Thursday, November 06, 2008

Favorite Firefox add-ons

Since I've been setting up Firefox and associated apps on my new work laptop, I thought I'd list my current set of favorite add-ons for Firefox 3.

I've used Firefox and some of these add-ons for years, and they help to make Firefox that much more useful and safe for day-to-day browsing. There are literally thousands of add-ons to choose from, so these represent the best and most useful of the ones available in my experience.

Adblock Plus blocks ads, period. Modern replacement for Adblock + Filterset.G Updater.

Download Statusbar makes it easier to track and manage multiple downloads, nicer interface than the download manager included with Firefox 3. Alternately, if you need to queue up and manage dozens or hundreds of downloads, use DownThemAll! 1.0.3 instead.

Video DownloadHelper 3.3: downloads videos from sites like YouTube for local use.

Feed Sidebar 3.1.4: the least annoying feed reader I've ever used. I love the idea of RSS/Atom feeds as a way to view and stay up to date with content, but Feed Sidebar is the first reader I've used in 3 or 4 years that I didn't delete after 2 weeks of use.

NoScript protect your Firefox session from malicious code. Practice safe browsing! Firefox with AdBlock Plus and NoScript installed makes your browsing about as safe as you can get on the web these days.

QuickProxy 2008.08.04: gives you a statusbar button to turn proxy support on and off. Couple this with PuTTY or another SSH client configured for SOCKS5 connection forwarding to your desired SSH server, and you've got an instant VPN for your Firefox session.

I've used other add-ons over the years, including Better Gmail (improved Gmail interface tweaks), ChatZilla (IRC/chat client), FasterFox (speed tweaks), FireBug (monitor and debug CSS/HTML/Javascript code and page load time) FireFTP (full-featured FTP client), FlashBlock (blocks Adobe Flash applets), ForecastFox (weather forecasts), Foxmarks (bookmark synchronization), User Agent Switcher (change your browser's identity); and any list of Firefox add-ons needs to include the amazing GreaseMonkey.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election 2008

"Politicians and diapers should be changed often, and for the same reason." - Mark Twain

Voted this morning at 7:06am at our polling station, and there were around 10 people ahead of me in line. I was impressed at the number of staffers on site, it looked like about twice the number that were there in 2006 and 2007. This isn't a huge district: there's 6 voting districts and 19 polling precincts in the county, serving around 70 thousand residents and perhaps 40 thousand registered voters.

Frederick County VA Polling Places Number of Precincts & Registered Voters by Counties & Cities within Congressional Districts - September 1, 2004

Heard from my mother-in-law this morning, she got to the polling station in Lake Ridge (eastern Prince William County VA) around 6:15am and didn't get through the line and out until 7:30am. My guess is that the suburban counties in Northern Virginia are going to get crushed by voter turnout today, so it'll be interesting to see what the Virginia SBE reports starting at 7:30pm this evening.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Georgia and Russia: Thursday 2008-08-21 updates

It's been quite a week, what with the cease-fire, a supposed Russian withdrawal, sacking of Georgian military bases, warships steaming to and fro, bridges blowing up, SS-21 launchers hitting the highway, threats against Poland, Abkhazian diplomatic maneuvering, pissing matches with NATO, Russian grandstanding and so forth. And despite the energy cards that Russia still holds in its hands, other NATO members are making the sorts of statements that allies tend to make.

Unsurprisingly, the Russian military is still very Russian. Yah, lots of infantry and armor in close-quarters combat, and vulnerable but effective aircraft in the sky. No, no UAVs or modern stand-off capability. But the Russian soldiers on the ground are a largely professional volunteer force, unlike the demoralized conscripts from the Chechen wars.

If Putin wants a new cold war, he has one. The real question is what else Russia is going to do, since Europe and the US are on the receiving end this time.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Georgia and Russia: Thursday 2008-08-14 updates

Washington Post: Russian Troops Hold Key Georgian City

The Russians aren't going back, and they aren't letting go.

Following the events of the past week, "One can forget about any talk about Georgia's territorial integrity," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the Associated Press reported from Moscow. "It is impossible to persuade South Ossetia and Abkhazia to agree with the logic that they can be forced back into the Georgian state."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met Thursday with leaders of the separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and pledged to support them in discussions about the future of the two disputed regions.

"We will support any decision made by the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia," Medvedev said, following a meeting in which the separatist leaders signed the French cease-fire plan in Moscow.

BBC: US forces to deliver Georgia aid

And the US is going in.

President George W Bush has said the US will use military aircraft and naval forces to deliver aid to Georgia following its conflict with Russia. Photo Essay: Russian Army in South Ossetia

from the new home of

No dramatic photo compositions here, just grim pictures of burnt-out tanks, spent RPGs, charred human remains and columns of Russian armored machinery on patrol in South Ossetia and Georgia.

Also check out their previous report on The CNN Effect: Georgia schools Russia in Information Warfare and The War Nerd's piece on South Ossetia, The War of My Dreams.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Coverage of Georgian situation

The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has set up shop on following Russian hijacking of official Georgian websites, and is issuing press releases, official timelines of events, and schedules for conference calls and telephone briefings w/ Mikhail Saakashvili and the Georgian National Security Commission.

Blog that tracks Russian Business Network (RBN) activity, now providing technical details on "cyberwarfare" conducted by Russians against Georgian targets. Attacks originating from Russia have hijacked Internet (BGP) routing to Georgian netblocks, taken Georgian DNS servers offline and have exploited and taken control of web servers utilized by the Georgian government.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Pedal on, Ben Dobbs

My Uncle Steve found a blog post from the Denver pedicabbing community on Ben. It's a touching read, and an insight into a part of his life he cared about deeply.

Other links:


Online memorial and photo gallery:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

RIP Benjamin Joel Dobbs 1979 - 2008

I just heard from my dad last night that my brother had passed away unexpectedly.

Rest in peace, Ben.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

NYT on Vista

So my dad emailed me about the New York Times article (They Criticized Vista. And They Should Know.) on Microsoft Windows Vista, and I had to write back:

There were some fascinating bits covered by Slashdot about the "Windows Vista Capable" labeling, and how Intel pushed for its i915 graphics chipset to be labeled by Microsoft as "Vista Capable" even though it obviously couldn't run the Aero interface, which led in part to the current lawsuit and resulting mess with Microsoft's marketing and product labeling.

I think it's hilarious that this has since made it to the New York Times. :)

I think ultimately the MS product managers gave into the urge to Ship Something Now rather than fix the known issues with Vista and wait for another 6 to 12 months for greater driver availability from hardware vendors. As it is, both the techie and public perception of Vista (regardless of technical merits or the facts) is the worst for any consumer operating system since Windows ME.

MS should essentially give up and cut its losses on Vista. It needs to release Vista SP1 once it's thoroughly tested and vetted, and then fork off their current Windows 7 development branch to release an incrementally improved version of Windows as soon as feasible to sell something other than Vista.

This also illustrates the project management and business problems with long development cycles. Microsoft has become wedded to the idea of expensive, major OS releases at infrequent multi-year intervals, as opposed to Apple's almost yearly Mac OS X releases or Canonical's twice-yearly releases of Ubuntu Linux with periodic long-term supported releases that get bugfixes and security patches for at least 3 years.

I think that more than any particular competitor, Microsoft's greatest challenge is its own development practices. If any $50bn commercial software company can turn itself around, it's Microsoft, but they need to admit and fix their mistakes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

GeForce 8x00 Series Comparison

As part of a semi-annual graphics card roundup, I'm going to analyze the state of the PC gaming market for current-generation nVidia PC video cards.


If you want an nVidia card for PC gaming (as opposed to an ATI card), then you really need one of the new 8x00 series cards. They offer DirectX 10 support and a unified stream processing architecture which integrates previously separate vertex and pixel shaders and adds geometry processing as well. If the preceeding sentence means nothing to you, these are the latest and greatest technological advances in software and hardware for gaming video cards. (See nVidia's 8800 FAQ and 8800GT FAQ for basic information on these cards.)

However, if you haven't followed the gaming hardware market closely, it can hard to figure out what you need. There's a variety of 8x00 series cards available, ranging from the budget 8400GS to the mid-range 8600GT and 8600GTS, the upper range 8800GT and 8800GTS and the luxury 8800GTX cards. For the purposes of this comparison, I'm assuming you're not going to drop more than $350 on a video card, which excludes the 8800GTX from this list.

I'm also looking at single graphics cards here; most 8600 and higher cards support SLI mode, where you can use at least 2 graphics cards simultaneously to dramatically improve your graphics performance. You need both a motherboard and a power supply that support this feature in order to use it, so if you haven't built or purchased a system with this in mind, you likely won't be able to take advantage of this feature.

The cards below are all PCI Express x16 or PCI Express 2.0 (three of the 8800 series) so you need to have a motherboard with appropriate PCI Express support and open slots. If you still have an AGP-based motherboard (this is most likely the case if your motherboard is over 4 years old), it's time to upgrade and buy a new one if you're looking to buy a current graphics card. While there are AGP-based GeForce 7-series and Radeon HD 2000-series cards on the market, there are no AGP-based GeForce 8-series cards yet available.

I'm a big Newegg fan and have happily bought computing gear from them for years; so while you may prefer to buy your hardware from somewhere else, I've quoted Newegg's current prices (including rebates and standard 3-day shipping costs) and provided links to their product pages for the items below.

I've also listed primarily EVGA graphics cards below. Again, I've happily bought and used many of their boards in the past, so this reflects my personal preference. In specific cases, other manufacturer's cards are listed, but in my experience, EVGA has made solid, reliable graphics cards over the past decade.

Price Points

While there's a huge variety of cards and options available, I always like to know what I can get for a given dollar amount. With that in mind, let's look at the major price points right now:

  • $325 = 8800GTS G92 512MB
  • $275 = 8800GT 512MB
  • $200 = 8800GTS 320MB
  • $150 = Asus Silent 8600GTS 256MB
  • $125 = 8600GTS 256MB
  • under $100 = 8600GT 256MB
I've highlighted the cards corresponding to these price points in bold on the chart below.

For $325, you can get a very nice new 8800GTS G92 card with 512MB. While it uses 256-bit memory access compared to other 8800GTS which can use 320-bit memory access, this doesn't appear to have much effect in real-world performance. Having 128 stream processors compared to the 96 available on older 8800GTS cards does make a big difference, though. The G92 GPU is a significant improvement over the older G80 GPUs used in previous 8800GTS cards, so this is an obvious choice for high performance at a non-luxury price.

If you need to spend less than $300, the 8800GT 512MB cards like the EVGA listed below are a good deal. The clock speeds are slightly slower than newer 8x00 cards, but with 112 stream processors onboard, it can chew through pixels all day long. These are the heavy hitters at the upper end of nVidia's lineup on our price scale. While the 8800GTS G92 can be a better deal for the money, the 8800GT 512MB boards are still solid graphics cards for the money.

At $200, the 8800GTS G80 320MB cards are an excellent buy. For over a third less than the 512MB or 640MB 8800 cards, you can buy a very capable board. If you're running your games at 1680x1050 or lower resolution, you can get the same performance as the 640MB cards for a lot cheaper.

At $150, the ASUS Silent 8600GTS 256MB stands out. It can run completely silently without the need for fans or active cooling, which make this an excellent choice for home theater or small form factor PCs, or anyone who cares about their power bill.

At $125, other 8600GTS 256MB cards are a good buy. These can run most current games at acceptable quality and mid-range resolutions (1280x1024). Most of these will run hot, so be aware of the need for extra cooling and good airflow in and around your PC.

For under $100, 8600GT 256MB cards are the entry level for anyone who enjoys modern gaming. These can easily handle older games like World of Warcraft if the rest of your system is up to par, but will not run current demanding titles like Bioshock and Crysis well, if at all. A good 8600GT can get close to 8600GTS cards in performance, and it still sports 32 stream processors and a 128-bit memory interface, so it is significantly better than any 8400 series card.

Comparison Table










EVGA 640-P2-N829-A3


8800GTS G80





320-bit GDDR3

EVGA 512-P3-N841-A3


8800GTS G92





256-bit GDDR3

EVGA 640-P2-N828-A3


8800GTS G80





320-bit GDDR3

EVGA 512-P3-N802-AR







256-bit GDDR3

EVGA 512-P3-N801-AR







256-bit GDDR3

EVGA 320-P2-N811-AR


8800GTS G80





320-bit GDDR3

ASUS Silent EN8600GTS







128-bit GDDR3








128-bit GDDR3








128-bit GDDR3

EVGA 256-P2-N758-TR







128-bit GDDR3

EVGA 256-P2-N751-TR







128-bit GDDR3

EVGA 256-P2-N732-LR







64-bit GDDR2

* = Stream Processors (unified geometry/vertex/pixel shaders)

I've also listed the 8400GS above for comparison. Since it has half the stream processors, slower clock and memory speed, a 64-bit memory interface and uses slower GDDR2 memory, this should only be a choice for people who Just Need A Cheap Graphics Card. If you play any amount of non-casual games, you're better off going with a cheap 8600GT instead.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Dirty Vegas at Sheetz, one night only

So yesterday I was in the Sheetz off of Route 50 near the Loudoun - Fairfax county line, the one on Poland Road, stopping to fill up on gas like I normally do. I get out of the car, and while I'm swiping my credit card on the pump, I hear what sounds like a Dirty Vegas track. Huh, interesting. I must have got that album about 5 years ago, listened to it for a couple months, then completely forgot about it.

I go in to use the men's room, and this guy comes in to wash his hands. He has long shoulder-length dirty blond hair, and he's singing along to the track. "Days go bayyy-yeee..." And then he keeps going. "My hair's so long, I don't know what I'd do... Like Ozzy Osbourne, aye really want to meet yoo-ooou." Ha! I can't even remember the last time I heard anyone singing in a men's restroom.

Guess the guy's an employee since he had an official Sheetz hat and said bye to the staff as he went out. Wonder if he'll be playing again sometime soon.