Can Tech Giants Save Elections?

17 Sep

 

There’s a unique quality of the technology sector that sets it apart from other industries, a push and pull that’s as distinct as it is complex. The tech industry’s specialists, CEOs, innovation gurus, and everyday workers all play key roles in two oppositional forces: the perpetration of, and resistance to abuse of technological power. 

It’s widely recognized that for every hero, there’s a villain. But it often appears that corporate tech is both. Large corporations like Facebook and Google are both causing and solving abuses by their technology, making it quite difficult to highlight their roles as strictly and wholly beneficial or harmful. One needn’t be so cynical as to imagine these companies are creating problems that they then solve, but it can often seem that way. 

The grand narrative claims that technology will liberate humanity. But in 1985, before a meaningful internet — and when “big data” was more science fiction than fact — the Association of American Colleges declared: “We have become a people unable to comprehend the technology we invent.” What seems even more true is that technology leaders can functionally comprehend their own technology, but have an interest in keeping the rest of us from comprehending it. 

In 2016 (and frequently since), technology and social media giants Facebook, Google, and Twitter have allowed themselves to be heavily used by less-than-scrupulous political advertisers through the use of techniques like microtargeting, the use of fake political ads, and the frequency with which such fakery occurs. The object of these disruptive ads has been, in many instances, to simply convince voters not to vote at all, rather than getting them to vote for a different candidate. The use of bots to disrupt and influence social media discussions and the presence of fake “followers” to boost the perception of particular politicians’ followings has influenced elections. Because some of the “meddling” was foreign, this implicated various federal laws; what would have otherwise been a problem of disproportionate influence became, in some instances, a law enforcement problem. 

Needless to say, this left Facebook, Google and Twitter with a lot of egg on their faces, especially in the context of an extremely divided and divisive election. It is no surprise, therefore, that as the country moves into full 2020 election mode, these companies met with federal officials “to discuss how they’re monitoring their platforms for foreign interference and preparing for the Republican and Democratic national conventions.” According to the New York Times, “The group met on Wednesday with representatives from agencies like the F.B.I., the Office of the director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security to share insights about disinformation campaigns and emerging deceptive behavior across their services.”

The first thing the companies did after emerging from these talks was to announce efforts to increase voter registration and facilitate voter participation. This seems easy enough for social media companies to do: run ads and place public service announcements in key cyberspaces while also linking to voter registration and education sites. Or, they could take the lead of data append companies — like Accurate Append — who have been using their resources to better connect campaigns with voters in order to get out the vote. Of course, these proactive “positive” measures are not going to fully compensate for the disruptive and deceptive effects of unscrupulous advertising and bot-based political messaging. In fact, even without microtargeting, the use of data dumps to drop false information, deliberately confusing messages, and misleading media can still undermine democracy. 

Last year, The Atlantic ran an article that foreshadowed the growth we’ve seen in 2020 of QAnon. The article described how QAnon operates: anonymous sources release thousands of images and videos that make all kinds of wacky and unsupported arguments; initially, these arguments and their accompanying graphics don’t tell a coherent story, but “clusters” of them emerge that start to shape particular plot lines: “Donald Trump and some loyal followers in the military and government are engaged in a clandestine, existential struggle against an international cabal . . . prominent Democrats were running an international child-sex-trafficking ring out of a pizza parlor in Washington . . . Robert Mueller is actually working with Trump to expose the Democrats; Angela Merkel is the granddaughter of Adolf Hitler; and the Queen of England is part of the cabal.” And so on. What QAnon ultimately facilitates is a perpetual chaotic theater with the entire world as its stage, facilitated by social media platforms too overwhelmed and compromised by political pressure to adequately stop or even regulate the flow of false or misleading information. 

The stories all affect people differently. They motivate some on the far right (and sometimes people with no coherent political ideology) to action, ranging from some nominal amount of political organizing to doing concretely irrational things like threatening pizza parlors or committing child custody violations. These acts not only signal-boost QAnon, but also make other political extremists seem entitled to political power or look reasonable in comparison. For many people raised over decades of corrupt politicians and the failure of society to deliver on the promises in its social contract, there may be lingering doubt on whether the conspiracies are true. That doubt, in turn, creates cognitive dissonance under which authoritarian or other simplistic political forces have increased influence.  

The Atlantic article points out that “the flow-oriented structure of social media also fosters conspiracism. You can’t tell a coherent story in a 280-character tweet, but you can provide a tantalizing assertion or allude to shared story fragments, especially if you use code words and acronyms (such as QAnon’s WWG1WGA) or iconic images (such as the alt-right’s Pepe the Frog).” The article points out that Trump is “a consummate flow politician” who can share and make suggestive comments about the conspiranoia. 

Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms can push back against fake stories by labeling them fake stories, but the review process takes far longer than spreading the falsehoods does, and lets many stories through the cracks. Here, we find a theme — the proliferation of misinformation — that cuts across all of the reasons why the lies and confusing messages overtake the search for truth. It’s fashionable to attribute Americans’ vulnerability to this messaging as a sign of our lack of intelligence, as if people had some kind of essential, embedded deficit of cognitive ability. Our experiences with people suggest otherwise: in everyday life, we are typically competent and have a good command of the everyday things around us. We are capable of problem solving and information management in reasonable contexts. 

But this kind of online manipulation takes advantage of our scarcity of time and inaccessibility to the resources needed to route through mass-generated information. At a minimum, one thing these companies could do is actually educate their users about the ways that political entities set out to manipulate them. What if it was baked into the user experience–a constant “flow” of reminders that the very content on the site should be subject to enhanced skepticism, and that there are sure signs that would discredit particular ads, videos, or other shares? What if this were to happen in addition to removing and flagging deceptive content, and actually taught and invited users to be part of that process? 

This would cut into the companies’ bottom lines by eliminating some advertisers, but the advertisers that stayed behind would be honest ones. And critics would be right in saying this would not completely eliminate deceptive posts or completely police them. But, it would make all of these tech giants much better stewards of the informational collective than they are now.

Philosophical Musings on the Demise of Landline Phones in Political Surveys

1 Jul

Every time you cringe about the use of landlines in political surveys, an angel gets its virtual wings.  

The stakes are huge in the political consultation business because the claims are huge. Practitioners promise to provide insight into human nature on a large enough scale to shape electoral strategy. That’s big considering how infinite and unpredictable humans actually are. In order to make those claims, consultants rely on technology, which, as Marshall McLuhan and others have long told us, is an extension of ourselves, our bodies. In this case, consultation technology promises: “hey buddy, you can’t think through that infinitude of human nature just using that brain mass inside your head. You need help.” 

This is a simple enough concept and I’ll get back to it momentarily in reference to McLuhan’s work: tech helps us do what we can’t do with just our bodies and brains alone. But before we dive down that hole, I also need to mention the context for having discussions like this: Communication technology seems hardwired for philosophical alarmism. What I mean by that is we have this propensity to interpret our physical and mental interactions with technology as somehow unique and negative, indicative of an existential doom just around the corner. So we’re constantly balancing an optimistic and pragmatic view of tech with a darker, kind of dystopian expectation that exponential advances, especially in communications and media, will make us weaker and more alienated from each other. 

Writing for New Statesman a few years ago, Barbara Speed explored the phenomena of us thinking cell phones were vibrating in our pockets when they really weren’t. Speed cited Larry Rosen’s description of the impact of technology on psychology as “iDisorders,” which adds to my feeling that these are more reflections of researchers wanting to trend-spot than an understanding of the historically perennial way technology shapes us as we shape it. Speed even resurrected the old 2008 “Is Google making us stupid” article Nicolas Carr wrote in the Atlantic. In that piece, the old arguments against television were transposed onto criticism of the internet. With TV it was “yes, we receive information, but we process it differently than reading,” an explanation made only slightly weird by comparing the counterfactual where humanity never learns to read. Now, the argument is “thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self.” That sense is based on “immediacy” and “efficiency” and makes us decode rather than co-create meaning. 

But I think McLuhan problematizes this whole notion of comm tech somehow strangling our own mental strengths or wrapping itself around us. I think he problematizes the “either comm tech frees us or it entrenches the things which bind us” dichotomy. It’s a false one. All of the things around us both free and constrain us. Our bodies are constantly in physical interaction with things, our senses are always being augmented or limited, and the purpose of virtually all human interaction with the material world seems to be some sort of extension. It’s never not been that way. It was that way the first time our ancestors made tools, and long before that. 

Communication technology matters to McLuhan, but not because it exists in some special metaphysical category. Just as a club is an extension of the arm, communication technology is an extension of our thinking-and-speaking apparati . . .”human modes of thinking are altered by our predominant media of communication.” The oral world transitions into the written world which in turn transitions into the digital world—each era “characterized by its principle means of communication.” He was at times pessimistic about these advances, and other times optimistic, but he never treated social evil as some sort of inevitable enslavement to tech. 

What does any of this have to do with cell phones and landlines? Well, if the phone is an extension of the interactive human body, we should ask ourselves what kind of human-phone-cyborgs we want to be. In the case of using phones to collect political data, I’m concerned that survey researchers may be clinging to landlines unwarrantedly. Over 106 million adults (44% of the adult population) live in wireless-only households; in millions more households, landlines take a sharp back seat to residents’ mobiles. Another 40 million children live in houses with no landlines. Perhaps this is because landlines still attach to directories, while cell phone numbers require skillful work with the voter file and mobile phone and demographic append vendors like Accurate Append (client).

Mark Mellman, a king in the world of political consulting (having helped elect countless governors, senators, and house members all over the country) cites Pew Research finding that landline phone response rates dropped from 36 percent in 1997 (already dismally low) to 9 percent in 2017. He cites this while explaining why his firms combine cell phone calls with texting in their polls. “Low response rates affect accuracy, only if the people who do participate are different from those who don’t,” he reminds us, while explaining the need to adopt different techniques of outreach. While it’s important to remember that “that different kinds of people prefer different modes of interviewing and, more importantly, they answer key questions quite differently,” the important thing is to make sure a representative variety of respondents get to answer the questions—because they will often hear and respond to them in very different ways. 

But why continue landlines at all? A line from the Pew Report is a little alarming on this point. The report says that, while cell phones are even better than dual-frame (cell plus landline) interviews in some cases, the phone survey industry is not “poised to immediately drop landline samples,” at least in the near future, and the main reason for this appears to be that “[l]andline interviewing is roughly 30%-50% less expensive on a per-interview basis than cellphone interviewing. As a result, landlines remain an attractive option for achieving a fixed total sample size (e.g., n=1,000), even though the effective sample size after weighting is lower than would typically be achieved dialing only cell phones.” 

It’s true that the Pew Report also mentions the ability of landlines to reach older voters when it is important to do so (more for qualitative research or special subgroup polling, no doubt). But otherwise, this sounds dangerously and discouragingly like surveyors are allowing resource considerations to limit their methodologies—in ways that could produce distorted results. This may even explain why polling seemed off for certain presidential candidates in the primaries. The wiser thing to do would be to go where the technology leads you, full McLuhan, rather than staying in the horse-and-buggy because you don’t want to pay more for the car.

Good Data Helps Find Good Volunteers for Your Campaign

3 Dec

Writing for Brookings, Michael J. Malbin reports that this year’s enthusiastic midterm elections found candidates raising record levels of money:

Democrats running in the general election against incumbent Republican House members in 2018 have shattered all previous records for challenger fundraising, more than doubling the previous high set by Republicans in 2010. We know from the work of Gary Jacobson and other political scientists that challenger fundraising is probably the single strongest signpost of a competitive election campaign. In 2010, Republican challengers had raised 43 percent as much as the Democratic incumbents they were facing by the end of September, and 52 Democrat incumbents were defeated in the general election. In 2018, the shoe was more than just barely on the other foot. By the end of September, Democratic challengers had raised 69 percent as much as the incumbents they faced. We should emphasize that this includes all challengers and not only the ones in competitive races. All Democratic challengers, including the sure losers, raised almost as much by September 30, on average, as the average winner spent over the course of the entire two-year cycle in 2016.

But raising money isn’t enough. Otherwise, the candidate who raises the most money would always win, and that’s not the case. Maggie Koerth-Baker at 538 points out that the mere fact that the candidate who spends more often wins more often isn’t a “causal link.” It doesn’t mean spending the money caused the win. And there are plenty of counterexamples to the assumption that money always wins, such as billionaire Tom Steyer donating a collective total of $50 million to candidates in 2014 and fewer than half of those recipients getting elected.

Winning campaigns requires engagement, and that means recruiting enthusiastic and hard-working volunteers. More importantly, winners turn supporters into volunteers. That takes a certain kind of “conversion process” where a smart campaign, upon learning they have enthusiastic supporters, will contact those supporters and provide easy-entry volunteer opportunities for them.  As Kelly Dietrich wrote earlier this year, “Engaging with voters goes beyond simply knocking on doors. It’s about giving voters ownership of your campaign’s success and making sure they know they are a crucial part of your campaign. By doing this, you change the ‘I’ of your candidacy to a ‘we.’ You get them to volunteer.”

Writing for Vox, here’s what David Broockman and Joshua Kalla have to say about campaign volunteers: “Mountains of rigorous research show that campaigns should be having personal conversations with voters at their doors. But, campaigns spend almost all their money on TV ads — and, every year, most voters say they’ve never had a conversation about the election at their door.” In fact, Broockman and Kalla write, one set of research “found that voters called on the phone or sent postcards were not noticeably more likely to vote than those sent nothing. But canvassing was different. Just one in-person conversation had a profound effect on a voter’s likelihood to go to the polls, boosting turnout by a whopping 20 percent (or around 9 percentage points).”

A 20-percent boost in turnout just from canvassing? Holy cow! Why doesn’t every candidate do this? Well, it’s hard. It requires a lot of data to recruit and retain volunteers. Many campaigns just keep throwing money at advertising on the theory that they’ll reach a larger number of people overall. That prioritizes quantity over quality, and doesn’t get people to the polls with any certainty.

Appending and data aggregation services can help recruit and enthuse volunteers. One organization I work with, Accurate Append, has been lauded by Call Hub for having “billions of data points on U.S voters and consumers,” guaranteeing that its clients’ “campaigns have the right contact information to rely upon through their email append, phone append, and lead validation features.”

But Accurate Append also maintains an industry-leading demographic database. This allows campaigns to access quality demographic attributes of voters on their lists, including their ages, income levels, and political interests. That information can be appended to their lists, allowing quick searching and analysis from which campaigns can identify ideal volunteers.

The processes involved in building a greater understanding of your support base includes verifying contact data, turning partial collections of contact information (like just having an email address or phone number) into full lists (a voter’s name, address, phone number and email). But it also means knowing what neighborhood a voter lives in and the local issues most likely to affect them. Append services can help you do that too. What I also like about append services is that they take seriously the fact that time is of the essence in campaigns. You upload a file to your secure folder and we return the results in that same folder.

The better you can manage that data, the easier it is to do the other essential things you need to do to manage volunteers–laid out nicely in this recent post by campaign tech company NGP Van–including respecting volunteers’ time, making the volunteer experience fun, and building ladders of volunteer engagement. Having good data means you can keep recruiting, and treating volunteers well so they work even harder.

It’s all part of an effort to use technology to re-humanize politics. This may seem ironic since technology has been part of the reason campaigns have de-humanized constituents. But the solution lies in a more intelligent and humanistic approach to collecting and interpreting that data. And that interpretation, in turns, requires more accurate and more frequently-updated data.

Comedy, Tragedy, and Your Campaign Email List

22 Oct

The subject lines were foreboding . . . terrifying . . . shocking . . . and ultimately irritating. As the Miami Herald’s Alex Daugherty put it, “for David Richardson’s congressional campaign every day is doomsday.” This was made evident by Richardson’s fundraising emails, their headings reading “we cannot afford this again,” “this is becoming dangerous,” and “REALLY REALLYYY BAD for Democrats!”

David Richardson was running in the Florida primary this year in the state’s 27th U.S. House district. He justified his method of hard-hitting subject lines because it seemed to bring in money—he was at one time ranked sixth out of 1200 Democratic House candidates in bringing in small-dollar donations. But Richardson went on to lose the primary to former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.

It’s not just inexperienced local candidates doing that kind of thing, by the way. Recently, the Democratic Party’s much-maligned Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) fell under fire for sending a fundraising email to supporters with the subject line “Mueller FIRED.”

Yeah, that’s pretty bad. And, I think it’s a slippery slope you risk sliding down the moment you let your creative energy fall into a “positive messaging/negative messaging” dichotomy. Philosopher and literary critic Kenneth Burke believed that humans are at our worst when we live in the “tragic frame,” pitting every conflict as a battle between good and evil where one side must vanquish the other. A more sustainable and less harmful position is the “comic frame,” where humans and our predicament are seen as more fluid and changeable, and every conflict doesn’t need to end in the annihilation of an enemy. Ultimately the comic frame, rather than the tragic frame, does a better job of making us feel like we have agency and responsibility to fix the problems in our political system.

So I think it’s not really about positive messages versus negative messages—at least not all the time. It’s about sustaining a conversation with your supporters, and bringing in more supporters. That requires good writing and a sense of being able to talk to voters as if they were normal, thinking human beings. It also requires good data.  

In fact, when I see campaigns relying only on these simplistic, dichotomous, fear-mongering subject lines, it makes me wonder how much those campaigns actually know about the voters in their district, or even their own supporters. It’s likely that they know relatively little about their voters’ age ranges, income levels, or the industries in which they work. Instead, such campaigns take the easy way out by relying on the quick fix of fear appeals yielding small-dollar donations. What these campaigns may not know is that there are data solutions for their lack of specific knowledge.

Accurate Append is a client of mine, but I also love their services: I use their email verification and append to create comprehensive voter contact lists that I can then use for surveys and other conversational methods of gathering information about voters in a district. But Accurate Append also has a Demographic Append service. This allows you not only to append your voter or supporter lists with accurate contact info, but also with updated demographic information, including estimated income and wealth, whether they have kids, marital status, age, how long they’ve lived in your district, whether they own their own home, and many other pieces of information.

It’s that knowledge about people—even if it’s just surface knowledge, even if it doesn’t tell you everything about who they really are—that is the gateway to writing good emails that go beyond just trying to scare the crap out of people or piss them off. Let’s say that after examining a voter list (that’s been supplemented with a demographic append service) that a large number of voters in a district are college graduates aged 25-40. Chances are very good that they will be concerned about student loan debt. Instead of writing a subject line like “OMG STUDENT DEBT WILL KILL US ALL!” and a hyperbolic email to match, you can title your email “A Serious Plan to Forgive Student Debt,” and let people know that your campaign is, well, serious. Readers can enter into the conversation with you. Your ask will not just be for money, but for a personal investment in your campaign’s focused approach to a policy issue your voters care about.

Sure, there are times to call your opponent, or your opponent’s party, out for doing and supporting policies and other things that are harmful. And sure, sometimes that call out shouldn’t be diluted and should totally be an uncompromising call to reject bad policies (or personalities) and embrace good ones. But even the fiercest battle cry will be more effective if the campaign has a deeper knowledge of the material, financial, occupational, and other circumstances of voters in the district. The more you know, the less likely it is that what you believe to be a powerful and attention-grabbing subject line will seem, to others, like silly, alarmist rhetoric.

Saving Campaign Dollars with Good Data Hygiene

2 Apr

Data hygiene will save your large-scale campaigns hundreds if not thousands of dollars per month.

In one of AHG’s current campaigns, we’ve focused on line-typing, an inexpensive data quality process that’s cheap and easy with our marketing client Accurate Append. We use Accurate Append’s data append service and a private FTP service (with monthly volume-based billing) to review the self-submitted data from targeted groups of voters and get back a label for landlines or cell phones. The line type will determine outreach method – for example, one-to-one calls to cell phones, a recorded call to a landline, and a GOTV reminder text to a young voter’s cell.

Data quality is essential not only for compliance but for stretching your campaign budget. At scale, a $0.005-per number charge for line-typing is much cheaper than paying several cents to waste a text message on a landline. (Note that cell phone directories are very expensive, and sending to a dead cell phone may still be the most efficient alternative.)

For continuous small jobs, such as adding donor flags to new email signups, a data append API may be the right solution – however, if you’re regularly cutting data for targets and don’t mind running those into your outreach software, batches by FTP can be a clean option. Drop one, five, or a dozen files into the FTP folder and get them back within minutes with your additional columns and hygiene taggings.

Beyond line typing, other data quality needs may be even more critical – you’ll want changes of address for your voters, for example. Be sure that you’re not paying for hundreds or thousands of returned postcards or larger mail pieces – don’t be afraid to talk to your vendor about their practices!

Be sure to budget data hygiene (and the alternative!) into your per-voter contact calculations. It’s not how many phone calls your team makes, texts you send, or homes you mail to, it’s how many of those reach the right party.

Accurate Appending Your Data

13 Oct

Guest post by Massimiliano Caron

The key to winning your campaign will always be direct voter contact. From the 2008 Obama campaign, Bernie Sander’s 2016 primary race and the recent victories of the Labour Party in the UK, we have seen the success of robust direct voter contact programs. Your campaign needs to be at their door, on their phone and in their inbox. Thus, you need accurate and current data on your voters.

With a basic voter file and Accurate Append you can get that valuable data. Accurate Append can get you the emails and phone numbers of your soon to be supporters. Voter files are not the only source of contacts you can append. What about that awesome Facebook page you have with thousands of followers? This is the audience you built and is the best group to target because they follow you. Now, not only can you get their email, but get their phone numbers. Utilizing these contacts, you will be talking directly to your audience converting them into volunteers and donors. There are plenty of places where these lists can be built; from your voter file, social media accounts and other publicly available data. Feel free to get creative, knowing that any data gaps can now be filled. No matter how you get it, coupling this contact data with powerful messages will lead you to build a winning campaign.

Accurate Append has a basic implementation of the Open Support Data Interface, which means other adopters of that data standard can easily add Accurate Append data to their voter outreach tools and CRMs. Along with easy integration like this, you will get access to billions of data points with hundreds of millions emails and phone numbers. This makes building your campaign’s database for voters, volunteers and donors much easier and you get up to 500 API calls for testing for free when using developer tools.

People are yearning for change and motivation in times like this, and your campaign’s message can be what sparks them into action. Do not let not having enough data get in the way of you activating your community and creating the change desperately needed. Add Accurate Append API to your campaign’s toolbox today!

Sailing the San Juans – America’s most under-rated vacation adventure

1 Jun

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The San Juan Islands may be the most underrated vacation destination in all of North America.

Located off the coast of Northern Washington, the islands are only a half-hour flight or an hour-and-a-half drive from Seattle. You can even sail Seattle to the islands in a few hours if the wind is on your side.  It’s the perfect distance for a quick day trip, but you may be disappointed if you don’t leave enough time to fully explore the islands.

Four of the islands are accessible by ferry: Orcas Island, San Juan Island, Lopez Island and Shaw Island each have ship harbors for both the ferries and private boats. While these islands are where most people live and offer the most options for restaurants and lodging, they only begin to scratch the surface.

“Local residents claim there are 750 islands at low tide but only 450 at high tide, but that’s really an unresolved questions,” according to an article by Chris Caswell in PassageMaker. Of those, 172 of the islands are named and make up more than 350 miles of coastline.

“Without going more than a half-day in any direction at a leisurely pace, you can find hundreds of small coves, wildlife to watch, fossils to hunt, small villages, resorts to enjoy, beaches set in pine forests, and protected waters suitable for boats of all sizes,” writes Caswell. “There are a dozen Washington State Marine Parks in the San Juan Islands, with most of them accessible only by boat. Each is in almost undisturbed condition, with a few picnic facilities, piers for landing, and trails to build your muscles and appetites.”

The San Juan Islands get half the rain of Portland and Seattle and an average of 247 days of sunshine each year. This perfect weather is paired with a slower, more relaxing island lifestyle compared to hustle and bustle of the cities on the mainland. In fact, there’s not a single traffic light on any of the islands.

The Islands are a perfect place to sail, and it is easy to plot a course lasting a week or more. While the idyllic weather makes for a picturesque expedition, the mild winds ensure those who set sail have an opportunity to fully appreciate the region’s beauty.

San Juan sailing will be an experience of a lifetime, but it’s important you plan ahead to ensure the memories you create are cherished and not a harsh reminder of poor preparation. While it’s possible to find a boat charter that comes complete with a trained crew ready to ferry a group of friends around the islands, you can save a lot of money and have a lot more fun by learning to sail yourself.

It isn’t hard to learn to sail, but it will take some time. You can be certified to crew — or assist in the the sailing operations — in one day. While it takes months of training to learn the skills necessary to skipper a 42-foot boat on a multi-day expedition, in just three 8-hour lessons you can be certified to take a 27-foot sailboat on the water yourself. At Windworks Sailing these courses are typically taught over three weekends, but can be taken over the course of a single week. For anyone visiting the Pacific Northwest, Windworks recommends purchasing private lessons in order to maximize the time spent on vacation.

Christopher White embarked on a five-day charter through the San Juan Islands for Sail Magazine that left him eager to return for another adventure.

The first stop on our cruise was Thetis island, which the Island Charters team said would give us a good taste of the lifestyle and beauty of the Vancouver islands. And I can’t argue with the recommendation,” writes White. “While I had packed for the cold nights and dreary weather typical of fall cruising in the Pacific Northwest, the dog days of summer were in full swing for the first few days of our cruise, with blue skies, plenty of sun and temperatures creeping into the 80s. Our trip from Montague to South Pender was pure Pacific Northwest cruising at its finest. The warm weather held right up to sunset and the wind built a bit as the evening approached, allowing us to raise sail and have a bit of fun as we made our way out past the tip of Mayne Island.”

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As the San Juan Islands are so close to the Canadian border, it’s a good idea to turn on international roaming on your cell phone before making the trip. Though travelers may never set foot in Canada, it’s possible that the nearest cell tower is located on the other side of the border, and a quick call to the cell provider ahead of time can save expensive roaming charges.

In a USA Today article recommending the San Juan Islands as one of the top sailing destinations in the world, the newspaper provided this helpful guide for visitors to review before casting off:

  • Check cruise ship routes and schedules so you can plan your itinerary to avoid the crowds.
  • Download nautical navigation and GPS apps to your tablet or phone to map your route and get familiar with the waters before you sail.
  • For several couples chartering together, consider renting an additional dinghy so everyone can move about more independently.
  • Investigate costs of transportation from the airport to the boat. Some charter companies provide free transportation depending on your arrival time.
  • Ask about reduced fees for staying onboard your boat the night before your charter begins. Staying aboard is usually less expensive than putting up the crew at a hotel.
  • Get a nautical guide to your destination, which will serve as a reference for sightseeing and offer advice on anchorages, sea states and hazards in the area.

 

Growing a Civic Tech Ecosystem

30 Mar

Over the past year, I’ve been building a consulting group with a focus on growth strategies and services for civic tech companies (tools to do politics, government or nonprofit work better) and digital projects for nonprofits and progressive political campaigns.

Here are a few of the companies I’m working with:

Ecanvasser: This Ireland-based startup builds mobile and desktop constituent outreach and issue management tools for campaigns and government officials. They have Android and iOS apps for mobile canvassing and some of the best pricing on the market.

iConstituent: With a CRM solution as well as e-newsletters and website building products, iConstituent is solely focused on enabling great government-constituent communications and streamlining issue tracking and response from Congress to City Hall.

Accurate Append: An outreach strategy is only as good as the contact data backing it up, and with one of the largest resources of opt-in contact data available, Accurate Append can help with email verification, email append and phone append, including sussing out line type for phone contacts.

League of California Cities Emerges as Chief Opponent of Open Data Bill

25 Jun

The League of California Cities has emerged as the chief opponent of an open data bill I helped propose. California Sen. Leland Yee’s SB 1002 would create a new open data standard in the California Public Records Act.

Access Voter Data for Your Political Campaign with NationBuilder

6 Feb

NationBuilder’s killer app is data – free voter data for political campaigns. With a basic subscription of just $19 a month, you get a website, advocacy tools, contact management, and up to 500,000 voter records – enough to run a U.S. Congressional race.

Get started with a free trial of NationBuilder now.