It’s A Good Day To Be A Geek

The hackers cleverly bypassed battery monitor which means an overcharged Nook could very well explode! Good hack guys.

If you haven’t been watching closely you’ve missed a few geekily exciting days with new technology announcements. Some of these are pretty substantial and could be the proverbial game changers. It’s all happening… changing so rapidly.

Doesn’t anything happen at human speed anymore?

Google was the main player. First, they redefined their new unreleased operating system Chrome.

Chrome will be aimed at netbooks which should be less expensive and bothersome than current laptops. The whole paradigm of what you install, change or keep on your laptop will be shuffled.

Instant web: Chrome notebooks boot in about 10 seconds and resume from sleep instantly. Your favorite websites load quickly and run smoothly, with full support for the latest web standards and Adobe Flash.

Same experience everywhere: All your apps, documents, and settings are stored safely in the cloud. So even if you lose your computer, you can just log into another Chrome notebook and get right back to work.

Always connected: Integrated Wi-Fi for home and work, and 3G for all the places in between. 100MB of free 3G data every month* on the Verizon Wireless network. Affordable data plans with no commitment required.

Meanwhile while talking up Chrome Google also showed a new tablet computer built by Motorola and based on its Android operating system. There are tablet computers other than the iPod right now, but you’d be hard pressed to name any. I expect an explosion in tablets over the next six months and both Apple and Google will be responsible for most of it.

Speaking of explosions, someone published instructions to hack a Barnes and Noble Color Nook so it could operate as an Andriod tablet! One problem, the hack disturbed part of the battery monitoring circuitry. Every time the Nook would fire up this circuitry would shut it down.

The hackers cleverly bypassed battery monitor which means an overcharged Nook could very well explode! Good hack guys.

I’d REALLY like a tablet computer. What I want doesn’t yet exist. It’s got to be ‘friendly’ with my camera. I’ll wait. No choice.

More news from Google who pushed out a new version of their Chromium web browser. Sweet. This one comes with its own apps store. More importantly the javascript engine has been turbocharged again!

Don’t worry if you don’t know what javascript is. Take my word javascript is the thing that slows your web browser the most! Run Chrome/Chromium as your browser and you’ll immediately feel like you bought a faster computer.

If you are not using Chrome/Chromium as your browser you really should give it a try. It’s free and fast.

Finally yesterday Microsoft announced their soon-to-be released Internet Explorer 9 would have new privacy controls.

Tracking Protection in IE9 puts people in control of what data is being shared as they move around the Web. It does this by enabling consumers to indicate what websites they’d prefer to not exchange information with. Consumers do this by adding Tracking Protection Lists to Internet Explorer. Anyone, and any organization, on the Web can author and publish Tracking Protection Lists. Consumers can install more than one. By default, there are no lists included in IE9, which is consistent with our previous IE releases with respect to privacy.

This is a big deal. Everyone who knows anything about Internet security is demanding more privacy controls. Microsoft is the last player I’d expect to be stepping up for me versus advertisers and marketers.

See what you missed yesterday.

Hooked On Chrome

It was reasonably fast, had fewer security holes and was produced by hippies who’d attended Woodstock and still lived on a commune.

This blog is written mostly for my own enjoyment. That sentence prefaces this entry in an attempt to give myself permission to write about geeky, nerdy stuff. Specifically web browsers.

Are you still here?

In the enlightened 2010s most web surfers still use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. IE has been a horrendous browser. Sorry Microsoft, it has.

Users don’t notice, but developers will quickly let you know IE has been a non-standards compliant nightmare and about as secure as a pup tent! It’s gotten better in its latest iterations, but it’s still s-l-o-w.

Oh yeah–browsers vary in speed. Noticeably. That’s mostly because of how they handle javascript, a language vital to the web and executed on the user’s machine with nearly every webpage–often more than once.

Are you really sure you want to read this?

I moved away from Internet Explorer a few years ago. My browser love was committed to Firefox the open source browser from the Mozilla Foundation.

Firefox had everything a good dweeb needed. It was reasonably fast, had fewer security holes and was produced by hippies who’d attended Woodstock and still lived on a commune. OK. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.

Firefox, is created by an international movement of thousands, only a small percentage of whom are actual employees.

Cue the unicorns!

About six months ago I began to use Google’s Chrome browser. It was stark. Almost immediately I realized I didn’t like it.

Sure, it was faster than Firefox–noticeably faster. It just didn’t have Firefox’s huge collection of add-ons. That was the deal breaker. Yet somehow I kept getting drawn back to Chrome.

Today 90% of my web time is spent using Chrome. It’s the speed. There’s that much difference. It feels like I’ve got a new PC.

Unfortunately some sites insist I use something other than Chrome. I can’t always be sure why. Firefox and IE have to remain on standby.

Google doesn’t need my proselytizing. Chrome will catch on without me. I just wanted to give you a heads up. It’s worth checking out.

The Dev Work Continues

Each web browser reads you code slightly differently… except for Internet Explorer 6 which is the redheaded stepchild of computing and reads it totally differently!

I came home last night and put my nose to the grindstone–more work on Roxie’s site. I like building websites. I’m not sure why?

There must be an analogy. Maybe it’s like building a ship in a bottle? It’s definitely close-up work.

It’s intricate–very exacting.

There was one change I made around 3:45 AM which, as I refreshed the page, crashed the entire site! Even the administrative side was pranged. Luckily there was a backup of the file in question–not my normal practice.

To write a website you must speak multiple programming languages simultaneously. At the same time you must never forget each web browser reads you code slightly differently… except for Internet Explorer 6 which is the redheaded stepchild of computing and reads it totally differently!

Imagine you type “fish.” Everyone reads “fish,” except IE6 which see “turtle.” It’s that kind of bad. Some sites now post warnings when IE6 users surf by!

Ninety percent of the web site’s structure is now in place. It’s much cleaner and more professional than what was there yesterday, but it still looks too cold and rectangular. I’m looking for ways to soften it… make it look less calculated and more friendly.

In the meantime, with each website I build the job gets easier and the payoff (in looking, not cash) gets more rewarding. Hopefully I can accomplish more tonight.

Google Chrome

With Chrome your javascript execution is going from a Model-T to a F/A-18. Like I said, it’s really noticeable.

I’ve been playing around with Google’s Chrome browser. I’ve used it at home where it sometimes replaces Firefox which always replaces Internet Explorer. In and of itself this isn’t a big deal. I’m a geeky, nerdy-boy. You would expect me to dabble in new tech that’s still in beta.

The reason I’m telling you (hopefully for your own sake you’re less geeky than me) is there is a difference in browsers–a difference you can notice. Chrome is crazy fast.

From what I hear the real slowdown in most web surfing is javascript. That’s a computer language sent from a website but executed on your machine. It is the real bottleneck on the web. With Chrome your javascript execution is going from a Model-T to a F/A-18. Like I said, it’s really noticeable.

At work where my desktop machine is old, slow and runs Xubuntu Linux, Chrome has added new life. That’s especially true with Gmail, a site heavy on javascript and a site I’m constantly checking.

Chrome isn’t without its problems. There are few plugins currently available for it. I use plugins with Firefox to extend my browser’s capabilities and miss them. On the Linux machine I haven’t yet figured out how to load Java (completely different from javascript) or Flash. It’s possible it’s not yet capable of running Java and Flash.

Chrome is not quite ready for prime time, but there is a great deal of promise.

You would assume by now browsers would be mature technology with little low hanging fruit. As it turns out–no.

What’s Frustrating About The Web

I’d done all my dev work on Firefox where the site was perfect. Google’s Chrome browser also showed the site as designed. Internet Explorer…. grrrrrrrrrr.

I know a few of you who read this blog do some coding and web development. Me too–though usually only as a favor to friends who will then have to suffer through my partial knowledge of what makes the web tick. A case in point today with my friend Farrell’s website&#185.

Farrell gave me my first job in TV and we’ve been friends ever since. I’m not sure how the guy who gave me my first job is younger than me, but he actually is. It seems unfair.

I worked on Farrell’s site with his input modifying a WordPress theme until it did what it was told and Farrell was happy. WordPress is blogging software, but it’s also great to build non-blog sites.

You know what? The site looks pretty damned good. We patted each other on the back and got set to let it fly in the ‘real world.’

At work I wanted to show what I’d done to a co-worker whose site I’d also helped. I opened up Internet Explorer, called the site and…. OMFG it was broken! It looked awful. It was the first time I’d used IE with the site and there was obviously a big problem.

I’d done all my dev work on Firefox where the site was perfect. Google’s Chrome browser also showed the site as designed. Internet Explorer…. grrrrrrrrrr.

Designers know IE is an awful, standards non-compliant browser. The fact that it’s on virtually EVERY computer makes that academic. You have to design for IE–period. That I hadn’t run the site through IE was a big mistake on my part–inexcusable really.

I’ve been working through the problem little-by-little examining the site with diagnostic tools now built into IE and added-on to Firefox. Tonight I found the problem. It was “–!>” placed a few characters from where it should have been. That combination of characters “–!>” tells the browser it’s come to the end of a disregarded area (like comments or, in this case, old code I didn’t want to use and was afraid to delete).

I know Farrell wanted the site last week. It was frustrating to be so close and yet so far and unable to find this teeny little problem. Now it’s good to go.

I suspect most devs have similar stories.

&#185 – It can take 24-48 hours for the website’s DNS listing to float through the Internet. If you get some sort of ‘not found’ error, try later.

Was Broken – Is Fixed

This is a problem totally related to internet Explorer 6. Damn you Bill Gates.

I got a call from my daughter earlier today. This website was broken. The center column was overlying the main text on the left. I couldn’t replicate it at home!

Marla in Pennsylvania, David in Arizona and Jebbediah in Springfield (really… well, really on Springfield, not really on Jebbediah) had the same affliction.

This is a problem totally related to internet Explorer 6. Damn you Bill Gates. Most of you are using Internet Explorer 7 or Firefox (my choice), thankfully.

I have fixed it… though I’m not totally sure how.

Please let me know if any of the site doesn’t work. As was the case today, I can’t always see what you see.

Netflix Scores With Streaming

The Fox Family subscribes to Netflix, the DVD rental service. We are on their “Wow you’re cheap” plan, getting a single DVD at a time. It’s perfectly suited for our needs.

Last night, I read about their new program where you can watch movies or TV shows on-line at no additional cost. I had to try.

I went on the Netflix site, logged in, got scolded because I was using Firefox and switched to Internet Explorer.

Please, let me choose my broswer Netflix. Don’t force me to use a Microsoft browser on a Microsoft platform.

I downloaded the player and then waited as it gauged my Internet connection speed. Within a few seconds, my movie was playing.

The quality was excellent – somewhere between VHS and a DVD. Playing back on my laptop, which was on my lap, and filling the full screen, it was as good as watching a large screen TV across the room.

Playback was flawless. I’m very impressed technically. I’m not impressed with the program selection.

I’m a documentary fan, so I chose “Helvetica,” a documentary about the Helvetica typeface. It was actually a movie I wanted to see.

Yeah, I hear you. It doesn’t seem like there should be enough going on with Helvetica to fill an entire movie. You’re right! The movie was a disappointment. That’s not Netflix’s fault.

Unfortunately, the rest of their catalogue was pretty thin, to be kind. The movies were mainly third rate. The documentaries were mainly obscure. None of the TV shows interested me.

I’m sure the problem is with rights acquisition. It’s always tough to convince content owners to embrace a new technology, especially when it hasn’t yet been established whether users of that technology can rip-off your product.

If and when Netflix improves their selection, this will be a powerful business. My guess is, they already see the writing on the wall for their current business.

Shed No Tears For Netscape

When I first hit the Internet, there was no World Wide Web! Websites were textual affairs with named structures like Gopher, Archie and Veronica.

The world changed when Mosaic and then Netscape Navigator were released. The web became more akin to the printed page. Over time, Netscape Navigator dominated… until Microsoft caught on.

Ciao Netscape.

Yesterday, AOL (the current owner) announced it was the end of the line for Netscape Navigator. A few friends wrote to make sure I knew. And, they all wondered if I would shed a tear?

Nope.

Actually, I see Mozilla Firefox as the natural successor to NN. As long as Firefox stay’s in production I’m a happy guy.

Unfortunately, in the time between Internet Explorer’s ascent and Firefox’s birth, Microsoft decided not to bother following standard HTML and CSS protocols.

Things look different in Internet Explorer than other browsers… because IE does it wrong. But, since they have the vast majority of market share, the other browsers (doing it right) are looked upon as inferior.

Pretty sneaky.

Where was I? Oh, Netscape. Thanks for blazing the trail. I actually already thought you were dead.

My Biggest Computer Repair Secret

I have no virus protection on my PCs at home. Pretty scary huh?

Actually, no. I’ve had a few minor run-ins, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed pretty quickly. Not using Internet Explorer, instead browsing the web with Firefox gives me minor protection, but that’s not the real answer.

The fact that lots of my friends have been infected implies the problem is more than just being susceptible. There is a certain innocence in the operator that adds to the threat.

Every friend whose every been infected has had virus software on board! Every single one. Sometimes it wasn’t activated, but it was there.

As far as I’m concerned, anti-virus software is nearly worthless. Test after test shows most viruses are released into the wild before anti-virus software has been updated. AV software is most valuable after the fact, when you’re trying to disinfect.

When friends call, there is one thing I always suggest first: Restore. This might be the best feature in Windows XP, though it is little known outside the geek community.

Windows XP’s Restore function turns back the clock on your PC. Any mail, saved data files and downloads remain. Any programs installed or changes to the registry (Windows’ index) disappear, though the files that could reinfect you do remain lurking on the hard drive.

If you’ve installed something awful, most likely it will become inert!

Restore is found by clicking the Start button and then finding your way to Help. It’s hidden in plain sight. That last sentence comes from experience. Everyone’s first reaction is, “I don’t see it here.”

Oh, one more thing. After restoring is complete, I do suggest at least one ‘scouring’ by an anti-virus program to clean out the junk.

Right now (and this changes) my favorite is from AOL… really. AOL’s Active Virus Shield is a rebranded version of the top rated Kaspersky program, but it’s free.

I guess even AOL realizes less of this garbage is good for everyone and will save them money in the long run.

Where’s Google?

I turned on my computer this morning, fired up my browser and waited for my customized Google homepage to load. Nothing!

I entered www.google.com from the address line. Same story.

Two little applets, to calculate my AdSense revenue ($0.34 so far today) and check my Gmail inbox were both DOA.

What’s going on?

I normally use Firefox as my browser. I figured I’d see if Internet Explorer was suffering the same fate. It was not.

“Oh crap,” I thought to myself. “What has gone wrong with my machine?”

Luckily, the answer is nothing. It’s not my problem… well, of course it’s my problem. It’s just not my fault.

I found this on Bostonist.com:

We’ve gotten a number of field reports from users of Comcast’s cable Internet service across the state who are unable to connect to Gmail, Google, and Blogspot. One of our “Internet outage spotters” chronicled a tech support conversation he had in which the Comcast operator told him it was a Firefox issue and he’d have to switch to IE. Apparently Comcast won’t support Firefox as a browser.

Before leaving home I temporarily solved the problem by clearing my cookies, the tiny tracker files left by nearly every website. That’s not a good solution, because now I have to re-sign on to every site I visit.

Is this what they mean by Comcastic?

Working Hard In PJs

Usually, by this time of night, I’ve posted something on the blog. Today I’ve been very busy. I’ve been working on a new website.

I hinted around about this site before… but it’s taking a long time to get it up to speed. And, as was the case earlier, I’m not ready to reveal much about it… other than to say it will only interest a very small percentage of those reading this blog.

Building a website is like building anything else – you need a vision. The finished product might differ from that early idea, but there’s got to be something to aim for. It has been tough coming up with the vision.

Finally last night, around 4:45 AM, it started to come into focus. I was playing around in Photoshop and found a design for the site’s logo. It was an accident. I did something wrong, but liked the result! It contained enough elements of style and typography to start defining the rest of the page.

As I continued, I was constantly reminded how little I know about web design! The nuts and bolts are done in a few very simple computer languages: HTML and CSS. I am picking up what I need on the fly.

If you’re really interested, your browser has the ability to show you the ‘source’ for any web page you’re on. That’s what the browser sees and what I was writing today. Though there are fine programs for doing this, I chose to write by hand in a notebook program.

Over the past few years, I’ve read about inconsistencies Microsoft designed into Internet Explorer. In some cases IE works opposite the standards! There are workarounds, but the first time you look at your page, and then watch it get mangled when displayed in IE, is very frustrating.

Maybe I’m being a little too innocent, but I think the site can be mostly finished this weekend. That would be great.

Unfortunately, as little as I know about web design, I know less about the next steps! Wish me luck.

The Company I Keep

A while ago I decided it would be a good idea to let Google sell ads on my website. Actually, it originally started as an experiment – I just wanted to see how it worked.

I don’t get a fortune from these ads. It pays for my web hosting – not much more. We’re not taking any vacations on this money… even a vacation to Cheshire.

Here’s the funny part – I don’t see the ads!

There are two reasons I don’t see them. First, I use Firefox (instead of Internet Explorer), with an ad blocking extension. It’s sort of scary. I see very few ads on any site… even the most populated.

The second reason is more important. I don’t want my page views to count. On this little website, if I correct an entry or move something around, my ‘hits’ become a substantial fraction of the total traffic.

Saturday, while looking at Helaine’s computer, I caught an ad that upset me. I sent the following to Google.

There was an ad listed on my site for xxxxxxxxx.org. Their ad’s bold type offers advice on how to cheat at hold’em poker. There might be controversy about online poker in general, but I don’t think anyone condones organized cheating. I certainly don’t and find it morally and legally wrong.

I will block this advertiser, but I think you should consider whether this text, or their product, is appropriate for AdSense.

Sincerely,

Geoff Fox

A quick clarification. Though I don’t choose the ads that appear, I can remove or block advertisers I feel aren’t appropriate. I block my TV station’s competitors. I block some national weather providers. I now block this poker site.

Here’s Google’s response.

Hello Geoff,

Thank you for your email regarding a Google AdWords ad.

I’ve forwarded this information to our AdWords team, who will remove the ad in question if it is in violation of any AdWords policies. We appreciate you taking the time to let us know about your concerns.

For additional questions, we suggest you visit our AdSense Support site at https://www.google.com/support/adsense . If you’re unable to find an answer to your question on our site, please feel free to reply to this email.

Sincerely,

Becky

The Google AdSense Team

They probably won’t tell me how this is resolved, though I’m hoping this kind of ad is now out.

Why I Might Change Browsers

This is a very geeky entry. I apologize in advance. Feel free to pass it by.

When I go on the Internet, like right now, I use the Firefox browser. Firefox comes from Mozilla. I suppose this is unimportant to all but those of us who wear propeller hats.

Most people use Internet Explorer. That’s the browser that comes standard with Windows.

IE, as it’s called, is fine… except it is often the equivalent of living in a home in a bad neighborhood with no locks on the doors. Truthfully, if everyone were trustworthy, IE would be perfect. They aren’t. It isn’t.

There are some improvements Firefox brings, including some in security. A whole community has sprung up, writing ‘extensions’ to give it extra capabilities. I take advantage of many of those (including one that eliminates all pop-ups and most other ads).

Unfortunately, Firefox isn’t without its downside. It was totally incompatible with the software Mississippi State used to administer my courses. It falls on its face on MSNBC.com video files(big surprise there), asking me to install software I already have.

This weekend I attempted to install MyWebexPC.com. That too wouldn’t play well with Firefox.

I am not alone. There have been a number of articles citing the inability of FEMA’s website to work with anything but Internet Explorer.

From CNET: Unfortunately, more and more U.S. government agency Web sites are becoming Internet Explorer-only sites. For example, if you want to fill out a Katrina claim form online with FEMA, you have no other choice but to use the only 66 percent secure Internet Explorer 6.x.

The problem is, Firefox follows the standards that have been established for the web. Anything that won’t work with Firefox won’t work because the author has decided to write to Internet Explorer’s peculiarities. Websites should be browser agnostic.

Since IE controls nearly 90% of the browser market, it makes sense to keep things compatible with it. What doesn’t make sense is excluding Microsoft’s competitor.

If these sites were more forgiving toward agreed upon standards, Firefox might get a better foothold and Microsoft would have to respond by improving IE. Competition is good.

As it stands right now, I am seriously thinking of abandoning Firefox. That’s not because it isn’t good. It’s because I’m sick and tired of hitting dead ends.

Firefox doesn’t have to be ‘fixed’ for it to work. Quite the contrary. The only thing wrong with Firefox is, it isn’t broken.

The Problem With Pop Ups

I hate pop-up ads. That’s pretty ironic isn’t it? Who better than me to understand the value of advertising. After all, my salary is paid by advertising. Yet there is something smarmy about pop-up and pop-under ads. Maybe it’s the fact they somewhat hidden – or their origin is hidden. It’s like dialing a phone number and then when someone answers, hanging up.

Whatever the case I have been a pop-up stopper since the Google toolbar came along. Then, when Microsoft introduced pop up controls in Internet Explorer, I went with that. Now that most of my browsing is done with Firefox, I let it stop the pops.

Nearly everything had been going along fine&#185 until a few weeks ago. All of a sudden pop-ups were back. This is not to say they’re there in the same numbers as before, but the camel’s nose is in the tent. That’s not good.

At the moment, I think I have them under control again. I downloaded an ‘extension ‘ for Firefox called Adblock. With it, I can exclude all sorts of sites that serve up the advertisements.

I’m afraid web surfers and advertisers are currently facing a weapons escalation not unlike the US and Soviet Union facing off during the cold war. Both will continue to fortify their positions until one side gives up.

I hope that’s not me I’m talking about.

&#185 – Even when all the other pop-ups had been stopped, Drudge had found a way to fool the browsers. I often wondered what he knew that no one else did.