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How the Obama Campaign Makes "Two Minute Volunteers"

The Obama presidential campaign made waves last week when it announced Obama '08: The Official iPhone Application. This free application hit the iTunes App Store Top 10, and has generated nearly 700 reviews so far. Whether you're an Obama supporter or not, it's an interesting move: the campaign is using technology to decentralize the campaign effort, effectively turning thousands of individuals across the nation into micro-call centers. This effort is likely to be mirrored by future campaigns, and I wouldn't be surprised if the McCain campaign was working on something similar right now.

So how does it work? Well, the Obama '08 application's most innovative function -- labeled "Call Friends" -- looks inside your address book and organizes your contacts by battleground state, with buttons allowing you to call those contacts. This is really clever, but in retrospect pretty obvious -- you've got a device that makes phone calls, and you've got a list of people's phone numbers and addresses inside the device: put these things together and you've got a call center on the go. The application also ranks the battleground states (sorting the most contentious at the top of the list), and allows you to track statistics about who you've called and how they intend to vote. The idea is to encourage individuals to perform a function usually left to old school call centers, in which staffers and volunteers call down the voter rolls, trying to get out the vote for their candidate. Presumably the Obama campaign's hope is that legions of iPhone owners will call their friends in battleground states and convince them to vote Democratic. Project director Raven Zachary dubs these callers "Two Minute Volunteers," for the tiny slices of time required to call a friend and talk politics. (Having said that, I suspect it'll take more like ten minutes to really have a discussion. Or you might be a "One Minute Volunteer" and just leave a voicemail.)

But what about privacy?

Well, the designers of the Obama '08 application are very careful to disclose that the application doesn't "phone home" with any personal or private information -- its privacy policy is displayed inside the application, in a detailed screen that appears before you begin calling anyone (you have to opt in, in other words). The application does record anonymized statistics about the number of calls made through the application, and reports those statistics back to home base. There's no personally identifying information about who was called or who made the calls, but the campaign is able to measure the aggregate usage of the application and per-user (anonymous) statistics. Five days after launch, the application reports a nationwide total of 19,072 calls made by 4,211 people. The most active user called 100 people.

Obama iPhone app - IssuesBeyond the "Call Friends" feature, the application contains a complete list of issues that effectively constitutes the Obama/Biden platform. Labeled "Issues," the list is divided into a long series of categories including Education, Economy/Taxes, Faith, Healthcare, Iraq, and (my favorite) Women. The issues screens include direct quotes from Obama himself, along with detailed information from the campaign about the platform on that particular subject. The detail is impressive: there are pages of content for each issue -- enough to get a good idea of the specifics of the candidate's plans. Each issue can be emailed to a friend (the iPhone does email, remember) or further explored on the web. I think this is a great idea: it lends substance to the debate, and allows you to check up on what exactly the candidate thinks about a specific issue. It's the ultimate cocktail party conversation resource (as long as your cocktail parties are Obama-themed).

Other features include news, audio and video, local events, volunteer information, and of course a "Donate" button. But I think the "Call Friends" and "Issues" sections will have the biggest impact on the political process, and many of the reviews on the iTunes App Store have focused on these functions. You can learn more about the application from the Obama campaign's website, or read various developer blogs about the project.

Full disclosure: I'm friends with a few of the developers who volunteered their time to build this application. I haven't contributed to it and (as you can hopefully tell above) I'm not taking sides in the political debate -- but I am interested in technology and how it affects our daily lives, hence this blog post. In any case, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Have you used the app? Do you love it, hate it, think it's weird? Are you a McCain supporter who wants to see something similar? Let us know.

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Screenshot via Mount Vernon/Vimeo
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History
The Funky History of George Washington's Fake Teeth
Screenshot via Mount Vernon/Vimeo
Screenshot via Mount Vernon/Vimeo

George Washington may have the most famous teeth—or lack thereof—in American history. But counter to what you may have heard about the Founding Father's ill-fitting dentures, they weren't made of wood. In fact, he had several sets of dentures throughout his life, none of which were originally trees. And some of them are still around. The historic Mount Vernon estate holds the only complete set of dentures that has survived the centuries, and the museum features a video that walks through old George's dental history.

Likely due to genetics, poor diet, and dental disease, Washington began losing his original teeth when he was still a young man. By the time he became president in 1789, he only had one left in his mouth. The dentures he purchased to replace his teeth were the most scientifically advanced of the time, but in the late 18th century, that didn't mean much.

They didn't fit well, which caused him pain, and made it difficult to eat and talk. The dentures also changed the way Washington looked. They disfigured his face, causing his lips to noticeably stick out. But that doesn't mean Washington wasn't grateful for them. When he finally lost his last surviving tooth, he sent it to his dentist, John Greenwood, who had made him dentures of hippo ivory, gold, and brass that accommodated the remaining tooth while it still lived. (The lower denture of that particular pair is now held at the New York Academy of Medicine.)

A set of historic dentures
George Washington's Mount Vernon

These days, no one would want to wear dentures like the ones currently held at Mount Vernon (above). They're made of materials that would definitely leave a bad taste in your mouth. The base that fit the fake teeth into the jaw was made of lead. The top teeth were sourced from horses or donkeys, and the bottom were from cows and—wait for it—people.

These teeth actually deteriorated themselves, revealing the wire that held them together. The dentures open and shut thanks to metal springs, but because they were controlled by springs, if he wanted to keep his mouth shut, Washington had to permanently clench his jaw. You can get a better idea of how the contraption worked in the video from Mount Vernon below.

Washington's Dentures from Mount Vernon on Vimeo.

There are plenty of lessons we can learn from the life of George Washington, but perhaps the most salient is this: You should definitely, definitely floss.

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Darren McCollester/Newsmakers/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Pop Culture
11 Famous Men Who Used to Be Cheerleaders
Darren McCollester/Newsmakers/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Darren McCollester/Newsmakers/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When cheerleading was “born” on November 2, 1898, it looked a lot different than it does today. There were no tiny outfits, no wild stunts and—surprise!—no women. University of Minnesota student Johnny Campbell rallied a football crowd with the ad-libbed cheer, "Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-u-mah, Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-So-Tah!” and unwittingly became the father of cheerleading. (The school, by the way, still uses Campbell’s original cheer to this day.)

Soon after Campbell’s performance, the University of Minnesota organized a six-man “yell squad” and other colleges followed suit. Women didn’t really enter the picture until 1923. Although male cheerleaders are the minority today, there was a time when they were the vast—and loud—majority. Here are 11 famous examples of them.

1. GEORGE W. BUSH

Future president George W. Bush wasn't just a cheerleader at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts in the 1960s: he was head cheerleader. And he’s in good company ...

2. AARON SPELLING

Aaron Spelling may have made his name behind the scenes as one of television's most prolific—and successful—producers, but he was front and center when he was head cheerleader at Southern Methodist University.

3. JIMMY STEWART


Getty Images

Iconic actor Jimmy Stewart was also head cheerleader during his tenure at Princeton.

4. DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER

When he was no longer able to play football at West Point, Eisenhower decided to continue supporting his team by cheerleading instead.

5. FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

FDR cheered for Harvard football in 1904, notably rallying the crowd for a particularly heated game against Brown.

6. SAMUEL L. JACKSON

Samuel L. Jackson lent his legendary voice to the squad at Riverside High in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

7. STEVE MARTIN


NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

Steve Martin tried to write cheers for the squad he was on, but has said “Die, you gravy-sucking pigs” didn’t go over too well.

8. TRENT LOTT

Former Mississippi senator Trent Lott was a cheerleader at Ole Miss.

9. RONALD REAGAN


Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ronald Reagan cheered on his basketball team at Eureka College in Illinois.

10. AND 11. KIRK DOUGLAS AND MICHAEL DOUGLAS

Before he was an actor, Kirk Douglas honed his performance skills as a cheerleader at Amsterdam High School in Amsterdam, New York. As with acting, Kirk's son Michael also followed in his dad's footsteps in cheerleading; he was on the squad at Choate.

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