Monthly Archives: October 2006

deFlocked — for now

In what I suppose will come as a shock to some who think of me as a “SuperFan” of Flock, I’m announcing that during the last week I have decided to change my default browser to Firefox 2.0, just as Tish is getting on the Flock bandwagon.  The primary reason for the change, in my case, is speed or the relative lack of it in Flock.  It may be just my system or it may be that because Flock aspires to do so much, it will always be slower than FF, but whatever the reason, there is enough of a speed difference that the extra effort required to make this change seems justified.

Last week when I noticed the difference in the speed of the two browsers, I pulled up Process Explorer and checked the properties of both browsers side-by-side, and this is what I saw.  


For those really interested, clicking the image above will open a larger version of it that I hope you’ll be able to read clearly. (Update: After posting this I notice that the “expanded view” of the graphic above displays at the same size as what is within the post. Here is a larger display of it.) The memory usage in Flock seems to be almost twice as much as in Firefox.  In all fairness to Flock, it must be acknowledged that it is at version 0.7 or thereabouts whereas Firefox is at version 2.0.  I’m sure I’ll be testing each version of Flock as it comes out, so the change I’ve made is not necessarily permanent, but for now you can color me as primarily a Firefox user.

So what “extra effort” you may ask yourself is required to duplicate all the functions that Flock makes available in its default installation when one chooses to use Firefox instead?  Well, that’s an interesting story to me.  In many ways, I think it says some positive things about Flock that there is a lot of things that I must activate to recreate its built-in functions, and there are some things that I can’t duplicate in Firefox at all.

First, let me describe the things I am able to duplicate. 

Since I used Flock’s built-in “My News” to track the RSS feeds that I follow, I’ve opened a Bloglines account and am systematically adding the feeds to it that I previously followed in Flock.  This would be a lot easier to do if Flock had a capability that Mike Neel has been requesting for a while — the ability to export the feeds from Flock to an OPML file.  But it doesn’t yet have that ability (see Update #2 below for a correction), so I’m having to go through the feeds one at a time and subscribe to them in Bloglines.  Fortunately, Bloglines offers a widget that you can add to your Bookmark Toolbar so that you can subscribe to a feed easily.  I’ve also set my Bloglines account as one of the two Home pages that open when I open Firefox, so that provides the same function as Flock’s notification that a feed has been updated.

I’ve had to add a widget to my Bookmark Toolbar so that I can tag items for my account, whereas when I “starred” a favorite in Flock, that gave me the option to do both things at once.  That is a feature that I’ll welcome being able to get back when Flock improves its speed and I return to it as my default browser, because the way Flock stores favorites gives me a capability that I can’t recreate in Firefox.  But I’ll say more about that later when I discuss what I can’t duplicate in Firefox.

Flock has a built-in blog editor that Erwan Loisant is working to improve.  However, I have already begun experimenting with a number of the other blog editors that are available.  At the moment I am using Windows Live Writer for this post, and that is the editor I usually use when I want to add a graphic to the post anyway.  WLW gives some additional capabilities for formatting the graphic at the time it is added, so I prefer it for that function.  I’ve also installed Performancing into Firefox, and I use that for quick posts directly from the browser.  And on those rare occasions when I want to post a podcast, I use the Write panel in my WordPress installation so that I have access to the podPress add-in that I have installed there.  I don’t think it is likely that any one of these various blog editors will ever have all the features that are unique to the others, so I am content with having a number of tools to perform the specific task I want to accomplish.

Flock’s integration with Flickr is sweet, and I prefer its uploading capability to either the Flickr Uploadr or the web interface at Flickr.  However, I can subscribe in Bloglines to the RSS feeds for those of my Flickr contacts that I want to stay informed of when they update their photostream.  So in one sense I can duplicate Flock’s notification that one of my contacts has uploaded a new photo.  However, one feature isn’t available by doing that.  In Bloglines, I can only see the Public photos that my son uploads, not those that are designated as available to only Family and Friends.  However, I can live with that limitation because when I visit Flickr, I can see that other group of pictures. 

And finally to draw this epic post to a conclusion, let me say that the thing I can’t duplicate in Firefox that I miss most from Flock is the ability to easily change which collection displays in my browser in the place where the Bookmark Toolbar is displayed in Firefox.  I have used the “collections” feature in Flock extensively, and I really liked being able to display across the top of my browser the links in the different collections so that they are easily accessible while surfing. 

I look forward to Flock’s further development and the improvements I hope for in its performance.  You haven’t lost me as a SuperFan Flock.  I just need a little time away to play for a while in the fast lane.

Update #2: Daryl points out to me in a comment to this post that Flock does indeed have the ability to export news feeds to an OPML file. And upon looking more closely, I did discover that ability. Thanks, Daryl. Sorry to have inaccurately criticized Flock regarding a feature that was already there. I guess it lends support to your frequent comments about the importance of discoverability. 😉

Curling up with a good CRT

I know many people are fond of waxing nostalgic about the joys of curling up with a good book and how much better that is than trying to read something on a computer monitor.  And to a degree I can appreciate that perspective.  Because you can take the book to bed and read it there or on a train or plane while traveling and because there is a certain joy in the feel of just turning the pages, staring at a CRT or an LCD screen isn’t nearly as convenient and that represents something of a hurdle that one must overcome to see any benefits to reading something online.  But as I’ve done it more, I’ve now actually come to prefer curling up with a good CRT to read many things.  Why?  Well, that’s what I want to talk about in this post for a moment.

Technology can aid aging eyes

This is a screenshot of an article my friend Paul Moor pointed out to me recently, shown at the font size I normally use for surfing.  If you click on the image to open it in a larger view, you’ll notice that the text is rather small and therefore uncomfortably dense to be read online, or at least it is to my aging eyes.  However in Firefox, I can quickly press Ctrl + a couple of times to increase the font size temporarily when I am going to read something like this online so that it becomes easier for me to see. 

Here’s what it looks like when I do that.  Why don’t I just make that increased font size my normal surfing mode, you ask?  The answer is pretty simple.  Although the font size is better for reading an article like this, that large font size distorts the web page layout when I leave it that large for most web pages, so I prefer to only increase it temporarily when I’m reading something this lengthy.  If you visit the link to the article, you’ll see that it is quite long and reading it took me about an hour, so I wanted the comfort for that period but not permanently.  When I’ve completed reading something like this, I can simply close the tab in which I have it opened and I am back to my preferred font size for surfing. 

This one simple change, increasing the font size, does wonders for my enjoyment of reading things online. 

Being online enhances the experience of reading

In my experience it has always been a good idea to have a dictionary handy when you are reading something.  While I have a pretty good vocabulary, it is limited, of course.  So if I really wanted to get something out of an article, I’d need to look up the meaning of some of the words in the article.  As I curl up with my CRT, looking up words like “ululating” is a matter of copying the word I don’t know to the clipboard, opening a new tab to and pasting that into the search box and bingo I’ve got the definition. 

However, Firefox has made the process of looking up a word at even easier through the use of a neat little concept called a keyword for linking to a web site.  At the right is a screenshot of the “Quick Searches” folder of bookmarks that are stored in Firefox by default.  If you’ll notice the items highlighted in yellow in this screenshot, you’ll see that for a number of them keywords have already been defined that for that particular link.  I can press Ctrl T to open a new tab, and type “dict,” a space and then paste “ululating” and press Enter, and it will open with the definition of that word displayed.  Because it is so much easier to look up words when I am reading something online, I find myself much more likely to actually look up those words that I’m unsure about than I would be if I had an Oxford English Dictionary at my side.  And I am back to reading the article in which I am interested much more quickly than I would be otherwise. 

But reading online is not just useful for solving my ignorance about the meaning of some words.  Sometimes references are made to someone like Norbert Weiner, with whom I am not familiar, so I can copy that name to the clipboard, open a new tab (Ctrl T) and type “wp,” a space and then paste “Norbert Weiner” and press Enter, and bingo I have an elaboration of who that person is.  “Wp” is the keyword assigned to Wikipedia in the default installation.  By becoming familiar with the various keywords already defined in the Quick Searches bookmarks in Firefox, it is possible to speed up the use of these resources for enhancing the experience of whatever you are reading.

And for me, the advent of tabbed browsing, which has finally come to Internet Explorer too with version 7, has made using the browser so much more efficient that I can’t imagine having to go back to surfing without it. 

Have it your way

What I have described up to this point is using the out-of-the-box configuration of Firefox.  However, I can change things to suit myself and my own habits better.  For instance, “wp” doesn’t seem as natural to me for Wikipedia as the keyword “wiki.”  I find that easier to remember.  So if I prefer “wiki” to “wp” as the keyword for Wikipedia, I can just change it. 

Here’s how. 

In Firefox, go to Bookmarks / Organize Bookmarks and open the Quick Searches folder.  Highlight the Wikipedia entry, right click on it and choose Properties, and change the keyword so that it is what you want rather than what it was.  This is what that dialog looks like.  Notice the Keyword field is highlighted in yellow in this screenshot. 

What’s best about this capability is that you can assign your own keywords to any link that you have bookmarked.  If you want to create a keyword for a link to your blog, for instance, you can bookmark the page, then go to this dialog in Organize Bookmarks and add the keyword, say “myblog” for instance, and then any time you want to visit that link, you just open a new tab (Ctrl T) and type “myblog” and press Enter.  By tailoring the browser like this, I think you’ll find, as I have, that the experience of curling up with a CRT is more pleasant than you might have previously imagined.

New browsers

Firefox 2.0 and Internet Explorer 7 are out and available.  I’ve installed Firefox 2.0 on my own computer and yesterday, I helped my friend Paul install IE7 on his.  He described IE7 as the Rolls-Royce of browsers, but I countered that it is more like getting a new car of the same brand.  There are a number of new bells and whistles, but it is the same kind of car.  I like it much better than IE6, but it is a matter of preference as to whether it is that much better than FF 2.0.  I do like the way it does RSS feeds, however.

If you are still driving the old version of IE, I would think you would want to add IE7 as soon as it is convenient.  It is purportedly more secure than IE6, and it certainly has enough enhanced features that it is worth the trouble to install.  If you aren’t yet bold enough to add it now, it will be installed automatically through Windows Update sometime in November, I understand.

I’m sure I’ll be writing more about these browsers in the days ahead, so stay tuned.

Update: Mike Neel has also posted his comments about these two browsers, in which he goes into more detail about the differences and similarities between them.  So rather than my reinventing that particular wheel, let me recommend that you check out his review.

powered by performancing firefox

Well, Duh!

I am almost embarrassed to admit that I have only today discovered this technique, but I must swallow my pride and state what to everyone else may be obvious.

For a long time, I and a number of my friends have lamented the fact that in Windows XP it is frequently difficult to find a program because the list of programs listed when you click on All Programs wasn’t in alphabetical order. This morning I began trying to find an answer and the answer, it turns out, is so simple that it’s embarrassing.

If you will click on All Programs and then RIGHT click on any one of the programs’ names, a context menu will appear in which one of the options will be “sort by name.” If you click that, the entire list will snap into alphabetical order! Who knew?

Okay, now you can begin your comments to ridicule my ignorance and tell me that you’ve known that forever and that I am a dunce for never having discovered it before, but just in case you didn’t know it, now you do. I suppose I can now die in peace because I have made the world just a little bit better. Enjoy.

Blogged with Flock

Theme modified

For some time now, I’ve been disturbed by the fact that the theme for this blog didn’t display the same way in Internet Explorer as it did in Firefox (or Flock).  This morning, I’ve used widgets to display the items in the sidebar and in the process, that has seemed to clear up the problem of how it displays in IE.  I may continue to tinker with other themes, because though I like the clean look of the Barthelme theme, there are many, many more options out there and I may be able to find one I like better. 

If any of you IE users experience problems with this theme, I would appreciate the feedback.

Blogged with Flock

Cheryl’s pictures from Dollywood

Apparently Cheryl and the children made a trip to Dollywood yesterday because she has posted some pictures of the children on her Flickr photostream.  However, for some legitimate reasons, those pictures are made visible only to Family and Friends who have Flickr accounts and are so designated.  So while I can point you to her photostream, you won’t see the children’s pictures there. 

She did a nice job, though, of shooting them and I marked several as favorites because she caught the children with nice smiles that didn’t appear too affected or strained.  The pictures were posed rather than candid shots, but despite that, the expressions she captured were very nice, and of course the advantage one has of staging a picture is that you can have some interesting settings and other elements in the picture that enhance it and make it suitable for framing or sending away to Grandma. 

This one of Connor, for instance, is a keeper and would make a nice cover for a Halloween card, if we sent cards out for that holiday like we do for Christmas.  I’m amazed that Cheryl was able to get him to sit still and to look into the camera with a smile on his face long enough to take the picture.  At almost 18 months old, he is energetic and therefore not inclined to pose, but he has been photographed a lot since his birth, so perhaps even at this young age he may have learned the art of holding still for the camera.  On the other hand, his mother may have threatened him with torture to within an inch of his life to get the picture, but if she did, I certainly don’t want to know that. 😉  Obviously I’m kidding, because I know she would never do that. 

This picture of Kaitlin, though posed, has a nice casual look to it.  Since Cheryl is a beautician, in addition to her primary job with Morgan Stanley, I was surprised that she would find it acceptable to take the picture with that loose strand of hair that you see, but to me that makes the picture better rather than worse.  And I like the fact that Kaitlin isn’t straining to smile.  Sometimes just looking pleasant is better that grinning, as my Grandfather used to say, “like a possum eatin’ briars.”

In this picture of Morgan, I think Cheryl got the hat trick — three great shots, all on the same day.  Again, it is a posed picture, as is obvious from the surroundings, but Morgan is showing a natural, beautiful smile, and I think that kind of thing makes all the difference in the world in a photograph.  Learning to allow yourself to be photographed naturally is a skill some people never acquire.  I suppose the advent of digital photography and because of that the resurgence of photography as a hobby may make this generation of children more accustomed to being photographed and may result in a much better photographic record of their youth that I’m sure they will treasure when they are older.  One other great thing about having photographs such as these in digital format is that they won’t fade through the years or if you print a copy to share with your family and it does fade, you can just print another. 

I’m very impressed with Cheryl’s skill at getting these pictures.  It shows that Mike isn’t the only photographer in the family.