Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Faster Firefox 3.5 released, but beware of bugs

The final release of Mozilla's Firefox 3.5 web browser should be available to download tomorrow morning, six months after the original release date of the upgrade.

The suffix was upgraded from 3.1 to 3.5, because Mozilla decided the number of new features and performance improvement made the browser more of a "major upgrade", rather than an incremental upgrade with bug fixes.

The main selling point of Firefox 3.5 (codenamed Shiretoko) is that the browser should be much faster, especially when running JavaScript (which will speed up the likes of Facebook, Gmail, and Digg).

The speed boost is mainly due to Mozilla's new TraceMonkey JavaScript engine, with claims some scripts run up to twice as fast on 3.5 compared to Firefox 3.0.

The browser is Mozilla's attempt to grab back the momentum in the browser wars, with increased competition from Google's Chrome, Apple's Safari, Opera, and of course Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
Around 800,000 users have been running the beta versions of the improved browser, as developers worked to get rid of niggly bugs.

New features include a new Private Browsing Mode, an enhanced address bar called the 'Awesome Bar' (which offers auto-complete suggestions as you're typing), and an improved system restore tool to recover from browser crashes.

Firefox 3.5 also boasts dynamic colour profiles for more accurate image representation, Geo-location, a redesigned Downloads feature, multi-touch support, and in-browser video rendering (ie. video playback without patented plugins).

Windows, Mac, and Linux users can download the Firefox 3.5 web browser from Mozilla's official website. Current users should click on 'Check for Updates' (under the Help tab).

** UPDATE 4/7 ** It looks like Firefox fans and new users might be better holding off upgrading to version 3.5 of the open source web browser, which seems to have been rushed out to squeak inside the planned "Quarter 2" delivery date.

The biggest complaint is a massive increase in initial loading time (startup), which has increased to a very poor 20-50 seconds for many users. There are at least 55 published bugs for the new Firefox 3.5 browser, including crashes caused by the faster TraceMonkey JavaScript engine.

A mini bug-fix release Firefox 3.5.1 is due out by the end of July, but is expected to fix only a handful of the most serious bugs. A date for a more complete 3.5.2 has not been confirmed.

(My personal experience is that the new Firefox 3.5 browser was definitely speedier in operations, but the startup and crashing issues have forced me to downgrade to the previous 3.0.11 release until these problems are sorted out).

* The Channel Wire: Buggy Mozilla Firefox 3.5 A Rush Job?

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More fun with Post-its - Deadline Procrastination

Late last year I posted a great clip by the guys at EepyBird (the 'scientists' behind the Diet Coke & Mentos soda fountains), where they covered an office with cascading packets of coloured Post-its (well it was actually 'Z-notes').

Now a new clip is doing the rounds, the result of a senior project by a Bang-yao Liu from Savannah College in the US. The 'DEADLINE' video uses coloured post-it notes to create a block-pixel-style stop motion clip. Very clever...

The animations were designed and trialled on computer, before ripping open the packets of post-its.

The project was apparently 3 months in the planning, with over 6000 Post-it notes used over 4 days of shooting. Now that's dedication! (Check out the Making Of here...)

* Dave Gee: Things to do with Post-its when you're bored...

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Hanging out for a Coaster Rush

It's been almost two years since my last trip to one of the great American theme parks, and am currently working out how to fit in a return journey when I'm on vacation in the US this September.

The Six Flags Great Adventure park in Jackson, New Jersey has recently finished transforming its 'Medusa' roller coaster into an enhanced ride called 'Bizarro'.
(The name comes from the DC Comics character Bizarro, a Superman-like creature from a parallel Earth, whose powers are the opposites of Superman).

The 3,985-foot long ride still features the same floorless steel eight-car trains as Medusa, giving riders the "sensation of flying as their feet dangle above the track".

The basic coaster is the same, with 7 inversions, a 114-foot vertical loop, a 96-foot dive loop, cobra roll, and a great zero-G "heartline" roll.

However the makeover adds new high-tech special effects, including pyrotechnic blasts of fire, fog and water effects, accompanied by a carefully-timed on-board audio soundtrack.

Check out an awesome video clip of the new Bizarro ride at Six Flags Great Adventure... with some POV shots giving a great taster of what you can expect!...

* UltimateRollerCoaster.com - Bizarro Transformation Debuts At Six Flags Great Adventure

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Universal Mobile Phone Charger on the way

While I'm a big supporter of open competition in the marketplace, I'm happy to see the world's major mobile phone companies have agreed to adopt a universal charger from next year.

When you're packing in a hurry for a quick business job or a weekend trip away, it's easy to forget the all-important cellphone charger cable. Borrowing a power charger means finding another phone user with the same brand and from a similar model.

Things should become easier from next year, with Nokia, Samsung, LG Electronics, Sony Ericsson, Apple, Motorola, RiM, and NEC all signing up to the agreement, which will ensure their data-enabled phones and chargers work together.

These 8 major cell phone manufacturers account for 80%+ of the market, with plans for the universal charger to connect via the Micro-USB interface.

The agreement technically applies to the EU region, but it's expected phones and chargers will also be standardised internationally.

Consumer rights groups are calling for companies to broaden the universal power adapter plans to also include the likes of digital cameras, PDAs, and mp3 players.

* NZ Herald: Mobile phone giants agree on universal charger

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Monday, 29 June 2009

Pacific Blue latest to cut NZ flights

While Aussie budget airline Jetstar has had a "horror start" to its New Zealand operations, its arrival will put added pressure on the incumbent local carriers.

Jetstar has already re-jigged its schedules, after finding its original turnarounds were a little too tight, leaving passengers on the tarmac and creating flight delays. The airline replaces the old full-service flights provided by Qantas, servicing Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown.

Meanwhile, Pacific Blue is cutting back its domestic capacity by around 13% from August 1, with planes being redeployed to new trans-tasman routes from Hamilton, Dunedin, and Queenstown.

The cuts follow similar capacity cutbacks by Air New Zealand, in response to a drop in passengers.

The national carrier flew almost 10% fewer passengers last month compared to May last year. Air NZ is aiming to keep load factors and profitability up by capacity cuts, with further reviews of its regional airlines currently underway.

Pacific Blue is axing its single daily service between Dunedin and Christchurch (return), but replacing it with a new direct Dunedin-Auckland service.
This jet service (Boeing 737-800) will probably have wider appeal especially for southern business travellers, with the majority of Air NZ flights in and out of Dunedin Airport on the unpopular ATR turboprops, which means inconvenient stopovers enroute in Christchurch or Wellington.

However there will also be a drop in the number of services between Auckland and Wellington (cut from 27 to 19 a week), and Wellington-Christchurch (cut from 19 to 12 flights a week). Pacific Blue will also drop some trans-tasman flights from Christchurch and Auckland from September.

* NZ Herald: Pacific Blue cuts back
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Saturday, 20 June 2009

Dunedin Students Don't Like Buses

The Greenies are always banging on about public transport, and how motorists should be taxed more to subsidise bus and train services. Student activists are often at the forefront of this noise, calling for public transport services to service the campus area.

However in Dunedin, attempts by the Otago Regional Council to run a regular "city loop" bus service - linking the North Dunedin campus area with the central city and South Dunedin - have failed miserably.

It may have sounded like a good idea on paper, given the regular calls for student bus links in Dunedin. Around a year and a half ago, the ORC agreed to trial a 'campus circuit' service, linking Otago University and Otago Polytechnic with the halls of residence, and aimed at helping "address parking problems in the city".

However the service failed to catch on, being described by Cr Michael Deaker last July as "a crashing failure" after attracting an average of 2 passengers per trip.

A second attempt with a revised North/South 'city loop' service offered a larger route, taking in the Edgar Centre sports centre and the South Dunedin shopping centre.
Known as the 'Shop and Hop' service, it proved even less popular, attracting (at its peak) an average of just one passenger per trip!

That's an expensive bus service for ratepayers to be subsidising! The cost over the 17 months was just over $400,000, funded by the Otago Regional Council and the NZ Transport Agency.

Councillor Deaker said the message the Regional Council had to take from the failure of both services was "students do not use buses", except for those coming in from outlying suburbs.

* ODT - 'City loop' bus route abandoned

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Friday, 19 June 2009

Run in vain for new 'Google Phone'

Vodafone ran a one-day-only "treasure hunt" today across New Zealand, giving away 20 of the new HTC Magic phones. The company ran "missions" in the main centres at various times of the day.

Contestants had to sign up for TXT updates to receive clues for the mission/s in their area, as to the whereabouts of each phone. (The winners also got flights and accommodation for 2 in Auckland, plus tickets to the 'Black & White Magic' party).

Down south in Dunedin there was just a single 'HTC Magic with Google' phone up for grabs, and we had to wait until 4pm for our chance. The clue was "This landmark is the first of its kind in southern hemisphere", but unfortunately my quick run down to Dunedin's Chinese Garden wasn't quick enough, and the phone was already gone when I got there. Gutted.

The HTC Magic is the first official smartphone here to be powered by Google's Android operating system. Known as the HTC myTouch 3G in the United States, it's the first of what is expected to be a wide range of Android-powered cellphones coming from the major mobile phone manufacturers.
The smartphones are Google's answer to Apple's popular iPhone, and are tightly tied to Google services like Gmail, Search, Maps, and YouTube.

The HTC Magic features similar touchscreen features as the iPhone, along with an onscreen keyboard with predictive text. Unfortunately it doesn't offer Apple's clever pinch and multi-touch features.

But unlike Apple's iPhone (even the new iPhone 3GS), this one does operate on Vodafone NZ's "extended 3G" 900MHz band as well as 2100MHz. (The iPhone is still next-to-useless in the lower South Island, as Vodafone's genuine 3G service is basically non-existant outside of central Dunedin, Invercargill, and Queenstown).
The grey version of the HTC Magic is pretty ugly, looking more like a garage door opener or a heat pump remote than a modern smartphone. However the black version looks a lot classier.

The phone isn't cheap tho... Vodafone has set the rather ambitious launch price of $1099 for the phone on its own, or $319-$619 on a long-term contract (depending on the size of your monthly plan).

I think I'll have to wait a little longer to get myself a proper smartphone. I'm currently using Nokia's cumbersome N95 phone, but was keeping an eye out for Apple's revised iPhone 3GS.

Unfortunately, the specs have revealed it's mostly-useless in the lower South Island on Vodafone, I may have to hold out for the 2010 revision of the iPhone and hope that does the trick (either that or switch to Telecom's XT network... not sure whether I can swallow that pill!)

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Sunday, 14 June 2009

Nude Rugby moves off the beach in Dunedin

For a second year in a row, the All Blacks have lost their only Dunedin rugby test of the year, going down 27-20 to their World Cup nemesis France. (The All Blacks were beaten 30-28 by the Springboks in a crucial tri-nations rugby clash at Carisbrook in 2008).

But the Bottom Bus Nude Blacks managed to retain some pride for New Zealand earlier in the day, beating newcomers Le Coqs 15-5 in the 2009 Nude Rugby International.

The result continues the winning streak for the Nude Blacks, who now claim all 6 naked rugby test victories (5 on sand, 1 on grass).

The Nude Blacks team stretching before the big game

The event is organised by local touring company Bottom Bus and Headfirst Travel, and has become a popular curtain-raiser to rugby test match games in Dunedin. Veteran Nude Blacks captain Dave Bourke returned for his sixth game, along with a few other players from last year's beach match.

The 6th Annual Bottom Bus Nude Rugby International moved away from its traditional location at St Kilda beach, to a ground at Logan Park opposite the new multi-purpose roofed stadium site, which is being built beside Dunedin's waterfront.

Pre-match warmups at Logan Park ground

Originally started as a game between local rugby buffs and naked backpackers, the event has had to rely on willing students in recent years, with international backpackers proving wary stripping off in the sometimes chilly south.

The naked players take on the names and positions of team members in the All Blacks and French rugby teams (leading some overseas media to report last year that the actual All Blacks team had stripped off for the beach rugby game before the Springboks test).

The French Le Coqs team being interviewed by a Sky TV crew

Last year's game managed to attract one American female player, but this weekend's game was a decidedly blokey and Dunedin affair.

A few female backpackers did help assist the french bread-waving Le Coqs with their body painting (and French moustaches), and while a few gals were keen before the game to come on as late replacements, the large crowd of spectators at the Logan Park rugby ground seemed to scare them off.

The Nude Blacks face off against Le Coqs in the naked haka

Ball placement is all-important in a naked lineout ;-)

The French challengers encountered more resistance than
their national rivals did against the All Blacks on Saturday night

(More info and photos here: 6th Annual Nude Rugby International (Part 2))


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6th Annual Nude Rugby International (Part 2)

The move to the grass ground at Logan Park (beside University Oval) proved popular, with a large crowd of visiting and local spectators turning out to see the uniquely Dunedin nude game.

American tourists were surprised at the public event, and the lack of a police presence. One told us, "This is hilarious! You wouldn't see this in the States!"

(Unfortunately one 'real' police officer did spoil things right at the end, confiscating naked PC Plod's police helmet, and telling him off for impersonating a police officer. Must have been a quiet day at the office...)

This headlock is apparently acceptable under the rules of naked rugby ;-)

Players show their annoyance at a 'Clothed Streaker'
who interrupted the 6th Bottom Bus Nude Rugby International

PC Plod arresting the Clothed Streaker

Local rugby mascot 'The Highlander' referees the nude match,
as a travelling backpacker captures a few kiwi memories

Posing for post-match photos with fans (including a few 'Nuns')

The two teams sign the wall at the construction site of the new
Otago Stadium, being built opposite the Logan Park

(Also see: Nude Rugby moves off the beach in Dunedin)


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Friday, 12 June 2009

Who will bring the Goals to Newcastle?

I'm off to meet my bank manager next week, to see if he'll lend me the £100 million I need to buy the Newcastle United football club.

NUFC owner Mike Ashley has put the club up for sale, after its recent relegation out of the Premier League and down to the Coca-Cola Championship.

The unfortunate relegation came despite Newcastle United hauling themselves clear of the relegation zone earlier in the season, and despite the late arrival of former star Alan Shearer as manager.

English "billionaire" Mike Ashley (actually just a £700 millionaire), made his money in sports retailing, and bought Newcastle United in 2007 for around £135 million. He has invested heavily since then on players and resources (with little return), and is now asking £100m for the Magpies.

Sales of season tickets have dried up at the club, as the Toon Army wait to see who will own and manage their beloved club next season.

That won't impress Ashley, who is still paying out around £200,000 a day for his expensive and under-performing players, including Alan Smith, Kevin Nolan, Jonas Gutierrez, and Joey Barton.

Alan Shearer is keen to continue as manager, to help return Newcastle United to the Premier League. In April, the former club captain took a break from his tv role (as a presenter on Match of the Day) to become NUFC's interim manager.

However Shearer's return to Tyneside will depend on who owns the club. Four parties are understood to be seriously interested, including an American consortium, a group of Middle East investors, a consortium led by former Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd, and a Singapore-based group.

It's understood if Ashley doesn't manage to sell the club in time, he will ask either assistant manager Chris Hughton or former West Ham boss Alan Curbishley to lead the club next season.

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Thursday, 11 June 2009

The Great Facebook Name Grab

Facebook's servers will come under heavy pressure this weekend, as the social networking website rolls out "personalised domain names" for its 200 million members.

While online rivals like MySpace and Twitter allow users to use their names or nicknames as part of their page address (eg. http://www.myspace.com/myname), Facebook currently allocates users a random number as part of their hard-to-remember profile web address...
(eg. www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=123456789").
That all changes this weekend, when current Facebook members will be able to register their own usernames, creating simple-to-remember profile addresses, which they can give out to friends and contacts.

Facebook says the users names will be handed out on a "first-come, first-serve basis", so members will be racing to score their first option (dave127 just doesn't sound that catchy ;-)

This is the Facebook page where users will be able to select their user names, once the gates open this weekend. (You'll need to log in to Facebook, where you'll see a countdown clock until Saturday... New Zealand users should prepare to hit the web at 4pm on Saturday 13th June).
Facebook says the sites plans to offer "even more ways to use your Facebook user name in the future", but only existing members (those signed up before the official announcement) will be able to get first dibs under the new system, before it is opened up to new members from June 28.

Facebook will still enforce its rule that members must use their real names on the site (some with unusual names have been banned previously, because FB suspected them to be fake)... but almost anything goes for the new user name url (certain "curse" and "hate" words are banned).

Unlike Twitter, Facebook members will not be able to change their username once selected (preventing people trying to sell popular FB names on the likes of eBay or Trademe).

People of the web... Set your clocks!

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Wednesday, 3 June 2009

NZ Treasury Urges Further Tax Cuts

While John Key's National Party has decided that spawning supporters and axing the oft-promised tax cuts makes good political sense, Treasury is calling on the Government to reconsider future tax cuts.

Treasury Secretary Dr John Whitehead says despite the large deficits forecast over the next decade, the New Zealand Government needs to make cuts to both personal and company taxes a "key priority", to revive growth and make the country more competitive.

Dr Whitehead says high personal income taxes are bad for the country's growth and productivity, encouraging skilled workers to move overseas. He also cites evidence that productivity is being restrained by high business tax rates, and warns that New Zealand tax rates shouldn't get too far out of line with other OECD economies.

Australia is currently reviewing its tax system, which could lead to further company tax cuts there, putting additional pressure on New Zealand companies.

Bill English's first budget, delivered last Thursday, forecast Government deficits to increase from nearly $3 billion this year, to $9.6 billion in 2012.

The Government recently established a Tax Working Group to consider the medium-term direction of New Zealand's tax system.

The group brings together experts from the private and academic sectors, along with officials from Treasure and the Inland Revenue. Treasury is believed to favour consumption taxes (like GST), and revisiting a capital gains tax.

* NBR: More tax cuts still needed says Treasury

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Tuesday, 2 June 2009

National Swallowing the Climate Change Lies

The National-led Government was careful to try and hide one major piece of mindless spending in last week's budget... setting aside over half a billion dollars for the false religion of "climate change"!!

That $550 million pot would have almost paid for the so-called "unaffordable" tax cuts for the next two years!

The ruse was uncovered by former ACT Party MP Muriel Newman at the NZ Centre for Political Research and kindly alerted by Not PC.

Newman says most of this $550 million has been earmarked for buying carbon credits for businesses, to help get the Emissions Trading Scheme going.

She says despite the illusion of an ETS review, National's true intentions were revealed in the budget...
Those who believed that the Government was genuinely awaiting the outcome of an “independent” Select Committee review will be disappointed to see that the die is already cast.

And consumers worried about the added cost of an emissions trading scheme will be especially concerned to find out that the half a billion dollar cost is only the beginning of what will be an enormously unproductive drain on our already fragile economy.

ACT's 2008 Confidence and Supply agreement with National noted the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme would be delayed until a review by a special select committee was completed...
National agrees to a review by a special select committee of Parliament of the current Emissions Trading Scheme legislation and any amendments or alternatives to it, including carbon taxes, in the light of current economic circumstances and steps now being undertaken by similar nations.

National further agrees to pass forthwith an amendment to the ETS legislation delaying its implementation, repealing the thermal generation ban and making any other necessary interim adjustments until the select committee review is completed.
However a delay to the ETS legislation did not take place, with the existing ETS continuing in the meantime. The select committee's review was due to be completed by March of this year, with "any subsequent amendments to the NZ ETS" to be passed by September 2009.

One of the terms of reference was to “examine the relative merits of an emissions trading scheme or a tax on carbon or energy as a New Zealand response to climate change”.

On May 13th, committee chairperson Peter Dunne (yes, seriously) advised they had completed hearing submissions on the review of the Emissions Trading Scheme (278 submissions, including 102 oral submissions).

Dunne said the committee will "now move into a period of consideration", followed by "our written report and any recommendations to the Government that we may wish to make".

Muriel Newman says National [and ACT] seem to have abandoned their promoted vision of growing the New Zealand economy, and catching up to Australia by 2025...
National appears to have become somewhat captured by the bureaucracy to the point where they are satisfied with tinkering with their predecessor’s socialist spending promises rather than implementing real, badly needed reform.
I do find the lack of spine shown by Rodney Hide and ACT in extracting any genuine policy gains from National somewhat surprising and very disappointing.

NZ First and the slimline United Future drove hard bargains with Labour in the last administration. Winston extracted genuine gains for his party, like an increase in the minimum wage, an increase in superannuation, and free public transport for the oldies.

Even Peter Dunne with his very small handful of MPs managed to get a Family Commission, and was able to make all charity donations tax-deductible.

And now even the opposition Green Party has managed a couple of scores out of Bill English's first budget... $50 million on a cycleway, and a crazy $323 million per year for pink batts and heat pumps.

Surely National's own "support partners", ACT and the Maori Party - should have been the first cabs off the rank for any new initiatives??

* Great Global Warming: News and Truth about Global Warming
* An Honest Climate Debate: Exposing the truth about the Man-Made Climate Change theory

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