Category: Websites

Browser hardware acceleration issue?

Browser hardware acceleration is meant to render websites faster by allowing the graphics card (its GPU) to directly display “things” (videos, animation, canvas, compositing, etc.) on the screen. By bypassing software rendering systems, lots of websites seem to render faster. All major browsers jumped on this: Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer and Opera (post of 2008!).

I understand that enhancing the user’s experience while surfing the web is something that can be interesting. Hardware acceleration opens the door to unseen compositions, to new types of animations, to new kind of applications. Directly in your favourite browser.

Comment if I’m wrong but hardware acceleration will not lead to fragmentation of the web landscape. HTML5 seems to be the standard behind which browsers developers are adding their acceleration engines.

However, an issue (from the user’s point-of-view) will probably be that hardware acceleration will still help the emergence of a consumer-only web. A lot of your applications will be in your browser, with your data in someone else’s data center. You want your data safe? You need to trust your provider’s security measures. You simply want your data on your hard drive? I think you’ll have a problem here. But I agree it’s not the technical implementation that will be responsible for that.

First LaTeX Beamer presentation seen in a proteomic conference There is another issue I see with browser hardware acceleration. And it’s very down-to-earth. As you often encounter in presentation with videos, the presentation is displayed via a beamer but not the video (a black rectangle is displayed instead). You can easily disable hardware acceleration in most presentation software (if it’s not disabled by default). But, with hardware acceleration fully integrated in the browser, what will be displayed with the beamer if we have to do a demo of a website or simply when the presentation software is the browser? A page with patches of black rectangles? I hope not.

Why do I blog this? I enjoy reading about the (technical) details of (browser) hardware acceleration. I am very interested in general in all the new developments in IT regarding the use of GPUs and graphics card computational power to solve current issue or allow future developments. But I’m also using these (new) technologies everyday. So I don’t want that technological improvements on one hand turn to cause trouble on the other hand.

Software license and use of end-product

In one of his buzz, Cédric Bonhomme drew my attention on the Highcharts javascript library. This library can produce beautiful charts of various types with some Ajax interaction. The only negative point imho is that it is dual-licensed and all cases deprive you from your freedom:

  • there is a first Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 License: you can use the library for your non-profit website (see details on the licensing page) ;
  • there is a commercial license for any other website.

Now what if we only need the end-product, i.e. the resulting chart, in a commercial environment? What is covered by the license is just the re-use of the javascript library in a website, not the resulting chart. If a company choose to use Highcharts internally to render some beautiful charts and just publish (*) the resulting image, I guess they can just download the library and use it (* by “publishing”, I mean: publish a scientific paper in a peer-reviewed journal, not publishing on its website). On the other hand, no one ever questioned the fact commercial companies have licenses for all the proprietary software they use to produce anything else, from charts to statistical data, just because they publish results with these software as tools. So the “trick” here would be that, by changing the medium on which you display end-results (from website to paper, even if it’s in PDF on the journal website), you can use the free-to-download license, even in a commercial environment, for an article from a commercial company. I’m not sure this was the original intention of Highslide Software.

A new website for Open Clip Art Library

Open Clip Art Library logo A small post to welcome the new website for the Open Clip Art Library (OCAL). The OCAL was created more than 6 years ago and now has more than 24.000 vector illustrations in the Public Domain (in the SVG format that can be read by most graphic software). For me, a major improvement is the direct visualisation of thumbnails. In the previous version of the website, it was indeed painfull to open each result of a search in order to see if the illustration was what one was looking for. I’m using the Library since a few years and I am always amazed at the quality of most illustrations in the science and biology sections (the two sections I use the most).

So, if you didn’t know OCAL or didn’t have a look at it since a long time, it’s worth visiting their new website now!

I can’t read my blog

At least from my office. Sadly true 😉 since one of the rules of my company proxy server bans all URLs with the letters “blog” inside (no blogger.com, blogspot, … websites either). Fortunately, there are a lot of web-based feed aggregators (which are not — not yet? — banned). It also blocks all URLs with the “exe” string so we are not able to visit the Belgian Post website (it uses an URL containing “outletlocator.exe”) ; I didn’t find any bypass yet.

Banned blog by ISA server

Btw, with their message, we know they use Microsoft ISA Server as a proxy …

OpenSocial, a step further towards a "society of social networks"

Since Thursday, Google Code is hosting the OpenSocial project, a group of APIs allowing the development of common software for a certain number of “social networking” websites (e.g. LinkedIn, MySpace, Ning, Orkut, …).

Before Thursday, every programmer wanting to develop a software for social networks had to learn an API, how to write code and sometimes a new language for each of these networks (when these ones exposed a public API!). Now, OpenSocial gives access to the most common functions of all the participating networks. Currently, the API gives access to:

  • the users profile information
  • the networks and friends information
  • events in the network

One advantage of OpenSocial is that it’s based on existing languages (Javascript, HTML and Flash) where other APIs (the Facebook one, to be clear) impose a new language like FBML. Source code for examples is under a free license as well as all the documentation. OpenSocial promises to open the API source code soon (see the FAQ).

Finally, one slowly achieves a true social networks society (federation) where, whatever website/network you are registered, you’ll be able to use the same applications (who spoke of standardization?). Web 2.0, software are coming!

Now, some questions remain unanswered …

  • One day, one can be registered in a network and access other networks without being registered with them (a bit like gateways allow people using one type of IM can chat with friends using another type of IM).
  • What about security, access to data (from outside) and the public perception about this? (see Bruce Schneier’s opinion on Facebook and data control)

I initially wrote this news in French for LinuxFr (see here).

Belgian finance public service website :-(

I was looking for a simple info on the Belgian finance public service website: the address of their office in Liege. I know it’s rue Paradis but I also need opening hours and a general contact phone number. I can tell you this website is really crappy! First, when you arrive on the website, you are overwhelmed by links, info, text everywhere and, of course, the photo of the Finance minister. Now it will take you at least 30 seconds to know where to look. Then, it’s impossible to easily find an address ; I didn’t even find it at all! I tried their “search engine”: no result. Their site map takes ages to load (with no result, of course; it won’t be funny otherwise). When you try to click on most services on the left, you launch a new website, completely different from the main one (still no sign of the address). I guess they don’t want to be contacted …

Well, I don’t give up easily. I tried to send an e-mail to the portal contact address: portal@minfin.fed.be (to ask for the info and tell them about the “user firendliness” of their website). Of course, this address is not usefull at all since I immediately got an anwser: “Delivery Notification: Delivery has failed”. What is more interesting is when you look for the reason (e-mail servers always include some details about errors) … “Diagnostic code: lmtp;522 5.2.0 Delivery failed: Over quota” (emphasis is mine). Two options: 1. they read e-mail citizens are sending but they are temporarily overwhelmed by e-mails -or- 2. they don’t care about citizens and don’t bother to read their e-mails. I think they don’t care about us: I guess no one is actually reading these e-mails and they are accumulating since a long time.

On some webpages, there is a “website coordinator” name: Françoise Gerckens. Of course, there is no e-mail, no form, nothing. It’s also interesting to read their disclaimer: they are not responsible for anything and people cannot complain about what’s there.

Finally, against my will, the old clichés about public administration came back into my mind. They simply are not technologically advanced, is it possible? So I tried a low-tech approach: phone. Of course, I couldn’t find the phone number of the service I want to reach but just a general number in Bruxelles: 02.572.57.57. After dealing with a robot for 2 minutes, I was finally put on hold for at least 20 minutes. After that, without a warning, they hanged up. I phoned again and I met their robot one more time, I waited at least 20 more minutes and they hanged up. A third try? Same results. Now, I’m fed up. They can go to hell, there are no means to contact them!

P.S. I was in the lab so don’t tell me I just have to look at my papers. Anyway, since I already sent my tax papers, I don’t have the contact address anymore.

Mapping cameras in Liege

A lot of publicity is made around CCTV cameras in London (e.g. recently). But surveillance cameras are also invading other cities like Liege. You can be pro or against. The least thing is awareness: citizen should know where they are and how data is used. But nor the Liege city, nor the Liege police websites display a map of cameras. So I decided to create such a map here (in French). Of course, I cannot do everything by myself. If you know the location of some camera, just let me know and I will add them on the map.

Under attack

Short message for spammers: you lose your time trying to add irrelevant comments on this blog since no comment is published before I agree so. Moreover, I activated Akismet spam filter since this morning

… But I doubt spam robots read notices where they put spam comments.

Although I disallowed comments (and even pings) on some posts, I felt something strange this morning: more and more comments had to be moderated on this blog. By default, no comment are directly published. If the comment is relevant (even if the author has a different opinion than mine), I publish the comment (1 click). Otherwise, I delete the comment (another click) and disallow comments and pings (human contributors can still send me their comments by e-mail and I’ll publish them). From 1.50pm to 2.50pm (some minutes ago), I received 153 spam comments. Sorry guys, unless you found a serious flaw in this blog engine, comments will still be moderated by a human who dislike spam.