Firefox 2 inline spell checker

I usually avoid the initial release candidates of open source software, but Firefox just released their beta 2 candidate about a month ago. I finally got around to installing it this week and I have to say it’s not that mind-blowing. They’ve added cleaner RSS support, more intelligent tabs, and a number of features that mimic former plugins.

While I was test-driving this new toy I went to some new ajax-spiffy application and was completely blown away by their inline spell checker, until I realized that it’s a standard feature on the new Firefox:

Inline spell checking: A new built-in spell checker enables users to quickly check the spelling of text entered into Web forms (like this one) without having to use a seperate application.

It’s essentially the same spell checker that has existed in more serious writing applications (word processors, email clients, etc.) for years, with red dotted lines under misspelled words and right-click action to suggest correct spellings. It appears that the authors of the above quote were using a previous version of Firefox as the word “separate” is spelled incorrectly. Of course I only noticed this because it has red dots below it in my browser.

Most good social software currently support spell checking, but the inline version it isn’t the sort of task that can be done in real-time by a web app. It makes perfect sense that this sort of functionality would migrate to the browser, given the amount of general text editing that is happening now on the web. We’ve moved from a world of web browsing to one of web editing, and our tools for manipulating this environment will reflect this shift.

I can say that I’m pretty helpless without a spell checker, and I am usually too lazy to use online tools like, so this will generally raise the bar of my online participation. Oh, and I won’t look like an idiot. As much.

Wikipedia to overtake porn

It’s a well-known fact that pornography drives the development of technology. Whether you’re talking about the Internet, VHS, or papyrus, porn pushed the envelope and paid the way for the development of the underlying media. Well, I hate to admit it, but it appears that pr0n is moving on:

As this Google trend clearly shows, the user-generated encyclopedia Wikipedia is about to overtake porn. What does this mean? SERIOUS INFORMATION IS DISPLACING PORNOGRAPHY! Do we really think that people looking for articles on the history of corn farming are going to pay for advancements to the information superhighway? I hate to be a naysayer, but I think we’re headed towards the inevitable end of the internet.

Time to start studying video phones.

Intercontinental Internet (Boeing Connexion)

I am on my way to Denmark for Hypertext ’06 and have the privilege of riding on Scandinavian Airlines. I was told by a few people that the seats offered more legroom and that the overhead bins were almost unreachable (thank you tall Scandanavian peoples). These are but mere urband legends, but one story I heard holds true: in-flight wifi internet access.

I’m sending this from my flight, and for all intents and purposes the service beats most airport terminal. Connections are extremely flaky during takeoff, but nearly seamless once in flight. Broadband Reports shows a downspeed of 199kbps up and 22kbps down, not bad for a highly shared connection.

Power is available in a standard 110 A/C jack in Business and First Class, but unfortunately the losers in coach have to bring extra batteries (or cheat by taking an extended bathroom break and plugging into the shaver outlet).

And of course pricing is on the expensive side: $9.95 for 1 hr., $14.95 for 2, and $26.95 for the entire flight. This pricing model has not produced the response that Boeing had expected; the owner and operator has just decided to drop the service, a group that employs 400 individuals. However, another vendor, ASiQ, has decided to take over the service at a lower price. I really hope this is not my last in-flight blog post.

Earthquake RSS

bay bridgeIn the second installment of neurotic, phobia-inducing, end-of-May posts, I’ll be addressing the concerns of an impending earthquake disaster in the San Francisco area. Not that I’m really scared every time I drive across the eastern span of the bay bridge. I mean, it held up pretty well during the Loma-Prieta Earthquake in 1989, and I’m sure all of the repairs probably made it much stronger than before. Which probably explains why they’re building the eastern span replacement at the speed of light.

I grew up in California, and have lots of fond memories of shaking around in bed and seeing things rattle off of shelves. I witnessed the horror of the ’89 quake and have driven through Hollister enough times to know what a building-with-a-giant-crack looks like. I’m not really scared of earthquakes at all, but my friends’ concern has gotten me thinking, and I realized that I know relatively nothing about the frequency and science of earth shaking.

I’ve wandered past the US Geological Service website when looking for elevation maps or pictures of rocks, but had no idea that they had cultivated an all-knowing network of seismic data. Without much work I was able to find RSS feeds of all seismic activity, categorized by size. Since I subscribed this morning, I’m completely hooked on non-weblog RSS feeds. It goes something like this:

“Ooh, Andy posted a link about some idiot eating his Atari 2600 console.”
“4.5 in the Canary Islands.”
“Yay! Merlin posted tips on how to shave precious seconds off of tooth-brushing.”
“3.7 in Northern Alaska.”
“You get the picture.”

Uhh, I mean, you get the picture. So the moral of the day is: if you’re afraid of something, find a constant source of news about it in the form of an RSS feed, and then your fear will go away! With Xanax.

Tiny but deadly

sapphire virus map The Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA) has completed a study of the recent Sapphire virus, with some fascinating results (and noted missteps by the programmer).

As opposed to previous viruses, which depended on responses from randomly chosen potential hosts, Sapphire sent UDP packets that required no such return. In other words, Nimbda and Code Red were bounded by network latency, and Sapphire simply by bandwidth. Using this strategy, the virus was able to double its infected population every 8 seconds, while Code Red checked in at a snail-like 37 minutes. Most of the vulnerable machines were affected within 10 minutes.

CAIDA: The Spread of the Sapphire/Slammer Worm

Stick to what you know

Google is currently testing distributed computing as an option of its toolbar. Sergei Brin (Google co-founder) says that the initial use of the computation will be for the [email protected] project at Stanford, but also says that it might be aimed at internal search problems. It seems awkward for a company who has sold themselves on doing one thing, and one thing well, to suddenly branch out just to “give something back to science.” I’d say that Google has either got something up its sleeve, or lost the plot.

SMS Memes

I’ve always been fascinated by SMS as a technology to spread memes. Given that people have the attention, the instantaneous push nature of phone messages coupled with group distribution lists could lead to immediate information epidemics. But the phone service has a long way to go since, as the BBC reports, many messages go missing. Transmission rates need to be above some threshold before we can reach a tipping point, and perhaps the necessary technology has not arrived yet.

Viral fact checking

Okay, so the mass media attention to weblogs has officially tipped, thanks to the blogger manifesto and a host of articles from microcontent news. Yesterday’s article in the daily standard, “Reading, Writing, and Blogging” is yet another of what will be the landslide of articles touting or discrediting P2P Journalism. What I found facinating from this one was the mention of Smartertimes, a site deditacted to fact-checking stories in the New York Times.