2009 August 08 Saturday
Time To Upgrade Your Browser

Are you using an old web browser? If you are then you are running the risk of a large assortment of exploits that can compromise the security of your machine. You are also needlessly experiencing a slower and lousier interface. I am looking thru web log reports from my site for July 2009 and I see that while many of you are on the cutting edge some are lagging way behind.

For example, out of the about 1.5 million page loads this site got in July 2009 from MS Internet Explorer over 627 thousand were done with IE 6 (more than the 596 thousand with IE 7). Well, in addition to being slow and buggy and feature poor (and I hear you saying "don't hold back") IE 6 is a pox on the internet that holds back web site development. Sites do not want to lose compatibility with IE 6 and so site developers do not make as much use of the newer HTML features (e.g. better cascading style sheets) in the later browsers. If you are using IE 6 you are holding back development of the Borg conscious. Plus, you probably are vulnerable to more security exploits.

If you are using a browser as old as IE 6 on Windows you have the potential to move up to a much newer browser that is a joy in comparison. First off, you should visit windowsupdate.microsoft.com and download the latest security fixes along with the latest version of Internet Explorer. Then turn on automatic security updates in the Control Panel.

But once moved up to IE 8 you are still far from the best browser experience. Even IE 8 seems slow to me when switching tabs and creating new tabs. On Windows there are better choices. I do most of my content searches for blog posts using Firefox (also available on Linux and Mac OS). Go download it if you've never tried it. Its tabbed browsing works much better than IE 8 and I can't believe that Microsoft hasn't done more to try to close the gap with the better competing browsers. In the Firefox v3.5 series the Javascript optimizations make a substantial difference and the Mozilla folks continue to improve the product in many ways. FuturePundit users who use Firefox do a good job of keeping up with Out of the 1.89 million pages loaded in July by Firefox 1.73 million were loaded by Firefox 3 or later. People who use Firefox tend to keep up on security fixes and new versions. Good for you.

If you are on Windows or Mac you can also download Apple Safari. On Windows I do not find any real advantage from using this. But I sometimes fire it up just to see how it is progressive. Safari scores well on benchmarks for standards compliance. Also, with Safari 4 Apple has met the Google Chrome challenge with fast Javascript native code compilation.

Another option is Google Chrome. Chrome uses the same open source WebKit HTML rendering engine that Apple Safari uses (Apple open-sourced it - good for them) and Chrome is very similar to Safari in the admin settings pop-down lists. But Google was the the first to release an extremely fast native code generator for Javascript. Some of the other browser vendors are following Google's lead (including the aforementioned Safari). For example, starting with v3.5 Firefox also has a Javascript native code generator that boosts performance.

Another browser worth trying: Opera from Norway. As a sometimes web site developer (though I spend most of my time in C drivers and C++ in user space on Linux) I like that Opera has their Dragonfly Javascript debugger. But for most of you Opera has a different take on how to structure a browser UI. One of the features I like there: Paste and Go as a paste option when pasting in a URL. I wish more browsers had this.

Also in July I had 18,000 pages fetched by Netscape 4 and 1300 fetched by Netscape 7 and even 480 fetched by Netscape 8. I didn't even know there was a Netscape 8. Well, get off of Netscape people. Netscape is dead. It is a dead parrot. You might like the plumage. But it is dead, dead, dead.

If you want to use a browser that is like the classic Netscape in UI layout and with more bundled functionality (e.g. email) then Mozilla Seamonkey fits the bill. Seamonkey is built from the same Gecko source code project that Firefox is built from the HTML rendering, CSS, and Javascript support. But it is packaged in a different UI. I happen to use Seamonkey for a few things so that I do not have too many pages open just in Firefox. For example, I write blog posts in Seamonkey while I search for blog material using Firefox. This lets me restart Firefox without losing partially written posts.

I do not test my own site with IE 6. If it works for you that's by luck. Whether or not it works for you move up to something newer and better. This site is about the future. IE 6 is about the past.

By Randall Parker    2009 August 08 01:38 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2009 May 07 Thursday
Living Like A Refugee

Ever watch natural disasters on TV and wondered what it must be like to leave your home and stay in temporary shelters or extra rooms in homes or other sort of ad hoc living arrangements? I have wondered too. Now with the Santa Barbara Jesusita fire raging I'm experiencing at least one variation on that sort of thing. While I still have a place to return to I have no idea if that'll continue to be the case or when I'll return home.

The Jesusita fire in Santa Barbara makes for amazing pictures and even more amazing scenes if you are here. It has also gotten me thinking an assortment of thoughts.

First off, press coverage sucks. The local TV channel has people who talk a lot and repeated showing of flames bursting up. They'll put the camera on a house burning without telling where. You can spend a lot of time listening without learning much. l've heard lots of people complaining about the low information content. Evacuation orders do not provide enough information to tell whether it applies to you. Modest proposal: do what the national networks do and hire a retired expert. In this case: hire a fire chief to do the commentary. He can call his buddies, find out what is going on, and explain it. A forestry prof could provide more in-depth background on fuel amounts, burn rates, how long the fuel has been accumulating, etc. Educate the public while you have their attention.

The local government web sites lag for many hours. They should have a map page well advertised which instantly shows evacuation map changes. That map page should have notes on which neighborhoods can only be entered on foot and which you can drive into. Also spoken statements about evacuation areas should not say a single street name by itself. Yet I heard such statements yesterday. Neighbors were coming by asking "does the new evacuation order apply to us?" I couldn't figure it out either. The Public Information Officers should have canned formats in which they release information that are structured so that they communicate in intelligible ways. Some can't ad lib worth squat. The ambiguity wasn't cleared until when police cruised by saying "you are in imminent danger" and other words to that effect.

The government press conferences feature emergency officials and a few elected officials. They ought to sit down together afterward, watch their press conferences, and critique themselves for how long they took to say how little. I know they just feel for us and want us to take warnings seriously. But I'd like to see more coherent communication. Also, each agency gets up and says their piece. The US Forest Service guy at one conference said the fire hadn't burned much US Forest Service forest yet. Yes, okay, you are parochial guy. But how is this information helping?

The firemen and police perform admirably. Roads near my home are blocked off by police from Pismo Beach. Lots of other police cars and fire trucks are from all over southern California. LAFD were parked next to the old Mission Wednesday waiting for orders. Ventura and other cities and counties have crews here. If you are into fire trucks this is a great place to watch a variety of makes and models.

But what about technology? I know people who claim to have seen the fire up in the hills as soon as smoke became visible. Last night a couple of guys were telling me exactly what I was thinking already: Extremely fast methods of spotting fires in early stages along with very fast reaction times for helicopter tankers could nip somem fires in the bud. Time is of the essence. Could cameras trained on hillsides with image processing software spot fires 10 minutes earlier on average?

Then there is the effect of absolutely massive efforts. If 40 or 50 old jumbo jets were converted into water carriers could a fire get put out even after it has reached a couple of hundred acres? We got lucky the first night when the wind died down. The sundowner was way less than expected. Could a massive aerial assault have stopped it then? The America of the 1950s, given such tech, would have tried. The America of today - not so much.

One cool thing: Some (water-dropping) helicopters can fly at night with night vision goggles. What's the cost limit on more having that ability? Training? Performance capabilities of the chopper?

Update: Another thought: What would it cost to build massive piping along the tops of some valleys to be able to pump up and release water along boundaries in which firemen would want to try to contain a fire? Granted, under heavy winds burning embers travel a long way. But a lot of the fire spread is at lower speeds. If a fire could be stopped on a side with basically an irrigation system then the job of containing the fire would get a lot easier.

Update: Friday May 9, 2009: The evacuation zone (Google Maps link from County of Santa Barbara) has grown to displace 30,000 people. It is moving along the hills and mountainsides into Goleta and Montecito. Sundowner winds off the mountains could pull the fire down to threaten a lot more residential areas. The end is not in sight.

More airborne resources are being thrown at it including 15 helicopters, some fixed wing prop jobs and a DC-10 will arrive today. Ramp-ups to fight fires ought to happen faster with more aircraft thrown at them in the first day to try to stop them when they are still small. Also, a friend asks whatever happened to controlled burns during the rainy seasons? Were these stopped for the benefit of tourists?

Update: Saturday May 10, 2009: I hear no helicopters on Saturday morning. That's the first daytime silence since early afternoon Tuesday. Over 4000 firefighters fought the blaze.

With more than 4,000 firefighters on site, 14 air tankers, 15 helicopters and a DC-10, it was the largest mutual aid deployment in the history of Santa Barbara County.

We need better ways to control fires.

By Randall Parker    2009 May 07 12:38 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (26)
2008 April 24 Thursday
What Are You Thinking About The Future?

Someone just mentioned in a previous post thread that I do not do miscellaneous thread posts. Well, here's one. What's on your mind?

My own miscellaneous thoughts:

Walking to work (as I've been doing for the last few days partly to think about energy costs and future changes caused by them) is less stressful than driving. I wonder if a lot of people get stressed out by their commutes without realizing it.

When will the FLDS and other polygamous sects start using sexual selection technology to make more female than male babies? Seems like such an obvious thing to do and the tech exists for doing sex selection pre-conception (i.e. no selective abortion necessary). Too expensive for them? Or are they ignorant of the tech? Or do they consider it somehow offensive? Or do church leaders like using the shortage of women caused by polygamy to make the males compete for favor from church leaders?

How much will rising commodities costs accelerate the development of nanomaterials? Will materials science advances reverse the construction cost rise for power plants?

Will the cost of polysilicon drop substantially in the next 5 years and make photovoltaics much cheaper? I've read an article recently whose writer expects a big drop in polysilicon prices. Likely? Is polysilicon manufacture energy intensive?

The world has too many people.

How can Colonel Tigh be a fracking Cylon? He's too old and has too long a history as a human. The development of human looking Cylons occurred after (or am I wrong?) the previous war with the Cyclons. Tigh and Adama fought the Cylons in that battle. Was Cylon Tigh switched with human Tigh more recently? Also, when they arrive at Earth will they arrive in our future?

By Randall Parker    2008 April 24 07:26 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (42)
2008 February 16 Saturday
Topic Requests At FuturePundit?

Got questions? Always wanted to see a post about the future of some technology, social trend, stage in evolution, or looming disaster? I'd like to hear from you about your burning curiosities and topics you think deserve more attention than they get. Post in the comments or send me an email.

Update: I'm not feeling desperate for topics to write about. But I figure maybe there are major areas of interest that haven't occurred to me. Or perhaps someone has an interesting question that will pique my curiosity.

Writing this web log has given me a lot of brain food as I search out reports and data sources on an assortment of topics. I've reworked my views of the world as I have been forced to dig up relevant references to support or undermine various positions. But maybe there are areas of interest where the right questions haven't occurred to me. Or maybe I neglect some important areas (e.g. artificial intelligence comes to mind) that are far more important for the future than the quantity of my writings would lead you to expect. So what am I missing?

By Randall Parker    2008 February 16 01:12 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (34)
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