Camino and Firefox tip

I was already planning on posting this tip, but it's also relevant to Dave's question. He's right, Firefox's method for searching within a page is very nice. You type cmd+F (or ctrl+F on Windows) and a little bar appears at the bottom of the page. In Camino, as in most browsers, the search window appears on top of the page, sometimes getting in the way.

But instead of using cmd+F, try tapping the / key. They just start typing your search term. It will be found as you type. If the highlighted word is not what you want, push cmd+G to find the next instance. Even more useful: Tap the ' (single quote key) and you can find as you type, only this way your search is limited to links on the page. As soon as the link you want is highlighted, just press enter and you follow the link. Both of these tips work on Firefox and Camino.

This provides another way to keep my hands on the keyboard, which I can operate more quickly and comfortably than a mouse. It would be even better if I could use cmd+Enter to open the link in a new tab. That works in Firefox but not Camino.

Update: This bug was first reported for Camino in 2002. Holy crap, can it be that hard to fix?

Powell: Close Guantanamo

Former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell was on Meet the Press today. Here's this retired four-star general's view of the detention center in Guatanamo Bay, Cuba:

If it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo. Not tomorrow, but this afternoon. I'd close it. And I would not let any of those people go, I would simply move them to the United States and put them into our federal legal system. The concern was, well then they'll have access to lawyers, then they'll have access to writs of habeas corpus. So what? Let them. Isn't that what our system is all about?

You can add Powell's name to the long list of people calling for Gitmo to be closed. That list also includes Tony Blair, the UN, the European Parliment and Amnesty International. This American Life did an episode about Habeas Corpus where they interview some of the detainees who have been released.

Powell goes on:

I would also do it because every morning, I pick up a paper and some authoritarian figure, some person somewhere, is using Guantanamo to hide their own misdeeds. And so essentially, we have shaken the belief that the world had in America's justice system by keeping a place like Guantanamo open and creating things like the military commission. We don't need it, and it's causing us far more damage than any good we get for it.

Kinesis Keyboard

I like it: Kinesis Advantage Ergonomic Keyboard
It's better than: Normal keyboards
Why the change?
I started having numbness and pain in my wrist, elbow and fingers about a year and a half ago. I've been to the doctor, tried better posture, an ergonomic mouse, stretching, a splint, HandEze gloves, dictation software, using the computer less, taking breaks, taking pain-killers, massage and going to a chiropractor. A few months ago, I decided to get a better keyboard. I shopped around a bit and found some fairly cheep ergonomic keyboards, but many of the reviews I read raved about the Kinesis. It looked strange, but I liked the idea of using my thumb more. This review was a big part of why I went for it. He also talks about switching to the Dvorak keyboard layout, which I considered. But he said it took longer and made less of a difference than just switching to a Kinesis with QWERTY. It did take me a few days to get back up to speed, but I love my keyboard now. If I try using a normal keyboard, it's slow and painful.

I still have to deal with some pain, but I'm learning my limits and I can get through a day at work now. I stopped wearing the gloves and cut my stretching way back. I think I was overdoing it and it was becoming counterproductive. I'm also using AntiRSI, a little Mac program that reminds me to take breaks. This problem sucks and I may always have to deal with it, but I feel like I've got it under control now. My keyboard has been a big part of that.

Google Reader

I like it: Google Reader
It's better than: Bloglines
Why the change?
RSS readers are programs or web apps that let you subscribe to rss feeds, so you can keep up with dozens or hundreds of web sites without visiting each one. I described this two years ago and recommended Bloglines as a feed reader. When Google came out with their own feed reader I tried it and wasn't impressed. As they improved it, more and more people were switching, but I still didn't like it as well as Bloglines. The biggest feature I was missing was the ability to manually order my feeds and folders. I wanted my must-reads at the top and the feeds I rarely look at on the bottom. Google Reader still doesn't have this feature, but I finally switched after going through one too many Bloglines outages.

I've been very happy with the switch. Google Reader is so well designed that you don't have as much trouble keeping up with your reading. And I can hide feeds and folders with no new items, so the stuff I need to see sort of naturally floats to the top. The lack of arbitrary ordering hasn't really bothered me at all. A big advantage over Bloglines, is that Reader lets me look at a few items in a feed without marking the whole feed as read. It also has some great keyboard shortcuts, which make navigation much faster than mouse-driven sites.


I like it: Camino
It's better than: Firefox on OS X
Why the change?
It's been two years since I switched to Macs and I absolutely love them. But there's a dirty little secret about Macs: Firefox, my favorite web browser, tends to run very slowly on OS X. A Firefox developer recently asked for gripes from Mac Firefox users on his blog. There was a long list. The biggest problem for me has been performance. After Firefox has run for a few hours, it will often be using up 20-80% of my CPU and over 400 MB of RAM (not to mention over a GB of virtual memory). Reports of memory leaks are common, but they're often blamed on extensions. I've tried running with fewer extensions, but it didn't seem to help much.

So, at the suggestion of a co-worker I switched to Camino. It's based on the Firefox project, but it's built to run on OS X. It fits in better with the Mac style and most importantly, it performs much better. I can run Camino for days and days and it will rarely use more than 100 MB or RAM. It seems to know how to give up RAM when it's finished with it, a trick that Firefox rudely fails to do on OS X. The one huge downside is that Firefox extensions don't work on Camino. It does have built in ad-blocking, so there's no need for the otherwise must-have extension, AdBlock Plus. There is a website with some add-ons for Camino: Pimp My Camino. But it's a pretty weak offering compared to Firefox's add-ons. There's nothing equivalent to FireBug, so I still use Firefox when I need that tool.

If you use the normal download, you'll be getting version 1.0.4. I recommend that you get a development snapshop using a tool like CaminoKnight. That will give you some of the newer features, such as built-in spell checking.

I've been very happy with this switch. If Firefox 3 works better on OS X, as has been promised, then I may switch back, but for now, Camino is the snappiest option for me.

Another quote on religion and science

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Here's a quote that I wanted to include in my book review, but it was too long:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.

-- Augustine of Hippo, The Literal Meaning of Genesis. vol. 1, Ancient Christian Writers., vol. 41, Translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J. New York: Paulist Press, 1982

Augustine wrote that 1600 years ago.

Happy birthday, DBC

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

It was four years ago today that I was presumptuous enough to think the internet needed one more web site of personal yammerings. Danny's Blog Cabin was born on LiveJournal on May 30, 2003. Eight months later I moved to at the generous invitation of Brendan. It would be appropriate to stop and reflect on what we've all learned in the last four years, how much things and people have changed and what the fifth year and beyond might hold in store for this safe haven of personal expression and exploration. But instead of any of that crap, I'll post this picture of monkeys riding bicycles.

Book review: The Language of God by Francis Collins

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Image from AmazonFrancis Collins is an eminent scientist who, as head of the Human Genome Project, led the monumental undertaking to sequence the entire human genome. Collins is also a Christian and he explains why he believes and how that relates to his life's work in the 2006 book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence For Belief.

Collins sets himself apart from most Christian apologists in a few ways. First, he doesn't see science as an opponent of religion; he insists that they answer different questions. Second, Collins agrees with the scientific consensus about evolution and he doesn't see it as a threat to religion. He spends a great deal of the book presenting the evidence for evolution and arguing in its favor. A third thing that makes Collins' apologetic different from the likes of Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel is that his case is not built on the Bible. He includes illustrative quotes and makes passing reference to the textual reliability of the Bible, but it's far from being central to his argument.

Collins dismisses a few other reasons for believing before getting to his evidence. The origin of life, long believed to be a question that science cannot answer, has been commonly claimed as evidence for God's existence. How did self-replicating life forms come into existence if God didn't breathe life into them? Science has made inroads toward solving this cosmic riddle, and Collins refuses to hinge his belief on a gap in our knowledge that may be closing.

He deals similarly with the claims of irreducible complexity by Michael Behe and other intelligent design spokesmen. Behe claims that certain structures and processes are so complex that they couldn't have evolved because if they were any less complex then they wouldn't provide any advantage to the organism. Nearly all scientists, including Collins, have seen the problems with Behe's idea. The examples that Behe gave have been debunked and there are no known irreducibly complex structures in biology.

After dealing with the origin of life and irreducible complexity, Collins turns to the more general reason for believing in God, called "God of the gaps." This phrase is used to describe a view of the relationship between science and religion. There are gaps in our scientific knowledge, like how life originated and how certain structures evolved. Believers often want to credit God for doing things that we don't yet understand. Humans have taken this approach for time out of mind. Before we understood rainbows, many cultures assumed they had a supernatural explanation. Those who take this view of God find that as scientific knowledge grows, God shrinks. For decades, thinking believers have discarded this view of God. Collins roundly rejects any evidence for God that is based solely on gaps in our knowledge.

So, scientifically, ID (Intelligent Design) fails to hold up, providing neither an opportunity for experimental validation nor a robust foundation for its primary claim of irreducible complexity. More than that, however, ID also fails in a way that should be more of a concern to the believer than to the hard-nosed scientist. ID is a "God of the gaps" theory, inserting a supposition of the need for supernatural intervention in places that its proponents claim science cannot explain. . . . Ultimately a "God of the gaps" religion runs a huge risk of simply discrediting faith. ID portrays the Almighty as a clumsy Creator, having to intervene at regular intervals to fix the inadequacies of His own initial plan for generating the complexity of life. For a believer who stands in awe of the almost unimaginable intelligence and creative genius of God, this is a very unsatisfactory image (Collins, 193).

So, after passing over the claims of creationists, intelligent design proponents, "God of the gaps" evidence in general and Biblical literalists, Collins presents his evidence for belief. It can be narrowed down to two reasons: 1) The universe had a beginning which seems to have been fine-tuned for life, and 2) humans all share a sense of morality.

Scientists have made reasonable explanations for what has happened in the history of the universe all the way back 13.7 billion years to mere microseconds after the big bang. But, it's true that science has been powerless to tell us anything about the universe before that. The singularity that must have existed before the explosion of the Big Bang defies all scientific laws. And as the universe expanded, conditions that would be friendly to life are a very unlikely outcome. This could be seen as evidence of a supernatural designer that brought the singularity into being and sent it out of the gate at the proper trajectory to ensure that life would be possible in a few billion years. Or it could be seen as another gap in what we know. Like other gaps, it's getting smaller all the time. And even if science never learns any more about the beginning of the universe, consider the implications of Collins' view. He says that God set up the conditions of the big bang almost 14 billion years ago, then didn't intervene until two or three thousand years ago, once humans had evolved fully and begun to found civilizations.

Collins second reason draws heavily from C.S. Lewis, who makes the universal human experience of morality his central reason for believing in God. Not only is this line of reasoning susceptible to the charge of finding God in another gap in our knowledge, but that gap has already all but vanished. Collins and Lewis are both correct when they claim that nearly all humans share an inborn sense of right and wrong. The next step in their reasoning is that if there's a moral law, then there must be a moral lawgiver. God is invoked as the absolute standard that our morality is measured against. I used to consider this a very convincing argument, but now I don't see how you get from the fact of shared morality to the conclusion of God's existence. It is one attempt to the question of where our sense of morals comes from, but is it the most probable?

The Darwinian evolution that Collins uses to to explain the complexity and diversity of organisms can also explain the behavior of humans and other organisms. As an example, take the maternal instinct. It's easy to see how any animal with a strong affection for its offspring would be more likely to pass its genes on. As much as I enjoy taking care of my daughter, I recognize that this paternal instinct is a product of evolution. That doesn't make my feelings any less significant to me. Morality could be seen in the same way. A group of evolving humans living a small group, as early humans did, would be more likely to survive than a neighboring group if they took care of each other. Kindness, generosity, forgiveness and bravery would all give a survival advantage. As humans spread around the world and diverged into different cultures, you would expect slight differences in this instinct to evolve but for the heart of the instinct to be shared by all humans. And this is exactly what we see. Does this make our shared morality any less real? I see no reason to abandon an instinct that has served us so well just because we've found out more about its origin.

Many people will find Collins' approach refreshing. Others will find it conciliatory or even blasphemous. For my part, I find it unconvincing.

Zoo trip

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Yesterday we took a trip to the Kansas City Zoo. It was rainy, but the weather was cool and the place wasn't crowded. We saw a pair of baby baboons, a great sea lion show and several free carousel rides.

Here are the pictures.

Starcraft 2

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Blizzard has announced that they are working on a sequel to their classic sci-fi strategy game, Starcraft. They began development after the release of Warcraft 3: Frozen Throne, which was in January 2003. So, they've been working on it for four years! There's no release date yet, but it will be out for both Macs and PCs at the same time. You can watch trailers, see screenshots and read about some of the new units at the Starcraft 2 site. Starcraft is still my favorite video game. After their success with World of Warcraft, it's great to see Blizzard revisiting this game.

Penny Arcade has a theory about how Blizzard was able to keep this project under wraps for so long.

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