It's Just this Little Chromium Switch Here

Weblogging and commentary by Chip Rosenthal

Warrantless Wiretaps are Illegal Again

The "Protect America Act" has expired.

This was a law passed in haste last year, as an addendum to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It authorized the previously illegal (and I would hope unconstitutional) act of spying on Americans without a warrant or court order.

Now that PAA has expired, no further warrantless wiretaps can be initiated. Existing surveillance continues, and new surveillance can be initiated with the rubber stamp of a FISA court. As the conservative Washington Times explains there will be little practical effect from the lapse.

The administration is claiming this is a severe blow to our intelligence gathering capability. Their actions, however, prove otherwise. If PAA was so necessary, the administration would have supported reauthorization without the poison pill of phone company amnesty.

Will Spam be the Booby Prize in the Debate Lottery?

The Texas Democractic Party took a pummeling when it announced the public would not be allowed to attend the presidential debate here in Austin. So, they carved out a small block of seats and setup a drawing to give them away.

The Statesman is reporting this morning that 20,000 people have signed up for the 100 seats.

I can calculate the odds of getting a seat and they aren't looking too good: currently 1 in 200 and dropping fast. So, a lot of people are going to be sad losers in this lottery. Even worse, I fear they may end up with a booby prize: a bunch of spam.

You (obviously) need to provide all your contact information to enter the drawing. The web page, however, doesn't specify what the group will do with the private information it collects. The Texas Democratic Party web site does have a privacy policy, but it doesn't shed any light on this situation.

Telco Immunity Passage a Presidential Litmus Test

Today, the US Senate passed a version of FISA that contains retroactive immunity for phone companies that performed illegal wiretapping. There was an amendment to strip the immunity clause from the bill, but it failed.

The three leading presidential candidates are all sitting Senators, so how they voted on this issue provides an important litmus test. The results are:

  • Sen. McCain - voted for retroactive immunity
  • Sen. Obama - voted against retroactive immunity
  • Sen. Clinton - didn't show up to vote

So there you have it. Three candidates, three different positions on the issue. Which position best aligns with yours?

Complete vote data on the retroactive immunity amendment here.

Drupal Category Listing Module

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I was feeling pretty dumb. I migrated my blog from Movable Type to Drupal back in December. One of the things I lost in the move was a category index. I couldn't find a good way to get Drupal to give me a basic listing of category terms in a given vocabulary.

Here is what I wanted:

  • List taxonomy terms in a given vocabulary
  • Displayed vocabulary hierarchies properly
  • Optionally displayed category descriptions and article counts
  • Linked the term name to taxonomy/term/(tid)
  • Displayed in a properly themed unordered list

These requirements are so basic and obvious, I thought the module that did them had to exist. I was feeling like a big dummy for not figuring out where it was—either in the Drupal core or among the large number of freely available taxonomy modules.

Community Technology and Telecom Commission Quarterly Status

Last October, I was elected chair of the Austin Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission, an advisory body to the Austin City Council. One of my duties is to present periodic updates to the Council Committee for Emerging Technology and Telecommunications.

On January 23, I appeared before the council committee and presented a summary of the commission actions over the previous quarter.

One important item was the impending contract renewal with Austin Free-Net, because that was due for council action. AFN is the City's primary partner in its digital inclusion initiatives. The contract is about $53K/year and was up for renewal. The Commission passed a resolution in support of renewal.

On January 31, the Council did approve the contract, and that's good news.

The slides from my presentation, as well as the commission resolution on the Free-Net contract, are attached below.

Death Threat Spam

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This is a new one on me. Some 419 confidence scammers are switching to death threats.

I started receiving these emails yesterday:

To: undisclosed-recipients:;
From: therawradio [at] satx [dot] rr [dot] com
Subject: BE VERY CAREFUL
Date: Fri, 08 Feb 2008 04:00:49 +0100
Reply-to: mohammedyakubu2008 [at] gmail [dot] com

I  am very sorry for you Xxxxxx, is a pity that this is how your life is
going to end as soon as you don't comply. As you can see there is no need
of introducing myself to you because I don't have any business with you,
my duty as I am mailing you now is just to KILL you and I have to do it
as I have already been paid for that.

Someone you call a friend wants you Dead by all means, and the person
have spent a lot of money on this, the person also came to us and told
me that he wanted you dead and he provided us with your name ,picture
and other necessary information's we needed about you. So I sent my boys
to track you down and they have carried out the necessary investigation
needed for the operation on you, and they have done that but I told them
not to kill you that I will like to contact you and see if your life is
Important to you or not since their findings shows that you are innocent.

I called my client back and ask him of your email address which I didn't
tell him what I wanted to do with it and he gave it to me and I am using
it to contact you now. As I am writing to you now my men are monitoring
you and they are telling me everything about you.  Now do you want to LIVE
OR DIE? As someone has paid us to kill you.  Get back to me now if you
are ready to pay some fees to spare your life, $10,000 is all you need
to spend You will first of all pay $5,000 then I will send a tape to you
which i recorded every discusion i had with the person who wanted you dead
and as soon as you get the tape, you will pay the remaining $5,000. If you
are not ready for my help, then I will carry on with my job straight-up.

WARNING: DO NOT THINK OF CONTACTING THE POLICE OR EVEN TELLING ANYONE
BECAUSE I WILL KNOW.REMEMBER, SOMEONE WHO KNOWS YOU VERY WELL WANT YOU
DEAD! I WILL EXTEND IT TO YOUR FAMILY, INCASE I NOTICE SOMETHING FUNNY.
DO NOT COME OUT ONCE IT IS 7:PM UNTIL I MAKE OUT TIME TO SEE YOU AND
GIVE YOU THE TAPE OF MY DISCUSSION WITH THE PERSON WHO WANT YOU DEAD THEN
YOU CAN USE IT TO TAKE ANY LEGAL ACTION. GOOD LUCK AS I AWAIT YOUR REPLY .

GET BACK TO ME:mohammedyakubu2008 [at] gmail [dot] com

Frack Hollywood

Helios H4000 DVD PlayerI am so sick to death of the content cartel telling me what I can and cannot do with my legally purchased media. No wonder illegal downloading is displacing legitimate content. Sometimes it's the only way to get movies and music without all the bloody stupid restrictions that Hollywood and Nashville force down our throats.

It seems to get worse every year. When our trusty old Panasonic DVD player croaked, we replaced it with a new Toshiba HD-DVD player. What a piece of engineering suck that unit is.

It has a number of hateful misfeatures common in current DVD players. We can't watch foreign discs due to region encoding. We can't upconvert conventional DVDs because my TV doesn't have HDCP (a function that does me no good). On top of it all, the Toshiba unit is slow to boot up and clunky to operate. It felt like the Windows Vista of video players.

I finally said to hell with it and ordered a Helios H4000 DVD player. When I read the specs I was amazed that somebody is actually producing video equipment to serve the customer and not Hollywood. It plays any disc, regardless of region code. It upconverts to whatever resolution you want on any video connection it has. It's got features like bookmarks and "skip the crap at the front of the disk" that any DVD user would obviously want.

The unit is bit more expensive than a low end 1080p upconverting player ($140 versus $80). I think it's worth it for a unit that's well designed—and prioritizes the needs of its owner above those of the content cartel.

Anti-Categories

I'm getting weary of community sites like Digg and reddit. I wish the dark Illuminati forces that are suppressing Ron Paul from the mainstream media would only find their way onto the net. (Oh wait! They have.)

A recent post on the NY Times site had a quote from Slashdot founder Rob Malda that nailed it:

“A lot of these community news sites are all about Ron Paul,” he said. “Ron Paul may be a valid candidate. But what that is really demonstrating is that you are seeing 1 or 2 percent of a community shaping where the whole community is going. A small dedicated group of people can manipulate these sites very easily.”

A lot of the community content sites have categories: programming, politics, etc. You can view the posts in any single category.

Maybe what we need are anti-categories, so I can read a digg with all the presidential politics suppressed. That way I can get just what I want: significant current events, technology stories, and cute lolpuppy photos.

I Could Set the Building on Fire

The KOOP radio station fire was written up in Interweb A-list zine BoingBoing. See it here.

I thought the fourth comment from isadrone was particularly funny.

Excuse me, I believe you have my playlist... Can I have my playlist back? He took my playlist and he never brought it back.

It's not okay because if they take my playlist then I'll set the building on fire...

I could set the building on fire.

It's a movie joke. And, yes, it's in very bad taste.

Bombs Away

How quaint! I haven't seen a good Google bombing in a while.

The current target is "dangerous cult".