Firefox 2.0 for Windows XP

I was looking through some friend’s blogs today, and I noticed that a good friend of mine from Moncton reviewed Firefox 2.0 for Mac OS X. I wasn’t aware Firefox 2.0 was out yet … I’d still been using 1.5.7 … but after reading Mike’s review of the OS X version, I figured I should look at the Windows version.

So far, I must say i am quite impressed. Behind the scenes, things seem to be a lot crisper than the 1.x series … pages seem to load better and quicker, and the whole program just seems peppier. Added to the new performance and feel, the plugin and extension management seems to be a lot smoother these days. I spent a few minutes after install adding extensions, themes and plugins, and seemed to have very few problems. In a couple of cases, certain components complained because they didn’t work with 2.0, but the error messages were clear, and the recovery was smooth and easy.

Over all, I am pretty happy with the Windows version. Mike seems to be a bit happier with it now that he has found optimized builds, but from the Windows side, it all seemed to go smoothly “out of the box.” My next step is to make the upgrade on Linux … I’ll report back when I do …

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Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

That quote is usually attributed to Mark Twain, but whatever the provenance, most of us are well aware that statistics can be used to mislead us as much as they can enlighten us. There are some classic ways that stats can be used to mislead us … attempting to correlate data that has no relation is one of the most common methods. Anyone who took a first year stats course at university remembers the examples of using stats about the number of pregnant women who eat apples to show that eating apples is correlated to causing pregnancy, or using data about the number of alcoholics in a given district and the number of churches in the same district to show a correlation between churches and drunkenness. Both ‘correlations’ are examples of common fallacies that statistics can hide.

But even when fairly simple sounding claims are made, we need to look a little deeper … A good example of this is in DNA matching for evidence in criminal trials. We’ve all heard the common claim from expert witnesses in trials … a DNA match is a 1 in a billion chance, sometimes its even expressed as 1 in a trillion. We tend to think this means that the chances of 2 people matching DNA profiles is very small … in the way we typically understand the phrase “1 in a billion” with a population of 6 billion people, there should, in theory, be 6 occurrences of a 1 in a billion event. For a 1 in a trillion event, we wouldn’t normally expect it to occur in a population of 6 billion.

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Carl Sagan’s Cosmos

There are a few steps in my path to becoming a space geek.  The first step is pretty clear, and I’ve mentioned it here before … watching the Apollo/Soyuz linkup as a kid, along with some pretty amazing colour illustrations in an encyclopedia set my family had.  But a key part of solidifying that fascination came in my teenage years when i watched the 13 part Carl Sagan series Cosmos.

We live in a vastly different world today.  The Soviet Union and the West were still locked in the Cold War, and that mood is reflected in Cosmos.  The Voyager spacecraft were sending back stunning photos of Jupiter, with the promise of others beyond, and Viking had just recently sent back stunning vistas from Mars.  Still only 8 years away from the last moon landing, and in the midst of speculation about the ‘cutting-edge new Space Shuttle,’ Cosmos came out in 1980 in the midst of some excitement about space exploration still raging.

Its cool to see the show up on the internet for all to see … it really is an education resource for all.  I don’t know how long the links will be active for … I hope forever … but for now, enjoy one of the best astronomy/space series ever put together.

The End of an Era

On Monday Oct 23, 2006, Bob Clarke stepped down as GM of the Philadelphia Flyers, bringing to a close an era of hockey in Philadelphia. One sports columnist this week talked, with no indication of irony, of how Clarke ‘bled’ for the Flyers, and of course in his case, its quite literal … the blood-streaked, toothless grin of Bobby Clarke, skating around the ice beckoning to anyone in range for a fight is the iconic image of the NHL from the early and mid 1970’s. It was hockey’s most brutal age, and Bobby Clarke was, in many ways, its poster boy.

Its worth pointing out that Clarke was no slouch as a player. With 1210 points in 1144 career games, he stands 38th overall on the NHL’s career scoring list, certainly not a trivial achievement. With 1453 penalty minutes, its also not unfair to ask how much farther up that list he’d have been with more time on the ice, but unlike some other ‘players’ at the time, Clarke at least had good hockey skills to fall back on.

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Lazy days of winter

You’ve heard of the “dog days of summer?” Well, for me, that gets reversed a little bit. In my day job, I am extremely busy for the months of May-Oct, often working 12 or 13 hour days 7 days a week for as long as 4 weeks at a time. The flip side to that is that once the exercise season ends in late October, the pace of my day job slackens quite a bit.

Rather than getting paid for the the overtime we work during the summer exercise season, we bank time of in lieu (TOIL) of pay at the rate we’d normally accrue overtime. While there are times when the extra cash might be useful, I must admit that overall, an arrangement like this that keeps the taxman’s hands completely out of my overtime cookie jar is definitely the way to go. Were I getting paid cash for the extra time I work, I could reasonably expect to see 40% taken off for taxes, or more depending what other income I made that year. With the TOIL in place, however, I get full credit for all of the overtime I work, and the taxman never gets his hands on any of it. I end up with time off with pay in the winter (this year I’ll be taking some 10 weeks worth at some point before May) while the only thing the government gets to tax me on is my regular base salary. In many ways, its the best of both worlds.

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The Rebate Scam

“You should have to advertise whatever price the customer is forced to pay to take the product out of your store,” I muttered to the cashier as I stormed out of Future Shop this morning. You’d think I’d be used to the rebate scam by now, but it seems that as time goes on, the details about the actual price get smaller and smaller on the price tag at the store. In this case, it was a webcam advertised for $14.95 in big bold numbers on the tag on the shelf … at the till, however, the cashier rang up $47.99. When I questioned the price, she suggested the rebate and we went off to check … sure enough, small print on the side of the label talked about the mail-in rebate.

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Spaced out imagery

Earth from Saturn

This recent picture from the Cassini spacecraft is fascinating in its own right. While shots of earth from orbit are commonplace these days, the perspective of our planet from the outer solar system is still relatively unique. Other than Cassini, Voyager 1 is the only other space craft to get a picture of earth (Commonly called the Pale Blue Dot) from so far away. The inset in the upper left is a higher resolution version of the dot, high enough resolution to clearly make out Earth’s moon as a tiny bump on the upper left. This is how we look from Saturn, and if you read these pages regularly, you know that’s small potatoes in the area of universal size and distance.

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