I Like Shiny Things


Image by FearfulStills from Flickr used under Creative Commons

I really do love new stuff, especially when it comes to software and has a “developer release” or “alpha” or “beta” tag on it.

I can’t help it. I’ve tried to stay away from buggy releases, but I always come back, if only to feel like I’m playing with the latest, greatest version.

Are you like that?

Anyway, buggy releases can really can bork up your day, especially if it’s software you use for daily stuff, e.g. a browser or an O/S.

I’m generally very tolerant of software bugs because: a) I know software is hard and b) I know the risks of using pre-production releases.

So, what follows is a parade of fail, shared for your amusement. Keep in mind as you read that I’m not blaming anyone or all that unhappy. It’s really my fault for chasing shiny objects. Feel free to laugh or commiserate, bonus points if you can spot the solution to my failures.

Firefox 3.5
I love Firefox, and I always enjoy the beta releases because it gives me a chance to see new features and play with all the cool stuff they’re building. I can never wait for a production release.

So, I jumped at the first beta release of 3.1, eventually rebranded as 3.5, and I’ve been running it happily for a while. My biggest complaint with Firefox is its consumption of memory and CPU and relatively slow Javascript performance, compared to Chrome and Safari 4.

A few months ago, Rich mentioned the 3.6 alpha version (a.k.a. Minefield) was better at JS and fast. So, I ran it for a while. I think part of its performance improvements were attributable to the fact that I had to reboot every day to take the latest nightly build.

I switched back to 3.5 in beta 3 when it dropped and then took beta 4. Hunky dory. Until one weekend, I was using Google Reader to catch up on a backlog of unread feeds. Like most Reader users, I use the JS keyboard shortcuts liberally, and for some reason, Firefox freaked out after about three hours of hitting “j”. FYI, “j” and “k” move you between feed posts.

So, 3.5b4 crashed, hard, and my CPU sounded like it would collapse. I noticed Firefox was consuming 90-97% of CPU while I was reading.

In a hurry to finish my reading, I switched back to Minefield, which didn’t help and as a bonus, caused a profile corruption.

Side note, in Firefox 3+, your profile data are stored in places.sqlite. If you corrupt your profile, you’ll lose bookmarks and other stuff, like your back button, etc. It’s a bit ugly. Luckily for me, a quick Time Machine restore saved me from rebuilding all that. Hooray for backups and for Time Machine. More on that in a bit.

After that, I started using Safari 4 and Chrome for JS-heavy sites.

I’m now running latest preview release of 3.5, and unfortunately, I’ve hit a few regressions, one of which affects my ability to add images to posts, view the word count, autosave posts and add tags. Bummer.

To give you an idea of how much I love new stuff, I now have to use Chrome and Firefox to add an image to a post. Firefox for writing and image resizing, Chrome for uploading the image.

I know. I suck.

Chrome for Mac
Like I said, I now use Chrome for JS-heavy sites because Chrome does a great job with Google sites. Surprise!

Chrome lacks Flash support, and it’s rough around the edges, lacking privacy controls, cookie management, etc. Downloads go into the default, which can be an adventure if you’re like me and used to choosing the download location.

Some JS functions seem to die over time, e.g. inserting a row in a Google Spreadsheet or archiving a message in GMail. They come back after a restart, or at least, they have so far.

Overall, Chrome is pretty solid for a developer release (he said, knocking on wood). Plus, it’s really fast and doesn’t use as much memory and CPU as Firefox does, which is a bonus.

I don’t have any epic fails to share so far, but give it time 🙂

Jaunty Jackalope 9.04
I love Ubuntu, and I ran it relatively trouble-free for a year with 8.04 and 8.10. The only recurring issue I remember was using a non-sanctioned OpenOffice 3 install on 8.10. Rather than use the one that came with 8.10, I installed the RPM from OpenOffice, which caused a panic each and every time, regardless of which app I ran. That was easily remedied by reverting to the Ubuntu-specific version in Synaptic. I know, RTFM.

My upgrade to Jaunty was another story. Rather than wait, I chased that shiny object and went to 9.04 before it was stable for my configuration.

I hit the Intel video drive issues, which have since been patched.

I also experienced periodic freezes (accompanied by blinking lights) that required a hard restart. Plus, GRUB wouldn’t load every time I did a restart.

Thanks to some digging and help from Jim, I resolved the GRUB issue (unplug all the USB devices), and I isolated the cause of  the freezes, Cisco VPN client.

Too bad I need that for work.

Luckily, there are a few options, a custom vpnc install, turning off one of the CPU cores, and a Java-based SSL solution.

I went with the latter because it seemed easiest. The instructions for getting vpnc to work are inside the firewall, making it potentially tricky to execute them, i.e. I have to use the buggy VPN client to get inside the firewall, which means the clock is ticking as I work through the steps.

Wouldn’t it serve me right if Cisco VPN caused a panic while I’m in the middle of trying to work around that very issue? Ah, irony.

Unfortunately, the Java solution required running Firefox as root to install the cert correctly. I never did get it working, for whatever reason, and while I was trying, I hosed up my profile by bookmarking a site that had some interesting information about how to disable dual core, forgetting that I was running as root.


Since I’d hit that before and have backups, I’m currently restoring it. However, on Ubuntu, it’s not as easy as Firefox.

I’m using Simple Backup, which has been unpacking and restoring my Firefox 3.5 profile for about an hour now. I guess the happy little message “Restoring, this might take some time” is accurate.

Anyway, assuming I ever get my profile back, I plan to follow the instructions to disable dual core while I’m running Cisco VPN.

Part of my problem here is frustration. I love new stuff, and I’m pretty tolerant, until bugs prevent me from working efficiently. Then I get into trouble, especially in the afternoon, when I’m even less lucid than normal.

Anyway, after spending an afternoon tracing my steps of fail, I felt that I should share them with you.

I know I’m mostly to blame, so feel free to laugh in comments. Rest assured, I will continue to chase shiny objects though and blog about my failures.

Find the comments.




  1. As you've probably gathered, I'm at the opposite end of the shiny objects scale. Remember, I'm the guy who continued to use IE 6 because my former employer's IT department mandated it as the standard. Of course, this type of attitude has its own issues.

    Ideally, in a world of unlimited funds, early adopters could pursue their love for shiny objects on less critical computers, while keeping the more important computers (i.e. those needed to connect to work) with more stable environments. As an example, I'm mulling over the idea of playing with Jaunty Jackalope myself, but if I do so, I'm going to run it off the CD…on an old hand-me-down laptop that my father-in-law gave to me. Maybe. (And no, I won't ask Microsoft for a copy of IE 6 to run on Ubuntu.)

    Ah, the shiny pursuers and the non-trendies. It takes all kinds.

  2. This is one reason why VMs are so awesome, i.e. you can protect your critical stuff and try out new stuff in a sandbox.

    My problem with using VMs and dual boot O/S for shiny new stuff is that I never use them enough, too much work. When I test drive something new, I want to put it through everyday needs, which isn't always possible on a VM.

    So, if I want to move off Firefox onto Chrome, I need to know what it can/can't do.

    It's also a personal problem for me. As soon as I hear about a new, cooler release with awesome new! new! new! features, I can't ignore it 🙁 It's a compulsion.

  3. Peas in a pod?

    I just reinstalled Jaunty because it (I?) couldn't find my HDD, you know, the one where all my data is. Now I'm reinstalling everything I had on there. The good? I'm learning to keep as little as possible on my computers. I'm also learning all about VirtualBox. Windows Vista Ultimate is now running in VB. OEL is running there…though I've yet to figure out how to install Oracle (the database) on it. I managed to find a nice step-by-step…and muck that up already.

    So what happens on June 17th? New iPhone 3Gs or whatever it's called? If I recall, you're still on the “classic.”

    I love stories like this though…I still believe you learn more from FAILing that you do from WINning. Might be why I read The Daily WTF? Interesting…

  4. I saw your post about the HDD discovery fail. Hope you got it working. You're having trouble installing Oracle on OEL? That should be cake 🙂 On Ubuntu is another matter. I've seen some tutorials, which I'm sure you found, but never tried it myself.

    The iPhone is one thing I'm not eager to upgrade. I guess when it comes to paying for stuff, I prefer to wait and amortize my investment. The OG iPhone works just fine, and I'm nearly done with my ATT contract. Not in a hurry to jump into a new one.

    I agree that tinkering makes for better learning, but man, it's frustrating sometimes.

  5. oracle on oel, yeah, just because i don't know anything about nix environments. one good thing about windows (for me anyway), i can get it up and running in a quick hurry.

    so are you going to bail on ATT? jailbreak it? i've seen a lot of frustration with ATT on “the 'tubes” lately.

  6. You should be able to find instructions for Oracle on OEL pretty easily.

    Re. ATT, I'm not switching anytime soon, and it's pretty good for what I need. I don't mind Edge too much b/c I don't do a lot of heavy bandwidth stuff. Would be nice to go 3G, but I don't think I'd use it enough to justify the cost.

  7. Found this via google. Did Simple Backup ever restore your data? I'm currently in the same boat. Waiting… and waiting… and waiting…. Yet I hear no activity from my external drive. I feel like I'm wasting time.


  8. Yeah, it worked eventually. Takes a really long time if you have a large archive. Mine was like 15 GB.

    With Simple Backup, I've had a better experience copying the archive over to the local HDD, finding what I need and extracting it (a la Time Machine). At least then, I have a progress bar.

  9. Unfortunately, the Java solution required running Firefox as root to install the cert correctly. I never did get it working, for whatever reason, and while I was trying, I hosed up my profile by bookmarking a site that had some interesting information about how to disable dual core, forgetting that I was running as root.

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