Archive for September, 2008

The following post tells the story of the once (still?) famous Irish bog country, complementing my 2008 images from Ireland (on Flickr). The images below were taken of sections of the display at the Connemarra National Park visitor’s centre (the centre gives an insight into the park’s flora, fauna and geology as well as showing maps and various trails; bog biology and the video Man and the Landscape are particularly interesting). 

The pictorial story told here is not just one of the nature of bogs but also one of human impact, past and present, and and its repercussions for the future of the peatlands. And sadly, most likely one of Ireland’s famous (and once infamous) landscapes is slowly dieing.

But bogs did not only provide challenges for humans; we also discovered them as a seemingly vast area of resources, especially for wood and peat.

Axe to split the bog logs

Peat cutting tools

Collecting peat:

A historical perspective on the boglands in Ireland:


And another sign of the relevance of the bog in Irish culture:

The future for the peatlands though looks grim, as these two maps show:

But of course: even National Parks are no guarantee anymore for the survival of the peatlands; global warming might be the final determinator.

Time machines

Posted: September 19, 2008 in reflections

Quote: “We all have our time machines. Some take us back, they’re called memories. Some take us forward, they’re called dreams.”Jeremy Irons

After having been harassed for 10 weeks by my o’seas family members 😉 to upload my holiday photos onto Flickr, I’ve finally started with the first batch on Italy and the first installment on Germany. That kept me away from blogging, but in the meantime my bellissimo friend Jeanie *) emailed this poem, which is remarkable because it was written by the father of one of the victims of the London bombings in 2005. And it is remarkable because it doesn’t join the usual chorus of hatred against ‘the other side’ but instead, as a expression of true humanness and deep connectedness to all life, appeals for forgiveness.

No Room for Hate.

There is no room within my heart
for revenge, fire or hate
there is no room within my mind
for any thoughts like these.

I cannot find the words to say
just how it is I feel
but I know from deepest hurt
I must forgiveness find.

The hurt that’s been done to us
cuts sore like a knife,
but we must not, repay in kind
what has been done to us.

Instead we must try and find
the way that is so hard,
and reach out our loving hands
to find some friendship now.

There can be no more healing thing
than opening wide our eyes
and seeing that most other folk
are really just like us.

David wrote this poem a year after his step daughter was killed in the London Bombings of 2005.

By David Gould

November 2006

Okkervil River

Posted: September 10, 2008 in creativity

I had this album for a while, but never made much of an effort listening to the lyrics – i just enjoyed the music which really does Okkervil River’s Sheff’s compositions a disservice. The Stage Names is the band’s first album I have heard so far.

According to Jagjaguwar it was “written on the beds and beat-up couches of hotels, guest-rooms, and fourth-floor walk-ups during the itinerant Sheff’s travels around the United States and tenure in New York City”. “The Stage Names takes place in an unmistakably modern world, where snowy televisions blast into cheap hotels the spectral images of soap stars endlessly betraying each other, where losers in late-night bars languish to the beat of their favorite songs, where broken-down actresses place their final cell calls from lonely mansions high in the hills. Riddled with characters real and fake, with true-life biography and brazenly fabricated autobiography, with the relics of high culture and the crumpled-up trash of low culture, The Stage Names is a cinemascopic take on the meaning of entertainment.”

The Stage Names is cerebral, yet often somber with a touch of melancholy. It is softly sad in “Girl in Port” and the heartbreaking sad in “John Allyn Smith Sails,” the latter of which chronicles the suicide of poet John Berryman while managing to integrate languidly into verses from the old Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B” – so seamlessly that you’d swear it had never existed before. Other great songs are “Title Track”, “Our Life Is Not a Movie Or Maybe” and “Unless It Kicks”.

The Stage Names is sometimes folky, sometimes rocky, sometimes country, sometimes emo, sometimes even poppy. The musical arrangements are beautifully varied, from using great guitar solos to full brass sections. And I do like Sheff’s voice, for its wailyness as well as its passion – just perfect for his presentation of his brilliantly penned lyrics, full of jumbled symbolism, painful loneliness, and jagged imagery. Here is one example that to me shows Sheff’s talent and makes the album one of my faves – the song “Title Track”:

All of the stage names evaporate
And it’s just a blood-flushed and heart-rushing race
Either to kick off too soon or stick around too late
To be far too dear or too cut-rate

Hold my hand again like at the lake
Hold that mirror, babe, up to my face
Hear the whippoorwill? Am I breathing still?

A Hollywood Babylon bike-a-thon for breakdancers all broken down in their beds
Now intravenously fed from a bag hanging over their heads
Can I put you down for some miles? What do you say?
‘Cause don’t you know it’s going to be a long, long way
But if you’ve got the cash, I’m ready to bust my ass

So take this thin, broken-down circus clown reject
And give her the name of a queen
Don’t I know her from the mezzanine?
Well, she didn’t look like no princess to me

But with the proper words bestowed
And with her morning shoot
And her evening clothes
Don’t call her a prostitute
She ain’t one of those
Just call her a proper little statue come unfroze

iTunes 8 released

Posted: September 10, 2008 in science & technology
Tags: ,

Yesterday Apple announced and released (in conjunction with new iPods) its latest iTunes (version 8). The main new features are a grid using thumbnails to display your music collection and a feature called the Genius Sidebar.

The new grid (see above) might be superflous for those still at home with designs built around the command line, but for all others, pleased by visual displays (like me), it is a nice addition. At the top you have a button choice for albums, artists, genres and composers; pushing any of them displays underneath them album cover representations of the category contents. If you have a lot of music, it is a quick way to find what you’re looking for, certainly in terms of artists and genres.

I can’t get as excited about the Genius Sidebar (above on the right side). Highlighting any song makes it come up with lists of recommendations from the iTunes Store for what it considers are top albums, songs you supposedly want to have and further recommendations for artist and songs similar to the one you’ve selected. The Genius Sidebar works by analysing your music collection with an algorithm that is said to compare the structure and the sound of your songs to create those mentioned playlists (that it thinks you’ll like). To make it work, the Genius Sidebar needs to be activated by you allowing it to take stock of your music collection and sending this data to the iTunes Store server.

I’ve tested it with quite a few songs; some of the suggestions are way off but the majority seems to be acceptable. I guess as more and more people are using this feature, the responses will become more accurate (unless Apple of course manipulates the algorithm for commercial reasons other than style comparisons). Overall, the feature could become quite a trap for impulse buyers 😉 .

ubiquity commands

Posted: September 10, 2008 in science & technology
Tags: , ,

add-to-calendar Adds an event to your calendar.
Currently, only works with Google Calendar, so you’ll need a Google account to use it. Try issuing “add lunch with dan tomorrow”.
amazon-search Searches Amazon for books matching your words.
answers-search Searches for the given words.
• ask-searchSearches for the given words.
• boldIf you’re in a rich-text-edit area, makes the selected text bold.
• bugzillaSearches Bugzilla for Mozilla bugs matching the given words.
• calculateCalculates the value of a mathematical expression.
Try it out: issue “calc 22/7 – 1”.
check-calendar Checks what events are on your calendar for a given date.
Currently, only works with Google Calendar, so you’ll need a Google account to use it. Try issuing “check thursday”.
close-related-tabs Closes all open tabs that have the given word in common.
close-tab Closes the tab that matches the given name.
• command-editorTakes you to the Ubiquity command editor page.
• command-listTakes you to the page you’re on right now.
convert Converts a selection to a PDF, to rich text, or to html.
define Gives the meaning of a word.
Try issuing “define aglet”
• delete Deletes the selected chunk of HTML from the page.
• diggIf not yet submitted, submits the page to Digg. Otherwise, it takes you to the story’s Digg page.
by Sandro Della Giustina – licensed as MPL,GPL
View more information at
ebay-search Searches EBay for auctions matching the given words.
edit-page Puts the web page into a mode where you can edit the contents.
In edit mode, you can edit the page like any document: Select text, delete it, add to it, copy and paste it. Issue ‘bold’, ‘italic’, or ‘underline’ commands to add formatting. Issue the ‘save’ command to save your changes so they persist even when you reload the page. Issue ‘stop-editing-page’ when you’re done to go back to the normal page viewing mode.
email Begins composing an email to a person from your contact list.
Currently only works with Google Mail, so you’ll need a GMail account to use it. Try selecting part of a web page (including links, images, etc) and then issuing “email this”. You can also specify the recipient of the email using the word “to” and the name of someone from your contact list. For example, try issuing “email hello to jono” (assuming you have a friend named “jono”).
• escape-html-entitiesReplaces html entities (<, >, and &) with their escape sequences.
flickr Searches Flickr for pictures matching your words.
get-email-address Looks up the email address of a person from your contacts list given their name.
google Searches Google for your words.
help Takes you to the Ubiquity main help page.
highlight Highlights your current selection, like this.
imdb Searches the Internet Movie Database for your words.
• italicIf you’re in a rich-text-edit area, makes the selected text italic.
last-email Displays your most recent incoming email. Requires a Google Mail account.
link-to-wikipedia Turns a selected phrase into a link to the matching Wikipedia article.
Can only be used in a rich text-editing field.
map Turns an address or location name into a Google Map.
Try issuing “map kalamazoo”. You can click on the map in the preview pane to get a larger, interactive map that you can zoom and pan around. You can then click the “insert map in page” (if you’re in an editable text area) to insert the map. So you can, for example, type an address in an email, select it, issue “map”, click on the preview, and then insert the map.
map-these Maps multiple selected addresses or links onto a single Google Map. (Experimental!)
• msn-searchSearches MSN for the given words.
• redo Redoes your latest style/formatting or page-editing changes.
• remove-annotationsResets any annotation changes you’ve made to this page.
• saveSaves edits you’ve made to this page in an annotation.
• stop-editing-pageIf you used the ‘edit page’ command to put the page into editable mode, use this command to end that mode and go back to normal page viewing.
• syntax-highlightTreats your selection as program source code, guesses its language, and colors it based on syntax.
tab Switches to the tab that matches the given name.
tag Adds a tag to describe the current page
by Dietrich Ayala – licensed as MPL/GPL/LGPL
View more information at
tinyurl Replaces the selected URL with a TinyUrl
translate Translates from one language to another.
You can specify the language to translate to, and the language to translate from. For example, try issuing “translate mother from english to chinese”. If you leave out the the languages, Ubiquity will try to guess what you want. It works on selected text in any web page, but there’s a limit to how much it can translate at once (a couple of paragraphs.)
• twitterSets your Twitter status to a message of at most 160 characters.
You’ll need a Twitter account, obviously. If you’re not already logged in you’ll be asked to log in.
undelete Restores the HTML deleted by the delete command.
• underlineIf you’re in a rich-text-edit area, underlines the selected text.
undo Undoes your latest style/formatting or page-editing changes.
• view-source Shows you the source-code of the web page you’re looking at.
weather Checks the weather for a given location.
Try issuing “weather chicago”. It works with zip-codes, too.
wikipedia Searches Wikipedia for your words.
by Blair McBride – licensed as MPL
View more information at
• word-countDisplays the number of words in a selection.
• yahoo-searchSearches Yahoo for pages matching your words.
• yelpSearches Yelp for restaurants matching your words.
You can search for restaurants near a certain location using the near modifier. For example, try “yelp pizza near boston”.
youtube Searches YouTube for videos matching your words.
• zoomZooms the Firefox window in or out.

Raw Food Diet and Orthorexia Nervosa

Posted: September 10, 2008 in society
Tags: ,

[I’m not on the raw or living food diet, but I’m certainly sympathetic to it. People I have met who have been on this diet for many years look healthy and well and some of them are vegans. Since having made those contacts, I have increased the fresh food intake in my own mixed vegetarian diet through eating more salads, salad sandwiches and having fruit and vegetable smoothies – and I feel better for it. I therefore think the attack on raw food vegans by the American ABC 20/20 program is uninformed, biased and quite pathetic in the usual US commercial TV way. Below is the rebuff by one of the raw/living food gurus, Jinjee Talifero.]

Q: Is Orthorexia Nervosa really a disease?


A: No, it is not yet classified as a disease. It is the name of a book by someone who is of the opinion that people who become obsessed with eating healthy are psychologically unstable. This is not true of most people who desire to eat healthy. However there are people who suffer from an addiction to self-destruction, and these people battle between their desire to be healthy and their desire to destroy themselves, and in some cases, their desire to destroy themselves wins out.

Q: Why do some people who eat healthy become too thin?

A: Usually healthy eating results in an improvement in weight. For people who need to lose weight, eating healthier will result in losing weight. And for people who need to gain weight, eating healthier will usually result in gaining weight. However sometimes people with anorexia and/or “orthorexia” also subscribe to a healthy diet such as the raw food diet. It is not the healthy diet that hurts them, but rather the fact that they are not eating enough food.

Q: Is the raw food diet a healthy diet?

A: Yes. According to a panel of medical doctors, the raw food diet is one of the 7 most popular diets in the country, and of these 7 diets, only 2 diets have no harmful side effects. The raw food diet or raw vegan diet is one of the two popular diets that have no bad side effects. See Article on Medical News Today.

Q: I saw a 20/20 show on TV that showed some orthorexic people who looked anorexic or emaciated. One of them was eating a raw vegan diet. Here are the links to the two parts of the show:

Healthy Food, Unhealthy Obsession: Pt. 1

Healthy Food, Unhealthy Obsession: Pt. 2

A: I saw that show too. It was quite an obvious attack on the raw diet, but it accidentally showed many healthy looking rawists. There were three emaciated people featured, and two of them were or had been raw vegan. For each person on the raw vegan diet who looks bad, I can show you a hundred examples of people who look very healthy on raw foods. There is a new DVD out, called “Reversing The Irreversible” that features 35 people giving testimonials of healing on raw foods, and they all look great! Many people who are sick try to heal themselves with raw foods and some of them do continue to get worse, perhaps because their issues were more psychological or spiritual. If your spirit has decided to die, whether to get back at someone who you perceive has hurt you, or because you feel unloved, or depressed, or in constant psychic pain, then no diet or medicine alone is going to help that in the long term. Spiritual or psychological healing is needed first. Many people are in the process of commiting slow suicide through food abuse, whether it be through eating junk food, or abusing health foods. A lot of times, these eating disorders and addictions are a form of self-centeredness. If we can just stop thinking so much about ourselves, our health, our diets, our addictions, our living, our dying, our bodies, our minds, our spirits, our trip, our relationships, our finances, our problems, – then we can find greater balance in life. You can start by focusing on God, The Universe, your family, or someone in the world who could use your help. “As long as you are loving, you are not dying”, as one 110-year old woman put it.

Q: On the 20/20 orthorexia report, the interviewer claimed that he was only 8 years younger than raw vegan guru Viktoras Kulvinskas, and that Kulvinskas looked much older than his years. Why does he look so old?

A: Viktoras is actually 70 years old, and looks pretty good for 70. He has incredible strength and flexibility. If you look at pictures from when he was younger, you’ll see he looks much better now. I doubt the interviewer was really just 8 years younger than Kulvinskas. If he indeed the interviewer was 62, which I doubt (he looked about 55 tops), then I think he must have had plastic surgery. This seems quite likely, as he looked a bit like a Ken doll, with plastic-ish skin, perfect false teeth, and a toupé or hair implant. His sed car salesman moustache completed his cheesy Hollywood game show host look. I prefer the rugged natural look of Kulvinskas any day. I thought Kulvinskas handled the insults hurled at him with grace and honesty. He was very courageous under fire.

Q: Is it true someone died following Kulvinskas’ raw food diet advise?

A: The woman in question followed many different diet gurus. Millions of people have read the raw food books and ebooks written by Viktoras Kulvinskas, Storm and Jinjee Talifero, David Wolfe, Paul Nison, Nomi Shannon, Juliano Brotman, Matt Amsden, Tony Robbins, Roe Gallo, Ani Phyo, Sonja Watt, Sarma Melngailis, Alissa Cohen, Karen Ranzi, Carol Alt, Douglas Graham, Cherie Soria, Rhio, Victoria Boutenko, Jay the Juiceman, Marilyn and Harvey Diamond, Matthew Kenney, Ann Wigmore, Bernard Jensen, Dr. Shulze, Dr. Gabriel Cousens, Dr. Hygiea Halfmoon, Natalia Rose, Renee Loux Underkoffler, actor Woody Harrelson, Morgan Spurlock, Reverend Michael Beckwith, Angela Stokes, Matt Monarch, Sheryl and Piers Duruz, Jack LaLanne, Sunflower Lord, Kristin Whitcoe, Erica Palmcrantz, Dr. Norman Walker, the Kloss family, and other raw food enthusiasts and advocates, sometimes dubbed “raw food gurus” by the media and the public. Out of thethousands of people who have found relief from disease, pain, and illness through the raw vegan diet, not to mention the hundreds of thousands who have lost weight and become happier through this lifestyle, 20/20 chose to focus on two tragedies in which one person became emaciated and one died. Compare this to the approximately one thousand deaths per day in the united states caused by malpractice, according to the United States Census Beaureu. Another approximately one thousand deaths a day are caused by obesity and lifestyle related diseases. And what about the fact that according to the CDC (Centers For Disease Control) over half of all Americans are overweight? Is it really responsible to tell Americans, as ABC’s 20/20 news did, that eating healthy can lead to death? How many deaths will be caused by this twisted statement alone?!!!

Q: Is it possible to be a healthy weight eating a raw vegan diet, a diet of just fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds?

A: Yes. Most people who eat healthy diets such as vegetarian, vegan, and raw vegan diets improve their health, and live at a healthy weight. Especially if they exercise.

Q: Is my desire to eat organic foods a psychological disorder?

A: Of course not. It is common sense. Why would you want to eat a food that is sprayed with chemicals that kill bugs? Many of these chemicals are designed to damage the bugs’ reproductive systems. There has not been enough testing done to determine the long term effects of these chemicals on humans. However more and more couples are having trouble conceiving children. The raw vegan diet, on the other hand, has often been called a fertility diet. Connect the dots!

Q: Is a raw vegan diet safe for children and pregnant or nursing women?

A: Yes it is, if the child and/or mother is getting enough fresh food and appropriate exercise, fresh air, and sunlight.

Q: Where can I find out more about healthy eating and the raw vegan diet?

A: You can learn about our raw vegan family and download our eBooks and videos about the raw vegan lifestyle and healthy raw food recipes we use at

Q: Where can I see some before and after pictures of people following a raw food diet?

A: You can see raw food before and afters here:


Presented by: Ekaya Institute of Living Food Education, 2008 –

Copyright Free. Please feel free to share this page or its text/contents with others.

One of the biggest reasons most Windows users are sticking with Firefox over Google Chrome is its extensibility—and the most popular Firefox extension by far among Lifehacker readers is Adblock Plus. If annoying web site advertisements are the only thing holding you back from using Chrome, a user at the Geekzone forums explains how to block ’em without an extension. In short, you use the free Privoxy web proxy software, which blocks web sites serving ads, and configure Google Chrome to use the proxy. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Download and install Privoxy.
  2. Click on the Wrench icon in Chrome in the upper right corner.
  3. Choose options>Under The Hood>Change proxy settings.
  4. In the Internet Properties dialog’s Connections tab, click on the LAN settings button.
  5. Check off “Proxy settings” and in the address setting add and in the port 8118.
  6. If you have the option, you can also check off “Bypass proxy for local settings”.
  7. Click “OK,” close Chrome and restart it.

Privoxy’s default installation blocks ads from coming through it, so from there you’ll notice ad-free web pages. After I installed Privoxy I got an error going to Gmail, but a refresh fixed the problem. However, I’m still seeing Google text ads in Gmail at least. Have you given Privoxy a try for ad blocking? Let us know how it went in the comments. Thanks, xint!

After following the above procedure, I noticed a considerable slowing of page downloads (which probably is not surprising given access via proxy) as well as having some pages (eg gmail) only downloading after several attempts while others just produced error messages and could not be downloaded at all. Reversing the above process fixed those problems instantly.

The truth about raw chocolate?

Posted: September 5, 2008 in society
Tags: ,

After promoting the making of raw chocolate in a recent post but also after having eaten in the meantime quite a few cacao beans (and not having felt good as a result), still being skeptical about the use of coconut fat in the chocolate making process and, in hindsight, a bit about the hype during that workshop, I was delighted reading my raw food and otherwise friend Helena’s post on bursting the chocolate bubble. I followed the link to Paul Nison’s articles, and what I read did not surprise me (except his description of the contaminants as a result of the cacao making process). 

Nison basically says that cacao is highly toxic and therefore bad for you health. As a raw foodist he makes the interesting observation that cooked cacao is much less detrimental than cocoa derived from roasted beans and that raw cacao is the worst of the lot. He claims he has seen lots of people whose health has been badly effected by cacao and he himself experienced negative side effects. His conclusion is that unless you take cacao for medicinal, sacred and entertainment use, don’t have it at all and certainly don’t see it as a health food! It’s a health hazard. Here’s is a list of points he made to support his view:

  • no animal in nature will eat cacao unless tricked into it with milk or sugar; if you can convince an animal to eat it, it then greatly shortens its life span if it doesn’t kill it immediately
  • native people who ate cacao only ate the fruit of the theobroma (which contains all the benefits and none of the detriments) and only used the cacao seed as an addition to their psychedelic brew ahyuwasca and as an emergency medicine; they did not eat it as a food nor as a food supplement
  • cacao is one of the most addictive substances known; it is super toxic to the liver, it acts as a stimulant and agitates the kidneys and adrenal glands; it can cause insomnia, nightmares, waking up in the middle of the night, shakes, and extreme energy shifts, especially when taken long term
  • cacao and chocolate are extremely clogging to our system due to the toxins carried in the oils in them; in additons the fat chains are highly complex (saturated) and require lots of energy to be broken down
  • more specifically: chocolate and cacao contain chemicals called methylxanthines which are detrimental to our health, causing for example a high level of liver and blood toxicity, espcecially as a result of long-term use
  • methylxanthines can be further classified as theobromine, caffeine, and theophylline; theobromine is known to cause a host of symptoms including abnormal glandular growth, nervousness, depression, anxiety, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems, and itching; caffeine is highly suspected of being a carcinogen, and is directly linked to heart and circulatory problems, glandular difficulties, nervous disorders, osteoporosis, birth abnormalities, and so forth; theophylline causes stomach problems, nausea, vomiting, and nervous disorders
  • in some cases of long term use there are also pschycological effects that range from addictive tendencies, sexual dysfunction, violent outbursts, lack of reasoning, and decreased will; at mega doses of 40 plus beans it acts as a hallucinogen and can cause many effects attributed to LSD or hashish
  • chocolate and cacao also contain contaminants like animal feces and hair, insects, and moulds; the carcinogenic mould called aflatoxin has been found in large quantities on cacao beans; the American FDA acknowledges the presence of these contaminents and has set allowable limits for them
  • commercial chocolate and cocao also contain additives; the same might be said for raw cacao/chocolate that is not organic (I don’t have any specifics though right now)
Given that I actually felt sometimes quite uneasy and physically and intuitively not good about eating raw cacao beans (as promoted at the chocolate workshop), I personally am encouraged enough by Nison’s thoughts to at least ease off a bit when it comes to eating chocolate, especially raw one. I haven’t done any research on the topic and don’t claim Nison is right – but it does make sense to me. I invite you to come to your own conclusion 🙂 .

While Firefox is a great application, it still is an old school browser, carrying in its architecture the problems that beset all browsers, like making it still not fast enough, memory hungry, subject to crashes or compromised in terms of security. So when my geek friends mentioned the name Google Chrome glowingly, not only did I obligingly feel the need to find out what it is but, once done, reacted in kind of a predictable way: why would I want another browser (especially when having Firefox)?

That feeling wasn’t exactly eliminated after installing and running Chrome with its rather plain and unfancy interface (“typical Google” was the thought of someone whose right brain likes some clutter 😉 ) and not having any of my many Firefox extensions. But since it wasn’t just Google but friends  who seemed to praise Chrome, I was intrigued and read “Google Chrome” – the book. That’s when I became impressed.


The first big advantageof Chrome is: it is a multi-processing browser, a concept easily explained by the two comics below which compare Chrome to a traditional single-threaded browser (and who doesn’t know the experience of waiting forever for a web page loading just because of some hanging Javascript somewhere).


Advantages of this architecture:

  • rather than having the whole browser crash, you just loose one tab if a web site has a bug in it
  • less memory bloat because each tab has its own memory, leaving no fragmentation and memory leaks behind when closed
  • each tab has its own rendering engine, data structures and processes, so resources don’t have to be shared anymore between tabs, and moving from one domain to another even within a tab instantly clears out all previous resource components
  • multiple processes require a process manager and Chrome provides one, showing which sites use how much memory


Google Chrome, the book, is written for programmers and semi-program language literate people, so some of the stuff in there I am struggling with to fully understand. What I nevertheless got from reading it was for example how creative those Google development teams are with their starting-from-scratch and thinking-outside-the-box approach. It gives me the feeling that Chrome is very different and exciting. Plus, because Chrome is open-source, that creativity can become a productivity input for other browser developers (like Firefox) to improve browser technology even more (how different Google is from Micro$oft!).

One example seems to be Chrome’s Javascript Virtual Machine. VMs are known for their safety and platform independence, but Java VMs seem to have performance and interactivity limitations when it comes to using modern Web applications like Gmail. So the Chrome team built a brand new JVM that makes the Chrome browser run much faster than conventional browsers (through using “hidden object classes”, “dynamic [machine] code generation” and “precise incremental garbage collection” … right 😀 ) .


Fortunately for me Google Chrome (the book) is not just about programming language and concepts. Take its thoughts on user experience.

The first (and intuitively confusing but) very practical aspect of Chrome’s layout is that the tabs are on top of the page – because the tab really is the prime user interface. 

And as mentioned, tabs are independent from each other; they all have their own resources, including their own controls and url box. That makes them fully detachable: you can drag a tab off your Chrome browser and drop onto your desktop, and you have a new browser window sitting there – instantly (do the same in Firefox, and you just get a Windows shortcut icon). That is handy for example when you want to unclutter your browser and especially when wanting to run separately applications like gmail or web2 based office suites (which thanks to Google Gears can be run as separate applications without launching the browser – see further down below).

Tab separation is also handy when used in conjunction with Chrome’s incognito mode: nothing that occurs in an incognito window is ever logged on you computer; no browsing history, no cookies, no trace. While secret illegal activities or porn sites might be some people’s uses for this feature, it’s also handy when you want to keep a surprise gift secret.

Finally, there is no chance in Chrome for those nasty ‘drive-by’ pop ups that sometimes, without your knowledge appear on your desktop behind your browser. Pop-ups in Chrome are scoped to the tab they came from, so that’s where they stay, and they disappear with it. Very nice. But you still are in control: if you are interested in that pop-up, you do have the choice of dragging it onto your desktop.


Another nice user-friendly feature is the address field which the Chrome guys call “Omnibox”. It’s an appropriate name given that it not only remembers the usual previously accessed web addresses but also offers suggestions for unvisited but popular websites, a full text search over your browsing history and it functions as a field for Google Web searches. Omnibox provides ‘inline’ completion and nice little add-ons like the comic below shows.

Omnibox provides another nice functionality: presenting an opening page at browser startup that contains thumbnail images of the nine most visited web pages – a nice way of browser personalisation.

Safety & Security

Well, there’s malware and there’s phishing. Chrome uses “sandboxing” to combat malware. Different processes running on your browser (like using webmail, watching a YouTube clip, using a web2 word processor) are stripped of their rights; they can compute but not write files to the hard drive or read files in sensitive areas. In other words: they are contained within a boundary or “sandbox”. And given we have tab separation, we also have as many “sandboxes” as we have open tabs. Practically that means:

  • no keystroke watching (eg typing of credit card numbers)
  • no interactions with mouse operations
  • no reading of tax returns or other personal sensitive documents
  • no telling Windows to run an executable at start-up

So even if malware scripts might be running in a tab, they cannot leave the “sandbox” and they disappear with tab closure.

Unlike Windows’ three-tier security model (‘high’, ‘medium’, ‘low’), which allows different levels of read and write depending on tier choice, Chrome just sees the “sandbox” and the user. Everything is sandboxed unless the user initiates communication wanted by the visited site and provides explicit access – on a case-by-case basis.

This simple model though has one loophole: plugins. Unlike Chrome (and therefore html and Javascript), plugins aren’t written by Google, and they might run at much higher privilege levels than Chrome. And because there is no standardisation, plugins can’t be sandboxed within the rendering process.

What Chrome does though is to separate them them from that process and give them their own “sandbox”. This not only provides a better level of security but also prevents the whole tab crashing when the plugin doesn’t work. Btw: it sounds like Google is hoping to cooperate more with plugin makers to get them to have plugins run at a lower privilege level which would be even safer.

Even for Chrome, dealing with phishing is of course much less controllable on the browser level – because it’s user response driven. All Google provides here therefore is a continual download of lists of harmful sites; these lists generate a warning when users try to access them (there is also a list of malware sites that does the same thing). Google is also notifying site owners to  clean up their sites when malicious components are being detected.

Google Gears, standards and Open Source

No point talking about Open Source here; the advantages of that approach to making the Net a smart, safe and fair place are obvious. And since I despise Micro$oft’s approach to proprietary development, I think it’s great that Google as a company is not just interested in Chrome but in helping all browsers with their development. (Google of course is not totally charitable, eg it naturally wants for example to capture market share for their own online applications like their office suite, knowing that the Web is the future computing platform; it wants to remain the dominant Web player).

Making the Web a better place through developing Open Source software is where Chrome and Google Gears come in; Chrome attempts to provide better user experience, Gears tries to make the Web better for developers. Gears is a plug-in that extends your browser to create a richer platform for web applications. Some of the API components for example are a desktop module that lets you run web applications on your desktop indepently (without your browser; eg Gmail, Google Calendar) or a geolocation module  that lets web applications detect the geographical location of their users.

There are a number of web applications that use Gears. These applications come from a variety of companies, including Google (YouTubeDocsReaderPicasa, Chrome), MySpace (Mail Search), Zoho (Writer) or Remember The MilkWordPress 2.6 added support for Gears, to speed up the administrative interface and reduce server hits. Gears is supported on Google Chrome and IE 6+ on Windows XP and Vista, IE Mobile 4.01+ on Windows Mobile, Safari 3.1.1+ on Mac OS X 10.4+[15] and Firefox 1.5+ on multiple platforms.


While the Chrome interface is, as mentioned before, clean and simple, there is a lot of complexity behind this Web application. That means a high potential for bugs. And while the Chrome team does say that it is impossible to avoid bugs, given they are human too ;), with Google being the biggest search engine on the planet and therefore knowing all existing websites, having prioritised them all, and having the resources to check them in next to no time, those guys claim that they can test new iterations of their browser for bugs within 20-30 minutes – rather then having to wait for external beta testing. At least in theory that seems to make testing much more effective and efficient.

Where from here …

I gonna start using Chrome for a while to test it – which is pretty amazing given that I thought I would never give up Firefox. I will of course miss my many Firefox extensions, but for speed and security advantages I’m happy to sacrifice them for now. And I will keep reporting on my experiences …

[This post is a summary of Google Chrome, the comic strip book that can be found here; more information on Chrome is available on this Website, including a brief introductory video and links to special Chrome features.]