It's Just this Little Chromium Switch Here

Weblogging and commentary by Chip Rosenthal

Creating a Debian Linux Installation USB Memory Stick

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Monday night, I learned how to use a USB memory stick as bootable install media for Debian Linux. It's a little complicated, mostly because piecing together bootable media is just that way. Once complete, it works great. I can still use the stick for usual file transport purposes, but now if I boot off it then it will offer a Debian Linux installation.

The Preparing Files for USB Memory Stick Booting chapter of the Debian Installation Guide outlines the process.

It describes two ways to do it: an "easy" way and a "flexible" way. The "easy" way makes sense for a one-time deal (and you are willing to reformat the stick afterwards), or if you are willing to dedicate a stick to the installation. I didn't. I've got a 4GB stick that I wanted to make bootable and hold the Debian installation files, but continue to use it for other purposes. That's what the "flexible" method allows.

This note describes the procedure I used.

The Unnecessary Evil of RSS Cookies

There is absolutely positively no reason whatsoever for cookies to be triggered by an RSS (or ATOM) syndication feed. They have no practical benefit to the user. Thus, they are a bad practice and should be stopped. Content providers should avoid advertising bureaus that use them.

The primary promulgators of this evil are advertising bureaus such as Pheedo and Google AdSense for Feeds. The cookie problem isn't caused by the syndication feed itself. Instead, the feed includes advertisements from a third-party bureau, and the included ads serve up the cookies.

The purpose of HTTP cookies is to "add state" to a stateless protocol. HTTP, the protocol used on the web, simply fetches web pages. Cookies extend the protocol to let the server note important information such as your username, your session identifier, and your pornographic preferences.

Community of Personality

Software developers have learned that when you need assistance, there are places you can turn online. If you've got a C++ question, maybe you'll visit the comp.lang.c++ newsgroup. For Java questions, the Java Lobby web site is a popular resource.

These are "communities of interest". People with deep interest in the topic (we call them experts) gather there. They can be extraordinarily powerful resources, because you have so many qualified people congregating in one place. Just be sure you follow the guidelines of the community and don't do something stupid (like ask an FAQ), and you may be able to get some quality assistance.

This week, a new web site called Stack Overflow was launched. It is intended to be a resource to help developers with their questions, but it's different from those other resources.

Virginia Anti-Spam Law Struck Down

Today, the Virginia Supreme Court struck down its state anti-spam law as unconstitutional.

The Virginia anti-spam law had significant impact, so this decision significantly weakens the defenses against spam. The law was one of the strongest in the nation. (It actually provided criminal penalties for the worst abuses.) Also, many of the large network providers (think AOL and Verizon) have network hubs there, so a lot of email communications were subject to it.

The case in question was brought against Jeremy Jaynes for his massive spam attack on AOL users. The mail passed through AOL mail servers located in Virginia, thus making them subject to Virginia state law.

An AP news article says:

The court unanimously agreed with Jeremy Jaynes' argument that the law violates the free-speech protections of the First Amendment because it does not just restrict commercial e-mails. Most other states also have anti-spam laws, and there is a federal CAN-SPAM Act as well.

Community Forum on Transition to Digital Television

photo of dinosaur holding an old TV(This press release was just issued by the City.)

The Austin Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission and the City of Austin's Office of Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs will present a free community forum on "The Transition to Digital Television" Thursday, Sept. 18 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Dottie Jordan Recreation Center, 2803 Loyola Lane (map).

Members of the community forum and those affected by the technological advancement are invited to learn more about the digital TV transition. This transition affects viewers with televisions that operate with rooftop antennas or "rabbit ears."

Speakers will discuss the basics of DTV and what residents without cable or satellite television will need to do to continue to receive free over-the-air television programming.

Effective Feb. 17, 2009, U.S. Congress has mandated all full-power television stations to broadcast in digital only.  The switch from analog to digital broadcast television is referred to as the digital TV (DTV) transition.

Coming Events

There are some events planned around town over the next several weeks that may be of interest to the geek in your household.

NAB Radio Show
Sept. 17-19
Austin Convention Center
http://nabradioshow.com/

This is a bit of a big deal. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is the primary industry organization for the companies that beam all that fabulous programming into our living rooms. Unless you are in the industry you probably won't be going (it's insanely expensive), but it's cool to know they picked Austin for their annual conference.

Dorkbot
Thu., Sept. 18, 7p.m.
Cafe Mundi
http://dorkbotaustin.org/

If you haven't heard of it already, think of Dorkbot as a science fair with beer. It's fun, and, in spite of the beer, is usually very kid friendly.

Today is DTV Day in Wilmington, NC

You may have heard that the nation is switching to digital television in February of next year. For one city, the switch has come early. As a first-in-the-nation pilot project, Wilmington, NC switches to DTV today.

Actually, DTV has been there (and here) all along. What's changed is that the analog program transmission stops today in Wilmington, and stops in February for the rest of the nation. When that happens you must have a DTV receiver to get over-the-air television programming.

The Wilmington experiment represents almost a best case scenario, so I don't anticipate too many problems. It's been the focus of intense local publicity, so everybody there is aware of it. I've found at outreach events that people in Austin are aware of the coming change, but are still confused as to what to do.

An AP news article today says:

Sales of the store's $59.99 converter boxes have been brisk, [Radio Shack employee Larry Pakowski] said.

"I can't give you a specific number, but I can tell you traffic has been pretty steady," he said.

Dwight Silverman: Comcast has Moral Obligation to Provide a Meter

Dwight Silverman, technology columnist for the Houston Chronicle, has a damn good idea.

Comcast recently announced that they are formalizing the bandwidth cap on their residential service at 250 GB/month. The cap isn't new. What's new is that they are letting customers know what the policy is, instead of just mysteriously disconnecting service when they want.

(To get a handle on what 250 GB/month means, I calculate we use 1.45 GB to watch a 90 minute movie with the Netflix Player by Roku. So this would allow 170 movies/month. The catch is that's all standard def video. That number would drop significantly if high def comes available.)

The big problem I have with the Comcast plan is, how can you know what your Internet usage is and when are you in danger of hitting your cap? They won't tell you. That's like the electric company charging you by the kW/H (which they do) but not giving you a meter.

Dwight says:

The New Blog Spam

I recently wrote about the increase in manually generated blog spam I'm seeing, and the limitations of tools such as CAPTCHA for stopping it. Let me back up a bit to talk about what that spam looks like. I've got some examples to show you, for your amusement and irritation.

Blog spam is a comment posted to advertise a URL. (As opposed to a comment posted to advance the discussion.) Most blog spam is generated by bots. Bot-generated blog spam usually is obvious. When I see a comment with propecia, viagra, or Texas hold-em in the title, I know what to do with it.

As I noted in that previous post, I've found that a simple "math puzzle" ("what's 4 + 5?") is sufficient to stop the bot spam on my blog. (That may change as bots get more sophisticated.)

Interested in the Dell Mini

Dell Inspiron Mini 9 sub-notebook computerDell has announced availability of the Inspiron Mini 9 sub-notebook computer, and I have to admit it's caught my eye. Dell didn't invent the sub-notebook form factor, but they did produce the first one that's grabbed my interest.

There are two things I like about the Mini. First, like many other sub-notebooks, it offers a Linux option. Second, unlike all the other sub-notebooks, it looks like a machine I could do business on.

Out of all the places where a sub-notebook has to make sacrifices, the one that concerns me most is the keyboard. The Mini seems like it may be the one to most closely approach the experience of a full-sized keyboard.

One thing they did to achieve this was to eliminate the row of dedicated function keys along the top. That's ok with me.