Friday, March 25, 2011

firefox4 - where did firefox status bar go

Two things used to appear in the status bar which I used:
  1. Hyperlink destination - when you hovered over a link, the destination was shown in the status bar
  2. Security reassurance - trusty Padlock - to show you that your data was secure in transit.
Both of these things are handled differently.

The hyperlink destination is now an overlay at the bottom left / right* of webpage
( It is nearly the same appearance really, just have to expect it above the line now, rather than in a grey area between two dividers. *If you have 'Find' open in your browser then the hyperlink destination will move from left to the right. Close 'Find' if it bugs you much )

Now about that security (SSL) confirmation, you now look here:

 And the filled area to the left of the https is where you are now to look to check if SSL security is good.

Instead of the padlock in the status bar you now have that clickable area, left of https to check that your data is secure in transit.

And you now see the trusty padlock is shown with the reassuring phrase:
Your connection to this web site is encrypted to prevent eavesdropping

So all is good, but how about if the security is not right (certificate missing or invalid), well here we see that...

Now the triangle with the exclamation mark (bang), is your warning that entering data at this site, would not see you having protection for data in transit 

( Now before you pick up your presidential hotline and call in the issue, let me clarify that this thing is a non-issue. Firstly, you probably would only visit https:// by mistake. Secondly you have no data exchange relationship with and are not about to enter any passwords or date of birth, whatever )
( I just used that site as a convenient example, so time to move on now. )

Note: You will see a button labeled "Get me out of here!" to reinforce the idea that SSL security will not protect any data you send to and from the site you are being warned about.

Why has the status bar gone?

Nothing more than a style update really, some of the other browsers are also trying to leave behind anything that looks a touch 90s. Status bar and Netscape Navigator padlock at the bottom really have been around that long.

Ctrl + /

If you really want that old status bar back, then hit the Control key and forward slash (/) together.

But my addons use the status bar, so what now?

I do use some addons that make use of the status bar, however I suspect those addons will have to adapt.

Right now if you have an add on like Screengrab!, it will place an icon in the what used to be called the 'status bar'.

In time I suspect Mozilla might removing the footer bar feature altogether, and expect addon developers to use the overlay style that Mozilla now uses for hyperlink destination.

For now what used to be called 'Status Bar' is now renamed 'Addon bar', as it is now only used by Addons.

View -> Toolbars -> Addon Bar

Toggles the bar on / off and has the shortcut Ctrl + /

I turned off the Firefox menu whilst clicking about, how do I get the menu back?

Alt + V

Hitting Alt Key and V will get you the drop down menu "View" which you would not be able to access by clicking, when you switch it off by mistake.

Clicking about enabling toolbars or trying to hide tool bars to give you more screen space, it is all too easy to uncheck "Menu Bar".

But is "Menu Bar" really a toolbar? Well you can argue about that, however best just get used to how the menus are laid out.
( Each browser has it's own unique design features, if you dislike enough of them, then change to a different browser. )

Note: In the Mozilla knowledge base entry, a fuller key combination Alt + V + t is given, which gets you directly to the submenu for Toolbars.

For Firefox4 and newer: Hiding the menu will create a 'Firefox' menu drop down automatically at the very left of your tab list.
( This is a handy feature and great for netbooks as a way to have your menus accessible, but without eating into your available screen area. )

Reload button is missing from the Toolbar?

Going back a while, Firefox used to have a dedicated button for "Reload".

The new restyled Firefox has reload at the far right of the Navigation URL entry box.

( Shown in blue just above the word "Reload" in the picture above )

Ctrl + R   is an easy way to "Reload"
F5 will also "Reload" for you

So now you have two keyboard shortcuts and a handy little button at the end of the URL. Plenty of choices of how to reload in the new Firefox 4.

Tabs on Top versus the Traditional "Tabs Below" in Firefox4:

View -> Toolbars and then Uncheck the option "Tabs on top"

Personally I prefer the Traditional "Tabs Below", however it would be a mistake to assume that new users of Firefox will make the same preference choices as me.

When you come to a software product fresh, it can lead to different choices than if a person has been an active user of Firefox1, Firefox2, Firefox3

Maybe having a choice is the right thing to do, so that Firefox is not positioning itself, as being marketed solely to those who have used Firefox before.

F6 is "Highlight the address":

This is a real time saver for me. If I had a penny for every time I had used the mouse to highlight the current web address in the Navigation Bar, then I'd have about 49p from this week alone :)

Want the current web address in your clip? F6 then right click 'copy'

Want the current web address in your clip? F6 then Ctrl + C

This change will not be universally popular as F6 had a different assignment previously (To do with navigating frames within a web page I think).

So why all these changes in style, my Firefox worked just fine as it was?

I hinted before about dropping anything that looked too retro and 90s style.

What has changed in the last few years, is the availability of other form factors.

Now we have more laptops sold than traditional desktops!

Also the netbook and tablet form factors must be catered for.

For netbooks and tablets, screen real estate is at a premium as the screens are usually smaller. Adapting the User Interface accordingly, keeps Firefox relevant, and allows you a seamless browser experience if own several form factors.

So there has and will continue to be discussions along the lines of ...
What is clutter? Now let us get rid of the clutter? Rinse, Repeat

Notes and Further Reading:

According to, right now Firefox4 has been downloaded 28 million times in the first 48 hours of release. Wow!

By adapting to the new User Interface, you are keeping up to date with the new style that many, many other folks are using :)

To put things into context about that download count. If there are 280 million computer users in the world at the start of 2011 (pretty close maybe), then 10% of the worldwide computers just grabbed a new browser just like yours.

In terms of overall market share, Firefox has much more than 10% of course, and you are joining a great community in downloading it.

Addons or Extensions, which exactly are they?

The are Addons as indicated by about:addons, however the terminology needs bringing into consistent form.

The tab selector on the left should read "Get Add-ons" and then "Add-ons" as the first two tabs in the selector show different aspects of the same thing.

Debian and firefox4 shutdown messages in the console:

The main post has ended and what follows is really just a technical note.

The above was just a first time warning, and probably caused by a lag on my system in waiting for firefox4 to close.

I repeat the messages here incase they prove useful to anyone who sees them in a more serious issue.
WARNING: waitpid failed pid:... errno:..., line 237


WARNING: Failed to deliver SIGKILL to ..., line 162

( My Firefox4 version was obtained from )

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

switch to non-OSI says exec

You work in a company that produces great GPL software. A new injection of finance or perhaps some merger / acquisition activity has brought a new executive to the team.

That Exec claims that your financial future depends on switching your codebase, or all future contributions to being a non-OSI license.

Training, Consultancy, Integration, Performance Optimisation:

None of these things require you to actually 'sell' a commercial variant of your software.

There are many 'truly open' CMS software platforms and now many 'truly open' ERP platforms

To suggest that you cannot build a successful business, without first adopting a non-OSI license is just nonsense.

How much does Oracle make each year in Database and Middleware Training?
How much does Oracle make each year in Database and Middleware Consulting?
How much does Oracle make each year in Database and Middleware Integration?
How much does Oracle make each year in Database and Middleware Optimisation?

Buckets, and it has very little to do with the code being open or closed.
It is just that they are experts, with access to the best developers for that database product, and probably do the training, consulting, and integration well.

Open Source Oracle under GPL tomorrow, and Oracle would lose license revenue yes, and they would feel some increased competition in Training, Consulting, Integration, Optimisation, however each of those areas would still be a healthy source of revenue.

A good portion of what Oracle sells these days is application layers that work on top of that database. (Payroll, Human Resources, Financials, Electronic Purchasing, ERP)

Oracle would still make buckets of profit.

Why would Oracle not do this? Because it has Senior Execs that just cannot operate outside of the 'everyone is the opposition, crush the opposition' mode.
( Destroy them or take them over Bob. )

Most of your revenue coming from pure Software Licensing is an outdated model. The winds of change are blowing at Microsoft also, probably getting out of pure Software and into Data, as it's ageing Execs are replaced with modern managers.

Most of the big name 'new businesses' will not engage with the old guard of 'pure Software Licensing' because it is a stacked deck. So they employ young graduates, who can mashup technologies where the apis are royalty free and unrestricted*, to create dynamic systems.

*My interpretation of unrestricted would exclude all of the following:
  • Partial API access with a protected 'Enterprise' variant.
  • Partial grants of exemption from patents.
  • Patent grants to individual partners*
*These usually have NDAs, or other secret negotiation requirements that a 'new business' would do well to avoid.
If company A is negotiating to give your company a patent exemption, whilst excluding company C, think ahead to the days of a weaker working partnership, where you might be the excluded because company C is about to deliver something more shiney.

I have not heard of a single example of the new 'social media' giants using a database from that pure Software Licensing old guard.

Twitter, Facebook, et al are based on database technologies that do not come with a per seat or per socket traditional licenses.
(They need massive scale, and are more likely to use code which they can have a 50% hand in optimisation, than relying purely on vendor expertise.)

In a warehouse sized datacentre, the last thing a 'social media' giant wants, is to have to employ some bod going round, counting 1U and 2U servers to make sure Oracle or Microsoft, get an unnecessary per socket / per seat database license.

As a social media startup, would you want your datacentre raided because some third party vendor funded agent, needs assurance that every 1U and 2U has the right sticker?

But what about Youtube? Wasn't that based on non-GPL databases?

Todays vacancy announcement - Mountain view, CA or San Bruno, CA

Seems that Drizzle, Maria, MySQL are all in the mix for what Google has planned going forward:

An Extract:
Perform benchmarking by understanding merits of the various MySQL forks/distros, choosing through real testing and analysis, then maintaining builds.

Had MySQL been switched to a non-OSI license by Sun, then Drizzle and Maria and Youtube future strategy would not read as it does.
( Google would simply have picked another open source 'winner' to work with, or hired the ex MySQLers after they departed Sun for a new creation. )

Another Extract:
MySQL and Linux experience required. IO tuning experience preferred.
Here MySQL (and derivatives) plus Linux, are both GPL licensed elements of the software stack.

Is there good business in Training, Consultancy, Integration, Optimisation for Drizzle and Maria?

Yes there is and, i suspect, it will be an important element of their business plan in the next 3 years.

If you are an expert in those things, are you going to be able to sell that to Google?
Probably not, Google will just hire you instead.

However there are hundreds of other companies for whom, MySQL purely as an 'upsell opportunity' for Oracle, seems against their future direction.

Future opportunities for Training, Consultancy, Integration, Optimisation, events that might be significant:
  • Drizzle and Maria gain greater acceptance with successful production deployments
  • Oracle end their '3 year commitment' to MySQL original codebase, and set companies on the 'upselling' treadmill
  • Microsoft moving further into Consumer devices, cloud, and data, at the expense of enterprise software.
Source: Nasdaq
Microsoft is spending some 70% of its $ 9.5 billion R&D budget on cloud computing.
It seems clear that the money is now following the new business, rather than the traditional enterprise products such as SQL Server.

Links and Further Reading:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Email reply - Top posting, interleaved, bottom

Folks new to email will probably follow the default style for their mail reader.

Likely to be this...

....or this next example (below) which shows your reply (in blue) on top of
the original message.

The third option, which people learn about just be experimenting, or by reading about email posting etiquette, is 'point by point' replies.

( The official term for what I have called 'point by point' is inline replying also known as 'interleaved' ) 

If you reply style looks like neither of the above pictures, then you already know what I am talking about.

Why do some folks object to 'Bottom posted' replies? (first example above)

Unedited 'Bottom posting' means that if the original message was long and it is quoted in entirety,  then there is much scrolling to get to what you now say in reply.

Editing (snip) and using ellipsis (...) can help the reader of your reply just see again the important bits of the original message, to which the reply points apply.

People object less to both of the styles shown above, when snip and ellipsis are used in this way.

If the person objecting uses a mail client that adopts a different default, then the objection might be nothing other than their own frustration at not knowing where to change the 'reply style'

Why do some folks object to 'Top posted' replies? (second example above)

Early netiquette suggested that 'Top posting' was to be avoided.

On iterative replying systems (mailing lists), it helps to not have the style chopping and changing throughout the thread. If your mailing list is bottom posted (probably), then you should stick with that style and know the 'reply style' option for you mail reader.

In Thunderbird the option is located at ...

Edit -> Account Settings -> Composition & Addressing

and the choices available are ...

Automatically, quote the original message when replying and then, ...
  • start my reply above the quote
  • start my reply below the quote
  • select the quote
  • none of the above (leave the overall checkbox unticked)
The first two relate to the example pictures I gave.
( The last option is for those who prefer to not quote the original message at all. )

Other options 'point by point' (inline / interleaving)

Point by Point is something a mail client can 'assist' with but the actual final form is very ad-hoc and under your manual control.

Use 'select the quote' in Composition & Addressing, to help you bring across something suitable to 'interleave'

and now with 'select the quote' option in effect, your reply brings across (by default), the entire original message and it is 'selected'

Pressing the delete key will just delete everything, and is your easy way of including none of the original message in your reply.

Another useful way is to select the portion of the original message before pressing 'Reply' in the first place. That way you are 'selective quoting' as shown below:

Here I highlighted some of the third line of the original message, and then hit 'Reply'.
My reply has brought in just that small portion of the original message for me to work with :)

Either of the above 'select the quote' ways I described, are how you might begin 'point by point' replying. Adapt your approach as you see fit.

Notes and Further reading:

Being flexible about the style of reply which you accept will prevent you alienating new people you socialise or work with via Email at work or at home.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Energy Options for UK after Fukushima

Given the Japan situation, a knee jerk reaction seems to be that putting Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs) inland is a better option (where the coastal setting would be subject to some intermittent seismic disruption).

Has being 'Coastal' created the Fukushima situation or made it worse?

mainly NO. This is my opinion, and differs from the knee-jerk reaction I had, when I first started reading the headlines. Read on for explanation.

The situation at Fukushima - some cause and effect:

If my reading of the Japanese situation so far is correct (cursory reading) then:

(1) The earthquake effects on the plant where mostly 'indirect', in that, the main damage was caused by the loss of electrical grid power, and the consequent disorganisation in applying backup power systems*.

(2) An engineering failure in the high pressure injection system has left the plant vulnerable to overheating. It cannot restart the water systems which had [ rightly ] executed an 'automatic stop' during the earthquake.

(3) As the situation is now an 'advanced threat', the Japanese response is emergency cooling using seawater. Dangerous? Possibly. Avoidable? Probably not at this stage of management.

*Extract from
Back-up diesel generators that might have averted the disaster were positioned in a basement, where they were overwhelmed by waves.

NPPs in Earthquake zones require:
  1. Redundant cable feed electricity (this is rarely implemented)
  2. Yearly or twice yearly Disaster simulations where main power loss is realistically simulated.
  3. Backup power procedures that are regularly tested and improved, with the involvement of key workers (see simulations above)
The Bloomberg extract suggests 2 & 3 where not implemented at Fukushima, and I suspect 1 was not an implemented feature also.

But what about the Tsunami? Well it did have some effect, it flooded the basement where the backup generators lived. Also it did cause some other damage, however my impression* is this was less of an issue, than the lack of availability of backup generators.

*Engineers on the ground will have input into a report once the immediate disaster situation has been stabilised. Only then will it be made know how much each of the factors contributed to the situation becoming critical.

Coastal or Inland - Earthquake and Tsunami considerations:

International standard (IAEA) distance from active fault of 5km, does not sound very far really. Perhaps 30km or 40km is a figure the International body should be considering.
(Japan would probably have to ignore the 30km or 40km advice due to it's existing site investment, however the guidance might have some influence on future plans.)

Countries tend to always go 'coastal' by default, but there are obvious exceptions (Switzerland)

Engineering is practical to draw cooling water (and carry sanitized 'run off') the 30km or so to natural waterways, so perhaps more countries with moderate to high earthquake risks, could look at those engineering options.

An Extract from a Swiss "Earthquake Nuclear Safety" report:
An important feature of the Japanese earthquake safety concept is that all
NPPs are founded directly on hard rock.


For Japan being Coastal [ and in an earthquake zone ], seems to have been less of an issue, than the loss of grid electricity power, the injection control system restart failure, and the management issues in applying backup power systems.

Another element contributing to the risk in the current situation, is the practice of having 'spent fuel rods' hanging around within / around the main reactor structure.

The NPP managers have two 'cooling worries' instead of just focusing on the reactor itself.

Keeping 'cooling pools' of spent fuel rods in the immediate area of the main reactor, seems an economic practice (cost of transport / covered sealed tunnels), rather than a best practice based on disaster planning.

Strangely enough, having advanced to the situation of a possible overheat, having seawater readily available for pumping in, might prove to be a good thing.
( Whilst it is somewhat untried, and not good for the long term maintenance of the NPP, the seawater might in this case be the best thing about being coastal ) 

The style of Reactor at Fukushima Daiichi and General Electric:

One question I have not addressed much yet, is the question of Reactor design.
  • Japan did not design the reactor that is now having issues
  • The reactor is based on a General Electric (US) export design which was part of a new wave of 'lower cost' design choices pioneered in the 1960s
  • The United States invested heavily in the 1980s in retrofitted upgrades to NPPs using that design.

Some questions:
  • Did General Electric advise it's export partners of the retrofitted upgrades?
  • Is there even a requirement for notifying export partners about such things?
  • Were Japanese power generating companies advised / aware, but chose not to retrofit?

Reflecting on a 1980s quote from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission:
Mark 1 reactors had a 90 percent probability of bursting should the fuel rods overheat and melt in an accident.
Source: - India

In particular Germany has just taken offline all pre 1980s NPPs, as a reaction to the experiences from Japan.

Bear in mind that the German move may well be political, but also, that the position might well be rather different, if Germany exported Nuclear technology.

( Germany does some great Engineering, particularly Space and Aerospace, however Nuclear technology seems to be their bogey. )

Spent Fuel Rods - on the roof, onsite, offsite - the choices:

Offsite, Offsite, Offsite. Repeating might make the message stick!

Taking spent Fuel rods by train, to an inland reprocessing or triage area, is in my opinion the best option.

Yes, the facility would have to be well guarded and secure. Many countries have these facilities and manage them well.

Yes, there is a cost. However in a disaster situation, you are then not worrying about 'reactor cooling' and exposure from 'spent fuel' at the same site.

Disaster management (as the Japanese situation is demonstrating), is much more difficult to get right when you have multiple risks to address.

The practice of keeping the spent fuel on the roof of the main reactor sounds like something out of a comic book to me. (I can only assume that this is a useful technique from a containment point of view).

However it takes back as much as it gives...

What seems like a convenience (in terms of containment), actually creates an opportunity for inertia in moving the now cooled 'spent rods', away from the critical superstructure of the main reactor.

It may be necessary to keep spent fuel onsite for a short time whilst transit is arranged, however there should be a mandatory time limit on this sort of temporary storage.

There is a writeup of thoughts on Japan and the spent fuel situation here [ ]

Would future UK reactors be safe?:

Plans were agreed last year for 8 new UK NPPs

Those designs would certainly not be based on 1960s 'lower cost' designs.

The new designs will have to be robust, and designed with the intention of being primarily MOX fuelled.

Certainly worth reviewing disaster recovery procedures, and ensuring nuclear facilities are required to have 'cooling pools' for spent fuel away from the main superstructure of the reactor.

Mandatory limits on keeping spent fuel rods on site, need to be strictly enforced with random visits from the nuclear safety agencies, and suitable financial and personal liability penalties for those involved in breaching the rules.

MOX fuel - new technology and the blame game

The UK future nuclear plans are to produce and use mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel.

Instead of a 'cost burden' associated with deep earth disposal and/or long term storage, a new approach to dealing with highly enriched plutonium has emerged in the last 10 years.

One attraction of MOX fuel is that it is a way of disposing of surplus weapons-grade plutonium, which otherwise would have to be disposed as nuclear waste, and would remain a nuclear proliferation risk.

It should not be assumed that all reactors are capable of using MOX fuel, and each country goes through it's own review and certification process.
( See this Wikipedia article for the quote used above and the detail of the review and certification process country by country )

New NPPs should certainly be built, with designs capable of, an intake of traditional 'low enriched uranium oxide' plus the newer MOX fuel.

Nuclear material (like Coal and Oil) is not an endless resource. This is why the term 'renewable' is not applied to Nuclear.

Who is using MOX fuel today?
30 thermal reactors in Europe (Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and France) are using MOX and a further 20 have been licensed to do so.
Source: Wikipedia

Delays in agreement for new UK NPPs and how this might be a benefit:

Now that Europe is committed to an urgent review of plans for all new NPPs, the UK can benefit from the oversight this will bring.

Instead of 'convincing' the UK about the safety of the new designs planned for the 8 NPPs, that process will now come in for wider scrutiny.

I feel confident that should the new designs meet UK and European safety regulation, then they will have passed some important tests on the way to future safe operations.

Japan and Disaster relief - a time for compassion

During this article I have been focusing on just one part of the current Japanese crisis.

The bigger part of things, is the tragedy of Earthquake and Tsunami, which has already claimed many lives.

Disaster relief is essential at this time and, hopefully, all countries will do their part in supporting Japan during this time.

Notes and Further Reading:

How do I personally feel about NPPs? I think they are an important plank of our Energy system.

They are not 'renewables'. Neither are they cheap. However it will take another 10->30 years of investment for the 'renewables' industry to be fully developed.

As a worldwide population we seem to have little appetite for, reducing the amount of energy we consume. So in my book NPPs still have a role to play.

Should NPPs be subject to stringent safety oversight, giving 'low cost' options some balance. Certainly.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

web2py, shelve, debian FHS

Debian has a Filesystem Hierarchy Standard (FHS), which aids System Administration (in my opinion)

You can read more about the standard here [ ]

When new packages are added to Debian, one of the things that a packager might do, is to adjust paths (where necessary) to fit with that FHS.

web2py is not a new project, however it is new for Debian packaging.

I am currently experimenting with test .deb files which are being prepared for Debian, so as, to get a better feel for how web2py is likely to eventually install.
( Note: These are unofficial .deb files in their current state, so they should only be installed in a test environment / at users own risk )

Taking into account the FHS it would be really good if the caching (shelve) code here could be configurable.

Having the cache for the 'welcome' application at:


...might be possible with some configuration.

This is just a loose suggestion, as I do not personally know enough about Python shelve, and the dbm setup it uses to actually store a serialization.

If you see an error message like:

ERROR:web2py.cache:corrupted file: ~/web2py/applications/welcome/cache/cache.shelve

then it might just be that there is some setup error, that has made the Python shelve cache not be writeable.
( If you want to look more closely at try catch Python code, then look in web2py.gluon.cache )

Trying the following in a terminal:

touch ~/web2py/applications/welcome/cache/cache.shelve

if you see 'Permission denied', then you might want to look at your config more closely.

Does web2py require Java?

The answer is NO, but what might be puzzling is why you might ask that question.

Here the startup script starts the web2py local server, web2py cron, and then hands off to the system configured browser.

In my case x-www-browser is set to be Epiphany, and those OpenJDK Java messages, are Epiphany being chatty about loading it's Java web plugin.

Notes and Further Reading:

As I write this I am aware that version 1.93 of web2py is now available, and I will tomorrow purge and reinstall to bring my installation up to date with the latest test .deb

Although web2py does not require Java, there are some pages where you might see them mentioned together. Specifically web2py is capable of being made to work indirectly via Jython. However there are reasons why you might want to read up, before experimenting with such a path.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

circuits - Wirral and Liverpool - WBN

Traveling 5km on foot will take you an hour or so when you are unladen, and are merely visiting points.

However if you are touring and chatting then probably double your time.

Click the map above for a clearer view, or instead see it directly in Google Maps at this link.

Click the Wirral map above for a clearer view, or instead see it directly in Google Maps at this link.

Notes and Further Reading:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Inspiron 1525 - overheating running fan

The Dell laptop has been a steady workhorse, and never had any real issues.

It is now 3 years old and it requires a bit of home maintenance.

  • Fan is running more often
  • Regularly hitting 114 Fahrenheit (45°C) which looks a touch high to me
Two paths to success here, Amateur and Professional. These are convenience labels so don't read too much into them, just pick a path and follow.

Professional involves a little bit of preparation. If you are a system builder or a bit handy, then you might already know what Thermal Paste is (get some).
For the Amateur path, don't bother.

Next have a quick read of "Before you start" instructions on the Dell site.

Now have your screwdrivers to hand and,following the Dell instructions, remove the large plastic cover from the back of your laptop (it has 8 screws, no more, no less)

The ball of fluff which has been part of the overheating issue is shown to the left middle of the picture.

Being about the size of the Queens head on a one pound coin, makes it large enough to prevent proper airflow.

This is not the only issue as the following image shows:

Here the thermal paste (trust me) is crusted and hard. It has stopped doing it's job properly from just 'old age'.

Are either of these issues Dell's fault? I don't think so. The fluff ball is just a consequence of extended use. Home maintenance is the answer.

The thermal paste does have a lifespan. I think 3 years is very reasonable, and so am happy to replace this myself.

If you chose the Amateur path, then you will not have any thermal paste to hand.
Removing the fluff ball alone will improve your situation.

However if you have the paste then here is what comes next.

I have carefully scraped off the old crusty thermal paste, and tried to avoid nicking the flat plate area whilst doing that.

Now for the new stuff...

Note: I have chosen not to tinker with the blue sponge type thing on the second darker coloured cooler attachment.
( It looks to be in okay shape and I do not want to mess about unless I have to. )

Postscript: The amount of thermal paste applied in the picture above is WAY TOO MUCH. Try about a quarter of the amount shown or less for better results.
Too much thermal paste might give you higher temperatures by preventing proper contact between surfaces.

Now put everything back carefully, paying attention to the Dell instructions in the link given previously.

What you should find is that, with both actions completed, your running temperature should have come down by 5 -> 10°F (a couple of °C)

This small reduction in running temperature is just enough to put you below the fan threshold, and should help extend the life of your fan :)

Notes and Further Reading:

Always follow the Dell instructions if in doubt.

My advice here comes with No Warranty and you follow it at your own risk.
( Do not ignore the Dell instructions if you feel there is a conflict with what you read here. )
Before the fixes my laptop was idling at 114 Fahrenheit.

After the fixes it is now somewhere between 104 and 109 Fahrenheit on average.

The fan now runs less often, which is nice :)

114 Fahrenheit is about 45°C
       109 Fahrenheit is about 43°C
              104 Fahrenheit is 40°C