26 February 2005

Random Ramblings: Firefox v1.01 Update

I've been wondering for a LONG time now when the next version/update of Firefox would be released - what with all the reports of odd behaviour after its official v1.0 release. Anyway, it came out today, I downloaded and installed it, but otherwise, didn't notice anything different on my end. I suppose I should be grateful for that.

31 January 2005

Random Ramblings: Online Anagram Generator

Some fun and games: a website that creates anagrams. The other day, I invited Petch to join Google Mail and he spent a few seconds trying to decide what login name he should use. I suggested that he use an anagram of his name - but of course, this is easier said that done. That's why I went searching for an online anagram generator. This one's pretty good, but of course it's not the only one out there.

28 January 2005

Random Ramblings: National ICT Learning Center and Thailand Knowledge Park

I was walking around the World Trade Center (whoops, "Central World Plaza") today and went up to the 4th floor to see what ultimately happened to my favourite Chinese restaurant, "Chao Sua". To my pleasant surprise, that side of the building has been radically altered into a high-tech zone, with two interesting tenants: The National ICT Learning Center and the Thailand Knowledge Park ("TK Park"). A picture (or rather a webpage) being worth a thousand words, I'd suggest that you browse to the above links to see what's available (most of it is in Thai though, and TK Park's English switch doesn't seem to work). But in a nutshell, both seem to be showcases for cutting edge technology, with training programs, libraries, coffee shops, etc. thrown in.

Membership at TK Park is currently free and will last you a year. Furthermore, internet access is free for all comers for the time being. Interestingly, there were a number of books in braille on the shelves as well. Perhaps most impressive was a benchmark I took of their "net connection speed: 484 downlink/564 uplink. That's a terrific speed, especially given the fact that there were perhaps a dozen people in the room using the 'Net at the time!

The ICT Learning Center appears to have a membership policy as well, but I didn't have time to get the details. But apparently it provides free internet access to younger folk (e.g. students) and to oldies (60 years and over), with those in between being charged at a rate of 5 to 10 Baht/hour, if memory serves me correct. (Sigh, I'm not in the freebie age group yet.) Most impressive to me was their library which contains a large, up to date collection of computer books. They also have a number of training courses lined up at reasonable prices.

This should just about kill any cyber-cafes in the building. If you're in the vicinity, I'd highly recommend that you take a look and sign up.

10 January 2005

Random Ramblings: Some Broadband Benchmarks

At work, we were asked by the home office to run a set of benchmarks. Just for the hell of it, I decided to throw in some benchmarks that I took at Broadband Reports as well. Here are some results I got (using the "Speakeasy" test site). Please keep in mind that the sample is too small for me to conclude anything. Also, the results will vary significantly depending on the time of day they are run. Still, in my opinion, the results are interesting.

Test Site, ISP, Rated Speed Time of Day
Ji-Net (128K corporate link) 09:00 104 104
Ji-Net (512K home link) 06:00 418 190
True (256K home link) 18:30 173 117
TA Easy (56K modem) 10:30 27 25
Asianet cyber-cafe, Times Square (speed?) 11:00 318 358
CAT cyber-cafe, Don Muang (speed?) 06:00 115 312
Marriott Hotel, U.S./Oregon (speed?) 20:00 571 595

I still have two lingering questions:

  • Is True slower than offerings by other ISP's? My buddy Petch believes that it is because he says the "number of customers assigned to each port" is greater (10 for True vs 5 for Ji-Net). The above numbers "seem" to suggest this, but I need more samples to confirm this.
  • Are corporate links faster than home links? Again, they should be because the "number of customers assigned to each port" for corporate links is supposed to be only 1 (or thereabouts). Besides, corporate accounts are scads more expensive. Case in point: the 128K corporate link above is rated 4 times slower yet is 4 times more expensive than the 512K home link.

08 January 2005

Random Ramblings: Google Mail

It's a bit embarassing, but I may be the last person in my family to get access to Google Mail. But thanks to Bill Thompson, I now have my very own account. Google Mail's web interface is nice and peppy, but the inability to create traditional mailboxes ("Labels" are used instead) and the fact that certain common functions are hidden from sighe are a bit disconcerting. Oh well, I suppose it's something I have to get used it.

Speaking of "something new to get used to", I was playing with Google Mail's POP3 option today. Unfortunately, it doesn't work with my old Eudora v3.x owing to the lack of certain SSL features. But at least it DOES work with Eudora v5.1, which is what I use when I'm forced to use something newer. One helpful note: when using Google Mail's SMTP server (smtp.gmail.com), you have to set Eudora"s "Secure Sockets When Sending" value to "Required Alternate Port". However, when you use your ISP's SMTP server, it may be different. With my Ji-Net, I have to set this to "If available, STARTTLS".

Anyway, I now have Eudora v5.1 running on my thumb drive, the same way I set it up with my v3.x - i.e. just copy all of the program files onto the thumb, copy the data files on top of it, and then make one or two configurations changes pointing to certain file locations. Interestingly, Eudora v5.1 doesn't seem to take much more space than my previous v3.

Sigh, it looks like my Eudora v3.x days are numbered. It wouldn't be so bad if I could only change those ugly toolbar icons (alas, I don't think I can) ...

07 January 2005

Random Ramblings: Microsoft's New Spyware Tool

I downloaded Microsoft's new spyware removal tool today - perhaps for the last time. A bit surprisingly (or maybe not), Microsoft recommends that it validate your copy of Windows to make sure it's authentic before it takes to you to the download page (hmm, I wonder why). Yes, I'm running an authentic copy of Windows, but no thanks about the validation. I get frisked and groped enough at U.S. airports to have to go through this rigamarole with my software. And no wonder I avoid the newest versions of Microsoft software like the plague.

At the moment, validation is optional, but in future it's looks like it will be mandatory. (Scuttlebutt has it this program will eventually morph into a full blown antivirus package. So it should generate continued interest for some time still, at least from some quarters.) Sigh, I feel sorry for those people who are too scared to shy away from Microsoft wares, even when there's perfectly decent freeware alternatives out there. But I guess you get what you deserve.

06 January 2005

Post Database: Firefox Questions Redux

I re-wrote and expanded upon yesterday's blog entry for submission as a letter to the Post Database. Here's how it reads:

"In the December 22 issue of HelpDesk, there were a few questions regarding Firefox. One, by Robert Legrand, questioned why Firefox's default starting page shows up in Thai and asked how it could be changed to English. The cause of this behaviour is that Firefox's starting page uses Google. Google checks your IP address to determine which country you're accessing it from and then "helpfully" provides web pages in the language of that country. Since reader Legrand is no doubt "calling" from Thailand, he gets a page with Thai text. This isn't a problem unique to Firefox though - Internet Explorer (IE) can manifest this problem as well when accessing Google.

I wrote up the fix to this problem in a blog entry (24-Nov-2004) on my website (/index.html). But to recap: go to https://www.google.come (which will redirect you to https://www.google.co.th) and then click the first "English" link you see (in the middle of the page). This will create a cookie that sets a language preference and will cause Firefox's default starting page to display in English only (plus displays of any subsequent Google pages), as long as the cookie remains.

A second query by "A Reader" wondered why Firefox seems to generate network activity every 15 seconds or so, while IE doesn't. I don't have the perfect answer to this question, except to say that based on packet analyses, Internet Explorer does in fact exhibit this behaviour as well, albeit to a lesser degree. As a matter of fact, with NO browser loaded, network activity still occurs. My complete response to this issue is rather technical and is best read in my 05-Jan-2004 blog entry. Suffice to say though, it is my GUESS that this is NOT anomalous behaviour as long as you're sure that adware or spyware isn't running on your system.

One final Firefox-related comment. Recently, Wanda Sloan wrote that IE tends to be more "forgiving" than Firefox. In some instances, this is true - IE will sometimes gloss over badly coded HTML and display it in a palatable way, while Firefox is much more of a stickler for standards and won't bend over backwards for you. Another dimension to this is the fact that IE - like Netscape before it - often runs roughshod over standards and unilaterally creates conventions that it expects the rest of the industry to slavishly follow (or not - they don't care). Unfortunately, the designers of Firefox often refuse to play along and you get websites specifically coded to Microsoft standards that display badly under other web browsers (not just Firefox).

That's why I continue to keep IE handy as a backup browser - and recommend that other people do so as well. Indeed, I need it to access EGV's new website, which now complains that my Firefox doesn't have Flash installed (excuse me, but it does). Of course, it doesn't complain when I use my Flash enabled IE. Go figure."

05 January 2005

Post Database: Firefox Questions

In the 22 December 2004 issue of Post Database's HelpDesk, there were a couple of questions regarding Firefox. One, by Robert Legrand, questioned why Firefox's default starting page shows up in Thai and asked how it could be changed to English. A "no brainer" way to fix this is to point Firefox's home page to another (presumably English) page. But of course, this just skirts the issue.

Looking a bit closer, I noticed that Firefox's starting page actually uses Google. The solution to this problem is actually identical to the Thai/Google problem that I described in 24-Nov-2004 blog entry. That is, go to https://www.google.com (which actually takes you to https://www.google.co.th) and then click the first "English" link you see. This will create a cookie that sets a language preference and will cause Firefox's default starting page to display in English only - as well as displays of other Google pages (as long as the cookie still exists).

A second query by "A Reader" wondered why Firefox seems to generate network activity every 15 seconds or so. Turning off automatic upgrade checks for both Firefox and Firefox extensions alleviates this problem to an extent. You do this by going to: Tools > Options > Advanced > Software Update and then unchecking the boxes in front of "Firefox" and "My Extensions and Themes".

But it doesn't eliminate all network activity. And contrary to what "A Reader" found, I discovered that both Firefox AND Internet Explorer (IE) tend to tickle the network at intervals. To take a closer look at what sort of packets were flying around, I installed a freeware packet sniffer called "Ethereal" to determine how many packets were being detected by my network card and what kind of packets they were.

For the record, I ran Ethereal with Firefox v1.0 and then with Internet Explorer v6 SP1 (i.e. separately), with automatic updating turned off and with both browsers pointing to a static HTML file on my hard disk. Ethereal reported that over a 15 minute period, the number of packets detected with Firefox running were indeed greater than for IE by a factor of about 50% (82 vs 52 packets). While 82 packets over a 15 minute period averages out to about one packet every 11 seconds, it should be noted that some packets would occur ANYWAY even if NO browser were loaded (61 packets were detected when no browsers were running at all).

The protocols of the packets found in both the Firefox and IE runs were similar (i.e. ARP, BROWSE, DNS, HTTP, LANMAN, NBNS, NBSS, SNMP, TCP) and nothing seemed amiss to my not very trained eyes. My GUESS therefore is that the network activity detected by "A Reader" isn't unusual, especially since IE manifests the same activity - although I still don't have an explanation why Firefox is more "chatty" than IE. Still, it should be emphasized that on a typical computer, numerous programs generate network activity for perfectly valid reasons. Of course, it is also possible (especially in these times), that adware or spyware are sending or retrieving information for less valid reasons as well.