David Baron's weblog: September 2003

Friends & Colleagues

Sunday 2003-09-14

Mozilla Firebird, part 2 (12:29 -0700)

On Thursday evening, I had a long discussion on IRC with some of the Firebird developers. Much of it was a discussion of font sizes on the web. It sounds like they have plans at least to bring the font preferences back to equal prominence with those in the Mozilla suite, rather than making a significant change in the wrong direction. I still think this isn't enough, and perhaps I'll say more about that later.

I think the bigger point from that discussion is that if the Firebird developers want to improve their relationships with the Mozilla community, they should make it much clearer to others in the community how they want to get feedback. The usual feedback mechanism in the Mozilla community is bug reports. However, on IRC, Blake told me that Mozillazine's forums on Firebird are not only a user support mechanism and a forum for discussion among users (as I had understood), but are also the preferred way of sending feedback to the Firebird developers.

I'm open to the possibility of switching back to Firebird in the future, once it's a bit more polished. Probably the biggest blockers for me are having it actually go to the URL I entered and being able to use DOM inspector (which I need for my work on the Layout engine). After all, I don't regularly use any of the components of the suite other than the Browser, so I don't really need the suite. And I hope that when I do that, the user interface will be able to do what I need.

Tuesday 2003-09-09

Election 2004: The Albuquerque debate (22:15 -0700)

On Saturday I had a chance to watch the debate of the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination that happened last Thursday.

Not too surprisingly, there was a lot of pandering to isolationists who, for some reason, think that people who are citizens of the United States are somehow more valuable than those who aren't. Kucinich was the most extreme isolationist, and Gephardt was isolationist as usual. What surprised me a bit was that there didn't seem to be much of a difference between what Gephardt said about free trade and what Dean said about free trade. And even Kerry didn't seem very strongly for it, although he was much more supportive. Only Lieberman stood out as a strong supporter of free trade.

Lieberman also seemed to take a more realistic stance on the war in Iraq. Many of the candidates said we should just try to get out, without much regard for how much of a mess that would make. Lieberman supported sending additional troops to help bring security and stability to Iraq, which makes sense given the current siutation. Many of the other candidates seemed to be presenting policy based on what they wish happened a year ago, rather than based on the situation now. I think it's unrealistic to expect other countries to contribute significant numbers of troops, and unrealistic for an Iraqi military and police to form without continued assistance (and increased security) from the US.

I was impressed (to my surprise) by Carol Moseley Braun, who's generally, I think, viewed as a less serious candidate because she lost reelection to her Senate seat in 1998. While, as I said above, I disagreed with her on foreign policy and trade policy, and I'm not sure about her economic policy (although at this stage that's often a matter of advisors), I thought she was probably the best speaker on social issues in the debate. And given the mess that health insurance is becoming in this country, I hope people will be willing to listen to advocates of a single-payer health system, although I think she did a bad job of explaining where the money would come from. (She should have said that it would probably cost less than what people now pay in insurance premiums because of the huge reduction in administrative costs.) That said, Dean's plans for phasing such a system in in steps probably make more sense.

So who am I planning to support? I'm not sure yet, although if I had to say which way I'm leaning, I'd say Lieberman, although I'm not sure how strong his support is for civil liberties and the separation of church and state.

Mozilla Firebird (21:39 -0700)

I've switched (way back on August 6, actually) from using Mozilla Firebird back to using Seamonkey (the traditional Mozilla application suite). The idea of a trimmed-down browser really isn't for me, as I've been saying for years. Features attract users. It may be difficult to provide a user interface that makes a lot of features accessible, but it's not impossible. Seamonkey does a bad job in some areas, and a good job in others. That said, the main reason I was using Firebird was a feature that it had, but Seamonkey didn't—form autocomplete.

I think Firebird is throwing out a lot of user interface (for example, the unknown content type dialog) that's been carefully designed to work in many situations on different platforms and replacing it with user interface that's basically designed for Windows and doesn't make sense on other platforms. The Mozilla application suite has sometimes had too many cooks, but the various people who influenced it have also ensured that it is usable in many different situations (on multiple platforms, when interacting with many different programs, under different configurations, by speakers of different languages, etc.).

Finally, I can't give any moral support to a browser whose font size preference dialog is hidden behind a button within a preference panel. Users should be asked to set their preferred font size as part of browser configuration, and it should be easy to change thereafter. If that were the case with other browsers, the web today wouldn't be as much of a mess as it is. (And if we can't do something to try to make the web a better place, then why are we developing a browser layout engine?)

I'm not saying there aren't problems with the current application suite. However, I think those problems would be better solved by incremental changes (with peer review) than by redesign (without much peer review). I think the Firebird development community is too small and too exclusive and thus tends to change things whose original rationale they do not know. It's the type of community that can never create a browser that just seems to have the features you want when you need them.

Israel and Palestine (21:02 -0700)

Targeted assassination is not known to be a good tool of foreign policy. There's a reason that the US government doesn't use it. Or at least didn't use it for a while. It tends not to help the cause, and often backfires. I think things in the Middle East would be a good bit less tense right now if the goverment of Israel realized this.

My understanding (I think from some old Thomas Friedman columns that are way too old to still be on the New York Times's website for free) is that Hamas is a bit different from other terrorist organizations—perhaps even quasi-governmental. Israel may eventually need to negotiate with it, just like it eventually came to negotiate with the PLO/Palestinian Authority. It's unlikely that Israel accomplishes anything useful by assassinating leaders of Hamas, since the deterrent effect on terrorism and the loss of the harm caused by the individual leaders is probably easily outweighed by the anger caused (and terrorism that results from it). After all, if Israel wants peace and security, maybe it should try to set a good example?

My blog (20:41 -0700)

I've slightly changed my blog format, in the hope that I can somehow transform it into an RSS feed using XSLT (which Tantek does). In other words, I've added information required by RSS (titles and times) in the hope that I can transform it. I spent a bit of time poking around with XSLT. Maybe I'll even be able to get it to do what I want. If not, I'll probably just use perl.

I've also had a bunch of random things I wanted to say something about, and I'm planning to say them soon...