It is election season! Well, at least in some parts of the country. There are special elections and ballot initiatives being voted on around this time of the year, and it has led to some tense workplace moments at MandateMedia.
The staff at MandateMedia actually deal with the stress pretty well. It is the clients that we work with that sometimes get uneasy. Last Friday, Carrie was carbon copied on an email chain of staffers from a prominent Oregon politician's staff. Carrie is the vice-president of MandateMedia, and focuses on strategy and communications. She yelled out "I just got an email that has a subject line saying 'f*** you,' no message body." Carrie explained to me that these emails are actually commonplace among this particular staff member. About half an hour and 20 emails later, she was carbon-copied on a long apology email from the same staffer. She explained to me that these staffers are only together for a couple of months every few years, and that it is amazing that they cannot even get along for that short duration of time.
Last Thursday, Kari was interviewed by OPB. The occassion was actually pretty fortuitous: Kari keeps an online blog called BlueOregon, which is a platform for him to dessiminate and write about his own political opinions. Kari wrote a post a year ago titled something like "The gas tax: the worst idea that has ever happened" about the contentious issue of the gas tax in Oregon. The gas tax proposal is as follows: gasoline would be taxed. In order for this taxation to happen, the government would need to install global position-tracking devices in every vehicle. Kari wrote about the obvious privacy concerns here, and recommended that the state instead tax tires, which he reasoned is much easier to enforce and far less intrusive.
His post caught the attention of NPR, who flew in someone from New York to interview him. I don't know anything about him; the only thing I remember was that he graduated from Purdue. He sat down in Kari's living room (MandateMedia's office is in Kari's basement), and let two of his staffers establish lighting and cameras around the room. Suddenly, the living room was transformed into a television studio. I sat right outside and watched the entire interview. It was cool seeing a real TV interview; all the questions and the close-up shots felt exactly like something I would see on ABC news.
At the end of the interview, one of the staffers recommended that we take B-roll footage (the background shots you see at the introduction of a news story) of MandateMedia. I was actually in one of the shots, where he held a fake meeting around a table. Apparently this episode will air in September, when the news is slow. I think it is on OPB. I will be looking forward to watching it in the Fall.
My work is actually going pretty well. I have successfully written a program in Python that extracts statistics from a mass campaign email and analyzes it. However; there is a major technical problem: it is too slow! In the field of computer science, one of the biggest research problems is making computers and computation faster. Usually that is done through using multiple computers to work on the same set of calculations. In my case, though, the slowdown is not from my computers. Instead, it comes in downloading all the data off of the email servers.
There is little that I could do about this; it is a problem with the company that designs those servers. Kari even wrote to them, and they wrote back telling us that this was a known problem of theirs and that they would fix it sometime. Not helpful. I was a little disappointed upon hearing that, but I am working hard on figuring out some tricks for making the downloads more efficient. It is cool that I have the opportunity to use a lot of the computer science criticial thinking skills I have learned throughout the years.
Right now I am running my program on a partial sample of an email sent out about Monsanto corporation. Senator Jeff Merkley is working hard to overturn legislation that allows Monsanto to sell its seeds to farmers in the United States. Hopefully when my program finishes running, Kari will have a better idea of which groups this email was more effective with, and thus have more information to make decisions with.
There were two interesting things that I learned about today. First, there is a private house party hosting Senator Merkley this Friday. It is one of those private fundraising events where candidates are very candid. I was invited and will be attending on Friday night! I will definitely report back on my experiences.
At the end of the day, we had a discussion involving one of the campaigns we are working on. We are backing one of the candidates for a major political race nationally, and have been working hard for months to try to get that candidate to win. However, the election is very soon, and the polls we trust the most indicate that the candidate will lose by a 5% margin. Kari is very optimistic that the polls are wrong; he even cited historical occurences to prove that polls have been wrong before. However, I am not so sure. It is an interesting feeling to be on the inside of a losing campaign. Even though I am optimistic that my candidate will win, I kind of know deep down inside that it is unlikely. We will find out soon, I guess.