Tag: Firefox

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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