Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

A few years back, not long after I reached an age where I had the supposed privilege to vote in Australia, I realised that voting was little more than an inconvenience. In Australia voting is “compulsory”, if you choose not to vote it’ll cost you 50 bucks (fine), so as a student I voted for the Greens because I thought Bob Brown was the least annoying party leader and 50 bucks was a lot of money to me in those days. I can’t say that I particularly cared for half the Green agenda, but hey, it doesn’t matter who you vote for (and in almost all cases a Green vote was essentially a Labor vote due to preferences).

The Australian election shenanigans viewed from my new outside perspective are far more entertaining than they’d be if I was still there and forced to indicate I had some preference for one buffoon over another. All I can think is that I pity anyone having to choose between the two dorks on offer (I think most “swinging voters” vote for the figurehead and not for the party, that’s why there’s so much ALP engine focus on “would you really want Costello to be PM?”). I’d be exercising my $50 right not to vote. A saving grace of the UK is that you’re not coerced into picking one ugly, old, lying pollie from another.

Anyway, much of what I think is summed up neatly in an old NYT article that Mr Dilbert linked to today Why Vote? (2005). I particularly like the parallel they draw to lottery tickets: “for the price of a ticket, you buy the right to fantasize how you’d spend the winnings — much as you get to fantasize that your vote will have some impact on policy.”

Anyway, please vote in whatever your next election is … deluded masses make the world go round.

Erroneous Blame for Firefox Slowness

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

For a while I’ve been very annoyed by how horribly slow Firefox is, writing it off as Firefox just having grown into a disgusting slow heap. That said, I wasn’t comfortable blaming Firefox in such an off-hand manner, the issue could be Ubuntu doing something wrong, or one of the extensions I use. I almost felt I’d confirmed it was Ubuntu a little while back when switching to the firefox install sped my Firefox up — yes it did (something to do with fonts and AA I’ve read) but it was still pretty slow. I’ve wiped my profile and rebuilt my Firefox setup from scratch a couple of times even, still all bad.

What I failed to do was start by blaming that which is, really, the most unreliable part of my configuration: the ten or so extensions I use. Extensions are outside the control of Firefox and Ubuntu, often written by some random, and often written badly. (Well, so I expect in my cynical way.) Today I nuked my Firefox install and browsed my usual morning sites with no extensions installed, using the Ubuntu Firefox, and it really is pretty snappy. I’ve now re-installed Google Browser Sync and browsing has not degraded. Over the next few days I’ll reinstall my set of usual extensions and find out which is to blame (if any single one).

My Firefox extensions are:

  • Google Browser Sync (I don’t know how I lived without this. On the slowdown front it Seems OK, so far.)
  • SwitchProxy Tool (Essential, I work through different redirected proxies throughout the day. Might be a better plugin for this though. There are notes on the page that say this is a cause of slowdown.)
  • AdBlock Plus (Difficult to live without this, I hate flashing/moving graphics all over websites. Flashblocker almost replaces it. Need flash+anigif blocker, that might be OK.)
  • NeoDiggler (Provides the essential “clear URL bar” button, does some other things too that I don’t use.)
  • Google Toolbar (I probably don’t really need this, it’s so common though that I doubt it is the problem.)
  • Tab Mix Plus (Use this to tweak a few tab settings, can probably live without — closed tabs history is often helpful though.)
  • Web Developer (Usually disabled anyway, very useful. It can cause slowness when enabled.)
  • Firebug (Usually disabled anyway, extremely useful. It causes extreme slowness when some parts are enabled, shouldn’t be a worry in a disabled state though.)
  • Google Gears (Have issues with this, it occasionally segfaults at shutdown-time, at least that’s where GDB points the finger. It is “Google BETA”. It makes offline Google Reader work, but I never use it.)

I’ll reinstall one per day over the next few days, in the order above, and see how my browsing joy fares. I’ll need at least a full day’s worth of browsing to work out if a plugin has a noticeable impact. (I don’t generally do a lot of web browsing.) I might try installing the Load Time Analyser extension next though, so long as it doesn’t slow anything down it seems likely to be useful.

Even with the massive no-extensions responsiveness boost, Firefox seems less speedy than Opera. I’ve been using Opera more often these days, now that it has some sort of sync feature it might be a viable Firefox replacement.

Referrer Bot

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

This is a quick addition to my previous post: Bot or Not?. Curiosity got the better of me so, through roundabout means, I got samples of some of the pages. First note is that the ‘hyml’ pages are 404s, so probably a typo.

Next note is that there is some dodgey looking script in some of the pages. My first thought was: Oh, this is just another botnet propogation setup. There’s two layers of encode in the snippet, first the data is URI-decoded, then each byte has 1 subtracted from it to get the real code, this is then eval()ed. This shows that the decoded content is short and simple, not a bot infester:

var r=escape(document.referrer), t="", q;
document.write("<script src=\""+r+"\"></script>");

URL obscured, but points to what looks like a front with no links and the text “See How The Traffic Is Driven To Your Site” (the page is nothing but an image with no links). So this looks like just a route to grabbing referrer dollars from a dodgey advertising site. Note how the target script will neatly get both the spammy page and the URL of the page that was spammed.

So what about counter.php? More redirection! The script imported looks like this (reformatted for readability):

<!-- document.write(
    '<script language="JavaScript">
        function f() {
            document.location.href = "";
        } window.onFocus =  f(); </'+'script>'); // -->
        '<script language="JavaScript">
            function f() {
                document.location.href = "";
            } window.onFocus =  f(); </'+'script>');

We’ve reached the end of the road. The real URL in this code goes to an “Online Pharmacy” at a domain registered since February this year. The page contains little javascript, no exploits. A function for adding to bookmarks, some “menu” code, and it imports “urchin.js” from Google Analytics.

So yeah, everyday, regular spam.

Digital Spectrum

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

IEEE’s Spectrum magazine is making a digital distribution available[1]. I’ve been trying to use it over the last couple of months and have opted to get the digital version from next year. It’s a mutually exclusive offer, you either get bits or you get paper. The digital carrot is very compelling:

  • You get your Spectrum significantly earlier, fresh news is always alluring.
  • You don’t end up with a pile of paper that gathers dust.

So, like I said, I’ve opted for digital distribution. Piles of IEEE emails on the subject have compelled me to do so. There’s a rather large BUT though:

I will no longer read Spectrum.

Why? Well, the actual news content of any printed publication is valueless these days so this isn’t the reason Spectrum gets read in the first place. I’ll have skimmed anything interesting from the weekly news mailouts I get from IEEE, ACM, and SANS — not to mention news feeds like Slashdot, and Google. I read the paper edition of Spectrum because I can read it in the toilet, it’s not pretty but it’s true. Spectrum has well written and detailed stories on subjects that I wouldn’t normally investigate, it doesn’t matter that the information isn’t breaking-news and I’m using time in which I’d otherwise be staring at the door.

What does the new digital Spectrum do for me?

  • It employs an annoying and cumbersome non-web online reader.
  • It ties me to reading only when I’m in front of a computer.
  • I can’t read it on the toilet, or in bed late at night.

These are both locations where I tend not to take the laptop, and, really, I’d prefer neither one to be any more digitally enabled. So, I’ll only be able to read Spectrum while I’m sitting at my desk, or when laptopping elsewhere. But in these cases I usually have work to do, and in-between work times I have the entire Internet before me. Why opt to read Spectrum when I have expert-selected content feeds?

As for the first point, the digital Spectrum interface is crap. The real Spectrum killer for me is in the toilet, but usability is pretty important too. Has anyone ever seen one of these non-web web-content systems that doesn’t suck? They would be better off just sticking to PDF, but then I guess they’d loose whatever DRM the system they’re using provides. I’ve seen a lot of publications go for such non-web online systems during these web-or-die times, most of them have either given up (nobody reads because they made it too difficult) or switched to the sanity of just sticking with HTML. (Example: The West Australian, a newspaper I grew up with but stopped reading when I left WA because their online setup was unusable. Now they use a site that looks like every other news site, while design-dorks may shudder and think “urgh, how ununique”, my opinion is: good, I know how to use this site. I’m after news, not obstructions.)

So, despite all my complaining, I’ve opted for digital. But now I wont read Spectrum. Logic anyone?! I’m not at all sad about this, it was my decision. I have other magazines to stock the toilet, and now I wont have to debate with myself over how long to keep Spectrums and feel bad about throwing stacks of them in the recycling every 6-or-so months (so: periodical karma improved by about one fifth). It is intriguing to reflect on these moments when something leaves your life, why is it so and what do the stirrings of these surface currents indicate is lurking below. Then get on with life, differently informed.

[1] Using Qmags, which seems to offer quite a selection of publications. Maybe I’m in a minority, thinking the interface is crap. Or maybe there just happens to be enough people willing to use it to keep the thing alive. I’m not investigating their service in detail, the IEEE Spectrum interface might not even be what they use to deliver most of their titles. Some “Secure” Acrobat/ebook file would be another option, though I don’t like them much either (still not loo-compatible in my mind, and printouts defeat the purpose).