Well that's an anachronism, and no mistake

I'm installing the beta of Office 2010 (solves my problem of not being able to get a decent, gratis office suite, at least until November of next year). Check out the icon for the installer though - anachronistic in so many ways ... 16 bit colour, CRT monitor, boxed software, floppy disks (I mean, c'mon, FLOPPY DISKS?). I know its a standard, long running installer icon, but you'd think they could have found a more modern one. Just saying.

Little annoyances in Java

I have a couple proposals for some syntactic sugar in Java, that fix a bunch of minor annoyances.

  1. Make Map iterable.
    That is, Map<K,V> should extend Iterable<Map.Entry<K,V>>, such that Map.iterator() behaves exactly like Map.entrySet().iterator() - it would save the extra ".entrySet()" in all those for-each loops, as well as making it easier to switch data structures from a List or Set to a Map.

  2. Speaking of for-each loops, they should check for null in their iterable part. It lets you replace this code:
    Iterable<E> collection = methodThatMayReturnNull();
    if (collection != null) {
    for (E element : collection) {
    //do stuff ...
    with this, which seems to be sensible and much cleaner:
    for (E element : methodThatMayReturnNull()) {
    //do stuff ...


Because that makes everything better ...

A snippet from an article on browser market share:

Microsoft’s [share of the browser market] has continued to decline, to 66 percent from 72, though it argues that most of that loss has been on computers that don’t readily support Internet Explorer, like those from Apple

So a 6% market loss for IE isn't that bad, because most of that comes from computers that don't run IE (or, put another way, computers that don't run Microsoft Windows). I'm sure they're thrilled with that excuse.


Google Chrome "OS"

Well, Google is coming out with another operating system. I don't think Microsoft should be worried quite yet though. Basically, as I read it, their new OS is basically just Chrome dropped on top of a minimal Linux kernel, optimized for quick boot times. All the "programs" will run off the web. Its actually not a terrible idea, but it will be fairly limited in terms of functionality - effectively a thin client for webapps. I can see it taking off on netbooks, but not much else. If you're someone with multiple computers, it might work for you - Google's services for email, feed reading, etc. may not have as many features as desktop clients, but the ability to have them automatically set up, synchronized, and available from any computer with a web connection is a major win. There are plenty of games online, and a few decent web clients for instant messaging. About the only type of program I can't see this really replacing is a media jukebox. There's always YouTube, and plenty of music streaming sites (even legit ones), but, to as best as I can understand Chrome OS from the limited information available, won't likely be able to take advantage of anything (like music) stored on a local hard drive - in fact, Chrome OS systems likely won't have a local hard drive beyond a small, fast SSD for the system files and browser temporary files - I think we'll see some thin, light netbooks, with ridiculously long battery life, but the trade off will be that all their applications will depend on a web connection - they'll be "thin clients", in multiple senses of the phrase (I think I'll call them "webbooks" - lets see if it catches on). Very interesting.



I've noticed something - the prefix "neo-" (meaning "new") is often added to political/sociological views with a pejorative connotation ("neo-conservative" would be the canonical example of this phenomenon, but I'm sure you could think of others). Whatever happened to the Matrix, where Neo was wicked cool? I'm declaring myself a neo-neoist ("one dedicated to putting a positive connotation on the prefix 'neo-'"). I've done a Google search, and there's some guy with a blog called "neoneoism", but I don't think the name is otherwise taken. Due to this, I've declared myself Grand Oracle of neo-neoism, and am accepting applications for lackeys.

Ok folks, show's over - that's my random wackiness for tonight. Peace.


A new model for browser extensions

I'll open with my standard disclaimer: I haven't investigated this in any detail, nor do I have any experience developing browser extensions. That said, this is a blog - rampant, uneducated speculation is my speciality.

Mozilla is releasing a new extensions framework named "Jetpack". The main feature of this API is that installing an extension would not require a browser restart. Now, its still in early beta, and the security framework hasn't been completed yet, but, if I may speculate, this may be a useful model for browser extensions. The main thing that catches my attention is that this appears to be an API of some sort - if I understand the current extensions model correctly, they basically work as patches to the browser, re-writing chunks of its code. (The last sentence implies that Jetpack will deprecate the current extensions model - as well as I can tell, that is not the case.) Now, back to this being an API - instant install/uninstall (I assume) is nice - a good security model is a must have - but, beyond that, I could see other browsers implementing Jetpack. Firefox is great, and I love its customization options, fair desktop integration, and good rendering - but it is a bit heavyweight - some of the webkit browsers coming up show promise, but the customization is a bit lacking - this could be a useful common ground. Just saying.


I am not a beta tester

Operating system stats: Windows 7: 0.41% market share, Linux: 1% market share. Win 7 isn't even gold master yet. (Windows 2000 has 1.2% - its coming up on a decade old ...) This is not the year of the Linux desktop. Nor is that year in the foreseeable future. Sorry, Linux fans, y'all come back now.


Opinion: yes. Knowledge: no. Ahh, the blogosphere!

So, as the title suggests, I know nothing about royal protocol, or naming horses. Still, reading this article that talked about the Queen being given a horse renamed George (after her grandfather), it occured to me that I would likely be slightly insulted if someone gave me an animal named after a member of my family. Just saying.



Here's the final sentence of an article about the recent Google failure:
I can only hope that Google, Amazon, and others notice what a difference it can make to treat their valued customers like valued customers -- and, little by little, move toward becoming even more open and honest with us all in the future.

One minor nit - we are not Google's customers. We are Google's product - its customers are advertisers (They pay Google's bills, we don't).


Let's Call it Bob Launches PC World Killer

One of my pet peeves is new product X is announced in a category where product Y is predominant, and the headline reads "Y killer X announced". (PC World is especially bad for this.) Thing is, X rarely ever kills Y - no matter how much endless hype it gets. Sometimes X isn't even meant to kill Y - they're designed to solve different problems, and fill different niches (The columnists hyping X are always disappointed later when it doesn't kill Y like they said it would - obviously they know better than X's makers what it was supposed to become). To anyone who disagrees with me here, please announce Let's Call it Bob as a Z killer in whatever medium you have access to, where Z is your favourite website - obviously, because its on the Internet, and has content, it can replace any news or opinion site, and the availability of comments makes it capable of killing any social networking site.

Thank you very much for reading tonight - we now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.


Apparently I'm blogging again ...

One more thing - a couple excerpts from a CBC news bulletin about a family who lost their house because their barbecue blew up:

The family had been cooking steaks on an outdoor barbecue and they were inside when it exploded.

Doug Hamer, the Riverview Fire Rescue chief, said the family members escaped, but didn't even have time to get their shoes on.

"The whole second floor is burned off it. There's fire damage on every floor of the house," Hamer said.


The Riverview firefighter said it was a good thing the family was inside when the explosion happened.

Later in the article:

"And any items like that shouldn't be left unattended. It's not a good habit to put your cookables on and walk away."

I see the general case there, but wouldn't someone be dead if they'd been standing beside that barbecue when it blew up? (Ok, Ok, the reports from the neighbours said there was a fog (I'd assume propane) that formed around the BBQ beforehand, but if that hadn't been noticed, or just mistaken for more smoke?)

Ham Radio Will Never Die

I am not a ham radio operator. I have never seen one outside of movies. I would not know what to do with one if it was handed to me. But ham radio will never die. If I remember rightly, it played a big role in Katrina cleanup, and just today I saw this story, about the recent cable cuts and subsequent Internet outage in LA:
Even worse, the vandalism affected the local police, fire, and ambulance services, as well as making it virtually impossible for tens of thousands of people to call these services in case of an emergency. (Local ham-radio operators jumped into action, fortunately, becoming a key communications medium between first-responder services and setting up way stations at strategic locations for people who might be experiencing an emergency.)
Computer tech is too complicated - it depends on too many things - even I, a half-trained computer scientist, would be basically useless if forced to try and get something working on 40-year-old computer systems - I just don't know how things work at the low level (that to be rectified somewhat in this summer's classes). Internet, take this as your warning.

How to solve AI: Hire 10,000 spammers to do it for you

I laughed out loud when I saw this article - its a brilliant idea. CAPTCHAs (the funky distorted text that proves you're human to various websites) have made spammers highly motivated to solve optical character recognition (OCR) problems - there's apparently a $500,000 prize to break the latest state of the art. And, if that Artificial Intelligence problem is broken, well, there are plenty of other ones to solve - anything that a human can do that a computer can't is both a good basis for next-gen CAPTCHAs (using images, maybe), and an unsolved AI problem.


That line in the sand

Chris Walley, over at News from Farholme (check out his Lamb Among the Stars series as well - its pretty awesome) just put up a post about how, in many areas of life, we draw a line in the sand, and keep thinking everything is ok, as long as that line isn't crossed, and we live with our heads in the sand sometimes (yes, I know, that's one sand metaphor too many - Dr. Walley is a professional author, I am not). Here's an excerpt:
In a complex world it is easy over issues of concern to mark a line in the sand at some particular point. You turn your attention elsewhere, constantly glancing back at your line in the sand and, as long as it remains untouched, you conclude that all is well. So, for example, I consider that everything is all right as long as I can walk down to the city centre in daylight without being mugged. There are many such benchmarks in society and in our lives. Indeed I suspect almost all our public and private morality is composed of a series of such benchmarks.


Linux Foundation Attempts to Displace FAT

An interesting idea - that won't work. The Linux Foundation wants the industry to move to an open format for storage devices, rather than Microsoft's proprietary (and outdated) FAT. Which would work great - if Windows didn't run on ~95% of consumer desktops. You need Microsoft on board to switch USB drives, etc., off FAT. Microsoft earns royalty money off of FAT, and can use it as a lever to get smaller companies to pay them. Microsoft thus has no incentive to support anything but their own proprietary file systems in the Windows client. It'd be nice, but it won't happen - you give an 800lb gorilla whatever it wants, and Microsoft is definitely an 800lb gorilla.


Ban Bloated Browser Bobbles

My first rule for computer user interfaces is "All the data and controls I want should be immediately available - nothing else should be taking up space". Its corollary is "Screen real-estate is the most valuable commodity on a computer - there will be more of everything else next year". With those principles in mind, I recently set out to trim the fat from my Firefox 3 UI, and found some pretty decent extensions, hacks, and tweaks.
  1. Ditch the Search Box:
    I know, this sounds crazy, right - isn't the search box one of the most useful parts of Firefox? It is, but I can do you one better. Google Chrome, and the Linux-based browsers Epiphany and Konqueror have the capability to assign a search engine a keyword ("g" for Google, for instance), so that you can type, say "g Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" into the address bar, and it will search Google for "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog". Little-known fact: Firefox does this too - just right-click on any search box and choose "Add a keyword for this search ..." in the pop-up menu - do this for every search in your search box, and you don't need the search box anymore, you can just use the address bar.

  2. Ditch the Menu Bar:
    Tell me, how often do you actually use any of the menus in Firefox? The awesome bar has replaced even bookmarks for me. So, to get rid of my space-hogging menu bar, and condense it to a nice tidy dropdown icon, I installed the Personal Menu extension - its dead useful, and, if you do happen to use the Bookmarks or History menus, you can give them their own separate icons. (You can also move your remaining buttons and controls up to the menu bar from the nav toolbar, to save more screen space)

  3. Get rid of Disabled Buttons:
    This one is a bit trickier, but will save even more space. Isn't it annoying to have a greyed-out buttons sitting in your nav bar? Well, you can tweak the userChrome.css file in the chrome/ subfolder of your Firefox profile folder (instructions to find it here) - adding the following lines will remove the forward, reload, and stop buttons when they wouldn't do anything anyway:
    #forward-button[disabled="true"] { display: none !important;}
    #stop-button[disabled="true"] { display:none !important; }
    #reload-button[disabled="true"] { display:none !important; }

    If you're like me, and never use the forward button anyway (the drop-down menu will replicate its function any time you'd want it), the following line will remove it all the time: #forward-button { display: none !important;}

    Just restart Firefox, and the userChrome.css tweaks will be put into effect (and I have no idea how removing the forward button will look on Windows or Mac - it looks fine on Linux, just switch operating systems (or I suppose you could find a new theme ...))

Well, that's my bag of tricks for today - anything I missed? (Also, I have Firefox set to automatically re-open my tabs from last time on launch, but, on the rare occasions when I use a homepage, does anyone know a good extension to get one like Google Chrome?)


Cool ... wait a second ... ?!?

I just finished a good book - it has a neat view of what the world could be like in 30 years. I might have blogged about it before (my Google-fu says nay), but its a really well worth reading - there are some interesting, plausible ideas about the future of society, the environment, and the net. Then I got to the end of the book, where the author is writing his notes about writing a 50-year forward projection, and talking about the end of the Cold War as a current event ... wait a second. A check of the front cover reveals that it was published in 1990 - that's right - we're nearly halfway into the future depicted there, and its still a reasonable idea of what the future will look like. I would definitely recommend reading it if you get the chance - available on Amazon or possibly your local public library (they're wonderful places, incidentally - they even have music and movies nowadays).

And did you really think I'd reccommend a book without mentioning the title or author? Earth, by David Brin, is what you're looking for.


Ramen-men from outer space

I just had an idea for a B-grade (C-grade ?) sci-fi movie - Hungry giant space aliens want to cook some ramen noodles, using Earth's oceans as their boiling pot. Now back to your regularly scheduled programing - Peace.


Now THAT'S Power

President Obama changed rush hour.

Admittedly, only for one day, but still, that's something. He was in Ottawa today, and his motorcade was driving from the Ottawa airport up to Parliament - a route that more or less bisects the city. This wasn't a major inconvenience this morning (I think) as most of the road closures were effected after the morning rush hour. But, his return trip (around 4 in the afternoon, I think), changed traffic. With the city more or less carved in two, everyone was leaving work early (myself included - don't worry, someone about three levels up the org chart from me authorized it - I wasn't playing hooky) - I left work at 3, and still had to ask an RCMP officer for permission to cross the street, and it was rush hour traffic for my entire trip home, well before one would expect rush hour to be. (I'd hate to imagine the security when Bush went to Iraq (and still got shoes thrown at him) - this was a visit to an allied capital, where Obama is popular). So, the President of the United States can change rush hour for a city of 1 000 000, simply by his presence. That's power. (And no, I didn't see the motorcade - missed it both times - though its got to be weird not to hear helicopters all the time after you retire from the Presidency)

Web Standards Incompatibility

So, Microsoft has released version 1 of a list of websites that won't run in "super-standards" mode in IE 8. Some highlights:

And, my personal favourites:

There were a pile more, some of similar calibre - I didn't bother scanning the whole list myself (there were a thousand or so). I suspect a lot of these were the sites making fixes for older, less standards-compliant versions of IE, in which case they'd be fixed shortly. But still, a bit crazy.


An Ode to Paper

The Gmail developers put up an interesting blog post today - talking about how they were trying to beat paper with their new Tasks widget for iPhone. They cite the following advantages for paper:

  • Easy editing. Cross out with pen and write something new.
  • Works offline. You can read paper even when your PC is not connected to the internet.
  • Mobile. Fold paper and stick in pocket.
  • Instant boot up. Just pull paper out of pocket -- don't have to wait for it to load.
I can add one more: its cheap - a fraction of a percentage of the cost of iPhone and data plan - I carry a pad of paper and a pen with me at all times, in addition to my (very basic) Palm PDA. Long Live Paper!


Linux will beat Microsoft, because Microsoft builds software for techies

No, I haven't gone insane ... it was in an opinion piece by a software consultant I read (somewhat worth reading) - his main point was that Microsoft was alienating customers with their new UI's, and that if people have to change user interfaces, why not change OS's (OpenOffice.org spends a lot of effort emulating Microsoft Office's UI, and the default Linux desktop on a lot of distros looks awfully similar to Windows (on a surface level, at least). Here's a quote from the article:

When the time comes that Windows XP can no longer be pre-installed on new computers, Macs and Linux will both benefit, of course. How much? I can't wait to see. If someone has to learn a new operating system, they may as well do it on a system that's immune to most malicious software. I hear that the tech support from Apple is terrific, certainly the price on Linux can't be beat. And they can both run Open Office.

As techies, Microsoft builds software for techies. It's only natural. But, they may become irrelevant as normal people look elsewhere.

The Obama Inauguration

So, like half the other politicians, political pundits, and armchair statecraft enthusiasts on the planet (likely), I'm putting a post up about the Obama Inauguration (I haven't checked yet - why waste an opportunity to talk about something I'm completely unqualified for by doing research :-) ). A few of the people at work had CNN on at lunch, so I joined them and watched President Obama's swearing in and speech. He was obviously nervous (he fumbled twice during the swearing in, though I think the first time was the other guy's fault), though it didn't show on his face. His speech, IMHO, was good, but not great. It was eloquent, well delivered, and seemed to balance realism with inspiration fairly well, but nothing really stood out. (Well, besides the parts where my Canadian background snickered at the American-ness of parts of it - this inbuilt assumption that America is naturally a world leader, and needs to return to that state.) I think it set a good tone for his presidency, and he does look like he'll do, at the very least, a competant job, especially given the conditions he's been dealt. However, I think those who are expecting Obama to save America, and singlehandedly fix everything will be sorely disappointed. He's only human. His speech, though very applicable now, will likely not be remembered in 10 years - schoolchildren will not be memorizing it for decades to come, and, if I can measure a President by his inaugural speech (why not, this is the blogosphere), I think that while he may be what America needs now, he won't be very much noted a generation from now.