More room needed


One of the truly nice thing about modern computers is that design has given us wider screens than ever.  That’s beautiful for watching movies and somewhat better for web browsing.  The screens now seem to be wider than taller.

If you look at the top of your screen right now, there’s probably a menu bar, the title of the webpage that you’re browsing, a tab bar, and the URL of the webpage that you currently have open.  All are necessary for the full browsing experience.  Sure, you can turn a couple of them off or go full screen but it’s not just the same.  I always feel like I’m missing something when I do that.

If you look to the left and/or right of the webpage, you’ll see that there’s probably quite a bit of wasted space.  What if you could do something about that?

Some browsers will allow you to move your tab bar to the left or right of the screen.  That’s helpful and something that I’ve done for a while.  On other browsers, also, you can move your cursor over a tab at the top of the screen and a quick thumbnail preview will appear of the website that is associated with that tab.  That’s helpful and productive as well.

Would you be excited if you could get both?

You can now if you’re using the Firefox browser and have “Test Pilot” enabled.  One of the features is called “Tab Center“.  Enable it and you’ll get the best of both of the above worlds.  Tabs move to the side of the screen, enabling more real estate from top to bottom, and there’s a preview of the tab continuously available.

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Welcome to a glimpse of what I’m currently doing.  You’ll undoubtedly recognize the icons – from the top down – Tweetdeck, Facebook (I have a notification!), Inbox, Flipboard, and this blog (which I’m editing so it’s side-lighted).  There’s more, far more, other things that are open.  I don’t know what the record is for open tabs but I’ve got to be in the running!

There’s a + to add yet another tab; and icon to move the tabs back to the top, and a right click on each icon gives you the familiar set of options that you can apply to the tab.  If you’re not a right click person, the traditional keyboard shortcuts work as well.

Place your cursor on the divider between the tabs and the workspace and you can drag it open to get more details, as well as a search feature.

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If Firefox is your browser, give it a shot and see if it doesn’t change the way that you think about tabbed browsing.  I can see this being added to all browsers in the future.  Right now, it’s being tested in Firefox; there are bound to be replicative extensions but you can’t beat a feature like this being baked right into the way things are done.

A Better Zoom


Like many people, I use the zoom in and out feature of the computer I’m using to zoom text in and out.   It can be very handy if you’re doing a presentation and want to show a particular part of a web page to the back of the room.  You just zoom in and move the screen so that what you want to show off is centred and away you go.  

Typically, the command is done with a CTRL/CMD and + or CTRL/CMD and – with a CTRL/CMD and 0 resetting things.  In addition to presentations, it can be handy to use when you hit a web site that uses a very small font.  Rather than squinting, just zoom in on it a bit.  

That’s how I thought that zooming was all about until I played around with the Zoom Extension.

This extension takes the guess work out of resizing your screen.

It installs like any other extension and, when you click the Z, a little slider bar (or a – and +) appears to let you adjust the size on the screen to precisely what you want.

If that was all that the extension did, it would still be worth installing.

However, there’s more.  Right click on the icon to get to the options.

There’s actually two ways that the extension will use to zoom.  It will either use the browser default or will tinker with the web page’s CSS for the effect.  That’s impressive but the singularly most impressive part is that the extension will “remember” the zoom level for a web page.  This, I find, to be extremely helpful for those news sites that don’t present their content in easily human readable size.  Set the new zoom size and forget it.  When you return to the website, things will be exactly to the liking that you left.  

Give the extension a shot and see what you think.  It may well be exactly what you’re looking for.  

Just when you thought your browser couldn’t do any more …


… you find out it can.

This is something that I think most sophisticated web users do anyway but now it can be done automatically.

It’s a wonderful example about how good things happen when great minds get involved.

Who hasn’t followed a link or a bookmark or a carefully curated website or a great blog only to find that it’s not where your computer thinks it should be and you get the dreaded 404 error message?  Good websites or browsers will often give you a customized message to let you know something is amiss but it’s still unnerving at times when you know that the resource should be there. Or, at least it was at one point.

If the website or resource has indeed gone away, who hasn’t used the Wayback Machine to find a resource from the past, captured as it constantly monitors the web.

Heck, you might even find the presence of a former employer.

If nothing else, it’s a reminder of how we were all learning to create content for the web.

A new project from Mozilla promises to solve this with “No More 404s”.  It’s part of the Firefox Test Pilot project and, if you enter a link that would normally generate a 404 error, Firefox will try to return a successful result by digging into the Wayback Machine for it.

There are other experiments in the Test Pilot program so check them out.  I find the “No More 404s” part most intriguing.

I predict that, if it’s successful, all browsers will eventually incorporate it or something like it.

It’s just a great idea.

Thoughts?

A return to ASCII art


Before there was real computer art, there was ASCII art.  If you’re old enough to remember, it was before printers could draw graphics, pixels, lines, etc.  They did a wonderful job of printing letters and numbers.  And, with artistic abilities you could actually create pictures.  Digital impressionism?

When I read about this feature in Facebook and Instagram, I just had to try it and it really did give me a flashback…

Take any image that you have posted publicly and saved as a .jpg file on the service.  Here’s my choice, this handsome fellow on his way to the beach.

Now, the key is to find the URL to the picture.

Here’s what I did.

In the Firefox browser, I clicked the right mouse button to get the context menu to get the location of the image.

The image ended in .jpg so that was great.  I opened a new tab and pasted the image location there.  The URL is really long and involved so just ignore it and have comfort knowing that your browser knows what it’s doing.

For a black and white image, go to the very end of the URL and add .txt and press enter on the keyboard.  Voila!  Check out how the characters create the image.  It’s nothing short of amazing.  Imagine doing that by design and by hand.

My image was actually really big but a few CTRL – keyboard presses later and it had shrunk to give the ASCII art.  I now have a ghost dog!

There is a second option.  Instead of adding .txt to the image, add .html for a full colour version.

Oddly enough, and I can be odd at times, I can already think of a couple of ways that I may use this technique in the future.

Go ahead and try it.

Thoughts?

My back is covered


We all know that we should floss.  It’s a good preventative action for your teeth and gums.  It’s just that it’s good for you and your hygienist/dentist recommends it.  So, if you’re like me, you grudgingly do it.  They’re just looking out for you.

I had another case of someone looking out for me this morning.  It was Mozilla and the Firefox browser.  I opened my browser and got a WARNING, WARNING, WARNING.  (OK, emphasis is mine) 

But the last thing you need in the morning is something to go wrong with your computer when your first coffee hasn’t kicked in.

Add-ons are my best friend.  I can’t imagine a browsing experience without them.  Actually, I can – I’ve used Microsoft’s Edge…

Of all the add-ons, who is the guilty party?  It turns out to be one of the most important to me and my failing memory – LastPass.  It saves my passwords so my mind doesn’t have to.  What would I do?  This could be serious.  Not only does it save passwords, but I use it to generate supposedly tough to crack passwords when I go to a new site and need one generated.

I did what every irrational person would do in this case.  I quit Firefox and reloaded it.  Same results.  What do they say about doing the same thing over again and expecting different results? 

Next step was a little more rational.  Maybe there was something wrong with the add-on.  Into the hamburger menu I go and deleted it and install a new copy from the Firefox add-on collection.  Of course, Firefox wants to restart before I can use it.  I do it, and I’m back in business.  I’m happy.

Now to do what I should have done in the first place – check the LastPass support site to see what’s going on.  There indeed was an issue with Firefox 43 and a quick explanation tells the reader to do what I did.  Not my first step, but the second one!

Now, it’s time to dig a little deeper into this add-on signing and it’s off to the Firefox site for details.

It’s a good read and one that I would suggest be done with students.  There’s lots to chew on with this. 

Does your browser have your back?

The learning continues here – BeetleBlocks


Always be learning – I think it’s a great motto for survival in this day and age.

So, I’m working through my list of things to learn more about from the recently concluded Bring IT, Together conference.

I thought I knew of all the block programming languages.  After all, I’ve worked my way through Alfred Thompson’s big list.

But I picked up on a new language during Sylvia Martinez’ keynote address.  It’s called BeetleBlocks.  It’s another language that builds on the promise of the original Logo concept.  Among all the things that you can do is drive an object around the screen.  You start, as typical, with a blank screen.

What’s new with this picture?

All of the other tools that I have worked with previously have had an X and Y plane.  Notice in this case, there’s also a Z.  Yep, we’re now talking programming in three dimensions.

If you’ve used Scratch (or similar languages), you already have a valuable set of skills.  Now, just extend them!

I dragged a few blocks out onto the desktop and started poking around.  I was excited now. 

What can people who know what they’re doing do?  Fortunately, the resource comes with plenty of examples and I’m speed learning by going through the examples provided and modifying them to see what happens.

If you’re a Scratch programmer, you’re right at home.

Since the results are in three dimensions, it only makes sense that you can provide different views for the results.  In particular, the wireframe really showed me what was happening.

This project, currently in Alpha stage, and only supported on the Google Chrome platform (although it seemed to work fine in Firefox) is a very worthy addition to your set of tools for programming. 

It seems to be the logical next step for students who are proficient in Scratch programming and are looking for more inspiration. 

I hope that the product continues to mature and, who knows?  We may be talking about this as the Hour of Code approaches.

 

A Thimble Full of Fun


You know those popular graphics about keeping calm?

They started as kind of cool and interesting.

Then, the questions become – how do I create my own?

A common answer is to use an editor like Gimp to edit an existing product and make it yours.  Then, we got hit with a flurry of badly edited graphics.

Now, thanks to a relaunch of Mozilla’s Thimble, you can create your own perfect web page or graphic with a little HTML editing knowledge.

Isn’t this much better?

Much better.

And, so much easier than hitting a graphic editor, matching colours, etc.

How to do it?  Using Mozilla’s Thimble editor and a little remixing of the original.

Even if you’ve never coded in HTML before, the example is really intuitive.  Just do a little reading and kudos to Mozilla for including comments inline to help the process.  It’s a wonderful and practical reinforcement for a post from me earlier this summer.  Have You Read a Good Program Lately?

Edit the text in the index.html file and the colours in the style.css.  In addition to a good example of documentation, so is the use of file structure and even indenting.  Of course, I’m sure that there are a million ideas running through your mind now.  Even student creation of their own graphic for their projects is so possible.  p.s. don’t tell them that they’re actually learning to code while doing this!

This poster creation isn’t the only one tailored for teachers at this time.  Check out the others up for remix on the opening page.

For a permanent copy, you’ll need to create an account on Thimble and your results can be published to the web if you wish.

https://d157rqmxrxj6ey.cloudfront.net/dougpete/2488

Playing for Speed


Do you ever wonder if, somehow, you could make your computer work faster?  I wonder about that constantly.

Since I seem to do so much on the web, it’s a natural that I start there.  I recognize the limitation of my Internet Service Provider and I’ll gladly sign any petition to allow for cable or fibre optics to be pulled down our road.  In the meantime, I tweak and wonder and head into town to mooch fast internet from my daughter when a major update is needed.

In the meantime, I dance with what I’ve brought to the dance.  That largely means using the Firefox or Opera web browsers.  Every now and again, I’ll go under the hood and see if I’m not shooting myself in the foot.  I do have an addon fetish …

and that’s just what’s available for viewing.  There’s more hanging around that don’t place a one-click icon in the browser.

I read about a new (to me anyway) browser called Citrio.  I did a quick download (and it really was quick) and I was up and running in seconds.  Citrio is based on the Chromium browser so there was just about no learning at all to get started and it wanted access to the Chrome content already on my computer.  Users of Chromium, Chrome, and Opera would have no problem making the move.  I gave myself license to play around with it after reading Alfie Kohn’s post “Five Not-So-Obvious Propositions About Play” which every educator should read and ponder.  I’m basing my freedom to do this under his point #3.

I’m also mindful of a gentleman that I worked with for a summer job on a farm and his advice “Curiosity killed the cattlebeast”.  Everyone should work on a diary farm at least once.

Citro lived up to its billing as really fast to download and start.  There’s nothing as empty looking, however, than a newly installed browser.

Well, OK, I had to install Scribefire in order to write the post!

There was no doubt that Citrio had the clean look of a new browser but I’d have to put it on a testing suite in order to compare actual speeds.  Rendering of pages did feel nicely but the pages were still slow to complete.  You know why?  Advertising.

It’s noticeable because I’ve learned to read content faster than being distracted by flashing graphics that so often accompany advertising.

Thanks to the OLDaily read yesterday, I learned of this student from Simon Fraser University “Adblock Plus Study“.  It’s a good reminder that there are potentially more things alive on the internet than what you’re looking for.  (They also pay the bills for some companies)  It’s a good read.

It’s also a confirmation that a different browser may not make a huge difference in the speed with which a page appears in front of you.  It’s also a function of everything else that comes along with the desired content.  For those who pay dearly in dollars and time for bandwidth, the lesson is data savings from SFU is really worth noting.

So, the bottom line here is that I haven’t found a magic speedup bullet in a new browser but have confirmation that blocking advertising is one of the best things that I’ve done for myself.  There still is a place for a browser without addons installed though.  There are times when a page appears broken and it turns out that what’s being blocked is crucial for success.  For those events, it’s nice to have a Plan B!

Last to Know


I’ll admit it.  I seem to go through life missing so much.

There’s nothing more embarrassing that going for a drive with my wife and asking her “Was that house always there?”  The look I get in return confirms that she really is a saint.

But, when I do clue in on good things, I’m so happy.

I had one of those moments this week.  I was bored and at my MacBook Pro and so decided to see if I was running the latest version of Firefox.  It turns out that I wasn’t.  I’m on the Beta channel and so there are often more updates than on the other channels.  Normally, I just sit there and get the notification the update had been done in the background and that all I have to do is restart.  Why I elected to check manually now, I have no idea.  It was a 60MB download so I knew that I was in for a fair wait with the slow internet connection that I have.

When I rebooted, life went on as per normal. I’m now running version 38.0.5.

I’m plugging away and I notice this little icon.

Was that always there?

I fire up Firefox on my Ubuntu computer, running version 37 and go to the same webpage.  Nada.

OK, it must be new.  I’d be best to look at the release notes.  I don’t see a reference to it.  There is some discussion that a reader mode would be available in version 39.  Am I looking at a work in process on the Beta channel?

Time for some investigation.  I give it a click on an open Hootsuite window and get this.

It looks like a Reader Mode.  It doesn’t work on all pages and seems to kick in intermittently.  Now, I’ve been a user of Evernote’s Clearly for a long time now.  I like reading in a clean, no-distraction environment.  If this is going to be an integral part of Firefox like it has been in Safari for a while, I’m all for it.

In the classroom, the concept is perfect.  Displaying a web page?  Steal the focus from the extraneous and get right to the content.

I just wish I could find a concrete reference to it.  It would be nice to know why it works on this page but not that.  Is there a configuration option?

More importantly, has it always been there?

My Favourite Five


Like many people, I seem to live in a web browser these days.  So much information, so much to do.  I have nothing but admiration for the developers behind this genre of software.  They do an amazing job both in terms of functionality and in efforts to keep us safe online.

Oh, and productive too.

I would estimate that 90% of the time, I’m using the Firefox browser and the rest in Opera Next or Google Chrome.  They’re all such great pieces of software and yet they all are missing those certain somethings.  Fortunately, there are equally as terrific programmers creating addons/extensions to increase the functionality of the browser.  As I look at the collection that appear at the top of the screen, it can look like a holiday decoration!

Every time I install or reinstall a browser, there are certain go-to addons/extensions that I make sure are added.


Scribefire – This is my go-to blogging tool.  It has all of the blogging functionality that I’ve decided that I need.  Or, perhaps I’ve modified my needs to the functions that it provides.  Either way, for my current needs, it has it all.  I like that it easily schedules posts to go live at a particular time.  I also build for my “This Week in Ontario Edublogs” posts by storing content there and scheduling it for Friday.


Web of Trust – A good internet mantra is to “trust nobody” and the Web of Trust is one of my partners in making it happen.  With a simple red, yellow, or green icon next to links, coupled with some common sense, I try to avoid those dodgy websites.


AdBlock Plus – I started out using this like I think most people originally do.  It blocks the very annoying advertising that permeates the internet.  Some of the advertising can be more than just a bit annoying.  I’ve stuck with it because we have incredibly slow internet access here.  I’m constantly asked by my kids “how can you live like this?”  Removing the advertising is one way to speed things up.


Shareaholic – There was a time when I had different resources to share to Twitter, Facebook, Instapaper, Evernote, … It’s kind of interesting to sit back at times and think about where you share resources.  Shareaholic amalgamates them all into a single place.  Just right click on the resource to be saved/shared, choose your preferred destination, and you’re done.


LastPass – Their motto is “Simplify Your Life”.  Actually, it could be simpler.  Just use the same password for every service that you use.  That would also be one of the dumbest things to do.  Period.  LastPass not only does the heavy remembering for you – an account is remembered for any browser with this extension – but it will also generate complex passwords that get the nod of approval to those password security evaluation recommendations that you get when you create a password.


How’s that for a list?  I had to do some work to cut it back to just five and I feel badly that I’m looking at some other create addons at the top of the screen.

What are your favourites that make you and your browsing productivity experience so good?