Building the Perfect Browser

Baby, we’ve come a long way.  I remember working with Internet Explorer or Netscape, browsing the web when it was just a matter of “looking for stuff”.  Being connected to the internet today means so much more.

Recently, I shared my browser with another person who looked at the layout and said “What’s this stuff?” – pointing to the various icons that adorn the top of the browser.

As I started to explain, it really occured to me.  I couldn’t get along with a vanilla web browser in this day and age.  I’ve taken the browser and made it mine.

Depending upon the day, I might be working in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Opera Next but there’s a common thread.  I’ve added extensions or add-ons to make the browser mine.  As I scroll through the extensions page, I may have 20 or 30 installed.  From this big list, I figure that there’s at least five goodies that get me through the day.

ScribeFire – I use this daily.  It’s my in browser blog editor.  It’s got all the features that I could possibly need when composing posts like this one.  Fully featured, and it does a great job with all that I need.

LastPass – Every service that I access on the web seems to have a customized spot that requires logging in to access.  Confession time – there was a time years ago when I used the same password on every service.  “cat”.  OK, just kidding.  Now, I let LastPass create a very secure password every time I create an accound and store it for me.  It’s so nice to have the software remember passwords for me and let me keep my grey matter for other things.

Shareaholic – I’ll admit to being a sharer and I like to tuck away things that I find to my own services.  Shareaholic lets me configure the services that I want to use and I’m just a right click away from assigning it appropriately whenever I visit a web page.  It also serves as a launchpad to a bunch of other services like Diigo, Pinterest, Instapaper,, …

Adblock Plus – Like most people, I like to think I can have a bit of control over what I see when I visit a website.  My use was really initiated by a slow internet connection.  It’s bad enough to have to wait forever for content to appear; but it’s even worse when you’re slowed down by advertising.

Ghostery – I don’t know if there’s any way of perfectly protecting your privacy when connected, but there’s a sense of satisfaction when Ghostery indicates it’s blocking all of 1746 trackers.

There are a number of extensions that are installed but these are visibly active on a regular basis.  I can’t imagine browsing without them.  In fact, if I ever do, I just feel so handicapped and exposed.

What extensions make your good browsing experience great?


Life in a Browser

Yesterday, Alfred Thompson posted an interesting article titled “Why Web Apps?”  I read it via mobile and was just going to let it lie but it must have been percolating in the back of my mind because I went back to it when I got to a computer and replied to his post.  It really had me thinking.

I think there would have been a time when I would have agreed wholeheartedly with him.  There really is something comforting about having an application installed on your local device to do the things that you like/need to do.  But then I thought about my own computer habits.  I do enjoy programming in Visual Basic or C# but haven’t had any pressing projects for quite some time.  For the most part, that machine seldom is even booted to Windows anymore except to update things.  For the most part, it runs Ubuntu and I’ll be honest – 90% of the time, it’s running Firefox and that’s about it.  My Macintosh computer runs Google Chrome and the FirstClass client.  Updates that are needed happen with little fanfare as Firefox and Google Chrome are configured to silently update themselves so that I seldom have to think about it.

My iPad is another thing.  As I write this post, there are 17 applications that require updating and I may set that to go while the dog and I check out the mailboxes up and down the road.  My daily use on that device involves a bit of web browsing but a great deal of time spent in applications so that @tgianno can clobber me in Word with Friends or any of the other Zynga games we’re playing.  Portable is still a maturing platform and I don’t see ditching applications there in the near future.

But, let’s turn back to the traditional computer.  Life here is indeed spent on the web.  Alfred laments the demise of the standalone Tweetdeck and I remember how I felt when the Seesmic Desktop stopped being supported.  I evaluated everything under the sun and ended up with what fits my needs perfectly – Hootsuite.  It runs on the web; the developers are constantly updating things and these updates don’t interfere with my use.

My documents, spreadsheets, forms, and presentations are all handled so nicely with Google Drive and Evernote.  In fact, I can’t recall the last time that I had to seriously use anything but a web browser to do anything.

Image Courtesy of Morgue Files 

As I write this, I just opened my Applications Folder.  It’s not like there’s a shortage of applications in there.  As I scroll through them, I guess I would have to revisit the last sentence in the preceding paragraph.  It’s all coming back to me.  Last Christmas, I did use Adobe Photoshop for some graphics work.  Do I really have to go that far back?  I guess I do.  Looking at the extensions and tools that I’ve added to extend the power of Google Chrome, it really has become my digital toolkit.  Ditto for Firefox on Ubuntu.

For me, Life with an App does seem to be relegated to mobile.  Maybe I just haven’t tried hard enough there?

There definitely are limitations to working solely online.  The internet needs to be there!  Privacy concerns encourage a second and third thought before signing up for anything new.

However, I think the writing is on the wall for me.  I could be writing this post using a local app in Qumana or I could be using LiveWriter, but I’m not.  I’m using ScribeFire in the Google Chrome browser.  It’s not quite a web app; it’s sure is not a local app; it’s really a browser app.  Times have certainly changed.

There is another aspect to all of this.  Every time a new computer needs to be purchased, it’s a total exercise in spec checking.  How much processor, how much drive space, how much RAM can I afford to buy to feed the habit.  At the Google Summit, I had a great conversation @mrfusco who has been living/working with his Chromebook.  If you like Google Chome and don’t mind working in an OS that works like a browser, is $250 all that you need to buy to stay on top of things?  Put the power mongering in the hands of the web service provider!

The bottom line for me includes a wonderful collection of extensions to my browser and the miracles that programmers are doing with HTML5.  It’s not a perfect world and this article provides a nice comparison.

Like it or not, I seem to be migrating to Life in a Browser.  It seems to be my new reality, Alfred!


The reference Garbage In, Garbage Out is a staple when teaching computer science.  It generately acknowledges that a processor or a processor might be considered as a black box where data goes in one side and information out the other.  The black box essentially contains the ability to do whatever it is programmed to do; the value of the whole process relies on a source for good data.

Note the excellently created graphic illustrating the process done by the graphics department of dougpete labs.

A good debugging process will include garbage data (nonsensical or testing the exceptional conditions) and having the logic or the processes handle the data appropriately.  This might be aborting or sending a message to the operator or some other action so that the process can be corrected, changes made and happiness ensues.  (or at least the program works properly)

Sometimes garbage gets through and unexpected results may happen.  This happened to me this past weekend.

On Sunday, the #ecoo13 committee was meeting at the venue in Niagara Falls and I knew that a 4.5 hour drive there and another 4.5 hour drive back wouldn’t give me the opportunity to blog on Sunday so I decided to do it Friday.  It was just a matter of scheduling it to appear on my blog at the regular 5am time and continuity would be ensured.

I wanted to do a review of the Hopscotch and so created the post.  One of the tools that I use for blogging on the Macintosh is Qumana.  So, I just blindly went ahead and wrote the post, scheduled it, and posted it.  Then, I had a D’oh!

Qumana was part of the black box process for me.  I’d had problems posting with it in the past and had forgotten.  It doesn’t post the time/date properly.  Now, what could go wrong?  Just change the time/date, right?

Bring on the Robots

If only it was that simple.  When I post to the blog, I actually have more going on in the black box process than simply posting.

  • First – DLVR.IT monitors the blog and sends a message to Twitter that there’s a new post;
  • Secondly – CanuckEduS monitors my blog and a bunch of other Canadian blogs.  The new post is noticed and an announcement posted to Twitter;
  • Thirdly – nick_chater uses IFTTT and then announces the new post;
  • Fourthly – WordPress sends out email messages to everyone who subscribes to the blog – hey, there’s a new post;
  • Fifthly – I have the announcement posted automatically to my Facebook timeline;
  • Sixthly – There are just good people that try to spread the word by retweeting my announcement of the new post!

Ack!  Realizing what I’d done immediately, I head into WordPress to change the scheduling manually.

I didn’t have a chance to save face.  The robots had followed their instructions to the letter.  I had fed them garbage and, by following the process, they had turned it into something embarrassing.  When you try to follow the announced link, it’s now broken!

Notice that the posted URL includes the date 1970/01/01!  Did they even have blogs back then?  It seems to me that the IBM 360 was king.  For the sake of eight characters, my garbage date had created a problem.  The robots working away feverishly in the black box had only served to amplify it.

My lesson was learned.  Now, I’m forced to try to determine the problem.  I know that I can write, schedule, and post directly to WordPress natively, with Scribefire, LiveWriter, and Blogio.  It’s just with Qumana.  It’s a shame because it had been such a great actor.  Of course, the first thing I do is check to make sure that I’ve got the latest revision.  Yes, I do.  Rats.

Fortunately, I have alternatives to use while I poke around and see if I can find a solution.

In the meantime, my apologies to those of you who read the announcement of the post only to find a broken link.  The good news is that it was released for public viewing properly this morning!  Thanks for reading.


Scooping Policy

One of the most painful of all administrative tasks is trying to find something written in educational policy.  My superintendents were good about photocopying any PPM (Policy/Program Memorandum) and sending it to me so that we could be in total compliance with any directions.  I would read/skim and then three-hole punch and they would go into a collection of green binders on my bookshelf.  They would sit there until I need to make reference to something.  I knew it was there – just had to find it!

After a while, I would realize that I was amassing a good collection of history and do a little periodic weeding when you get a new memo that supersedes a current one.  It’s actually a great deal of work.

Now, I’m a long time! user with my collections of QR Codes and Ontario Edubloggers being the! pages that I manage the most.  It’s a handy environment to work within and having the shortcut sitting in my bookmarks bar makes adding resources a piece of cake when I find something I wish to curate.! is also good enough to let you know when one of your friends starts a new collection in case you’re interested or you wish to tap into resources that others have found.

It was today that I got an announcement that Tom D’Amico (@TDOttawa) had created a new topic.  It had an interesting title – Human Resources and Education Law.  In some corners, that would be the sort of thing you’d take a look at if you were having difficulties falling to sleep.  In other corners, the topics are nice to have on hand just the moment you need it.  I know of at least three administrative assistants who would drag the big binders to meetings “just in case”.  I really like Tom’s concept!  If the documents are available online, why not cobble them all together?

After all, the resources are on the web and there are iOS and Android applications for it.  Why wouldn’t you just have it all in one spot?


Now, I’m not real fussy about the topic of the scoops at the top of the list but it’s the law as foisted upon education.

But, I do like the concept.  Why not use the tools available at your disposal to make life easier?  It’s a great deal easier than lugging binders and binders of policy around.  Kudos, Tom.

Powered by ScribeFire.


Tips for Bloggers

I really like a recent blog post by Edna Sackson.  It was titled “10 Tips for Reticent Bloggers“.  In the posting, she laid out some tips for people to become more successful in their blogging pursuits.  I thought her list was bang on and would recommend the reading for anyone.  The tips are equally as applicable for students as they are teachers.  She could turn it into an infographic that could be posted on classroom walls!

I’d lke to continue her list with some of my own thoughts.

  • Use a blog editor – I found that I’ve been a great deal more successful with less frustration when I use LiveWriter, Qumana, or ScribeFire.  Why?  At any given point in time, I might have up to a dozen potential blog posts on the go.  For me, ideas come when I’m watching television, walking the dog, reading a blog, testing software or many other things.  I’ll just open one of these tools and jot a few notes to myself and potentially finish them later.  Since doing this, I’ve never felt “under the gun” to create a post.
  • Use a graphic organizer – Sometimes, the random thoughts from the blog editor need to be arranged or otherwise manipulated.  Just like we tell students to organize, it can work for us.  My choice of graphic organizer is currently Popplet but I’ve used and had success with many others, some which have ended up here in a post.
  • Read a lot – When I read, I find that I’m also researching.  Particularly when I’m reading an article that challenges what I think I know, it opens the door to other possibilities.  One of my favourite writers is Stephen Downes.  I subscribe to his OLDaily where he shares what he thinks is significant in his daily reading.  It’s a format that works for him and I’m the beneficiary of his efforts.
  • Don’t worry about being right – Regular readers of this blog should be able to agree with that!  It’s amazing how people who interact with a blog post can steer your thinking and that may be the single most valuable reason I blog.  Bonus – it’s always really good when people agree with you.
  • Evaluate things – Another of my favourite technology writers is Jerry Pournelle.  When he wrote for BYTE magazine, he never seemed to get anything to work the first time.  Or, at least that seemed to be his style which I enjoyed.  Beyond that, he was always discovering things.  That sent me on a road of discovery and blogging about it just seems natural.
  • Don’t get hung up on replies – I may be out on a limb here.  There are some bloggers who write one post that generates hundreds of replies.  I’ve yet to have that type of “success”.  My primary goal is to get my thoughts posted and it’s gravy if someone happens to add a reply.  Since I announce posts on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook, feedback can also come from there.  And, some readers subscribe by email so they’re not even at the blog to read it.
  • Find your niche – or have no niche and enjoy it.  Stephen Downes is a perfect example of consistency in approach and regularity.  I’d like to think I’m completely different because I’ve given myself license to write about anything and experiment with things like my recent interview series.
  • Enjoy yourself – I’ll be honest.  I don’t think I would enjoy blogging for a living.  (although if I was offered enough money…)  I enjoy it as a hobby and a way to get some of my thoughts out into the open.  I’ve met some incredible people online and face to face because of it.

There you have it.  My extension to Edna’s original post.  If you’re a blogger, what tips would you give others?