May 292009

So we got the Mozilla Developer Center upgrade done last night, thanks to the awesome dudes in IT! Over the next few days, I’ll be blogging a bit about the things we gain from this upgrade, from the major stuff to the little stuff (and not necessarily in that order).

Things that need doing still

There are a few things left to do; I’ll be revamping our editor toolbar today to make the editor more convenient to use. I’ve got a better feel now for which features we use and which we don’t, so I can make a better toolbar than the one we currently have.

There are some skin changes I need to make to support new features; for example, we currently don’t support the new notification system because our skin doesn’t expose it to the user. That’s an oversight on my part; I forgot to add support for that to the skin before the upgrade, but I’ll be working on that over the next few days.

In addition, there’s a new tag editor that in theory provides a nicer interface for editing tags, but at present looks awful because we haven’t skinned it yet. I’ll be dealing with that too.

Also, some under-the-hood changes have been made to how custom string resources are stored; previously, we had to manually append our custom strings to the standard resource files every time we updated the software. Now they’re kept in separate files. We haven’t moved them into their own files yet, because we weren’t aware of this capability at the time. We’ll be doing that sometime in the next week or two, once we work through the other stuff that needs doing.

A few improvements

A much-requested improvement that we have now is that the version comparison page now shows you the two versions side-by-side, instead of intermingled and hard to read. The RSS feed still does it the old way, but this is definite progress!

Another helpful improvement is that when you’re editing, there’s now an “Edit summary” box at the bottom, where you can enter an explanation of what you’re changing and why. This is a much-requested feature that we definitely missed when we switched away from MediaWiki, and I’m thrilled to have it now!

One small but pleasant change is that, finally, when you enter edit mode, there’s no longer a spurious extra scroll bar. Instead, the edit box is scrolled along with the rest of your content using the main scroll bar on the browser window. In addition, the edit box more reliably resizes along with the content you’re editing. This will make the editing experience much more pleasant, I think.

There is now a “View page” link on Talk pages that takes you back to the main article; currently, it’s being drawn dimmed as if it’s disabled (due to a minor MindTouch bug that I’ve filed a ticket for), but the button does actually work.

I’ve also configured the table of contents that draws in the top-right corner of pages to only show the top three levels of headings; this prevents certain pages — especially interface references — from having unreasonably long tables of contents, leaving them much easier to navigate.

The RSS feed for new changes on the wiki now only shows the blocks that have changed, instead of embedding the entire article. It also calls out each individual edit, instead of lumping all edits together, leaving you to guess who made what changes.

One thing you can do — which I think you were actually able to do in the previous version, but I never mentioned before — is subscribe to RSS feeds for individual pages and subtrees of the site; click the RSS feed icon in your location bar, and the popup that appears lets you choose between the “What’s new feed” (for all changes on the wiki), the “Page and subpages changes feed” (for all changes in the subtree of the site rooted at the page you’re looking at), and the “Page changes feed” (which only covers changes to the page you’re looking at).

That’s not the same as the excellent notification system that we’ll expose soon, but it’s still a handy feature.

But wait, there’s more…

There are other changes, too, but these are the ones that come immediately to mind. I’ll go into more detail, and discuss other changes, in future blog posts over the coming days and weeks.  But this should get you started exploring the improved Mozilla Developer Center!

 Posted by at 4:04 PM
May 292009

I have three computers on my desk (normally; my Mac mini is not hooked up right now for various reasons). One of these is an old Macintosh SE, which I use for copying double-density 3.5″ Apple II disks for some stuff I do on the side.

On that Mac SE, I have about 200 900K files that I needed to get copied over onto my iMac.

The Mac SE has no Ethernet jack, and even if it did, it cannot run a version of Mac OS that can do AppleShare over IP.  Similarly, none of the Macs I use can run versions of Mac OS X that support classic AppleShare.

So my mission was to figure out a way to get some 170 MB or so of files copied from the Mac SE to the iMac when they can’t be networked together.

Sneakernet, while technically an option, would be dreadfully tedious with so many files to move.

So after contemplating it for a while, I remembered that we have an old PowerBook 190 in the closet.

So I pulled that out, plugged it in, hit the power button… and heard the first half of the startup chime before it shut itself off.  That repeated a couple of times.

So I whipped out my Swiss Army Knife (which has a Torx T-8 bit on it, wonder of wonders!) and dismantled the PowerBook to look inside.

It was at this point that I remembered that the video/ethernet card we installed into it years ago never worked right, so I pulled it out, reassembled the computer (with a brief bit of panic as I accidentally yanked the keyboard cable loose from its connector, but managed to reconnect it), and fired it up.  It booted right into Finder, no problem.

It was at that moment that I realized that having removed the Ethernet card, I was back to “how do I get the files from the Mac SE to the iMac” again.

After thinking for a few minutes, I realized that the files on the Mac SE are on its external hard drive, and the PowerBook has a SCSI port. So I powered down the SE, put its drive onto the PowerBook, and started the PowerBook back up. Sure enough, I was able to copy the files onto the PowerBook’s hard disk.

Now I’m stuck again. How do I get the files from the PowerBook to the iMac? There’s still no Ethernet, and I have no external writable media that’s compatible with both SCSI and USB.

After contemplating the new puzzle for a bit, I had an inspiration, and with a quick check on Wikipedia, confirmed that the internal drive in the PowerBook 190 is indeed IDE (it was among the very first Macs to use IDE for built-in storage). So I opened the PowerBook back up and removed the hard drive.

Then I plugged the drive into the ATA->USB adapter unit I have for emergencies, plugged that into the iMac, and voila! The PowerBook’s drive popped up on the iMac’s desktop.  So I got my files copied over.

The PowerBook is now about half reassembled, with its drive back in place; I need to undo a couple of screws to get back in because I once again accidentally yanked the keyboard cable loose.

So, my files went from Mac SE to external SCSI to PowerBook to IDE adapter to iMac. Long, strange trip!

 Posted by at 12:48 AM
May 272009

During last night’s maintenance window, the Mozilla Developer Center‘s database was moved to a different server. It had previously been sharing a server with a couple of other sites that occasionally got so busy that they bogged down MDC’s database access. With luck, we’ll have fewer of these problems going forward.

I also filed a bug with MindTouch about the apparent problems their software seems to have getting back on track after running into database timeouts.

We did run into a couple of hiccups during the database migration, but our illustrious IT guys got things sorted out pretty quickly. Nice work!

And don’t forget — tomorrow night we’re slated to upgrade to MindTouch 2009 9.02.2! That will kick off a new round of tweaks I plan to start working on, starting with a revamp of the toolbar to make a few things more convenient to use (such as adding the “paste as plain text” option).

 Posted by at 11:28 AM
May 262009

The ECMAScript 5 standard, which lays out the future of what we call JavaScript, has entered the final candidate stage. This is great news for the Web, since the improvements in ECMAScript 5 are going to make Web development better, easier, safer, and more powerful than ever before.

Some features of ECMAScript 5 are already supported, while others will need to be implemented going forward in future versions of our JavaScript runtime.

To get an initial foothold on documenting our ECMAScript 5 support, I’ve created a new article where I hope to gather together information about what we already support, and eventually to lay out our roadmap (or links to appropriate planning documents) for future ES5 support.

I’d appreciate it if people familiar with our JavaScript implementation — as well as with ECMAScript 5 — could help check over the article and ensure that it’s as accurate and useful as possible.

 Posted by at 4:42 PM
May 212009

MindTouch just started dogfooding MindTouch 2009 version 9.02.2 this afternoon. In order to give them time to finish doing that final testing and to get the release packaged up, we’ve pushed back our planned upgrade from Tuesday to Thursday, May 28th.

They’ve closed the last of the bugs they plan to close for this release, and it looks like it’s going to be a big win for us.

That said, there are still things we hope to see happen in upcoming releases, and once we get upgraded, I’ll be continuing to work with MindTouch to make their software even better suited for our needs at Mozilla.

In other news, I’ve added some information to the documentation on using HTML 5 video in Firefox on how to gracefully fall back to using Flash or a Java applet to play video when your content is viewed with a browser that doesn’t support HTML 5 video.

 Posted by at 3:15 PM
May 202009

That doofus Larry King tweeted the results of “American Idol” less than 10 minutes after the show ended on the east coast. What the hell?  I’ve unfollowed him… not that it does a lot of good now.

Yeah, it’s a stupid show. Blame my musician brother for getting me hooked on it. He insisted on watching while he was visiting last year, and I’ve been unable to kick it since then.

 Posted by at 10:24 PM
May 192009

I’m still hoping that we’ll be able to upgrade next week; my goal is to have it done during Tuesday’s maintenance window. The next handful of days should determine whether or not that schedule will fly. MindTouch continues to assure me that they fully expect to release 9.02.2 by the end of this week.

Last time I blogged about this update, I listed a number of items that were of special interest, mentioning that many of them weren’t yet actually fixed. That’s changed; most of the stuff is now marked off as “fixed” in MindTouch’s database. This is very good news!

In addition, MindTouch has investigated the problem we’ve had with the editor’s user interface appearing in the wrong language (often in Czech or Polish for our English users, for example), and they believe this is a caching bug that is fixed in MindTouch 2009, so we should be in good shape there once the upgrade is done.

I continue to be very excited to get this upgrade out; I think the improvements will make a lot of MDC‘s users very happy. Plus the cool new stuff we’ll be able to do building on top of the MindTouch application platform is going to be very fun to work on.

 Posted by at 3:47 PM
May 172009

Yesterday evening, when we came home from being out for a while, I spotted a racoon hanging out in the side yard next door to our house.  We waited in the car watching him, and letting Sophie keep an eye on him.  He eventually gradually started making his way toward us, and eventually came around the corner of our fence and slipped through a gap in our fence where one of the boards got broken loose on the gate.

It was at that point that we realized where he was going — to the mud room, where we keep Buddy’s food and water.  Sarah hopped out of the car and went to the mud room door. When the raccoon slipped through the cracked-open back door into the mud room, Sarah shouted and whacked the mud room door, spooking it to dash off.

Tonight, I was on my way to go feed Buddy, and on a whim, I slapped my hand on the door before opening it. Sure enough, I heard a thump and a slam as some creature hopped off the bench Buddy’s food is on and scurried through the door.

I turned on the light in the mud room and sure enough, the raccoon was standing a few feet away out on the pool deck, watching me.

I poured the food into Buddy’s bowl, then smacked the back door and yelled at the pest. He scurried off around the corner.

I went back inside and went immediately to the pool deck light switch. Flipped it on, and the little stinker was already skulking his way back toward the mud room.  So I opened the sliding glass door and yelled at it again. It took off.

But not for long. I had to scare him off a couple more times. We finally brought Buddy and his food inside for the night and closed the mud room door.

We clearly need to find another solution for where to put his food and water outside!

 Posted by at 1:45 AM
May 162009

The Spirit rover amazes me.  As mentioned on the latest update to the Mars Exploration Rover web site, it’s been hit by yet another cleaning event, resulting in another 30% increase in power generation levels, to a whopping 652 watt-hours. That’s the highest it’s been in years!

On the down side, the rover is currently stuck in soft sand, and may also be hung up on some rocks. There’s a real possibility it may never move again because of this. That would be an unfortunate twist of irony, given the new longevity afforded by the power boost it’s received.

Still, Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, are a testament to human ingenuity, and it’s been a thrilling ride!

 Posted by at 4:58 PM