My Firefox Window

It didn’t occur to me until somebody looked over my shoulder and commented on it, today, that I actually have an at-least slightly unusual layout for my Firefox window. I thought I’d share with you all the thinking behind the particular collection of add-ons and tweaks that go into my day-to-day web browsing:

I’m a big fan of maximising the amount of screen real estate available for browsing, minimising the chrome that surrounds it. That’s why I use the LittleFox theme. It’s not the prettiest theme around, but it’s tiny, simplistic, and works with every version of Firefox I’ve ever thrown it at. It saves space by reducing the size of icons and excess space around tabs and buttons, and it does a great job of it.

To save even more precious vertical space (and because I’m generally running at high screen resolutions, and can spare the horizontal screen space), I combine my menu bar, toolbar, address bar and search boxes into a single toolbar. You can do this by right-clicking on the menu bar and clicking “Customize…” I drop the refresh, stop, and home buttons. I never pressed refresh nor stop anyway, always using the shortcut keys (F5 or CTRL-R, and ESC, respectively), and I my homepage is about:blank. On computers running at lower screen resolutions I’ve previously used the Searchbar Autosizer add-on to tuck-away the search box when I’m not using it, but nowadays I rarely bother.

I frequently find myself with dozens of tabs open, and I loathe it when tabbed applications force me to “scroll” left and right through my tabs (I’d rather my tabs just got narrower and narrower, until only the favicon remains), so I use about:config to change the browser.tabs.tabMinWidth setting to 0, which, after you’ve restarted your browser, changes this behaviour.

In addition to the add-ons that can be seen in my status bar – ColorZilla (in the bottom-left, so not visible in the screenshot above), Adblock Plus, FireGPG, Firebug (and a few extensions), Google Reader Watcher, Greasemonkey, HTML Validator, NoScript (with noscript.firstRunRedirection set to false, to stop it’s nagging), and ShowIP, I use one further add-on to tidy up my “bookmarks toolbar”.

The Status Buttons add-on gives you the capability to drag-drop any other user interface component into the right-hand side of the status bar: I use this to move the entire contents of the Bookmarks Toolbar down into the status bar, tucked out of the way. I remove the titles from most of the bookmarks (I can identify these, my most-frequently-used sites, by their favicons), adding them only where there’d otherwise be ambiguity as to the purpose of the icon.

All of these tweaks give me a huge browsing space that works the way that I want it to. I’m a heavy user of keyboard shortcuts – I pretty much only use the mouse to click hyperlinks and the buttons in the status bar – so this kind of layout suits me very well. One of the great things about Firefox is it’s flexibility: that you can make these kinds of tweaks so easily. And hopefully if you’re a similar kind of power user you’ll take some of these tips and be able to make use of them, too.

Please Drink This Alcohol-Free Beer Responsibly

Huh? *

How am I expected to irresponsibly enjoy an alcohol-free beer? By selling it to people as “the real stuff”? It’s certainly not by drinking it – you’d have to drink somewhere in excess of one-hundred and sixty-seven bottles of Beck’s Blue, for example, to get the same amount of alcohol as you’d get in one pint of 4% ABV beer (thanks, Wikipedia), and Beck’s Blue is just about the most alcoholic of the “alcohol-free” beers.

Perhaps juggling the bottles would be an irresponsible way to enjoy it. The shopkeeper certainly seemed to think so this evening.

* Beck’s Blue is an alcohol free beer, in case you didn’t know. My year-off alcohol’s going okay (now over half-way through!), by the way, although I’m developing a taste for alcohol-free things and I’m not sure that I’m permitted to maintain posession of my Y chromosome.

Democracy At Work

Earlier this week, I had a strange experience, but it requires a little bit of back story.

Spend enough time with me, and you’ll hear me gripe about the problems of our democracy: the faults of the plurality voting system, gerrymandering and it’s long-term ripple effects, party politics, the motivations of politicians, and much more, even before I get down to talking about the apathy of constituents and our disgustingly ill-informed populace. I know how little my vote counts for (clue: pretty much nothing), and that’s why to make my opinions heard though occasional, carefully-researched letters to the people who represent me, and I encourage others to do the same – a letter, while in itself not particularly powerful, is still worth a lot more than a ballot paper. And thanks to WriteToThem, it’s really easy to send correspondence to the elected officials who represent you on the local, regional, national and international stages.

Perhaps inspired by some combination of (a) my recent experience with Pecky and the Squawkies, (b)  the mess created by their seagull buddies on and around rubbish collection days – which seems to have gotten worse recently (see photo, above) – and (c) the petitions that seem to be floating about town in general over the last few weeks, requesting that something (humane) is done about the troublesome Aber seagull population, I wrote to the council to express my thoughts on the matter, and to make a few suggestions based on things that have been tried by other towns affected by seagulls.

When I’ve written to representatives before, I’ve gotten a mixed response rate, and that’s fair enough – they’re busy people (at least, they are if they’re doing their job right). Writing to my MP, over the last decade or so, has typically gotten me a response rate of about 80%, which is quite impressive. Writing to MEPs gets a response rate of about 65%. Writing to a PM gets a response rate of about 50%, and that’s better than I’d have expected. So far, writing to my local council, although I’ve not done so often, has gotten me a 100% response rate.

And so I got an e-mail in response to my query about seagulls: great, it’s a pressing issue, apparently, and one that’s attracting a lot of attention from constituents (nice to know I’m not alone in my opinions), and it’s now scheduled for discussion on the next Department of Environmental Services and Housing Scrutiny Committee meeting, which is nice. What I didn’t expect was what followed.

The chap pictured above (thanks, BBC) is Ceredig Davies, Aberystwyth Central Ward councilor for Ceredigion Council. On Monday night, while I was on my way back to The Cottage after ReAnime Night (with a brief diversion to say goodnight to Claire on the way), he pulled up his car alongside me and leapt out, shaking my hand as he went.

He thanked me for my e-mail, explained that he’d e-mailed me and asked if I’d got it, and told me what he’d done about it so far and the challenges were that he thought might make it difficult to implement my suggestions (mostly only things I was aware of, but sadly not things I know the answers to). Then he dashed back across the street, hopped back into his car, and drove away.

This is perhaps the most pro-active response I’ve ever had from an elected official (even without the surprise meeting in the street, his reply to my e-mail was prompt and informative, and was followed-up by more information that interested me), but it left a question burning in my mind: Mr. Davies represents 15,000 or more people in this area, of which I’m just one – how the hell did he know what I looked like, let alone well-enough to spot me in the street. From his car? From behind? At night?

I’m impressed and all that, but it’s still a little spooky. I asked him at the time how he recognised me, and he mumbled something about being the kind of councilor who’s “a bit of an anorak” (what does that mean? does he sit up at night researching his constituents and memorising their appearances and daily movements? does he have a little book with all of our national insurance numbers in and cross them out when he meets us, like a trainspotter but with people?) as he made his way back to his car.

So, the verdict on Mr. Davies: very effective, but also a little bit scary.

Hoghton Tower

Claire and I just got back from a weekend in Preston, taking the opportunity to visit my folks as well as to (as is now traditional) go to the annual “Symphony at the Tower” at Hoghton Tower (which Ruth and I buzzed by hot air balloon on our way back from Scotland, earlier this year).

Highlights included:

Sticking marshmallows to Claire while eating our picnic in the gazebo we would later abandon on the site after many years of faithful service.

The music. Of course. The Philharmonic Concert Orchestra were as good as ever.

Dancing! (some folks started dancing a lot sooner than others, as shown)

Whatever’s going on here! (I think perhaps I’m too far away from the stage and can’t see what’s going on, even wearing borrowed jam-jar-thickness glasses).

My sister insisting on getting to be in a photo with the mayor. I think she thinks that by putting this picture on Facebook and tagging it, it’ll somehow help her future political career.

The rain pouring down. Thankfully, we were equipped and ready with emergency poncho supplies, so we were able to carry on leaping around like mad fools and letting only the bottom part of our sleeves get wet. Claire later had to wring hers out. Spirits remained undampened.

Claire falling in love with a singer wearing Union Jack trousers. In the photo, I think he’s singing “Jerusalem“.

The fireworks at the end of the concert were particularly spectacular this year, despite the weather. It was great to catch up with my family again, too (and visit my sister Becky‘s work, leap around on my dad’s trampoline until I injured my back doing so, liberate eggs from my mum’s chickens, and so on), although the journey to and from Preston was particularly tiresome this time around, and I’m sure my travelsickness is getting more pronounced. There’s more photos from the trip here.

Back in Aber, I’ve got a few fun little projects to be working on, alongside the usual things that keep me busy. I’ll blog about a few of these when I get the chance.

Internet Explorer 8 More Popular Than 6

Today is a good day for the web. Internet Explorer 8, which actually has reasonably good standards support, is now more widely-used than Internet Explorer 6, which is horrific to code for (Internet Explorer 7 isn’t much better).

It’s always been hard to write good quality web sites that work in Internet Explorer 7 and below: generally, I’ve always taken the approach of writing sites to comply with the standards and then to put in hacks specifically to address the problems introduced by IE6 and IE7. The sooner that we can disregard these browsers, the better.

Despite the stupid marketing campaigns Microsoft’s been pursuing to try to increase adoption of IE8, I’m at least a little thankful that they’re apparently working. I’ll be so glad the next time I can launch a site and not even have to think about using <!–[if IE 6]> conditional comments.