A Fascinating Read

This Atlantic piece about the tech guys who ran the Obama campaign is well worth your time.

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154 replies
  1. 1
    Corner Stone says:

    This Atlantic piece about the tech guys who ran the Obama campaign is well worth your time.

    Completely agree. I give it one and a half thumbs up.

  2. 2
    JPL says:

    R-Jud knows Harper. The early morning crew was envious.

  3. 3
    Redshift says:

    It also illustrates why I am not overly worried about the GOP learning from the Obama campaign and erasing our advantage in the near term. The kind of people who built it are not going to go work for a Republican campaign, because all they have to offer is money, and they’re not doing it for the money.

  4. 4
    rb says:

    Well, they ran the *tech part* of the campaign, to be nitpicky about it. But yeah, it’s a very interesting read.

  5. 5
    The Red Pen says:

    Just looked at the photos. Those are some might “I use UNIX” beards.

  6. 6

    Narwhal? ORCA? What’s the deal with the whale names?

    And then we have Anonymous claiming they prevented Karl Rove from stealing the election with their own program, The Great Oz.

  7. 7
    taylormattd says:

    That article is great John.

  8. 8
    MikeBoyScout says:

    Thanks John. This is a very good piece.

    And this story can give us hope for the change we believe in. Liberal nerds OWN the IT space and a Republican mind trapped in the bubble will never equal what we can do …. with enough soda, coffee and vodka!

  9. 9
    NonyNony says:

    @Southern Beale:

    Narwhal? ORCA? What’s the deal with the whale names?

    A narwhal is a sea unicorn. So I wonder if the Obama team named it that because they are Internet people and they were having fun.

    Orcas prey on narwhals and Team Romney thought naming theirs ORCA was funny because of that:

    Even its name was a taunt: Obama’s top-secret project to target voters was called Narwhal, and as Romney’s communications director, Gail Gitcho, told NPR, “The Orca is the only known predator to that.”

    Hilarious!

  10. 10
    dmsilev says:

    @Southern Beale: The Obama team named their system Narwhal for reasons unknown (or at least I’m too lazy to Google for the answer). The Romney campaign named their thing Orca because orcas hunt and eat narwhals.

    Hubris is a bitch.

  11. 11
    Roger Moore says:

    @Corner Stone:

    I give it one and a half thumbs up.

    Are you secretly Cole’s dad?

  12. 12

    HA! Denny’s corporate is getting a hammering over on its Facebook page with people saying they will boycott. In the mean time asshole Metz is backing down.

    http://www.marketwatch.com/sto.....atest_news

  13. 13
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    Narwhal seems to be a Reddit thing, but I can’t explain more than that.

    I don’t mean I’m restricted by secret rules, I mean that’s the sum total of what I know about it.

    Well and this

    I don’t think it’s clear whether this is where the name come from, but just on an Occam’s Razor sort of hunch, looking at the photo of those guys my money would be on that it’s a geeky Internet thing.

  14. 14
    jibeaux says:

    Posted below in a dying thread but maybe the cool techies are here:

    I have to ask something O/T here. All over the FB and my email people are talking about this kickstarter project called GoldieBlox. It’s a building toy marketed to girls which includes a storybook. People are LOVING this thing. The video is probably in your facebook if you know anyone with a young daughter. I LOVE the idea of more building toys effectively marketed to girls. I love the idea of exposing them to engineering. But the toy itself looks, in a word, dumb. It seems to basically have a ribbon that turns some little spools around with animals on top. Please, I can’t talk about it under my name so if you’ve seen this product tell me what I’m missing? Is it more fun than it looks?

  15. 15
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @NonyNony: This reminds me of Pakistan naming its nuclear launch missile Ghauri, who invaded Northern India from Afghanistan in the 12th century. Extremely childish.

  16. 16
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    @Roger Moore:

    Are you secretly Cole’s dad?

    You mean like a Darth Vader sort of thing? The other guy there is an imposter? Cool.

  17. 17
    lol says:

    @jibeaux:

    It looks like there are more sets with different mechanics planned.

    Book+Toy #2 includes the “GoldieBlox Goes to the Parade” storybook + character figures + construction set pieces to build a parade float vehicle.

    Book+Toy #3 includes the “GoldieBlox and the Treehouse” storybook + character figurines + construction set pieces to build a pulley elevator.

  18. 18
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    Oil platform exploded?

    Great.

    CNN says “not a drilling platform”

  19. 19
    liberal says:

    @MikeBoyScout:

    Liberal nerds OWN the IT space…

    Huh? I thought many, many programmers are “libertarian”.

  20. 20
    rlrr says:

    @jibeaux:

    My daughters enjoy LEGO…

  21. 21
    rlrr says:

    @liberal:

    Until they grow up…

  22. 22
    Ed Marshall says:

    Narwhal was a massive failure and no one involved in it will every work on a campaign again. This is people fluffing themselves trying to get work in the private sector.

  23. 23
    Ed Marshall says:

    While they futzed around trying to build narwhal from scratch (and never finished) a friend of mine and some other people in analytics made their own database out of an off the shelf product and that was what everyone wound up using.

  24. 24
    Hawes says:

    I wish my son was a nerd….

    I never thought I’d say that.

  25. 25
    Emma says:

    @Ed Marshall: Links, please. Names and links.

  26. 26
    Ed Marshall says:

    @Emma:

    Hah, hell no.

  27. 27
    NonyNony says:

    @Litlebritdifrnt:

    FTA:

    he still plans to cut back hours,

    He’s still an asshole. The more damaging piece of his little scheme is still in place.

    I actually like the “throw a public tantrum and post nasty messages about Obamacare on my checks” idea. I like things that actively advertise that he’s a wingnut. Wingnuts can patronize his business, non-wingnuts can avoid giving him money. A perfect “vote with your wallet” sort of scenario.

    Dicking over his employees by cutting their hours so they don’t qualify for benefits is just an asshole move no matter who does it.

  28. 28
    NonyNony says:

    @Ed Marshall:

    Hah, hell no.

    So your only link is to “pulled it from my ass”?

    Or was that you pretending to be a wingnut and I missed the joke?

  29. 29
    jl says:

    A Fascinating Reed?

  30. 30
    jibeaux says:

    @lol: I saw the videos of those prototypes too; it’s just more ribbons and spools. It’s not terrible, it’s just underwhelming, unless it’s targeted at three year olds.

  31. 31
    MobiusKlein says:

    @Ed Marshall: Pardon me, but wasn’t narwhal more than just analytics?

    And sure, I can believe that parts of the system didn’t get finished, and off the shelf stuff got used as part. Not-invented-here syndrome is everywhere, and even the nerdiest techs fall prey to it.

    but back up your stories with more info, or nobody will believe you.

  32. 32
    MikeBoyScout says:

    @19 liberal:

    What rlrr said @21, but I’ll add.
    There is no Libertarian political party, and of the two parties that do exist, one is clearly more “Libertarian” as nerds want than the other.

    Take a look at the Washington State results map for the Marijuana legalization initiative
    http://vote.wa.gov/results/cur.....ounty.html

    And then compare it to the results for candidates in the state. Those that have a libertarian bent have more in common with Democrats than Republicans.

    In any event, with few exceptions the best performing nerds I know are all Democrats.

  33. 33
    rlrr says:

    @jl:

    A Fascinating Reed?

    Maybe the Atlantic is printed on papyrus these days…

  34. 34
    Ed Marshall says:

    It’s true, I just don’t want to name names. The tech guys were all smart people, but they wanted to do something really cool for the sake of doing something cool.

    While they played around with narwhal (which needed to be updated realtime for no apparent reason whatsoever), analytics put together it’s own database for modeling and polling and what wound up happening is that while narwhal crept along and failed, they just bought more nodes for the analytic database and brought the rest of the campaign in.

  35. 35
    Schlemizel says:

    @Bill E Pilgrim:

    Reddit has a narwhal meme that started as a joke way to identify other redditors in public. The phrase is “The Narwhal beacons at midnight”

    Nobody with the campaign will confirm or deny that this was to starting point and there is no reason to think it was other than as an inside joke about how hep the O team was.

    The key, the part we DO know, is the @ssholes For Willard team showed all the restraint, foresight and ability they could muster in their publicly stated reason for choosing ORCA that they brought to the campaign.

  36. 36
    Schlemizel says:

    @Ed Marshall:

    come on you made up the first part just make up some names to go with it

  37. 37
    MikeBoyScout says:

    @31 MobiusKlein:

    Right on.
    From the article “Narwhal wasn’t an app for a smartphone. It was the architecture of the company’s sophisticated data operation.

    Ed Marshall apparently is not a tech nerd. ;-)

  38. 38
    MikeJ says:

    @Bill E Pilgrim:

    CNN says “not a drilling platform”

    NBC says it is a drilling platform, but it wasn’t yet in production. Also, it was in shallow water. The claim so far is that 28 gallons of oil spilled. We’ll see how long that stays the story.

  39. 39
    👽 Martin says:

    @Bill E Pilgrim: I’d bet anything that Narwhal got it’s name from Reddit. The geeks usually pick names that are entertaining to them – from a meme, some insider joke thing, etc. There’s a ‘your name is your destiny’ kind of thing that these guys pretty strongly rebel against. They’re much more focused on just delivering the goods.

    Notable that the GOP did the ‘name is your destiny’ for their project.

  40. 40
    MikeBoyScout says:

    @34 Ed Marshall: Go read the article. OBA used Amazon WebServices. Adding (and subtracting) nodes quickly and easily is a key feature of what Amazon offers. And OBTW, only corporate lackeys lock themselves in to any one DBMS for a complex system.

  41. 41
    Ed Marshall says:

    The idea was that they were going to create a super-duper custom real-time database that would combine all our data from a bunch of different sources (Calls, clicks, polling, etc).

    It was a clusterfuck and failed miserably. Analystics took an off-the-shelf database solution (Vertica), and refreshed it twice a day instead of “real-time”.

  42. 42
    rikyrah says:

    loved this article. makes me feel even better about team Obama.

  43. 43
    Schlemizel says:

    Ed Marshall Says:
    The Obama campaign was full of coke sniffing homos who will never work on a campaign everysic again.

    The people who really did the work were two North Korean guys with a TRS80 mind controlling voters

    Links please Ed

    Daaaaahhh, derp, no way

  44. 44
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @👽 Martin: The Computer Science Department at school had all their computers named after LOTR characters and the server was Gandalf.

  45. 45
    liberal says:

    @MikeBoyScout:

    Those that have a libertarian bent have more in common with Democrats than Republicans.

    Well, I’d like to think so, but ISTM a large fraction, perhaps a majority, of “libertarians” agree with right-wingers on most everything except social issues.

    In any event, with few exceptions the best performing nerds I know are all Democrats.

    Plausible, since leftist tendencies are mildly correlated with higher intelligence and rightist ones with lower intelligence.

    But in cyberspace, there seem to be an awful lot of pretty right-wing programmer types.

    Of course, that observation doesn’t comprise any kind of survey.

  46. 46
    Schlemizel says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Worked at one place where the MF was named “Snow White” I’ll leave it to you to guess what the 7 servers were named

    Thats pretty common

  47. 47
    MikeBoyScout says:

    @45 liberal: Peace. Those “libertarians” are like the “independents”, they’ve left the Republican party identification, but maintained the Republican mindset.

    And I know some very good rightwing designers and devs. I just know a whole bunch more liberals. And in Seattle where I live, their success at the command line shows up in the bank. :-)

  48. 48
    Ed Marshall says:

    @Schlemizel:

    Believe whatever you want, but *these* guys won the election and the tech team was a net drag that wasted an enormous amount of resources.

    http://swampland.time.com/2012.....obama-win/

  49. 49
    Yutsano says:

    @Ed Marshall: Clap louder. I’m sure we’ll all submit to your massive authoritah any second now!

    Or to quote a great robot: “Who are you and why should I care?”

  50. 50
    👽 Martin says:

    @Ed Marshall: I don’t buy it. The team is made up of generally pretty well known people in tech. They’re pretty up-front about their failings. We see them on twitter, etc. constantly. I don’t think there’s anything inaccurate about these various reports we’re reading.

    Keep in mind that narwhal was just the data back-end. It consolidated the data and made it available for other applications (which is why they talk about the APIs so much). Entirely possible that the analytics team pulled data from narwhal into their own back-end and then served it up through their own apps, that the team couldn’t get a sufficiently powerful api built for the analytics team. In fact, that’s specifically mentioned in the article:

    While the dream had been for all applications to run through Narwhal in real time, it turned out that couldn’t work. So, they split things into real-time applications like the Call Tool or things on the web. And then they provided a separate way for the Analytics people, who had very specific needs, to get the data in a different form. Then, whatever they came up with was fed back into Narwhal.

    Emphasis mine. Are you saying that’s incorrect, that the analytics solutions never interacted with narwhal? Because that’s contradicted in every article I’ve read so far, including answers from the team to tech questions fielded by the community.

  51. 51
    Schlemizel says:

    @Ed Marshall:

    Maybe you could point out where it identifies ORCA as a big fat fail that was only saved by their work?

    Perhaps you only misstated what you really wanted to say but when called on it to provide proof your initial response was “no”. And that link while interesting does not support your opening assertion

  52. 52
    Schlemizel says:

    @👽 Martin:

    Very nicely done Martin!

    Perhaps Ed could explain what he meant?

  53. 53
    Ed Marshall says:

    @👽 Martin:

    Would it shock you that individuals have reasons to lie and that campaigns don’t really want to divulge failure or even outline the true story about successes?

  54. 54
    MikeJ says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    The Computer Science Department at school had all their computers named after LOTR characters and the server was Gandalf.

    I’m typing right now on “Kenya”, attached to the gateway machine “Sumatra”, and the printer is on “Mocha”.

    When I worked at [big evil place], one of our main gatekeeper machines was gozer.

  55. 55
    MikeBoyScout says:

    @53 Ed Marshall:

    Would it shock you that individuals have reasons to lie

    Irony escape. Please notify the authorities.

  56. 56
    Cassidy says:

    I’m not a tech guy by any stretch, but didn’t the Ars Technica article specifically state that the OFA tech team came in with the mindset of using off the shelf products? Is there some sort of tech guruness I’m missing in that? The way it read to me was that they were grabbing stuff that already worked and fitting them together.

  57. 57
    👽 Martin says:

    @liberal:

    Well, I’d like to think so, but ISTM a large fraction, perhaps a majority, of “libertarians” agree with right-wingers on most everything except social issues.

    Most young geeks are social libertarians, not economic ones. They believe in legalizing weed and prostitution and shit like that. They aren’t anti-taxers. They’re the guys that are pushing (and voting for) the marijuana laws. But they are very progressive on civil rights, and relatively progressive on economic issues.

    For crying out loud, Obama beat Romney by 42 points in Santa Clara county, 45 points in San Mateo county and 70 points in San Francisco county. That’s silicon valley end-to-end. If you want to know why NC is a swing state, it’s because of the tech triangle there. Obama beat Romney by 24 points in Travis County, Texas (Austin). Texas!

    For someone who calls themselves a liberal, you have a blind spot about the electorate about as large as the GOPs.

  58. 58
    scav says:

    @MikeJ: the depts that stuck in my mind are the ones with all the machines being named after mythical places and the other with a lab where they were all named after cows (gateway boxes, of course — room generally known as the digital dairy)

  59. 59
    dmsilev says:

    @MikeJ: When I was in grad school, the machines in the lab I worked in included ‘Puchner’, ‘Boehm’, ‘Loree’, and ‘Quantz’, among others.

    It took us a while to break the code (this was Before Google)…. My boss was a (classical) music aficionado; those are all famous manufacturers of flutes, bassoons, oboes, etc.

  60. 60
    MikeJ says:

    @scav:

    (gateway boxes, of course—room generally known as the digital dairy)

    Heh. I forgot “Gateway” was a brand. In my post please read all instances of “gateway” as “border box”.

    Remember when the kid who did the Dell commercials got busted for pot? Proof that it’s not a Gateway drug.

  61. 61
    Capt. Seaweed says:

    @Schlemizel:

    The key, the part we DO know, is the @ssholes For Willard team showed all the restraint, foresight and ability they could muster in their publicly stated reason for choosing ORCA that they brought to the campaign.

    ORCA might be an acronym for something. Obama Reelection Crushing App. Or something “clever”.

  62. 62
    Bulworth says:

    Yeah a great read. Now, how to apply this stuff to the mid-terms…..

  63. 63
    Corner Stone says:

    @Roger Moore:

    Are you secretly Cole’s dad?

    There’s a series of fantastic setup jokes here, including the whole “Yo momma” catalog.
    But seeing as how Cole’s mom actually reads the blog I won’t go there because I don’t want her busting me on inadequate lovemaking skillsets.

  64. 64
    Nied says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: During a stint at an IT consulting firm I had a client who had named all his servers after evil robots/computers from fiction. The AD server was named HAL9000 the accounting server Lore etc. (WOPR was in there too, I forget now what it did). If I ever get a chance to build an office’s infastructure from scratch I’m stealing that naming scheme.

  65. 65
    Joey Maloney says:

    Give Ed a break. He just got back from camp and his Canadian girlfriend is texting him, like, a zillion times a day.

  66. 66
    Ed Marshall says:

    @Joey Maloney:

    http://tinypic.com/r/2u4tsnq/6

    That is me third from the left at campaign HQ at the Prudential building. I’d pick someone more attractive to be if I was being a fabulist.

  67. 67
    Roger Moore says:

    @👽 Martin:

    The geeks usually pick names that are entertaining to them – from a meme, some insider joke thing, etc.

    One of the odd things in tech is that the names are usually backward from other industries. In most industries, new projects are given boring working names, and marketing comes along and jazzes things up in the hopes of selling better. In tech, the developers like to give their projects cool names that get turned into something boring and bland by marketing. I think this is because tech was traditionally sold to business, rather than consumers, and marketers assume that buttoned down business types want serious sounding product names.

  68. 68
    Ed Marshall says:

    http://tinypic.com/r/29vdvyv/6

    That’s the guy standing next to me with someone you might recognize.

  69. 69
    PurpleGirl says:

    @The Red Pen: Or AIX users. The picture reminded of a former IBM internet security and OS researcher I know.

    @NonyNony: Of course they are internet people. They are steeped in computers and geekdom.

  70. 70
    Brachiator says:

    This Atlantic piece about the tech guys who ran the Obama campaign is well worth your time.

    Pah! I’m waiting for the wingnut version which explains how these guys will help set up the agitprop re-education camps. Wolverines!

    More seriously, this and the ars technica piece are both very good.

  71. 71
    Joey Maloney says:

    @Ed Marshall: So which one is your Canadian girlfriend?

  72. 72
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @Nied: FTW! I like that!

  73. 73
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    @Cassidy:

    The way it read to me was that they were grabbing stuff that already worked and fitting them together.

    And that can be staggeringly hard to do depending on what you’re trying to integrate. Different interfaces, different data formats, different use cases, different communications protocols, all with different ways of shitting the bed.

    And making all of it communicate in real time? Nontrivial.

    My job is maintaining a translation layer between our company’s software and the software used by our clients. We have something like forty different interfaces. It’s maybe 0.000023% of the complexity of Narwhal, and it keeps 5 people employed full-time.

  74. 74
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    @Schlemizel: “bacons” I think. Not beacons. See the link I included with my comment.

  75. 75
    MobiusKlein says:

    @Ed Marshall: Does not surprise me that success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan.

    So yes, I do want to know your view of the truth. Hell, if you have secret info about why the Reed guy is a phony, go pitch a story with backup to The Atlantic.

    Just don’t expect to convince folks here without a bit more than rumor.

  76. 76
    Ed Marshall says:

    @Joey Maloney:

    I don’t know what the fuck more I can do. I’ve posted here since like 2005 or something. That is my real name, I guess you could look me up on facebook. The point isn’t “I’m important”, because I’m not. I just know what I’m talking about, and not getting it third hand from a reporter.

  77. 77
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @Grumpy Code Monkey: And also keeps you grumpy, full time!

  78. 78
    burnspbesq says:

    @Ed Marshall:

    Narwhal was a massive failure and no one involved in it will every work on a campaign again

    Talk is cheap. Evidence rules. Got any?

  79. 79
    Schlemizel says:

    @Ed Marshall:

    No, would it surprise you to find out some people are full of shit, post comments without any evidence and then try to BS their way out of it when caught?

  80. 80
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    @Nied: I can’t wait until Mitt Romney takes his place in the pantheon of famous evil robots.

    I think the rest of the Republicans are about ready to carry out the disabling HAL scene with him as we speak. “Someone turn him off, will you?”

  81. 81

    @Ed Marshall:

    Believe whatever you want, but these guys won the election and the tech team was a net drag that wasted an enormous amount of resources.

    Pretty sure the recently re-elected Leader of the Free World would disagree with that assessment.

  82. 82
    Schlemizel says:

    @Bill E Pilgrim:

    Yup! My typo

  83. 83
    Roger Moore says:

    @scav:
    I remember a workstation cluster with devices named Gap, Coil, Arrestor, Distributor, etc. They were, naturally enough, Sparcstations. Yes, this was a long time ago. One of the compute clusters for the protein simulation group here at my current workplace has nodes named for the naturally occurring amino acids.

  84. 84
    M31 says:

    The Narwhal Song:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykwqXuMPsoc

    (spoiler alert: it includes the immortal lyric “just don’t let them touch your balls”)

  85. 85
    Brachiator says:

    @👽 Martin:

    The geeks usually pick names that are entertaining to them – from a meme, some insider joke thing, etc.

    Reminds me of cartoonists. And maybe porn titles.

    Most young geeks are social libertarians, not economic ones. They believe in legalizing weed and prostitution and shit like that. They aren’t anti-taxers. They’re the guys that are pushing (and voting for) the marijuana laws. But they are very progressive on civil rights, and relatively progressive on economic issues.

    I don’t know. I watched and listened to some tech podcasts related to or commenting on the election.

    To be blunt, some geeks struck me as being politically and socially stunted in the libertarianism. One guy, heading a group doing Nate Silver style voter analysis, acted as though his lack of any political allegiance guaranteed a kind of intellectual purity, and he found comfort in “facts” and “numbers” totally oblivious to what was at stake in the election.

    For the host of the “Hypercritical” podcast, the biggest annoyance was the use of scantron type ballot materials. He huffily announced that one day, nerds would bring modern voting techniques to national elections. I listened to this, and thought that maybe solutions to voter suppression efforts, or even more elegant solutions to the Hurricane Sandy ad hoc voting challenges might be more important.

    And some of the bleating about “liberty” from these guys sounds much like anything coming from Rand Paul or Paul Ryan.

    Also, I think a lot of these guys would be afraid of both weed and prostitutes. They are more interested in copyright free video and computer games than they are interested in legalizing weed and hookers.

  86. 86
    MobiusKlein says:

    @Midnight Marauder: Don’t be so sure – Ed may very well be right.

    In the tech world, self promotion can get you very far. Even the hipster coders know about self promotion.

    And when measuring success, I suspect beating Orca’s performance was easy. Whether that was good enough for the Obama team, we don’t know.

  87. 87
    👽 Martin says:

    @Ed Marshall:

    Would it shock you that individuals have reasons to lie and that campaigns don’t really want to divulge failure or even outline the true story about successes?

    I fully expect people to lie. I don’t expect them to lie with perfect coordination, however. I also don’t expect them to lie to close acquaintances. The tech community at this level is pretty chummy.

    But please clarify how what I quoted differs from what you are describing. If it doesn’t, then I think we’re using very different definitions of ‘failure’. Yes, narwhal failed to integrate analytics in real time. That may have been for any number of reasons from not enough time to incompetent staff, but does that make narwhal a failure if it still integrated the data through a non-realtime interface? Failure is measured by cost. What did the lack of a realtime interface cost the campaign? Was that cost high enough that the team really needed to have delivered on it? Or would the lack of other elements that they did complete in narwhal cost the campaign more – like not having strike sheets, or not getting the social media stuff working so well? This may reflect back to that ‘silo mentality’ that the article describes – that the analytics guys didn’t necessarily recognize the value of the system to other parts of the campaign.

  88. 88

    @MobiusKlein:

    Don’t be so sure – Ed may very well be right.
    __
    In the tech world, self promotion can get you very far. Even the hipster coders know about self promotion.
    __
    And when measuring success, I suspect beating Orca’s performance was easy. Whether that was good enough for the Obama team, we don’t know.

    Maybe Ed is right, fine. But based on the actual evidence he has presented thus far–particularly when stacked against everything that we know on the record–there’s not much to support his assertion that “the tech team was a net drag that wasted an enormous amount of resources.”

    Maybe the tech team didn’t hit some of the loftier goals they initially envisioned, but to dismiss their efforts as a net drag and claim they wasted an enormous amount of resources does not seem to be borne out by any available facts.

    The fact that Ed posted pictures of himself working for the campaign does not rise to the level of admissible evidence.

  89. 89
    Schlemizel says:

    @burnspbesq:

    Well, its been an hour and twenty minutes of asking and his only evidence oriented response has been a link that neither supported nor refuted his assertion. If he really wsa part of the campaign I’m gonna have to hope he sets up a consulting business with Mark Penn and those guys so we can ignore them all at the same time.

    Sorry Ed, you came her and made a very bold statement counter to everything the campaign has been telling us. When first asked for evidence you said no. A bit later you posted a link to a Time story that said nothing about your claim. After that you you tried to assert that you are right because you were a campaign insider. So you are still batting OH-fer. You may be a great guy, you may have busted your butt on the campaign, there is even a tiny chance your assertion is correct – but you have not given us a single valid reason to believe that. You may have missed this but WE are the reality based community, we like evidence. Your story would be a really interesting story, one I’d be very interested in reading but it can’t be fiction it has to be at least arguable & that requires some evidence.

  90. 90
    shortstop says:

    @Midnight Marauder:

    Pretty sure the recently re-elected Leader of the Free World would disagree with that assessment.

    WTF does he know? Look at the slack-jawed goofballs he’s willing to shake hands with.

  91. 91
    JustAnotherBob says:

    @Ed Marshall: He’s kind of looking at you as if he smells something disgusting.

    Just observing…

  92. 92
    Cassidy says:

    @Grumpy Code Monkey: I really have no idea and I don’t doubt that. What I’m getting at is that Ed is saying that narwhal was this failure of coding/ programming/ no fucking clue what I’m talking about, whereas I understood it to be the other thing from the beginning. As I said, I’m not a tech person and could easily not be understanding what I’m reading.

  93. 93
    Ed Marshall says:

    What did the lack of a realtime interface cost the campaign?

    Narwhal never really worked, it never was finished and for critical campaign data it was never used.

    Or would the lack of other elements that they did complete in narwhal cost the campaign more – like not having strike sheets, or not getting the social media stuff working so well?

    The real time strike sheets were something that analytics managed to shoot down. It took a stupid excel spreadsheet saying “look, deploying a volunteer at every polling place takes X number of people out of the field, there is no possible way that you can justify taking that manpower away from knocking doors and working phones for the sake of better targetting”.

    When the article says, “And then they provided a separate way for the Analytics people, who had very specific needs, to get the data in a different form.”, that is just a total lie. They provided them with allowing them to use what analytics had built themselves in late 2011 and wound up being used by other departments other than analytics because it worked and narwhal didn’t.

  94. 94
    Joey Maloney says:

    @Ed Marshall:

    I don’t know what the fuck more I can do.

    You could, I dunno, provide some evidence besides your bare assertion. Hell, for all I know you’re telling the truth at least as you see it – but you’re up against a pretty detailed article that says it worked and explains how and why. And, oh yeah, our side won with the help of this system you allege was a complete failure.

  95. 95
    Ed Marshall says:

    @Joey Maloney:

    I’m probably biased toward OFA analytics, but I think tech is taking way too much credit, and not being honest about it’s failures.

  96. 96
    Schlemizel says:

    @Ed Marshall:

    Ed – you keep make the assertion but you offer no proof. None. Give it a rest you are not convincing anyone. Unless you can produce some tiny bit of supporting documentation everything you say is simply hearsay. Thats not a tough concept I don’t think. You can claim a story is a lie but it is the story being given by the campaign and it is not being refuted by anyone but you right here. You may be the lone voice of truth crying in the wilderness but you have not given anyone a single reason to believe that. None. Saying it does not make it true or false. Give us some reason other than a photo to believe you.

  97. 97
    Schlemizel says:

    @Ed Marshall:

    Thats a whole hell of a lot different than your original assertion!

    I tried googling you to see if you had a history of trolling. I was surprised at how little I could find, but that might be because there are a thousand Ed Marshalls. I did find this under the name “Ed Marshall” over at tboggs place:

    bullshit doesn’t usually look like that.
    I recognize it from getting blasted drunk at night and reading a comment in a thread in the morning and realizing I wrote it.

  98. 98
    Not Ed Marshall says:

    I don’t want to give away too much information, and I can’t reveal my sources — like hell I will — but someone in a position to know said Ed Marshall fucks like a tiger. I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true.

  99. 99
    Terry Chay says:

    @MikeBoyScout:

    No. A lot of them are libertarians, not liberals. Big difference!

    Btw, I know two of the people on the article. It’s always weird to read a puff piece about your friends.

  100. 100
    Ruckus says:

    @MobiusKlein:
    but back up your stories with more info, or nobody will believe you.

    Too late.

  101. 101
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    Does anyone know of any plans (By people who can actually implement them?) to keep this technology alive and to use it in future elections? Past Gerrymandering makes retaking the House in 2014 damned difficult. It will be impossible without the kind of technology Obama used this time around.

  102. 102
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    @Cassidy:

    There would have been a lot of programming and scripting involved to get everything to talk to each other and share data. Beyond that I’m not qualified to speak (I’m old and haven’t worked with much of the technology behind Narwhal).

    FWIW, I don’t doubt Ed is telling the truth, and from his POV Narwhal probably wasn’t that useful, especially if they weren’t able to integrate analytics that well. Like the article says, the different groups had different priorities and focus.

  103. 103

    @Ed Marshall:

    I’m probably biased toward OFA analytics, but I think tech is taking way too much credit, and not being honest about it’s failures.

    Why did it take you this long to make your actual point?

  104. 104
    Schlemizel says:

    @Grumpy Code Monkey:

    But he didn’t say “from my point of view Narwhal was not very helpful”. he said:

    Narwhal was a massive failure and no one involved in it will every work on a campaign again. This is people fluffing themselves trying to get work in the private sector.

    that is teeny bit different isn’t it?

    EDIT:@Midnight Marauder: BINGO!

  105. 105
    Corner Stone says:

    If Ed faxed John Cole his credenzas would it really matter?
    It’s not like he’s saying any brown people stole anything and he witnessed it. Just presenting an alternative view to what was effective.
    I’m sure we could find a spectrum of these perspectives if we were lucky enough.
    I’m not really seeing the problem.

  106. 106
    Corner Stone says:

    “A Fascinating Read”
    Indeed.
    But was it “An Important Read”?
    Because I don’t see Milt Shook’s byline anywhere.

  107. 107
    Schlemizel says:

    @Corner Stone:

    I’d like to see someone fax a credenza ;)

    He made a very large assertion and when challenged he squirted ink like a crazy squid. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if he had either A) given some evidence of his assertion or B) said that perhaps he over stated his case owing to his closeness to his part of the campaign and really meant to say something less insulting.

    Instead he came off like the blowhards I have dealt with on on many campaigns that, no matter what their actual role was, want you to believe they were the real power & they were the real truth. That may impress the guys at the bar but those of us who have actually done the work & understand how limited out view of the entire thing was and how many moving parts there are smell BS.

  108. 108
    Terry Chay says:

    @👽 Martin:

    But 12 years ago two of those counties went for Bush. The deal is the party left them, so they vote D.

    Also to the others. I wouldn’t get too harsh on Ed. I don’t know myself but there is some of what he says that sounds very plausible based on experience and the background of the people involved. He was probably directly involved with some area where Narwhal fell short.

    If I was involved in another piece of OfA tech infrastructure and I read this puff piece, I’d be wanting to point that out.

  109. 109
    bfr says:

    One thing not mentioned here is the reusable IP component. It’s possible that the tech team built technology that did what it was supposed to but also wasn’t something that analytics was setup to use very well.

    However, they now have some infrastructure to improve upon that they didn’t have before. That’s probably going to be a lot more useful than the $millions that Romney spent on Google ROS ad-buys and Oregon tv spots.

  110. 110
    Ted & Hellen says:

    Hey Cole, I need to re establish some anti-JC street cred here at BJ, so I hope you don’t mind too much:

    YOU SUCK.

    That should do.

    Yuts take notice.

  111. 111
    👽 Martin says:

    @Brachiator:

    For the host of the “Hypercritical” podcast, the biggest annoyance was the use of scantron type ballot materials. He huffily announced that one day, nerds would bring modern voting techniques to national elections. I listened to this, and thought that maybe solutions to voter suppression efforts, or even more elegant solutions to the Hurricane Sandy ad hoc voting challenges might be more important.

    I didn’t listen to that episode, but unsaid in that is that it would solve those problems as well. The Scantron is just a proxy for outdated thinking on how we vote – in all respects.

    Both John and Dan know their shit well enough that they understand the challenges and impact of authorization and authentication (I’ve known both guys through email, etc. for a while) – and that’s really what they mean by ‘modern voting techniques’, because once you solve that problem then suppression gets damn hard to do, and you can vote from Mars if you want, from damn near any device. You can have a national registrar of voters database that records a vote for a national office from any individual, which means you could vote from any state for president. But if you weren’t a resident of California, you couldn’t vote for the state races or the initiatives. If you weren’t a resident of the district, you couldn’t vote at that level, but you could for the state races, and so on.

    It’s quite literally the whole electoral ballgame. Everything looks like Oregon after that, but in realtime. It would even allow states like CA to open up voting for state or local races to resident noncitizens (something we’ve had in the past). In their head, that’s all obvious. It just didn’t come out of their mouths.

    I think they understand what’s at stake but are cynical that we tolerate a technological landscape that enables this behavior. It’s a pretty easy problem to solve, yet we willfully refuse to solve it. It’s not unreasonable to conclude that we refuse to solve it because we collectively want it to remain broken.

    I agree that neither one is likely to be interested in weed or hookers, but they probably are interested in the degree to which the police state has built out to try and enforce both – and how futile and costly that effort is. Both are pretty strong copyright supporters, if memory serves, and I believe both are in the camp of ‘copyright will be easier to enforce if content is provided in formats that consumer are interested in’. Which really is the main problem in the industry now, as illustrated here.

    I don’t know how old you are, and I’m aging out of this camp myself at 44 (as are John and Dan), but one of the biggest points of frustration by young, technically capable people, is how completely out of step government, the legal system, and US businesses are from what’s possible and what’s not possible. You can sign into half of the websites on earth with Twitter or Facebook, but voting requires 2 IDs, a physical trip to the elementary school with a wait as long as 8 hours, pre-registration weeks in advance, and once you get there, they have the worst designed voting forms. This process is only susceptible to political chicanery because it is so fucking stupid to begin with in this day and age. And a congress with an average age of 58, and almost no technical expertise anywhere in the caucus, is likely to be completely oblivious to this problem – including the Democrats.

    I would argue that they are less libertarians than they are technocrats. They view the pot and prostitution laws as stupid because they are routinely routed around, are impossible to enforce at any level, and whose benefits don’t seem to align with the costs associated. That’s more a reflection that they’ve looked at the data and take that data seriously, rather than have any moral opinion on either topic.

  112. 112
    Ruckus says:

    @Terry Chay:
    The funny thing I see is that Ed is using his real name so if he is involved then everyone would know who is blowing the whistle even though he can’t name names. That’s a pretty big tell, at least to me. Second he provides no proof, none. Third many of the people named in the story are not the tech folks and they don’t seem to be having a problem. Fourth, my mom has shaken hands with a president(Clinton), so that picture is not necessarily a lot of anything.

  113. 113
    MobiusKlein says:

    One thing missing from the article: How many votes were actually won / cast because of Narwhal that would not have been otherwise?

    How do we discern if it was worth the cost without that estimate?

    One thing I have learned from working in tech companies is that much of what is said about them was actually written in the company, and fed to the press as a press release. Then massaged, quoted up a bit, and printed.
    It is well worth taking the puffery with a sea of salt. (In spite of Ed’s brash denunciation. )

  114. 114
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @Corner Stone:

    I’m sure we could find a spectrum of these perspectives if we were lucky enough.

    These articles are nothing but a smokescreen to conceal the fact that the real use of technology was to identify college girls who would trade their votes for free contraceptives and to provide t bone steaks to their strapping-young-buck boyfriends. The contraceptives and the steaks were delivered by CIA agents and when Petraeus found out about it they set him up as a warning.

  115. 115
    shortstop says:

    @Schlemizel:

    I’d like to see someone fax a credenza ;)

    It’s an internet tradition. But now I can’t remember where it began.

  116. 116
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    @Schlemizel:

    So Ed had the Hyperbolator dialed up to 11. It happens. I’m guilty of it myself.

    Jesus Christ, no wonder we can’t get shit done when we’re in charge, we’re too busy getting our pomo textual analysis bullshit on. Over a comment in a goddamned blog thread.

  117. 117
    Ed Marshall says:

    @Ruckus:

    There isn’t much “blowing the whistle” going on. I don’t think it would be a mind blowing scandal that Narwhal wasn’t actually magic beans or even worked properly.

    I don’t know why a story that Silicon Valley people basically just produce press releases, wait until stupid investors piled enormous amounts of money in it, then fold seems like the most impossible thing in the world. It’s rain on a goddamn Sunday morning.

  118. 118
    Cassidy says:

    @Grumpy Code Monkey: yeah, I’m my questioning anyone’s story or assertions. I’m just trying to see if I understood the articles.

  119. 119
    MobiusKlein says:

    @Ed Marshall: Why do we believe it was a success, not failure?
    Because it pushes the confirmation bias in us.
    If Obama lost, we would find Ed’s story way more believable.

  120. 120
    WaterGirl says:

    @Ed Marshall: I don’t have any way of knowing whether what you’re saying is true or not. But I do know this:

    It really seems like a dick move to be calling people liars behind their backs in a public forum with no way for them to defend themselves or present another side of the story.

    As a result of what you have done here, I would surely never want to be on a team with you. Ever.

    If you are close enough to the situation to really know what you’re talking about, then you owe it to everyone to confront them face to face like adults, and either agree on a correction to the story or find out that you were wrong.

    If you’re not close enough to the situation to really know what you’re talking about, my reaction is that you’re the one doing some fluffing of your own self esteem.

    Maybe you weren’t allowed into the inner inner circle? If so, here’s a link for you:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lf3BNRF9ICc

  121. 121
    Schlemizel says:

    @Terry Chay:

    Please reread what Ed first posted. if he had merely expressed distress he probably would have gotten some sympathy. But read what he actually said

  122. 122
    Schlemizel says:

    @shortstop:

    sorry I am not aware of all internet traditions
    8-{D

  123. 123
    👽 Martin says:

    @MobiusKlein:

    One thing missing from the article: How many votes were actually won / cast because of Narwhal that would not have been otherwise?

    I would argue quite a few. From the exit polls and post-election analysis, Obama turned out his base at a much higher rate in swing states than in 2008. The campaign also registered Democrats at a much higher rate in key states, and the money haul was equally impressive.

    Remember that coming in, the CW was that 2008 was a historic election and all of these measures would be unusually high for 2008, but 2012 enthusiasm and turnout would be lower for Dems. That was correct, except for the most reliable Obama voters in the most important battleground states.

    I can’t believe that was just accidental. That suggests a very effective registration, fundraising, and turnout operation that is very well tuned to the specific races that were needed. The disparity between Senate results and House results further supports this. The campaign didn’t seem to focus their efforts evenly across states, but dialed in on specific areas of strong support and turned them out at extremely high rates – over 80% in many cases. That effort would have had equally good effect on the senate races, but those were likely areas that already had a Democratic Congressman, and the campaign spent less in areas with Republican Congressmen and therefore didn’t spill over as much help to win the House.

    That nobody else saw the result coming also suggests that the turnout pattern differed significantly from 2008. Something was proactively happening to change that, and I think the OFA ground game was almost certainly that thing.

    Now, would that have happened with less capable technology? Maybe. But I don’t think so. My job involves doing some similar things, and if you can get the data and analytics working well, it makes these efforts significantly more productive – mostly by allowing you to ignore low-yield activities in favor of high-yield ones because you can measure the yield of knocking on these doors vs knocking on those and steer your resources accordingly.

  124. 124
    WaterGirl says:

    @Ed Marshall: One last thing…

    If you’ve ever worked in IT, you know that projects seldom go as they are designed. The mark of a successful person or successful project is if you can respond to the unexpected and accomplish the task at hand.

    One thing I have learned in life is that who gets the credit is nowhere near the most important thing.

  125. 125
    pete says:

    Defeat, as we all know, is an orphan. Victory, however, has thousands of parents and many of the possible fathers think the others should take paternity tests.

  126. 126
    Schlemizel says:

    @Grumpy Code Monkey:

    Actually it might be fairly important. If Narwhal is a magic tool that kicks GOP ass then we need to leverage the hell out of it. If it was QUOTE:a massive failure and no one involved in it will every work on a campaign again. UNQUOTE Thats important to know too. It critical for future success to know what works

    He then compounded that by never providing a lick of supporting evidence and dancing around the requests with first a link to an unrelated story & then two pictures of him working the campaign. Thanks for your efforts Ed, I sincerely appreciate them, really. But please don’t try to be someone you were not OK?

  127. 127
    Ed Marshall says:

    @WaterGirl:

    I got pissed at a self-serving puff piece, and I do sort of wish I had just kept my mouth shut. However, this is a public forum and if there is someone from tech that wants to say that I’ve misrepresented anything factual they are all released from NDAs at this point and are free to do so.

  128. 128
    gwangung says:

    Defeat, as we all know, is an orphan. Victory, however, has thousands of parents and many of the possible fathers think the others should take paternity tests.

    You know, I get the feeling that this could have been only a 10% success—but that 10% was more than what the Romney campaign had.

    Success may be a finely graded measurement…but elections are binary. That’s what matters. And any sort of success (particularly if they learned something from their failures) would allow congratulations…

  129. 129
    Corner Stone says:

    @WaterGirl: This is really freakin’ harsh. The Atlantic article reads like a dick sucking contest.
    He shoots chilled vodka! He knows DJs (of course he does!) He juggles! He backs up his douche by overwhelming douchiness!

    I wasn’t there, I don’t know. But I say, IMO, about the only group that comes out of this with a burnished presentation is AWS and whomever chose to sign that contract.
    I want to hear more. This is some pretty deep shit. What I don’t want, or particularly care to hear, is some fucking hagiography like this Atlantic garbage.
    If I wanted to hear stories about Rockstar Hacker Gods I’d be trying to get a BBS admin to mail me his panties.

  130. 130
    MobiusKlein says:

    @Corner Stone: tru nuff. Some of that was pretty thick.
    Hell, I know nerds who juggle, dj, and unicycle. But Show me the code though.

  131. 131
    Origuy says:

    @shortstop:

    I’d like to see someone fax a credenza ;)

    It’s an internet tradition. But now I can’t remember where it began.


    The helicopters are laughing at you.

    October 15, 2009 The news channels are bursting with the story of a boy in Colorado, Falcon Heene, who had been carried away by a weather balloon. The thread I linked to above contained a lot of snark about this because it turned out he’d never been in the balloon at all. One poster got upset because he said the helicopters chasing the balloon weren’t making jokes. He claimed to be an ex-cop and offered to fax his credentials. This mutated into faxing his credenza.

  132. 132
    Roger Moore says:

    @👽 Martin:

    You can have a national registrar of voters database that records a vote for a national office from any individual, which means you could vote from any state for president. But if you weren’t a resident of California, you couldn’t vote for the state races or the initiatives. If you weren’t a resident of the district, you couldn’t vote at that level, but you could for the state races, and so on.

    But can you do it while maintaining a secret ballot and preventing voter intimidation/vote buying? And letting people who are in technically backward places that lack things like ubiquitous computers and networking vote? And preserving a viable audit trail so that the counting can’t be rigged?

    Getting voting right is really, really hard. It requires a mixture of public information and secrecy. Before believing anyone that they have a great system worked out, I want to be sure that they really have met all the challenges out there.

  133. 133
    Yutsano says:

    @Origuy: Mon Dieu that thread was epic. :) Michael Gass we hardly knew ye. He never did fax in his credenza. Sigh.

  134. 134
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Ed Marshall:

    I’m probably biased toward OFA analytics, but I think tech is taking way too much credit, and not being honest about it’s failures.

    I think I see what you’re saying — to you, this article is more whiz-bang tech guys claiming they solved everything with their magic databases while you’re thinking about all of the phone calling and door knocking it took to get them all of that data they’re taking victory laps for.

    Which, again, doesn’t seem to be what you were originally saying, but I can understand why someone who did the legwork would be annoyed at the techs taking all of the credit.

  135. 135
    WaterGirl says:

    @Corner Stone: I’ve gotta say that the day Corner Stone tells WaterGirl that she’s being too harsh is a day to take note of. :-)

    What I wrote still feels fine to me, but (full disclosure) I am on day 3 at home with the flu, sore throat, fever, body aches, and so much pressure in my ears that I can’t figure out why they haven’t exploded yet, so I will have to take a look at what I wrote when I am feeling better. Though it doesn’t feel like it at the moment, it is certainly possible that feeling like shit may be influencing my response. 13 minutes to more Advil, and counting.

    I am reminded of the old joke with a woman who has just started a diet. A friend comments that being on a diet can make you cranky, to which diet-woman replies: Oh, I’m feeling fine. But all my friends are being really obnoxious.

  136. 136
    Rathskeller says:

    @Litlebritdifrnt: God, I spent some wasted time reading those comments on Facebook. Never go full retard, man.

  137. 137
    shortstop says:

    @Origuy: Ah, so that’s it. Somewhere I gained the impression that it had wider traction. I’ll make some time to read that thread — sounds like it was a stellar mo in BJ history.

  138. 138
    Brachiator says:

    @👽 Martin:

    Both John and Dan know their shit well enough that they understand the challenges and impact of authorization and authentication (I’ve known both guys through email, etc. for a while) – and that’s really what they mean by ‘modern voting techniques’, because once you solve that problem then suppression gets damn hard to do, and you can vote from Mars if you want, from damn near any device.

    Again, this misses the forest for the trees. Voter suppression and the long lines and deliberately shortened times for voting, as in Florida, are not magically cured just because you take care of authorization and authentication issues. The nerd solution doesn’t take into account GOP or other political bad faith,and the active desire to prevent some people from voting.

    I also laughed at the assumption that John and Dan made that everyone, everyone, had a smart phone or computer that they could use for voting.

    But I am not just singling these two guys out, and agree that their intentions are largely good. I thought it odd, though, that Dan not only wouldn’t hint at who he voted for (no problem, here), but would not acknowledge that he had ever voted at all (pointlessly weird).

    On another show, Brian Brushwood, went on about how everyone in an uncontested state should vote for any third party in order to “vote your conscience.” He later was proud of his vote for the libertarian candidate. One of his biggest things for him seems to be that big bad government and the media companies interfere with his “liberty” to get tv shows, movies and music without ever having to go through a cable or satellite tv service.

    I would argue that they are less libertarians than they are technocrats.

    I agree with you here. The problem is, technocrats are often easily outwitted or suppressed by brutal authoritarians who could give less than a rat’s ass about “elegant, technological solutions” to problems.

    You can sign into half of the websites on earth with Twitter or Facebook, but voting requires 2 IDs, a physical trip to the elementary school with a wait as long as 8 hours, pre-registration weeks in advance, and once you get there, they have the worst designed voting forms.

    I’ve never had to show my ID in California, have rarely encountered long lines (except when I used the experimental touch screen voting at the downtown Central library) and recognize that a ballot is not easily made uniform in part because state and local issues are not uniform, but are part of many national ballots.

    But I would love to see techies take on the issue of voter suppression directly.

  139. 139
    Carla H says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate: I’m thinking they’ll keep the parts of it that worked great, and integrate it with whatever new tech we have in 2 year’s time.

  140. 140
    👽 Martin says:

    @Roger Moore:

    But can you do it while maintaining a secret ballot and preventing voter intimidation/vote buying? And letting people who are in technically backward places that lack things like ubiquitous computers and networking vote? And preserving a viable audit trail so that the counting can’t be rigged?

    Absolutely. Seriously, this isn’t hard. We have all manner of authentication/authorization schemes like this. If you go to vote, you’re sent to an authentication server where you do a l/p deal. That server generates a random, time limited key that is tied to your personal information and browser session and it hands that key back to the vote site, along with authentication server’s information on who you are, where you live, etc. No passwords ever leave the authentication server. The vote site then sends your information and your key to the authorization servers – federal, state, local that determines what races you can vote in, and what races you’ve voted in. They can individually ask for a check against your key and browser/user information from the authentication server to ensure your session hasn’t be hijacked or you’re trying to generate a second vote effort. They then send back authorization information to the vote server. The vote server then generates the ballot for you, and can again check the authentication. You submit your vote, that vote gets recorded anonymously in one server while simultaneously telling the authorization servers what races you’ve voted in (not how you voted) and gives the authorization servers a unique id for your vote record. They again can recheck your authorization.

    The vote server has no voter ID information, but has all of the tallied votes.
    The authorization server has your user information and what races you voted in. The counts from this server would need to match the corresponding counts from the vote server. If they don’t someone is cheating. It has a link to your vote record, but no mechanism to link the two exists, except to trace fraud. This has a public api which allows you to generate your strike lists.
    The authentication server has your user information and your password or other verification mechanisms, but no information on how or whether you voted. It just tells other systems ‘this is actually you’.

    You can have as many authorization servers as you need – a federal one, a state one, a local one, etc. They should talk to one another and share – so that if SS or the IRS or USPS or whoever is feeding and keeping the national server up to date adds a person, the corresponding state and local servers should add the same person. This isn’t that difficult a thing to do – we already shuttle this data around all over the place and handle a zillion kinds of edge cases.

    If you separate the agencies that keep the votes, the ones that handle authorization, and the ones that handle authentication, and have them check against each other, it’d be effectively impossible to rig the vote because you’d have to get 3 different agencies to conspire.

    It’s not a weekend project or anything, but we’ve already solved this problem in banking and other markets. We just need to solve it again for voting.

    And you need nothing more than a PC or smartphone and a low-bandwidth internet connection for voters. They can do it at home. People without a PC can go to the library or the registrar of voters can set up the same kinds of polling places with nothing more than unmodified 3G iPads.

    Some of this is actually pretty close. Did you know everyone’s voter registration is public record and consolidated in single databases already? You can go there, sign in, and get a little iPhone Passbook card or a Facebook or Twitter thing. You give the site your name and address and it hands back a card with your party affiliation, when you last registered, your address, and your polling place location (with a map).

  141. 141
    Original Lee says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: One place I worked had all of the prefab blocks of code named after wines and beers.

  142. 142
    lol says:

    @Schlemizel:
    @Ed Marshall:

    No one’s probably reading this thread anymore but speaking as someone who knows the analytics side of the Obama campaign very well, I can confirm Ed’s representation of their perspective of Narwhal amongst other things. (Don’t know him but we know many people in common apparently.) I can’t offer any links either but the best and truest campaign stories don’t end up on the web (or in the tell all books by reporters for that matter).

    I can’t speak to the impact to the rest of the campaign had but the analytics team didn’t use Narwhal at all and there’s key players getting a lot of positive press that don’t have a very good reputation internally. You really have to be in campaign world to hear this stuff and I’m only hearing about it because all my friends are emerging from it into the real world again.

  143. 143
    Frodo says:

    For the record, I put more stock in Ed Marshall’s account than these tech people. If you actually bother to the read the Atlantic article carefully, you can pick up the acknowledgement that there was a lot of “tension” and “frustration” from other OFA departments around the product that the tech guys were delivering.

    Ed’s account does jibe with that reported frustation, and I can easily see how some geeks in the Analystics side decided to force in their own solution because it actually worked better than the real-time stuff the other guys wanted. It’s certainly plausible, so I don’t get why people are attacking it.

  144. 144
    Ed Marshall says:

    @lol:

    If I really wanted to dish dirt on Team Tech it wouldn’t be about Narwhal not working. I was amused by the suspicion that I was some sort of Republican mole, but if we know the same people, if I really hated them there is so much more to talk about.

  145. 145
    Schlemizel says:

    @Ed Marshall:
    Ed, at first I just thought you were a campaign flunky trying desperately to get a little attention. A braggart and a buffoon. But your last post indicates you are soooo much more than just a liar, braggart and buffoon. You are a stupid liar braggart buffoon.

    You came in here & took a pretty big dump on the floor. When asked for evidence you obfuscated and tap danced. Finally you back peddled a tiny bit and then issued a nothing burger that maybe you overstated in your opening salvo. Then you wait until you think the link is ignored (a common troll trait BTW) and think you get the last word which in this case is another giant stinky dump on the floor that you can’t defend and won’t justify.

    And just curious, how is it that there are a couple of supporters who magically appear after the thread has died down? Could it be sock puppets Ed? That wouldn’t surprise me given you have already proven yourself to be a braggart and buffoon

  146. 146
    Corner Stone says:

    @Schlemizel: FWIW, I have seen Frodo post here before and have had the displeasure of lol in the past.
    You seem to be taking a pretty big position on this, and I’m not at all sure why.
    As I said, I was not there. But IMO, Ed has at least as credible a suggestion as The Atlantic piece cited above.
    I hope we get more rounded stories coming out because I am interested in forming my own opinion of what went down.

  147. 147
    Schlemizel says:

    @Corner Stone:

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Ed came he & told us that Narwhal was a massive drag on the campaign and the people responsible will never work for another campaign again. HE SAID THAT. I only asked for him to provide some evidence. He didn’t. Didn’t even try. Everything he has done since then has been bullshit.

    I have no idea if he is right or not, but thats a pretty bold statement that deserves to be discussed. If he has a story that will be more rounded then lets hear it. He has given even a tiny hint of a story.

    I have worked on campaigns for 50+ years – run some unimportant ones but been a cog in dozens. We need to know what works and what does not as well as why it works or doesn’t. Its put up or shut up & he does neither.

  148. 148
    lol says:

    @Schlemizel:

    Then go talk to some Obama staffers directly before shitting over people who have.

    For someone who’s worked on so many campaigns, you certainly seem to have bought into the “if it’s not on the web it didn’t happen” mindset fairly easily.

  149. 149
    Schlemizel says:

    @lol:

    Wrong again!

    My mind set is you don’t shit on fellow campaign workers. That would be followed up by, you don’t make assertions you can’t back up.

    Being on the web is not the point. Even the breathless stories about Narwhal are not the point. The point is Eddy came on here and made a pretty inflammatory statement. Several people asked him to back that up. Not only did he not offer a single bit of evidence he also made it pretty clear he didn’t understand what Narwhal was supposed to do.

    Now maybe he could have offered examples of how it didn’t work, how it was a massive drag on the campaign. He didn’t, why not? Thats my point. I don’t have to go talk to anyone because I never made a statement about the staff Eddy did.

    I never shit on anyone – it was Eddy who talked shit. Put up or shut up. Give examples, give some evidence or admit you are full of shit.

    This is kind of fun

  150. 150
    Ed Marshall says:

    You are a fucking idiot. You know who did all the data work for OfA 2012: him https://twitter.com/wegbert

    You can tell because he quit talking in 2009 and scrubbed his web presence.

  151. 151
    Ed Marshall says:

    I am totally full of shit, and GOP 2016, listen…hire a bunch of people with ironic mustaches from SF bay. That was why Obama won.

  152. 152
    Schlemizel says:

    Lets try it again Ed.
    You came on here and claimed that Narwhal was a drag on the campaign & a disaster & the people who where responsible for it would never work on a campaign again. You did that Ed, not me. Someone asked for asked for evidence and you simply said no. I poked you about it & you posted a link that tells us nothing about the topic one way or the other. People here rightly expressed skepticism & you provided two picture of you at some sort of campaign events. All I ever asked was for some evidence. It never had to be a story in Time, you could have told us some stories that gave you this great insight. You have not been willing to or maybe you are not able to – how do we know which Ed?

    When you described Narwhal you got it wrong, that does not lend credibility to your story you know. Acting all butthurt after being called out does not add to your credibility either.

    It may well be you are right but then why are you the only person saying this? Why has nobody stepped up to say, “well, there is more to the story than that”? Why Can’t you offer a single anecdote? Why, instead of dealing with YOUR charges, you have been evasive and dismissive? In short, why should we believe you?

    The press has made Narwhal a star, thats the sort of thing they do; look for a simple answer to complex events. What won for Obama is the efforts of thousands of people like you and I that spent time and money busting butt for a good candidate with good ideas. Those hipsters building Narwhal did their part & if they came here & said “You know that Ed guy? Totally sucked, damn near brought Obama down & will never work in campaigns again” I’d be all over them for evidence. And if they posted links to non-stories, pictures of them shaking hand with the candidate and generally avoided answering I’d be enjoying poking them too.

  153. 153
    Corner Stone says:

    Everything I am reading about Harper Reed and Narwhal is ringing my BULLSHIT meter hard fucking core.

  154. 154
    Schlemizel says:

    OH-OH

    @Litlebritdifrnt:
    Some good news from Politico this morning via Mike Allen on MJ. OFA is not giving up on its incredible data mining operation in fact it is doing the opposite. They are ramping it up for local races and the DNC as a whole as I understand it so our fears that it was not going to be used for the 2014 races and beyond appears to be unfounded.

    Hope those people know they will never work in another campaign because that tool was a giant drag.

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