About Anything

The personal blog of Al Stevens. Focus is overrated.

Archive for the ‘Broken Things’ Category

Firefox new windows at random times

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ffnewwindowbug I was ready to trash Firefox after the last upgrade. Tabs kept turning into new windows in response to trivial mouse movements. It’s a bug — an extremely annoying one — clicking a tab once and then moving your mouse down causes a new window to open.

To fix, download this “Disable detach and tear off tab” addon:


  • Install it.
  • Click tools >> Add-ons (or type Alt-T, Alt-A).
  • On the bug489729, click “Options”.
  • Check “Disable detach tab”.
  • Click “OK”.

Enabling “Drop URL” will restore an older Firefox feature that lets you drag a Tab to a folder to create a link.

Written by Al Stevens

August 11th, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Monday’s reads

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How to become a digital nomad. The solution is to digitize everything.  [Mike Elgan in Computerworld]

Human population density does affect animal populations, in this case, fish. [Christopher Stallings in PLoS One]

A little comic relief. The Creation Wiki entry for the Flying Spaghetti Monster may not be the funniest page on the Internet, but it’s pretty funny. And I wasn’t even aware that there was a Creation Wiki. [Sean in Discover Magazine]

More comments on Elsevier’s six fake journals. [Barbara Fister on ACRLog]

A simple conclusion: Culling impedes the evolution of avian host resistance against influenza. [Eunha Shim in PLoS One]

Written by Al Stevens

May 11th, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Monday’s reads

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What was Merck thinking? And Elsevier? Bob Grant reports on how Merck paid Elsevier to publish a fake peer-reviewed journal that reported favorably on Merck products.

Summer Johnson’s comments on Merck’s fake journal in the biothects.net blog. He points out “These kinds of endeavors are not possible without help.”

Anne-Marie Deitering comments on Merck’s fake journal in her info-feteshist blog. She argues that ultimate control is passing away from scholars’ and researchers’ professional societies and into the hands of corporate entities.

Christopher Dawson reviews Nature’s Scitable, concluding that he content is accessible, deep, relevant, and understandable.

Doc Searls wonders if Google’s lack of progress on basic search is because of advertising.

Sajid Surve reviews experiements done by Stanley Milgram and Jerry Burger and concludes, sadly, that when presented with a perceived authority figure, the majority of people will override their moral compass in favor of obedience.

Neil Schlager’s piece arguing that the fundamental problem with  reference publishing is discoverability.

Jason Fell summarizes three paid content strategies that work.

Written by Al Stevens

May 4th, 2009 at 11:38 am

If it’s too big to fail, isn’t it too big to exist?

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I’ve heard a lot of recent talk about companies being too big too fail, sometimes euphemised as “systemically critical”.

It now seems blindingly obvious that if a company is “too big to fail”, it needs special treatment. Unfortunately, this discovery seems to have been made only because several of these systemically critical organizations were about to take the “system” down with them. When the system in question is the economy of the entire world, there’s not much choice left except for the governement to step in and spend whatever it takes to avoid catastrophe.

Bernie Sanders raised this issue in September, 2008. See his speech posted on YouTube: Any company that is too big to fail is too big to exist!

Robert Reich asked the question in October on his blog: “Pardon me for asking, but if a company is too big to fail, maybe – just maybe – it’s too big, period.”

A more entertaining essay is on The New York Crank: “Too big to fail” is too big, period!

The most analytical comments I’ve found so far are by Duncan Watts, a professor of sociology at Columbia University and a principal research scientist at Yahoo Research. In the post  Too Big to Fail? How About Too Big to Exist? on the Harvard Business Publishing Blog writes “Having studied the dynamics of cascades in complex systems, I suspect that the most damaging ones are impossible to anticipate with any confidence. The solution may therefore be to make the system less complex to start with, in part by limiting how big companies are allowed to become.”

It’s clear to me that we need our governments to get a lot smarter about how they regulate private companies. We inspect and regulate power plants, dams, bridges, airports, ships, trucks, factories, food, drugs and all sorts of other things. It’s time to develop a coherent policy that identifies systemically critical companies and regulates them so that they don’t damage the “system” we all depend on.

Written by Al Stevens

March 6th, 2009 at 1:11 pm

What’s an Ethanol Person?

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In Bush’s case, it’s someone with his head buried in an Archer Daniels Midland corn crib.

On Friday, George Bush explained his view of why food prices are going up. During a visit to World Wide Technology, an IT company in Missouri, he laid the blame on increasing world-wide prosperity.

“…the more prosperous the world is, the more opportunity there is. It also, however, increases demand. So, for example, just as an interesting thought for you, there are 350 million people in India who are classified as middle class. That’s bigger than America. Their middle class is larger than our entire population. And when you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food. And so demand is high, and that causes the price to go up”, said Mr Bush.

He went on to defend ethanol, saying, “As you know, I’m a ethanol person. I believe, as I told you, the interim step to getting away from oil and gas is to go to ethanol and battery technologies for your automobiles. I think it makes sense for America to be growing energy. I’d much rather be paying our farmers when we go to the gas pump than paying some nation that may not like us.” (See the Economic Times for more details on the visit.)

In other words, the aspirations of the Indian middle class is the problem. A few readily available numbers show how silly this is. Fortunately the Earth Policy Institute has posted them (the numbers), along with an analysis that clearly explains how ethanol production is is clearly the culprit. See: Why Ethanol Production Will Drive World Food Prices Even Higher in 2008.

The silliness is not hard to debunk.

From 1990 to 2005, world-wide grain consumption grew by 21 million tons per year, driven by population increase and increased consumption of less efficient foods.

Then came Ethanol. Ethanol demand increased by 27 million tons from 2006 to 2007. Based on the projected number of new distilleries coming on line, it will increase by another 35 million tons in 2008. In other word, ethanol usage is tripling the normal yearly increase in demand. To suggest this is not having an effect is ludicrous, even by Bush standards.
And what about the Indian middle class? From 1980 until now, the world-wide consumption of grain has averaged about 300kg per person per year. That means they are consuming about 105 million tons/year. The 114 million tons of grain used to make ethanol in 2008 would easily provide them with “better nutrition and better food”, and since we’ve already counted them in our projections, we’d have a surplus which we could use to feed another few hundred million people.

Florida makes evolution a “scientific theory”

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The good news is that the Florida state Board of Education approved teaching standards that explicitly include evolution in the science curriculum. The Florida standards were reviewed in December, 2005 by the Fordham Institute and given an “F”, partly because evolution was not even mentioned. (See www.sptimes.com/2005/12/30/State/Florida_gets_an_F_in_.shtml). The new standards explicitly require the teaching of evolution and are supported by the scientific community — which really is good news.

The bad news is that the Board compromised with State Representative Marti Coley (R- Marianna) who pressured them to add the word “theory”. The compromise wording inserted by the Board was “scientific theory”.

Representative Coley tried to spin the compromise with a press release which highlights that “scientific theory” is not “scientific fact” (www.marticoley.com/releases/021908.htm) .

I’m not opposed teaching religion in schools — it should just be taught in courses like “comparative religion” or “religion and society”. It should not be taught as science, or allowed to influence how science is taught. Politicians who try to turn science teaching into religious propagandizing should be removed from office.

Written by Al Stevens

March 5th, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Tom DeLay on global warming

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Maybe I never paid enough attention to this guy when he still had his Washington job. I caught his interview on Hard Ball last week. Chris Matthews asked him what he thought of global warming. His answer was something like “It’s arrogant to think that man can change climate.” (I didn’t have my tivo on, so I’m writing this from memory, but it’s pretty close to what he said.) This one goes to the top of my irony list — an indicted Congressman calling most of the world’s scientists arrogant.

It turns out this comment has been around a while — there’s a 2003 post on ZNet with nearly identical words: Tom Delay thinks he’s God’s man in Congress.

For an entertaining overview of DeLay’s career take a look at the entry in Wikipedia: Tom DeLay. It’s definitely not written by a member of his staff.

Written by Al Stevens

February 12th, 2008 at 3:12 pm

Posted in Broken Things