Time Warner’s board approves plans to spin off AOL

Time Warner’s board approves plans to spin off AOL – washingtonpost.com

In a statement, Time Warner Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes said, “We believe AOL will then have a better opportunity to achieve its full potential as a leading independent Internet company.”

Maybe: if they manage to do something about software that’s intrusive, clunky, tempramental, and about 10 years behind current technology. My guess? It’s bleeding money, and they want to separate it from the parent company so it can sink on its own.

Speed Up Firefox And Fix Glitches With An Easy Clean Install

The latest issue of Scott’s Newsletter (and if you don’t read it, why don’t you?) has an interesting segment about cleaning up Firefox profiles and solving some problems that seem recently to have been plaguing the Foxmarks extension.  Foxmarks, if you’re not already using it, stores your bookmarks online so that they can be automatically transferred to any other computer using Fx, just by installing the extension on that machine and signing in.  Once both machines are set up, the synchronization occurs automatically from then on.  It’s cross-platform too, because the bookmarks are html files. (Foxmarks will also encrypt and store passwords, but I prefer LastPass — which also works in Internet Explorer — for that purpose.)

Well, I’d been having some trouble getting Foxmarks to synchronize between my home PC and the one at work.  To be precise, home would, and work wouldn’t.  Do.  Anything.  So, I decided to follow Scott’s advice.  Among other things, he suggested that Firefox should be clean-installed after each major version upgrade, leaving the automatic system to handle the intermediate updates.  Since I hadn’t done that, ever, I decided to give it a try.

First thing, I backed up all my settings from the various Firefox extensions.  In my case, that included Better Gmail, Foxclocks, Gmail Manager and Tab Mix Plus.  If you decide to do this (and you may), check into the settings of any extensions that you’ve made changes to, and see if you can export them as a text or html file.  It saves a lot of hassel when you set things back up.

Then I downloaded a fresh copy of Firefox.  Don’t forget to do this.  You’ll need it.

Also, make a list of all the extensions, because you’ll have to download and install them again.  It’s really annoying to discover that you forgot an important one right when you’d like to use it.

When I was sure I had all the backups safely on the desktop, I used Revo Uninstaller to remove all vestiges of Firefox from the PC, by running it at its deepest setting.  You can do this safely, IF you dig down and check ONLY the stuff in boldface.  Then check on the last page where you have to do the deadly deed to make sure all the file names shown have the word “Firefox” in them someplace.  I suggest spending a bit of time getting used to how Revo works before doing the dirty, as it alters the registry.  At that, it’s much safer to use than going into the works and removing the stuff manually — and it does a better job.

With the old Fx dead and gone, there was nothing to do but use the installer to reinstall it from scratch.  Then I reinstalled all the extensions — simple, because I had my list — and imported the settings from the desktop as needed. Then I restarted Fx.  If you download all the extensions at once, you only need one restart.  From start to finish, the whole thing took about half an hour.  My last chore was to open Foxmarks and set it to replace the bookmarks in the new installation of Firefox with those from the server.  It worked without a hitch.  After reinstalling LastPass from the PC’s start menu, I was finished.

Here’s the kicker.  You wouldn’t believe how fast Firefox runs now!  I’d forgotten how fast it could be.  With all the accumulated garbage cleaned out of the registry and wherever else it hides its goodies, you could easily convince yourself it’s an entirely different browser.  A couple of other extensions that were problematic now work beautifully again.  It opens much faster. Pages snap open.  Stuff happens right now.

Although a bit time-consuming, this is a worthwhile project for part of a rainy Sunday afternoon.  You can bet I’ll be clean-installing after every major revision, and I might do it occasionally in between.

Zoho Writer 2.0 Hits The Streets

Zoho, a seriously undermentioned contender in the cloud computing arena, has just completed a serious revamping of their online word processor, Zoho Writer.  I’m liking it — seriously liking it.

Check it out and let me know what you think.  While you’re at it, you can check out some of their other online offerings.  These folks have a full online office suite that, in my opinion, kicks the competition to the curb.

(Honesty statement: I use Google’s competitive products, because they interface well with all the other Google stuff I use, but I think Zoho’s is a more professional, satisfactory experience.  I copied and pasted this straight out of Writer into WordPress.  Try that with Google’s HTML!)

A Comment For Our Buddies Over At The Linux Shoppe

The Linux kiddies have the same blind spot as Google: they seem unable to make the jump from geek to user. Linux will never be the lead OS (any version) until the everyday user is led by the hand through every single step, as with most Windows applications. The only reason Google gets away with it is the similarity amongst their offerings, which provides some continuity, because their help files still suck — although they’re getting better.

For some reason, these folks seem unable to grasp the fact that to hit the mainstream they have to shoot for the lowest common denominator: the 95% who don’t give a rat’s ass about the difference between a KGB and FBI desktop, they just want to send email and access the Web. And they MOST EMPHATICALLY don’t want to have to consult a user group full of code bunnies and snobs to figure out how to do it.

I’m no beginner, but even Ubuntu is too much trouble for me most of the time. They can’t even get their GRUB code to stop changing the boot order every time the OS upgrades. It’s little annoyances like having to re-write boot order that define unusability.

They’ve come a long way, baby, but they still have to make the last few yards without continually stumbling over their own feet.

Consummate Professional, Yes; Hero, No

Hero: a man distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength; “RAF pilots were the heroes of the Battle of Britain’; (classical mythology) a being of great strength and courage celebrated for bold exploits; often the offspring of a mortal and a god.

Chesley Sullenberger is neither of those.  He is a highly-trained professional’s professional, who did his job impeccably for 20-plus years as an Air Force fighter jock and line pilot.  When the chips were down, he used his extensive training and experience to stay calm and continue to do the job he is paid to do.  His exploit was not “bold,” it was the reaction of a professional.

Routine flights do not require professional pilots.  Anyone who knows what switches to throw and how to read basic flight instruments can get a modern airliner from A to B — albeit not all that safely. Professionals are there for the exceptions, the “moments of terror” that every aviator has known.  Captain Sullenberger’s accomplishment is remarkable, to be admired, and to not only his credit but also that of the people who trained him and continue to train him and his fellow pilots to handle precisely the kind of situation that occurred last week in the sky over New York. He is a pilot’s pilot, and a man for airplane drivers near and far to look up to.

But a hero?  No.  To call that man a hero is to cheapen the thousands of hours of work and experience that prepare every line pilot to do his or her job when the chips are down.

The public and the press won’t “get” this (neither wants to), but pilots of all sorts know exactly what I mean. The highest accolade anyone can give Chesley Sullenberger is, “they walked away from it.”

Tesla Motors to supply batteries, components for electric Smart Car

Tesla will supply about 1,000 powertrains for the Smart ForTwo EV, Elon Musk, the company’s chairman and chief executive, said at a conference held in conjunction with the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The electric Smart cars with Tesla components are due to arrive in late 2009 or early 2010.

If the matchup is a success, the deal “will expand to tens of thousands of vehicles a year,” he said.


Fenix LD01 Flashlight – A Great Holiday Gift (For Me)

A couple of weeks ago, I got a surprise holiday gift from Gary Lee at EliteLED.com. He wrote,

…When I first learned about this stainless special edition LD01 from Fenix, I told myself this would be a perfect holiday gift for my friend Bill. I know you are the AAA light person and you would be thrilled with this light. Enjoy!

Well, he couldn’t have been more right. Gary knows that I consider any flashlight used for everyday carry (EDC, in flashlightgeekspeak) a non-starter if it can’t be tossed in a pocket or hung on a keychain and just forgotten about until it’s needed. For me, an EDC light needs

  1. an unobtrusive form and size
  2. a decent run time
  3. a battery that is easily replaced, of a size that’s easy to find, and finally
  4. to be capable of producing enough light to get the job done.

If it can’t meet those criteria, I not only won’t use it myself, I won’t recommend it to anyone else.

There are a lot of small pocket flashlights. Some use the little “coin” batteries, have short run times, don’t put out much light, really, and the batteries are a couple or three bucks apiece and aren’t rechargeable. They are fantastic for hanging on a keychain for those moments when you have your keys in your hand and need to find a light switch, avoid stepping on the cat, etc., but they aren’t work lights.

Others have plenty of punch, but use the relatively expensive CR123A lithium cells, great if you need high voltage and energy density. CR123A’s are short, and make for a small light in the one-cell versions, but they are larger in diameter than my entire Fenix (which uses a AAA cell). They’re just too big for a pocket light. (I’m limiting this discussion to single-cell lights, because there are no multi-cell flashlights that meet the size criteria except for the coin cell models mentioned above.)

Still other LED flashlights use cheap, easily-acquired AA cells but, again, the size gets in the way. Here’s a picture of the Fenix LD01 Stainless next to the old CMG Infinity AA that I carried for several years. The Fenix is about the same length because of its regulator circuit, but look at the difference in diameter! And when it comes to output there’s no point in even showing a comparison. The Cree Q5 LED lamp in the Fenix is about 7 years newer technology, and it would only make the old faithful Infinity feel bad.

AAA cells are about perfect for pocket lights. They’re cheap, plentiful, easily found just about everywhere, and come in a variety of kinds, from alkaline to lithium to Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeables, that serve well in various purposes. Lithium cells, for example, are great for the light that you throw in the glove compartment and forget about until an emergency. They have a 10-year shelf life, and are quite heat-resistant. Unfortunately, they’re as expensive as sin and generally less fun.

The Fenix LD01 uses AAAs. I’ve been using it with Sanyo Eneloop “hybrid” rechargeables, with excellent results. Hybrids are a good choice for flashlights, as they hold a charge longer than regular NiMH rechargeable cells, although the energey density (amount of juice) is a bit less. In a regulated flashlight, that doesn’t make much difference.

Here are the specs on the LD01 (that’s “zero one,” BTW),

  • Cree Q5 7090 XR-E LED 
  • Three output modes: 27 Lumens (3.5hrs); 10 Lumens (8.5hrs); 80 Lumens (1hrs)
  • Four days of survival use (two continuous hours per day on the lowest setting)
  • Uses one 1.5V AAA battery (not included), inexpensive and widely available
  • 7.35cm x 1.4cm (2.9 in x 0.6 in)
  • 14.8-gram (0.5 oz) weight, excluding batteries. (This weight is for the aluminum version. The stainless steel model Gary sent me is probably half again as heavy.)
  • Made of aircraft-grade aluminum (I’d recommend the aluminum for overall use because of its lighter weight and superior machining.)
  • Durable Type III hard-anodized finish (aluminum model)
  • Toughened ultra-clear glass lens with AR coating
  • Waterproof to IPX-8 Standards
  • Capable of standing up securely on a flat surface to serve as a candle
  • Input voltage: 0.8V~3.3V
  • Reliable twist-switch

Package Includes:

  • Fenix LD01 Flashlight 
  • Spare O-Ring
  • Split key ring
  • Fenix Pocket Clip (useful for attaching to your hat).

I can’t say enough good about this flashlight. I’ve been using it for long enough to have a good idea of its advantages and flaws — of which there are a couple, but not big ones.

The performance is simply amazing. On the low setting, the thing produces enough light for most purposes: navigating around the house when the power fails or you don’t want to wake the spouse, reading under the covers and so forth. On the medium setting, it’s hard to see how you’d need much more light up close; it’s perfect for holding in your mouth when you’re digging around behind a computer table. On high — OMG! In pitch darkness, you can see fine out to about 25 yards, and high contrast out a bit farther. From a 1-AAA light!

Here is a shot of the LD01 on the high (80 Lumen) setting, with a Nuwai Luxeon Star 3-watt “tactical” flashlight for comparison. Keep in mind that the Nuwai uses 2 CR123A lithium cells, for a 6-volt input, while the Fenix uses one 1.5 volt AAA (Sanyo Eneloop, in this case). The LD01 is on the right.


Impressed yet?

Now the little niggling negatives. The barrel design is OK, but pales alongside the little Fenix E01, which has two flats that are perfect in your mouth or between a couple of fingers, plus checkering. Two nice panels of fine checkering down about 2/3 the length of the barrel. Non-slip for real, and the perfect little work light, albeit a bit weak compared to the LD01 (same output as it’s big bro’s “low” setting).

The LD01, on the other hand, has no checkering on the battery holder, but rather a smooth surface with a hexagonal cross section. On my stainless light it was slick, and I dropped the light several times before I got smart and put a rough finish on the high spots between the flats with a diamond file. This would be a similar problem with the aluminum model, but perhaps not as bad because it’s lighter.

The other complaint has to do with the fact that stainless steel is difficult to machine, for reasons we won’t go into. The threading on my light was a bit rough, and made it hard to operate the switch precisely. (You turn the LD01 off and on, and adjust the power settings, by twisting the head.) The ol’ gunsmith fixed that, too, and I would not expect it to be noticeable on the aluminum light. All of my aluminum Fenixes are perfectly fitted. (The stainless models are limited edition items intended for collectore anyway — which doesn’t stop me from using mine.)

The only reason I spend so much time on these little gripes is that the LD01 is close to being the perfect everyday carry flashlight. It wants to live in your pocket, beside the bed, in the tackle box, the airplane glove compartment and the survival kit. The slippery aspect is a distinct problem for use in bad weather, and I really think Fenix should address it in the next model update. If they do, I’ll be the first in line to upgrade. In the meantime, I’ve got my new little buddy in my pocket as I write this. Thanks, Gary.

Quote of the Week (I Think):

“People are too depressed to be sexually active. This is very unhealthy as a nation. Americans can do without cars and such but they cannot do without sex. With all this economic misery and people losing all that money, sex is the farthest thing from their mind. It’s time for congress to rejuvenate the sexual appetite of America. The only way they can do this is by supporting the adult industry and doing it quickly.”
~ Larry Flynt

If Books Could Kill – Utne Reader

“It requires neither imagination nor acumen to predict that our current conglomerating, lowest-common-denominator, demographically targeted publishing industry will soon achieve its streamlined apotheosis—a single, worldwide, Exxon Mobil–owned literary empire offering up seven books twice per year.  …”  If Books Could Kill

See how much you’ve failed to repress about the year

“Despite all the carping, there’s a lot that is good to say about 2008. The presidential election was great. Britney seems to be improving. George W. Bush is leaving. Eventually. That collider in Switzerland didn’t create a universe-gobbling black hole. So far.

Before we move on, one last blast from the past. See how much you’ve failed to repress about the year:  Op-Ed Columnist – The Year-End Quiz – NYTimes.com