Archive for May, 2008

Firefox 3 Review

Posted in Technology and Software on May 29, 2008 by Mike Procario

I started using Firefox 3 with the beta 5 release, and I am now using release candidate 1. I have moved several members of my family to Firefox 3 as the opportunity has presented itself. I have generally been happy with it so far.

I really like the zoom feature. I use fairly large screens up to 1600×1200 pixels and many websites are still designed for an 800 pixel wide display. On a large screen this results in a narrow column of a web page, frequently with fonts that are too small to read. The new zoom feature zooms the entire page instead of just the text. The display gets wider and the images also zoom. Everything stays in proportion it is just bigger. This the must have feature of Firefox 3 for me.

Better performance was touted as a important new feature. I had problems with Firefox 2 leaking memory in the early releases. I would have to stop it and restart it to get things moving. In later releases I did not see that problem as much. Firefox 3 has been at least as good as the later Firefox 2 releases for me, but any speed increases have not been obvious to me.

I had problems with installing flash on the beta 5 version, but that seems to have been solved with the release candidate.

Firefox 3 has a new bookmark manager, but I have not yet explored its capabilities. I use at least 4 different computers: my work PC running windows, my MacBook Pro, a windows PC at home, and a Linux PC at home. I want to have my bookmarks synchronized across all of these computers. In the past of I have used Foxmarks and Google bookmarks.

There were problems supporting some of my extensions like the Google toolbar. They have not yet been updated for Firefox 3. Since I rely on the Google toolbar for access to my Google bookmarks, I did not have a real problem with Firefox 3. On the first computer that I used Firefox 3, I simple imported my Google Bookmarks into Firefox 3’s bookmarks. That was fine until I added Firefox 3 to a second computer.  There was a version of the del.icio.us Firefox extension that was Firefox 3 ready, so I started using that and have been managing my bookmarks with del.icio.us.

Update: I am really starting to appreciate the location bar. It is very effective way to go to websites that you use a lot. As the number of bookmakrs gets large, picking out the ones that you use a lot can get painful. They are buried in with a pile of others that you might visit only once a month/year. With the location bar I just start typing a drop down list appears with the most frequently visited sites that contain

This Is Funny Only if You Know Unix

Posted in humor, physics, Science, Technology and Software on May 26, 2008 by Mike Procario

XKCD got written up in the NY Times. I discovered from the article that the author is a physics major. I knew he had to be a geek, but physics is as good as it gets.

Why Are There So Few Women in Physics?

Posted in Science, Technology and Software on May 26, 2008 by Mike Procario

I don’t know, but I am seeing many attempts to answer it. The first was a study about women who were postdocs in the D-Zero collaboration which runs the D-Zero experiment at Fermilab. This study was interesting. It used a database of internal notes, conference presentations, and where postdocs went after leaving D-Zero. The conclusion was that women received fewer opportunities to present D-Zero results at conferences than equally qualified men and this hurt their ability to get faculty positions.

I read the actual study and it struck me a serious piece of work that cannot be lightly dismissed. If I understood the paper correctly, it claims that by the metric used in the study the women in the cohort were more productive than the men but were only offered faculty positions at the same rate. There was one element that struck me as odd. It limited the study to men and women who went on to faculty positions at universities. Staff scientist positions at laboratories are very comparable to faculty positions. I know of quite a number of women who are staff scientists at Fermilab. I am curious what would have happened if lab staff scientists were also studied. Do women prefer lab positions over university ones?

The second study I saw was written up in the Boston Globe. It covered science and engineering more broadly than the first one. It argues that women self select against the hard sciences and engineering.

Now two new studies by economists and social scientists have reached a perhaps startling conclusion: An important part of the explanation for the gender gap, they are finding, are the preferences of women themselves. When it comes to certain math- and science-related jobs, substantial numbers of women – highly qualified for the work – stay out of those careers because they would simply rather do something else.

One study of information-technology workers found that women’s own preferences are the single most important factor in that field’s dramatic gender imbalance. Another study followed 5,000 mathematically gifted students and found that qualified women are significantly more likely to avoid physics and the other “hard” sciences in favor of work in medicine and biosciences.

The third article was in the Fashion & Style section of the New York Times, an odd positioning for this topic. On the day that I read it there was large swimsuit ad next to it.

This article cites a study to be published in the Harvard Business Review and claims that scientific workplaces are pretty bad places for women to work.

“It’s almost a time warp,” said Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the founder of the Center for Work-Life Policy, a nonprofit organization that studies women and work. “All the predatory and demeaning and discriminatory stuff that went on in workplaces 20, 30 years ago is alive and well in these professions.”

I can’t say that I recognize this as describing anyplace I have worked. If there has been discrimination going on, it has been much more subtle like that described in the first study I mentioned.

IT Workers Are Getting Fatter

Posted in health, Technology and Software on May 24, 2008 by Mike Procario

This story did not surprise me. For the reasons mentioned in the article.

Then again, don’t take advice from me on any of this. It turns out that 11 percent of IT workers buy their lunch from what CareerBuilder called “a notoriously unhealthy vending machine at least once a week.”

Then at the end I got the real bad news.

But, hey, no matter the culprits, IT workers can take heart in another CareerBuilder finding: They are less chubby than financial services and government workers. Fifty-three percent of financial workers said they have gained weight at their current jobs, while the number for government workers is 52 percent.

I work for the government and we sure have our share of overweight employees.

Jolly FastVNC is Fast Enough to Use

Posted in Mac OS X, Technology and Software on May 8, 2008 by Mike Procario

I have tried to use VNC to access my Windows desktop box from my MacBook Pro. My main use case so far is controlling my iTunes running on Windows, since I have a much larger collection of music on my desktop and it is connected to my stereo. I had previously tried Chicken of the VNC as the VNC client on my MacBook Pro and TightVNC server on the Windows box and using Wifi for the connection. It was painfully slow. It seemed to take minutes for the cursor to follow the mouse. It was too painful to even try a pick a playlist in iTunes.

I just heard about JollyFastVNC a new OS X VNC client and I tried it today. It is jolly fast. It certainly is more than fast enough for my major use case. I saw the occasional lag of the cursor following mouse. I may try to use for a few other uses.

New Habits

Posted in Education, Science on May 5, 2008 by Mike Procario

There is a nice article in the New York Times about creating new habits. It discusses the advantage to the brain of stretching yourself to keep your mind sharp. I taught myself to use the vi editor a couple of years back just to prove to myself that I could. It was clear to me that my older colleagues were loath to learn a new editor as we switched to using Unix when I was a postdoc. I wanted to prove that I was still capable of picking up something new. It looks like this type of exercise is useful as are lots of other ones that are less technical.

“Getting into the stretch zone is good for you,” Ms. Ryan says in “This Year I Will… .” “It helps keep your brain healthy. It turns out that unless we continue to learn new things, which challenges our brains to create new pathways, they literally begin to atrophy, which may result in dementia, Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. Continuously stretching ourselves will even help us lose weight, according to one study. Researchers who asked folks to do something different every day — listen to a new radio station, for instance — found that they lost and kept off weight. No one is sure why, but scientists speculate that getting out of routines makes us more aware in general.”