This Friday: Computer Science as a Profession

13 November, 2013 § 1 Comment

This Friday I’ll be giving a talk to 250 primarily first-year students majoring in Computer Science at Michigan State University. This presentation is part of their CSE 100: Computer Science as a Profession course that students are required to take.

I’m planning on starting with an overview of Mozilla and some of the unique technical challenges that I’ve had to solve. One of the really cool things about working at Mozilla is getting to see and experience up front the wide spectrum of computing problems that are being tackled.

Within the Mozilla community, there are people working on the forefront of research by implementing a new memory-safe and concurrent programming language (Rust) and parallel browser engine (Servo) to finding innovative ways to get people more involved with producing web content (Webmaker).

I will try to record the presentation, but I can’t make any guarantees.

I feel very honored to receive an invitation to give this talk, and I’m greatly looking forward to it. If you have some helpful tips for college freshman, please do share in the comments below.

February 2013 Firefox Desktop Work Week

5 February, 2013 § 5 Comments

Firefox Work Weeks Rock!

Firefox Work Weeks Rock!

Last week I was in Toronto, ON with the rest of the Firefox Desktop team. We met for a week and discussed a number of topics that we want to get moving in Q1 and Q2 of 2013.

On Monday we had a 2013 overview by Johnath where he gave a similar talk that he has been doing at the MozCamps around the world. This was nice for us because it is not often that we get to see how Firefox and Mozilla are talked about at these events (I was lucky enough to attend the MozCamp in Poland in 2012 though).

We also got a deep dive in to the various personas of Firefox users in a presentation given by Bill Selman. Bill talked about there being seven distinct groups that users fall into. These range from “evergreens” to “wizards”, and we talked about what features to add/remove to help these users, as well as how to go about making changes to the software so as not to adversely affect these users.

Photo by DoNotLick, and used under a CC license.

On Tuesday we did an “ideation” activity, also known as brain storming :P, where we wrote down ideas of things that we would like to change with Firefox. After writing these down on post-it notes, we then grouped them together with other like-minded ideas on the wall and named the groups. On Tuesday afternoon we paired up in small teams to try to tackle some of these issues.

I spent Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday focusing on three small projects.

On Wednesday I worked with Dão Gottwald and Felipe Gomes on a simple slow start-up feature. The feature works by keeping track of the previous 5 start-up times. If the average startup time is greater than our threshold (currently 1 minute, with plans to lower it), then we will show a notification bar at the bottom of the browser window.

With help from Matej Novak, we got some nice whimsical text for the notification bar. When the user clicks on the “Learn how to speed it up” button, they are taken to a page on SUMO that can guide them towards a faster start-up time. Not pictured in the below screenshot, but part of the feature, is a second button that says “Don’t tell me again”. Stephen Horlander created the turtle icon.

Slow to Start

On Thursday I worked with Stephen Horlander to see what parts of our user interface can have animation added to them. I wanted to work on a feature that is toggled often, thus having higher visibility. Stephen spent some time looking at transitioning the site-identity information in our location bar, and I spent some time working on adding a transition for the Find toolbar. You can follow along with my work in bug 836867.

A project that I had started a while ago but never finished was a refresh of Firefox’ in-content error pages. I got a few requests to resume that work and on Friday I unbitrotted Blair’s patch for bug 676795. That work is now awaiting Blair’s feedback and I’ll keep working on the bug when I get time.

On Friday night, I went with Paolo Amadini and Marco Bonardo to see the Johnson Report’s concert (starring the Firefox desktop team’s own Mike Conley on the guitar). The concert was at Lee’s Palace on Bloor St, and I must say that Mike and his band had an amazing performance. A funny kicker to the story is that each attendee to the show got a raffle ticket. Paolo, Marco, and I left early to catch the midnight subway back to the hotel and gave our raffle tickets to Mike’s girlfriend. We found out on Monday that she won the guitar! 😀

The Johnson Report

How I fixed the WiFi on my HTC Sensation 4G

23 September, 2012 § 19 Comments

For the past eight or so months I haven’t been able to use WiFi on my HTC Sensation 4G. Every time I try to turn on WiFi I get an error.

I’ve tried all sorts of things to fix this. I upgraded my phone from Gingerbread to Ice Cream Sandwich. I rooted my phone and installed the WiFix Manager app. I read through countless forum posts from other people suffering from the same issues. It seemed like nothing would fix this.

A couple weeks ago I found a work around that continues to work (mostly).

While traveling in Europe, I had my phone on airplane mode so I wouldn’t use my data plan overseas. This was the key for finding the workaround.

To get WiFi to work on my HTC Sensation 4G:

  1. Put the phone into airplane mode.
  2. Restart the phone.
  3. Turn on WiFi.
  4. Connect to the WiFi network.
  5. Turn off airplane mode.

Occasionally the WiFi will cut out and lose its signal. I can fix this by turning the WiFi off and then back on without going through airplane mode.

This now works pretty well, but there are intermittent kernel crashes from the poorly-written WiFi drivers.

I hope this helps others who are in a similar position as myself.

Firefox Performance/Snappy work week recap

3 February, 2012 § 5 Comments

This past week I’ve been in Brussels, Belgium with about 15 people from Mozilla’s performance and front-end teams. This week we focused on what improvements we could make to the Mozilla platform and Firefox.

On Monday and Tuesday we were located at HSBXL, a hackerspace in central Brussels. While at HSBXL, people from the two teams did demos on tools that we can use to measure the performance of Firefox:

Wednesday through Friday we went to another side of town to visit the BetaGroup coworking space. Our first topic upon arrival was a telemetry-athon that Dietrich setup to get together a list of telemetry probes that we could build into Firefox. Telemetry is another tool that we use to measure the responsiveness of various parts of Firefox.

Telemetry probes

Marco (@mak77) worked on telemetry probes for: idle maintenance time; frecency update time; and bookmarks toolbar load time.

Felipe and Marco started looking into switching-tabs telemetry, and have put together an experimental patch to check the results. They will need some deeper checks at the platform level to proceed with this work. Felipe also has been writing some telemetry stopwatch helper modules.

Dietrich spend some time implementing session restore telemetry, as well as making session restore periodic updates work asynchronously.

Neil worked on adding telemetry for measuring the time it takes for new windows to open.

Paolo worked on adding telemetry metrics for private browsing transitions. It looks like this work is stalled while we figure out the status of work being done by an academic group.

I landed telemetry probes that measure how long it takes for the site-identity popup and the Firefox menu to appear.

Thread contention

Marco figured out two possible causes for recent UI hangs due to thread contention. A fix, authored by Paolo Amadini, for one of the causes is on its way to landing and work on the other one is starting. Marco checked some queries possibly causing thread contention with Vlad Djeric.

DOM Storage

On the topic of DOM Storage, we had a great talk about reducing I/O and making it asynchronous. Tim (@ttaubert) is looking in to changing the way that we store the data so it will have faster read and write times.

Other topics

The photos in this blog post were taken by Dietrich Ayala and are licensed as creative-commons sharealike.

Paolo and Marco discussed converting the favicons API to use asynchronous methods.

A lot of work got done while we were in Brussels, and the team got to talk in person with each other which isn’t always so easy to do. I was very happy to get to meet Paolo for the first time, as he has been working on the new Download Manager for Firefox and a person I’ve been in contact with but never seen him before.

How I made my own URL shortener

25 December, 2011 § 2 Comments

Well, this will be a short post (get it?)…

About a month ago, I registered the domain (as well as I set up a simple page on the site that directs users to various webpages/websites about me. I’ve also been using the domain as a URL shortener, but like most lazy developers I chose the simplest and easiest route.

To do so, I uploaded an .htaccess file that does a permanent-redirect to the longer URL. Here is the current state of the file:

redirect 301 /1
redirect 301 /f
redirect 301 /9
redirect 301 /c
redirect 301 /cheevos

To add a new shortened URL, I connect to the server via FTP and append another line.

It’s pretty easy for one person, and it’s nice to have both control over the shortener as well as letting other people know that this is a link from me that can be trusted.

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