CHAOS MANOR REVIEWS
Computing at Chaos Manor
Column 369 – Part 3 of 4
The September 2014 Chaos Manor Reviews column continues with this third installment, which discusses Docking Stations, Living with Firefox, and the Bulging MacBook Air.
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.
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:
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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