Is Internet Explorer becoming the web browser for idiots?

Ever since the bad old days of the Browser Wars in the 1990's it has been a major pain to code up websites that are displayed correctly in different browsers. Right now the pain is spreading like a bad rash, and in order to ensure cross-browser compliance for a website with even moderately rich design elements, one has to test it in all the mainstream browsers: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera. They all have their particular quirks and problems, especially where CSS support is concerned. But it gets worse: right now we have to content with not one but two mainstream versions of IE, to wit, IE7 and IE8, both of which render pages in wildly different manners. With IE9 coming up but still deeply in beta and not running on the still widely prevalent Windows XP, this won't change anytime soon.

And of course if you want to test a website with multiple versions of IE, you'll either need multiple computers, or resort to virtual machines, since running multiple versions of IE on a single Windows installation is, to all practical intents and purposes, a shortcut to insanity. Microsoft's SuperPreview does include the IE6 rendering engine, but for this to be a viable solution it would have to duplicate all the bugs and glitches in all IE versions 100% accurately, which it does not. And to add insult to injury, Microsoft expects you to buy this tool, with of course comes as part of a bundle of stuff you don't necessarily want - not to mention that it is essentially intended as a work-around for the mess they themselves created in the first place. Aargh.

The interesting thing, though, is the current usage figures for IE. According to the W3 Schools browser statistics the overall usage of IE has dwindled to around 30%, but (and this is where it gets interesting) only just over half of that accounts for the current version, IE8. The rest is divided almost equally between IE7 and IE6. In other words, half the IE user community runs a version of IE that is either one or two releases out of date!

This suggests that the IE user community is rapidly being reduced to the clueless and the careless. Which is not surprising, really, but it is interesting to see the statistics bear it out.

How to find drivers for Unknown Devices

Usually, when you buy any hardware the drivers come along with it on a disc. If you lose the driver disc you can always download the necessary drivers from the manufacturer's website. But what do you do when you are not sure of the manufacturer of the hardware? This is quite a possible situation and blogger Vinod Chandramouli provides an excellent trick to deal with it.
Every device has a Vendor and Device id associated with it. If you can find this ID, you can find the manufacturer. In Windows it's easy to find the vendor and device id.
  1. Open Device Manager (Control Panel>System>Hardware>Device Manager)
  2. The hardware whose drivers are missing will appear as Unknown device, so it's easier to locate the device.
  3. Right click on the unknown device and click on Properties.
  4. Under the Properties window click on Details tab and select Device Instance Id from the drop down box.
  5. You should see a code similar to this

  6. The portion of the code highlighted in RED is the Vendor ID and the portion highlighted in GREEN is the Device ID. In this example:

    Vendor ID = 8086
    Device ID = 27DC
  7. Once you have obtained both the IDs, proceed to PCI Database. There you can either search for the vendor from the vendor ID or directly get information about the device along with the vendor name by searching with the device ID.
Great isn't it? Now you will never have to go hunting for correct drivers.

The creativity trigger

Our creative thinking is quite dependent on technology and our connection to others. Take a moment to consider to what extent we are connected: Twitter, Facebook, Dribbble, Forrst, blah blah blah… I don’t have to go on. That connection to the community is something we tap into everyday. We rely on it for knowledge and inspiration.
You are here on my blog reading my personal thoughts on design. If you weren’t here, you’d likely be on someone else’s blog. You might even be looking for a quick inspirational fix and not finding it here, and within milliseconds you’ll be leaving to find that spark somewhere else. Before you leave dear internet traveler, answer me this: Are you looking for that creative spark out here because you can’t find it inside yourself?
“Any one of a million things could fail and cause our complex civilization to collapse for an hour, for a day, or however long. That’s when you find out the extent to which you are reliant on technology and don’t even know it. That’s when you see that it’s so interdependent, that if you take one thing away, the whole thing falls down and leaves you with nothing.” – James Burke

A Creativity Crisis?

There is a creativity assessment1 that was designed by E. Paul Torrance, some fifty years ago. The tasks are designed to measure creativity, where the subject generates as many unique ideas as possible and combines those ideas into what they see as the best result. Something like, “How could you improve this toy to make it better and more fun to play with?” What is fascinating is how well this creativity index, or CQ, is able to predict the creative accomplishments of kids that were tested, and what they did as adults. The kids that did well on the tests ended up moving on to be inventors, authors, and entrepreneurs.
The creativity scores, like IQ scores, have been steadily rising. That is, until around 1990. From that point they (CQs) have started to slowly decrease, while the IQ continues to rise. Although it’s too early to say, some think it’s the amount of time kids play video games and watch TV. Another culprit could be the way schools are shifting to standardize curriculum and focusing on memorization, and not nurturing creativity as much.
Consider the parallels of the potential reasons behind these falling creativity assessment results to what we experience currently in design. We are exposed to so much distraction on a daily basis. Some are needed distractions, others are damaging to our keeping focus on the task at hand. And it’s not just pure distraction, but looking for the quickest design solution.
I hate to bring up the inspirational lists and regurgitated content, but I’m sure as hell going to. How many designers would dare to admit they are not going to these sites to find that spark of creativity? Or, perhaps even find something more specific like a layout or color that might just work for their current client? I would guess a lot. In fact, while researching for a previous article2 I conducted an unscientific poll of designers and found that they spent most time looking for inspiration, rather than reading more in-depth stuff.
The argument this brings up is how much of this is a normal path in design and that everyone steals… oops, I mean, gets inspired by others. I can accept this to a point. It makes sense, since that is how things begin. They are built off of each other.
“You know, the lonely genius in the garage with a lightbulb that goes ping in his head. None of these guys did anything by themselves; they borrowed from other people’s work.” – James Burke

The Creativity Trigger

Science historian James Burke3 introduces us to the notion that the complex technology in our lives would not exist without a web of interconnected events. He rejects a linear path of history and claims that it is more of this group of events made up of a person (or group) acting for reasons of their own, like religion or profit. They have no real idea of the future or big picture. He also says if our world’s technology is created by this is sort of synergy where these events build off of each other, then the number of these innovations and complexities will accelerate and at some point become too much for the average person to deal with. Is that world the one we live in today?
It is interesting looking at it from the perspective of the design community and the amount of blogs that have erupted over the past few years, as well as the social-type sites sharing code and screenshots. Together they are pounding out information daily that none of us are able to physically keep up with. It is logical to think that there was not some big initiative years ago to someday have an extensive design community with so much information coming out daily. It makes more sense that it was individuals or small groups building off of each other after seeing the success of other blogs.
Finding our creativity trigger does depend on the world that surrounds us. We need that to kick into gear our creativity and help make design that is relevant. I’ve read so many “How to Get Inspired” articles, I think I am uninspired from ever reading anything with the word inspired in the title. Looking at other designs is a tough one too. The line between inspiration and stealing is a hard one to draw. Everyone draws it based on his or her own motivation. I think the only way we could really discover our own creativity is to remove the distractions, the poorly informed articles, and stop using the design crack we know as galleries or searching around Dribbble. Turn off everything.

Turning Off the Right Things

Love him or hate him, Stefan Sagmeister4 is an interesting designer. I don’t relate to him on an aesthetic sort of level, and he doesn’t live as much in the web and application design realm like I do. Nonetheless, he has a lot of relevant things to say when it comes to creativity and finding inspiration.
Consider how much we work everyday and the amount of years we do this for. We take this linear path of learning, working, and finally retirement. Well, Stefan felt like his ideas were getting tired and almost copies of previous ideas or of other things that he had seen. He needed to refresh himself (and team) so they could find that inspiration, or creative trigger. He decided to take some pieces of his retirement and pepper it into his working career.
So every seven years he closes his agency taking a year off to explore the world, learn new things, and refresh their creativity. The resulting work I think speaks for itself. I find something like this very inspiring and a simple idea. It is creativity by doing not just seeing it or reading it. It’s not just going outside for an hour and taking a walk. It’s not going to a movie then coming home feeling fake refreshed. It’s really going away and experiencing something completely different. Removing the connection you are so dependent on for your creativity.
For me the overall idea has a lot of merit. Many other companies practice this. Google and 3M give their employees a certain percentage of this discovery time. Although I doubt many could afford to take a year off by any means, I think it would be a good experiment to turn off things like Twitter and not read anything online for maybe a month. Instead, take the time to read a few design books and spend time somewhere else besides staring at a screen searching for a spark that no longer lives inside you. I think by turning off the right things for a length of time that is uncomfortable, we can return to design some amazing things.
Think about it.
1) The Creativity Crisis – Newsweek
2) Connections – James Burke
3) The Dying Art of Design – Smashing Magazine
4) The Power of Time Off – Stefan Sagmeister

Catching up

OK. Where were we?

Let's get the mundane stuff out of the way first. Early spring has sprung. The trees are beginning to blossom here and there, and the bees are out in force. So are the August winds, and because everything is still bone dry after months of no precipitation at all, dust is everywhere. But at least the cold is gone - we've had a relatively mild winter this year, but with a few cold snaps that were downright spectacular: the aging water heater in the car port burst from the cold, and black frost killed off quite a few plants in the garden.

My vegetable garden is an out-an-out failure as a vegetable garden (the sum and total of the harvest was one cabbage the size of a golf ball) but as an experiment intended to find out what's what in this garden, it was a success. I now have learned that the veggie patch is useless in winter because it hardly gets any sun at all; that the soil is useless, and that the weather is something to be reckoned with. Five minutes down the road is a large(ish) estate where they have horses and vineyards, which means the soil is excellent (the gray/black stuff that I need, rather than the reddish clay that I have) and manure is available in abundance. What this garden needs is a load of crap, and new soil for the veggie patch, both of which will arrive shortly. :-)

I have sown most of my herbs in seeding trays - but being penniless, I used the plastic trays that my local supermarket sells tomatoes and other fruit and vegetables in. Which is fine, except that I now have the nagging suspicion that some of them may have been treated with some kind of fungicide to keep fruit from molding - and incidentally my seeds from germinating. So far some of it (dill weed, leek and thyme, for example) has started to sprout, but coriander, chives, parsley and basil have been in there for over three weeks now without any sign of life... except for two or three runty green pinheads in the center of the tray. Fortunately I haven't put all my eggs in one basket seeds in one tray, so I've re-sown some of that stuff in real seeding trays (i.e. ones sold for that purpose) that I managed to borrow.

The garden needs a lot of work. First, as soon as I have a bit of money to buy a few simple plumbing fixtures, I'll put in an irrigation system. Not the fancy stuff that you buy at garden centers; I'll make my own. :-) Then there's the usual cleaning upping to do after the winter. In spring the pine trees start growing new needles, and the old stuff is coming down like rain - along with green clouds of pollen, because how they're blooming and everything gets covered in this green stuff. :-) Then the grass needs some fertilizer, but that will have to wait until the growing season starts again. I'm hoping to get rich later this year and start building a garden shed, and some outside lights for the patio, and maybe an umbrella there and an electrical outlet, so that I can work outside in summer. We'll see.

Work-wise, things are quiet. A few weeks ago I did a small website for a deep sea fishing charter company in Shelly Beach, just south of Durban. It was a referral from a friend who has family there, which meant I could get a ride out there for free. They fetched me at four in the morning on a Friday, we drove out there, arrived just past noon, had a meeting, I made the website, and on Sunday afternoon we drove back. It's not great money but it all helps, and maybe it will generate some more business in that part of the country.

My permanent residence permit is still in the works - and the wheels turn slowly here. My police clearance is in, having been delayed by several months due to the Soccer World Cup games, and now I need to get another affidavit from a chartered accountant and a company valuation, I need to draw up a revised business plan, and I need to make a case for the fact that I'm not hiring large numbers of Africans and otherwise creating economic opportunities for the downtrodden masses.

Well, at least that last bit is easy - the downtrodden masses have once gain risen up in their might, with the soccer world cup out of the way and the eyes of the world safely turned elsewhere, and once again demanded more money. They do this at least once a year, for no specific reason other than that they want more, and more again, with quite arbitrary demands. This time it's the public sector again, and strikes here mean violence and vandalism. Striking hordes march through towns and across highways, overturning rubbish bins, breaking windows, setting fires, and wreaking general havoc and destruction. Striking hospital workers intimidated their working colleagues, dragged a nurse out of the operating room during an operation, and at least seven patients have died so far, including babies who were left without food or care all day long. Even emergency patients are denied care. And it's not just hospitals - similar atrocities happen in other sectors: government offices, schools, municipalities, and what not.

But at least we still know about all this. That may soon change... because the constitutional freedom of speech is about to be abolished in South Africa. The ANC is about to sign into law two draconian proposals intended to muzzle the free media in South Africa, following a spate of publications in the media on the excesses of various ANC heavies, including systematic abuse of power, conflicts of interests, hijacking of government tenders, nepotism, corruption, fraud, embezzlement and outright crime. These "fabrications" and "obviously false allegations" have outraged notonly the ANC, but also the ANC Youth League and the SA Communist Party (SACP); with an uncommon degree of co-operation they have labeled the media a threat to democracy, and accused some of the more daring investigative journalists of treason because their "lies" have "undermined security in the presidency" and constituted "a direct attack on the State and its people". At least one Sunday Times  reporter has been arrested. Meanwhile the new Protection of Information Bill is about to be summarily signed into law, which will give the government the authority to keep under wraps whatever they want, in what is nothing short of a revival of Apartheid-era secrecy and censorship, and a Media Tribunal which will adjudicate over "wrong reporting by all media". Guess who will decide what constitutes "confidential information" and "wrong reporting"? Exactly.

So my long silence in this weblog might be a taste of things to come...

Freedom of speech and freedom of press aren't the only things that will go out the window when the Protection of Information Bill comes into effect. It will also seriously hamper (or rather, defeat) attempts to hold the ANC and its members accountable for their actions. In fact it will make it virtually impossible for anyone, from the Public Protectorate to the Human Rights Commission to the Directorate of Public Proscecution, to adequately respond to any lawbreaking committed by the ruling party of its top figures. All the ANC has to do, as soon as embarrassing questions are asked or condemning evidence surfaces, is to declare the Bill applicable to whatever issue is being raised, and the whole thing will immediately disappear behind a screens of secrecy, not only safely out of view of the public, but also out of reach of any judicial representative, right up to the high court itself. How convenient.

Maybe it's time we all learned Chinese...

A true gem for creationists

The temperature of Heaven can be rather accurately computed from available data.

Our authority is Isaiah 30:26, "Moreover, the light of the Moon shall be as the light of the Sun and the light of the Sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days." Thus Heaven receives from the Moon as much radiation as we do from the Sun, and in addition seven times seven (49) times as much as the Earth does from the Sun, or fifty times in all. The light we receive from the Moon is one ten-thousandth of the light we receive from the Sun, so we can ignore that. With these data we can compute the temperature of Heaven.

The radiation falling on Heaven will heat it to the point where the heat lost by radiation is just equal to the heat received by radiation, i.e., Heaven loses fifty times as much heat as the Earth by radiation. Using the Stefan-Boltzmann law for radiation, (H/E)^4 = 50, where E is the absolute temperature of the earth (~300K), gives H as 798K (525C). The exact temperature of Hell cannot be computed, but it must be less than 444.6C, the temperature at which brimstone or sulphur changes from a liquid to a gas.

Revelations 21:8 says "But the fearful, and unbelieving ... shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone." A lake of molten brimstone means that its temperature must be at or below the boiling point, or 444.6C (Above this point it would be a vapor, not a lake.)

We have, then, that Heaven, at 525C, is hotter than Hell at 445C.

                -- "Applied Optics", vol. 11, A14, 1972


Let's have a quick look at the main goings-on in South Africa. I haven't done that for a while, because it was too depressing. I guess I was right to avoid it.

The enfant terrible of South African politics, Julius Malema (a regular in these posts and known for his many dodgy dealings with government tenders) has thought of something new. After trying to revive the struggle against Apartheid, attempts to copy Robert Mugabe's way of handled the Zimbabwean economy, and an ongoing campaign to nationalize all assets that contribute to the South African economy, he now claims that the oppressed masses of South Africa are being looted by banks, "which are all owned by white males". He also believes that nationalization of the mines could pay for university education. Riiiighhtt... Ehm... Which planet did you say you're from, Julius?

A new batch of proposed changes to the Immigration Act will soon force me to jump through even more difficult hoops. Foreigners will now personally have to visit offices of the department of home affairs or a foreign embassy to apply for permits to enter the country. Read: you will no longer be allowed to go through an intermediary such as an immigration service company or an attorney or lawyer. Needless to say, this is an unmitigated disaster. Most Home Affairs offices are in a terrible state, and one can expect to stand (not sit) in queues for literally days on end - I once spent a total of four whole days standing in the Home Affairs office in Germiston just to get a three month extension on a three month tourist visum. Also, it will make "no difference whether the applicant is the chief executive of a multi-million rand company or a student wanting to study in South Africa". In other words, if Bill Gates or Richard Branson wants to come and work in South Africa, he must stand in line with several hundred hopefuls (none of which have had a shower recently) from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Mozambique, Cote d'Ivoire, Somalia and who knows where else. Well... if that doesn't encourage them to invest in the South African economy, I don't know what will... :-(

With the Soccer World Cup over it's now time to pay the piper - as we all knew (or should have known) was going to happen. The Green Point stadium in Cape Town, built to the tune of 4.4 billion Rand because FIFA didn't consider the existing stadiums fancy enough, will cost R46.5 million Rand a year in maintenance, management and operational costs. Because the stadium is "underutilized" (read: it's just been sitting there since the soccer final a few months ago) there's no way that the stadium will generate enough income to cover even a fraction of that, and there are no commercial parties interested in leasing it - the last one just pulled out. So it will be up to the tax payer to finance the ownership of these white elephants - because the Cape Town stadium isn't the only one. The stadium in Nelspruit, for example, hasn't seen more than a few soccer matches and (if memory serves) one minor sports game in the week following the final, and the lights haven't been on ever since. In fact some stadiums have already started to fall somewhat into disrepair.

As usual, South Africa is a circus... and the biggest clowns are in charge.

Failure by design

Most days we stay in a safe zone with our work. In fact, it’s built into our thinking and how we process decisions. It’s called loss aversion.
Losses feel worse than gains feel good. Rationally we should treat losses and gains the same. But that isn’t the way we are built. Consider how people make decisions when buying and selling stocks. Most people will sell stocks that go up in value, but they will tend to hold onto stocks long term that are going down in value. Selling the losing stock will make the loss tangible and the feeling of that is much worse to deal with. No one wants to lose. It’s painful.1
We hold onto design directions on projects that seem to be going poorly, hoping that they might turn around. To stop and scrap it all would be admitting that you, as a professional, made a mistake and wasted the client’s money. Starting over is hard after a loss. So we build up boundaries to avoid it. Time is a precious commodity and we can’t risk losing time by taking our design too far into that unknown place. We find ourselves sticking with what is doable, acceptable, and that works every time.
Failure and loss can be good. If you aren’t finding failure in your design work, then you aren’t really exploring all the possible solutions.

Learn How to Fall

In the book “How We Decide,” Jonah Lehrer describes the things that affect our decisions and how we learn. He explains that the neurons in the brain are always trying find certain patterns. So, when it thinks it has figured out a pattern, and then gets it wrong, the neurons in the brain create something called a prediction error signal. It’s actually a learning signal. The brain is all about efficiency and is constantly trying to shrink the gap between what it expects and what actually will happen. The brain learns by making mistakes. It learns from the things that we get wrong.2
If you have children, or have ever seen a child learn to walk, you can see the process of loss and learning firsthand. There are a lot of banged up little knees and bumps on heads, as well as a good amount of tears. These are good things though. Every fall is growth. Every missed lunge to grab the couch teaches them a little more about identifying that distance.
However, if a parent were to stop their child from falling to avoid “failure” this would not help. She wouldn’t know what to avoid doing. Because basically whatever she did would be “successful” in the sense that she would be protected from falling. If she did fall in the future (which she would) it could be much worse. She wouldn’t know how to fall.

Lego Designers

I remember getting a big bucket of Lego’s for my birthday as a kid. This was more than a gift, it was a box of unlimited possibilities. Fast forward to today, and you’ll find most Lego’s come in a kit where the pieces are made to build a specific thing. Basically you build exactly what is pictured on the package using step-by-step instructions. This exactly what we find in design today. Lego Designers rely on recipes for success in their work. This might come in the form of a tutorial for a specific design, or simply imitating another website/app design to guide their work.
You can’t skip the failures and jump to success without losing something important. The thinking that goes into design is a hidden layer. If you don’t know why someone made design choices, you can’t really copy it. You can try to get there, but it will not be as successful for you as it was the for the original designer. Jason Fried of 37 Signals writes in his book “Rework”:
“You can steal someone’s words, images, or code instantly. And that means it’s tempting to try to build a business by being a copycat. That’s a formula for failure, though. The problem with this sort of copying is it skips understanding — and understanding is how you grow.”
The problem with being a Lego Designer is that it causes a sort creativity atrophy, where the problem-solving part of your brain shuts down from lack of use. There is no understanding from failed design choices. The only path of thought the mind has is to seek out an easy answer. At that point we just hope someone else has the exact design problem we have so we can cut-and-paste our way to success.

A Googol of Iterations

The articles on how to be a better designer focus on success and not on avoiding or dealing with failure. There are hard and fast rules to abide by. If we added up all the design advice and rules for success on every blog or in every book, we’d end up with a lot of boring and terrible design. This is why we find little success in things like a design by committee situation. Every voice is heard. We avoid upsetting individuals. Conjecture, politics, and personal taste together create a terrible solution.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the minutiae of avoiding any kind of loss and building up fail-safes along the way. Thinking like this causes additional pain adding more people to the decision making process or testing many many versions of the same detail to avoid a larger loss. When Doug Bowman left Google he wrote a post about their approach with design and avoiding the wrong choice with something as small as a color. They had it down to a science:
“Yes, it’s true that a team at Google couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’re testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better. I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that. I’ve grown tired of debating such minuscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle.”

Failure is Research

In essence, failure is research. This goes for design and user experience too. We learn from what we get wrong. Through the many iterations of design we can begin to find the patterns that work and those that don’t. A failed design is exactly what it sounds like. It doesn’t work. It misses the mark. It confuses the user. It takes too long to load. It just isn’t the answer. It’s all good research, though.
“I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.” — Ben Franklin
We can also find surprising success in our failures. Instagram is a fun way to share photos. You aren’t just uploading a standard photo, though. You get to customize and change the look of the photo with filters. You might make your photo look like it was taken with a LOMO, or, was stuck in a shoebox for a decade or two. If you think about it, those options were created through failure. No one wants their photo (normally) to have poor lighting or to fade. Those things happened when the technology for taking pictures was not where it is today. That failure of an image to hold its color for years is now a selling point in the Instagram experience.
As designers we need to embrace failure and find the success in it. Getting “bad” user feedback on a website or application that we worked on is good. We now know what to fix or adjust. We have to become comfortable with iteration and show our clients how to look at this as part of the process. If we waited until every idea is full baked, we would never present any solutions. Failure is not an end result if we have purpose and intention. It’s only a marker along the road to designing great experiences.
1) Loss Aversion – Jonah Lehrer on Science Blogs
2) How We Decide – Jonah Lehrer on
Image Credit: “Fail Whale” by Yiying Lu

19 free web based instant messaging services

Instant messaging is a popular form of communication among net users, because it's real time and fast and perfect for a quick short message. But because it's also a favorite time waster in schools, colleges and offices, instant messengers are often blocked in such places. So came web based instant messengers. Web based messengers allow you to chat with your buddies directly from within the browser, without installing any IM client, thus effectively bypassing the block. Web based messengers are quite popular among students and workers, in fact, it's become so popular that now many of these services too are blocked in schools and offices. That's why you need to know plenty of such websites offering this service. Here is a list of 19. You will find at least a couple of them available at your office/school/college.

1. Meebo is one of the original Ajax-based web instant messaging program which supports multiple IM services, including Yahoo! Messenger, MSN, Google Talk, AIM, ICQ  and Jabber. Your network administrator probably has this one already blocked.

2. Yahoo! Messenger for the Web is a Flash based Yahoo! Messenger program from Yahoo!. Except the "Join Rooms" option, most of the options you find on the desktop client, you will find on this service. Yahoo! Web Messenger also allows you to chat with friends on MSN.

3. MSN Web Messenger is the web based version of MSN Messenger that has all the basic features necessary to chat with your friends on the MSN network.

4. MessengerFX is another web based service for the MSN network.

5. AIM Express allows you to login to the AIM network. It has sound alerts for new messages and even allows you to send SMS text messages to a cell phone.

6. ILoveIM Web Messenger connects you with MSN, Yahoo, AIM and Google Talk network. It also supports chat conferences.

7. eBuddy supports MSN, Yahoo, AIM, GTalk and MySpace network. eBuddy can also be accessed from your mobile phones, iPhone and PDAs. It supports chat conferences too.

8. KoolIM supports a wide range of IM networks including Yahoo, MSN, AIM, ICQ, Jabber, GTalk, Xfire and a few others. KoolIM does not require registration to use, but signing up for an account enables you to save your network IDs.

9. kk UR ok is for chatting and flirting, as they put it. It allows you to login to the Yahoo, AIM, MSN, ICQ, GTalk and Jabber networks.

10. Mabber lets you chat with your AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, Google buddies and also send messages. Registration is required to use this service. Mabber is also available in your mobile phones.

11. EasyMessenger supports MSN, ICQ, AIM, Yahoo! and Jabber networks. Registration is required.

12. Soashable is an open source ajax-based instant messaging service that supports the MSN, AIM and Yahoo network.

13. ImHaHa allows you to login to Yahoo, MSN, AIM, QQ and ICQ network. You can create an account on ImHaHa and migrate all your existing account on various network which will enable you to login to all networks with a single login. It supports chat conferences.

14. radiusIM supports all the major networks: MSN, AIM/ICQ, Yahoo, and GTalk/Jabber. After your register and login to your account, you need to choose your location. Your friends will show up as a list and also as pictures inside a map. People whose location you don't know are shown  around the map. You can drag or zoom the map to a new place to see new people from that area, something like Google maps.

15. IMunitive is another web based messaging service that connects you to the MSN, Yahoo and AIM network.

16. is yet another simple web based messaging service that supports MSN, Yahoo, AIM, ICQ, Google, MySpace and Skype network. This is the only web based service supporting Skype.

17. Instant-t Messenger is a relatively recent service that allows you to chat with your Yahoo, MSN, AIM, ICQ and Google talk buddies. Instant-t Messenger is also available as a desktop client supporting all of the mentioned protocols.

18. Communication Tube supports four IM networks namely ICQ, GTalk, MSN Messenger and IRC.

19. Centova Online requires you to sign up for their service. After logging in you have to add contacts from MSN, AIM, Yahoo, ICQ and Jabber network that requires a few extra steps. Personally, I didn't like it.

Oh IE, how I hate thee

Now that I have a little work again, I am immediately confronted once more with the nightmare that is Microsoft Internet Explorer. Right now I'm struggling with a website that looks fine in Firefox, Chrome and Safari, but gets stuffed up in three different ways by IE. In IE7 there are gaps between images everywhere, in IE8 there is a huge space right over the top menu, and in the same IE8 but now in "compatibility mode" (which artificially re-introduces some of the bugs of IE7, but not all of them and not in quite the same way) things break in a different manner still. While I think one can get away with ignoring IE6 by now (mad dogs and Englishmen not withstanding) my biggest concern is IE9, which will only run on Windows Vista and Windows 7, both of which I have no intention of installing on any of my systems ever if I can possibly help it.

So. The old nightmare is once again compounded by an ongoing proliferation of IE versions, none of which have the same bugs but all of which have their own quirks in plenty, which not only requires testing of each web page in all versions of IE and cumbersomely working around the many quirks and brain damage in that particular version, but also often necessitates different versions of style sheets, scripting and what not for each version! And of course you cannot run multiple version of IE (at least not as proper, "clean" installs) on the same system - unless you're willing to put up with multiple Windows versions in separate Virtual Machines, which sucks more than any vacuum ever abhorred by Nature.


No!!! I did NOT forget my password!!!

Windows XP has many structural shortcomings - it is inherently unstable to a degree, it is quite fragile, its DLL subsystem and registry are a disaster, and the upshot of all this is that simply installing an application can break the entire system beyond repair. But while these are serious issues, they are not my main source of irritation with Windows XP. No, my main (and most frequently recurring) annoyance with XP is its log-in system.

Whenever you mistype your password, immediately a text balloon pops up and sneers at you, "Did you forget your password?"

NO!!!! I did not forget my password! I just made a typo! Why in the name of all that's holy must you immediately assume that I am yet another moron and sneer at me for being an idiot who cannot even remember a simple password??? AAAAARGHHH!!!

Let's hear it for a strong South African tradition!

Recently I have been exposed to another part of South Africa's great cultural heritage. It's called mampoer, and it's much like the alcoholic equivalent of a hand granade, coated with a thin layer of sugar.

The origins of mampoer are somewhat lost in the mists of time. Just about everyone claims to be the inventor of mampoer, from white settlers to descendants of the first peoples lving on the continent. Personally I suspect that mampoer was mostly discovered by, or at least thanks to, elephants. When the fruit of the marula tree, which is indigenous to Southern Africa, ripens, it quickly starts to ferment. The sweet odor given off by the fermenting fruit attracts elephants (and also baboons) from miles downwind. They feast on the fruits and occasionally eat so many of them that they become intoxicated, especially the baboons. (It takes a lot to intoxicate a three ton elephant.)

This was not lost on the people of Southern Africa, who used the spontaneous fermentation of various fruits to brew various mildly alcoholic drinks.  Then the white settlers moved in, armed with a knowledge of distilling and a religion involving a deity who changed water into wine and not the other way around. It was about then that mampoer was born. The principle is simple: you take a large vat, fill it up with fruit, mash it up, and leave it for two weeks or so (judging how long it should be left to bubble is a bit of an art - too short and you don't get much alcohol; too long and it all goes bad). The fruit will ferment spontaneously, and all you then have to do is distill it. The result is a very fruity and very potent brandy, known as mampoer in Transvaal and as witblits ("white lightning") in the Cape.

Mampoer is produced and distributed somewhat discreetly, so as not to upset John Law, and comes in many different varieties. The variation is mostly due to the difference in fruits from one season to the next and one area to the next, as well as the climate during growth and fermentation, not to mention regional influences on the spontaneous fermentation itself. In short, no two batches of mampoer are ever alike - except by sheer coincidence. It also comes in a variety of strengths, typically from 50 to 65% or so, but occasionally even stronger - much  stronger. (The varieties stronger than 50% are not really meant, or recommended, for imbibing undilutedly!)

So. I have obtained, as part of a deal I will not discuss, from a source I shall not mention, a few free bottles of 50% Fig and Mulberry mampoer. And I can report, ehm, I mean, I have been told, that it puts you to sleep very nicely. :-)

More than anything else, though, I wish I could have let my grandfather taste it. He's spent most of his life as a master distiller of the well-known Dutch gin (properly known as Genever or Jenever) and he would have found it very interesting indeed.

So.. here's to you, grandpa. Cheers!
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