things that interest me this week – 29 oct 2014

Quick Update: A couple of people mentioned there’s no Mozilla items in here. They’re right, and it’s primarily because the original audience of this type of thing was Mozilla. I’ll make sure I add them where relevant, moving forward.

Every week I put together a bunch of news items I think are interesting to the people I work with, and that’s usually limited to a couple wiki pages a handful of people read. I figured I may as well put it in a couple other places, like here, and see if people are interested. Topics focus on the web, the technologies that power it, and the platforms that make use of it. I work for Mozilla, but these are my own opinions and takes on things.

I try to have three sections:

  • Something to Think About – Something I’m seeing a company doing that I think is important, why I think it’s important, and sometimes what I think should be done about it. Some weeks these won’t be around, because they tend to not show their faces much.
  • Worth a Read – Things I think are worth the time to read if you’re interested in the space as a whole. Limited to three items max, but usually two. If you don’t like what’s in here, tell me why.
  • Notes – Bits and bobs people may or may not be interested in, but that I think are significant, bear watching, or are of general interest.

I’ll throw these out every Wednesday, and standard disclaimers apply – this is what’s in my brain, and isn’t representative of what’s in anyone else’s brain, especially the folks I work with at Mozilla. I’ll also throw a mailing list together if there’s interest, and feedback is always welcome (your comment may get stuck in a spam-catcher, don’t worry, I’ll dig it out).

– k

Something to Think About

Lifehacker posted an article this morning around all the things you can do from within Chrome’s address bar. Firefox can do a number of the same things, but it’s interesting to see the continual improvements the Chrome team has made around search (and service) integration, and also the productivity hacks (like searching your Google drive without actually going there) that people come up with to make a feature more useful than it’s intended design.

Why I think people should care: Chrome’s modifications to the address bar aren’t ground-breaking, nor are they changes that came about overnight. They are a series of iterative changes to a core function that work well with Google’s external services, and focus on increasing utility which, not coincidentally, increases the value and stickiness of the Google experience as a whole. Continued improvements to existing features (and watching how people are riffing on those features) is a good thing, and is something to consider as part of our general product upkeep, particularly around the opportunity to do more with services (both ours, and others) that promote the open web as a platform.

Worth a Read

  • Benedict Evans updated his popular “Mobile Is Eating the World” presentation, and posits that mobile effectively ”is” everything technology today. I think it needs a “Now” at the end, because what he’s describing has happened before, and will happen again. Mobile is a little different currently, mainly because of the gigantic leaps in hardware for fewer dollars that continue to be made as well as carrier subsidies fueling 2-year upgrade cycles. Mobile itself is also not just phones, it’s things other than desktops and laptops that have a network connection. Everything connected is everything. He’s also put together a post on Tablets, PCs and Office that goes a little bit into technology cycles and how things like tablets are evolving to fill more than just media consumption needs, but the important piece he pushes in both places is the concept of network connected screens being the window to your stuff, and the platform under the screen being a commodity (e.g. processing power is improving on every platform to the point the hardware platform is mattering less) that is really simply the interface that better fits the task at hand.
  • Ars Technica has an overview of some of the more interesting changes in Lollipop which focus on unbundling apps and APIs to mitigate fragmentation risk, an enhanced setup process focusing on user experience, and the shift in the Nexus brand from a market-share builder to a premium offering.
  • Google’s Sundar Pichai was promoted last week in a move that solidifies Google’s movement towards a unified, backend-anchored, multi-screen experience. Pichai is a long time Google product person, and has been fronting the Android and Chrome OS (and a couple other related services) teams, and now takes on Google’s most important web properties as well, including Gmail, Search, AdSense, and the infrastructure that runs it. This gives those business units inside Google better alignment around company goals, and shows the confidence Google has in Pichai. Expect further alignment in Google’s unified experience movement through products like Lollipop, Chrome OS, Inbox and moving more Google Account data (and related experiences like notifications and Web Intents) into the cloud, where it doesn’t rely on a specific client and can be shared/used on any connected screen.


Deadsquid Update

No one will really care about this but me, but that’s ok, I need to get in the habit of using this thing again.

The dedicated server that’s continued on something like 14 years of hosting for friends and family is entering it’s final days. I’ve been moving sites over, and am hoping coop is paying attention to his email. I ended up going with a Canadian firm for a VPS provider, and the experience so far has been pretty painless.

The biggest issue I’ve run into was slow MySQL response time, and I spent most of yesterday reading up on tuning and tweaking my.cnf. I wish I had read all this stuff about 5 years ago, as a lot of lights were turned on with regards to perf on cthulhu; I could have saved myself a lot of pain by changing about 10 lines. Thankfully I’m never too old to learn.

All mail services on cthulhu have been migrated, and everything else gets shut down at the end of August. I think everyone’s ready. It’s been fun, but I won’t miss it, and the VPS will be about 20% of the cost of a dedicated box with performance that appears to be at least comparable.

If you’re using deadsquid for anything and haven’t heard from me regarding migration, you should drop me a line sooner rather than later. Two more weeks and everything’s gone.

xbox 360 video stuttering on the panasonic pt-ae3000

I have a new PT-AE3000 projector from Panasonic, and to date I have loved everything about it except for a few games (most notably rock band 2) using the Xbox 360 with a progressive signal. The video (but not the audio) would stutter/jump at times, which could throw my timing off. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it was annoying.

I had disabled the usual culprits, namely noise reduction and Panasonic’s “Frame Creation” (used to make moving images less after-imagy), but was still getting stutter. Searching various forums didn’t really help, so I went back to the manual, and eventually found the culprit.

The projector has a setting in the “Options” menu for “Frame Response”, which is described in the manual as “You can minimise the time delay of image displayed for the progressive signals.” This feature has two settings:

  • NORMAL Prioritise the image quality
  • FAST Prioritise the frame response

Setting it to “FAST” cleared up the problem, and I didn’t notice any discernible difference to image quality in-game.

PowerLinc 2412U PLM and Indigo/OSX

Just a really quick hit, because it took me a little while to find this post, which pointed me in the right direction.

If you’re trying to use the PowerLinc 2412U on OSX 10.5 with the latest beta (4.1) of the Indigo home-automation and control server, you’ll need to install USB serial drivers first. It would have been nice if this was a little more apparent with either the Indigo software or the PLM’s documentation, but it’s not (or, if it is, it’s buried).

Get the USB serial drivers from here, install them, and now you should be able to see the interface and the proper port in the preferences panel. Hopefully this will save you a bit of the aggravation I went through trying to figure out why the hell I couldn’t initialize the interface between Indigo and the PLM.

removing the norton internet security 2008 toolbar from firefox

I run Winbloze. I know, I know, but I have had a much better experience with Windows environments on my desktop than I have had with my Ti or my MBP. Windows comes with risks, so to help mitigate (again, I know, I know) those risks I use Norton Internet Security.

My subscription ran out a couple days ago, so I upgraded to NIS 2008. NIS 2008 includes anti-phishing protection, which I already have. NIS wants me to use its anti-phishing, so helpfully installs a toolbar in Firefox. It doesn’t tell me it’s going to do this, nor does it give me a choice, and there’s no way I can see to remove it from within NIS, only disable fishing protection. This pisses me off, so…


If this kind of behaviour pisses you off as well, and you want to stick with the built-in protection Firefox offers, you can remove the toolbar. Fire up your trusty file mangler, and head on over to the Firefox installation directory (usually C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox). Under that directory is a subdirectory called “components”. In the “components” directory is a file called “coFFPlgn.dll”; move it somewhere safe and restart Firefox.

Toolbar gone!

Thanks Symantec, next time try providing it as an uninstallable plugin or, even better, an extension. Fucktards.

Update: Toolbar back! Every time you reboot, it “helpfully” restores the file. I have asked Symantec how I turn it off permanently. I think I know the answer already.

Update 2: Johan has a good workaround, as follows: After playing about for a bit I tried an old trick, close all instances of firefox, go to the components folder as mentioned above, and remove the coFFPlgn.dll file. Create a new empty file, name it the very same, coFFPlgn.dll and set it to be read only.

the null file is ignored by ffox, and marking it read-only will prevent Norton from over-writing it. works nicely for me. recommended. thanks, Johan!

lessig on user generated content

Larry Lessig’s talk on user generated content, who’s generating it, how copyright law reacts to it and, most importantly, the effect this has on the content creators is awesome. Take the twenty minutes, and watch the whole thing. His summary at the end addresses an unintended consequence that I had never even considered, and it makes a frightening amount of sense. Really, really worth the watch.

Larry Lessig: Why kids need better copyright laws, from the awesome TEDTalks podcast.

not so gushy on the iphone

Dan Gillmor has a quick rundown of what he doesn’t like about the iPhone. He makes some really good points, and the one that I didn’t realize was that the battery was not removable. I guess this shouldn’t surprise me given how the iPods are constructed, but it does, because having spares for those times when you really need the phone you forgot (or were unable) to charge is always a nice option.

There’s some other points that are great, including the non-removable SIM (control, control, control) and a lack (or non-intuitive implementation) of cut-and-paste. There’s also some nits about the keyboard that a lot of reviewers – and even Apple – have said are fine if you just let the software do it’s job.

In any event, after all the gushing and “squee!” and people who just will not shut up about the goddamn jesus-phone, it’s nice to see something that is not gushy, but is not an “I hate the iPhone even though I’ve never seen one”, either.

I’ll stick with the crackberry/nano combo, which suits me just fine.

norton ghost 2002: where’s my license key? (xp edition)

I needed to do a partition-to-partition copy between two disks. I had an older copy of Norton Ghost that I knew would be perfect. It came with Norton SystemWorks Professional (for XP! it said so!), and I had used it before with Windows 98 boxes. Perfect, off I go.

I installed the software on my XP box, and created a bootdisk. I took the bootdisk and used it in the machine I wanted to perform the disk copy on. The PC-DOS environment loaded nicely, and then Norton Ghost started to load. It asked me for a serial number. Wait, what? When you create a boot floppy for Ghost 2002, you must enter your license number every time, and it’s keyed to the install on your PC. Hooray!

I looked on the install CD and the manual – no number. I normally don’t throw that stuff away, so was confused. I read through the manual and was told that the license number would appear in the splash screen every time I started GhostPE.exe on the machine I installed the software on. Simple enough, so I opened a command window and tried to run the program.

I was greeted with “you can’t run this under windows NT, boot to DOS”. Tried running it in Win98 compatibility mode; same nonsense. I didn’t really want to create another boot disk and boot my PC into DOS, mainly because I had already endured the reboot process on my XP box twice from installing the floppy (who uses floppies anymore), creating the norton bootdisk, removing the floppy, and re-installing it in the machine I was ghosting the partitions in. I wondered if the serial number might be accessible elsewhere…

Sure enough, it is.

If you run into this problem, change into the directory Norton Ghost 2002 was installed into. In it you’ll find a file called “ghost.env”. Look at the line labeled “Keycode”. The 12-digit alpha-numeric value is what you need.

Apparently this was only done with Norton Ghost 2002. Hopefully it’s because the users tracked down the product manager or business wonk who thought it was a great idea to put that little hook in to prevent piracy, and disemboweled them with a rusty spoon.

ipod ressurection

so. my poor little ipod has been sitting in my desk drawer for a year and a half because I thought it was borken. what with all the clicking-hard-drive sounds it made when you tried to turn it on, this was understandable. this weekend I went through my office on a purge mission, and said ipod’s fate was put on the table.

when it worked, I lurved it. it had 40 gigs of space to throw all kinds of crap I’d never listen to on it, and some crap that I would. this craptacular bliss lasted about a year and a half, at which point the relationship ended abruptly. it has been replaced by two nanos since (the first one I can only assume is still in use) which are better than I could have thought possible.

I was going to chuck the 4g, but figured I’d look at repair prices becaue, really, who wants to throw away $400 after 18 months of use? I could buy a new drive for $150, and the next question was whether I’d fix it myself (preferred, ’cause I’m geeky) or send it in for the repair (“included in the price of the drive” say the ads – remember this part). so… could I repair the damn thing? heck, could I open the damn thing?

using the handy post over at ipod lounge, I realised I had a guitar pick, and could probably use it in the manner described. I found said pick and, sure enough, opened my 4g without scratching or breaking a thing. when I picked the shell apart, I was surprised to discover that the connector was actually loose. I re-seated it, and figured “what the hell, let’s give it a go”. I put it back together, and plugged it into a USB port (the battery was long dead).

the apple appeared, and then… so did the music. it works flawlessly, and I deleted everything on it and re-transferred 25 gigs of music to make sure the drive wasn’t teasing me. still working flawlessly.

so I’m wondering, how many repairs where people send their ipods in are simply a cable re-seat, or yield the repair shop a perfectly good drive… it’s probably not a huge issue, but I can’t help but wonder if the business card trick is really necessary, and if it’s just disconnecting and re-seating the connector that makes things happy.

I’ll use the 4g as the car player for the next month, and let you know how/if it continues to work. regardless, colour me “pleasantly surprised”.

just so ya know…

…if you’re using mod_python and Apache 1.x do not, under any circumstance, upgrade to gcc 4. Bad things happen to your server.

Also, don’t tell me I should be using Apache 2. I know that. I may make zulu upgrade his code, because that’s really the only reason why we aren’t.

But still – Apache 1.x, mod_python, libc6, and gcc 4 are really bad news. So don’t. No, seriously, don’t.

I’ll post more on this a little later (along with how to make mod_myasql_auth actually work with Apache 2.3.x), but I just wanted to say that after three months of the webserver here taking a dump on a regular basis since upgrading Debian, the problem is solved. mod_python was the culprit, and it has been sent to its room.

Thanks to the squid-folk for their patience while their sites dropped off the map for no apparent reason several times a week and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. All better now. Teh yay!