Left In Lowell

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October 25, 2012

Like Us On Facebook!

by at 2:29 pm.

Normally I don’t push too hard on Facebook likes, but sometimes I get in the mood. This is one of those moods. So, if you are a Facebook user and wanna catch our feed, it’s here.

I post lots of stuff on Facebook that I don’t get to here, tidbits that I find on subjects political, cultural, and community-based, most often very local. Some days I post more than others, but it’s never more than 3-5 items per day on average. Some of my tweets from @leftinlowell.com make it there as well, when I remember to check off the box to send them (I most often tweet from my phone). But often you’ll find stuff there that you’ll find no where else, like my most recent post on non-chemical agriculture, or sharing an article from Howl about the chicken movement in Lowell. Yes, chickens! If that intrigues you then go hit the LiL FB page. :)

I also try to remember (with varying success) to post a link when I create a new blog post here, so it can be convenient for knowing when LiL has new content. Jack and Mimi also have admin access to the FB page though they don’t use it very often (though, hint hint, feel free to).

If you find something of particular interest, you can always hit the share button on Facebook to publish something of ours into your own feed. We’re only as good as the community who spreads the word! And if you like our feed, then share our page with others!

Now, back to your regularly scheduled program. Whatever that was. ;)

October 23, 2012

New City Billpay Website

by at 7:45 pm.

It’s streamlined and easier to understand, unveiled at tonight’s meeting. It includes the ability to register, if you like, and get emails every time a new bill gets issued. Very useful. From the front page of the pay section:

The City of Lowell offers residents an easy and secure way to view, print and pay their real estate tax, personal property tax, motor vehicle tax and water bills online. We support electronic bill presentment (viewing) and payment because it is more convenient for residents and better for the environment.

Online Bill Payment, in partnership with Invoice Cloud, offers the following benefits:

  • No registration required
  • You have the option to pay immediately or schedule a payment
  • Get an emailed confirmation of payment or print a receipt
  • You may sign up for automatic payments
  • You may choose to “Go Paperless” to reduce clutter and help the environment
  • E-check is less than the cost of a stamp!

The following bills are available for online payment:

  • Real Estate Taxes
  • Personal Property Taxes
  • Water/Sewer/Refuse Utility Billing
  • Motor Vehicle Excise Taxes
  • Boat Excise Taxes
  • Parking Tickets

Visa, Mastercard, Discover and echeck are accepted. The convenience fee for echecks is only $.40, it’s $1-$3.95 for credit cards.

After clicking around a bit, this appears to be a vast improvement over the previous system, so thumbs up.

It’s easier to do a search (at least for real estate taxes) as they explained tonight. Since real estate taxes are public info, all you need is any part of your name (though if it’s “John” you search for you’ll get a million results) or address, or bill # if you have it, and you can see your past and current bills. Other billpays need the bill# as a required search term.

October 14, 2012

Lowell2020

by at 10:35 am.

In case you missed it (it’s been passed around Facebook), George DeLuca has a new collaborative blog called Lowell2020. It’s been added to the Lowell blogroll. Says the blog about the collaborative: “Lowell2020 is a new collaborative in Lowell, MA. The Lowell2020 blog exists to seek out and clarify Lowell’s vision for the future.” It is also a new LTC program and WCAP radio segment.

George has already been busy over there with quite a number of posts, ranging from cultural and arts to political and technocratic (the latest is a technical look into the Ameresco contract).

The only thing I find confusing about the blog (and this is just a minor nitpick) is that there is no author listed on posts, and if these are collaborative and not a single-author blog, it’d be great to attach a name (or nickname) to contributions. Since it’s a wordpress.com blog I’m not sure if one can even change the WP template or not, but it might be a useful add.

Lowell has no shortage of community-minded individuals willing to put type to pixel and start a conversation, that’s for sure! Welcome to the blogosphere, Lowell2020! (Facebook page is here if you want to keep up with the latest.)

January 20, 2012

Thank You, Senator Ron Wyden

by at 7:29 pm.

You might have seen it in passing in previous posts, but really, the hands-down savior on SOPA/PIPA is Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden. You see, Senator Wyden was the first one to see the danger of these bills, and for a long time, the only prominent voice speaking against it. Without him, this thing would have already passed, unheeded, without a single whimper. And we’d have seen a sudden transformation of how the very internet works, and who gets to speak on it. You can read the history of this here. You see, one Senator can make a difference, and start a grassroots movement to stop a juggernaut of a well-funded bill from passing.

The fight is never completely over, and I’m certain we’ll be here again, covering this issue as the bill gets “rebuilt” into a sneak attack. But we wouldn’t have even gotten this reprieve at all without Senator Wyden. I sent him a heartfelt thank you note via this link. You should really do the same. If we could send this guy 100,000 roses (or maybe iTunes gift cards?) it wouldn’t be enough to thank him for his courage, and his zeal for doing what was right.

January 18, 2012

Best SOPA/PIPA Post Yet (Updatedx2)

by at 7:04 pm.

On an internet full of amazingly awesome PIPA/SOPA diatribes, videos, cartoons, animated cartoons, and explanations, this is the best one I’ve read. It sums up why it’s dangerous, and really goes into the history, the problem at hand (piracy) and outlines how out of touch the music and movie industry, and our political class, really are when it comes to technology and the internet, and how to address changing revenue streams. It comes from the point of view of a Hollywood professional.

If you read anything else on PIPA/SOPA, read this one.

Update: This is an awesome parody video, and a good example of what SOPA/PIPA and its ilk could ban, since it’s a song uploaded on YouTube parodying a real song, technically protected speech, but under these bills, the Big Giant Company that probably owns copyright to the original doesn’t even have to prove it’s a copyright violation to scuttle the entire YouTube website over it. No joke.

Update II: And you should read this letter to the internet from Senator Ron Wyden, who had put a hold on this legislation (PIPA) in the Senate a year ago, and without whom, this might have already passed before anyone really knew what it was about. Senator Wyden bought us time. The Senate has a vote scheduled next Tuesday to override the hold, which is a danger moment for this bill, but as of today, 33 Senators have now come out against it. That is up from a mere five objections a week ago.

Tsongas’ Position on SOPA/PIPA: No!

by at 6:28 pm.

I put in a call to Congresswoman Niki Tsgonas’ office yesterday and got an answer back today (after LiL went black). So I wanted to write this post and get it ready for when the site comes back up.

Rep. Tsongas is a definite NO on SOPA or anything resembling it (like PIPA). Says her office:

She is opposed to it. Niki believes that it is written too broadly and would have an adverse affect on free speech and internet innovation. The legislation is a major departure from the current “notice and take-down” system that provided protection from liability for internet service providers and websites that expeditiously remove infringing materials from their networks.

This to me shows a good understanding about the issue at hand - that Rep. Tsongas and her staff grok the monumental shift that these bills represent to our electronic freedom of speech.

As an aside, Senator Scott Brown is also against PIPA (/SOPA) and will vote no. Kudos to him on this issue.

January 17, 2012

Website Strike Tomorrow Against SOPA

by at 11:53 am.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that no web content maker on the internet should NOT be in total fear of SOPA. (Edit: I meant no web content maker should NOT be in fear…) I knew it was bad, but BoingBoing put it into real perspective:

Boing Boing could never co-exist with a SOPA world: we could not ever link to another website unless we were sure that no links to anything that infringes copyright appeared on that site. So in order to link to a URL on LiveJournal or WordPress or Twitter or Blogspot, we’d have to first confirm that no one had ever made an infringing link, anywhere on that site. Making one link would require checking millions (even tens of millions) of pages, just to be sure that we weren’t in some way impinging on the ability of five Hollywood studios, four multinational record labels, and six global publishers to maximize their profits.

If we failed to take this precaution, our finances could be frozen, our ad broker forced to pull ads from our site, and depending on which version of the bill goes to the vote, our domains confiscated, and, because our server is in Canada, our IP address would be added to a US-wide blacklist that every ISP in the country would be required to censor.

So LeftinLowell is going to join the one-day blackout tomorrow, Jan 18th, from 8am to 8pm. Lest we go dark permanently under a SOPA world. If you have a website, you might want to consider the simple steps that the website gives you to do so - a simple javascript that goes into your head tag.

December 5, 2011

Sun Blog Switcheroo

by at 6:34 pm.

Let’s be clear, it isn’t easy being a legitimate newspaper these days. What with all the ‘blogging’ and such.

Pardon my delight, as I remind anyone who cares, “To err is human. To forgive … means you ain’t from Lowell!”

Maybe you noticed that earlier I picked up on a story from our ‘Blog of Record.’ (They are legit, y’know.) The aforementioned BoR then chased after the point I raised, as did Gerry Nutter, highlighting that a corruption culprit was still at-large. (Which is no biggie, btw, because there are illegal aliens around) Now I may not be legit, but I took the high road and didn’t finger anyone as the “co-conspirator.” Besides, I am not the pal of the Assistant U.S. Attorney, so I only know what is bouncing around the bubble. Meaning, I don’t KNOW nothin’.

Neither does the Blog of Record, but they were inclined to wing it & fling it. Keeping up with the Joneses Bloggers, eh?

The clandestine co-conspirator is widely believed to be downtown Lowell property owner Thomas Byrne.

Ouch! No doubt that Chris Scott’s “widely” is wider than this humble blogger’s, but Tommy hasn’t come up in my meager wideness.

I posted that quote, as an Update to my diary. Later, when checking the hyperlink, I noticed the blog entry had been … um, … tweaked.

Just below is the original, with the line I blockquoted bracketed in red:
Photobucket
(more…)

October 2, 2011

From Quirky, to Movement…

by at 10:56 am.

I’ve been following (mostly online) the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Boston protests since nearly the beginning. They got traction and coverage on blogs and Twitter long before the media was covering it - in fact, before the unprovoked pepper spray incidents that made the news, the only place to read about what was happening was online.

The media complained that they weren’t cohesive enough and there wasn’t news to cover. Well, that has quickly changed and evolved. For starters, there were some very bad decisions from the NYPD - both institutionally, and by some idiot individuals - which put the protests on the map for the media, and solidified the motivation of participants and supporters. What’s more, it seems the organic sort of organizing that has sprung up has - and I have to use the word evolved again - to meet the challenges of running a protest, dealing with the media, finding a set of demands to articulate why they are angry and not going to take it any more. OWS has spokespeople and media tents and a strong online presence - all while being relatively leadersless in the traditional sense.

In some ways, my personal cynicism alert flag is up. (Yeah, I know, I’m too young to be truly cynical…) I spent years organizing with the peace movement against the Iraq war, butting my head up against the sheer stubbornness of the Bush administration and, later, Obama’s. After all, GitMo is still open, the USA PATRIOT Act was reauthorized and is being used to spy on Americans without due process, we’re still in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan though with some troop drawdown, and Obama even unilaterally bombed, for right or wrong, Libya, without the consent of Congress.

The only satisfaction we got out of our fight was that most of the American public got on our side after a while. But it still reelected Bush and let itself be lied to about Kerry’s war record and ability to lead, and we never got a truly different kind of leader to replace him in 2008, either. Obama put Wall St executives in charge of the economy even after it was evident they were full of shit.

But there is something really interesting happening with Occupy[America]. For one thing, it’s just average citizens (not diehard liberals or extremely informed people like me) who are protesting. Photo after photo, interview after interview, this is very evident.

There are so many people in this country who have been foreclosed on, laid off, unable to move forward, that a segment of them, with nothing left to lose, are truly taking the fight to the streets. Since they have nothing left to lose - no middle class lifestyle, no prospects - they have a lot to fight for. I always said the worst part about being an anti-war protester is that most of our citizens, even when sympathetic (and the majority was by the time I left that movement) are busy with their lives, making their livings, feeding their families, going to soccer games, and being generally content that things aren’t that bad for them, personally. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s totally human, and what’s more, a legacy of the last century of American progress. We built the middle class. A country with a middle class able to make ends meet is a relatively politically stable country. It’s a good thing.

Which is why I think there is something different in the air.

Gradually, we’ve seen the erosion of the buying power and the salaries of the middle class. For so many decades before, our children did at least a little better than their parents. Then, since the Reagan era, we started to see the slide. We began to only tread water…then occasionally swallowed some. Then we began drowning, but we as a people were the last to see it happen.

Even in the 2008 economic meltdown, we failed to notice our lungs filling with something other than air.

This generation of young people really are the first who truly believe - nay, who know - they are not destined to do better than their parents. Unlike the spoiled kids of my generation (raised largely in the 80s and coming of age in the 90s), they see the coming tide sweeping over them and pulling them under the water before they even get a chance to begin. They are left behind. And they know that if they do nothing, it will only get worse. They have nothing left to lose.

They join every one of their older siblings, parents, grandparents who have lost a house, a job, a future, despite being of the generations born with more promise. For some of us older ones, we’ve experienced firsthand how it’s gonna be going forward if there are no changes. For the rest of us older ones, we are beginning to understand how fragile our position of comfort is. The OccupyWallSt movement presents this to us in bas-relief - the notion that the middle class is under siege and has been for quite some time.

The thing that is different from now from these previous movements is that the situation that has caused these long term problems is not going to be alleviated by last generation’s leaders. Obama is cut off at the knees to even patch a pathetic temporary band-aid (the jobs bill) on our economic slide by Republican intransigence. And even Obama’s half-measures would probably only prove to elongate the stagnation, not solve the underlying problem. We’re now seeing the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us reach the levels seen right before the 1929 crash. Eventually, this was going to get noticed by someone. By everyone.

Even the Tea Party movement, while misguided to the extreme, is an expression of this loss of power by the average person. Why did they catch fire? Despite being such a minority of even the Republican party? Because poor and middle class Republicans too are suffering in this economic climate, this class warfare on us by the super-wealthy. They just aren’t right on who to blame for this.

Most of America, on the other hand, already knows what and who is to blame. They already overwhelmingly want to see taxes raised back up on the uberwealthy. They know that Wall St needs taking down a peg or three, and that we need to go back to regulating our economic system so that the playing field becomes level again. They just need the energy to look up from their day to day struggles against the tide, to look up, and see that horizon again.

I don’t know where the Occupy movement is going to go. It seems to change and swell bigger by the day, though it could have an upper limit, I suppose. But if this truly is the moment where the American people reach the tipping point, if this is the straw that, finally, after 30 years of straws, breaks the camel’s back, then maybe we can make the changes without the economic crash that I have been foreseeing for years. That crash (which will make 2008 look like cakewalk) could still be coming. But if we organize enough in advance, if we can offer an alternative to the American people now, perhaps we will not lose a decade like they did in the Great Depression. After all, we have history to inform us how best to rebuild the American middle class and spread prosperity around to everyone.

So, occupy on! There may not be an immediate result, but it could offer a long term solution. Hats off to the most powerless among us.

“People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” - V

August 18, 2010

Advice to Doherty: Secure Donor Credit Card Info (Updated)

by at 7:40 pm.

Something I noticed out of the corner of my eye while researching my last post, but didn’t have time to delve into deeply, is the fact that Chris Doherty’s donation page does not appear to have an SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate indicator. The donor page asks for your full information, including all credit card info, and claims at the top that “This is a secure page” with a padlock image, but what is more important than easily made in-page claims, is the missing padlock you should be finding on the bottom bar of your browser when you hit that page.

The donation form itself is in an iframe - embedding code from another site, the URL of which is:
http://secure.sage-systems.com/cms/chrisdoherty/?l=donate

But just because “secure” is in the subdomain of the page being pulled, it does not mean security. That page URL also does not have the “https” prefix - https indicates a secure URL. The form script appears to resubmit to itself via relative URL (web talk for using the same prefix and domain).

Curious, I put my IT husband on the case, and he used what’s known as a “packet sniffer” - software that monitors the pieces of information, called packets, that are sent to and fro whenever you submit something and then receive something through the web (or rather, through a network then the web). An encrypted (SSL) packet is indecipherable via packet sniffer. However, the test data that we submitted through the form on that page was perfectly intact in the packet sniffer. That means a knowledgeable computer person (with malicious intent) can, particularly if you are on say, an unsecured network at a coffee shop or library, grab 100% of your credit card information, everything that person needs to use the card themselves online (including the CVV, address, name, and expiration date).

If I were Chris Doherty, I would be really pissed off at my web design firm. This is a terribly amateur mistake that could compromise the personal information of donors. And it needs to be fixed ASAP.

UPDATE: Looking at the code for the page now, the iframe now links to “https://secure.sage-systems.com/cms/chrisdoherty/?l=donate” which appears to be a secure site (the certificate doesn’t name ownership info, but it at least has SSL).

This means the parent page (the contribute page) itself does not have SSL, but the transaction should be secure. It’s not how I would set it up - in that people do look for that padlock on the bottom bar when they are on a page asking for credit information, and it will not appear there, but it should be secure. I don’t have a packet sniffer here with me so I can’t check it but my guess is it’s encrypted. So good on the web updater for getting to it quickly. Still, pretty rookie move…

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