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Year: 2006

Where have you gone, Benjamin Franklin?

Yesterday, as you may have heard, USA Today (of all places) broke [this story](

> The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.
> The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren’t suspected of any crime.

“Wow,” I thought, “now they’ve really done it. Now they’ve gone too far. Now we’ll see some real outrage.”

Today, reading the front page of the [Washington Post](, I learn that once again I have overestimated my fellow citizens:

> A majority of Americans initially support a controversial National Security Agency program to collect information on telephone calls made in the United States in an effort to identify and investigate potential terrorist threats, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
> The new survey found that 63 percent of Americans said they found the NSA program to be an acceptable way to investigate terrorism, including 44 percent who strongly endorsed the effort. Another 35 percent said the program was unacceptable, which included 24 percent who strongly objected to it.
> A slightly larger majority–66 percent–said they would not be bothered if NSA collected records of personal calls they had made, the poll found.
> Underlying those views is the belief that the need to investigate terrorism outweighs privacy concerns. According to the poll, 65 percent of those interviewed said it was more important to investigate potential terrorist threats “even if it intrudes on privacy.”

Look, folks, privacy is not actually the issue here. (Although shouldn’t you be concerned that your government has access to a list of every phone number you’ve ever dialed?) It’s actually _against the law_ (e.g. the Telecommunications Act of 1934) for phone companies to release this kind of information without a court order. And the government can’t just invoke “national security” as an excuse to bypass the law. (Didn’t we go through all this in the 1950s?)

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — Benjamin Franklin

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Dear Rita Nelson of Minnesota

We appreciate your commentary on the White House Correspondents’ dinner (reprinted here from [Editor and Publisher](

> I thought it was great, except for Colbert, he was terrible, nothing funny there! I love to see what the women wear, and the only thing I can say about Washington is there are a lot of ugly women, in government and the press, who do not have any fashion sense at all.

There is one small problem, however; you signed your letter simply as “Rita Nelson, Minnesota”. Could you please provide us your entire address? We would not want the notice of revocation of your voter registration to get lost in the mail.


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Get a Mac

Random thoughts on Apple’s new [“Get a Mac”]( campaign:

* The name itself is significant: not “Switch” but “Get a Mac” — i.e. you can have both.
* The [TV ads]( are funny and make their points without being smug. (I particularly like “Network”, the one with the “new digital camera from Japan”.) But then I’m closer to the fanboi end of the spectrum to start with.
* I’m not so sure about the Mac being a scruffy twenty-something — I guess they’re going for street cred, or whatever the kids say today. Perhaps they’re going for the all-important [“Ed”]( demographic (of which my wife would be a key member) as the [actor]( is the one who played the geek wanna-not-be Warren Cheswick.
* I’m sure people are worried about challenging the bad guys by claiming superiority on the [virus]( front. So far they seem to be walking a careful line and not claiming Macs are virus-free or “bulletproof”. (Oh, and this line: “In order for software to significantly modify Mac OS X, you have to type in your password. You’re the decider.” Priceless.)
* #1 on the list of reasons to get a Mac: “It just works.” Amen. (I wish “design” weren’t quite so high, though.)
* I also like the list refuting reasons not to buy a Mac. One notable omission: “Macs aren’t more expensive” (for what you get); it would be tough to make this case in a few sentences (and tougher still with Dell desperately slashing prices…).

On the whole, it’s good to see Apple making some noise. Now if they can just get the new Intel-based iBook replacements out (before the education buying season)…

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SubEthaEdit for $0 is a great deal

SubEthaEdit from CodingMonkeys is an excellent collaborative editor that I’ve used to help create session notes at past PyCons. Many people also use it as a programming editor, although to date I’m still in the BBEdit camp.

Now, as part of BLOGZOT 2.0 on, MacZOT and TheCodingMonkeys will award $105,000 in Mac software — specifically, free SubEthaEdit licenses (if enough bloggers link back to the web site to reduce the license price to $0).

Obviously, the intention is to drive a lot of visits to the MacZOT site, but SubEthaEdit for $0 is a great deal no matter how you slice it. (And MacZOT is an interesting idea itself; I’ve used it once or twice to spring for software I might not have otherwise bought, when the discount pushed the price down to impulse buying levels.)

(Thanks to Matt Deatherage for the heads-up.)

Update: Yes, enough bloggers fell for the offer to drive the cost down to $0, and I got my free license code over the weekend — thanks, MacZOT and Coding Monkeys!

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Apple does the right thing with DTKs

Amidst all the hoopla over the new [Intel-based Macs](, I’ve seen little coverage of this item: Developers who spent $999 to “rent” a Developer Transition Kit (a G5 case with a Pentium 4 inside) will have the opportunity to [exchange]( it for a 17-inch iMac with the Intel Core Duo inside. For *free*. And yes, they get to keep the iMac.

I had privately conjectured that Apple might encourage developers to return their DTKs on time by offering a small incentive (like a $500 credit towards a new Intel Mac), but this is even better.