On Firefox’s rapid-release cycle fiasco Wednesday, Jul 13 2011 

Now playing: ♫ Summer Son — Texas

As mentioned in this PC World article, Firefox is on a rapid-release cycle that I personally find alarming.  I just upgraded to 5.0 last week and already 6.0 is in beta, 7 is in Aurora, and 8 is in trunk.  The major issue here isn’t so much the version number jumping, as they could be looked at 5.1, 5.2, etc. just as easily.  The major issue is that this is going to alienate much more than just enterprise users.  However, as someone who works in what some would consider an “enterprise”, I can tell you that my employer’s IT department is not at all happy about having to test all these new versions so often.  We’re often the first to adopt new versions of technology (we even have linux 3.0-rc5 pilot servers); however, a Web browser is often one of the hardest softwares to test, simply because of the amount of corner cases you can find in it.

The focus of Firefox is supposedly on the consumer.  These home users, or as they so eloquently phrase it, “individuals”, do not adapt to change.  This is why there are still people out there running Internet Explorer 6 on Windows 2000.  The especially obnoxious way that Firefox 4.0+ notify you of updates by displaying a large modal window every few hours, combined with the overwhelming amount of large updates coming in the next few months that will disrupt add-ons and change the UI in ways that will likely make more than a few people upset, will leave Firefox alienating a lot of home users.

Additionally, and as I’m not on the Firefox dev team you may take this with a grain of salt, it seems that shoving multiple major releases out the door in a matter of months is as big a mistake with testing and QA as it is with user satisfaction.  You can say that “release early, release often” is a staple of the open-source development model, but I don’t see Linus Torvalds readying the linux-5.0 tag any time soon.  Just because you are open-source does not mean you have to push out major release milestones every month.  No amount of programmers can work that long, and that hard, on that many revisions without there being cracks in the mould somewhere.

I’m not sure which browser is sitting in the best spot to take over Firefox’s share if it indeed does fall from its current place as one of the primary leaders of the Web.  Perhaps IE9 with its (broken but present) HTML5 support, or Safari 5 with its performant JavaScript engine.  All I know is that the browser I depend on for most if not all of my graphical Web browsing is seemingly becoming less dependable.

On iCloud Thursday, Jun 9 2011 

Now playing: ♫ Set Me on Fire — Pendulum

I was recently emailed an article from the Telegraph about the forthcoming cloud services from Apple, iCloud.  The subject read “Is it safe?” and the portion of the article I’m going to respond to is quoted here for convenience.

With iCloud, Apple has cut the cord. It’s not a company that sells computers, or even mobile phones. It’s a company that wants to be so helpful for every single aspect of your personal life, your work, your entertainment, and your memories, that whatever it sells, it’s simply indispensable.

They make iCloud, and the related enhancements in iOS 5, sound almost altruistic with this paragraph.  It isn’t.

What it is, however, is solving something that the Android/Google people have been whining about since day one: You basically need a Mac to own an iPhone.  Now, you don’t.

You can sync your media wirelessly with any computer, if you want.  You set a passcode in your iPhone/iPod/iPad (I’ll call them iDevice from here on out for simplicity).  When you’re within range to a computer with iTunes, you can tell iTunes to “Wirelessly sync to a device”.  It will then prompt you for the passcode, and if you enter it correctly, iTunes will upload all your music to iDevice.  This part is fairly safe.  You just have to trust the wireless hotspots you are connecting to.  You can temporarily disable wireless syncing, too, if you’re at a public place (say Starbucks).  The nice thing is, you can activate your iDevice and receive software updates without requiring a computer with iTunes installed.  This is good for people without PCs, good for people who don’t run Mac OS X, and good for people who have computers that break down frequently.  *Ahem*Mac mini*ahem*

Now.  iCloud is taking that to the next level.  Your music is stored on Apple’s servers.  Your data is stored on Apple’s servers.  Your notes, your preferences, your apps, your iBooks, your digital magazines…stored on Apple’s servers.  Of course they have 256-bit SSL (like HTTPS).  And they claim it to be very secure and robust.  But as the article you sent points out, Sony just lost the trust of about 80 million people when crackers broke in and quite easily retrieved personal information — including passwords — about every last person that was signed up to their cloud gaming service.

I’m not saying the cloud is a bad idea per se.  But when you think about the Sony incident, or the Amazon Web Services incident a few months ago — that took popular sites like Reddit and Foursquare completely down, and left thousands of business up a creek — well, you start to realise that the cloud isn’t all it’s touted.

Now, Apple has other cloud services, and they have millions of users and they’ve never been cracked or broken in to.  If that is your definition of “Safe”, then yes, by all means.  You can only secure a computer network so much, and Apple seems to be at least half decent at that.  (See the built-in firewall in Mac OS X.  And it’s getting a lot more powerful in Lion.)

But if you want to define “Safe” as “Will I be able to access this data all the time for the next 10 years”…I’m not so sure.

On why the past isn’t so great Monday, Jul 12 2010 

Now playing: ♫ The Best Is Yet To Come – Tony Bennett

I was talking to a friend of mine last week about music.  I mentioned that I enjoy listening to rock and pop music from the 1950s and 1960s.  He replied “yeah, the 50s were great.  A happier, friendlier time, without all this emo rot on the telly and radio, and worries about oil and the impending financial doom.”  I looked at him with the most surprised look I have ever had.  Then I asked him on what merit he based this opinion on, especially since he wasn’t even born until the 1980s.  He simply stated “that’s what everyone says”.

To be fair, I do believe him.  That is what almost everyone who didn’t study world history and wasn’t alive in the 1950s says.  But I would like to rebut his comments:

  1. “A happier, friendlier time”
    Obviously, he has never studied the Cold War.  The entire world was on pins and needles, worried that at any second the nuclear war would start and the entire human race would be utterly obliterated.  The perceived fallout from the Cold War definitely added many unhappy moments to the decade, and most of the Western world was very unfriendly to anyone in Latin America, the USSR, or any communist country.
  2. “Without all this emo rot on the telly and radio”
    This is by far the easiest to rebut.  People claim that “emo” (the angsty teenagers — not hardcore emotive nu metal like the word originally meant) and songs about failed relationships and depression started in the late 1980s or early 1990s with the punk/grunge scene.  I would like to point out that one of – if not the – most famous musicians of the 1950s, Elvis Presley, recorded “Heartbreak Hotel” in 1956 and that song basically started his large success.  This song was actually inspired by a suicide note.  If you want to define “emo” as most modern people do, this is the epitome of “emo” songs.
    Note that I’m not putting down this song or Elvis Presley at all — I am simply making an observation.  In my humble opinion, the word “emo” is far too overreaching and overzealous for its own good and should be stricken from the world’s collective mindset.
  3. “Without worries of oil and the impending financial doom”
    Of course, the worries of oil were almost non-existent.  But the cost of the Cold War, namely the quickly skyrocketing cost of maintaining strong military and defence systems, coupled with the loose trade regulations led by the Conservatives, meant that there was always the chance for financial ruin.

Of course, if you were quite young (or not even born) in the 1950s, you probably don’t remember much of that.  You were too busy having fun and enjoying your innocence to remember any of that.

In a more personal look at the effect that the passage of time has on our recollections, let me point this out.  Last year, I had a longing to relive the mid-1990s.  I remembered it as a quite enjoyable time; I made a lot of friends, I graduated at the top of my class in school, and I got my first look at this new-fangled bit of technology named the “World Wide Web”.  However, yesterday I found a journal I wrote in from 1994 to 1997.  I read it and was horrified at what I found: rants about how hard school was, how mean many people were to me, and even a two-week long epic about me fracturing my arm.

I remembered none of this until I reread my journal.  And I think that’s what the point of this article really is.  The past may seem like a better time to you, but it may not have seemed like it when it was the present.  Be satisfied that you have happy memories.  And instead of reliving the past (and all of your prior troubles) over again, it’s better to live in the present and make the most of what life has dealt you.

On running Mac OS X with VirtualBox Sunday, May 2 2010 

I’ve been testing VirtualBox 3.2.0-beta1 out on my Mac mini.  The capabilities of this new beta are quite helpful for system developers and coders in addition to users.  Some of my favourite features include:

  • Real, working APIC 1.4 support.
  • Better SMP support.
  • EFI works much better, but still has really odd bugs.
  • More guests support 2D accel.

Snowflake works well and Windows 7 works better.

But my most favourite new feature, by far, is the ability to install and run Mac OS X.  Apparently both 10.5 and 10.6 work, but my 10.5 DVD is for Mac minis only, so I got 10.6 working.  On a real Mac, it takes nothing but time.  It took over 2 hours to install.  However, it does work, and it works quite well.  Most effects are smooth, even without a native framebuffer kext.  It did take a tiny hack though: I had to boot to the EFI shell and run:

mount fs0:
fs0:\System\Library\CoreServices\boot.efi rd=disk0

Then it Just Worked™. On a real Mac, you don’t need any additional kexts, or anything. It boots natively. Only thing that is missing is the Apple boot logo; it always boots in verbose, again due to no native framebuffer kext.

If you’re unlucky enough to have a genuine not-Apple computer and still want to run Mac OS X in VirtualBox, I highly recommend this helpful guide (which I have even commented on).  It has worked for a few people I know, and I hope to try it on my Core 2 box tomorrow (er, today, it just turned midnight).  I’ll certainly report how that works.  But for now, it’s back to kernel hacking for me.

On GeoCities’ closing Monday, Oct 26 2009 

Now playing: Lady of the Flowers by Placebo on Placebo [1996] (iTunes)

I’ve been so very busy at work the past few days that I had forgotten I signed up for this blog.  I remembered yesterday evening, but couldn’t think of a topic to write about.  However, this morning I was reminded that today is the day GeoCities closes.  And of course, sites like XKCD are parodying the bad HTML and broken images we’ve all grown to hate.

However, I want to remind you of a better time.  The GeoCities of the mid ’90s; the GeoCities I once knew, used, and loved.  Before the commercialisation, before the Yahoo! aquisition, before its own personal “eternal September” of clueless newbies.

GeoCities, circa 1996, before it sucked.

GeoCities, circa 1996, before it sucked.

There was, and still is, a lot of technical information of GeoCities, and a lot of it is rare content that you won’t find anywhere else.  There was more information than you would think, especially on old technologies including GEOS, Roland synthesisers, and RISC CPUs.  There were fansites of good ol’ TV shows…remember Suddenly Susan?  Smart Guy?  Even classic telly, such as Gilligan’s Island and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  There were MIDI archives.  There were some excellent history and genealogical resources.  And was there a more expansive lyrics archive on the early Web than Andrew’s Lyrics?  (There actually were much better ones on Gopher, but that’s an entirely different subject.)

And GeoCities was the beginning of the social Web revolution, allowing anyone with access to a keyboard the ability to write a Web site about anything, thereby bringing people who wanted to just have a page about their family.  I’ll admit I’m a bit guilty of doing that myself; I signed up for a GeoCities page in 1997, relatively late, and used it primarily for voicing my opinions on computing and showing off my family pictures.  I closed it down in ’99, because I was far too busy being a full-time administrator to keep it up.  Not to mention the commercialisation that came…banner ads and the watermark were just the beginning, as we would all find out when Yahoo! purchased them.  However, that was what proved the fatal flaw with “anyone with a keyboard can sign up”: the general masses gained Internet access, and back then everyone was flooding Yahoo! to get their wide variety of services (primarily for email and messenger).  These masses used terrible, disgusting editors (FrontPage Express, Hot Dog, and even Netscape Composer 4.x generated abysmal HTML) and wrote about nothing in particular.  This made the content rapidly decline in value, turning GeoCities into basically just a pile of meaningless babble and broken HTML, and the only thing declining faster than their reputation and content quality was their real userbase.  So here we are.  Yahoo! is dwindling, they’re strapped for cash, and probably just can’t afford GeoCities anymore.  In the eyes of most, this is a Good Thing™ because of the drivel that most people think GeoCities is famous for.

But I still remember the great big melting pot, the community that was GeoCities in the ’90s.  And though there are some modern hosting providers that are somewhat akin to this old GeoCities in terms of hosting (here are a few), none can match the community. And that is, I think, what GeoCities was for me and many others back then – a community of people from different backgrounds and cultures, sharing the collective of our knowledge (and family pictures) for the world to see.

Fare thee well, old friend.  Here’s to one last <marquee/> tag, and the hope that one day someone may be able to rekindle the community spark of 1995.

On a new blog Monday, Oct 19 2009 

Hello world, and everyone reading this.

First and foremost this blog is about my true feelings on just about everything.  I am opinionated, but open to new ideas; this will show through on my posts.  I have a wide diversity of interests ranging from cars and medicine to music and fine arts.  However, I’m a senior computer programmer by trade and computing will be a primary subject on this blog.

Let me start a bit about myself.  I’m a male, though not a stereotypical one.  I don’t have an overinflated ego nor sex drive and I don’t find “the chase” of a woman to be “fun”, whatever that may mean.  I believe in morals, in honesty, in dignity, in respect, and in values.  I treat others with all of these qualities and expect to be treated with them as well, and as you may expect I’ve found myself disappointed with most of the modern world because of this fact.

I was convinced to get this blog by a very close friend who told me that I should share my opinions and reviews with the world.  I have reviewed a lot of software, and I’ve written a lot of essays on a great many things.  Since I have them privately stored somewhere, I will post the more “exciting” ones as I find them.

But enough about me.  On with the blogging…