Archive for the ‘Browsers’ Category

TapThe advert blocking debate

14 Sep 2007 11:25 by Rick

We all know that some web sites contain adverts and we know that some people don’t like them. Some people don’t like them so much that they block them. If you use Firefox then there is a very popular extension called AdBlock Plus. But now the site owners are beginning to fight back. They claim that the existence of the web sites and, in many cases, their livelihood depends on the revenue from the adverts and that, if you are not prepared to view the ads then they are not willing to show you the pages. They have developed a piece of code so that if you visit one of their pages with AdBlock Plus enabled then you will be redirected to a page of explanation.

Originally they blocked Firefox altogether but fortunately they have backed off from that. One argument is that the original AdBlock had this capability built in but now it is a war of the coders. This is a war that could get quite heated. Personally I don’t use AdBlock, my brain filters out unwanted stuff naturally, though I do stop animated GIFs and Flash because I find them irritating.

TapBritish Dictionary for Firefox

30 Mar 2007 08:18 by Rick

I know that the Add-ons for Firefox are created by volunteers but the organisation does itself no favours by allowing a fundamental extension go out of date. In most cases there is nothing wrong with the extension, just that the install package is out of date specifying a maximum version older than the current one. This has happened with the British English Dictionary so I have made available a hacked copy here.

Update: 10 Aug 2009: British English Dictionary 1.19.99.1 Now supports Firefox 3.5+

Update: 24 Feb 2010: British English Dictionary 1.19.99.2 Now supports Thunderbird 3.0+.

TapGamma Delta

9 Jan 2007 10:03 by Rick

When I made the rather flippant post last Friday about Mary’s screen being set too bright I hadn’t realised; firstly that the problem is widespread and secondly that it is harder to get right than I thought.

The problem seems to be that TFT flat panel screens have an inherently different response to colour signals than the older CRT screens. It also seems to be true that the default settings are set “too bright” by the manufacturers. I could even suggest that they do this deliberately so that you see the “nice bright colours” when you are shopping for a new monitor. I know TV makers used to do this as the brighter pictures sold more sets.

The adjustment that is needed is called the “Gamma Correction” together with the brightness and contrast. These can sometimes be adjusted on the monitor itself, on the graphics card or with an external program, though the latter often only compensates within the relevant application like Adobe Photoshop.

Gamma correction compensates for the fact that CRT screens respond non-linearly to the values of the (linear) RGB signals sent to them. If the screen is uncorrected the image overall looks dark with poor detail in the shadows but glistening bright spots on the highlights. This is because the screen brightness (approximately) follows an inverse power law, usually with a value of about 2.5. Brightness changes at the darker end make little difference on the screen but at the lighter parts of the image they have more effect giving the sparkly points. To compensate for this, graphics cards boost the low level signals and dampen the higher level signals using a reverse function. The default compensating value (the Gamma) on a PC (and the US NTSC television standard) is 2.2 and on a Mac it is 1.8. The debate about which is right has been endless and I won’t continue it here.

The different technology of the TFT LCD flat panel screens requires a different adjustment and my impression is that they over compensate causing the opposite effect—i.e. the overall image looks very bright but with poor detail in the highlights. This makes photographs and video look stunning, particularly the latter which were often filmed very dark for cinema blackout conditions. For many desktops and websites, like this one, you get a washed out look, partly because they were designed on and for CRT screens.

Making the adjustments takes some getting used to and some funny squinting faces but the best method that I have seen can be found on the Monitor calibration and Gamma assessment page by Photoscientia (towards the bottom of the page) First it is important that you install the correct and up to date drivers for both your graphics adaptor and screen model. It also helps to avoid confusion and complication if you set the screen itself to the manufacturers default, probably using the buttons on the front. Then the specially calibrated test images can be used and, by altering the settings for the graphics adaptor, produce the best effect across the range. It cannot be perfect for bright middle and dark images but a close approximation can be made. At first, at least, I suggest that you don’t adjust the colours separately but use the combined controls if they are available. Adjust for any apparent colour casts afterwards.

Personally I prefer the colour balance with the Gamma value set to 1.8. When adjusting my DELL 1707FP with an ATI RADEON X600SE graphics adaptor using the DVI-D port, I found that a compensating Gamma setting of 0.90 was a good compromise. The light image wanted nearer to 0.85, the mid one 0.95 and the Dark one was happy with the default 1.0. This was leaving the brightness and contrast on the defaults of 0 and 100 respectively. Note that different graphics adaptors may use other calibration scales and they don’t seem to mean very much. Just twiddle the knobs until it looks right.

Another useful test is the PDI Test Image (©Photodisc Inc.) which can be found at Northlight Images (it is the first image with the four faces at the bottom) . This is a high quality photograph containing a lot of different types of object: light, dark, metallic, skin tones, high and low contrast etc. This should be viewed so it fits your monitor full screen from top to bottom not zoomed to it’s natural resolution. I think that if you can pick out detail on the circuit board in shadow at the top left and the brightly lit valves on the right and the faces at the bottom look natural (particularly the second one is not washed out) then you have got it about right.

[added afterwards] I forgot to mention: now wind the brightness way down so it doesn’t light up the whole room and strain your eyes. About -40 was about right on my screen.

Many graphics cards allow you to have different settings for the desktop to those for video so you can adjust each to get the best performance. What is surprising is that though all these adjustments are provided by the manufacturers, so little information is provided on how to use them.

TapIE7

16 Oct 2006 18:24 by Rick

In case you haven’t heard, Microsoft are about to release Internet Explorer Version 7 to the world—I am not exactly sure when. Anyway, they are so keen on it that, soon after it becomes available, they are going to push it out as a “fix” on Patch Tuesday like the monthly security repairs.
My opinion, for what it is worth, is that the average user should resist installing this for a while to give it a chance to settle down. Many web sites will not be prepared for the changes. I have not tested it yet because I don’t want to install a pre-release version onto my only working computer, so I haven’t tested and adjusted my web site for it. I expect there are many people in the same position. Give it a few weeks for the gremlins to be worked out and see what the press is like before committing yourself. This is the same even if you use an alternative browser; a surprising amount of internal Windows relies on Internet Explorer, not the least of which is Windows Update.
Of course, if you are configured for automatic updates then you will need to turn this off and set it for notify-and-manual-install for a while so you don’t wake up one day and find it has just happened.

TapFavourite Firefox Extensions (4)

19 Sep 2006 09:10 by Rick

This week—Flashblock (and about:config)
I get irritated by blinking, moving, jumping pictures on web pages so one of the first things I do when installing Firefox is to control the animated images. This control is not on the options menu, you have to edit the configuration direct, but the package makes this easy. Type the dummy URL “about:config” into the address bar for a new tab and you will get a big list of all the variables that can be changed. You can see the ones in bold that you have changed either explicitly using this edit system or implicitly via the options menu and other decisions.
The one we are looking for here is “image.animation_mode”. Double click that line (or right click, Modify) and change the value to “once.” Then animated gifs will stop once they have gone through the first cycle rather than run continuously.
The flaw with this config screen is that there is no checking of the values and nolittle documentation but if you type rubbish in then it will be ignored without comment and use the default.

Now for flashblock. What this does is to replace all Macrovison Flash/Shockwave/Authorware objects by a button. Clicking the button activates the object but otherwise it just sits there without distracting you. As the majority are advertising or useless intro screens, I very rarely click them.

TapPlugins and extensions.

23 May 2006 11:22 by Rick

After enabling the Akismet plugin for WordPress the other day (which I will say now, is superb) I thought that I would investigate what others there were. I went to the WordPress Plugin DB and found over 1000. Having now read most of the one line descriptions I selected only one that I thought would be useful—Self Comment Notification Filter which stops you having to moderate your own comments. In the case of 99% of the others I still have absolutely no idea what they do or why I should want them.

And that, I think is the problem with the Plugin and Extension system; the same is true of Firefox and Thunderbird only worse because the users tend to be less technically minded. It is neat that the products are stripped down and functional with no excess baggage that you never use (unlike some other products we could name). But there is something missing from the mechanism for extensions. There is no quality control so you have to try them and see if they work; there is little version control so they may not be compatible with the next release of the base product if the author has lost interest; and there is no good advertising.

What seems to be needed is an organised reputation system, probably managed by the base product owners. To get onto the list you should have to provide a minimal of description, function, documentation and screen shots. You should need to commit to a period of support, and there should be an organised classification (to identify potential users) and rating system (to determine quality).

For WordPress the Plugin Database meets some of these requirements and for Firefox/Thunderbird the Firefox Addons site and the Mozdev extension room offer similar services, but they all lack that something that would encourage the general user to look for and find the useful tools.

Themes and skins suffer from a similar problem unless promoted by the base product owners—even with a product like WordPress, that is only likely to be used by the technically savvy, it is remarkable how many are set up using the default theme.

TapIgnored Standards

28 Mar 2006 10:21 by Rick

It is often hailed that Firefox and Opera are “Standards Compliant Browsers”; even Internet Explorer is not bad most of the time. It is a little known secret, however, that they are only compliant when it suits them (and us).

When it comes to handling “CSS floats”, that is sections of the content that push to the left or right of the window and allow the remainder to flow around them, what they do is work out the size of the content of the float and then position it according to instructions. If you don’t specify a width for the container then it is determined by the width of the content. This is what designers like as it allows them flexibility and a fluid layout.

However the Standard says

A floated box must have an explicit width (assigned via the ‘width’ property, or its intrinsic width in the case of replaced elements)

Only Internet Explorer on the Mac obeys this rule and creates havoc with some styling. Now this browser is dying out rapidly, it went out of development in Jun 2003 and out of support in Dec 2005, but it still lingers on, especially among genealogists it seems.

Yes, we can hack around it but that is not the issue. If we want the design that we are used to, then the standard needs to be changed, otherwise we tempt anarchy.

TapFavourite Firefox Extensions (3)

3 Feb 2006 10:30 by Rick

This week—LinkToolbar

It allows you to add new toolbar icons which make navigation easier. Users of the full Mozilla suite will be familiar with it as a similar feature is integrated. First it looks for specially inserted HTML elements <link … > which define things like Next, Previous, First, Last and Top. If these are not found (and they are not common) then it gets clever and searches the body of the page for similar sounding manual links. Finally it interprets Up as up one level in the web server directory hierarchy and Top to mean just the domain root. You can put the neat little arrow buttons in any available toolbar space.

Finding this is a bit tricky as maintenance is sporadic. The official web site has version 1.1.0.1 which is suitable for Firefox 1.0.* It was patched for Firefox 1.5 but this copy (1.1.99) can only be found via the bug report. When Firefox 1.5.0.1 came out I couldn’t find a copy at all so I have hacked my own v1.1.99.1 (click to install, right click to download). There is no functional change, I have just changed the maximum permitted version, but it seems to work ok. There is reputed to be a version 1.2 coming out some time but the site has been very inactive.

TapDIY characters or Extending Unicode

15 Jan 2006 22:33 by Rick

There are a couple of problems I have with Unicode. First of all it can be very hard to find the character you want if it is out of the normal context. I am transcribing C17th documents and there are a few unusual characters that you need. “y” umlaut “ÿ” is one and a long “f” is another. The best match I have found scanning down all the alphabet groups is ƒ, a florin symbol.

The second problem that even though there are thousands of characters (glyphs) sometimes the one you want is not there. I need an “m” with a tilde over and “p” with a line through and, as far as I can tell, these don’t exist. There is, however, a range of what are called non-spacing characters which allow you to modify the preceding character, much as we used to use backspace in the old Teletype days. So “m” tilde can be created with “m” followed by &#771; to give “m̃” and “p” line-through can be created with “p” followed by &#817; (a low macron) to give “p̱”. Neither is perfect but it is the best that I seem to be able to do.

An example of what can be done can be seen on the first page of Sufferings of the Quakers 1655–86. The remaining pages will be finished off soon.

(late note: Many apologies folks, but this only seems to work in Firefox, IE6 users get a little box after each character. Perhaps IE7 will be better đŸ™‚

TapFavourite Firefox Extensions (2)

4 Jan 2006 09:12 by Rick

This week—FoxClocks

It displays the time for different world zones down on the status bar or on any tool bar. This is not really related to browser function but…

The browser is always there.

It takes up no space.

I keep Vancouver, Adelaide and Perth but it is highly customisable for zone, style, location and will apparently integrate with Google Earth.

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