, find it on iTunes or somewhere and just listen to a few bars - you'll be impressed.) Continuing on with some classic hits from the 70's mixed in with a few Motown oldies like "Stand By Me" and an amusing amount of self-deprecating humor, the show took on an exciting pace rather than droning on like some older performers do. Sitting behind the piano for most of the show, he still managed to keep energy high like his buddy Elton John, who I've blogged about before. (They toured together twice and I've seen them perform together several times now - amazing shows.)

I've always loved Billy Joel's attitude in his lyrics and other forms - he just has a confident sense of self and brings out meaning in musical anecdotes ranging from brief romantic interludes to world affairs. In an interview I read from the Detroit Free Press pre-show, he talked about wondering who he thought he was, spouting his opinions back in the '70s and '80s. My response to that is he's a smart guy with a lot of world experience and interesting things to say. It hits home with people and he's absolutely entitled to making his thoughts known. That's what we admire about performers like him. I think I know every one of his songs - not only because the melodies are good, but because the lyrics strike a chord. His songs tell stories and share meaning.

Midway through the show, he turned the arena into a jazz nightclub with "Zanzibar" and "New York State of Mind" and some impressive horn solos by members of his band. Then to speed the show back up again, he brought out a roadie of 25 years, "Chain Saw", who sang "Highway to Hell" to "atone for [Billy's] sins." The crowd loved it. A lot of his music has recovering Catholic themes to it like "Only the Good Die Young".

The highlight of the show for me was something most people in the audience didn't even notice - Billy Joel's singing the high notes again. For about ten years, he's had Crystal or another member of his band sing "I am" before "an innocent man" and last night, he did it perfectly himself. What to credit for his voice being back in top shape, one can only surmise, but whatever it is, I'm really happy for him. As a vocalist, I know how frustrating it is when a cold or anything else keeps me from being able to sound my best. I can tell he's worked to get his back in shape. In addition to that, I think he added some additional backup vocals to "My Life" and several of his songs took a slightly new tempo or some additional accompaniment. Why not? When you've played it as much as he has, it must be fun to mix it up a little bit. Luckily he's talented enough he can do that and the impromptu jamming on stage and keep the audience intrigued.

Finishing his encore with "Piano Man" as always, watching the crowd waving lighters and cell phones, singing together, it's a stark contrast to the state of the world today. If we could only bottle the shared good will embodied in the reaction to that song, maybe less people would make war on each other. But as the piano man himself always reminds us when he closes his shows, "don't take any shit from anybody." I'll never forget hearing his song "Leningrad" after visiting the Soviet Union myself. It made me cry and still does today. Perhaps Billy Joel doesn't have much to say about the world now by composing new music, but if he ever chooses to do so again, I know I'll be listening.