A fairer, more conscientious alternative to AdBlock Plus

Hav­ing just stum­bled across an arti­cle advo­cat­ing against AdBlock Plus (via Lea Ver­ou), I decid­ed to revis­it my set­tings for rel­a­tive­ly nui­sance-free brows­ing in Fire­fox.

For a long time I’ve done devel­op­ment work and writ­ing for a site that keeps its lights on through adver­tis­ing, so I sym­pa­thize with con­tent-cre­ators’ need for (and frus­tra­tion with) ads. It’s a nec­es­sary evil, and I’ve always found it a bit dis­heart­en­ing to see AdBlock Plus at the top of every “Pop­u­lar Plu­g­ins” list (whether for Chrome, Fire­fox, or Safari). Worse, there seems to be a sense of enti­tle­ment among savvy inter­net users, telling them that they shouldn’t have to endure ads. Com­mon­ly this might be veiled as being “anti-cor­po­rate” or some oth­er such vague excuse, but the real rea­sons are usu­al­ly the same as those behind pira­cy: it’s just nice not to have to pay for things, whether through eye­balls, band­width, or dol­lars.

(None of this is to say that I am entire­ly inno­cent on these points.)

Still, there are some trou­bling com­mon prac­tices among the more insid­i­ous of these JavaScript embeds, and I think there is some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion in cir­cum­vent­ing them. But one doesn’t need to block every adver­tise­ment to severe­ly dimin­ish adver­tis­ers’ abil­i­ty to, say, keep track of one’s brows­ing habits.

Here are the things you can do to make your brows­ing a lit­tle more pri­vate and safe, while still (most­ly) allow­ing the sites you love to pay their bills. These tips will be writ­ten for Fire­fox users (though the equiv­a­lent plu­g­ins are read­i­ly avail­able in Chrome and Safari), and won’t include things that read­ers of this site will prob­a­bly already know about (e.g., avoid­ing “watch movies free” sites and their ilk, and dis­abling pop-ups).

Con­tin­ue →

Weird Text Shadows on Google Reader in Firefox 3.1/3.5 Betas

firefox-beta-google-reader-text-shadow

Does any­body else get these? When you nav­i­gate to your labels or sub­scrip­tions using key­board short­cuts, the high­light­ed item in this modal win­dow thing has a text “shad­ow” or dupli­cate sit­ting ten pix­els over to the left. It’s been both­er­ing me for a while now and I can’t find any­body else talk­ing about it. I guess I’m sup­posed to file a bug?

How to Save One, Many, or All Items from a Google Reader Feed Locally

Google Read­er, employ­ing Google’s petabytes of stor­age, archives every feed item it’s ever pulled for you. This has always amazed me, as I’m sure I and every­one else must be using far more in Read­er than the 5 gigs we get from Gmail. Still, they don’t have much of a choice; it wouldn’t do any­body good if you could only see the 10 or 20 items present on a feed’s XML file at any giv­en time. And even though they’re prob­a­bly clever enough to only have to store one copy of every item for that item’s hun­dreds of thou­sands of read­ers, they’ve prac­ti­cal­ly built a third copy of the inter­net (after their cache).

A nice fall­out of this archiv­ing is that when­ev­er con­tent you’ve sub­scribed to dis­ap­pears from the web, you’ll still be able to access its (admit­ted­ly homog­e­nized) Read­er copy, for­ev­er; “for­ev­er” here mean­ing “pre­sum­ably for as long as Google is around.” When (if?) Google dies, will its data die with it? Despite my intu­ition that Google will long out­last cur­rent notions of what com­put­ers are and how they work, I still don’t like entrust­ing impor­tant data to oth­er peo­ple, not to men­tion data that is acces­si­ble only through the web. I want a local copy.

But they don’t make it easy for you. Read­er is all AJAXed out, so even sim­ple page saves don’t work. Copying/pasting would be a night­mare. Screen­shots? Too slop­py. Email­ing copies of each item? Too time-con­sum­ing. Tag­ging them with a spe­cial tag, mak­ing that tag’s feed pub­lic, then sub­scrib­ing in, like, Thun­der­bird or some­thing? Even if that weren’t absurd­ly round­about, the pub­lic feeds only have twen­ty or so items.

I’m talk­ing specif­i­cal­ly about a blog I loved, but that up and dis­ap­peared one day, com­plete­ly, leav­ing the only copies of the lost data scat­tered through­out Netvibes, News­ga­tor, Blog­lines, and Read­er. Google search­es turned up noth­ing like a straight­for­ward guide to sav­ing from Read­er, which sur­prised me. But there were clues, and using only a cou­ple tools, I final­ly got it. It’s actu­al­ly pret­ty easy, I was able to save 118 items in about ten min­utes with this method. Let me show you it.

You need Fire­fox, the two plu­g­ins Grease­mon­key and Scrap­Book, and the Grease­mon­key script Google Read­er Print But­ton. Then it’s just a mat­ter of click­ing “Print” for each item you want to save, which opens it in its own tab, then using ScrapBook’s “Cap­ture All Tabs…” func­tion, which auto­mat­i­cal­ly does a “Save Page As, Web Page, com­plete” into your %App­Da­ta% fold­er for each tab, then final­ly option­al­ly using ScrapBook’s “Com­bine Wiz­ard” (in the tools menu of the Scrap­Book side­bar [Alt+K]) to put all the items into a sin­gle fold­er with a sin­gle index.html file.

The “print­ing” part is the most cum­ber­some, but goes by pret­ty quick­ly with the rep­e­ti­tion of a series of clicks and key­strokes:

  1. Click “Print”
  2. Press Esc (to close the print dia­logue)
  3. Press Ctrl+Tab (to get back to Read­er)
  4. Press J (to go to the next feed item)

Do that mind­less­ly for a cou­ple min­utes, and they’ll all be there, wait­ing to be saved. I’m gonna put the word “disk” in here too so that any­body Googling for a solu­tion might find this.

Firefox 3 Rendering Improvements

Fire­fox 3 is sched­uled to be released lat­er this fall; I haven’t real­ly been fol­low­ing its devel­op­ment, but one thing I have heard about and am excit­ed about is its (or, more accu­rate­ly, Gecko’s) new graph­ics library, Cairo.

Cairo Image Resizing

First I heard that it would resam­ple rather than sim­ply rescale images, as demon­strat­ed in the image above (via Acts of Voli­tion).

Lat­er I learned that it will also ren­der fonts more smooth­ly. I enjoy the soft way pages look in Safari for Win­dows, the result of a dif­fer­ent ren­der­ing engine, WebKit, so this is some­thing I’m real­ly look­ing for­ward to. Here’s an exam­ple of Cairo’s font ren­der­ing, as seen in Camino 1.2+ for Mac, via hicks­de­sign:

Cairo Font Rendering

There are very spe­cif­ic rea­sons for the inten­tion­al dif­fer­ences in these approach­es to font ren­der­ing. It’s a mat­ter of per­son­al pref­er­ence, and I think my pref­er­ence will be for Cairo. Some are floored by the supe­ri­or­i­ty of WebKit, and design­er Jef­frey Zeld­man makes a sol­id, objec­tive case for it; oth­ers are hor­ri­fied.

Final­ly, Gecko’s non-stan­dard CSS attribute -moz-bor­der-radius, a pre­cur­sor to CSS3’s bor­der-radius attribute, will make image-less round­ed div cor­ners easy and pret­ty (via Acts of Voli­tion):

Cario Border Radius

I would have post­ed screen­shots of my own, but I don’t trust these alpha builds not to eff things up.

Firefox “Phrase Not Found” Noise

Praise Jesus.

One of the hand­i­est fea­tures in Fire­fox, and one that I use fre­quent­ly and absent-mind­ed­ly, is the “find as you type” short­cut. Press for­ward slash, and Fire­fox will jump to the next text that match­es what you type; press sin­gle-quote, and Fire­fox will jump to the next link text that match­es what you type. So fast and invalu­able.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, if the string you type turns up no results, Fire­fox alerts you with what sounds like “a hoarse dog bark­ing.” Not just once, but for every sub­se­quent char­ac­ter that con­firms your search fail­ure: a curse for fast typ­ists.

This annoy­ance was not even solved by Flash­Mute [via], a tiny and amaz­ing pro­gram that mutes all sounds orig­i­nat­ing from your brows­er, or just those from embed­ded flash objects.

After not try­ing very hard to find a solu­tion via Google, I thought “what the hell” and went to about:config. Searched for “sound,” and voilà. “accessibility.typeaheadfind.enablesound”. Dou­ble-click once, restart Fire­fox, and no longer will you be plagued by the hoarse dog.

Firefox, video, MST3K

Joel

I still don’t get why Fire­fox is bet­ter and more pop­u­lar than Mozil­la ever was, but okay, I’ll play along. Espe­cial­ly giv­en these enhance­ments:

  • Cook­ie But­ton: one of the best fea­tures of Mozil­la that inex­plic­a­bly didn’t make it to Fire­fox.
  • Flash­block: Only see Flash when you want to! This is a mir­a­cle.

Final­ly found a video play­er to be hap­py with: Media Play­er Clas­sic. It’s also bun­dled with Real Alter­na­tive, which allows you to play Real for­mat files with­out rely­ing on the night­mar­ish RealOne play­er. This week I also dis­cov­ered Net Trans­port, which does the best (i.e., quick­est, eas­i­est, and most free) job of sav­ing stream­ing video I’ve seen so far. And final­ly, MST3K is still kick­ing: there’s this gigan­tic ref­er­ence site, the still-exis­tent info club, and a legal­ly ambigu­ous Shout­Cast video stream. Shh­h­h­h­h­hh.