Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why it Mattered

  If you were still awake to hear President Obama's speech last night, you heard why the hard work of so many made such a difference  -- this was really about the future of our country in a deep and enduring way.   Here's some of my personal observances on what makes me believe this is for real:
  • Hackathons, code for America, open source government systems, We the People petition site,  -- this is change I can believe in.  The change in thinking as to how government and the computer world interact is amazing.  I look at the people I know who've spent time working in this government - folks like DannyWeitzner, Ed Felten, Marti Hurst, Beth Noveck and many more - all dedicated to a government with a technical underpinning of openness.
  •  - The SOPA rebellion was really amazing.  It was the first time we saw how the millions of people on the Web can beat the millions of dollars pouring into campaign coffers.  For the Obama administration to bite the hand that fed it (Hollywood) by refusing to support a law that was wrong for so many reasons, we saw real leadership.  That they did this before the Wikipedia blackout was amazing.  The administration's response was enabled through a response to a We The People petition -- amazing - we talked, they listened and responded.  Sure, there's more to do, but it was a real eye opener to watch a usually cynical process wake up and see what it is that makes our technical world function.
  •  - People will talk about how the Hurricane affected the election.  Their are many ways, but to those of us who know government, it was deeper than the Presidency. The difference between Bush's FEMA Director Brown, chosen for his political loyalty, and FEMA Director Fugate, chosen for his competence, shows why it matters not just what government does, but who does it.  Appointments of incredible people like Energy Secretary Chu, NIH Director Collins and so many others who are the top people in their fields has changed DC from a place of cynical loyalists to a meritocracy run by people who were picked because they could do the job.  I've been involved with the government in some from or another since mid-Clinton years, and I've met great people throughout, but the quality of the people at the top makes real change possible.
  •  - Last time I was in DC, everyone remarked on how the city has changed since I left in 2007.  It is a younger, more vibrant town.  This is because with Obama and his message of hope, a very different crowd of people came to live here.  The 30-somethings I've met who are working in the government are amazing, and they have revitalized the place.  These people are young and idealistic and dedicated to the success of America -- a group we haven't seem in the capital in many years.  They came in on the message of Hope, and they remain on the message of "forward"  - they work insane hours at often thankless jobs, but they've changed the culture - for the better - in so many ways  (and to them I say THANKS).
I'd also like to take a minute to comment on the campaign we just went through.  I spent a ridiculous number of hours the last week as a volunteer at the Obama for America office in Albany.  Run by some insanely great volunteer coordinators, who made the hours I put in look like nothing, the office had literally hundreds of people from all walks of life showing up to make calls.   And it was inspiring!  I watched white men working with black women, teenagers making calls next to retirees, Asians and Latinos reaching out to voters who spoke their native languages, people who were "all in" on their donation limits next to people who were just getting by.  These were the grass roots organization that Obama thanked in his speech and they were incredible.  When computers went down, phones didn't work, or anything else went wrong, people pitched in, found work arounds, and kept going.  We called people in PA (went Obama), Ohio (Obama) and towards the end Wisconsin and Nevada (Obama and Obama).  We reminded Ohioans to vote for Sherrod Brown (elected) as well as the President.  This one on one made things happen. 

I also watched the social media - twitter and blogosphere - where everyone agrees Obama had the "lead."  I think the payoff here is in the number of younger voters who came out to vote -- overwhelmingly for Obama.  The message he had resonated with the way they approach the world.  It made a difference!  Listening to my 25-year-old talk about how "they" won the election also makes it clear that this wasn't a cynical response to a slick ad campaign - this is real change that will be with us for a long time.

On behalf of the small group of us who made Computer Scientists for Obama happen, I want to again thank so many who helped us along the way.  Thanks also to Catherine, Rusty, Jim Green and the incredible folks at Technology for Obama who coordinated so much to make this victory real.  Thanks for all the twitter love for #cs4obama, this blog, and @t4oNYup -- it was inspiring to see what you folks were doing and to help in whatever small way we could.

This will be the final blog in the "election series" for Computer Scientists for Obama -- we will keep the blog alive so we can jump back in next time there's a SOPA bill, or other technical issue needing some airing.  But for now, back to the day jobs…

Jim Hendler, for Computer Scientists for Obama.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thanks to many -- keep your fingers crossed

At this point we are clearly in a too close to call time -- but I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has helped at Computer Scientists for Obama, special thanks to the many of you who've sent comments and liked -- we've reached thousands of voters through the site -- those who've followed the page, read the blog, or otherwise kept in touch -- keep your fingers crossed, West Coasters go vote, and we'll all know in a few hours (or days or weeks depending on the recounts)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Message from Rusty Rueff - Tech4Obama

Rusty Rueff has been helping the Obama campaign working with Jim Green (@JimGreenT4O) on the Technology for Obama group.  Yesterday he shared the message below with some of us, and with his permission, I repost it here -- I think it speaks volumes to what the election is about, and has some ideas of things people can do. 
  -Jim Hendler
   Computer Scientists for Obama

Many of you know that on August 16, 2011 I was asked to step into the lay leadership role for a new Obama for America campaign group called Technology for Obama (T4O).  Little did I know that 15 months later I would be here with only a few days left knowing that on November 6th I would end that day with tears in my eyes, regardless of who wins.  This effort, working alongside Jim Green as the National Staff Director for T4O has truly been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. 

I don’t need to tell you that the choice in this election is as stark and as clear as any choice we have ever had in our lifetime. The approaches are just different and when I look as holistically as I personally can (beyond one issue at a time), I truly believe that Governor Romney’s approach is a U-Turn for America and I am doing my best to not let that happen. To give you some sense of what that means please read on:

I have given as many hours as I have been physically able and yes I am tired but still invigorated. I  came to the conclusion with Patti that we had to go big with personal financial support both to the campaign and to cover expenses flying and traveling all across the country for T4O events (yes, I did get the miles J). I had to take a hiatus about political conversations with some friends who just can’t understand my position but still respect and love me.  I have withstood real ridicule from those who think they are friends but aren’t really because you just don’t talk to friends like that.  I have let down quite a bit of people who were counting on me for other efforts like their companies, their boards and their very important causes that I support but I just didn’t have enough time for everything to be #1 on the list (thank you and you know who you are and I really appreciate your patience and understanding. I’ll be back).  And, I have pulled Patti through this whole wringer and she has had to hear too many hours of me walking around the house acting as if I was the one debating or behind the lectern on the campaign stump (she likes to remind me that it isn’t me who is running for office).

From the beginning this election was going to be close, but as I sit here writing this, it’s too close for my comfort and it’s been quite a while since I haven’t woken up in the middle of the night in worry that this election could slip from us.

And so we come to the end and I now need to ask for your help (and for some a little bit more) and please know that I ask this humbly and in all earnestness.

First, one last contribution to the campaign still matters.  Daily the campaign is looking at their finances to see what we can still do send staff and organizers into battleground states to go door-to-door.  Organizers don’t magically just show up.  So, even the smallest contribution now goes 100% into the on the ground efforts.  Anything you can do now will make a difference.  At the end of the day on October 31st the campaign will look to see how we did this month and make decisions on how much they can do in the last 5 days.  So, we need to make a push here by 10/31. You can contribute here:

Secondly, we all know someone who lives in one of the Battleground States.  Stop what you are doing today and take a minute to write an email, send them a Facebook message, tweet them, or pick up the phone and be sure that they are going to vote and encourage them to vote early!  If they are on the fence on who to vote for, then tell them why you support the President!

So that’s it, last request. Thank you for listening and reading.

Thank you for the support you have shown this campaign and me.  It is truly appreciated.

Now, let’s go win with this and keep America moving FORWARD!


Monday, October 29, 2012

Please Read Peter Norvig's Presidential FAQ

Today's entry a bit short as I wait to see if my lights will stay on, so let me pass the buck to Peter Norvig, research director at Google and one of the top computer scientists I know.  Peter has created a great FAQ on the election, the state of the country and on why he is backing President Obama.
His FAQ is at please go check it out.
  -Jim Hendler
  For Computer Scientists for Obama
  Like us on Facebook "Computer Scientists for Obama"
  Follow Peter Norvig on Google+

P.S. Today's irony was Governor Christie of New Jersey thanking Obama for approving early state of emergency so FEMA could be brought in sooner.  Christie has been a leader of Romney's campaign, which earlier said FEMA should be eliminated, and now is backing off a bit, saying it should be left to the States (earlier he said disaster relief should be privatized) -

Sunday, October 14, 2012

How do the candidates compare on Technical issues? Their own words

The New York Technology Meetup sent a request to both campaigns asking:

We are writing on behalf of our over 27,000 members and the rapidly growing New York technology community to ask for you to explain to our members how your policies as President would benefit the growth of New York start-up community and other start up entrepreneurs who are using 21st century tools to build 21st century businesses.

The Internet and information technologies have created a renaissance in startup innovation in New York City that now rivals Silicon Valley as a hub for economic growth. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers have been inspired to become entrepreneurs, starting new companies and creating thousands of new jobs. Opportunities in the use of technology are also providing professionals in many of New York City’s traditional industries like publishing, media, advertising, and financial services the opportunity to enhance their skills and sometimes start new careers all while participating in the 21st century global economy.

The complete letters from both campaigns can be read at

The Romney letter reads close to his Web site's primary campaign points.  He says we must control illegal immigration, lower taxes, reduce regulation, confront China on trade, and expand parental choice for education (which I assume means vouchers to private schools).  He also argues that we should be giving teachers results-based rewards instead of tenure - which I don't agree with but admit there is some support for among the tech community.

He does say, with respect to basic research:

 President Obama‘s misguided attempts to play the role
of venture capitalist, pick winners and losers, and spend tens
of billions of dollars on politically-prioritized investments have been
a disaster for the American taxpayer. Yet at the same time, we must
never forget that the United States has moved forward in astonishing
ways thanks to national investment in basic research and advanced

which sounds reasonable, although he then follows it up with

As president. I will focus government resources on
research programs that advance the development of knowledge, and on
technologies with widespread application and potential to serve as the
foundation for private sector innovation and commercialization.

where that latter part sure seems to me to be the same as what he criticizes the President for -- he says we should have technologies that create private sector innovation and commercialization -- isn't that the "play the role of venture capitalist" that he is against in the previous paragraph??

Governor Romney doesn't mention the Internet or information technologies at all.

President Obama, on the other hand, sends a letter that more clearly answers the actual question -- what are the keys to the innovation economy. 

Specifically adressing the issue of Internet policy he reiterates the point made in the Democratic platform that the Internet must be kept open -- he says:

I signed patent reform into law to help American entrepreneurs bring
inventions to market sooner, leading to new businesses, jobs and
industries. But that also depends on a regulatory system that supports
our homegrown innovations. That’s why I’ll continue to stand by you to
protect the openness of the Intemet while still enforcing intellectual
property rights.

He also talks about government support for open government data (my key issue and I think a home-run answer)

Across your government, we’ve used technology to bridge the offline
and online divide to empower citizens and build a more participatory
democracy. On my first day in office I created the position of U.S.
Chief Technology Officer so we can pursue new open data initiatives to
unleash unprecedented volumes of government data related to energy,
education, international development, public safety and other areas.
We’re unlocking our resources to fuel new products, companies and
industries and connect the next generation of entrepreneurs to freely
available government data, while rigorously protecting and respecting
privacy rights. And we recently announced the first class of
“Presidential Innovation Fellows,” talented private sector innovators
who will spend six months in Washington partnering up with the
govemment’s top innovators to meet straightforward goals: improve the
lives of the American people, save taxpayer dollars and fuel job
creation across the country.

He concludes his letter

That is the legacy of Edison and Bell. That is the story of Google and
Twitter. That is what landed NASA’s Curiosity on Mars, reminding us
that our preeminence — not just in space. but here on Earth — depends
on investing wisely in the innovation, technology, and basic research
that has always made the United States the envy of the world.

So for those of you still not sure whether you are going to go out and vote -- read these and think about who you want to be in the White House, and appointing Supreme Court Justices, when the issues of new neutrality, so-called online piracy (the rebirth of SOPA is already underway), and decisions about budget-cutting in government research funding. 

I think the differences between the two candidates on issues of interest to the computing and information innovation communities is clear.

Remember the important thing is to vote!!

 -Jim Hendler
Computer Scientists for Obama
visit us on Facebook at
and follow @tech4obama for continuing news on the Obama campaign and technology issues.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tech Savvy Prexy Quotes from Reddit

 If you haven't heard yet, President Obama did a Reddit "AMA" (Ask Me Anything) session taking questions from around the nation and the world. There's a good article on this in Wired and lots of other press. But for those of you who are computer scientists, information folks, or just generally technically inclined there are some answers that resonate well. For those of you who couldn't get in (some of the servers were very overloaded given the number of interested users), or who don't have reddit accounts, here are some of the answers you might like to know about (I highlight some of my favorite parts, so bold face is mine)

President Obama takes questions for the Reddit AMA session
 Asked about Internet freedom, he replied:
Internet freedom is something I know you all care passionately about; I do too. We will fight hard to make sure that the internet remains the open forum for everybody - from those who are expressing an idea to those to want to start a business. And although there will be occasional disagreements on the details of various legislative proposals, I won't stray from that principle - and it will be reflected in the platform.
Asked about jobs for college students, he replied
I understand how tough it is out there for recent grads. You're right - your long term prospects are great, but that doesn't help in the short term. Obviously some of the steps we have taken already help young people at the start of their careers. Because of the health care bill, you can stay on your parent's plan until you're twenty six. Because of our student loan bill, we are lowering the debt burdens that young people have to carry. But the key for your future, and all our futures, is an economy that is growing and creating solid middle class jobs - and that's why the choice in this election is so important. The other party has two ideas for growth - more taxs cuts for the wealthy (paid for by raising tax burdens on the middle class and gutting investments like education) and getting rid of regulations we've put in place to control the excesses on wall street and help consumers. These ideas have been tried, they didnt work, and will make the economy worse. I want to keep promoting advanced manufacturing that will bring jobs back to America, promote all-American energy sources (including wind and solar), keep investing in education and make college more affordable, rebuild our infrastructure, invest in science, and reduce our deficit in a balanced way with prudent spending cuts and higher taxes on folks making more than $250,000/year. I don't promise that this will solve all our immediate economic challenges, but my plans will lay the foundation for long term growth for your generation, and for generations to follow. So don't be discouraged - we didn't get into this fix overnight, and we won't get out overnight, but we are making progress and with your help will make more.
 On support for space technology, he said
Making sure we stay at the forefront of space exploration is a big priority for my administration. The passing of Neil Armstrong this week is a reminder of the inspiration and wonder that our space program has provided in the past; the curiosity probe on mars is a reminder of what remains to be discovered. The key is to make sure that we invest in cutting edge research that can take us to the next level - so even as we continue work with the international space station, we are focused on a potential mission to a asteroid as a prelude to a manned Mars flight.
and as part of his closing remarks,
By the way, if you want to know what I think about this whole reddit experience - NOT BAD!
Gotta love it!!  Now get out there and VOTE!!
 -Jim Hendler for #cs4obama
  (Like us on Facebook at Computer Scientists for Obama)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Top Five Reasons Why Computer Scientists Should Support Obama

The upcoming election will significantly impact science and technology. Here are some specific things which the Obama administration has done which computer scientists might want to consider when going to the polls:

  1. Opposition to SOPA (and PIPA). Many netizens don't realize how significant, and politically brave, the administration's response to these bills was: As most of you will recall, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate Counterpart (PIPA) greatly threatened the openness of the Web. These bills were withdrawn after considerable anti-SOPA/PIPA activity on the Web. One of the key nails in the coffin of this legislation was the Administration's response to two We The People petitions requesting that the administration oppose this legislation (particularly the petition "VETO the SOPA bill and any other future bills that threaten to diminish the free flow of information"). The administration summarized their response this way: "the important task of protecting intellectual property online must not threaten an open and innovative internet." This response came out before the "Internet blackout," unlike many political responses which did not come out until afterwards. When one considers that Hollywood, one of the staunchest big-money supporters of the Democratic Party, was backing the legislation you realize that President Obama put his pro-technology principles ahead of his own political fund-raising needs. This alone would be enough to convince me to vote for him, but there's plenty more...

  2. Creation of "We The People." The petition mentioned above could not have happened without the We the People web site that was created by the administration as part of the Open Government Initiative. This Web site lets ordinary Americans, of any party, create a petition requesting a response from the White House. In the year since it was opened, more than eighty petitions have passed the 25,000 signature criterion and been responded to. These responses, maintained online, show publicly how the Administration responds to these bottom up initiatives. This bold experiment in open democracy was created by the White House itself, not in response to external demand but as an example of the kind of changes towards openness that this Administration has come to represent. From a computer scientist's viewpoint, this is not only an important piece of democratic reform, but clear evidence of this administration's understanding of how our technologies can be deployed to improve government.

  3. Cleaning up Government Spending on IT. Any computer scientist who has paid attention to prior governments' use of computers and computer infrastructure could tell you what a mess it was. In many cases, contractors were able to exploit a lack of government coordination across systems and acquisitions. This led to the deploying of systems that, in the best case, were inconsistent and generally incompatible and in the more typical case were neither cutting edge nor designed to the best modern practices. This had implications not just in wasted money in acquisitions but also, in all too many cases, to the deployment of systems with bad security practices, out of date code bases, and generally poor designs. One of President Obama's first acts after inauguration was the appointment of Aneesh Chopra as the first Chief Technology Officer of the US and Vivek Kundra as the first CIO of the US (this latter position had been created earlier, but not used). Aneesh and Vivek were given two main missions: open government, which I return to below, and fixing this acquisition mess. The solution that came about was the creation and use of the IT Dashboard website which, among other things, tracked all IT spending and projects for the Federal Government. The review of IT spending undertaken by Kundra saved the government over three billion dollars and also led to better practices in IT acquisition and development across the Executive Branch agencies. (see Video: Vivek Kundra, CIO Of United States, Talks IT Spending for more details).

  4. Creation of and other open government sites. One of the first official acts taken by President Obama was to release the Transparency and Open Government Memorandum asserting that "My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government." Even opponents of this government, or transparency advocates who'd like to see even more transparency, have conceded that this administration is far more open than previous ones, and especially the Bush White House. For example, where Bush refused to release lists of who participated in White House meetings, the Obama administration has made these not only public, but also online and downloadable. In June of 2009, just months after the administration took office, they created the "" website, which provides access to large amounts of government data -- in this, it's third year, over 400,000 datasets are available through the site, making it the world's largest government sharing site. This data comes from hundreds of different federal agencies and has been used by companies to create innovative products for travel, labor and insurance, education and much more. In addition, agencies throughout the executive branch have created a number of other sites for sharing data, documents and other government collections. The level of information and data made available for computer scientists and our students to use for data experimentation, open government research, and application development (and commercialization in many cases) is unprecedented. It's also worth noting that in 2010, when the Republicans took the House, the funding for these data sharing projects was cut drastically. Given Ryan's role in these cuts, it's pretty clear that a Romney-Ryan administration would not see this data sharing as any sort of priority, and certainly not as the high-priority, visible projects that the Obama administration has supported.

  5. Support for research and education in general, and computing research in specific. The administration's support for higher education is well-known , with examples such as preservation of the Pell grants in the face of proposals for significant cuts (the Ryan budget would slash these grants drastically), and the fight to maintain student loans. While one can argue about the context of Romney's statement that students should borrow money from their parents to go to College, it is clear that he would have to cut education tax breaks to afford maintaining the large tax cuts that he proposes (see the independent analysis linked to this story on the effects of Romney's proposals. ) Ryan is even worse, for example the Chronicle of Higher Education reviewed Ryan's positions on a number of issues related to college education concluding in a number of cases that his positions would hurt students and colleges (except for "For-profit" colleges, which both Ryan and Romney continue to support despite the growing evidence of the damage these schools are doing to their graduates). More specifically, with respect to research funding in computer science, President Obama has consistently fought to preserve funding for basic research in computing at the NSF and NIH. His ARRA recovery act (opposed by Ryan and Romney) included large funding increases for both organizations, and the administration continues to support funding in critical computing areas, such as the support for the recent Big Data initiatives. Research funding in CS was hurt significantly under Bush's appointed DARPA Director while Obama, through both words and actions, has helped to improve the situation for computing research.

    While I think there are many more aspects to this administration's support for computing, and many other problems for our field that would result from a Romney-Ryan administration, these are my top five.

    --- Jim Hendler, Computer Scientist