Diggler for Firefox 2.0

On the heels of my posting of Diggler for Firefox 1.5, here’s Diggler tweaked for compatibility with Firefox 2.0.

All the thanks goes to Neil Bird, who modified and repackaged the innards. Thanks also go to Adam Locke, Diggler’s first creator who maintained the extension until Firefox 1.0.


# Download Diggler 0.9.3.
# Drag it into your Firefox window to install.
# Enjoy! It will automatically upgrade your old Diggler version if you have it installed.

As usual: this extension is provided “as is”. I hope you enjoy it.

Serviceable parts inside

Electronics manufacturers sometimes quietly use open source code to save on development costs – for example, the the celebrated Linux-powered Linksys WRT54G / WRT54GL wireless broadband routers. Despite the fact Cisco has adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding its famed hackability and extensibility, there continues to be a wide variety of customized WRT54G firmware available with amazing new features. This was the main reason why I bought one for myself; I currently run HyperWRT-Thibor.

But now, for some companies, community software development is embraced and even promoted, rather than being purely incidental.

Slim Devices’ elegant digital music streaming products such as the Squeezebox proudly list their open source powered server software (called SlimServer) as a selling point.

Neuros Technology has taken the concept further by offering prize money to coders who can hack and enhance the Linux firmware powering the Neuros OSD, their Windows Media Centre/Apple iTV competitor. The top bounty of US$1000 goes to the lucky hacker who can stream Youtube onto the diminutive device.

Then there is the Chumby, a WiFi-powered clock-radio gizmo that encourages its owners to tinker with both its software and hardware; even the electronics guts inside are removable. So far people have stuck the Chumby into stuffed animals and footballs, and rigged it to stream photos from the Internet and play MP3s. It’s $150 and in a closed beta program and It’s already more personable and feature-packed than Sony’s and Apple’s best efforts.

Will free software code and hardware extensibility be a competitive advantage these companies win over the masses? Only time will tell.

UPDATE: Om Malik reported on this earlier this year; he called them iCompanies. Choice quote: “It’s the open-source software concept applied to product marketing.”

Learning the hard way

Would you pay US $10,000 for software to teach math to your kid? A Kentucky schoolboard is mulling _I CAN Learn_, a multimedia K-12 algebra program that is so deliciously proprietary it needs special computer hardware and even special furniture to operate. The total price is a mighty $300,000 for a single class of 30 students for two years. The program must also be run on its own custom computer because apparently it “interferes with other programs”. But does it work? Results seem divided:

According to an investigation by the Fort Worth Star Telegram in Texas last year, the Fort Worth school district spent $15 million to install the program with widely varying results. In 2004, ninth-graders using I Can Learn had slightly higher test scores than those using traditional methods, but seventh-graders using the program had lower scores than other students.

One of the researchers who praised the program was also found to be on the company’s payroll. That study, by researcher Peggy Kirby, is still listed on the I Can Learn Web site.

I have a saying: the quality of software is inversely proportional to its pricetag. I can’t positively say this program follows the trend, but it doesn’t seem to add up.

Big media never changes

Reuters gets snippy and gloats about the inaccuracies in Wikipedia regarding ex-Enron CEO Ken Lay’s death. (Why that angle, of all things? Well, it’s not like they are going to sell more papers running their standard glowing obituary this time).

In any case, they specifically take Wikipedia to task over its rapid article changes regarding Lay’s cause of death – it fluctuated over a several possibilities, some written for obvious comedic purposes. That’s the wacky Wikipedia for you. Not like Reuters, the pinnacle of responsible news dissemination. Surely Reuters have *never* had to retract a story, or sent off an inaccurate report because they were more interested in speed than precision! After all, they got the number and type of missiles North Korea sent off yesterday exactly on the first try, didn’t they? (It was two! No, three! Actually, five. Uh, definitely four. Maybe three. Hold on, six.)

Of course not, but Reuters doesn’t keep a history of changes – they just quietly correct their stories and hope no one notices. What Reuters also doesn’t mention is that in three hours, the Wikipedia article was made accurate.

UPDATE July 18th: Cory Doctorow sums it up better than I did with this CBC article:

Blogs, Wikipedia, and other online media fail gracefully indeed. When a newspaper gets a story wrong, it can take 24 hours to get a correction out – if it corrects it at all.

Choice writing: Girl gamers and the games they love

Richard Corbett writes a withering mockumentary on how to write a “Girls in Games” article that would make a misogynistic Ferengi proud:

How you tackle this thorny issue will affect the whole tone of your cutting article. Refer to “Lara’s chest”, and you sound debonaire and suave, aware of the connotations, yet subtly removed from them. A sly reference to “Lara’s boobs” and you’re with the everyman; casual, yet aware. “Lara’s assets” show you as a dispassionate observer of life’s rich tapestry. And “Lara’s back! And her front too!” translates literally as “I am a man with no sense of humour.”

Discussion of character should be avoided at all costs; fighting the objectification of female game figures by ignoring irrelevant details like personality, background, stance, objectives, voice work, dialogue, relationships, and all that other junk, in favour of obsessing over breasts. You know. The important things.

He’s right too. Pretty much every article I’ve read about women and videogames seems to be from the perspective of a twelve year old, viewing the whole idea with such clinical fascination you’d think they were observing polar bear mating rituals. I can’t imagine what they must think when they find out women play hockey and change their oil too.

Blackberry juice

As of this month, Bell Mobility will now officially support the Blackberry 7250 for high-speed EVDO (~1Mbps nominal speeds). EVDO is now available in all major urban centres in Canada, and coverage is expanding all the time – why, this week they turned on EVDO in the Muskokas, in case you need to get your Google Maps fix while on the lake. Later this year they will upgrade the network to run at 3Mbps. So…it’s a good thing to have.

Here’s how to get it:

# Backup all your data and extra programs from your Blackberry, just in case.
# Upgrade to Version 4.1 Desktop and Handheld Software.
NOTE: Upgrading will take 10 minutes at which time the device will appear unresponsive. This is perfectly normal.
NOTE to BES Enterprise Mail users: You will need to redo the Enterprise Activation after the upgrade.
# Go to one of select Bell World stores to get your device re-flashed to EVDO. They *should not* be charging for this service as it is a maintenance upgrade.
# The indicator should indicate “1XEV” when the Mobile Browser is running (assuming you are in the EVDO coverage area, such as the Greater Toronto Area).

Detailed instructions here.

You may also notice that the new v4.1 Handheld software will now let you to use the 7250 as a wireless modem. It’s expensive though, so I would check with Bell World for unlimited plans.

If it’s advertised in spam, it must be true

The New York Times chats with antispam vendor MessageLabs about all the crazy and clever tricks spammers try to get their genitalia enlargement pharmaceuticals and pump-and-dump stocks to us:

But spammers have hardly given up, and as they improve and adapt their techniques, network managers must still face down the pill-pushers, get-rich-quick artists and others who use billions of unwanted e-mail messages to troll for income…

Shortly after MessageLabs created a filter to catch the stock spams, the images they contained changed again.

They were now arriving with what looked to the naked eye like a gray border. Zooming in, however, the MessageLabs team discovered that the border was made up of thousands of randomly ordered dots. Indeed, every message in that particular spam campaign was generated with a new image of the border — each with its own random array of dots.”

I have to admit, now that my ISP migrated to a new mail platform, and with Gmail filtering the rest of my mail, and finally Mozilla running a Bayesian filter, things seem to have quieted down. But I still recognize half of these tricks mentioned in the article, and it’s interesting to finally find out what was the reasoning behind the scenes. Junkmailers seem to be using every hack in the book, pushing HTML and IP to heights unknown.

Examples: the careful crafting of messages with spelling mistakes or metaphors (such as the use of “gappy text” or calling a Rolex a “wrist accessory”), to splicing email with images and obscure HTML, to using viruses and spyware to turn our PCs into their email servers.

Another crazy piece of trivia: it is estimated that 10% of all email traffic on the Internet originates from two men. One is a Ukrainian spammer with four known aliases, and the other is a convicted Boston spammer currently hiding out in Russia.

From Denmark and back

Shopping for a Bluetooth headset makes you feel a bit like Goldilocks: you have to search a long time to find one that’s just right. BT headsets must be one of the last bastions of technology where you can still spend hundreds of dollars on something that doesn’t even work. It’s not like they’re brand new either.


*Motorola H500*
My first BT headset. No one could ever hear what I was saying. The mic is too far away from your mouth and pressed against your temple. Maybe the Moto engineer responsible has a very big maw or has a very small face…

*Motorola H700* [pictured, left]
The extendable boom makes it easier for people to hear me. Inbound sound quality is so-so and the noise cancellation is sometimes too zealous. Other factors weren’t great but not bad. The real deal killer was that I couldn’t even put my skinny arm between my phone and the headset without getting static. I really wanted to like this headset.

*Sony Ericsson HBH-610A*
I borrowed this from a co-worker for an afternoon. It’s got awesome range – I think I walked 20 feet and through a wall and still no static. A bit bulky, but if that’s what it needs to work, then so be it. I would have bought this except the ear loop was too rigid – after several minutes of use, my ear was in pain.

*Plantronics Discovery 640* [pictured, right]
Outbound sound quality is almost as good as my phone. Inbound is very loud and clear. It comes with a trio of sized silicone ear gels that are incredibly comfortable – so no more ear loops. It’s small and sexy looking. Finally, the radio range is several feet. In other words, just right.

Jive is no turkey

sammya920%20003.jpgThe ol’ Samsung A500‘s hinge has been loosening up the past few months, and finally in January the LCD backlight broke. It was $80 to repair, and $99 to get a brand new phone, and my contract was nearing an end, so it was a no-brainer.

I picked up the Samsung a920, aka the Jive. I spent a Saturday squinting and angling the darkened screen of my old phone at the sun to copy down my phonebook. This is the fourth Samsung I’ve had the pleasure of purchasing, and I find it fascinating to trace the design lineage. With every phone that is released, features are added, removed, honed and improved.

It’s called the Jive for a good reason. There’s the unlimited EV-DO Internet access (once you had a taste of its ~1Mbps speeds you’ll never go back), the intelligent voice-dialling, an MP3 player with exterior stereo speakers, mobile TV, uncrippled Bluetooth, a megapixel camera/camcorder with flash and an expandable memory slot.

There’s also a few fine adjustments that make it a pleasure to use. For example, you can now toggle vibrate and ringer volume separately. The phone contains both the flat and pinhole power outlets, so you can charge the phone with any Samsung charger. The grey rubber outlet plugs that graced the older Samsungs which eventually got grubby, rotted away, and finally fell off has been replaced with flush mounted, colour-matching, hard plastic plugs on hinges.

There are a few beefs, though. For example, the a920 now remembers multiple missed calls vs. the a500’s one, but then the phone doesn’t remember the __times__ the calls were received. The phone is relatively big – it’s actually slightly bigger than my last phone.

There’s another complaint other users have had – low battery life – but I suspect it’s because everyone’s been spending every uneventful moment surfing the web or playing __Doom RPG__ and __Zuma__, like me!

Bonus: My favourite Bell Mobility “pixel” ad, featuring the a920.

Proprietary software gets the patent blues too

Remember how Microsoft spread fear and doubt on open source software, claiming its users are sitting ducks for intellectual property lawsuits? Guess what, corporations that use Microsoft Office XP or 2003 are now seeing the indemnification that Microsoft offers them isn’t worth the CD-ROM it’s printed on:

“It was recently decided in a court of law that certain portions of code found in Microsoft Office Professional Edition 2003, Microsoft Office Access 2003, Microsoft Office XP Professional and Microsoft Access 2002 infringe a third-party patent,” Microsoft said in an e-mail to customers. “As a result, Microsoft must make available a revised version of these products with the allegedly infringing code replaced.”

The question for companies, though, is if they are exposing themselves to potential legal liability if they don’t quickly move to the new software. Microsoft promises to indemnify customers from third-party patent claims, but [Gartner analyst Michael] Silver said the license terms also require customers to “immediately” move to any new noninfringing version that Microsoft releases.

For those who believe that FLOSS contains no guarantees, warranties or indemnification, they would be correct. But check the fine print on the EULA on that proprietary software you just paid thousands of dollars for. You aren’t getting any kind of protection there either.