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.

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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