The Sunday Grab Bag: Firefox 3.0, LASIK, Mac Apps and More

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Alex’s desk

Originally uploaded by alexkingorg

Monday through Friday trips always take a lot out of me, and this past week was no exception. Particularly given the extracurricular slate, which was trying. I’m just not 22 any more, much as my gray-free head of hair might argue to the contrary. No gray, you hear me?

Fortunately, I’ve got no travel on the docket this week until Friday morning, when I’m flying out of Denver to Minnesota to go ice fishing with my brother and his brother-in-law for the weekend. Because what’s better than sitting in a tiny heated shack on a Minnesota lake over a tiny hole in the ice cut with a chainsaw?

Exactly: doing that, but with alcohol.

Anyhow, as a respite from a day of experimentation with desktop recording clients and office administrivia, here’s your belated Friday Grab Bag on a Sunday.

Big Monitors

It has not gone unnoticed at the Crowd Favorite digs that I’m the sole worker there without an oversized monitor (I’m like the kid with no shoes that the other kids make fun of), meaning one that’s at least 24 inches diagonally, if not 30. While everyone else is happily gazing at immense displays, I squint away at my 12.1, 1024×768 Thinkpad LCD. Which was much easier before I knew anything better. Raise your hand if you’re surprised that I’m blind.

At first I protested that not being in an active development role, this was clearly unnecessary because how often did I need to tab back and forth between applications. Then I considered how often I toggle between Emacs and Firefox and shut my mouth.

At this point, I can’t justify the capital expenditure considering that I’ve recently acquired a Mac Mini and will be replacing my Thinkpad within the next month or two if some of the recent laptop rumors prove true. But when I return from the east next fall? A better monitor could well be in my future.

Maybe even two.

The Emacs Conversion

Blame Joe for this, but it looks as if I’m rapidly on my way to becoming a full fledged Emacs convert. Attempts made in the past aborted after a few days, but I’ve been Emacs only for text authoring purposes for two weeks or thereabouts, so this time – third, fourth or whatever – may be the charm.

Which I’m mostly happy about, given that Stephenson once described the program thusly:

Emacs outshines all other editing software in approximately the same way that the noonday sun does the stars. It is not just bigger and brighter; it simply makes everything else vanish.

For those Linux users that are interested in giving it a whirl, but are beyond horrified by the non-antialiased monstrosity that is the default package, I recommend Alexandre Vassalotti’s Pretty Emacs package, which is GTK enabled, pipes in the Xfont backend and so on. It also simplifies a modification to the white-on-black color scheme I favor.

Remember, pretty is a feature.

Firefox 3.0

This past week I finally hit the wall with Firefox 2.0. 5+ lockups per day is simply too much, and was beginning to significantly impact my productivity. Not just in frequency, but duration: unlike its successor, when 2.0 exits, it doesn’t exit quickly. Before being killed, it will wildly vacillate between responsive and non-responsive states, such that you’d spend longer determining whether or not it was actually going to crash than it would to kill and restart it.

After seeing that the Firefox 3.0 preview binaries had made their way into the main Gusty repositories, then, I resolved to cut over from 2.0 to 3.0. I haven’t burned the boats, precisely, as my 2.0 instance was left intact in case I need to revert, but I’ve set things up in 3.0 as if for permanent residence. Bookmarks migration, reinstallation of Flash (3.0 can’t see the default instance that Ubuntu lays down), and so on.

The biggest catch is the extensions I’m leaving behind due to their incompatibility with 3.0 ; no more del.icio.us bookmarks, no more Gmail Manager, no more EC2 UI, no more Google Gears, no more MediaPlayer Connectivity, no more Tabbrowser Preferences, etc.

But thus far, those sacrifices have been more than justified by the performance of 3.0. It may crash slightly only less frequently than 2.0, but when it crashes, it crashes fast and – more importantly – comes back near instantly.

I’m hopeful that this change proves permanent, and that I can wish Firefox 2.0 – which served me well in its day – a fond farewell.


In spite of the fact that it’s the self-selecting audience of all self-selecting audiences, I was still shocked at how common iPhones were in San Francisco. Where mine is still something of a novelty in many of the circles in which I travel, they’re as common as bottled water in the Bay Area.

Interestingly, though, few of the owners I spoke with use the iPod capabilities as actively as I do. The walking away winner for most common complaint? Not the lack of 3G, as you might guess, but rather the keyboard. One man’s trash is another’s treasure, as always. I consider that one of its more valuable features, personally.


In one of the world’s most convenient travel coincidences, my younger brother was stranded at DIA Friday…not half an hour before I touched down myself returning from San Francisco.

Before driving him to the airport the following morning, we had the opportunity to catch up on a variety of subjects (if his assertions regarding our economy are correct, and they usually are, we’re all in serious, serious trouble) – but one in particular caught my interest: LASIK.

The subject came up because – not being able to transport liquids in a carry-on – we had to make a pitstop at a 24hr Walgreen’s to procure saline for his contacts. He’s considering the surgery, which made me ponder it in turn.

While there’s a certain charm in the only-being-able-to-see-10-feet thing, it seems like there’d be a lot more charm in being able to see. Like a human. And if the prices have indeed come down to $2K for reputable treatment, I may have to seriously consider it. Particularly if I can make enough renting my place in Denver this summer to cover it.

Have any of you been lasered? Would you recommend it? Or will my eyes fall out like Flanders’ did 10 years hence?

Mac Applications

While I’m not exactly carrying around a sign saying “Repent, for the end is near,” the rumors that I’ve acquired a Mac are, in fact, true. Given that I tend to be hands on as an analyst – I know, it’s weird, I like to actually use the technologies I cover – it’s frankly surprising that it took so long.

My initial experience hasn’t exactly been seamless – the first Mini I acquired had to be swapped for a bad optical drive, and the second insists on dropping the Apple bluetooth keyboard I’d planned to use – but overall OS X has been pleasant. More capable in some areas, less in others, but pretty all the time.

Anyway, apart from Fusion and Parallels which I’m working to acquire, I thought it might be useful – in the spirit of Erik’s list – to document some of the OS X applications I’ve been evaluating.

  1. Adium (prefer Pidgin, actually)
  2. Adobe AIR (straightforward install, but the few apps I’ve tried – such as AIRPress – haven’t been compatible)
  3. Amazon.com MP3 Downloader (where’s the Linux one you promised, guys?)
  4. Colloquy
  5. eMusic.com MP3 Downloader
  6. Firefox (better behaved on OS X, but also stressed less)
  7. Handbrake (when does this become a feature?)
  8. iScrobbler (irritating)
  9. JungleDisk (integrates into the Finder relatively seamlessly)
  10. NeoOffice (slow)
  11. NetNewsWire (not designed for my reading habits, it would appear)
  12. Quicksilver (must have, particularly now that I’m addicted to GNOME Do)
  13. Skype (autostartup by default was driving me crazy)
  14. SubEthaEdit (yet to test)
  15. TextMate (gorgeous, very usable editor)
  16. Twitterific (I’m not yet this interrupt driven)

Suggestions, as always, are welcome.


  1. I never had more than one 19-inch monitor before working at Google. As is common knowledge, every engineer in the company is equipped with two 24-inch monitors by default, unless they prefer a single 30-inch. I scoffed at the idea too, but it makes an incredible difference for productivity. Hint: if you get two 24-inch (probably 1920×1200 resolution each), rotate one vertically (therefore 1200×1920) and use it for web browsing. I almost never scroll, ever.

    If you really prefer browsing horizontally, at least install the Vertigo extension so you get your tab bar along the left of the screen instead of along the top.


  2. @Mark: Ok, that’s it. I’m going dual whenever I get back in the fall.

  3. The biggest catch is the extensions I’m leaving behind due to their incompatibility with 3.0 ; no more del.icio.us bookmarks, no more Gmail Manager, no more EC2 UI, no more Google Gears, no more MediaPlayer Connectivity, no more Tabbrowser Preferences, etc.

    But thus far, those sacrifices have been more than justified by the performance of 3.0. It may crash slightly only less frequently than 2.0, but when it crashes, it crashes fast and – more importantly – comes back near instantly.

    Perhaps a correlation between the lack of extensions and the (relative) lack of crashing?

  4. @Alex: Almost certainly. I’ve called this the plugin problem in the past. I’ve no doubt that if/when I load up Firefox in the future, it will performance worse than it does today.

    That said, the Firefox 2.0 installation I have on my workstation – also Ubuntu – has had similar if not quite as severe performance issues, and has no plugins installed whatsoever.

    In this case, at least, it’s probably a bit of both, but your point is well taken.

  5. Hi Stephen,

    Our data shows Linux performance is significantly improved vs. distro-shipped builds of 2.0. A lot of this is actually fruits of work that we’ve been collaborating with the Linux community on concerning cairo/pango/fontconfig etc. That stuff gates pageload time in particular.

    I’m surprised you’re getting a lot of crashes–Fx3 has been pretty stable for me. Are you running beta2, or a nightly? Are you getting a crash reporter from Ubuntu or Firefox? Would love to see some stacks.

  6. @Robert Sayre: does that mean that the performance of 3 is improved vs distro builds of 2, or that the Mozilla issued builds of 2 are superior than the distro shipped versions? If it’s the former, I can absolutely confirm that that’s the case. The performance of 3 is excellent thus far.

    As for the crashes, no crash reporters as yet: you blink, and it’s gone. If the behavior continues, I’ll try running it from the command line to see what the output is on fail, but it’s been up ever since I posted the piece earlier.

    Version info follows: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv:1.9b3pre) Gecko/2008020507 Firefox/3.0b3pre

  7. I’m probably going to get Lasik’d in March; I look forward to seeing more than ten inches in front of my face.

    (And Stephen, your OpenID plugin seems to not like my OpenID server @ http://tieguy.org/. Not clear why.)

  8. sogrady,

    This is my first time here but so far I love what I am reading. I had to laugh when I was reading about the monitor issues, I am in the same boat. I have yet to upgrade to the larger monitor and it seems that the screen keeps getting further away or my eyes are just going. πŸ™‚

    Anyway keep it up!

  9. Call me the wimp, but something about burning off a layer of my eyeball with a laser is still scary to me… luisv, you’ll have to let us know how it goes.

    sogrady: get a large Samsung monitor – absolutely awesome monitors (until OLED becomes affordable). Dual is nice, but costs double…

  10. I got Lasik, it is awesome.

    Also, did you install Growl on your Mac? You can throttle it so that it doesn’t bug you all the time, but it’s great for things like when “redmonk” and “cote” show up in #redmonk without the cheesy bouncing icon.

  11. I still wish the keyboard would rotate to landscape so my not so nimble fingers could use it better…

  12. @Luis Villa: cool, keep us posted on how that goes. Rafe Colburn apparently has a horror story to relate.

    As for the OpenID rejection, that’s odd. Symptoms?

  13. @Mike Dolan: likewise, but it’d be a hell of a lot more convenient. as for the monitors, i’m probably going to wait until fall and then see what the pricing is on 30″ LCDs. couple of the folks @ the office have Dells and like them a lot.

  14. @Cote’: nice, need to talk to you more about that. I did indeed install Growl, though I haven’t hooked into IRC and so on yet. It mostly just reports music and so on now.

  15. @john simonds: amen, brother.

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