Unmistakable Marks

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Mo Reasons

There are plenty of good reasons to make Mozilla Firebird your browser of choice, but here's another one specifically for blog readers.

A lot of blogs pop up comments in this teeny-tiny window that you can't resize. At least, you can't if you use IE.

In Firebird (and newer versions of Mozilla), type about:config in the address bar, scroll down to the dom.disable_window_open_feature.resizable property, double-click it, and set the value to true. Voila; all your windows are now under your control, like they should be.

I ♡ Firebird.

Comments | July 27, 2003

The Death of Palm

Nobody cares about PDAs these days, but if they did, they'd be interested in the competition between Palm and Microsoft. Unfortunately for Palm, these hypothetical observers are looking at the wrong competition; Microsoft's already beaten Palm, and the question now is whether Linux can mount an effective handheld challenge.

The problem with Palm is that its software is brilliant and efficient in utilizing the limited hardware of handheld devices. In 1996, when the original PalmPilot came out, this was Palm's main advantage -- the Windows CE that Microsoft ginned up to compete with the PalmOS was too bloated to compete. It was slow and memory-hungry where the Palm was lean and fast. Palm got smug about this, when they should have been terrified about its implications.

If there's one constant in the computing world, it's that hardware gets better, fast. The PalmPilot Professional, released in 1997, had a 16MHz processor and 1MB of memory; the computer it would have hooked up to for syncing was probably a Pentium running at 100MHz with 32MB of memory. Today's HP 2215 handheld has a 400 MHz processor and 64MB of memory.

The unpleasant reality of operating systems is that there's a limit to how far they can scale; the further away they get from their original hardware target, the more kludgy they get. Eventually, you just need to write a new OS from scratch, targeted to higher-end hardware. So, MS-DOS gave way to NT, and MacOS Classic gave way to the Unix-based MacOS X. And there's an interesting point there: Unix historically ran on high-powered workstations and servers, before it became a desktop OS; NT is architecturally based on the VMS server OS.

That's not an accident. The more high-powered a machine is, the "cleaner" its software can be. If you're running on a 16KB machine, you need to hack your way to maximum efficiency, but if you're on a machine with 2GB, you've got plenty of room for abstraction layers. Obviously, PalmOS is the hacky "efficient" OS that gets the job done on low-powered hardware, where Pocket PC Mobile Edition (nee Windows CE) is a comparatively clean OS that steals architectural principles from higher-class computers. And now that a typical handheld is more powerful than a typical desktop was in 1996, the advantages of the high-end approach are more and more apparent.

For now, Palm is staying alive by retreating to the phone arena, where hardware is still less powerful, and efficiency therefore in greater demand; but this is obviously just a stalling tactic. In the very near future, Palm is doomed. But Microsoft's not guaranteed victory: Fundamentally, phones and PDAs want to be cheap, and as long as the device makers need to pay a license fee to Microsoft, there's a limit to how cheap they can get. But Linux is also a powerful, modern operating system, and with a certain amount of investment from Sony, Samsung, or Nokia, it could eventually do a bang-up job of powering portable devices -- and free the manufacturers from the Microsoft tariff. In five years, the competition in your hand is going to be the same as it is in your server room: Windows and .NET versus Linux and Java.

Comments | July 25, 2003

Free Lunches, the Nonexistence Thereof

Remember that one episode of the Cosby Show where Dr. Huxtable goes through a budget with Theo and shows him that he doesn't have enough money to get by on his own? Well, Dwight Meredith does the same thing to spend-and-don't-tax Republicans:

The game works this way. We take the all government receipts as estimated by OMB in its Mid Session Review and try to balance the operating budget of the United States. In the 1990s, a consensus developed that the Social Security surplus should be used to pay down debt in order to prepare for the retirement of the baby boomers. Almost every politician of both parties promised to do so, including, famously, George W. Bush. Thus, it would be inappropriate to use the Social Security surplus for purposes other than paying down debt. To play, you start with $1,797,000,000,000. That is OMBs estimate of FY 2004 receipts of the Federal Government ...

But as Meredith deftly shows, it's not nearly enough to pay for the expenses of the federal government, no matter how much pork you try to cut. There is simply no possible way to balance the budget without raising taxes.

Thankfully, we're currently ruled by the party of fiscal conservatives, tough-minded guys who make the hard decisions, people who realize that there are no free lunches, former CEOs who know how to balance a ledger. I'm sure that any minute now, President Bush and the Republican leaders of Congress will explain how and when they plan to raise taxes.

Comments | July 25, 2003

Coverups Get a Bad Rap

Since Watergate, it's been the received wisdom that the coverup is worse than the offense. But Timothy Noah, considering why the Nigerian uranium has become a big deal and Bush's other well-documented lies haven't, pokes holes in that theory:

The yellowcake lie landed on Page One solely because it occasioned a brief and fatal departure from the Bush White House's press strategy of stonewalling. "Bush Claim on Iraq Had Flawed Origin, White House Says" read a New York Times headline on July 8. Glancing through the story, Chatterbox initially puzzled over its Page One placement. Didn't we know already that Bush's yellowcake line was a lie? Then Chatterbox realized that the novelty component wasn't the lie, but the Bush administration's admission that it had told a lie. In the Bush White House, this simply isn't done.

Coverups might sometimes blow up, but as a general rule, they work. If you don't admit to anything and nobody can quite prove it conclusively, odds are you're fine. If you're engaging in a lot of dubious behavior, as the Bush administration is, refusing to admit to it is probably your best strategy.

But when Bush does get taken down -- permit me my naive optimism -- it'll almost certainly be on something that he covered up (because there isn't any wrongdoing that's been done out in the open), and the "coverup is worse" hypothesis will seem reinforced despite all the successful coverups (you'll note that Reagan was never impeached for Iran-Contra) that took place along the way.

Comments | July 17, 2003

Up up down down left right left right B A Start

The Wall Street Journal imitates Nintendo Power and reveals the secret codes for the ever-challenging game of "Find a Human at Customer Support," popular among many phone users. Some of my favorites:

Chase 800-CHASE24 Hit five, pause, then hit one, four, star, zero
American 800-433-7300 Press zero twice, then say "agent"
T-Mobile 800-937-8997 Enter your phone number
American Express 800-528-4800 Hit zero, pound, three times over (ignore prompts that it's an invalid entry)
Apple 800-275-2273 Zero three times; if virtual rep answers, say "operator"

It's great to see that providers of the Find-a-Human game have kept up the old-school video game tradition of having to beat the level boss three times before he's really defeated. There's something to be said for that kind of historical awareness.

Comments | July 16, 2003

Changing on Internet Time

There's never been an obviously compelling reason for AOL to keep developing the Netscape browser (other than, you know, not wanting the AOL client to be at the mercy of Microsoft -- we're talking about actual dollars here); and it seems like AOL's just realized that. Apparently, all the Netscape/Mozilla developers employed by AOL have been let go. At the same time, AOL's transferred the Mozilla intellectual property and a small pile of cash to the Mozilla Foundation -- effectively, a nice severance package for the project.

Mozilla's always been a weird animal -- an open-source project that was effectively controlled and bankrolled by AOL. It's been successful, but there's always been a nagging suspicion that it was only successful in the way that Slate is; it's easy to succeed when you can serve as a small money sink to a big corporation.

Well, now we get to see how well Mozilla does without massive corporate support. I suspect everyone involved is a bit nervous (particularly those who've just lost their jobs in the midst of a terrible employment environment), but if this works out, escaping AOL's pushy little thumb could be a good thing for Mozilla. Here's hoping.

Comments | July 15, 2003

1.21 Gigawatts

Due to a vacation in the wilds of Michigan's Cherry Festival-centric north, I was out of media contact for most of the weekend. You can imagine how weird it was, then, when I came back to find that I'd somehow gone back in time to February, and the big topic of conversation was Bush's lies about Iraq's supposed uranium purchase.

Fortunately, the alternate February I've gone back to is a more sensible one, where people are holding Bush's feet to the fire and mocking his more ridiculous claims.


Ever since Watergate, a "smoking gun" has been the standard for judging any Washington scandal. Many a miscreant has escaped with his reputation undamaged--or even enhanced by the publicity and pseudovindication--because there was no "smoking gun" like the Watergate tapes. But now it seems that the standard has been lifted. You would think that on the question of who told a lie in a speech, evidence seen on television by millions of people around the world might count for something. Apparently not. The Bush administration borrows from Groucho: "Who are you going to believe--us or your own two eyes?


After I wrote a month ago about the Niger uranium hoax in the State of the Union address, a senior White House official chided me gently and explained that there was more to the story that I didn't know.

Yup. And now it's coming out.


It came to my attention that Condoleeza Rice is attempting to explain to us that 16 words of outright falsehood isn't really all that much in the context of a two hour speech, not all of which has yet been proved to be untrue. How wonderful; I never realised before that she had much of a sense of humour. I have never been a great fan of this kind of reasoning, ever since an unscrupulous waiter once convinced me (I was young and drunk) that one obviously putrid, blackish-green prawn wasn't really all that much in the context of a very generous paella. Three bloody days on the pot I was because of that one.

Comments | July 14, 2003

Nameless Music

I may not have a classical music station on my radio, but -- thanks to digital cable -- I've got two on my television. And unlike radio, the television shows me what I'm listening to; as I write this, it's a piece cleverly entitled "Concerto No. 3 in A Major". Which got me thinking that classical music composers have it easy; after they're done writing a piece, they don't need to sit around trying to come up with clever titles for it. They just say, "Lessee, this is my... third concerto, looks like, and it's in the key of A major, so..."

And then I thought a little further and realized that this titular laziness is almost certainly one of the reasons that classical music is less popular than it ought to be. Fundamentally, people are lousy at remembering arbitrary numbers and letters, and great at remembering names. Everyone knows precisely which car a Ford Taurus is, but even a Car and Driver subscriber like me will sometimes forget exactly which model the Mercedes CLK 320 is.

Consider as evidence Disney's Fantasia, which has a bunch of mainstream-popular classical music. According to the soundtrack listing, the movie contains selections from: The Nutcracker, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, The Rite of Spring, Night on Bald Mountain, Ave Maria, Dance of the Hours, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, and Beethoven's Symphony no. 6 (Pastoral). Almost all of the selections are named, rather than numbered -- even the Beethoven symphony has a nickname.

The conclusion is obvious: If classical music wants to be more popular (and what anthropomorphized musical genre wouldn't?), it needs real names. I propose a council of eminent musical scholars to go through the significant catalog of music and assign names to every piece. Every last little Violin Concerto No. X will become something like "Oops, I Did It Again!", and classical music will soar in popularity.

Sometimes I'm so visionary I scare myself.

Comments | July 6, 2003

Naughty Words

Stealing a page from Rush Limbaugh's book, the Lieberman campaign attacks Howard Dean:

An aide to Mr. Lieberman said: "Everyone wants a race against Dean. Everyone has looked at the research, and he looks easiest to bring down. He's positioned himself as a liberal, and liberals don't win here."

Yes, you'd sure hate to have those filthy, stinking liberals cluttering up the Democratic Party, wouldn't you? The worst part is, Dean isn't a staggering-left liberal. In saner times, when Lieberman wouldn't try running for the Democratic nomination on a Republican platform, Dean would have been considered a moderate centrist.

I'll vote for anybody against Bush, of course -- hell, even Lieberman would at least be an honest, competent conservative -- but yeesh.

Comments | July 3, 2003

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