Firefox Extensions I’m Using

It’s the extensions that really make firefox, but unfortunately they’re gone when you change to a different PC. While in the process of rebuilding firefox on a different PC, here are my favourite extensions I’ll be installing. They should all be available from http://extensionroom.mozdev.org/.

Must-haves: These two tools dramatically increase browsing performance

  • Tabbrowser Extensions – Powerful tab-based browsing. The page says TabMix should now be used instead, haven’t checked it out.
  • Mouse Gestures – Allows most browsing to be performed with mouse gestures (e.g. to open a link in new tab, hold right button while moving up away from the link).

Almost essential

  • Bloglines Toolkit – Allows quickly subscribing and checking references to the current page.
  • Unread Tabs – Italices tabs unread tabs.
  • Download Manager Tweak – Opens downloads in a separate tab instead of popup window.
  • ForecastFox – Shows weather forecast, today and next nine days, using little icons on the bottom of the window. Very handy as I rarely remember to check it, and thanks to podcasting, am not really catching local weather reports anymore. (Until automated weather podcast feeds come along, that is).

And the other excellent extensions I’ll be installing

  • Translate – Translates web pages to/from English
  • Autofill – Automatically fills out forms
  • ** OpenBook** – When you add a bookmark, it adds a bookmark tree
  • Launchy – Open page in IE or other application.
  • Linkification – Convert any URLs into hyperlinks.
  • Sunrise – Sends any page to Sunrise, a tool for reading documents/HTML/RSS offline on the Palm. (Though I mostly connect to my Bloglines account from the Treo lately.)
  • MozCC – Indicates what, if any, Creative Commons license exists on the current page.
  • QuickNote – Adds a sidebar for note-taking.
  • Wikipedia – Enhances Wikipedia experience.
  • Digger – Quickly go to related URL: (e.g. from a.b.com, go to b.com)
  • Langwidge While You BrowseIntegrated language-learning tool, still haven’t found any data files for it though! which I wrote about here.
  • ChromeEdit – Edit user profile

Developer Tools

  • Web Developer – Powerful tool for debugging HTML/CSS problems – e.g. can visualise outlines of tables and see CSS styles being used.
  • HTML Validator – Validates, um, HTML.
  • Live HTTP Headers – View HTTP headers as the page loads.
  • MozEdit – Advanced text editor.
  • Others My usage of these has varied depending on what I’m working on. All are listed at http://extensionroom.mozdev.org/list.php/Firefox/dev.

Spam Varieties, Coping Strategies

I incur at least the following spam types:

  • Comment Spam So I disallowed comments. I’m hoping the next stable WordPress upgrade will help to fix it; otherwise, I’d be tempted to add a “I’m a human” checkbutton.
  • Trackback Spam Apparently, there is some hunger for a worthwhile online casino among readers of this blog. I need to install something like the Spam Karma plugin.
  • Referral Spam I rarely read referrer logs now. Mostly get info about incoming links via Technorati.
  • Wiki Spam Programmasaurus, the programmer’s thesaurus wiki, occasionally gets hit by a spambot, I need to set up an email or RSS notifier to watch for changes. Sadly, the robots are much more prolific than humans.
  • Mail Spam No, really. They have spam in email these days. This “mail spam” is just like wiki spam, only it gets in my inbox. Fairly minor thanks to server-side filtering and Thunderbird happily cleans up the remaining few if I’m accessing mail in from the desktop.

In addition, of course, there’s all the spam on other sites – comments on other blogs, junk sites on google. It looks like spammers will continue to find ways to innovate for a long time to come. Perhaps the only hope lies in the tiny minority of consumers who curiously make the activity profitable. If they get burned enough times, maybe they will decide to switch the internet box off. But for the next decade, it’s something to get used to.

Notepad Replacement: Vim

Coding Horror lists prices for TextPad replacements:

UltraEdit - $40

EditPlus - $30

EditPad Pro - $40

TextPad - $32

EmEditor - $40

NoteTab Pro - $20

My obligatory reaction:

  • Vim – priceless

Portable, Powerful, Programmable.

Smart IDEs are great, but there’s always a need to edit plain text files, e.g. config files on a server, and documents too. And even with IDEs, you have to use the editor to get text from your keyboard somehow. If you’re sticking with the default Eclipse/IntelliJ/JBuilder key mappings, you have to change mind-modes everytime you switch to a new IDE. And they’re pretty slow anyway. Better to use a plugin like IntelliJ-Vim to keep using the same style for adding and editing text, while retaining all the benefits of the IDE.

If you’re planning on spending several decades editing text files – writing, coding, configuring – I’d recommend taking a couple of hours to learn a decent, standard, input tool. Namely, one of vim or emacs. Here is a straightforward vim tutorial.

TechPodcasts Aggregator Feed

Did you know that Todd from GeekNewsCentral has been running a Tech Podcasts alliance for a while now? I posted his open announcement a while ago, signed up, and since then, the techpodcasts.com site has been evolving.

There is now an aggregated podcast feed page: http://techpodcasts.com/dp/?q=aggregator. I understand a corresponding RSS feed is on its way.

Anyway, tech podcasts have truly arrived, for this is the week when they were first biled.

Added Category Feeds, Refactored Categories

For a while, I’ve been meaning to check out how WordPress handles category-specific feeds. Having such feeds available would free me to write boring posts like this without fearing people will spill their cornflakes as they browse the morning Software Development feed. Thus, this post is under “General”, which I will use for a confusing combination of administrivia and anything that’s not really tech. Basically non-core stuff that most people wouldn’t bother subscribing to. And if that doesn’t put you off the General entry, then please, be my guest and read on.

HumansAndTech I’m using for “high-level” software and tech stuff, like usability, podcasting, blogging, business, etc.

SoftwareDev is all the relatively low-level stuff. The two assembly programmers reading this blog will no doubt be disgusted by my use of “low-level” to refer to concepts as high-level as software methodology. Relativity.

Podcast simply indicates there’s a podcast in there, so you could use that feed for ipodder or other podcast clients. Or it’s fine to use the “All Feeds” category; the bandwidth difference will be trivial compared to the size of the MP3s. Theoretically, “Podcast” is orthogonal, as I could rabbit on about any one of “General”, “SoftwareDev”, or “HumansAndTech”. In practice, I’m keeping my podcasts on the topic of software development, so most will be SoftwareDev. (Anything on usability will be HumansAndTech.)

Hopefully, the change hasn’t caused any problems with aggregators – I refactored the categories of some old entries, but didn’t update their timestamp.

I can’t help being meta about this and pointing out that refactoring the domain model has been a win-win: users (admittedly not many of them) benefit from a structure which is coarser-grained but nonetheless satisfies most usage profiles; I gain by having to think less each time I post something.

FP – First Podcast! *Finally*

YES! I’ve learned enough about audio engineering to realise I know nothing! I’ve set up a blog so I can host podcasts! I’ve added the necessary enclosure hacks to WordPress (thanks chaps) so I can publish them! And I’ve honed an authentic Aussie accent to stand out from the crowd! So, much too long after it coulda shoulda woulda been, my first podcast is here!

I’m sorry … Did I hear you ask “What’s a Podcast?” Well, even if you didn’t, I’ll be pleased to give my podcast site a cheap plug. It’s a podcast FAQ at podca.st. Short non-technical summary: A podcast is audio content published on the net, typically spoken word but also music. You can just click on the MP3 link in the blog entry and listen to it. But it gets a lot better if you download a client application like ipodder, which will let you subscribe to podcast programs and push them straight into ITunes as they come out. New food for your IPod (or any other MP3 player) all the time – hundreds of programs every day, if you want it.

And if you want to make your own podcast, great idea. I made it sound much harder than it needs to be. Check out How to podcast, for instance.

Stayed tuned for the FP …

CAPTCHA Alternatives and End-User Attitudes

Captcha stands for: “Completely Automated Public Turing test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart”. It refers to a technology familiar to anyone who’s registered on a popular website – the “what word is shown on this image” challenge. As the “Turing test” alludes to, the purpose is to distinguish between humans and computers. There are problems with the visual check, and not only for blind users. If the images come from a pool, there is only a limited amount of them, and it would be easy to build up a database.

Matt May (via Jon’s Radio Log) discusses seven alternatives. Some interesting ideas. though problems still remain with several techniques.

I’d be curious to know the attitudes and impact on mainstream users. Do most users understand why they are being asked to perform a ridiculously simple test? Can it be explained away with a glib “This is required for security purposes”? The test is so straightforward, and part of a larer registration process, so it possibly won’t turn many users away. But it certainly adds to generic resistance to register with any site in the first place.