It's Just this Little Chromium Switch Here

Weblogging and commentary by Chip Rosenthal

Angry Neighbor Email (UPDATED 2/5)

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Dear Senator Franken, Please Oppose PIPA

Dear Senator Franken,

I am not your constituent, but since I receive periodic fundraising appeals from you, I thought I might impose on you with a request: Please withdraw your sponsorship of S968, the Protect IP Act (PIPA).

You've been in the forefront of protecting online networks through initiatives such as net.neutrality. That's why it troubles me deeply to see you supporting PIPA.

I know you are probably hearing a lot about the First Amendment implications of allowing bureaucrats to shutdown Internet resources without due process. I'd like to raise another issue.

Implementing PIPA would break some of the fundamental mechanisms of the Internet. The future of the DNS (the directory service that maps to host address is one that is secured end-to-end, to protect users (and publishers) against against forgery or spoofing. This is incompatible with the sort of filtering and delisting that is required by this legislation.

That's one reason why you see so many well known Internet engineers signing onto a letter protesting this legislation.

I hope that as a media person you would be in a particularly good position to help find the balance between protecting the property rights and free speech rights of the content producers. I hope that as a smart person, you would recognize the importance of listening to the subject matter experts, such as distinguished Internet engineers.

Thanks for your past advocacy for Internet users and content producers. I hope you will choose to help them on this issue as well.

New City Website Arrives Monday

Below is a message I just posted to the Austin Neighborhoods Council mailing list:

The City of Austin website is going down for maintenance Sunday. When it returns Monday, the historic "Austin City Connection" will be replaced with the first public release of the new city website.

This will be what they call a "beta" release, made available for public shakeout and testing. The full release is scheduled for January 12.

The press release is linked here:

(I wouldn't normally do this, but due to the impending downtime I'll include a copy below.)

As some of the most engaged users of the city website, it's very important that we all get involved during this critical time. This rollout is a massive undertaking. It's likely going to be similar to the final phases of a kitchen remodel. There will be some dust and hiccups, but as the pieces go into place for completion, it (hopefully) will be beautiful -- so long as we pay careful attention.

HowTo: Make umount Work with sshfs


sshfs is an easy way to provide file access to a remote system with ssh. On Ubuntu, all you need to install it (on the remote client, nothing to do on the server if it already runs ssh) is run:

sudo apt-get install sshfs

To make things easier, you can make an /etc/fstab entry with the settings to mount a remote directory: /home/chip/Remote-Home fuse umask=0,defaults,noauto,user 0 0

Now, to mount the directory I just type (from my home directory):

$ mount Remote-Home

The problem is that if I try to unmount the directory it fails:

$ umount Remote-Home
umount: /home/chip/Remote-Home mount disagrees with the fstab

The command you have to use is:

$ fusermount -u Remote-Home

But you can make umount work with two simple steps.

First (this is the trick), run:

$ sudo ln -s mount.fuse mount.fuse.sshfs

HowTo: Specify Web Browser Preference for Thunderbird 3.1


In previous versions of the Thunderbird mail reader, you had to manually edit the prefs.js file and add lines such as:

user_pref("", "/usr/bin/sensible-browser");
user_pref("", "/usr/bin/sensible-browser");
user_pref("", "/usr/bin/sensible-browser");

With Thunderbird 3.1 that no longer works. Even worse, when my properties were migrated over, I didn't have any way to change the browser (it was defaulting to Firefox).

To fix, do: Edit -> Preferences -> Advanced -> Config Editor

In the properties window filter on "warn-external". Set all the items to "true".

Next time you click on a link, you will be prompted to select your web browser. (Hint: for Debian and variants such as Ubuntu, you want to pick "/usr/bin/sensible-browser". If that fails to launch the browser you want, then fix your preferences in the control center.)

Tribute to Gary Chapman

Photo of Gary Chapman at public computer lab demo

I gave this speech last night at a tribute to Gary Chapman, held before the annual Dewey Winburne Community Service Awards ceremony.

I've had the privilege of working with Gary Chapman several times over the years.

The first time was back in 2000. We were both serving on the very first Austin Grant for Technology Opportunities review board. GTOPs was a brand new program, designed to provide grant funds to local digital divide/digital opportunity projects. Gary was an early supporter of GTOPs, and chaired the review board its inaugural year.

Since then, GTOPs has grown into a successful and widely popular program.

TxGov20Camp -- Austin Website Session


I moderated a session this morning at Texas Gov20 Camp on open data issues in the City of Austin website redesign project. This post collects some of the resources from that session.

Session Title:
AustinGO: Can the city and citizens collaboratively develop an open platform?

The City of Austin is in the process of creating a new web site, built on an entirely new publishing platform. As part of this project, the City has entered into an agreement with OpenAustin, a private group of local volunteers, to help build tools on the new platform. We'll get an update on the project, and discuss what will be required for this collaboration to succeed.

Chip Rosenthal -- moderator, Austin Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission (chip [at] unicom [dot] com)
Matt Esquibel -- City of Austin
Dan Pattyn -- OpenAustin (dan [dot] pattyn [at] gmail [dot] com)
Rob Pettengill -- OpenAustin (dan [dot] pattyn [at] gmail [dot] com)
Jon Lebkowsky -- EFF-Austin (jon [dot] lebkowsky [at] gmail [dot] com)

Resources: -- AustinGO, CIty of Austin government online initiative website

Safety Problems with Austin Parking Meter Proposal

The City of Austin currently runs parking meters until 5:30pm five days a week. There is a proposal to run them until midnight, and run them on Saturday. The City is conducting a survey where you can register your opinion:

Extended meter hours makes sense. The people who use the parking ought to pay for it.

The proposal on the table, however, is deeply flawed. Asking people to fumble with their purse or wallet, street-side, in the dark, late at night is a stunningly bad idea. I'm surprised this proposal wasn't dismissed out of hand, due to safety considerations. Unless the City is willing to add lighting and video at every parking pay station, this plan should be rejected.

A better proposal would extend the hours to, say, 7:30pm, and add Saturdays. That would help share the cost of parking more fairly, without incurring a safety risk.

Some Wishes for a Cord-Cutting New Year

The other day I demoted my Netflix account from the pricey 3 discs-at-a-time with Blu-Ray option to the lowly one DVD but unlimited streaming plan -- to beat the impending Netflix price bump.

I did this not so much because of the additional three bucks a month Netflix wants, but due to the realization that the Netflix product has a really bad flaw that makes it a poor value. Thinking about it some more I realize there are so many ways our video options could be better. If we are going to see that "cord cutting" future, where more people switch their video viewing to options such as online streaming, I think some of these issues need to be addressed.

1. Yay on Netflix for offering a streaming-only option. Boo on Netflix for failing to adjust their physical artifact media programs to work the way people want them to. How many of you have a Netflix disc at home that's over a week old? A month? Three months? Yeah, I thought so.

Quick Impressions on FCC Open Internet Order

Last week, the FCC issued their new Open Internet rules. This process has been underway for over a year, and many people hoped it would lead to a strong framework for network neutrality.

We have a name for those kinds of people: optimistic fools.

Okay, that's harsh. And the optimism wasn't completely unfounded. The current President and Chair of the FCC both came into office saying they wanted to do network neutrality. Once there, however, that aspiration met the harsh reality of a regulatory apparatus captured by the communication providers.

The result isn't what anybody advocating network neutrality hoped for. But that doesn't mean that it's all bad.

The Good Bits