Daylight robbery

It wasn’t long ago that I was responsible for developing and maintaining a large number of websites. Like everyone in this role I needed a domain registrar I could trust to be cheap, efficient and most of all keep me updated about upcoming renewals. At the time I had a lot of love for Freeparking. They didn’t (and still don’t) look like much, but at the time I started using them they were all these things. No surprise I carried on using them after I left my last job when registering some personal domains.

Imagine my horror today then when someone else emails me to notify my that the registration for oxymoronical.com had expired the day before. Freeparking hadn’t so much as whispered on the subject and would you look at that, I now have to pay a late registration fee.

To say I feel let down is an understatement. Not only have they over the years failed to even update their website beyond its only-just-working state but now they seem to be actively trying to rip people off. It’s a shame but I guess it is the push I need to move all my registrations to Dreamhost who have been nothing short of excellent when it comes to my hosting. Sadly of course I still have to renew the domain first, then wait 60 days before I can move it.

I particularly like how their support form has “I was not informed of an imminent renewal” as one of the options to choose from. Clearly this comes up quite a lot for them.

7 things I know about me…

That pesky JOEDREW! has tagged me so I guess I have to participate in this thing.

Here are the rules for this particular meme

  1. Link to your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post.
  2. Share seven facts about yourself in the post.
  3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  4. Let them know they’ve been tagged.

My seven things:

  1. Working for Mozilla is my first real honest-to-goodness stint as an employee. Previously all I’ve had is summer jobs, contracting and being a company director, well that and a period getting paid cash in hand that I’m pretty sure was totally not above board.
  2. I earned my 15 minutes of fame by getting a small piece of code I wrote while in school published in a computer magazine. It was some assembly code to clear the Commodore 64 graphics memory in about the fastest time possible.
  3. I used to enjoy scuba diving. That isn’t to stay I might not any more but I gave it up because, seriously, have you seen the temperature in Britain? It’s damned cold out there. As a university student at the time, jetting to warmer climates was pretty much out of the question. Unfortunately having a real training in how to manage equipment and dive safely has left me very wary of the risks involved in the quick dive options you frequently find abroad.
  4. I currently live in South Wales and have done ever since I moved here to come to university. I originally chose here partly because they were about the only university doing the course I wanted, partly because the university was on the beach and partly because it was far enough away from my parents to not need to go home to visit all the time.
  5. I am moving to America, hopefully as soon as May. This probably isn’t that much of a surprising fact but I am very happy that it is happening and looking forward to actually being able to work out of an office with colleagues for a change.
  6. I once spent a number of months with a shaved head. It all started with a Halloween costume gone awry where it seemed like a good idea to shave “666” in the back of my head (throw in some red face paint and a dog collar and it was kind of weird). The strange looks I got the next day convinced me I probably should just get rid of it all. For people considering it, don’t do it just before winter, hail hurts.
  7. I don’t watch football (soccer for most of you). This sets me aside from the majority of the UK population. Sure I’ll watch the big internationals but don’t bother to ask what team I support. Sports that I do enjoy watching include rugby (like American football but more exciting and less padding) and F1 (fast cars, what more can I say?). Sports that I have enjoyed playing include hockey (field, not ice, not that I was ever all that good and nor have I played in years) and pool (8 ball, 9 ball, it’s all good so long as there is beer involved).

Now to tag people:

  1. Mike Beltzner who is my manager and always has something interesting to say.
  2. Madhava Enros who is the worlds repository of useful and useless information.
  3. Benjamin Smedberg who knows more than is sensible about building and embedding Mozilla.
  4. Ted Mielczarek who has the most awesome surname in the world, and is a great guy to boot.
  5. Tiffney Mortensen who apparently makes awesome waffles.
  6. Sam Sidler who throws awesome parties, I mostly deeply regret missing his last one
  7. Majken Connor to attempt (and fail) to even up the boy-girl ratio.

Sorry all of these people are fellow Mozillans, but none of the rest of the world that I know really blog so there you have it.

Making Gallery2 understand ogg and use video tags

One of the nice new features in the fast evolving HTML 5 spec is support for specific video and audio tags, replacing the more generic object and embed tags that have been used in the past. They have many benefits over the object tag such as a well defined JavaScript interface, controls provided by the browser and support for multiple formats for the browser to choose between for display. The current beta version of Firefox 3.1 supports this and includes support for playing the Ogg format with Theora and Vorbis codecs included. Opera has support underway as well and it looks like the latest Safari releases also have it (though it seems broken in some respects).

I’ve been trying to find a suitable video format for putting my fractal animations online for some time. Pretty much whatever format you choose you suffer because some platform or other doesn’t have a plugin for it by default. If all browsers are slowly getting ogg support though then that seems to be the ideal choice, so I have re-encoded all the animations as ogg files. Unfortunately it seems that my media gallery software (Gallery2) doesn’t support Ogg, and of course it doesn’t use the new video tag either. This is the world of open source though, so after a bit of tinkering I have it all working nicely. It can generate thumbnails for the animations using ffmpeg (which is already used for other video formats anyway) and will display the video using the video tag.

At some point I might try to push this upstream to the Gallery2 guys, but I after spending some time on their site and finding nothing helpful like a bug tracker or a way to pass patches to them I’m not sure when I’ll get round to it. Until then here are the rough instructions for applying the patch and some other changes I had to do. I’m sure there is some way to automate it all but for this one off case it wasn’t really worth my time.

  • Apply the patch in your gallery install directory: “patch -p0 <patchfile
  • Run the following sql in the gallery database: “INSERT INTO g2_MimeTypeMap (g_extension, g_mimetype, g_viewable) VALUES ('ogg', 'video/ogg', 1);” (adjust for the table and column prefixes that you use).
  • Deactivate the ffmpeg plugin (if it is enabled), and then activate it (assuming you want thumbnail generation to work).
  • Delete the database cache in the maintenance section of the gallery admin.

Of course this means that now even fewer people can see the animations I guess. So if you want to see them then you’ll just have to try out the latest Firefox betas!

Oh, watch out for old versions of ffmpeg. The default version on my webhost (dreamhost) crashes when attempting to make a thumbnail of an ogg file. A build of the latest version of ffmpeg works though.

Ruminations on a fortnight

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks for me and I wanted to touch on a few of the highs and lows before I forget them all.

It started with flights to get me to Toronto (for those of you that don’t know I live and work out of the UK). I was speaking at the Toronto Developer Day as well as attending a Firefox team work week (two things that conflicted more than I would have liked unfortunately). I normally manage to find direct flights but this time I had to connect through Amsterdam which wasn’t too bad, even if they seem even more mad for security than Heathrow. Incidentally terminal 4 at Heathrow is miles nicer than 3 where I normally come from, even if the 6 police officers armed with automatic weapons was a little disconcerting.

The Developer Day seemed to be a success and I hope all the attendees got something out of it. I’d encourage those that didn’t to let us know where we went wrong of course, not point in us running these things if they don’t give you anything. I think the people at my session found it useful, though I suspect I really need to work on my presentation style for such things. I feel kinda bad though that I’m not more confident about speaking and so could have taken some of the massive workload that Mark Finkle took on off his shoulders.

The rest of the week was spent with the rest of the Firefox team either figuring out concrete plans for the immediate future or working on those plans, interspersed with pizza, barbecue and poutine (Who’d have thought that Canadians would mash together some of the quick takeaway foods I used to get here and serve it in a restaurant!).

Next stop was Mountain View, via Detroit this time. I have to say that Detroit is a really nice airport to change at, even if it does mean that you’re probably flying Northwest if you do so.

I had a weekend to kill so on the Saturday a friend took me to a Renaissance Faire. I thought it might be a bit too geeky even for my tastes at first but it turned out to be a lot of fun, not sure you’d ever get me dressing up to attend like many do though. Fairly fun to watch Americans celebrating a history they never had.

Sunday I headed to the Winchester mystery house. I probably wasn’t in a good mood for it to be honest, jet lag had hit me and then the tour guide was a stereotypical over the top American tour guide trying to make every little oddity out to be spooky. Still it was an interesting place to walk around and the gardens were quite spectacular.

Tuesday I headed into San Francisco proper and went to meet up with the guys at Songbird. One of the things I really want to do is avoid writing the add-ons manager for just Firefox so it was good to chat with them about what they would like to see and how important they find the future plans that we’ve already toyed with.

That evening I had a great meal with some new friends at a German restaurant (yes I had to go to California in order to eat at a German place for the first time). I also got to experience the fun of driving out of the city back to MV at eight in the morning. I think I’ll be avoiding that in the future.

Thursday it was fun to attend one of the monthly labs meetups. Pretty cool to see plans for what is coming both in experimental stuff and in Firefox itself. I think it’d be really useful to stream these events so more people can get an insight in what is coming and why. Too often we can land things in the nightlies seemingly without any discussion when in actual fact a lot of thought does go into pretty much everything.

Finally Friday morning was painful. I maybe took people too seriously when they advised me on how long it would take to get to the airport and to check in, and then I added some for safety leaving me getting up at 5am and then ending up waiting at the gate for an hour and a half.

Seriously, why are so many people carrying on multple bags rather than checking them. I suppose I understand the risk of lost luggage but it is getting really annoying when I have to stick my single carry-on bag under my feet, decreasing the already sparse space there, because the overhead lockers are filled with trolley cases.

Northwest has to be one of the worst airlines I have flown. Poor food, very little movie selection, no tv episodes available at all. Thank god I have taken to putting movies onto my iPod so I always have something decent to watch.

Now I’m sat in a hotel room trying to stay awake for a bit longer. After I get back to Heathrow, after some 20 odd hours travelling (and I can never sleep on planes) it seems to be a good idea for me to sleep before taking the final 3 hour drive back home. But I also need to start the shift back to UK time. I shall probably be waking myself at around 3am for a leisurely drive back to Wales and then slowly shifting myself a couple of hours a day for the rest of this week.

Meet the New Website, Same as the Old Website, Roughly

I’ve finally taken the plunge and switched my website to a more modern blogging software (WordPress) and a dedicated media gallery (Gallery 2). Hopefully through the magic of redirects most shouldn’t notice much difference. I just hope planet hasn’t decided to dump all my posts onto the front page, if it has then I apologise.

I’ve also taken this opportunity to move all my extensions to addons.mozilla.org. Most are currently still in the sandbox, hopefully they will come public soon. I’m also using the nice new AMO API service to populate details on the add-on homepages, means there is only one place I need to make most changes to.

Spam: The Neverending Story

Spam is one of those evils of the modern age. It looks less and less likely that a real 100% effective solution will be found which is a little sad but not a major deal to my mind. I’ve managed to turn off my old junk email accounts and train my filter to clear out 90% of the junk I receive. Surprisingly I’ve had more problems with spam comments on this site than I have in my email lately. Even with comment moderation turned on the Tab Sidebar extension was receiving a silly amount of junk comments. It probably still is but I’m now using a simple blacklist to catch it all.

I tend to think of spam in two categories. You have your normal junk, you know offers to help someone transfer $1,000,000 (ONE MILLION US DOLLARS) out of Nigeria and to enlarge various of my body parts. Then you have the stuff which is from reputable companies which have generally got your email legitimately, maybe I filled in something to download some trial software or maybe I was even interested at one point. Perhaps surprisingly it’s the latter of these types that irritate me more . In particular when I attempt to unsubscribe and I still keep receiving mails.

Take this example. When I left my last job (about a month ago) I cancelled my small business mailings from Microsoft as they weren’t relevant to me anymore. What do I find in my inbox today:

Dear Mr Dave Townsend

As part of a routine data inspection we have noticed you have elected to stop receiving communications from Microsoft.

So umm let me get this straight, you recognise that I have asked to not receive any more mails from you and as such you have decided to email me?

As Microsoft launches exciting new solutions and initiatives, there’s no better time to register for information that will give your business a critical technological advantage. We invite you to consider receiving communications from us again.

Oh well if you are wanting me to start receiving mails again then of course it’s acceptable for you to mail to ask me.

Apparently:

if you still choose not to receive communications from Microsoft, simply do nothing and we will not contact you again

Oh well that’s ok. Of course I haven’t done anything since I opted out and you still mailed me.

Really large organisations should know better. If I tell you that I don’t want to hear from you again, what I mean is “I DON’T WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU AGAIN”.

Why would you want a decent password? It’s only money!

I guess it goes without saying that I’m fairly technically literate and as such I’m pretty well versed in both what makes a strong password and actually using them. I actually have a pair of passwords, one that I use for what I consider my more important logins (company accounts, servers and the like), and another that is for lesser services that if I lost or it got hacked then it wouldn’t be a major compromise of anything.

Given this it’s always particularly disappointing when I find something that I really want to use a strong password for but can’t, because the service in question can’t handle how strong my password is.

Take my new bank account with Lloyds TSB. The password for the internet banking is 6-15 characters, must contains letters and numbers, but cannot contain any spaces or anything non-alphanumeric. Bang goes about 4 characters from my strong password.

Lloyds aren’t alone either. I also have a savings account with Citibank. To log in to their online banking I am not allowed to type in my password by hand, instead I must use an onscreen keyboard with my mouse. Now I’m not quite sure what this is meant to serve, all it does is enter the characters into a regular html input box, you know, easily readable from an add-on or other form of spyware. And even worse the keyboard gives me just 51 possible characters to choose. At least Lloyds let me use both upper and lower case!

Maybe all these places having quite different restrictions on what characters I can use in my password is a cunning ploy to make me use a different password everywhere, but I find it a little disturbing that I’m able to use a stronger password with my online pizza delivery place than with my bank accounts holding thousands of pounds of savings.

Long Time No Post

Wow, it’s been a month to the day since my last post here, and quite a lot’s happened in that time. Those of you that keep up on Mozilla things might realise that I have changed jobs and I’m now working for Mozilla on the Firefox team under Mike Connor. I’m going to be putting work into the addons side of Firefox 3, in particular taking some of the main requirements as well as tackling some of the really irritating issues that have lain dormant for a little too long for my liking. Most exciting stuff for me right now (yes I know, I’m sad!) is that I’ve been working on doing unit tests for the extension manager component which makes testing new patches far easier to my mind as well as of course allow us to start catching regressions.

Getting this new position has been quite a fantastic achievement in my eyes and it’s allowed me to do other things that I’ve been needing to do for some time, like move house and various other personal goals that I won’t bore you with here.

In case you were wondering how this affects my extensions, well not much in all honesty. They are still all my personal work and all done in my personal time and the amount of time I have spare to work on them is (unfortunately) still about the same. I am however thinking about a fundamental change about how my extensions are available to the general public and in particular one that I think will encourage more outside contribution to my extensions, meaning that the burden is taken off me as a lone developer to add features and fix the bugs. I’m still mulling this over at the moment so watch this space for further news.