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Customization and Expansion

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Customization and Expansion

AmphetaDesk's powerful backend allows easy modification to the templates and internal source code shipped with your download, whether you're on Mac, Windows, Linux or some unheard of beast from limitless fathoms. Know someone else who tweaked their AmphetaDesk? You can perform the same tweaks on your own, gaining flexibility and control, allowing AmphetaDesk to be all you want and need it to be. Here, we'll talk about various ways of improving your use of AmphetaDesk, as well as walking you through what others have done already.

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Also Known As: blog client, blog reader, news reader, feed reader

Common Misspellings: agregator, aggreggator

Examples: Feedreader is a Windows-only desktop/software aggregator.

By Cynthia L. Webb Staff Writer

Thursday, July 8, 2004; 2:01 PM

What makes terrorists tick? What effect is the constant threat of new terrorist attacks having on American society? If another attack happens, how will people react?

Answering those questions will be the job of a newly envisioned Homeland Security Center of Excellence. The Department of Homeland Security this week called on academia to submit ideas for creating the new terrorism research center, which will be funded with a three-year grant worth $12 million.

The winning school will become the DHS's fourth Center of Excellence. The DHS's other centers are at the University of Southern California, where the focus is on risk and economic analysis of terrorism events; the University of Minnesota National Center, which conducts research on protecting the food supply; and Texas A&M University, where the National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense is located.

DHS hopes scientists can help develop ideas and technology to ward off new terrorist attacks. "In every area of human endeavor, research and development is the engine that drives our nation to a better and brighter future," DHS Secretary Tom Ridge said in prepared remarks Tuesday. "We are relying on everyone in the entire academic community -- and especially at our Centers for Excellence -- to boost our efforts to develop an enduring national research capability in homeland protection."

The DHS issued a so-called broad agency announcement describing the new effort. The agency wants a letter of intent from applicants by July 30 and proposals by Sept. 30. Proposals can be submitted to a special Web site --

Homeland Security is inviting "eligible institutions, partners, and groups of investigators to form consortia capable of mounting a sustained and innovative research and education effort in the specific area of behavioral and social aspects of terrorism and counter-terrorism." More on what the department is looking for: The "outcomes derived from the research and education of this center should emphasize applications related to domestic security while reflecting on the international context of terrorism. Further, approaches to develop the future intellectual capital and workforce necessary to respond to the challenges raised in this [announcement] should be broadly integrated across all lines of research."

Federal Computer Week, one of the few publications to cover DHS's plans, excerpted parts of the announcement that focused on technology needs for the terrorism studies. The DHS is looking for "statistical and computational modeling that incorporates geospatial, cultural, linguistic and political data to detect, prevent, prepare for and respond to terrorist activity at the earliest possible point in time, as well as scenario-driven behavioral models describing potential nodes of intervention with individuals and groups' domestic and international, according to the department's notice. The notice states that researchers should consider users, privacy issues, new technologies, new operational procedures and changing organizational structures."

The Minnesota Center

Ridge said the University of Minnesota will get $15 million for its research on food security. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "[r]esearch will range from devising ways to detect dangerous substances in food to mapping how food gets from the farmfield to the consumer and who handles it along the way. Up to 90 investigators at the university and other schools as well as outside experts and people in food companies will be involved in the work." The Associated Press noted that "[m]ajor educational partners in the Minnesota grant are Michigan State University, North Dakota State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Faculty members at other universities also are involved."

The University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy issued its own announcement; the DHS also has a fact sheet on the food safety program.

Congress Weighing in on DHS Agenda

Back in Washington, lawmakers are drafting the first-ever authorization bill for Homeland Security -- legislation that outlines the scope of the agency's responsibilities and how various programs are managed. But work on the legislation has been slow going: "[A] review of the measure found that months of negotiations between Homeland Security Chairman Christopher Cox, R-Calif., and ranking member Jim Turner, D-Texas, failed to produce compromises on several issues," National Journal's Congress Daily reported. "Cox and Turner did reach agreement on language for overall management of the department as well as certain cybersecurity, science and technology, intelligence, border security and emergency preparedness provisions." The bill also "includes several technology provisions, including language to elevate cybersecurity activities at the department to garner more attention and resources to cyber threats as well as a new geospatial data program and public safety interoperability initiative," the article said.

Software being tested on the Gulf Coast could further the effort in helping agencies share information," said state Attorney General Jim Hood. The software can link local law enforcement agencies with court systems and will allow police to immediately check if a person has warrants in other counties," the paper said. But check out this is a sobering (and hard to believe) fact from the Associated Press: According to Worthington, only 45 of Mississippi's 82 sheriff's departments have computers.

Immigration Unit Eyes IT Upgrade

In other DHS technology news, Government Computer News reported that the department is requesting information from vendors to overhaul the immigration processing system "using outsourced services and data mining. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the arm of DHS' Border and Transportation Security directorate that handles immigration status changes, is in line for a complete systems overhaul under the request for information issued to vendors last month." The request said the current system "consists of nonstandard, outdated infrastructure supporting more than 60 minimally integrated applications, is batch-processing-oriented, and makes limited use of Web tools and applicant self-service. Programs still rely on handling significant volumes of paper, and current systems do not support improved business processes," according to GCN. The article has a link to the procurement document from the DHS.

L-3 Lands DHS Award

The government services unit of L-3 Communications is getting a healthy chunk of the U.S. Visit contract to do some key information technology work on the project. (For background, see the June 3 Government IT Review.) "The company has been awarded a contract worth as much as $107.9 million to maintain the US-Visit monitoring equipment. The work supports a much larger contract the Department of Homeland Security awarded earlier this year to Accenture to design and develop a system to keep track of foreign visitors to the United States using cutting-edge technology, including biometrics. That contract is worth up to $10 billion, and it will likely be the biggest government IT contract awarded this year," Washington Business Journal explained.

Washington Technology reported that "L-3's Government Services Inc. will provide technical support for biometric workstations that will be used to verify the identities of nonimmigrant visa-holders as they leave the United States. The company will provide this service at all U.S. airports and seaports with international departures." See L-3's press release here.

A Win for E-Voting Reformers

A federal court on Wednesday sided with California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley in a dispute between Shelley and several California counties over his tough new rules for e-voting machines. "The ruling freezes a bid by four California counties and the American Association of People with Disabilities to avoid having to find alternatives to their electronic voting systems come the November presidential elections," CNET's reported.

According to the Associated Press, "Shelley ... called anew Wednesday for stronger measures after a federal judge in Los Angeles upheld his actions. His office also announced that more than half the counties affected by the conditional ban have agreed to new rules allowing them to use their machines. Napa County became the newest this week."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation applauded the ruling: "This decision is a landmark," EFF legal director Cindy Cohn said in a statement. "The court said -- in clear, unambiguous terms -- that requiring a paper trail for e-voting machines is consistent with the 'obligation to assure the accuracy of election results.' That's an enormous victory for secure elections."

Shelley's office posted an announcement on its Web site (PDF) that includes a copy of the court's ruling.

E-Voting Around the Nation

Washington state is taking cues from California. Secretary of State Sam Reed said Wednesday that e-voting machines will be required to produce a paper trail by 2006. "Snohomish and Yakima are the only two Washington counties that will use electronic machines at all their polling places this fall. But to prepare for 2006, when all counties will be required to use at least some touch-screen voting machine, or similar technology, Reed said he has adopted a new policy requiring that electronic voting systems provide a voter-verified paper audit trail. The policy also calls for more frequent testing of voting equipment and intensive training of poll workers," the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported. Read The Seattle Times coverage as well.

Voting in Florida will be closely watched this November, given the pivotal role the state played in the 2000 election. The state's elections officials are still concerned about a software problem with e-voting machines, Fox News reported today. "Last year, a Miami-Dade elections employee discovered that weak batteries caused the voting machines to jumble serial numbers -- a serious technical blip that officials say could delay an audit of all votes if there's another close election as there was in 2000." According to The Miami Herald, "election officials in Miami-Dade County on Tuesday began testing new electronic voting machine software designed to correct a glitch in the equipment's ability to audit election results. They expect to know by Thursday if the software is ready to be certified by the state in time for the Aug. 31 primary election."

A three-judge federal appeals court panel hammered home that point last week when it ruled 2 to 1 that e-mail service providers can copy and read messages intended for their customers.

Under the ruling, issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in Massachusetts, businesses and the U.S. government have more legal latitude to monitor private e-mail correspondence than ever before. The ruling allows the government to use search warrants to read e-mail correspondence rather seek a judge's permission for a wiretap, which is more difficult to get. No surprise, civil liberties groups like the Electronic Privacy Information Center say this ruling will erode U.S. privacy rights.

The case concerned former e-mail service provider and out-of-print bookseller Interloc Inc., whose vice president told the company's engineers in early 1998 to copy and store incoming mail from The U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston charged the company with violating wiretap and communications intercept laws, but the appeals court ruled that the company did this legally because the e-mail messages were stored in the company's servers.

Some of the nation's largest Internet service providers, including America Online, EarthLink, Comcast and Yahoo, said that they only disclose personal information under requests from law enforcement authorities and that they do not read their customers' e-mail messages.

Blogger's Delight

The Internet's blogging contingent couldn't be less concerned about keeping their online ruminations private. Political bloggers of all stripes will be happy for any eyes that cross their Web pages now that they will be admitted for the first time to the Democratic and Republican conventions this summer.

The Kerry campaign said it will give a select group of bloggers the same access that journalists get when the convention begins on July 26. A spokesman for the campaign said that the blog's popularity, professionalism and amount of original material will play top roles in deciding which bloggers get in. A Bush-Cheney spokesman said the campaign is still working out the details for its blog accreditation at the convention, which kicks off in late August.

Sowing the Seeds of Cinema

He knows Capitol Hill. His kid's a Hollywood producer, and he's not afraid to get a little dirt on his hands. Dan Glickman -- former Kansas Congressman and Agriculture Secretary under President Clinton -- will take his place at the pinnacle of the Washington lobbying community when he assumes control of the Motion Picture Association of America. Glickman will take over from Jack Valenti, who served 38 years as the D.C. voice of Hollywood's biggest studios.

Glickman still feels a little green on his knowledge of the anti-piracy measures the MPAA supports in Congress, and plans to take a few months to "get up to speed" on the topic. He said, however, that it is not enough for the intellectual property community to focus solely on punishing movie and music pirates. He said education and new business models for the entertainment industry also are necessary to deter illegal downloading.

The Patchman Cometh

This is not a rerun: Microsoft Corp. released a new patch to plug a hole in its Internet Explorer browser that leaves people's computers open to attacks by hackers. The hole, first reported last week, allowed online thieves to steal computer passwords and private data such as bank account numbers. The patch does not fix the problem, instead it turns off the function inside Internet Explorer that contains the flaw. Microsoft is working on another patch to repair the hole.

-- Robert MacMillan, Tech Policy Editor

The court ruled that because e-mail is stored, even momentarily, in computers before it is routed to recipients, it is not subject to laws that apply to eavesdropping of telephone calls, which are continuously in transit. As a result, the majority said, companies or employers that own the computers are free to intercept messages before they are received by customers.

"This puts all of our electronic communication in jeopardy if this decision isn't reversed." said Jerry Berman, head of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a public interest policy group.

Peter B. Swire, an Ohio State University law professor who was a privacy adviser in the Clinton administration, said the ruling means that an e-mail provider "can intercept all your e-mail with impunity, and can read them and use them for its own business purposes."

Large companies that dominate e-mail services were quick to disclaim any desire to read their customers' e-mail. America Online, Microsoft Corp., EarthLink Inc., Comcast Corp. and Yahoo Inc. have policies governing their terms of service that generally state that they do not read customers' mail or disclose personal information unless required by law enforcement agencies.

"AOL does not monitor or intercept member communications, in accordance with AOL's privacy policy and terms of service," said Nicholas J. Graham, a company spokesman.

EarthLink spokeswoman Carla Shaw said the company does not "retain copies of e-mails, and we don't read individual e-mails."

But a small online company that sold out-of-print book lists did just that, sparking the case decided Tuesday by the appeals court. The now-defunct firm, Interloc Inc., also provided e-mail service to its members.

In January 1998, according to prosecutors, an Interloc vice president, Bradford C. Councilman, directed the firm's engineers to make copies of all incoming mail to its members from Inc., which also sells books.

The government charged that the company, which was later acquired by a California firm, wanted to get an idea of Amazon's book-selling strategy.

Prosecutors charged Councilman with gathering thousands of messages in violation of laws governing interception of wire, oral or electronic communications.

Councilman appealed, claiming that laws prohibiting interception did not apply because the messages were stored as a part of delivery to customers.

Andrew Good, Councilman's lawyer, declined to comment on his client's motives. But Good said no one ever complained about the practice and that the case resulted from a tip in an unrelated investigation.

Good said the decision mirrors other rulings that give employers and companies broad rights over e-mail stored in their systems.

In upholding a lower court decision, the appeals panel majority said Congress intended for "any temporary, intermediate storage" of communication to be governed by laws other than those involving wiretapping or other interception. The court rejected the government's argument that if communication is being transmitted and stored simultaneously, it is protected by interception laws.

"We believe that the language of the statute makes clear that Congress meant to give lesser protection to electronic communications than wire and oral communication," the court said. The judges acknowledged, however, that the wiretap law may now be outdated given advances in technology.

In dissent, Judge Kermit V. Lipez said the majority misread the law and that the ruling "will have far-reaching effects on personal privacy and security."

Like several privacy advocates, the judge raised particular alarm over what the decision might mean for the ability of law-enforcement to monitor e-mail.

Based on the court's ruling, law enforcement officers would need only a search warrant to gain access to e-mail before it reaches its recipient, instead of a wiretap order, which can be far harder to obtain.

The decision, Lipez said, "would undo decades of practice and precedent regarding the scope of the Wiretap Act and would essentially render the Act irrelevant to the protection of wire and electronic privacy."

In other legal cases, courts have treated temporary storage of electronic material differently. Swire said disputes have arisen over whether Internet service providers are liable when their customers have illegally copied music or other works on their systems, thus temporarily storing them on the ISP's networks. Courts have found no such liability, he said.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Boston, which prosecuted the case, declined to comment on the decision.

An appeal of the case could put the office at odds with the FBI, which has been pushing Congress and the Federal Communications Commission for greater flexibility to monitor Internet communications.

"This decision makes clear that the law has failed to adapt to the realities of Internet communications and must be updated to protect online privacy," said Kevin Bankston, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocacy group.

The Democratic Party plans to give media credentials to a select group of bloggers who want to cover the event, where Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) is expected to accept his party's presidential nomination. The group has not announced which bloggers might get the passes, but that information will come in the "next few weeks," an event spokeswoman said. The convention begins July 26.

But officials said whoever gets credentials will have the same opportunities to cover the four-day event that journalists enjoy. "We want to treat them just the same as other reporters," said Mike Liddell, the convention's director of online communications. "We're even planning to do a breakfast for them the first day of the convention."

The Republican Party recently decided that it will also give bloggers credentials for its convention later this summer. A spokesman for the event said it is still working out details.

The Web sites, which are essentially online journals, have become a prominent campaign tool this election season -- ever since former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean's official blog caught on. Since then, scores of other candidates have developed similar sites. Some candidates have begun advertising on other independent blogs -- especially sites that feature commentaries, usually partisan, on the political news of the day.

But neither party has ever allowed bloggers to cover one of its presidential conventions firsthand -- and the decision seems to promise a clash of two very different cultures. The conventions have become carefully staged productions intended, primarily, to reintroduce the parties' nominees to the general public. Independent blogs -- especially those focusing on politics -- are far more freewheeling, their authors mixing fact with opinion and under no obligation to be either fair or accurate.

Joe Trippi, former campaign manager for Dean's campaign, said he supports the decision but that it presents some risk to the Democrats. He said many bloggers are more liberal than Kerry -- and may feel free to vent their frustration with the candidate if, for example, he presents himself at the convention as a centrist.

"They're much tougher, I think, from an ideological bent than mainstream press," Trippi said. "You're not going to take any flak from the mainstream press for tacking to the center on a given issue."

But he and other Democrats said the plan also gives the party a chance to reach a larger audience. Although television networks have cut back on their coverage of the conventions -- saying they yield little news -- some bloggers have attracted sizable audiences. Lina Garcia, a spokeswoman for the convention, said she hopes the bloggers will help the party reach young people. "A lot of young people blog now, and they're important to us," she said.

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, a Berkeley, Calif.-based lawyer who runs one of the most popular liberal blogs -- -- predicted that many bloggers will beam a reliably pro-Democratic message back to their readers. "We're all partisan. We don't pretend to be otherwise and would not be constrained by bounds of having to balance out what we write with the other side," he said. "So it's a much more direct way to get out the party's message to its constituents and potential constituents."

It is not clear how the Democratic Party will decide among the more than 60 bloggers who have applied for credentials. Convention officials said they are considering three criteria: the size of the blogger's audience, the "professionalism" of the site and the amount of original material it includes. It is subjective and a little vague. But then again, Liddell said, no one has tried this before. "We don't have a guide to go by," he said.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Hollywood and Politics

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