Sunday, September 25, 2005

I just finished reading two books.

The Dilbert Principle by Scott Adams. I vaguely remember reading this book during undergrad (I'm not sure I really did though, there was just so much Dilbert floating around during undergrad.) Of course, reading a book like this after getting a full-time job is a completely different experience. Geeks can relate.

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland. This chronicles the lives of a couple of geeks working for Microsoft during the early Nineties. A frankly accurate portrayal of geek life, this was probably the first book in ages that I didn't feel like putting down. Geeks can relate.

Both are recommended.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A final word on Opera.

So, after testing the waters, Opera has decided to drop the $40 paid registration and make it free for everyone. Which is great, but I will still use Firefox as my primary browser. Here's why:
  • No Adblock in Opera: This is probably the most important reason. And I have no reason to believe that Opera will ever have an Adblock feature.
  • No rich text (WYSIWYG) editing: As a blogger, it's pointless to use a browser which doesn't have a WYSIWYG edit control. I'm not going to write HTML code in my blog if I can avoid it. Opera engineers say they are working on a WYSIWYG edit control, so maybe sometime in the future it will be available.
  • "Wrong" tabbed browsing behavior: Closing a tab selects the previously selected tab in Opera. There is no way to really fix this (there are workarounds involving gestures etc.) My desired behavior is that the tab to the right of the closed tab should be selected. This is the default behavior in Firefox. Also, if for some reason, you want Opera style behavior in Firefox you can get it using an extension like Tab Mix. This shouldn't be hard for Opera engineers to fix and seeing as how many different people have requested for this, they should try and do it soon.
  • Can't move Personal Bar next to the menu: This is just a convenient space saver. In Firefox (and IE) I can move the Personsl Bar (Bookmarks Toolbar in Firefox / Links bar in IE) right next to the menu. Thus giving me some more browsing space while retaining quick access to my favorite bookmarklets.
  • No Ctrl-Enter/Shift-Enter/Ctrl-Shift-Enter: In Firefox these shortcuts autocomplete an address with www. .com, www. .net and www. .org respectively. There are no equivalent shortcuts in Opera, and the workaround doesn't behave correctly when the site in question has bogus .com, .net or .org versions.
  • No Sage: While Opera does have a built in RSS reader, it is nowhere are powerful as the Firefox extension, Sage. Sage has a digest view so you can read all posts on a blog at once instead of just looking at a headline. OPML import/export is the icing on the cake.
There are a few other minor reasons why I prefer Firefox, (minor UI stuff like being able to middle-click on the back and front buttons etc.) but the ones listed above are the most important.

I do like Opera on one of the computers I use. It is an old Pentium III laptop and Opera's fast load times and low memory usage let it run rings around Firefox.

I should however mention two incredible Opera features which no other browser seems to have. If I ever switch to Opera (will only happen if all the stuff mentioned above gets fixed), these two features will be among most important reasons:
  • Zoom: Opera's zoom is unlike every other browsers zoom. Everything zooms, not just the text. Even with the Colorzilla extension Firefox cannot do what Opera can. Don't believe me? Try zooming in this blog using Firefox, IE and Opera. Opera just kicks ass.
  • Fit to window width: Does what it says. Fits the current page to width. You never have to scroll horizontally again. Haven't found an IE or Firefox extension which will let me do that.
My advice to Opera:
  • Make it easier for IE users to switch: Maybe have a special toolbar and keyboard setup which emulates IE installed by default. (Current Opera users should be allowed to keep their customizations of course.) And for God's sake let people import their bookmarks, history, cookies etc. during installation.
  • Rich text editing should be a priority: Let's face it. If you want good publicity from bloggers, then their favorite blogging tools (like Blogger) should function as well as they do on Firefox and IE. No excuses.
  • Create an extension architecture: Yes, it probably goes against your entire design philosophy etc. etc. Well, so did giving your browser away for free, but guess what! It's an easy way to tap into geeks and it's probably the only way something like Adblock will be a reality on Opera.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

So on Conan yesterday, the musical guests were The New Pornographers performing their fantastic (new?) track Use It. I googled for a video or something and found out that both the video (alternate link) and the audio were available for streaming and download respectively. Fantastic. Well, not quite.

I streamed the video which sounded alright. I decided I was going to the buy this CD. Then I downloaded the mp3 and it sounded like shit! Wait a second. That makes no sense, it's the same music, why does it sound alright on the video and why does the mp3 sound like garbage? Especially in light of the fact that the video probably contained a 64kbps audio stream which should sound worse than the mp3. A second listen confirmed that for some reason the mp3 was sounding really really bad, vocals were distorted, guitar sounded too loud, and drums were just one loud beat.

Maybe they didn't want to give a high quality mp3 for download. But a quick peek at the bitrate revealed that it was a 320kbps mp3, the highest possible bitrate, ergo the best quality mp3 (well not quite since they had used iTunes and not Lame, still it should have been decent quality). So obviously that wasn't the reason the mp3 was sounding so bad. Mysteries, mysteries.

Then I ReplayGained the mp3. The track registered at -9.40 dB! What does that mean? It means that if we take 89dB as normal loudness, this track was designed to be 9.40 dB louder. That almost 8 times as loud as a normal track. No wonder it was sounding distorted. Essentially, whoever mastered it just wanted it to sound loud. As loud as can be. With no concern for quality. (You want a better explanation about this and why a lot of modern CDs sound really bad, read this article about the loudness race.)

Ah well, I'm not going to buy the CD. Maybe I'll go listen to them live, if they play nearby. If any members of The New Pornographers happen to read this, I like your music, but until you can rein in whoever masters your music from going loud and distorted, I'm not buying your CDs.

On a happier note, Best of luck to Conan O'Brien for the Emmys! Hope you win both your nominations!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Back in Madison from Ohio.

Friday, September 02, 2005

So, I'm blogging this using Opera. I was able to register during the Opera Party and get a free registration code for myself.

Here's my impression about it so far.

Stuff I like:
  • Very fast startup times
  • Now that the ad is gone, the interface is very customizable

Stuff I don't like:
  • My Firefox/IE shortcuts don't work as expected. Ctrl-Enter doesn't autocomplete to, Shift-Enter doesn't autocomplete to and Ctrl-Shift-Enter doesn't autocomplete to
    Update: There isn't a real solution for this! There are a few workarounds, like Tools->Preferences->Advanced->Server Name Completion->Unchecking "Look for local machine" and adding net and org to the suffix types, but if a website is a .net or .org and a bogus .com domain exists then things don't work. Maybe they'll fix this in the next release, although it's been on wishlists forever.
  • Quite a few website's have reduced functionality, like no Compose tab in Blogger. As I'm typing this I'm back to Blogger's most primitive interface, can't even do a simple thing like automatically insert a URL. Of course this isn't really Opera's fault.
    Update: Actually it is! Opera apparently doesn't have a Rich Edit control.

  • I miss all my Firefox extensions. Most importantly Adblock.
    Update: And while there are ways of blocking ads in Opera, nothing exists with the convenience of Adblock.

  • The builtin RSS reader, can't seem to be configured to show all posts at once (ala Sage.)
    Update: No way of fixing this it seems.

  • I changed the default fixed-width font to Bitstream Vera Sans Mono, but I'm still using Courier as I type this. Looks like I'll have to change that preference in a bunch of different places.
    Update: That wasn't hard to do.
I'm sure there are workaround's for most of the stuff in the previous list, and once I find it things should be better.

Stuff I really really don't like:
  • Double clicking on a word opens a menu!!!!! This is really really bad user interface design. This goes against standard Windows UI guidelines. In every other application, double clicking a word will select it. Only in Opera does a menu open. If anyone knows how to turn this off, please let me know.
    Update: Turned it off, Tools->Preferences->Advanced->Toolbars->Uncheck "Enable hotclick menu"

  • The apologists in the Opera community. Any time a IE or a Firefox user makes a feature request, there's a huge bunch of users who will try and shut such a person off. Look here for example. These people really really hurt Opera and its popularity.