My Flypaper Mind Brenden Schaaf's opinions, ideas, comments, rantings, & minutiae

10Jun/110

Surf (more) safely

With the advent of Firefox add-ons like Firesheep that make hijacking browser sessions easy for even the most novice users, it is more necessary than ever to take action to use the most secure methods of transmitting/receiving data possible.  One good tip is to only visit sites that use a secure connection (denoted by "https" as the protocol rather than "http").  A great tool that will automatically do this for you for major sites it this add-on, HTTPS-Everywhere.  Another tip is just to change your Facebook, Twitter, Hotmail, etc. bookmarks to https in the URL to make sure that you are always connecting securely through your own bookmarks, but if you click on a "share on Facebook" or similar link at a website you are still subject to the site owner's link design as to which server you are taken to.  Better to use this add-on to be safe, but do understand that there are limitations that might cause problems.  These are generally the result of some services (like Google Images or Facebook Chat) not being available over HTTPS so some sites may not look/feel exactly the same as their non-secure counterparts.

3Jul/100

Firefox Add-on: Shareaholic

The customized Shareaholic menu from my Firefox address bar.

If you find that you constantly share links with friends through Twitter, Facebook, email, etc. then this add-on is for you.  There are literally dozens of services in Shareaholic that can be turned on or off so you can set up only the ones that you use.  Chances are that just the act of going through the setup will introduce you to some services that you didn't even know about before.

The ones I have set up, for example, are Facebook, Twitter, bit.ly, Google Mail, Google Reader, LinkedIn, and Microsoft Outlook.  Sharing the current page or a link on the current page using any of these methods is just a click away.

Download Link: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/5457/

3Jul/100

Firefox Add-on: Extended Copy Menu

Normally when you copy text in Firefox it retains the original formatting when you paste it elsewhere (such as into

New choices available from the right-click menu after installing this Firefox add-on.

Word or into a blog post).  This is not always desired.

The workaround to lose the formatting that I used to use involved opening Notepad, pasting the text into there, copying from Notepad (Notepad is only capable of using plain text), and then pasting to whatever my destination was in the first place. This add-on puts additional choices such as "Copy as Plain Text" to the right-click context menu to make it as easy to copy text without formatting as it is to copy the text with the formatting.

Download Link: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/4554/

17Dec/090

My favorite Firefox add-ons

firefoxI'll admit that this post is largely self-serving.  Having rebuilt two WindowsXP machines (one of them twice) in the past week along with installing Windows 7 on my Toshiba NB205 Netbook, I am tired of trying to keep track of the add-ons that I love every time I install Firefox.  Perhaps someday Xmarks or a product like it will synchronize these things across multiple installations, but counting my home PC, laptop, netbook, work PC, etc. I've ended up with quite an array of different add-ons on each machine.  With any luck, by listing the best ones here along with links, I will be able to more easily manage these things -- and if it benefits you as well, that's great!

So here, in no particular order other than my ability to remember them, are my favorite add-ons for my favorite browser, Firefox:

  1. Xmarks
    • I wrote at length about Xmarks back in May.  Briefly, it is a way to synchronize your bookmarks (and passwords if you choose) across multiple Firefox installations.  In the scenario I mentioned above about installing a fresh version of Firefox on a new (or rebuilt) PC, all that is needed to have all your bookmarks is to install this add-on and enter your Xmarks username and password and the bookmarks are downloaded from the Xmarks server to your new machine.  All icons are maintained as the order and foldering structure present on your other machines.
    • Download Link: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/2410
  2. Adblock Plus
    • I've sung the praises in-depth of Adblock Plus before.  Disregarding whatever moral issues there might be to blocking ads on sites that are otherwise free, this add-on will make your browsing experience faster and less cluttered.  There are very few times that I've had to disable Adblock Plus due to "false positives" but it has happened on a couple sites.  Even so, turning it off is as simple as clicking the icon in the status bar and choosing from the menu.
    • Download Link: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1865
  3. Forecastfox
  4. Download Statusbar
    • Normally when you choose to download a file, Firefox pops up a separate window to show the download status and from which you can launch the file when the download is complete.  This is interesting behavior given that one of the primary reasons many people first adopted Firefox was because of the pop-up blocker that other browsers lacked.  With this add-on, you can eliminate the extra pop-up window and instead monitor and execute downloads from the Firefox status bar.
    • Download Link: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/26
  5. Greasemonkey
    • This add-on is different from others in that by itself it does nothing.  Instead, you have to download (or create) Greasemonkey scripts (there are thousands) to make it do whatever it is you desire.  A more lengthy post I wrote in May provides more details, but having Greasemonkey is like putting your browser on steroids.  Just like there are add-ons for Firefox I find it hard to live without, there are Greasemonkey scripts that I depend on heavily as well.  Many of those are listed in the post from May, but I'll update the list via a new post soon.
    • Download Link: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/748
  6. Greasefire
  7. The Camelizer
    • CamelCamelCamel.com used to have a Greasemonkey script that worked on Amazon so that you could see historical prices for a given item without having to visit the main CamelCamelCamel site.  They have no released a Firefox add-on that does much the same thing except that it now also functions on NewEgg and Best Buy.  This is a great way to know if that deal you are eyeing is really a deal and you also have the ability to set price alerts so that you'll receive an email when the price drops below a certain point.  If you enjoy shopping online, this is a must-have add-on.
    • Download Link: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/14392
  8. TinyURL Generator
  9. Fission
    • Download Link: I discovered this add-on when I first got a netbook.  Screen real estate is a premium on a small screen and I wanted to turn off the status bar at the bottom of the screen but I missed having the progress bar that shows how much of a page has downloaded.  This add-on combines the address bar with the download progress meter at the top of the screen.
    • Download Link: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1951
  10. Personal Menu
16Aug/090

Firefox Add-on: Personal Menu

Having used my Toshiba NB205 netbook for a few weeks now, I find myself wanting to eek out every available pixel that I can for useful purposes.  At a maximum resolution of 1020 x 600, I find the width of most webpages to be satisfactorily displayed, but the height is limiting.  This is especially true when browser menus, toolbars, status bars, etc. take up valuable vertical space.  While it is true that using the "kiosk mode" while browsing ( also called "Full Screen" & can be accessed by F11 key) is one solution and hiding things like the status bar can help as well, that forces things like the search box and address bar to be hidden as well and I miss having the status bar available to show things like my download status and weather from Forecastfox.

I have found a workaround in Firefox through the use of an add-on called Personal Menu.   This add-on allows the File|Edit|Tools|etc. menus as well as Bookmarks and History to be represented by tiny icons in the same row as the address bar and the search box.  On a netbook, this is an ideal solution as it allows the top row to be sized very small while maintaining most of the useful browser functionality only a click or two away.

Appearance of top of Firefox window with Personal Menu add-on installed.  Icons circled access menus, bookmarks, and history.  Click image for larger view.

Appearance of top of Firefox window with Personal Menu add-on installed. Icons circled access menus, bookmarks, and history. Click image for larger view.

The Personal Menu add-on for Firefox can be downloaded at this link:

5Jun/090

Firefox Add-on: Tinyurl Generator

Have you ever sent someone the URL (i.e. "web address" or "web link") for an interesting webpage only to find out that somewhere along the way the link was broken because a carriage return got inserted because the URL was too long and they couldn't get it to open?    Or maybe you want to post such a link on Twitter and you are limited to only 140 characters but the link you are excited about takes up most/all of the allotted space?  That's where a great service called TinyURL comes in handy.  By visiting their website, you can turn any long URL into something more manageable.

For example, say I want to send someone the link for a GPS unit I found on Amazon.

Example of right-click menu after installation of TinyURL Add-on in Firefox

Example of right-click menu after installation of TinyURL Add-on in Firefox

Once you start doing this you will find all kinds of uses, but you'll soon realize that constantly visiting TinyURL.com isn't very efficient/quick because it involves so many steps (visiting the page, copying current URL, pasting into textbox on TinyURL site, submitting, etc.).

Luckily there is a Firefox Add-on that you can install to make using TinyURLs quick and easy.  Simply visit https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/10586 to grab the Add-on and install it and once you re-launch Firefox you will have a couple different options for creating a TinyURL.   Right-clicking on a link on a webpage will add a menu item to the normal menu that appears that will create a TinyURL for you in one step.

If you want to create a TinyURL for the page you are currently viewing there will be an icon at the bottom of the screen that looks like tinyurltaskbar (it will be down by your Ghostscript, Ad-Block Plus, Xmarks, etc. icons if you have those installed).  Double-clicking that icon will automatically create a TinyURL for the current page and the icon will indicate success tinyurlsuccess.

In either case (right-click menu or double-clicking the icon) the resulting TinyURL will automatically be copied to your clipboard so that you may paste it elsewhere (like in an email or a Twitter post) immediately.

And if TinyURLs are still too long for you, there are several other URL shorterers out there that result in even fewer characters in the resulting URLs.  Examples of these include:

But I'm sticking with TinyURL for now because of the Firefox Add-on that makes it so handy to use.  I'm sure at some point similar add-ons will be stable for at least some of these other services but until then 25 characters will have to do.  Plus a guy from Blaine created it so it has to be better than the others!

2Jun/090

Firefox Feature: Search Engine Box

Search box screenshot from my laptop showing all of the sites I can search quickly from within the Firefox toolbar

Search box screenshot from my laptop showing all of the sites I can search quickly from within the Firefox toolbar

One of the most useful features of Firefox that first drew me to using that as my browser of choice was the customizable search box built into the toolbar at the top right of the screen.  Prior to my discovery of Firefox, I was an Internet Explorer user but I had to have Google Toolbar installed to have search available at my fingertips.  Later releases of Internet Explorer, by the way, have added a search box similar to the one found in Firefox.

While the Google Toolbar worked great if Google was what I wanted to use (as it was, and is, 80% of the time), what if I wanted to search another site?  Firefox solved this problem by not only including several other default search engines in its search box, but by also making it possible for nearly anyone to develop add-ons to the search box for websites of any sort.

Many of the more popular sites can be added to your search box by selecting "Manage Search Engines" from the bottom of the list of sites you already have installed (see bottom item in the image at right) and finding the desired search engine at the Firefox Add-ons site, but that list is limited.

Enter the Mycroft Project site.  This site's sole reason for existence is to provide a repository of search engine plug-ins that can be easily installed in Firefox (and other browsers including Internet Explorer in some cases).  In fact, the Mycroft Project site itself can be added to your search box so whenever you have a site that you find you search frequently you can type the name of that site into the search box and see if anyone else has created a search plug-in for that site.

Say, for example, that you frequently enter tracking numbers at the FedEx website and you want to search Mycroft for a FedEx plug-in.  Simply choose Mycroft Project as your default search provider, type in "FedEx" and hit enter.  You will be taken to a results page that shows that there are three available plug-ins for FedEx -- choose any or all of these and they are quickly added to your list of search engines and now you can do your searching in one step.

Incidentally, things like FedEx and UPS tracking numbers can be typed directly into Google as well and link to the real-time tracing will be presented within the Google results, but that is not the case for most sites you may use frequently (although Google often seems to know what I'm thinking before I do it seems).

Now if only the folks over at Xmarks could sync up my search engine plug-in list between all the different computers I used.  I'm sure given time it will happen, but for now my only frustration is not remembering to add a given search plug-in to each different Firefox installation.  Complaining about that, though, is kind of like complaining that microwave popcorn is taking too long to cook.

25May/090

Firefox Add-on: Forecastfox

Weather is part of life in Minnesota more than in some other places where temperatures are more constant. Last week, for example, we had a frost warning one day and then two days later the high was 97 degrees. Another great Firefox Add-on, Forecastfox, makes it easy to keep tabs on current conditions, forecasts, and severe weather by putting this information conveniently in the status bar of Firefox.  Actually, the status bar is the default location but you can choose to place the display in other locations as well.

An example of the Forecastfox Add-on as it appears in the Firefox status bar.

An example of the Forecastfox Add-on as it appears in the Firefox status bar.

Hovering over an icon (the green circle at the left end of the display is the weather radar) will show more information related to that icon.

Miniature radar view that shows up when you hover your mouse pointer over the status bar icon.

Miniature radar view that shows up when you hover your mouse pointer over the status bar icon.

Clicking on an icon will take you to the appropriate page at Accuweather for more detailed information.

Severe weather alerts (including things like frost warnings, high wind advisories, tornado watches/warnings, etc.) are indicated by an icon that shows up in the status bar as well when appropriate.  Also, you can set up several different profiles for cities you visit frequently and/or are traveling to soon so that you can monitor the weather in those locations as well.

Hover over an icon for more information.l

Hover over an icon for more information.l

For more information or to download Forecastfox, visit this link:

20May/090

Firefox Add-on: Adblock Plus

Consider Adblock Plus the equivalent of fast-forwarding through the commercials on your DVR.  Some ethical arguments could be made against either practice (the advertising pays for the content you are viewing), but in my opinion it is part of the give-and-take among marketplace participants -- in this case content creators and content consumers.

This Firefox Add-on blocks nearly all advertisements on most pages and does so without leaving large gaps or noticeably affecting other content as far as I can tell.  I have experienced a few webpages where "legitimate" content was blocked by ABP, but it is simple matter to right-click on the stop sign (it looks like abpstopsign when ABP is running) in the status bar of Firefox to turn it off for that particular page abpgreen or completely abpoff.

For an example of what Adblock Plus eliminates, compare the two images below taken from StarTribune.com (you may click on each image to view it on its own).  You can see that just on this one page, quite a bit of content is being blocked.  Especially for users that are running on slower broadband (or even worse dial-up) Adblock Plus will significantly speed up the browsing experience because a lot of the blocked content consists of bandwidth hogs like images or Flash.

StarTribune.com as it normally appears.  Circled items are those that are eliminated by ABP.  Click the image to see it larger.

StarTribune.com as it normally appears. Circled items are those that are eliminated by ABP. Click the image to see it larger.

StarTribune.com as it appears while running ABP.  Click the image to see it larger.

StarTribune.com as it appears while running ABP. You can see that most ads are missing. Click the image to see it larger.

Here are a couple links to check out for more information on Adblock Plus. It installs just like other Firefox Add-ons so if you are familiar with that process it is quite easy. You do need to subscribe to a "filter" that is maintained by others so that ABP will continue to do its job, but that is free and easy as well. The video below walks you through the entire process.

Links:

Video:

12May/090

Firefox Add-on: Greasefire

I posted a couple days ago about the Greasemonkey add-on and, as a result, I've discovered a companion add-on called Greasefire.  If you have Greasefire installed, when you are on a site like StarTribune.com for which there are Greasemonky scripts available, a little "flame" colored icon shows up behind your Greasemonkey icon in your status bar that looks like this: greasefire (the "normal" icon looks like this: reggmlogo)

When you see the one with the colored background, you can right-click on the icon and the very top item will tell you how many Greasemonkey scripts are available for that particular site.  StarTribune.com, to continue the example, has 3 scripts available, 2 of which I have installed as indicted on the resulting menu shown here.

Greasefire adds the top item to the Greasemonkey right-click menu

Greasefire adds the top item to the Greasemonkey right-click menu

If you then click on the "XX scripts available" item you will be taken to a screen where the available scripts (userscripts.org is the source of all of the scripts by the way) are organized fairly well with the more useful/popular scripts near the top.  For the Strib with only 3 scripts the order doesn't matter all that much, but for something like Google Reader (or just plain Google even) there may be hundreds of scripts so it becomes important.  If (or should I say when) you find a useful script installing it is just a single click away and happens seamlessly from within the Greasefire interface.

Speaking of Google Reader, one of the handy Greasemonkey scripts that I found using Greasefire is one that turns the various feeds in Google Reader different colors making things easier to read, in my opinon.  See the sample of that below.  There are other scripts that will add favicons to each feed or to each post and there are even some that will join your Gmail and Google Reader screens together so that you can monitor your email and incoming news feeds all in one place.

Here is what Google Reader looks like after installing the Greasemonkey script "Google Reader - Colorful List View."  You may click the image to see a larger version.

Here is what Google Reader looks like after installing the Greasemonkey script "Google Reader - Colorful List View." You may click the image to see a larger version.

In short, to really get some usefulness from Greasemonkey you need to install some scripts and Greasefire makes it very easy to find scripts for the sites that you visit most.  Visit this link for more information (you have to have Greasemonkey installed first for this to work, of course):