Icons, feedicons, and favicons

A long time ago, when I first started dabbling with Windows programming (Windows version 2, for the new 286 machines!), I first learned about the .ICO file. These files provided the icons that represented your programs. Of course, the interesting thing about the file format was that it wasn't a single graphic, like a .GIF or .BMP file, but a container for one or more graphics.

Fast-forward to today. Every time you visit a website, using a reasonably modern browser like IE6 or Firefox, a little 16x16-pixel icon shows up next to the URL for the site, and that same icon often ends up in other places, like your bookmarks. This is generally known as a favicon, because it was originally introduced by Microsoft around the same time they decided that bookmarks should really be called favorites, much to the dismay of spelling teachers in the UK. Anyway, it turns out that the file needed on a website to make this particular magic happen is, as my foreshadowing may have indicated, a .ICO file.

Now, as the web progresses and morphs, one of the most important concepts to come along is that of the feed. Rather than surf to a bunch of different news sites, blogs, and boobie galleries web comics to see if there's anything new to peruse, sites provide feeds — basically, a place on the website that a computer program can look to see what's new. Then, such a program, called an aggregator, can provide a central place to see today's web at a glance. Aggregators can be installed programs or web-based. I use a web-based one called Bloglines.

You may think I'm rambling a bit, but the topic is still icons. You see, the Firefox browser understood that feeds were important, and provided a special icon to show whether a web site had a feed available. By default, when clicked, it would create something called a "Live Bookmark", but you can install a Firefox extension (and I have) which will add the feed to Bloglines for me when I click. This icon is known as a feedicon. Now, Microsoft has a new version of IE coming down the pike, and they've gotten the feed religion as well. In an unprecedented show of good sense, Microsoft has decided to use the same icon as Firefox.

To capitalize on this lining up of the planets, a website has been established to crown this icon as the standard identifier of feeds: feedicons.com. Now, I thought this was a good idea, and wanted to use the standard icon over on my left sidebar here in Blogger land. So, I wondered. Will the HTML IMG tag work with a .ICO file? If so, all I have to do is reference the favicon of feedicons.com!

Well, I've done so, and it works with Firefox 1.5, at least. Please let me know if you see the little icon next to the "XML (Atom)" over on the left.

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Bush law-flouting makes techies speak out

There's a website called memorandum.com, that keeps track of what topics bloggers are writing about. They keep it segregated into two sections: Politics and Tech. Watching this site recently, an interesting phenomenon emerged. The general topic of President Bush's secret authorization of domestic spying without warrants was fairly active on the Politics side, but absolutely exploded on the Tech side! I think I can understand why, too. My personal blog here would usually be considered a tech blog. I'm a geek and I write about the geeky things I like to do. But even I posted about Bush and the NSA.

Maybe it's the cryptography background. I was a crypto programmer for a few years, and maybe that makes me pay just a bit more attention to what the NSA is up to. Another associate of mine from those days is the always-good-for-a-security-soundbite Bruce Schneier. Bruce has weighed in on the issue as well, giving some important historical perspective in his blog post Schneier on Security: Project Shamrock.

Maybe I'll start writing other people's Congressmen. I dunno -- we gotta do somthing here.

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A letter to my Congressman

Perry Metzger, a bright man whom I recall from my days years ago as a crypto engineer, wrote the following editorial piece on the Cryptography Mailing List: A Small Editorial About Recent Events. In case you don't follow links, it's about President Bush's unapologetic admission that he has been authorizing domestic surveillance without court orders for years, and that he intends to keep doing so. This outraged me when I first read about it, but the news often outrages me and I do nothing about it. Perry's editorial struck a nerve. He's right, we all should be doing something about this one.

So, I wrote my first-ever letter to my long-time Congressman, Bill Pascrell. It went like this;

Congressman Pascrell,

You've been my Congressman for an awfully long time, and I've always
admired the job you do, and have never felt the need to write to you
before.  Today, I feel I must, even though I expect you are already
feel as I do.

I'm contacting you in regards to President Bush's recent admission
of surveillance of U.S. citizens without benefit of warrants or court
orders.  This is clearly a violation of the law (U.S. Code 50 USC 1801
- 50 USC 1811), and the President must be held accountable.  Please do
whatever you can.  The rule of law is the most important precept in our
republic, and no one can be allowed to ignore it, no matter how noble
the reason.

Thanks for your attention.

Jim Russell
Nutley NJ

I'll be following up with letters to Senator Lautenberg and Senator-in-Waiting Menendez. I realize that having a Democratic Congressman and two Democratic senators make my letters a bit like preaching to the choir, but I want to make sure they understand the level of anger and fear that the President's actions have instilled. There were plenty of legal methods to accomplish what he wanted. No one, especially the President, should be able to ignore the law.

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Google's Blogger Web Comments: Legal bugs, coding bugs?

In the posting Getting to Know You, Tristan Lewis speculates on Google's motives for providing their new Firefox extension, Blogger Web Comments. The analysis makes a lot of sense, and is probably close to the mark. I'm glad someone is reading the License Agreements for me.

I had already installed the extension before reading the post, and probably would have taken the risk of keeping it installed for a while. However, I've recently been having runaway memory problems with Firefox on my Debian GNU/Linux system. At first, I had attributed it to upgrading to the latest "firefox" package in the Debian Unstable repository. Then, it struck me that it was quite possible that Google's extension was to blame. The timeframe seemed right — the swapfile thrashing and glacial response in Firefox has only been happening for the last few days.

So, I've uninstalled the extension. So far (a couple of hours), no more runaway memory problems. I tend to believe that the Google extension was the culprit. If the memory problems come back, I'll update the post and try to lay the blame elsewhere.

UPDATE: The Google extension has been exonerated. Firefox caused another memory-eating episode today, with the extension removed. In the meantime, Debian Unstable has moved their "firefox" package from the repeating-decimal version 1.4999... to version 1.5. I've updated, and now I wait to see if anything has been fixed. You know what would be nice? If Debian's package-management system would show some sort of changelog.

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