It's Just this Little Chromium Switch Here

Weblogging and commentary by Chip Rosenthal

Senate May Vote Monday on Amnesty for Illegal Wiretaps

desk telephoneLast week, I wrote about the effort to give phone companies amnesty for illegal wiretapping. The provisions are part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) bill currently moving through the Senate. The question then was whether Senate Majority Leader would pick the version of FISA that protects the rule of law, or the one that gives the big phone companies amnesty for illegal wiretapping.

Guess which one he chose?

Sen. Chris Dodd had placed a hold on the bill, but Sen. Reid is choosing to ignore that to move the bill to the Senate floor. Sen. Dodd has promised a filibuster if the amnesty provision remains.

Austin Goes Google

The City of Austin announced today it has deployed Google technology to power search on the city web site.

The City’s new Web search engine utilizes Google Mini, a version of the same software that powers The improved search engine will easily keep pace with the growth and increasing use of the City’s Web site.

The City is currently in the starting phase of a long project to completely redesign the city web site. The fruits of that labor are many years off. So, it's good to see the City moving ahead to improve usability of the current site.

I also find it interesting how much "Google" is perceived as a brand of goodness. There are any number of enterprise search solutions available, and I'm sure a Google product can be deployed in a poor manner. Still, I think the reaction of most people when they hear is, "Oh, they purchased the Cadillac of search."

There is more information on the web site redesign project at the Austin Government Online (AustinGO) web site. There is a survey on the site for comments and input on the redesign. Please consider taking the survey. It runs through Jan. 4.


I liked this photo enough to put it on the front page of my new web site.

My wife took this photo this past summer, during our honeymoon—which occurred three months after our first anniversary (don't ask). It was taken outside an apartment complex in the Chinatown area of Vancouver.

The giant abacus somehow felt right for this site.

I actually own an abacus. It sits on the shelf, right next to my old slide rule and my HP-11C scientific calculator (which still works, amazingly enough).

Benchmarking Linux RAID

My project last weekend was to build a Linux storage server for my network. Sunday, I discussed benchmarking SATA controllers under Linux. Yesterday, I discussed some considerations for using Linux software RAID. I explained why a mirrored disk drive array (RAID level 1) might best suit my needs, but I had concerns about the performance.

So, I thought I'd run some benchmarks to determine whether the mirrored configuration would be a good choice. Today, I'll discuss the results.

Here are my test conditions:

Here is the procedure I used to run the tests:

Selecting Linux RAID

My project last weekend was to build a Linux storage server for my network. Sunday, I discussed benchmarking SATA controllers under Linux, and my discovery that a cheap SATA controller actually performed a smidge better than the one built into my system board. The add-on controller gave me enough ports to proceed and build the RAID. Today, I discuss my considerations for building the RAID.

As I mentioned previously, I had a pair of server-grade Seagate ST3500631NS 500GB SATA disk drives to use. My goal was to build the storage server using the Linux software RAID capability.

My performance needs were modest. My home network is primarily wireless. Even if I do go wired, which is my eventual plan, it doesn't take a lot of disk performance to keep an Ethernet connection filled up.

Therefore, my priorities, in order, were: reliability, cost, and performance as a distant last.

As quick review, Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks (RAID) is a technique for arranging multiple hard disk drives for either increased performance, increased reliability, or a combination of both.

Benchmarking Linux SATA Controllers

My project for the weekend was to build a Linux storage server for my network.

I picked up a pair of ST3500631NS (server-grade 500GB SATA) disk drives from Newegg at a very good price ($119 apiece). I want to add them to chinacat, my main workstation, preferably in a redundant mirror.

Unfortunately, when I opened the computer case I discovered my system board only had two SATA ports. I needed one port for my system disk, two more for the new drives. For some reason I had thought my system had four ports, but it didn't. I was coming up short.

So it was time for plan B. I decided to try adding more SATA ports with an add-in controller card.

I picked up an inexpensive SATA controller at Fry's for $40, a SIIG SC-SAT212-S4. This is a PCI card with two internal SATA ports.

I debated between this card and a more expensive alternative. I was concerned that the bottom-of-the-line card would result in lower disk performance and higher CPU overhead. I decided to give this card a shot. I could run some benchmark tests and return it if it proved unsuitable.

Time Warner Rate Increase a Troubling Sign

Cable and broadband video markets are in a period of transition. Until recently, video services were franchised by local municipalities. Some rates, such as basic cable rates, have been regulated, and the municipality had to review and approve increases.

Three years ago, the Texas legislature took franchise authority away from local municipalities, grandfathering existing franchise contracts until the end of their term.

At the same time, many of the incumbent cable video providers have been petitioning the FCC to determine there is "effective competition" in their service areas. That determination would release a locally franchised video provider from rate regulation.

Last March, the FCC returned a determination that there is "effective competition" in the Austin video market. This means that Time Warner Austin, even though it still has to operate under its franchise agreement with the City, was now released of the regulation of its rates.

Time Warner responded by imposing a massive rate increase. The cost of basic cable service was nearly doubled, from $10.50 to $19.95 a month.

$6 Virtue

blue recycling wastebasketThursday is my day to feel a little virtuous. It's recycling day in my neighborhood.

In Austin, you pay your monthly waste services fee based on the size of your trash bin. A 30 gallon bin is $4.75/month. A 60 gallon bin is $7.50/month. We use the smaller bin. Not only does it save us $33/year, but it encourages us to produce less waste.

One of the ways we reduce our garbage is by diverting waste from the trash bin to recycling. We usually get it down enough so that the smaller bin is fine. On the months we go over, we have to buy a $2 sticker for the additional trash bags, but there hasn't been one of those in a long time.

Earlier this year, I bought a blue recycling wastebasket from the office supply store for $6. I can't say that's what keeps us within our 30 gallon limit, but it does help.

Socialized Football

footballTime Warner Austin and The NFL Network are battling like two burly tackles over televised football. Time Warner has pulled the NFL Network from their cable lineup. The NFL and football fans are furious, and the Texas legislature has been dragged into the melee. The NFL wants back on the air, of course, but if they get their way it will be bad news for everybody—including football fans.

The American cable market is structured as a basic subscription service, and the subscriber adds the premium content they want with extra-cost packages. The NFL Network is premium content, but the NFL wants to push it into the basic service package. That way they can collect fees for every single cable subscriber in the system—not just those who want an extra football channel.

Announcing the Holidailies Charity Project

Holidailies 2007 badgeIt's Holidailies time, and as I mentioned in a previous blog posting we're reorienting a bit this year. One goal is to recapture the idea that Holidailies is a gift ("the gift of our prose") from the Holidailies participants to the people who visit and support our personal web sites.

In years past we solicited people to be Holidailies sponsors and buy banner advertisements. Our goal was to raise enough money to cover server costs for the Holidailies period. Each year the community would come through and we'd meet that goal.

We aren't doing that this year. Jette and I are fortunate to have jobs that are stable, pay us well, and won't give us black lung disease. It hasn't been that way every year, but it is this year, and we're grateful. We're in the enviable position of being able to support it all ourselves.