Friday, June 24, 2011

SOFTWARE: The F Word, Firefox 5

I have a problem with Firefox 4.01. It crashes. Randomly. With an error that something like less than two percent of all Firefox users encounter. And Mozilla can't identify the cause and, as a result, fix it. My main hope was that with the release of v5 earlier this week, the deck chairs would have been re-arranged enough so that the cure would occur through serendipity.

Well, to this moment, no crashes. So, I should be happy. Right? Ahhhh, you know me so well. Of course I'm NOT happy.

Mozilla has cast longing looks at the update schedule for Google Chrome and decided to do it one better. A new major version every six weeks. Come rain or shine or no real reason to release an update, Mozilla's committed to an update every six weeks. This after rather intolerable times between updates 3.0, 3.5, 3.6 and 4.0. Actually, there were a litany of little point releases in between. And all the world, save the attention-started Mozilla main men, was happy.

Now, there's no Mozilla-based reason why the world should look askance at the six-week schedule. There might be a dot release somewhere in those six weeks. But generally speaking, Firefox users are just happy new aims and acheiving those aims is now scheduled.

So, why am I ARRRGGHHHHHing over Firefox 5? Add-ons or add-ins or extensions or whatever you want to call those extra bits of code that actually let you personalize your Firefox experience into the best web-browser (at least for me and anybody I can threaten or harangue). In each extension is a little bit of code that says this will work with versions X to Y. That's important. If something changes in version Z of Firefox, it's important to avoid having the extension try to do something that Z now forbids, treats differently or has removed the linking in capability. Broke software is worse than a virus in many ways.

It's important for extension writers to check out the new version Z and make sure the extension behaves as it traditionally has. And, if so, update the X and Y limites built into the extension, where the new Y is actually Z (See you ARE using that algebra that you vowed never to use again, one minute after you completed your last algebra exam in school). For various reasons (laziness, non-interest in continuing to work on a freebie, death, inability to figure out any key changes in the newest version, acknowledgement of better alternatives, not having time, etc.) some extension programmers do NOT upgrade their extension in time for the release of the new version.

And that bit me on the behind when I upgraded Popeye to Firefox 5 (Quincy is still using FF4). A half-dozen of my most needed extensions, Evernote, FEBE, FfChrome, Save Image in Folder, Show Go!, Stop Autoplay and Wired Marker were disabled, unable to function in FF5. Well, no need to guess what kind of inarticulate sounds I was making. I'm pretty sure that I over-rode some of the thunder that night.

The worst thing, the thing that has murderous visions crossing before my eyes, is that FF5 is really just FF4.02. Little in the way of new code, just a bunch of security upgrades. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Security is good. Many of the extensions I add are devoted to that area, making FF the most secure of the web-browsers. BUT, if Mozilla had gotten off it's semantics horse and just released the new version as v4.02, the upgrade process would have occurred with nary a bit of notice on my part. Everything would have kept functioning and I could have saved myself a whole lot of mental angst imagining what I would do with the throat of a Mozilla decision-maker in my hands.

Fortunately, there's an extension designed to get around this specific issue. Add-On Compatibility Reporter can be found at and, while functioning in a most peculiar way, will let you survive FF5's difference in versioning. Won't solve truly incompatible problems, but in this semantically the same kind of difference, AOCR will let you continue on, as is, awaiting actual approved upgrades to come rolling in, in the days ahead. Not the weeks ahead, cuz six weeks from now (less actually), FF6 will be released.

Oh fun. Yeah, that was the F Word I was thinking of.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

SPORTS: And with the fifth pick in the 2011 NBA entry draft, the Toronto Raptors select ...

The NBA Draft is 30 something hours away when I write this. The Toronto Raptors, in need of anybody who thinks defence first, and who might turn into an NBA All-Star, have the fifth pick. And I think the team should (and will, if given the opportunity) select a player who won't play for them this upcoming season.

Jonas Valanciunas.

Why? Well, the team isn't going to go from dog days to top dog in one season with one player not of the mega-star variety. The first year of Dwane Casey's command is going to be a pruning process anyways. And why not let things fall as they may and add a high lottery pick again NEXT summer to go with Valanciunas as a double-headed rookie monster? Yeah, it'll be tough on Toronto fans to go through another losing season, the fourth in a row. But it'll take more talent than this team's got, to rebound past mediocrity and into title-contention.

Of course, there might not BE a season to talk about. Sort of takes the disappointment out of not having Valanciunas completely off the board, wouldn't you think?

Valanciunas is a seven foot centre who likes to play defence and crash boards. He's European, so the mid-range game and even the three-point game is second nature. He's Tyson Chandler The Younger. If GM Bryan Colangelo thought Chandler was the solution a year ago, then he probably didn't have his mind changed by the Dallas romp to the title.

IF in fact, Valanciunas is off the board, then I wonder if the thinking in the same vein process then leads Toronto to Enes Kanter, who likely WILL be there if the Lithuanian isn't. The problem is a lack of in-game context for Kanter, who sat out last year trying to get eligible for the Kentucky Wildcats. He failed, and so did they. But his measurables are all good, allegedly. And before the emergence of Valanciunas, his name was the chatter you heard most coming from within Toronto circles. The difference with him is the will they/won't they problem of the season. IF Kanter is the pick, then they have to sign him and have him sit even longer while the NBA billionaires and millionaires argue over how to split the loot. IF the season were to be called on account of mental defect, then it wold be two completely blown seasons in the development of a young man. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of a gamble.

But what else is out there? Doug Smith asks today on his blog if there is a single player in the draft who would start ahead of any current Raptor starter. And his question can be answered thus: no. Really, even Kyrie Irving, the reputed top pick, would come in behind Jose Calderon at the start. Derrick Williams would find time behind James Johnson initially. And Kanter would head the second unit, getting time after Amir Johnson and Andrea Bargnani needed a blow. Shooting guard ahead of DeMar DeRozan? Nope, although I really, really think Alec Burks is a sleeper in the draft.

As for the purported picks the Raptors have been hooked up with, I see flaws more than I see talent. Kemba Walker has done nothing but win in college, but he's a tweener, being a shooting guard in a point guard's body. Tweener. That's a word you hear a lot. And when you hear it, shudder. It means the player doesn't have the right size to play the position in the NBA that his talents suggest he should spend time playing. And it rarely works out.

Not that Brandon Knight will be there at #5, but I saw an analysis recently that broke down Knight's individual skills. And right now, the hoped for defensive stopper with a good shot is more mirage than reality. It projected Knight as the biggest flop of the lottery picks. That scared me. Jan Vesely is a 6-11 small forward who maybe isn't the best shooter from the wing. If Toronto had power forward minutes, I'd be more inclined to back Vesely, but the Raptors have a glut there. Bismack Biyombo? A mini-Dwight Howard according to some, a rebounding, shot-blocking Taj Gibson at the other end. Well, that's something any team could use. But a tweener power forward with the Raptors? Puh-leeze. Seen it already, in triplicate.

Which leaves me with one alternative to the big man draft theory. Kawhi Leonard. If it was guaranteed he could develop into a threat from the perimeter, given his high marks for aggression, defending and rebounding, he'd be my pick. A small forward who's slightly larger than one would expect from the position, Leonard's high motor would work with the Raptors. He'd get playing time, splitting with James Johnson, the de facto 29th pick, since that was used to get him from Chicago. It's a combo I could live with on a good team.

After all of that, who will Toronto pick? Well, it certainly depends on two things. The third and fourth picks before them will affect their decision-making. And so will trades. Which, reputedly, there will be a lot of.

I could see Calderon being an ex-Raptor ... again. Would Minnesota trade Michael (Tweener) Beasley to the Raptors for Calderon so that he could serve as a mentor for the incoming Ricky Rubio, his teammate on the Spanish national team? The TWolves would have to throw in Luke Ridnour and there might be some other constituents to the deal. But Minny would clear room for Williams and get the perfect compliment to Rubio. Mind you, there would be better deals for Beasley out there. And, it's no given Toronto would like Beasley playing out of position any better than other teams.

Other Toronto trading chips include Bargnani and Amir Johnson. I could see Bargnani and DeRozan headed to Golden State in return for Monta Ellis, Andris Biedrins and some collateral goodies. Ellis is a defensive liability and a Calderon/Ellis back-court isn't the kind of stuff Casey signed on for. Still, I think you're going to see Ellis moved and Toronto shouldn't see DeRozan as an impediment to getting him. It's not like DeRozan has demonstrated defensive will over these last two years.

Calderon doesn't have to move to Minnesota. I had him going to Anaheim to join the Royals there. 'Cept, Sacramento didn't move south (this season). I still think he makes sense to collar the highly individualistic Kings, especially shot-happy Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. I'd want Omri Caspi back at a minimum. But dealing Calderon and NOT getting a running partner for Jerryd Bayless would be a Knight-drafting requirement.

Miami would salivate at the thought of Calderon joining the team some how. Would they swap Calderon and Amir Johnson for say ... Chris Bosh? Pat Riley says no breaking up the Amigos. But letting LeBron James move to power forward and having Calderon dish the ball to either wing would make Miami better. A starting five of Calderon, Johnson, Mike Miller, James and Dwayne Wade would be better than Mario Chalmers and the centre of the minute starting with the Amigos.

Amir Johnson's recovering from surgery, So there is a no-guarantee warranty on any deal with him. But he's absolutely the kind of second-team power forward a lot of teams would want. He hustles, rebounds, has developed a mid-range game, blocks the odd shot and he stays out of foul trouble most nights. He's sort of a poor man's Anderson Varejao. The problem is who to extract for him. He's not cheap, but not overly expensive contract wise. I could see him moving in the reported Tony Parker trade to San Antonio. That's an interesting deal since the Spurs seem intent on saddling the new Parker owner with Richard Jefferson. With the Bosh exception burning in his pocket, Colangelo would still have to include some contract ballast going the other way. Say Amir and the soon to be optioned out-of contract of Leandro Barbosa, plus exception credit plus that fifth pick (the reason the Spurs want to trade) to San Antonio for Parker, Jefferson and a bit more (Matt Bonner ... in your dreams). Calderon would then HAVE to be dealt. And maybe the new CBA gets one free buy-out, ending Jefferson's Raptor career before it started.

By the way, who does San Antonio want the high pick for? Valanciunas.

Monday, June 13, 2011

SPORTS: Premature Celebration

Much is being made today of the juvenile antics of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. First, there was the little celebration in Game Two that was JUST a tad premature. Up 15 and dancing seemed to spur on the Dallas Mavericks who managed to come back and win the game, en route to actually winning the NBA Championship last night. And there was the equally juvenile mocking James and Wade were caught on tape doing before the fifth game, making fun of Dirk Nowitzki's illness in the prior game. The Miami Heat would never win another game in the post-season.

Celebrating and mocking are the kind of things pro athletes shouldn't do, but often do do. And get away with. In the first case, it's understandable, if nauseating. I've always been a Joe Paterno fan. "Act like you've done it before"  In the second case, karma got them but good. Good. I had a low opinion of James before the tape saw the light of day. It's lower now. And Wade, the only one of the Amigos who hadn't earned universal scorn, is coming into some of what James and Chris (Just Another Guy) Bosh have been deservedly getting all year.

Where the Heat goes from here is anybody's guess. The excuse-makers are already out in force saying they predicted the team would have growing pains before going on a multi-year title spree. Yeah, but, there is that el foldo act James did over the last fortnight. And surely, somebody in the NBA final is going to be willing to get physical with Bosh and Wade. If you can't beat them, then beat them up. The Brian Cardinal's of the world have worth afterall. I can see several finals appearances by Wade and James (and a trade of Bosh to help them get back there). And I can see other teams employing what passes for what has become winning strategy against the Heat.

And that will probably bring a smile to my face.

Before I go, let me tell you just how incendiary premature celebrations are. In all of sports. Last century, I was guest-coaching the local peewee rep softball team in a game against Woodbridge. I'd coached most of the kids before and Barry Murphy needed a one-night stand-in as he and his wife were elsewhere. Soooo, I was pressed into duty. Bear in mind, to this point, a Bramalea team had NEVER, EVER lost to a Woodbridge team. But this was the best Woodbridge team at any age level in years. And a nice guy name Willard was coaching, and he generally knew his stuff.

I made a mistake right off the top. I talked the umpire into calling pitches from behind the pitcher. It was a one-umpire crew and this bunch of Bramalea ball-players were led by Barry's boy David, one of the better catchers in Ontario. They still employed many of the pick off plays I'd put in for them the year before and I wanted the umpire close to the bases to make calls on those plays, of which I expected there to be more than a few. What actually happened was that the Woodbridge players that got on bases got off to illegal leads just about every time. And none got caught. And as good as David was, he didn't succeed against these running lead-offs.

Bramalea found itself down 4-1 heading into the final inning. I was mortified of course. Then, Willard did something natural and stupid. He starting bagging his equipment. Like any coach anywhere else in the world, I pounced. I started screaming at my kids to look at what he was doing. He looked up mortified. His kids all looked too. ALL he was doing was cleaning up ... just a little too early. "He thinks the game is over!!!" Naturally, the kids rallied. We took the lead 5-4 and then tacked on another run that shouldn't have scored. A runner running from second to third was tagged out for the final out of the inning on a non-force play. We had a runner scooting home from third at the same time, but he didn't make it in time. Nevertheless, I yelled at the umpire, who had is back turned to the plate, "Run scores since he beat the tag!" And I got the (wrong) call. This was a make-up for the fact that the Woodbridge kids had run roughshod all game long. I hadn't complained at all since I was at fault for letting them do it in the first place. I had taken my medicine, and a measure of revenge.

Woodbridge did nothing in their home half of the inning and Bramalea left town with the perfect record in tow. I apologized to Willard as best I could for the show I put on. He was gracious about it, but he quit coaching rep ball at the end of the season and I was told he said he didn't want to win anything bad enough to do what that crazy Bramalea coach did.

He was right to retire.

Monday, June 06, 2011

HARDWARE: I Almost Bought An iPad2 Today

Being out and about 'cuz I had a visit with the guys in the white coats, and their enforcers, physiotherapists, I came perilously close to buying an iPad2 today. General cheapness, a hatred for being told what to do and too much work and too little time to do it all combined to rescue me from my potential giving in to the dark side of Steve Jobs.

The morning started with word that Kno had put out a textbook app for the iPad. I wanted a Kno when it was going to be a hardware and software combination that made eTextbooks a real thing. The hardware Kno never really made it to the public, beyond a few controlled beta tests. But, boy, that software app was something I was interested in. And now it exists in a form I can (almost) buy. Sure, it's a US thing, but there are ways around everything.

Then, I read a nice round-up on the reading apps on the iPad2. Besides the obvious Kindle app, there are scads that do specific things I would want. Like Bluefire. And the Comixology comic book apps. There WILL be android versions of these, but how soon? And of what quality?

Finally, there is a rumour out there that sales of Honeycomb 3.1 devices are going to be halted in more than a few countries. Probably not in the States because the Xoom and the Acer products already seem to have it. BUT, and this is the but that counts, will the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 have it? It was supposed to be out Wednesday. Then, word came that only one store in New York City would be debuting it Wednesday. Seven to 10 days later for the rest of 'us.' Now, I'm worried that 'us' is U.S. not the collective we. At least here in Canada.

And why am I salivating over a gen one product when the iPad2 is seriously along in its dotage and has the superior app store? Well, as previously mentioned, there is the Jobs factor and his fanatical desire to control what's on my computer. A lousy camera and no Flash support still rankle. And who among us doesn't hate, really HATE iTunes? Well, who don't work for Apple. There's the lack of expandable memory and the user non-replaceable battery. The expensive accessories 'cuz the apple-verse pays through the nose for the logo, unlike the rest of us cheapskates in the real world.

So, using the excuses found atop this posting, I didn't buy anything. I have no idea when I will be able to buy the Samsung 10.1. It is VERY possible, I should be thinking of a tablet purchase as the first of a two-tablet family of purchases. This first one to get my feet wet, and the real v2 or v3 one next year. But if that was the case, why haven't I bought a refurb'd iPad or an Acer Iconia (available today for $450 plus tax) or even the low end iPad2 at $520?

I guess it comes down to being cheap and busy, a fairly nasty combination. IF the Samsung does decide to delay the mid-June launch here in Canada of the 10.1, I will be faced with the decision all over again. I hope to be un-busy by then.

It's the only way to legitimize the time spent on a new toy, afterall.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

SOFTWARE: Fake Scary Scumware

Of late, too many conversations I have on the phone include this, "I think I have a virus on my computer..." Arrrggghhhhh!!!!

Well, mostly, they are correct. And nervous I'm going to come through the phone and shake them silly. And yes, as Archie Bunker was fond of saying, I have to just 'STIFLE!' A good percentage, I fob off onto Patrick and he's dealing with them, plus his own legion of unhappy callers. Between us, I think we've run across about a dozen computers this spring with the same symptoms: An up-to-date computer with up-to-date virus protection AND a virus.

Doesn't seem possible does it? Well, let me point out there are two scenarios that let all those fact remain true. Your anti-virus should update every couple of hours ideally. The free versions usually update once a day. Let's say 8 am. So, some schmuck in Bulgaria (or Indonesia or some place around the corner) sends out a virus into the wild around midnight on Monday morning. It takes a while for the virus to circulate and it takes a while for the attention of your AV provider to be drawn to it. Then it takes a while for them to figure out how to stop it with your AV (they have to create a signature to searched for within the virus). Say it takes until 9 am. It's often later than that. So they put it in the next update, which for you is Tuesday morning at 8, a full 32 hours after the virus was released. You have done nothing wrong (other than chintz on not paying for a major AV's subscription), and yet you got the virus.

The other way to get infected is to agree to it. If you OK the downloading and installation of a virus (or worm or any of the other malware I call scumware), your AV can't stop it. There are legal precedents, mostly from Europe, where AV companies were sued for stopping you from your legal right to screw up your computer. If you OK it, you OK it. And your AV can't get in the way.

Now, why would any supposedly intelligent person OK getting a virus? Well, you wouldn't. But OK, NEXT and CONTINUE buttons are real easy to click, just to avoid reading lots of nasty fineprint. And that's where these scumware merchants get you. And tomato, Tomato, what you call a virus we call an agreed-on exchange of information. Like your PIN and Passwords and such.

Some times, the fineprint way of getting you to agree to your own infection is supplanted by truly illegal and nasty ways of doing business. The Mac world was rocked by the appearance of a nasty virus late in May. And that will be just the first of many that follow suit, thus forever dispelling the myth that Mac's don't get viruses. It was a SCARE virus. A fake AV product popped up, informed users the computer was infected and suggested VERY STRONGLY the user cough up some dough (via credit card) for the new shiny Anti-Virus program that would stop the current situation cold. Of course, it's a scam designed to part you from your money (and get your credit card info, to part you from MORE of your money).

So, what to do about this scurrilous scumware? Well, a posting today at Sophos (a maker of AV products) explains one approach. It explains the threat well enough and points out there is no such thing as a FIREFOX security warning. Seeing one should result in you exiting the browser immediately. And when it restarts, fer gawd's sake, don't restore all the tabs. ONE of them has the scumware on it!!!! You'll probably be able to figure out which. Jerry Pournelle actually goes one step further. If he sees one of these fake scare screens, he turns the computer off. That's right, power OFF! While I find that a little drastic, I've come close to doing it. But what I currently do is right-click on the button on the task bar at the bottom of the screen and choose close from there.  I DO NOT CLICK on any of the buttons on the form or even the X in the upper right hand corner of Firefox. Why? If you had a nefarious bent, wouldn't you label the OK button "close" or "cancel' and vice-versa? Or how about putting an invisible OK button over the closing X on that form? It's really, really not that hard to do.

Since we know you are using Firefox (Internet Explorer users deserve whatever crap their choice forces upon them), then you HAVE TO INSTALL No-SCRIPT. It's not a choice. It's a requirement. Going to the internet without it is like walking outside without any pants. You MIGHT get away with it long enough to get the paper off the driveway. But a trip to the mall is the first step towards a trip to the Psych Ward. With No-Script, you can prevent accidental drive-by infections since MANY of the sites that would do you harm, are blocked by default. IF you allow a script to run that THEN infects you, well there's only so much hand-holding I can do. You get what you deserve.

Bottom line, fixing these infected computers is about a two-hour job if everything goes right (You have backups, multiple restore points, a willingness to let us nuke your computer to the ground and install a disk image, etc.). Things don't normally go right. And I'm stuck going through directory after directory deleting any 'newish' file hoping to nab all the various pieces of the critter. It's scutwork. Important to you, totally boring for me.

So, for those of you reaching for the phone to call me with the same plaintive bleet, my advice is, "Call Patrick." Or take the steps necessary to not get the virus in the first place.