It's Just this Little Chromium Switch Here

Weblogging and commentary by Chip Rosenthal

pxytest News

I released the pxytest open proxy tester last month, and it's received a great response.

When I released the program, I did so without testing the cisco module. This test detects a router without a password set, which can be used to proxy spam. I just received word from Furio Ercolessi that this module works correctly. Cool! And thanks, Furio.

My Boner is Screaming Hello

signLink: Busy Marquee.

Some immature, juvenille pranksters are running around South Austin rearranging letters on signs. And, of course, I think this is the damned funniest thing I've seen on the web. (via MeFi)

May I Fix You a Nice Roast Beef Sandwich?

roast beefI believe the most powerful commercial use of the web is the most mundane: using it to deliver better service at less cost. Unfortunately, too many companies believe web-based customer service means slapping up a comment form that goes to some poor webmaster that can't do anything anyway.

I recently had a bad shopping experience at a local Albertson's supermarket that became a positive customer service experience, thanks to their web site. I received an apology, my money back and what appears to be a 30-day supply of roast beef.

Here is what they did right:

  • Confirmed my complaint immediately. The next business day I had an email from the website staff letting me know a customer service rep would contact me in a few days.
  • Referred my complaint to somebody who could do something about it. The following day I received a phone call from the local store manager.
  • Tracked my complaint. I was tied up at a conference and unable to return his call. A few days later I was CCed on email that leads me to believe they have a tracking system and my complaint was showing up unresolved.

Organizations that want to implement effective web-based customer service can take a lesson from this. That lesson is you can make even disgruntled customers happy if you've got good systems and procedures in place--and you give them a heapin' bag of fine roast beef.

Yes, Commissioner

This month I started serving on the City of Austin Telecommunications Commission. Tonight was the first meeting. I was all excited to come back and blog all the exciting geeky technology policy stuff we did.

But we didn't do any. It was just a worksession to markup the annual workplan document. *yawn*

So, instead I'll pitch the Grant for Technology Opportunities (GTOPS) program. This program awards matching grant money to local organizations that are doing cool things with technology. These are modest grants, ideal for small community projects. If you have some idea for a project or service that would benefit portions of Austin, you ought to look into it.

Cognitive Dissonance

Mona LisaAlright, let me admit right now the utter hypocracy of railing about copyright and public domain and illustrating the rant with stolen artwork.

But, see, I've got a very good explanation. It looks really, really cool.

Oh, and if that isn't bad enough, I linked to their server, so they get to do the work of serving up images for my blog.

Somebody please spank me.

Public Domain: A Metaphor

JunkyardLast night, I was involved in a discussion regarding copyright issues. Some of the concerns mentioned include shrinking fair use rights as well as devaluation of the public domain.

During the discussion of public domain, a metaphor occurred to me that I kind of like. I suggested that the public domain is becoming considered a creative junkyard, where we cast off stuff when it is no longer of value. That, of course, is not the purpose of the public domain. It would be good if we can turn this perception around, so that people can understand the value of having material in the public domain. Otherwise, where will Disney get the ideas to steal for their great movies?

This metaphor is © 2002 Chip Rosenthal. Reverse engineering and circumvention will be prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law.

(Photo courtesy Whistler Photo-File. Used by permission.)

Rah! Rah! Open Source

Tux the PenguinToday, I participated in a panel at the Fifth Annual National Community Network Conference called Open Source Issues. It was the first outing of the EFF-Austin Open Source Posse (open source has a posse ... get it!?!?) I think we did a pretty damn fine job for a first outing.

Jon Lebkowsky organized the panel, and did a great job arranging a discussion that came at the issue from several directions. My presentation was entitled Open Yourself to the Idea of Open Source. Other people covered the cold, hard realities of OSS, I just wanted to get people fired up. I did so through a combination of three approaches. First, I suggested that irrespective of price, open source software can sometimes be a better solution than proprietary software. Second, I showed the attendees some of the groovy things available when you consider open source. Finally, I pointed to Tux the Penguin and said, "Isn't he cute? Don't you want to use his software?"

I think some of those approaches may have been more effective than others.

David Nunez, a fellow panelist, has posted his comments on the session.

Profiling Gone Bad

Link: WSJ.com - If TiVo Thinks You Are Gay, Here's How to Set It Straight.

The WSJ has an amusing article that talks about some funny incidents that occur when profiling software, like in the TiVo or at the amazon.com web site, goes awry.

Very entertaining article ... but raises some concerns. We can laugh because the consequences are silly: the TiVo records Chinese newscasts or amazon.com overwhelms with self-help books. It's not quite so funny, however, if the technology is used in systems where failures are more harmful.

Will we see this sort of software use as a smart profiling system at airports, determining who should be stopped and searched? Who knows, maybe they're doing it already.

Find It Nearby: A Mobile-Enabled Web Application with Austin Government Data

screenshot of Find It NearbySupport for open government data is an emerging national trend. In January of this year, the City of Austin unveiled its data portal at http://data.austintexas.gov. On February 21, Code for America sponsored "Code Across America", a national day of "hacking" on civic-minded software applications. (That's "hacking" in the original creative sense, not the popular mischief-making sense.)

As part of the event, here in Austin, about 50 people participated in a CfA Hack-a-Thon. People organized around three projects. You can find out more about the projects at the event wiki page.

I worked on the "Find It" team, which focused more on an R&D effort than a target application. The question we set out to answer is could we acquire sufficient datasets from the government, primarily the City of Austin, and what could we do with them once they were incorporated into a common database form? You can read more about that effort at the aforementioned wiki page.

By the end of the day, I had a small Ruby script that would take a location (latitude/longitude) and search for a number of nearby features -- such as libraries and post offices -- and report the closest. After the event, I built out the proof-of-concept prototype into a web-based application that would attempt to determine your current location (using a built-in GPS if your device had one and you permitted it), and display the features on a map.

The result was the Find It Nearby application. You can try the application here: http://nearby.webatx.us/