2018-05-31 Getting rid of Firefox

Some time ago, I switched from Firefox to Palemoon as my main browser, because it has most of the addons I use - the ones that Firefox 57 dropped. However, there was one addon missing: Video Download Helper. Turns out that Video Download Helper exists also for Blink-based browsers, so I gave a few of them a try, including Chromium and Vivaldi. I couldn't get h.264 to play in Chromium, but with a bit of help from the internet, I got it to work in Vivaldi. Plus I like that Vivaldi is basically the return of Opera, which I used back in the days of Opera 6.

So, I have been using Vivaldi for video sites the last couple of weeks, and a couple of days ago, it crashed. Now, I really don't like when software crashes, so normally that would get me to look for something else. But in this case, we need to compare with Firefox, which recently managed to crash four times in one day. That's four times in one day vs once in several weeks. So now I'm just about to uninstall Firefox, I just need to be sure that I have everything moved over.

Palemoon + Vivaldi seems to be a pretty good combo.

2018-05-12 Anti-aliasing

Over the years, I've argued with lots of people about anti- aliasing. They say it looks better and is more readable, while I object that to me, anti-aliased text is like reading on an old CRT monitor that should have been thrown out years ago. Blurry, out of focus text. But sometimes it's even worse than that, and I just found a perfect example. This is the same PDF, the left is anti-aliased in Firefox, the right is not anti- aliased in MuPDF. Both are set to 100% zoom, though Firefox seems to be rendering at 96ppi (HTML standard), rather than the ppi of the monitor.

Tell me, in the left screenshot, what are the numbers of the three cars at the bottom? And what is the team name of the first of those three? How about in the screenshot on the right, which is not antialiased?

I'm sure some people will tell me to zoom in. The problem is, this is 100% zoom, the size it's supposed to be viewed at. It's just that anti-aliasing shouldn't be used on small text - especially not text where antialiasing doesn't leave at least one fully black pixel for the width of every line of a letter. Which basically means the body of any text viewed on a monitor below ~150ppi. Most PC monitors don't go that high. Pretty much any monitor you find that will go that high (outside of phones and tablets) are going to be labelled "Apple Retina". So, if your software makes it hard to turn off anti-aliasing, it's designed for a Mac. Even if it says "Microsoft" on the box.

2018-05-09 Attack of the clones

A few months ago, Behringer finally released the Model D, a clone of the MiniMoog Model D. And just days ago, they announced a bunch of new synthesizer clones. On every music forums, there's a lot of people arguing that it isn't fair or moral to clone all these old synthesizers, even though the patents expired years ago. Oh sure, the MiniMoog is back in production, but the price difference is about the same as the difference between a Fiat 500 and a Ferrari Testarossa, and cheap Fiats aren't making a huge dent into Ferrari sales.

Anyone who feel this way: I hope you are using a PowerMac. Or even an old Motorola 680x0 based Mac. Because let me tell you about one of the cloning operations with the biggest impact ever. A long time ago, a company called Compaq decided to clone the IBM PC. Not an old, out of date computer, like the synthesizers Behringer is cloning, but the - at the time - new IBM PC. The result was that suddenly everybody produced PC clones, or "compatibles" as they were known, finally resulting in IBM giving up and selling their remaining PC business to a Chinese company called Lenovo. And now every desktop and laptop computer is a descendant of the IBM PC and its clones. Even a Mac is a PC, and has been for years.

If Compaq had not cloned the IBM PC, you would have had the choice between a some proprietary successor to the IBM PS/2, which would come with OS/2 preinstalled (Windows wouldn't have been a success without the clones), or a PowerPC based Mac. Except... The PowerPC CPU was created in a joint project between Apple, Motorola and IBM, to take back the market from the clones. That would probably not have happened if IBM still had a monopoly on the PC market. Which brings us to the conclusion: If not for the PC clones, you would be using a 680x0-based Mac, unless you decided on the expensive OS/2 machine.

And before anyone says ARM, if the PC clones hadn't flooded the market and crashed the old computer market (with Apple being the only one that managed a comeback), Acorn Computers probably wouldn't have sold off their CPU design, the Acorn Risc Machine, or ARM.

2018-04-12 Windows and stability

Windows fans always like to remind us that Windows is not that unstable mess we call Windows ME anymore. And of course they are right. But they also want to convince us that Windows is just as stable as any other operating system. Yet, when I talk to people who use Windows, or people who have recently switched from Windows to Linux about more specific things than simply stability, it seems to me that reinstalling every other year is still considered normal in the Windows world.

To give an example, recently many games exist only in 64-bit versions. As I'm running 32-bit Linux, I tend to complain if they don't clearly specify the 64-bit requirement before I buy. Often forums is the easiest or only way to contact developers, so I get other people commenting that I'm stupid for running a 32-bit Linux distro. And my reply is always "you should have told me this before I installed it, in 1998".

For a FreeBSD or Solaris user, there's likely no surprise here, but for a Windows user or recent convert, it seems to be a huge surprise that one can be running an OS in 2018 that was installed in 1998. Another comment I often get is that none of the games in question will run on that old hardware. That it can be possible to upgrade the hardware without needing to reinstall the OS doesn't even occur to them.

I'm not saying that Windows is unstable. Heck, I have been running the same Windows 7 install at work for at least four years. I'm saying that people who are used to Windows can't even imagine that an operating can be stable.

On a similar note, when I'm asked why I don't use Windows, I sometimes answer "because I dislike the color blue". And without fail, the reply is that the blue screen of death is a thing of the past. Not once has anyone replied that it is possible to change the theme to something other than the default blue. If the blue screen of death is a thing of the past, why is it still the first thing that springs to mind? And yes, I really do dislike the Windows default themes, and I know how to change it. I simply use it as a humerous reply, that also helps me gauge how faint the memory of the blue screen of death really is.

What a stupid question is that anyway? "Why don't you use Windows?" I don't go around and ask Porsche drivers why they don't drive a Toyota. I just assume they prefer driving a Porsche.

2018-04-03 An old Native American quote

It is said that when daylight saving time was explained to a Native American chief, he said:

"Only a white man would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket and sew it to the bottom of the blanket and have a longer blanket".

Of course he would be right at the time. Nowadays? Not so much. We cut off an hour in the morning when we need it the most (it's easier to get out of bed and people are more well rested when they wake up to the sun shining) and "sew it back on" in the evening when most people are sitting in front of the TV anyway, often with the curtains closed to avoid reflections on the TV screen.

2018-03-28 Legitimate e-mail vs spam

It can be hard to tell legitimate e-mail from spam. Why? Because spammers copy legitimate e-mails? Not so much. Because companies sending legitimate e-mail tend to copy spammers. I get my internet bill via e-mail, and it keeps ending up in my spam folder. According to the spam filter this is because it recognized the words "no reply" in the sender e-mail address.

Spammers don't want replies. That's one of the characteristics of spam. But a legitimate company sending a legitimate bill? If I want to inform them that the bill is too low and hit reply, and they don't react, I can claim that I did try to inform them, it's not my fault that they use a fake sender address. And if I want to complain about the bill being too high, they get to ignore it until they get a snail mail letter from some consumer protection agency accusing them of fraud. Is that really what they want?

Is there really any legitimate reason for a legitimate company sending out legitimate bills to not want to be informed in case there is any problem related to a bill? I don't think so. It's a tactic that many legitimate companies has copied from spammers without stopping to think that if you are not a spammer, maybe you actually DO want replies from your customers.

2018-03-25 Does grammar cause debt?

Many or much? We've all learned that the grammatical rules are: Many is used for things that can be counted, much is used for things that aren't countable. Many cars, many shoes, many trees, but much sand and much water. We've also learned that it's "much money", never "many money"... That makes money something that can't be counted. If that's what we teach people - money can't be counted - is it really surprising that more and more people have so much debt that they are not likely to ever pay it off? Of course credit cards have helped this along, with cash you are more or less forced to realize that money can in fact be counted, no matter what you were taught in school.

2018-03-22 Self-driving cars

So it happened. A self driving car hit and killed a person. Two things stand out:

The car was going around 60 km/h (38 MPH) with very little light. Didn't look like enough to pass inspection for low beams. My guess was daytime running lights or fog lights, other people say it's badly adjusted low beams. Someone who know the length of the dashed lines in the US did the math and got around 28m of road being lit up by the head lights of the car. Low beams are required to light up at least 30m here in Europe for the car to pass inspection, and I think it's a bit higher in the US (not sure). But let's stick with 30m. That makes the safe speed about 50 km/h or 30 MPH. Above that, you need high beams. And no, unlike the first reports, the video does not show the pedestrian coming in from the side. If that was the case, the first thing seen would have been the front wheel of the bicycle she was pushing. The first thing seen was her shoes, when the head lights of the car were finally able to reach her.

Writing software to recognize a pedestrian is not simple. Writing software to recognize that the head lights are not lighting up enough road for the current speed should be quite a bit easier. How can you call a car self driving, if it cannot even figure out that it's running blind?

Now, the video is pretty bad, though the edge of the beam of light does stand out, so while a human may have seen more than the camera, IMHO it's still enough to conclude that the car was driving with very little light. Some people believe that the video has been made intentionally darker to make the company building this autonomous car look better. One problem with that... What the video appears to show is reckless driving. If the video has been doctored to make it look like reckless driving to make the company look better... They'd have to be hiding something pretty bad.

And second, this car is one where the computer does most of the driving, and the person in the drivers seat is supposed to pay attention all the time and be ready to take over in a split second when the computer fails to handle the situation. That didn't happen. Because human brains don't work like that. We get bored, and the person who should be watchind the road was looking down, probably at a phone. No surprise there. I won't even blame this person for failing to pay attention, because to do so would be to blame them for being human.

2018-02-20 Freedom of speech

What is freedom of speech? It is the idea that you are allowed to criticize politicians or organized religion, without the government preventing you from doing so. This works great as long as you criticize only those in your own country, but can be a problem if you criticize politicians or the religion of another country that doesn't have freedom of speech.

Example 1: If an artist in Denmark uses his freedom of speech to draw the prophed Mohammed as a terrorist, he then risks being arrested if he visits let's say Syria.

Example 2: If a politician in Russia uses his freedom of speech to take out Facebook ads criticizing Hillary Clinton, he then risks being arrested if he visits the USA.

While the severity of these two examples are completely different, the implications to freedom of speech are the same. Neither Syria nor the USA has freedom of speech. And neither can claim to have freedom of speech without redefining freedom of speech to also include the other.

2018-02-18 He who cannot be named

Any good Christian knows, you are not supposed to say the name of the lord. That's why they always say God and not Jehova, even though "god" is a generic term that applies to any god, so unless you can infer from context (or already know they are Christian), you don't know which god they are talking about.

With that in mind, what does a good Christian call Jehovas Witnesses?

2018-02-13 Why I won't be switching to SSD

We hear it all the time. Spinning hard drives are out, and solid state drives are the new hot thing. So, why did I buy a new spinning hard drive, rather than an SSD drive?

Have you checked the prices of SSD drives? They are still way expensive. Sure, the small ones are not much more expensive than a laptop hard drive, but I'm on a desktop PC, and I do regular backups, so I don't lose everything and need to start over. My new hard drive is a 4 TB drive, because my old 1 TB drive was close to full. A 4 TB SSD from a reputable manufacturer is pretty expensive, as is four 1 TB SSDs in a raid (make that five, the R in raid i for redundant).

When I explain this, often I get the response that the way to go is to have an SSD system drive and a large spinning drive for data. I'm sure that works fine on their Windows machines, but I use an operating system that will boot in 15 seconds to a working desktop (not showing the desktop and waiting another couple of minutes for the system to become responsive), and is pretty good at caching things in RAM. RAM is a lot faster than SSD, and I have 16 GB of it - of which I currently (6 hours after boot) have 13.9 GB free and 1.9 used for disk cache.

The reason I was looking at SSDs in the first place is because they are silent. 7200 RPM hard drives are not. Putting an SSD and a spinning hard drive in my computer will not make it any less noisy than just the hard drive. So, for me, until SSD prices come down near hard drive prices, I'm not interested. And that seems to happening a lot slower than predicted. People started talking about SSD prices becoming equal to hard drive prices years ago.

2018-02-11 Racist country

Seem the country I live in is more racist than I tought. Our racist political party decided to prove that they are still racist, by introducing a law to ban muslim women from walking in public. Our right wing government was in on the idea, and thus they had a majority for the law. Or so they thought. One of the parties decided to allow their members to vote in accordance with their own views, rather than forcing the party line. Which took away just enough votes that there is no longer a majority for the law.

Of course, the other parties of the current government were pissed. That's not a surprise. But reporters are up in arms about this, because, as they say, normally a political party only allows their members to vote in accordance with their own views on ethical questions. And there are no ethical questions about forbidding muslim women from going out in public.

Really? If forbidding muslim women from going out in public is not an ethical question, then this country is a lot more racist than I thought.

2018-01-24 Fanboys

Fanboys are annoying. We all know that. But Firefox fanboys are among those who are especially annoying. So, Firefox Quantum (FF 57+) is a lot faster than XUL-based Firefox. Ok, that was the idea, and although every time a faster version of Firefox has been announced, it has ended up being even slower than the previous version, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt this time. But to say that it's so much better than the old version just because it's faster...

Look, if speed is all you care about, you should have switched to Chrome 9 years ago. I did. For a short while. But I wasn't happy with the much more limited browser, it lacked (and still lacks) a lot of features that I use in Firefox all the time. So I switched back. Over the years, all those advanced features have been removed from Firefox and turned into extensions, so that I now need more than 15 Firefox extensions installed. Firefox Quantum breaks those extensions, replacing the API that made them possible with one mostly compatible with Chrome. So the speed improvements should not be compared with previous versions of Firefox, but rather with Chrome, because that's the browser you should have been using if speed was all that mattered. Problem is, when compared to Chrome, Firefox Quantum is at most a few percent faster, best case.

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