It's Just this Little Chromium Switch Here

Weblogging and commentary by Chip Rosenthal

Wiretapping Amesty Update: A Remarkable Turn of Events

There has been a remarkable turn of events today in the saga of granting phone companies amnesty for illegal wiretapping.

Senator Chris Dodd had placed a hold on the FISA bill to keep it from reaching the Senate floor. Today, as expected, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tossed the hold to bring up the bill. Sen. Reid then handily got the 60% vote he needed to shut down Dodd's threatened filibuster.

That seemed like game over, at least in the Senate. This afternoon, the New York Times was reporting the events as a big victory for the phone companies and Bush administration.

However, later in the day, due to the extraordinary pushback, Reid announced that the FISA bill would be put off, rather than rammed through before recess.

The Times pulled the earlier story and replaced it with one now saying:

In a setback for the White House, Senate Democrats on Monday put off until at least next month any decision on whether to give legal protection to the phone carriers that helped with the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping program.

You can read the entire article here: Democrats Delay a Vote on Immunity for Wiretaps

Also, be sure to check out Glenn Greenwald's analysis of Reid's inconsistent handling of legislative holds, with periodic updates with the day's events: Harry Reid -- compare and contrast

Touching High Def with a Ten Foot Pole

I've been test driving an HD-DVD high definition video disc player this past week. I wasn't planning to go HD, but it turns out the HD-DVD player fell into my lap not a week after the beloved Panasonic DVD-RP62 finally gave out.

Prior to the test, I was unenthused about HD. After the test, little has changed.

As you may know, we are in the midst of a HD-DVD versus Blu-ray format war. The cautious person is advised to stay off the battlefield. If you think otherwise, ask the poor sods who bought into Betamax during the VCR format wars.

Also, the Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) functions proved as bothersome as I feared. All the things you hate about DVD are here—only worse. You can't skip unskipable content. Can't make backups. Won't play on my Linux computer. Can't do screenshots.

NYT: Telco Amnesty to Protect "Uneasy Partnership with Industry"

I posted yesterday about the effort to give phone companies amnesty for illegal wiretapping. Today, the New York Times carries a front page report on the issue.

For months, the Bush administration has waged a high-profile campaign, including personal lobbying by President Bush and closed-door briefings by top officials, to persuade Congress to pass legislation protecting companies from lawsuits for aiding the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program.

But the battle is really about something much bigger. At stake is the federal government’s extensive but uneasy partnership with industry to conduct a wide range of secret surveillance operations in fighting terrorism and crime.

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 Google.com. 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.

Recalculating

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.