September 2014 Column – Part 3

Computing at Chaos Manor
Column 369 – Part 3 of 4
September, 2014

The September 2014 Chaos Manor Reviews column continues with this third installment, which discusses Docking Stations, Living with Firefox, and the Bulging MacBook Air.

 Docking Stations

I bought the Microsoft Docking Station for my Surface 3 Pro, and I don’t really regret that, but I suspect that will be the last of the traditional docking stations I will buy. At least I can hope that WiGig will catch on, so that I can get a Rezence inductive charging station I can just lay my Surface Pro 3 on for charging, while WiGig takes care of all the communications within the room. Intel intends to eliminate the rats’ nest of cables behind every desktop PC. And Alex foresees a not too distant time when business conference rooms will have Rezence built in to the conference table.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 docking station.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 docking station.

Precious, the Surface Pro 3 tablet/laptop in the docking station. Note that the angle of Precious, the Surface Pro 3 tablet/laptop in the docking station. Note that the angle of the screen is fixed when the Pro is docked.

Precious, the Surface Pro 3 tablet/laptop in the docking station. Note that the angle of Precious, the Surface Pro 3 tablet/laptop in the docking station. Note that the angle of the screen is fixed when the Pro is docked.

Peter Glaskowsky says “I shudder to think how much it will cost to provide Rezence at every possible seating position around a big conference table.” That’s certainly true now, but plunging technology costs have astonished us before. I do agree that no law says that Rezence will be the actual technology that wins out in the market, but I think it safe to assume that after half a dozen iterations of Moore’s Law we won’t be charging computers, phones, tablets, and whatever we are carrying as personal electronic devices the way we do now.

The Microsoft docking station has some decent features, but it’s priced too high, and once your Surface is locked into it, the screen angle is fixed: be sure you have a table of the right height if you expect to use the Surface docked.

Living With Firefox

I still prefer Firefox to Internet Explorer, although I do generally use Explorer when I’m after Windows specific updates or applications, but Firefox has some annoying habits. One is a tendency to slow down when you’ve used it a lot, particularly if you have kept a bunch of windows open as markers. Over time it takes longer and longer to scroll down a screen, and eventually Firefox becomes annoyingly unpleasant to use.

I keep hoping they’ll fix this, and they certainly send you enough updates. So far they haven’t though, but I have found a way to live with the problem. When it slows down a lot I used to try closing needless windows, bookmarking them into a special section of bookmarks. That didn’t help enough, and my suspicion is that Firefox’s main problem is inefficient garbage collection, possibly associated with accumulation of cookies. Possibly not. In any event, I find that closing Firefox, letting Better Privacy close all LSO cookies on shutdown, then opening the program again, will nearly always correct the slowdowns for a day or so. Whether that’s because shutting it down forces better garbage collection, or because the LSO cookies have been eliminated I can’t say.

LSO cookies are associated with Adobe Flash, and eliminating them may affect some games; the Better Privacy add-on to Firefox allows you to ‘protect’ selected LSO cookies if you want to do that. I’ve never bothered, but then I don’t play games on this machine.

Ian Devlin in response to a pre-pub copy of this says:

“Regarding your Firefox issue, you can actually initiate the garbage collection manually. Navigate to to about:memory and then under “Free memory” there are three buttons: GC (global garbage collection), CC (cycle collection), and Minimize memory usage.

I use these a fair bit, so hopefully it will help you too.

That turns out to work, once you understand the rather arcane Firefox navigation system. The way you “navigate” to “about:memory” is to clear the Internet address bar and type in


I find this counter-intuitive since you’d think that would want an Internet address, but it doesn’t. Doing that does force garbage collection, and speeds up Firefox something wonderful; and if you forget the about arcana, shutting it down and restarting also does the job while erasing all the LSO’s. I’m told that this “about:” scheme for accessing special functions in web browsers dates back to Netscape.

The Bulging Mac Book Air

I haven’t used my Mac Book Air in some time, but it has been well cared for, kept over on its own desk and every now and then carried with me when I expect to have to wait a long time and I want to do some writing. Khaos – she is named for the Greek primeval goddess of Air, a beautiful redhead – is the best production laptop for use in strange environments I have ever had. If I know I can set up at a proper desk or table with a good chair, I prefer the ThinkPad, and I always try to carry him on road trips when I will have a decent hotel room with a writing desk; but even there I often carry Khaos as well because I may have to go to meetings where I must type with the computer in my lap, or on some rickety stand. And besides, Khaos is just way cool.

So imagine my surprise when I went to fetch her to take with me to an appointment at Kaiser, and found she looked like this:

MacBook Air Bulging

MacBook Air Bulging

It looks as if the battery has swollen. Naturally she doesn’t turn on. I’ve lost no data, since I always copy everything important to several places, but there may be some applications I don’t have. Khaos was getting old – some of you will remember my using her at Kaiser when I was getting radiation treatments in 2008 – but she worked perfectly. Until this. Obviously she’s long out of any warranty, but I’ll still take her by the Apple Store when I go to look at the new iPhones and iPads. Maybe someone will have pity on me.

Eric has found several previous accounts of the swelling batteries:

 Video of MAcBook Air bulging battery exposed. Warning: really annoying soundtrack.

Next time I should know better what Apple will do about this, if anything.

 The final installment of the September Chaos Manor Reviews column discusses SD cards, and winds down with the Books and Movies of the Month. Sign up for the newsletter to be notified when it is published.

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11 comments on “September 2014 Column – Part 3

  1. Long time Firefox fan and I do have the same issue with slowdown. I usually use the close and reopen method as well. I’ll try the about:memory next chance. I usually have about 20 tabs open. Addons are Adblock-Plus, Noscript, ColorfulTabs and Image Zoom. Noscript is both a blessing and a curse, you just have to learn to set permissions when needed.

    June of this year I decided to try a Chromebook. For $200 an Acer 720 makes for a great lightweight portable. My 17″ Toshiba is more a luggable compared to this. (I had previously had a 10″ Toshiba netbook that was very convenient but stolen along with my car a couple of years ago). You just need wifi most of the time, not always. I have a cellular hotspot but rarely need it as you can find wifi about everywhere. The dirty secret is I often use RDP apps to access Windows boxes at home and at other places. The truth is it works great. The Chrome RDP requires installing a Chrome app on the server end and setting up pins to access and using the Chrome app in the Chrome browser. Other apps such as Ericom or X2 allow direct access to Windows RDP (of course you must set up DNAT on the router at the server location to get outside access). I use both methods and support many systems this way.

    Following your exploits with Precious with great interest. Of course I’m a follower of yours for MANY years From Byte to the current.

    (BTW is there RSS feed for your sites? Yes I still use that with my client as Thunderbird).

  2. Thanks for the reminder about the RSS feed. I placed a link to it on the right column of the page (in the Information and Links section).

  3. Thanks Rick.

    RSS on View and Mail would be nice also. Only recently have I gone back to RSS but have misplaced all my links (most were getting old anyway). I can’t even recall the agent I used. Oh maybe it was Free Agent.

    • That (RSS Feed for Chaos Manor) was on my list. So it is done now. You’ll see it on Chaos Manor in the Information and Links on the right side of Chaos Manor.
      Thanks for the suggestion!

  4. I find I like Feedly for following RSS feeds. I like its compact list view, for skimming article titles. If you used to use Google Reader, then Feedly is a nice successor.

    Also, more recently, I’ve started using Evernote as my phonePC note taking program. Feedly integrates well with that.

  5. Just tried the “about:memory” on Ten Four Fox, the Firefox variant for PPC Macs, works there also.

  6. Hadn’t seen the new CMR columns until now; I’ll echo the comments in the Part 1 section about Synology NAS boxes; slap in the drives, fire it up, make some basic choices about RAID setup and file sharing, and the thing Just Works. I have a two-bay model (upgrade from a single-bay initial tryout) that I keep files, videos for the grandkids to watch (oh yes, it also includes a well-featured DLNA server standard), and about ten years of photos in. Drive shares work to SMB for the Windows boxes, NFS for the Linux (I run Fedora on my desktop) and IIRC also supports AFP for the Mac. USB 3.0 out the back for adding storage, or making offline backups. Can’t recommend highly enough.

  7. It’s Oct and the Sept column hasn’t been fully posted. What’s the publishing schedule supposed to look like?

    • The September column was split into four parts. Each part is published early Friday morning, so the next one (part 4) will be on Friday the 10th.

      Part 1 started in the middle of the month (Sept), so that’s why there will be two in October. The October column is due to be finished on the 11th of October (Saturday). I haven’t seen a draft yet, so don’t know how it will be divided. I assume that it will be split into at least four parts, so the weekly schedule might still work. I will probably post a teaser of what items will be covered when I get the first draft. The drafts usually take a few days to tweak a bit, as the CMR advisors help with the editing process. After full approval, the first part of the column will be posted within 2 days of the final version. At least, that’s the plan.

      Long-time readers from back in the Byte days will recall that there was a four-month lag between when the column was finished and when it was published. We’ll try to be a bit faster.

  8. Hi Jerry
    I had the same swollen battery issue with my 2008 13″ unibody macbook, the first symptom was that the trackpad became harder to press and eventually as the swelling increased the trackpad stopped working completely and the battery door bulged alarmingly. Of course it was just out of warranty.
    I took the battery out at this point and it wasn’t possible to put it back without force. It should be noted that the battery still held a charge and powered the laptop despite the sudden obesity.
    I took it to an Apple store where they offered a discounted replacement for $100 (actual retail price $129) which I declined. They told me it was working “as designed” by swelling and I expressed considerable disbelief to the resident genius that this could be true.
    Eventually googling this issue I found it to be commonplace and a couple of weeks later returned to the same Apple store, where ther was a different genius on duty and he provided me immediately with a new free replacement battery. There are lots of non-OEM batteries for sale online but many reviewers of such products found them to be distinctly inferior.
    I guess the moral is to politely persistant.
    Great to see the column back, thanks!
    All the best David

  9. I’ve never liked Firefox, but palemoon(.org) is good. It’s built from firefox source, and I use the ‘User Agent Switcher’ addon in the rare case a website refuses to work with it.

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