I Started Something – Blog of the Week

Long Zheng’s "I Started Something" blog is a technology blog which over time has slowly evolved into a blog which mainly talks about cool innovations and Windows Vista.

The blog provides a fantastic insight into what’s new in Vista. There are interviews with Microsoft staff, some awesome screencasts, and competitions to win software, et al. There are also some tips and tricks for users of Vista – for example Vista scales wallpapers differently depending on how to set it.

Pandora's Box

I’ve written about Pandora before, a free internet radio station which is customized to your musical tastes. It’s made by people who really love music and rather than using social recommendations, Pandora looks at the style of music (instruments, vocals, etc.) to find music you’ll love. It works really well.

Pandora Radio has almost replaced my music collection in some ways – I now listen to Pandora almost as much as I listen to my own music in Windows Media Player. It was annoying to have to keep a Firefox window to listen to Pandora and Pandora’s flash client didn’t like the multimedia keys on my keyboard.

Pandora’s Box is a desktop Pandora client I came across a few days ago and I’ve used it ever since. At it’s heart, it looks like it’s just an embedded web browser control which shows the Pandora client (I assume this because you get the annoying click sounds you also get on IE). The client works exactly the same as the one on the Pandora website. It sits in the system tray, minimized. From the tray, you can rate songs and switch radio station.

Pandora's Box 

It also implements a few extra features which are really cool:

  • You can display the song you are currently listening to on MSN Messenger.
  • Support for browser multimedia keys (makes it a lot faster to pause when phone, etc.)
  • Easy to use, fast lyrics browser to instantly find lyrics for the song you are listening to. No popups!
  • Notify on song change: A little popup notification which lets you know what song is playing so you don’t have to switch to Pandora. And since Pandora is all about discovering music… 

"Nerdy" Jokes

Just a selection from the xkcd forums:

  1. Heisenburg is driving down the highway when a police officer pulls him over.
    The officer asks, "Do you know how fast you were going?" Heisenburg replies, "No, but I know exactly where I am!"
  2. Descartes walks into a bar and orders champagne, explaining that he is celebrating a major philosophical breakthrough. The bartender gives him his drink. Descartes downs it all in one gulp.
    The bartender, trying not to look surprised, asks, "Would you like another?"
    Descartes says, "I think not."
    And he disappears!
  3. An atom says to another, I think I lost an electron. The other replies, "are you positive?"
  4. A physicist, an engineer, and a computer scientist are in a car together. While going down a steep hill, the brakes suddenly stop working. The 3 of them narrowly avoid a serious accident. Later, the 3 of them are discussing what happened.

    The physicist says "let’s try to measure the coefficient of friction between the hill and the tires."

    The engineer says "let’s see if there’s something wrong with the brakes."

    The computer scientist says "let’s take the car back up the hill and see if it happens again."

  5. f(x) walks into a bar and the barman says ‘sorry, we don’t cater for functions’

Just incase anyone needs references:

  1. Quantum Physics: something about being able to know the speed or location of a particle but not both
  2. On the famous phrase "I think, therefore I am"
  3. Ionic bonding!
  4. Reference to how computer programmers keep running stuff and debugging.
  5. f(x) is a mathematical function

See also HTML jokes.

Firefox and Me: Part 2

See part 1.

Firefox 0.9

Firefox 0.9The release of Firefox 0.9 in June 2004 was an interesting release for me.

Firefox 0.9 replaced the old beautiful Qute theme with the new Winstripe theme, a theme which a lot of the community didn’t like.  I wasn’t a big fan of it either, and I downloaded the Qute theme.

Additionally, Firefox 0.9 kept crashing on my computer. I can’t remember what the problem was, but Firefox 0.9 got me a lot more involved in Mozilla – I posted a few bugs on Bugzilla, contributed to Mozillazine discussions, etc.

The migration tool in Firefox 0.9 made it a ton easier for people to migrate from Internet Explorer; this was one of the main things which stopped me initially from switching to Firefox.

Firefox Advocacy 

Version 0.10, a preview released finally aimed at end users was released in September 2004.

Around that time, Spread Firefox was launched. I was quite active in promoting Firefox back then – I found an excuse to add a Firefox button to every website I was involved in. This was sometimes done indirectly by developing an enhanced XUL version of the website, or with Evolution, a Firefox toolbar. Or just making sites look nicer on Firefox by adding opacities and -moz-border-radiuses.

EvobarDeveloping the Evolution Toolbar was a really interesting experience in playing around with some of the Mozilla APIs, XUL, etc. It managed to convert quite a lot of players to Firefox and caused the browser share to go from something like 5% Firefox to 90% Firefox. In the long run, it probably brought more Firefox users to Evolution than Evolution users to Firefox. 

I was one of the most active members on Spread Firefox and I got offered one of the 25 million download commemorative coins. Unfortunately, I signed up to SFX with an old Hotmail account and never read the e-mail until after the deadline had passed.

Since the release of 1.0, I’ve been a lot less active in promoting Firefox because it’s already getting quite a bit of attention around the internet and has a decent market share of around 15%. Spread Firefox seems to have died out a bit. 

Towards 2.0

Since 1.0, I’ve been keeping track of Mozilla developments through The Burning Edge and occasionally downloaded nightlies to play around with new features.

Firefox has definitely come a long way. A few weeks ago, I sent out links to a website which only worked in IE to a few friends, expecting that they’d use IE. A lot of them came back to me wondering why it didn’t work. That really made me realise how far Firefox had come; normal people were now downloading and using Firefox of their own accord. They didn’t need people to tell them why.

With Firebird, it was a struggle to convince webmasters to support alternative browsers and web users to surf with Firebird. Firebird started out as a snowball. Firefox has been picking up speed and snow ever since and is now an avalanche and a powerful force on the web.

I look forward to the release of Firefox 2.0 later today.

User Profile Pages

I’m currently rewriting the user profiles feature of Geneone, my community management system.

To date, the profile pages have been very basic and have been modelled off the profile pages found on forums. Forum profile pages generally just list some interests, show your signature, avatar and contact details.

In contrast, MySpace almost gives you total free realm over your page. You can customize the whole look of the page, add photos, quizzes, videos, music, comments and all kinda random stuff. Myspace is built on it’s user profiles.

With Geneone user profile pages, I wanted to go somewhere down the middle. We don’t want totally stupid customization, crazy colours and animated GIF backgrounds like Myspace, nor do we want the boring, drab profile pages you find on forums.

Additionally, Geneone is designed very differently from most blog/forum softwares – it should be dead easy to integrate other applications. Evolution is a game which was integrated into Geneone around a year ago. It should be easy for Evolution to add game information onto the user profile pages.

Geneone is also designed to be extensible and versatile. On one installation of Geneone, you could run several blogs, a few hundred forums, a few content pages or maybe even a wiki. The profile pages should integrate information from these sources.

I’ve modularised the user profile system and added hooks for extensions and other scripts to add their own fields, customizations, etc. to the profile page. We’ll be replacing the existing Evolution profile system sometime soon with a slightly customized Geneone profile system.

To make the profile pages a bit more interesting and more personal, I’ve introduced "personal pages". With these personal pages, the user has free realm to add photos, links to their favourite websites, a list of interests or whatever their creativity permits! To edit a personal page, you get the same TinyMCE WYSIWYG interface found everywhere else on Geneone.

Example of new profile page 

Old Profile

Example of old profile page 

An example of things which could be possible with the new profile page:

  • Flickr/Delicious/Youtube-stream, etc.
  • Polls and Quizzes
  • Music
  • Buddies List
  • Comments
  • Latest Blog Entries/Personal Blog integration
  • Forum, blog stats

Firefox and Me: Part 1

Sunny Man’s post on the browser wars got me thinking back a few years to the days when Firefox was still Firebird and Internet Explorer 6 ruled the roost. 3 years ago, most people would have laughed if you said that Mozilla would become the dominant browser for the masses again. Firefox isn’t quite there yet, but it’s inevitably going to happen soon. The whole browser ecosystem has changed so much in the last 3 years.

This is my life story and how I’ve been using browsers.

Before Firebird…

I’ve probably been using the internet for around 6 or 7 years now. I didn’t get on the internet until after Netscape had died, and Internet Explorer was the biggest and best web browser at the time. I remember using Internet Explorer 5.5 for ages because the IE6 upgrade program refused to work.

After getting broadband, I did decide to check out a lot more cool programs and I downloaded Opera 6 at one point to get onto the ICQ network but the browser sucked and had the annoying adverts and the Mozilla Suite which sucked too. 

Discovering Firebird

I believe I discovered Firebird in October 2003, just a few days after the release of Firebird 0.7. I remember visiting the website several times before actually being bothered to download it. And at first I wasn’t a big fan of Firebird either. I couldn’t see what it did better than Internet Explorer, and Firebird didn’t work with tons of sites out there.

In those days, Firebird was released as a .zip file rather than an installer. So my copy of Firebird sat there in a folder on my desktop for quite a while.

Strangely enough, the website which got me to open Firebird again was Sourceforge. I had just started a project there and for some reason Internet Explorer 6 gave me a security warning which couldn’t be turned off every single page load. So I begun to use Firebird on the Sourceforge site and Internet Explorer 6 for the rest of the internet. 

Firefox: The Early Days

Firebird became Firefox in February 2004. I remember hating the name at first but since then, it’s grown on me. I was still using Internet Explorer 6 at the time Firefox 0.8 came out because there were still things which annoyed me about Firefox – for example you couldn’t right click an image and copy it to the clipboard.

A friend introduced me to extensions and I went crazy with them. I downloaded the extension to copy images to the clipboard, RSS Reader Panel which is now known as Sage, the unofficial Google Toolbar, pie menus, download sidebar and all kinds of weird and wonderful extensions. I loved RSS Reader Panel, it saved me a ton of time.

At the same time, I had become a member of the web standards movement and Gecko was getting a lot of praise for web standards support so I decided to give Firefox a real go. I loved the popup blocking and the extensions, but a lot of the WWW still didn’t work with Firefox. So User Agent Switcher and IE View joined my ensemble of extensions. 

And then there’s the Web Developer Toolbar which single-handedly caused me to test my websites in Firefox before testing them in Internet Explorer. I was doing a lot of website developing at the time, so this caused me to use Firefox a lot more.

It was these extensions which made Firefox so attractive to me and they were pretty important back then as Firefox still lacked a lot of the features you want from a modern web browser.

I decided to introduce Firefox to a few friends – one of them decided to switch back to AOL’s browser but most of them made the switch. 

But with Firefox 0.8, I finally made the leap and became a Firefox user.

Part 2 coming soon… 

Sorry I haven't posted in a while…

Bloggers always seem to go through phases where they blog loads and then go through phases where they don’t post much, or don’t make a post for a very long time. 

In the blogosphere, it is common practice to make a "Sorry I haven’t been posting" post. There is a collection of "excuses" found on blogs. I like the following: 

  • This guy says he hasn’t blogged in awhile because he’s busy becoming a full-time blogger
  • "I just don’t enjoy it as much as I convince myself I do"
  • "I just haven’t found the need to express my thoughts for the whole world to see lately."
  • "I’ve been in a state of flux."
  • "I forgot my password…"
  • "Both lazy & busy or just busy being lazy."
  • "I haven’t posted in awhile and still really don’t have much to say."
  • My cat Ralphy managed to hide my keyboard again and refused to divulge it’s location. He apparently apreciates the irony of going after the keyboard and not the mouse.

I’ve cut down on the amount I’ve posted recently simply because I’ve been so busy and I’ve not really been coding much recently so I’ve not much to write about.

Cow’s Blog 1 year ago:

bLaugh & Joy of Tech – Blog of the Week

This week’s "blogs of the week" aren’t really blogs in the traditional sense. They don’t consist of articles or stories – rather they look at the world of technology through a web comic.

bLaugh is a web comic describing itself as "the unofficial comic of the blogosphere". I think it’s quite a new comic.

YouTube Killer

Firefox Outfoxes IE

I think it’s quite a new comic and I’ve only been reading it since yesterday but I read through some of the older comics and it’s good stuff.

Joy of Tech is another nice technology comic strip. It’s run by a bunch of Apple fans so most of the comics tend to be pro-Apple. It’s been going for several years and there are some quite amusing comics in the archive. I was a big enough fan at one point to buy the book

It’s also worth mentioning xkcd, a comic which I wrote about a few weeks ago.

Apple distributes Windows Virus on iPod

How on earth did this happen?

Apple is warning that some video iPods are harbouring a Windows virus.

In a statement on its website Apple said that a small number of video iPods sold after 12 September are carrying the RavMonE virus.

And Apple even had the guts to have a go at Microsoft on their website. It’s quite amusing how Apple keep on reiterating the fact that it’s a Windows virus on their website (I counted 17). Also of interest is the fact that Apple called OneCare "Microsoft Live OneCare" rather than "Windows Live OneCare". It almost seems as if Apple are trying to avoid the blame by blaming it all on Windows.

A few days ago McDonalds Japan distributed MP3 players with spyware. 

On the topic of anti-virus, I currently use AVG. Does anyone have any preferences with free anti-virus programs? Are they really neccessary? 

Maths Laughs

I recieved these off a friend (source unknown) and I couldn’t resist posting them.


If you’re still with me, terrible maths joke:

Q: What is the volume of a pizza with radius z and height a?

A: pi z z a 

And I got this one off a university graduate. I was sat there stone faced when he told me it.

There is a maths party and all the functions are invited to it. Sine, cosine, log e^x and everybody else is there. During the party, cos notices that e^x is in the corner, by himself. Sp cosine walks up to e^x and asks him: "Why don’t you come and integrate with everybody"? e^x replies, "I can’t, I only integrate with myself". 

Yep, terrible – be glad I didn’t post HTML jokes!