Rally Fighter visits Mozilla

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The Rally Fighter is an open source car with a huge community behind it. Jay Rogers, CEO of Local Motors, took time out of his busy schedule to come talk about his experience with the Rally Fighter during lunchtime today.

Jay Rogers

He gave Mozilla a shout out and said we’re an inspiration for other companies trying to do things the right way and focus heavily on what people want and need. He also mentioned he’s an avid Firefox user and tries to install it on every machine he can get his hands on!

Rally Fighter

Another thing worth noting was his comments on crowdsourcing — that’s it’s not at all about getting a group to do a bunch of work for you. In many ways the textbook definition of crowdsourcing betrays the real value in it.

He said it should really be called co-creation because their community as well as potential customers for this car are a huge part of what the car will actually be and how it will evolve over time. It is a good way to look at things, and not very different from what Mozilla strives to do from day to day.

Rally Fighter

Overall, it was a great experience and the car is damn cool. Thanks to Jay and his team for visiting us. See more pictures here.

Heart statistics

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So I got this Garmin device that does GPS in hopes that it’d make me run more. So far it’s been successful. The GPS and Google maps mashups on their activity summary web app are super cool (see full example):
garmin

Over time, if you keep up with it you can see improvements in different categories:

  • Distance – you can run more as you get in better shape
  • Heart rate – peaks and average should normalize
  • Time – you’ll improve your time (ideally!) 🙂

Since I’m not a running super-beast and I’m not very fast, I have been pretty interested in the heart rate! I’m also interested in it because the first few runs were pretty tough because I’d run for a bit (at the speed I remember running at) and my heart would go nuts and I’d have to walk for a bit. For a while I’d have to keep doing that, and my heart rate chart showed why.

On my first run in about 2 years, I was getting owned:
first

After waking up this morning at 430am and going for a crazy morning run (which, if you knew me, is something I never do), I was happy to see this:
new

I still have to walk a bit in the middle of a 3 mile jog, but while I’m running my heart rate remains constant and it never felt like it was going to explode. I’m now able to sustain for longer and I also have less movement between 180 and 200 bpm (Note that the top graph was 1.5 miles and the bottom one was 3 miles).

As I was writing a blog about browsing statistics and how they can improve how we use the web, it made me think of this little Garmin watch and how knowing more about my own body can help me improve my life.

Data is good, knowledge is good. By itself, not so much — but if you use it right it can make all the difference.

Doing more with data

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Firefox users: Did you know that you have private database that contains all your browsing information?

Well, you do. And here’s the thing:

  • Only you have access to it
  • It’s under-utilized
  • You probably didn’t even know it existed

Browsing could be better. There’s no question about that. We have set conventions and preconceived notions about how browsing should be. That is, until the next big thing comes along and rocks our world.

It feels like using data to improve browsing is a no-brainer, and data-driven browsing is already the next big thing. You see this in search suggests, amazon suggested items, the iTunes store, and other sites. And that’s just all site-specific. Imagine if we used data the right way and made things just click?

On a limited scale, it’s all more than possible today. You have complete control over your own browsing history:

  • Sites visited
  • Bookmarks
  • Awesome bar history
  • Media viewed
  • Favorite sites
  • Search keywords
  • Trending of all the above

Simple fact is that you’re not using as much as you could.

The Firefox awesome bar was heralded as a great step in browsing innovation. And it’s true, it really was. And that’s because a lot of browsing is really repeat browsing. How many times do you go back and view what you just looked at the other day?

But that’s the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of things we can learn about the web and about how we use the web to make it better. And don’t think about person -> corporation -> other corporations. For starters, think about what you could do with just your own browsing data, or your family’s browsing data:

  • Easy access to repeat searches – movies, facebook, maps, you name it
  • An automated media catalog of images, videos and news articles you read over time
  • A list of phone numbers you have looked up and who they belong to
  • A list of all map directions you’ve ever done
  • A list of people you read about over the last week

The awesome bar in Firefox already uses this, and it’s great to see some Firefox extensions are already tapping into the possibilities:

  • about:me lets you read about your own browsing statistics
  • Voyage is a very cool way to not only view the sites you’ve used but see how you got there over time and whether or not you Tweeted about it!

Those are just two examples of what we can do and where we can go. I’m pretty excited to see what happens next. Maybe you have the next great idea — go forth!

Tabbing Through Elements in Firefox on Mac

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This weekend my laptop decided to die after the latest batch of Apple system updates. Not sure why, but on the first startup after the update, it wanted to randomly shut off (hard power-down) and could not get out of that cycle. Thanks, Apple.

So I did my first successful restore from a Time Machine backup. However, while I was waiting, I used a vanilla install of Firefox. I noticed that I couldn’t tab through form elements and it would jump straight from the page to the address bar. WTF?

Here is how you enable this tab behavior that you’re used to on Windows:

  1. Go to System Preferences… in the apple menu
  2. Open Keyboard & Mouse
  3. Go to the Keyboard Shortcuts tab
  4. Check All controls

This will let you tab through individual web elements normally. Screenshot below, in case it helps.

screenshot of keyboard pref pane in mac os x

Update: Alex Faaborg noted that you can track Bug 437296 if you’d like to follow overriding OS keyboard settings to maintain a consistent user experience in the browser across platforms.

Update: Chris Ilias pointed out so kindly that this is already in the Mozilla Knoledge base.

Profiling PHP with Xdebug and Webgrind

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Using Webgrind and Xdebug, you to tack on ?XDEBUG_PROFILE=true to any URL and view profiling information for that particular URL instantly.

One of the main criticisms of profiling PHP applications has been how difficult it is to manage different kcachegrind or wincachegrind windows — assuming you’re a pro at pointing them to your Xdebug output directory and all that good stuff. I am excited about how easy webgrind makes things because easier profiling will help prevent a lot of stupid performance mistakes (for those of us not using the Zend IDE and its sexy profiler, which is a lot of people).

Webgrind screenshot.

This is really quite simple to set up, and is best used on a dev box behind a firewall with port 80 closed. People can file surf your web server if you leave webgrind on an open port, don’t do it.

So, you’ve read the last paragraph, right? Ok, good. Let’s go.

Use pecl to install the json and xdebug packages

pecl install json
pecl install xdebug

You’ll run into a possible missing phpize issue, in which case you’d need the php-devel package for building PHP extensions.

Configure Xdebug

A simple configuration to get you what you need is below. Read the Xdebug docs if you want to get crazy.

; Enable xdebug extension module
zend_extension=xdebug.so

; Turns it off by default
xdebug.profiler_enable=0 

; Turns xdebug on when ?XDEBUG_PROFILE=true is in GET or POST
xdebug.profiler_enable_trigger=1

; Your output directory - you'll eventually point webgrind at this
xdebug.profiler_output_dir=/tmp/xdebug

If you’re not on PHP 5.2.x, you’ll also need the json extension.

; Enable json extension module
extension=json.so

Restart Apache.

Download and install webgrind

Webgrind is easy to setup, download it and follow the instructions. The main thing you’ll want to do is make sure your Xdebug directories are the same. In this case, it’s /tmp/xdebug

Load any PHP app with ?XDEBUG_PROFILE=true

Now you’ll want to hit your web server with the appropriate GET argument set up. So, you could hit localhost/helloworld?XDEBUG_PROFILE=true and it’d create a new cachgrind.out for that request.

Open up a tab with webgrind in it and enjoy

Webgrind will do a find on your Xdebug output directory and have a list of all your cachegrind.out files up on the top right. Now all you have to do is choose one. Webgrind’s use of jQuery and AJAX makes the app a great example of what you can do with JavaScript and a little motivation. Check it out.

Update: You should use “zend_extension” in your .ini file, not extension. I had a typo above, but it’s corrected.

MySQL Workbench Rocks

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In April MySQL Workbench 5.0.x reached GA status. I had a chance to try it and wow — it rocks.

It’s super-easy to use and I’ll just copy its feature list:

  • Cairo based diagramming canvas which allows output to different targets such as OpenGL, Win32, X11, Quartz, PostScript, PDF etc
  • visual representation of tables, views, stored procedure/functions and foreign keys
  • live database and SQL script file reverse-engineering
  • database/model synchronization
  • SQL script generation
  • extensible architecture
  • export as SQL CREATE script
  • import DBDesigner4 models
  • support for MySQL 5 features
  • selectable notations for diagram

For me, it’s a very useful tool for importing an SQL script, visually modifying it, and exporting a working SQL script. It’s also a cinch to just create ER diagrams in 5 damn minutes that look decent and map out foreign key relationships.

I’ve used DBD4 in the past as well as Aqua Data Studio and this tool gets me more excited. If you design or work with MySQL databases, you should check it out (see screenshots). Right now it’s Windows-only but they plan on releasing Linux and OSX in June, 2008.

Overall, very nice work MySQL — this tool is light years ahead of its predecessors.

Mac OSX Leopard syslogd

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If you’re having issues with syslogd thrashing your computer, see this blog for more info. This worked for me and it’ll do until Apple figures out and patches whatever causes Time Machine to rape syslogd.