There are no great solutions for accessing the Internet while travelling. Bringing a laptop has the convience that it is much easier to find free wi-fi than it is to find a computer with Internet access, but then you have the pain of bringing a laptop with you.
One solution is to use a USB key (USB thumb drive) to store your commonly used applications. So long as you have access to a computer with Internet you’ll be able to access the net with the applications, passwords and settings you’re comfortable with even if it’s at a pay-by-the-minute café, the business center at your hotel, or dial-up at a relative’s house. You don’t have to worry about your login information getting stolen because you aren’t leaving anything behind — everything is stored on your USB key.
You may even want to do this for any personal computer in a corporate environment. Lay offs could be around the corner, and you’ll be secure in the knowledge that your work PC won’t have any personal traces left behind after you’ve left the company because there was nothing personal on it in the first place.
This guide will show you how to:
- Build an Encrypted PortableApps Drive
- Download Portable Apps on to Your Encrypted USB Drive
- Installing Firefox on your Encryped USB Drive
- Installing a Live USB Linux Distro
- Portable iTunes on Your iPod
- Portable Remote Desktop Using LogMeIn
Photo by endlessstudio
It’s another week which means I have more Friend Feed scripts to share with you all.
It’s the last day of my week of Friend Feed and I have 5 more Greasemonkey scripts for you (for a total of 8). I think I’m done writing scripts for Friend Feed for the next little while. I might put together something for importing your Twitter contacts as friends (update: here it is) but if I wait long enough I’m sure they’ll do it as an official service.
As usual you’ll need Firefox and Greasemonkey to use these scripts.
“Friend Feed” week seems to be continuing at IDT. But don’t worry, there’s a team of trained attack Bonobo monkeys prepared to take me into a dark alley and beat me up and make me suffer if I don’t stop talking about Friend Feed. What can I say? This is what it looks like when a web app gets people excited. I’ve put together two more Greasemonkey scripts to add features I want in Friend Feed.
I’ve sipped the Kool Aid and I’m really liking Friend Feed as a lifestreaming aggregator. One feature that is a bit hard to find is filtering by individual services. I’ve created a Greasemonkey script that sticks a huge bar of icons at the top of the page to make this accessible.
- It remembers the context you’re in.
- If you’re browsing within friends, then clicking on the icons will filter by that service on your friends.
- If you’re browsing within a specific user, then clicking on the icons will filter by that service on that person.
- If you’re browsing the public timeline, then clicking on the icons will filter by that service for the public timeline.
- It returns 100 results per page instead of 30.
- It will automatically update itself if I update the script.
My first task coming back from my work stress blogging hiatus is to finally fix problems with Akismet Auntie Spam that Lorelle reported over a month ago — if your Akismet spambox has over 10,000 spam comments then Auntie Spam is going to crash hard. Viewing that many comments at once will make Firefox use eight times more memory than normal web browsing, even without using Auntie Spam .
This means it’s time to do some code profiling . In programming, profiling means to measure your code and find out which parts are using the most time and the most memory. Profiling gives you performance analysis measurements so that you can optimize your program for speed and/or memory.
“Don’t prematurely optimize” is a programming Best Practice, and it can be summed up in the words of my grandfather: “measure twice and cut once”. You can guess at what parts need fixing, but it is much more effective to measure how your program performs so that you can focus on the worst parts. They have the most room for improvement. Without profiling you could easily spend several hours optimizing a loop that executes in negligible time and ignore the three lines that copy huge chunks of memory for No Apparent Reason. Get it working, and then use your profiler to get it working fast.
Profiling is a Skill
Another good rule is to always test with large data sets. Ideally you want a fast case for rapid prototyping of new features, and a worst case for stressful testing of that new feature. To often we use small sets of data for development and testing. We never realize how badly our code performs in real world conditions. Speed and responsiveness play a greater factor in whether or not someone becomes a regular user of your program than you might realize.
 One thing WordPress does wrong is it includes all of your comment spam in their WordPress export files. One friend saw his export file decrease from 83 MB to 8 MB once he deleted the comment spam.
 Some of the bad habits that were lurking in Auntie Spam:
- I was using a custom getElementsByClassName instead of an XPATH call. XPATH can be so much faster that walking the DOM.
- I had too many innerHTML assignments instead of leaving HTML as a string and then giving it to the web page to process as a final step
- Inefficient regular expressions
- Too many copies of the comments in memory
Akismet Auntie Spam is a maintenance script for WordPress administrators. One of the problems with the Akismet spam protection service is that sometimes it misidentifies a real comment as spam. WordPress has a spam recovery console that I like to call the spam inbox.
Have you ever stuck your hand as far back at you can into the crannies of your couch and pulled out what you found? That’s kind of what going into the default Akismet spam inbox is like. It’s a dark and evil place, filled with things that will make your eyes burn. You only wanted to find the quarter you lost, but before you know it your hand is stuck and something is touching you back.
Akismet Auntie Spam is a kind old lady who will come to your house and give it a thorough cleaning. She’s not afraid of the dark corners, particularly the spam inbox because she knows exactly how to handle the creepy crawlies hiding out of sight.
Akismet Auntie Spam is not a WordPress plugin. It is a script for the Firefox web browser that will work with any installation of WordPress or WordPress Multi-user — that means you can use it with WordPress.com, Edublogs.org, Blogsome.com and any site that is running WordPress with Akismet. Version 2 is a complete rewrite from scratch, and it is much less complicated now. There are no knobs and buttons for users to twiddle with — it works out of the box, the same way for everyone. Auntie Spam is here for one reason and that’s to save you time.
Akismet Auntie Spam is in no way affiliated with WordPress or Auttomatic — it’s a script I created to make it a hell of a lot easier to watch out for false spam.
How to Install
- You need the Firefox web browser – Download and install
- You need to install Greasemonkey – How-To
- You need to know how to install a Greasemonkey script – How-To
- Install Akismet Auntie Spam
Slight gotcha: if you are an old time user of Akismet Auntie Spam (from before August 2007) then you’ll want to uninstall your old version before installing the new version of the script. Find out how to uninstall a Greasemonkey script.
What Does Akismet Auntie Spam Do?
Much less time is spent navigating your spam inbox. You can see it all on one page, and it doesn’t take nearly as long to scroll through as it would without Akismet Auntie Spam installed.
- Fetches all of your spam comments and displays them on one page.
- Sorts spammers by the amount of spam they’ve sent.
- Shows only the first line of spam, so less time is spent scrolling.
- Completely hide obvious spam.
- Automatically checks for a new version of itself every two weeks.
- Install it once into your Firefox browser and it will work with *ALL* your WordPress blogs.
Show Me How It Works
Go to your spam inbox on your WordPress dashboard console.
Auntie Spam will immediately kick in and download all of the spam at once — no navigating between 10s to 100s of individual pages of spam.
You can do something else like check your RSS feeds while she grabs all of your spammy comments and organizes them.
Spam is sorted from newest to oldest and categorized from most spammy to least spammy. She groups spam by identifying the computer it came from, so surprisingly enough the more spam you have the easier it is to look through it all. She even summarizes it all by only showing the first line.
Auntie Spam hates those idiots who keep sending you spam again and again. They can be completely ignored.
As you read through all the comment summaries, you may come across one that looks like it isn’t spam. Click on the ‘# comments’ link and Auntie Spam will show you the full text of the comment and give you the option to mark it as not spam.
Once all the spam is loaded there no need to reload it all because you want to search for something specific — hit Ctrl+F and use Firefox’s built in page search.
When it comes to de-spamming marked comments, or deleting all comments, Auntie Spam gets out of the way and things work the same way they always have.
If Auntie Spam is doing something you don’t want here to, you can return to way things have always been with a single click on the Greasemonkey icon and reloading the page.
What Are You Waiting For?
If you’re running WordPress and you’ve ever had to go dumpster diving for a comment that was accidentally marked as spam then you need Akismet Auntie Spam.
A greasemonkey is a mechanic who works on your automobile. He gets his hands dirty, and goes under the hood to find out why your car is making that clunking noise. Greasemonkey is an extension for Firefox that does much the same thing, but without the ridiculous fees.
This guide is intended for beginners
In my previous guide I explained how to install a Firefox extension, and hopefully sparked some interest in why you would want to extend your web browser in the first place. I used the Greasemonkey extension as an example for a very good reason. Sometimes you want to extend your web browser in a big way, like putting a new room in your house. That’s where an extension comes in (it’s like hiring a construction company). Other times all you want to do is repaint a room or re-hang a door; something you could do yourself over a weekend. That’s where Greasemonkey comes in. There are many small jobs and minor tweaks to web pages that would be overkill for a full Firefox extension.
Greasemonkey is a unique extension in that it lets you install these things called user scripts. User scripts are much smaller than extensions, and are often targeted to much more specific tasks than extensions. There is a web site called UserScripts.org that is devoted to these small tiny hacks people have created to make the web work more like the way they want it to.
What Can Greasemonkey User Scripts Do?
- Remember information
- Remove parts of web pages
- Change how web pages look
- Automatically download information from other web sites and put it into the current page
- Cross-reference information from other web sites
- Speed up common tasks so that they require less clicks
Useful Greasemonkey User Scripts
- Pagerization: scrolling will automatically load the next page for Google (Search, Image, News, Group, Video), Yahoo, Wikipedia, Hatena, YouTube, del.icio.us, Twitter, digg and Userscripts.org.
- Pre Fill Comments: type ALT-C to fill in the comment form on all WordPress blogs.
- Automatically login to Facebook: tired of having to type your password every time?
- Disable Facebook apps: block apps on other people’s profile pages on Facebook.
- Facebook to Google Calendar: add Facebook events to your Google Calendar
- GMailTo: force mailto: links to open in Gmail.
- Gmail Folders: lets you add hierarchy to your gmail labels.
- Gmail Saved Searches: save frequently used searches.
- Gmail Label Colors: have labels with different colours.
- SSLGoogle: forces Gmail, Google Docs and GCalendar to open via https secure connection.
- Resize all text input boxes on the web.
- Auto Add Google Reader: one click subscription using Google Reader.
- StumbleUpon WYSIWYG editor: gives you a powerful HTML editor for your StumbleUpon blog.
- Cleaner Amazon: gets rid of useless sections on Amazon search results.
- Movie Dude: Adds crosslinks to all movie web sites.
- YouTube Video Download: Download YouTube videos.
- No YouNoobs: Hide the comments on YouTube.
- Digg Mirrors: Adds mirrors to websites on Digg.
- Digg.licio.us: Adds save to delicious links on Digg.
- No Rotten Tomatoes: Removes bad movies from the Rotten Tomatoes box office listing.
Greasemonkey installs like any other Firefox extension. This guide shows you how to install Greasemonkey in a step by step process with screenshots.
How to Find Greasemonkey User Scripts
The best source for finding Greasemonkey scripts is userscripts.org. To find scripts for a specific web site, type its name into the search box and hit enter.
The left hand side of the screen will return a list of scripts. Unfortunately there is no way to sort them.
If you click on the script name it will take you to a page with more information about the scripts. The easiest way to tell if a script is any good is by the number of times it has been installed, and how much effort the author goes into explaining what the script does and how it works.
To install a script click on the “install this script” link in the right hand column.
Hot Tip: I’ve created a script that highlights the most popular user scripts and makes it easier to find the best scripts on userscripts.org.
Installing a Script
All user scripts end with the .user.js extension. If you do not have Greasemonkey installed, or Greasemonkey is disabled, then your web browser will try to download the file instead of installing it.
Click on this link to start installation of my Akismet Auntie Spam script.
A box will pop-up that gives a short description, tells you which web sites the script runs on, and offer to install it. Click on the Install button.
A message will appear temporarily in the lower right hand corner of your web browser telling you that the installation was successful.
Turning Greasemonkey on and off
You can enable and disable Greasemonkey temporarily by clicking on the little monkey icon in the lower right corner of your web browser. This is a great trick for when a script isn’t doing exactly what you want – you can turn off all of your scripts and interact with the web site normally as if you didn’t have Greasemonkey installed.
Advanced Users – Managing Scripts
If you click on Tools >> Greasemonkey >> Manage User Scripts it will open up a windows that lets you:
- Control which web sites the script does or does not run on
- Enable or disable specific scripts
- Uninstall scripts
- Directly edit the script (it will ask you which text editor to use the first time you try it)
Heading to the management panel is a really useful way to further tweak scripts, or just change the web sites they run on.
Advanced Users – Configuring Scripts
I can’t tell you how to configure a specific script, but I can give you a general overview of the various ways it can be done.
Editing the Script
Example: Find images that are too wide
This is the sign of a lazy programmer. It isn’t that hard to edit a script, but it is still a pain in the butt when they tell you to change settings directly in the script. I usually won’t bother installing scripts like this.
- Click on Tools >> Greasemonkey >> Manage User Scripts
- Choose the Script
- Click on Edit
- Make the change
Running User Script Commands
User scripts can only modify the Firefox menu in one place, under Tools >> Greasemonkey >> User Script Commands. It may be grayed out if you don’t have any scripts installed that register commands.
Some scripts use hot keys to perform actions. You’ll have to read their documentation on how to use them. When you’re on the web page that the script works with, hitting keys on your keyboard will cause the script to do things.
Changing Settings Interactively
Example: Pre Fill Comments
Smart scripts configure themselves through dialog boxes the first time you run them. This is by far the recommended and most painless way for scripts to configure themselves. Hint.
Q1: Greasemonkey is cool! Is there anything else out there like it?
Q2: I want to create a Greasemonkey script, but I don’t know how to program.
Platypus is WYSIWYG editor for Greasemonkey scripts. It will let you create Greasemonkey scripts by moving around and interacting with parts of a web site.
(WYSIWYG – what you see is what you get)
Q3: What about Internet Explorer?
One of my favorite features of Firefox is that users can modify it with extensions. No matter what it is you want to do or change about a web page, there is undoubtedly an extension out there already that does it for you. Someone has gone to through all the hard work and now all you have to do is install it to reap the benefits. I know it is arrogant of me to say so, but I do not understand how people surf the Internet without using extensions that simplify common tasks and improve the way websites work.
This guide is intended for beginners
Why Use Extensions?
Firefox extensions help you get things done. They can reduce repetitive tasks to something simple and improve your web experience. Here are some examples of popular Firefox extensions:
- Block *all* ads on the Internet with the Ad Block Plus extension (and the automatic Ad Block updater).
- Choose the correct dictionary for your language (e.g. I use Canadian English).
- Display your local weather.
- Download PDFs instead of having to read them in the oh-so-slow Acrobat Reader.
- Download videos from YouTube and all of those other video web sites.
- View web pages using Internet Explorer *inside* of Firefox!
- Save your tabs and reopen tabs you’ve accidentally closed.
- Control your music player from inside of Firefox.
- Synchronize your Firefox bookmarks across multiple computers.
- Add a button to access your Google Bookmarks.
- Save web pages to del.icio.us.
- Access Flickr even if it is banned.
- Surf the web as if you were surfing TV with StumbleUpon and StumbleUpon Video.
- Easily switch between different proxy settings if you use your laptop at work and at home.
The real power of Firefox is in the user community around it who builds all these cool toys. If you only use one extension, Ad Block Plus will revolutionize your web surfing. I’m always so surprised when I access web sites on a browser without Ad Block Plus and see all of the crap that gets in the way. Installing extensions can be addictive, but it’s a good idea to pick 5 to 10 of the best ones and stick with those.
Installing a Firefox Extension
I hope I’ve convinced you of the value in Firefox extensions. A little goes a long way. Here is a walkthrough of how to install them.
1. Find an extension you want to install
Most extensions can be found on the Mozilla Add-ons website. For this example I’ll be installing the Greasemonkey extension. Greasemonkey is a bit different than other extensions, in that it’s kind of a parent extension. With Greasemonkey installed you’ll be able to install all other kinds of baby extensions (called userscripts) to tweak web sites even more.
2. Click on the install link
Firefox extensions end with the .XPI suffix. When you click on an .XPI file, Firefox knows how to open and install it for you. The official Mozilla Add-ons page shows all of the links with a green Install This button. If you are installing an extension from somewhere else it might look different.
3. Click on the Install Now button
When Firefox recognizes that you are installing an extension it brings up a box asking you if you want to install it. Click Install Now.
4. Restart Firefox to Finish Installation
The installation will not be complete until you restart Firefox. The good news is that Firefox will remember all the pages you are viewing right now, so go ahead and click on the Restart Now button.
Thinks don’t always go the way you want them to. Leave a comment if you have any other further questions and I’ll expand this section.
Q1: How do I find out what extensions I have installed?
If you go to Tools >> Add-ons you’ll find a list of all of your installed extensions. From that list you can configure, enable, disable, check for updates, and uninstalled individual extensions.
Q2: I click on the .XPI file but it downloads the file instead of asking me to install. Help!
This is because the web server with the .XPI is improperly configured. Save the file to your computer and then open it using File >> Open. You will get the normal prompt to install the file.
Q3: I want to download a file from somewhere other than Mozilla Add-ons.
Here is an example of downloading an extension from the popular technology blog Lifehacker.
After you click on the download link Firefox will display a yellow status bar at the top of your web browser (but still underneath your toolbar) because it doesn’t know if you trust extensions from lifehacker.com.
Click on the Edit Options button and it will bring up a window asking you to confirm if you trust this site for installing add-ons. Click on the Allow button followed by the Close button.
Then click on the original download link again and your install will proceed as normal.
I’m a very big fan of Yahoo Pipes. It’s an amazing service that lets you take information from websites (using RSS, XML, JSON) and then do all kinds of filtering and manipulation with it. It is all done with a slick graphical user interface but it is not for the faint of heart — it is much easier to create new pipes if you have a programming background. But once a pipe is created it is simple for other people to use it. For example, this is how you can create a blog digest post using a Yahoo Pipe I’ve created for you.
Yahoo Pipes can create automated lists that you can cut-and-paste into blog posts. My only real complaint is with the HTML markup they create. It doesn’t look good when you cut-and-paste it into a WordPress blog. This is where Yahoo Pipe Cleaner comes in. It is a Greasemonkey script for Firefox that fixes the Yahoo Pipe output so that it looks nicer when you cut-and-paste it into a WordPress blog.
- removes any H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6 headers
- dofollows the links (removes rel=nofollow)
- replaces paragraphs with list elements
- removes all class/id CSS selectors
Without Yahoo Pipe Cleaner
RSS is one of the most useful tools out there for moving information around on the web. Recently the concept of “micro-blogging” status updates has become very popular with applications like Facebook, Twitter and Pownce. The only problem is that it is a pain to update many sites at the…
Any computer geek worth his salt has been through the drill: you go to visit a family member for dinner and eventually they mention some arcane problem they’ve been having with software you long ago expunged from all of your computers. Common culprits are the Unholy Triad: Microsoft Outlook,…
With Yahoo Pipe Cleaner
- Facebook Tip: Broadcast your Facebook status as RSS
- RSS is one of the most useful tools out there for moving information around on the web. Recently the concept of “micro-blogging” status updates has become very popular with applications like Facebook, Twitter and Pownce. The only problem is that it is a pain to update many sites at the…
- How Do People Use Google Reader with Internet Explorer?
- Any computer geek worth his salt has been through the drill: you go to visit a family member for dinner and eventually they mention some arcane problem they’ve been having with software you long ago expunged from all of your computers. Common culprits are the Unholy Triad: Microsoft Outlook,…
Get Yahoo Pipe Cleaner
You can find installation instructions for Yahoo Pipe Cleaner here.
I’m always amazed that people use Internet Explorer over Firefox. With the available extensions Firefox becomes the nerve center of your Internet activity. Lifehacker quite often has good suggestions for FF Extensions to try out.
These are what I use. All links go to more information about the extension.
- Google Toolbar for Firefox
- Also avilable for IE
- Adblock Plus – people still surf the net with ads?!
- PDF Download – I hate embedded Adobe Reader (which is why I use FoxIt)
Bookmarking / Sharing Sites
- del.icio.us - I use religiously, even automatically generating blog posts off of it and sharing my del.icio.us links with people on Twitter
- stumbleupon – not a productivity tool :)
- Greasemonkey – I’ve written several greasemonkey scripts to make blogging with WordPress easier
- DOM Inspector – needed for coding with Greasemonkey
- Web Developer – CSS development, mainly because I haven’t figured out Firebug yet. The easiest way to create a skin for a theme without having to spend a lot of time learning the underlying structure – click on an element and find out how to access it.
Some I plan to try out: Firebug, Stylish, IETab, CustomizeGoogle
What do you use/recommend?
Ever try to stick a 550 pixel-wide image into a 500 pixel-wide space? Firefox will increase the space, but under Internet Explorer 6 (or lower) it will move the sidebar so that it comes AFTER the blog posts.
Figure 1: Crappy MSPaint drawing explaining what I’m talking about.
Blog themes come in two flavours. Fluid/liquid where the template stretches around the content to use the maximum width and fixed where the template will always be a certain number of pixels wide.
Problems can arise when using a fixed width template with images. If the image is too wide to fit it can stretch the fixed width section. This can break your sidebar in Internet Explorer 6 by pushing your sidebar so that it comes after all of your content.