It's Just this Little Chromium Switch Here

Weblogging and commentary by Chip Rosenthal

HOWTO: Load ssh Key at KDE Startup

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The ssh program allows you to securely access systems across the network. By default ssh prompts you for your password on the remote system. If you setup a secure key you can skip the password prompts.

For instance:

$ ssh lefty.soaustin.net uname -a
Linux lefty.soaustin.net 2.6.26-2-686 #1 SMP Fri Aug 14 01:27:18 UTC 2009 i686 GNU/Linux

In this example I ran the uname command on the remote system lefty.soaustin.net. Since I've setup a secure ssh key, the command ran without prompting for a password.

Here is an easy -- but bad! -- procedure for setting up your ssh key: http://oreilly.com/pub/h/66

The problem with this procedure is that it tells you to create the key without a passphrase. The passphrase prevents unauthorized access to your ssh key. When your ssh key is secured by a passphrase, the key is useless to somebody who doesn't have the passphrase. If your ssh key does not have a passphrase, then every system you use is at risk if an attacker gets a hold of your key.

Austin City Council Hates Your iPhone

The Austin City Council is poised to take action tomorrow (Thursday, Oct. 22) that will make our city the laughing stock of the interwebs.

The issue is agenda item 28 at tomorrow's City Council meeting:

http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/council_meetings/item_attachments.cfm?meeting...

The action is to pass an ordinance that they are calling a "texting while driving" ban. Except that's not what it is.

The Council is considering a total ban on any use of cellular data while driving, no matter how innocuous or harmless. Rather than ban dangerous behavior (say, typing on a keyboard while driving), this ordinance simply bans anything to do with cellular data.

If you download driving instructions to your phone before leaving home and glance at them while the car is in motion, you've broken this law. Under this law, the address that you'd scrawl on a piece of paper somehow becomes a driving hazard if it's on your phone.

If you look at the time on your phone and have a wallpaper that you downloaded across the mobile internet, you've broken this law. Under this law, information becomes a driving hazard merely because its transmitted by cellular network.

If you use voice-to-text functions to dictate an SMS, you've broken this law. You've created an electronic message and that will be prohibited.

Even if you keep both hands on the wheel and attention on the road at all times, if you interact with mobile cellular data in almost any fashion, then you've broken this law. How stupid is that?

The ordinance is poorly written, overly broad, and just doesn't have the facts behind it.

Yes, the ordinance is bad, but the way it's being done is even worse. Council is trying to ram this through without public review. The language was finished only a week ago. It was released to the press with misleading headlines that downplay the scope of the ban. Council is refusing to allow this to come before citizen boards and commissions for review and input.

This thing is on a fast track to be done before anybody realizes what's happened.

Can you please take 3 minutes right now and ask them to postpone action on the cellular device ban?

Do it here: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/council/groupemail.htm

DTV Transition Coverage Today

We got some really good coverage of the DTV Transition issue today.

The news has been reporting the Nielsen statistic that Austin is currently the fourth least prepared city in the nation. That's the bad news, here is the good news: the report two weeks prior had us listed as third, and the local rate of improvement is outpacing the national average. So there's hope that with the added attention we can close the gap during these final days of the transition.

Many news outlets reported on the DTV Walk-In Centers that were announced by the city.

I talked to several local news outlets today.

News 8 Austin was on location all morning, do live reports every half hour. Thanks to Heidi and her crew for rolling out so early and giving the issue so much coverage. Here is her story: City aims to help as DTV transition deadline looms

Jenny Hoff of KXAN channel 36 came by and did a live report noontime. Here is her piece: One stop shop for DTV

Finally, Jeff Beckham of Austinist did his part to keep the local hipster population informed: City Stepping In To Help With DTV Transition

Thanks everybody for the good coverage today.

Austin's DTV Divide

We're counting down the final days to the June 12 transition to digital broadcast television. There has been added urgency to the effort because Nielsen reports that Austin is one of the worst prepared cities in the nation.

The May 24 DTV report reports that 4.81% of Austin-area households are unprepared, as compared to 2.66% nationwide. That means approximately 30,000 central Texas households could lose television reception when the transition occurs.

This isn't just about watching American Idol and Conan O'Brien. It's a serious public safety matter. Television remains the most widely used resource for important news and information, such as current weather conditions. In the event of emergency, necessary information may not reach households cut off in the transition.

Six months ago the media was full of stories about DTV. Now, not so much. I talked to a major media reporter yesterday, and he told me his readers are pretty sick of hearing about it.

Austin Broadband Information Center

I was on 91.7FM KOOP last week to discuss the controversial Time-Warner Cable plan to meter Internet usage. During the show I promised that over the weekend, I'd post some helpful resources on the issue.

I originally imagined a quick post of links. As the week wore on, however, I realized that Austin really needs a central place to collect information on the metered broadband issue.

So, this weekend I created a site to do that. Today, the Austin Broadband Information Center will be officially announced.

Please check it out and consider adding it to the list of sites your follow.

Bandwidth Cap Red Herrings

Time-Warner Austin has announced that later this year, it will implement a tiered set of bandwidth caps for its broadband customers. That's been a controversial and hotly debated proposal. I see some things frequently mentioned in the debate that I think are distracting, not helpful.

First, I see people frequently trying to draw a parallel between broadband tiers and cell phone usage plans. This makes sense only on a superficial level. Yes, in both cases you buy a certain amount and pay extra when you go over.

This analog does not hold up under scrutiny. The usage patterns of cell phones are pretty stable. There continues to be some migration away from landline service and towards online (VOIP) services, but for most of us our cell phone usage a year from now won't be that much different from what we do today.

This is completely untrue for broadband usage. New, innovative services are being created as we speak. Our broadband usage patterns may be radically different a year from now than they are today. Broadband caps lock in current usage patterns, which is detrimental to innovation.

Letter to Council: Award the Web Site Redesign Contract

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I just sent the following message to the Mayor and City Council.

I support moving forward with the city web site redesign, and awarding the contract as proposed. (agenda item #38 for the March 26, 2009 regular council meeting)

The job of designing a new information architecture and migrating the current content is enormous, and beyond the capacity of CTM (at current staffing levels). Without expanded headcount, an outside contractor is necessary.

The bid process has identified a highly credible contractor for the project. Cignex Technologies has demonstrated a commitment to open source software, and deep expertise on the content management system (Plone) identified by the city.

The timing is right for this. The current down economy creates opportunities for significant projects such as this. Contractors are hungry. The city could realize better talent and lower costs by moving forward at this time.

Twitterspam Comes to Facebook

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One of the biggest problems with Twitter is that a single blathering user can monopolize the discussion. This week, Facebook rolled out a new home page design. In this change, they introduced this Twitter misfeature to Facebook.

Conventional Twitter presentation (such as your personal landing page) is a zero-sum game. (That's a mathematical term that says for every winner there is a loser.) Each "tweet" update you post on Twitter pushes somebody else's update off the page. Each time you win a space on the page, somebody else loses theirs. This means that a single blathering user can displace numerous other people.

The problem is compounded by the realization that the value of a person's updates often are inversely proportional to the frequency of their updates. Now I'm in the hall; Now I'm in the room; Speaker A said, 'this'; Speaker B said, 'that'. Thus not only do blatherers displace a proportionate number of other people's messages, they often do so with low value messages.

The DTV Delay: It's Not About Slackers

You may have heard that the transition to digital television (DTV) is being postponed to June. A lot of people are upset about the delay, and attribute it to people failing to ignore the warnings and not getting their act together. That's wrong. The delay is needed not because people failed to act, but because they did exactly what they were told to do. The problem is that when they did the system broke.

The GAO reported way back in September that the coupon program was likely to break under stress. If, at that time, the Bush administration or Commerce Department had taken proper action, they could have corrected the problem. They did not, instead leaving the mess for the next administration to clean up.

The New Music Media Format

When I heard that Apple announced it was dropping DRM from music in the iTunes store, my first response was to say, "Yay!" My second was to pat myself on the back.

That's because the Apple announcement may end up revolutionizing the music format of choice. Right now, it's MP3. Thanks to Apple's decision to make their music portable and copyable, it may change to AAC, the format used by the iTunes store.

Several years ago, I ripped all my music CDs, about 450 of them. It was a laborious and tedious task. It was complicated by my decision to first rip to a lossless FLAC format and then transcode to MP3. The transcoding part was automatic, but took a very long time; it's a computationally intensive process. It would have been a lot easier to just rip to MP3.