Sunday, November 05, 2006

COMPUTERS: Firefox 2.0 is good, really, REALLY GOOD!

Flush with victory over getting that extra third of an inch of depth in my Firefox browser window, I decided to tempt fate and upgrade to Firefox 2.0 on the main machines. I had been running on the test machine Ollie and, a few quirks aside, I was okay with it.

The upgrade process was quick, but not painless. It left my old Firefox installation alive and kicking in a sub-folder called Firefox 1.5. That caused some confusion. And it took a few starts and restarts before the old extensions got themselves worked out. (as an aside, the person responsible for changing the name extension to add-in must be the son of the keyboard designer for the original IBM keyboard, the one that was NOT based on the top-selling keyboard of the time, the IBM Selectric Typewriter. Change for change's sake is dumb).

My first reaction was to panic over some of the extensions I had lost. All-in-One Sidebar was working a little wonky, but the only one of my must-have list missing was Copy Image. That seemed replaced by a built-in version. So, no harm there. Bookmark Backup was also missing in action and that concerned me. As was Diggler. ColourfulTabs and WellRounded made me wistful for my old version. But the REAL problem, interface-wise, was the missing close tab button on the far right of the tab header row. I could live with the tab headers scrolling rather than showing a gazillion mini headers. But I needed that button back. Sure, each tab had it's own close button, but I used middle-click for that when I was in the vicinity. But when I just wanted to scan through a bunch of sites quickly, I needed the one-stop action of the right-hand-side close button.

I went looking for new “add-ins” and found some delightful ones. More of that later. What I didn't find was an add-in that would give me back the close tab button. Off to google for “firefox restore close button” and found instructions to do this.

Into the url field, type in About:config and hit enter. That takes you to the arcane Firefox configuration file. Scroll down until you find: browser.tabs.closeButtons and right click. Choose to modify and change the value from 0 or 1 to 3. Voila! You and I are happy again. If you want to get a more complete explanation, go to

Diggler's ability to go back up a site tree has been replaced by ParentFolder. Not quite as all-knowing as Diggler, but it'll do. I also miss the left-hand-side NewFolder on the tab header bar, but I simply customized the menu to put it on the top row where I have the word menu plus the navigation toolbar.

Now for the new goodies. The ColorfulTabs are now a thing of the past. Replaced with AgingTabs. After loading this one, I changed the custom tab colour to Bright yellow with an aging target of dull yellow. The Highlight slected tab became light lime green and I told it to age every 60 seconds. I slid the aging amount slider to the middle. Perfect!

The other REALLY NEAT thing was TabsOpenRelative. This one meant any links I clicked on would open RIGHT after the tab I was currently on, rather than the far right. THIS, is a wonderful thing. Remember, I have folders of links I open with a single middle click. That gets my sports links, entertainment links and computer links up there already loaded as I go through them site by site. It was not unusual to be going through the sports stuff, see a link I wanted to load and do so. But it would load AFTER all of my other already-loaded links. So I was faced with the decision to read all of sports, then entertainment, then computers and finally go back to the sports link, or pop to the end and then come back. TabsOpenRelative solves that utterly and completely.

Firefox 2.0 is now VERY friendly with the wheel on your mouse or trackball. In the tab header area, the scroller will move the tab headers right and left. On a page, it scrolls as you expect and if you hold the control key down while using it, it moves the size of type up and down. Very nifty. And when you add the return of being able to use the space bar to page down, which I suspect TabBrowserPreferences ate a year ago, I can unequivocally say, UPGRADE!

Some goodies you MIGHT want to investigate include the GmailSpace and Check4Change add-ins which I have loaded but haven't used. BookmarkDuplicateDetector does what it says. PDFDownload and SourgeforgeDirectDownload help me with saving files to my drive in a quicker, smarter, less error-prone manner. And UndoClosedTabsButton will come in handy eventually. Probably.

Yep, the upgrade is the smart thing to do.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

NATURE: Even Hippos can be cute

I love the zoo. I've come to that conclusion late in life, but I look forward to the (usually) yearly visit to the Toronto Zoo. In fact, I like it enough to actually drive myself and bring the movie mob with me, rather than wait until I can hitch a ride with one of the mob's actual parents.

When I was a wee heffer in the making, I had a bad experience somewhere that made me leary of zoos. Can't remember it all that well, but it involved a cow barn, lots of excrement and a weak stomach. Took me almost 30 years and getting old enough to forget the childhood experience to go back.

Hardly the odiferous place I feared, it was a place of delights. I can watch the gorillas and lesser apes for hours. The otters and the meerkats are watchable for just as long. Polar bears have their moments and so do the warthogs. Giraffes are the ultimate in languid grace and elephants are fascinating in size alone. In groups, all the better.

And, now, I have found a site that will let you see behind-the-scenes stuff from the zoo. Not MY favourite zoo, but a good one nonetheless. The San Francisco Zoo is a pretty good one and they have a bi-weekly video blog (known as a podcast) available at . Worth taking a look. The first of the two penguin broadcasts was best. The koala episode was first rate. The hippo show for Stomp and Chomp wasn't as good as others I have seen, but not bad. Check out the jowls on that hippo.

At any rate, I wonder what a fall visit to the Zoo would be like?

COMPUTERS: Neat Firefox Stuff

I have a BIGGGG monitor (several, in fact). But the main point is that even with the big monitor, I find myself JUSTTHISCLOSE to having enough depth to see the Next buttons when doing a google search. I get the ten default items and you can usually see a bit of the google travel buttons at the bottom. So, I have to scroll down and then click. Oh, Bother! as Winnie the Pooh would say.

I read about a neat extension at Shell Extension City, one of my daily blog stops, called Compact. It was meant to make the word menu, you know, the File-Edit-View menu bar, collapse into a button on the button bar, the one with the back and forward buttons. EXACTLY what I needed.

Didn't work. Had to uninstall it.

But it got me thinking. I tried the effect of pushing the buttons up to the right-hand side of the word menu bar. And you know, it works!!!! I then made the button bar non-viewed and I have EXACTLY the space now to see the google buttons without having to scroll. It's a small thing, but it turns a crappy day into a semi-victory.

So, let's walk through the steps into getting that much appreciated extra depth. First, right click on your button bar. You SHOULD get a menu to checkmark on or off your various toolbars. Select the customize option. Up will come a window that will allow you to drag buttons TO the bar or buttons OFF the bar. Anddddd, unbeknownst to me until today, you can drag buttons FROM bar TO bar. Drag ALL of your buttons from the toolbar and plop them down at the end of the menu bar. Even the URL type-in field. When completed and the button bar is empty of icons, click DONE in the customize toolbar window. The final step? Right click on the menu bar and turn off the navigation toolbar (That's the REAL name of the button bar).

Bob's your uncle.

Extensions I have known and loved

Speaking of extensions, I'm REALLY happy with my current set of extensions. Here's a run-down of what I am using.

Adblock Plus with the Adblock Filterset.G Updater keeps most of the annoying ads at bay and lets me kick others out of sight on an as-encountered basis. All-In-One sidebar is a godsend for allowing easy viewing/switching between bookmarks, download manager and the extension manager. Bookmark backup does what it says it does. BugMeNot was huge at one time, but with the NY Times having caught up, not as good anymore. BMN is there more out of tradition than use. Clear Cache Button gives me a quick way to clear the cache before and after visiting a site I will be giving personal info too. Colorful Tabs is nice, cuz it helps separate the see of grey into more discreet tabs. Context Highlight lets me decide to highlight a word or group of words. Think Find All at Once. Copy Image lets me right-click on a picture and save it to disk. And copy plain text lets me hightlight and copy, without bringing formatting info along for the ride.

Dictionary Search is handy for those words I don't know. Not a frequent need, but it does happen. Diggler lets me back up the url tree to someplace higher on the chain. DownThemAll! lets me get all the links (usually pictures) on a page all at once. A great saver. Fasterfox measures how fast pages take to load and optimizes things a little but. Saves microseconds, if that. Flashblock makes all flash animations require a click (or two) from me to play. Sites can be given cartblanche to show animations. Otherwise, all you web-design morons who use flash are getting nothing from me, in terms of attention. Scorn maybe, but attention, no! GMail Manager, lets me quickly check my GMail account. And Grease Monkey is a programming environment for Firefox. I am still new to it, but already, I have a page or two of usually microscopic text starting up at the right size.

Image Zoom allows me to right click and enlarge or make smaller images on the page. InFormEnter is a program that attaches blue arrows to the end of input fields and lets me select from a bunch of previously entered in answers. NoScript stops click-by web infections by javascript dead cold. You have to allow or allow permanently a web-site to execute scripts on your computer. And you can mix and match. Let Sportsnet run ITS scripts, but disallow the adsense links to do so. NukeAnythingEnhanced lets me get rid of objects on the page, usually before printing the page. And PrintPreview gives me a button to do that job quickly. SaveImageInFolder lets me save selected graphics, TV/Movie Posters or Cast shots, for example, into a separate folder (called unoriginally Posters). TabBrowser Preferences is the king of tab extensions, allowing you to middle click to add and delete, amongst other goodies. VideoDownloader speeds up the task of saving YouTube videos to the hard drive as flash animations. I know, I know! I ragged on flash just a paragraph ago. The difference here is choosing to save and watch, rather than having the decision made for me by an attention-deficit affected designer. And finally, for cosmetic reasons, I like my URL field to have rounded corners, and WellRounded does that for me.

Which of the above would make the absolute MUST HAVE list? NoScript, Tabbrowser Preferences, All-in-One Sidebar, Adblock Plus, Clear Cache Button, Image Zoom, Copy Image and InFormEnter, nmaybe in that order. Nuke Anthing Enhanced and VideoDownloader are the other two that get used a lot. The rest are either cosmetic or once in a blue moon tools.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

EDUCATION: Kill all the Shakespeareans

Not a day doesn't go by that I don't have to stop and repeat something I've said, usually in plainer, less accurate terms, because some high-school educated person I'm talking to doesn't get what I am saying.

I'm hardly William F. Buckley, but for comparative purposes, my level of language is akin to Elizabethan English to too many 'educated' youngsters and young adults. It makes me wonder WHAT we are teaching in English class in high school today. I hear lots of Shakespeare and I shudder.

Shakespeare wrote in a dialect of English that no longer exists. It bears only a passing resemblance to what is spoken today and is taught as a sop to the teachers that educated our teachers. It's almost like an initiation process. "I had to put up with Shakespeare and for the one of You in this class that will become an English major and eventually a teacher, You are going to have to go through this too". Better they be stripped naked and be forced to run a gauntlet of their peers with tomahawks. Less florid speeches that turn off most students and more attention to getting all students to communicate effectively in today's workplace would be a giant first step in repairing education.

Before you scholars take to your keyboards in righteous anger, let me point out that I have NO problem with teaching Shakespeare in history. I think it would be boring there too, but it has a place there. It's relatively entertaining prose from a language that became that, that we speak today. The EVOLUTION of language is a historical subject. And it should make up a section in some year's historical curriculum. ONE SECTION. Not a semester's worth in each of three or four years.

Was ol' Will a wonderful wordsmith? Leaving aside the slight chance that his authorship was a fraud, I'd say yes. Some of the tropes we are ALL too familiar with today in our entertainment, seem to trace back to Shakespeare. But then again, there really are only seven different stories, and choice of language and/or dialect doesn't change that. Our educational system's devotion to Shakespeare has blinded the educators to the fact that student's don't read it, if unforced. Save for the one future English teacher in the student body.

Contemporary literature might be a minefield of mediocrity and modern magazines and newspapers a monument to short attention spans, but it IS the reading material students WILL be buying and consuming. Teaching good from bad, literate from eubonic pablum, honest from deceitful ... wouldn't THAT be a more effective use of the time we USED to call Language Arts?

TV: The New Tuesday - Are you ready for some FOOTBALL!!

Nope! Not a mistake. Tuesday night is Football night redux, at least as far as the new TV shows this fall go. I might have been looking forward to CBS's Smith, but I stayed for NBC's Friday Night Lights, the small-screen version of the movie of the same name.

Bluntly, it's the only new show Tuesdays will continue to bring into the house. Even if I have to tape it to watch House and NCIS. It's like The OC with a purpose and a Texas twang. Forget the football, it's a teen soap opera with believable parents (faves Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton). Too many people see the SF label and bypass Battlestar Galactica. This one's stuck with the pigskin outline on its rear. Get over your dislike for sports shows that ain't for real. This is one for the VCR while you watch your REAL Tuesday at 8 favourite.

One of the VERY BEST SHOWS ON TV ANYWHERE (have I got your attention?) is Hustle, the British caper show, shown on this side of the Atlantic in hacked apart one-hour shows (it needs 90 minutes to show the full British episode). It's through three (regrettably short) seasons and coming back for more. Just about every other theft-inspired show over 'ere seems to die part way through the first season. Well, at least since It Takes a Thief. I had high hopes for Smith. Ray Liotta, Virginia Madsen, a moody movie approach, some appealing secondary characters given life by Amy Smart, Simon Baker and Frankie G. And it plopped. Big Time. No chemistry between the intense Liotta and the expressionless Madsen. Smart's character wasn't very smart. And it wasn't the little things that set the authorities onto the caper crew, it was a spot-on ID by a child-hood friend that Smart's character neglected to mention to the rest of her high-end team. It was the first casualty of the year, although I watched it to the bitter end (okay, it WAS only three shows).

What should have been the first casualty was the show I could only watch a half of. ABC deserves a bad chastising for releasing Ted Danson's dreadful Help Me, Help You on to an unsuspecting viewership. When the clean freak he's treating reaches into the garbage can for a partially eaten something or other as part of her aversion therapy, I reached for the remote. Just horrible. Won't subject myself to it again.

I sort of liked Standoff's first show. Even liked the second. Started hoping they'd start losing hostages by the third show. A show about hostage negotiators needs a LOT of time away from the job to have any legs. Otherwise, it becomes like a Superman comic where you KNOW nobody's in real jeopardy. Super Clark will always arrive in time to save Lois Lane. Takes the dramatic kick completely out of the show. But this is a work-place show. And losing hostages isn't really part of the romantic comedy the two negotiators have set up by becoming lovers as well as partners. It's like corn chips. Easy to overdose on, and slow to come back too. Ron Livingston's fine as one half of the team, can't say I'm much impressed with Rosemarie DeWitt as the distaff partner. But even Billy Connelly and Charlize Theron couldn't make this work.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

TV: The New Monday ... I Need a Hero

Let's face it, I watch Monday Night Football and tape whatever else I'm going to watch. That said, Monday night does house the best of the new shows this season and not the worst of the rest. In other words, an okay grade.

The best show is NBC's Heroes, a show that appeals to the comic book reader (hey, I've got close to ten thousand of them in the vault and downstairs. I AM A COMIC BOOK READER). But like other fantastical shows, this has cross-over appeal and a shot to compete in its time slot. The pilot was incomplete and the addition of Greg Grunberg, ex of Alias, in the second episode is a good sign this will be a good show.

Heroes is followed to the screen by Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, one of the more disappointing shows thus far. It's okay, but more was expected from Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford, playing riffs on their characters from Cheers and West Wing respectively. Not surprising, since West Wing came from the same fertile minds of Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme. Unfortunately, there is a truth in show biz. Viewers at home couldn't care less about writers, whether they be newspapermen, crusading magazine stars or TV Shows. Murder She Wrote was a detective show. And The Mary Tyler Moore Show was set in a newsroom about as often as Mary enjoyed long-lasting relationships with men. In Studio 60, we get more of Sorkin, and maybe you CAN get too much of Sorkin. Still, I will watch the show if only for the pairing of Jack & Jill survivors Amanda Peet and Sarah Paulson.

Fox's Vanished is one of the two kidnapping shows this year (NBC cutting right to the chase by calling their show, Kidnapping). Lots to like about the show, which is the DaVinci Code tossed into the blender with 24. BUT, and it's a BIG but, the behaviour of daughter Marcy, played by Margarita Levieva, is preposterious. Marcy has to act impossibly stupidly in key sequences to further the plot. And everybody has to ignore her while she's making the bad decisions. Levieva IS quite cute, but I can't get around that.

The new network CW, runs Runaway against Vanished. It's a Canuck-content extravaganza. Competent, but blah. As a serial, it asks too much to get interested in the Rader family on the run, sort of The Fugitive on steroids. Would be surprised if it lasted til Christmas. I said the same thing about a comedy from ABC last year and it went the whole season. So it got a whole half-season more than I projected. My revenge is that I can't remember its name.

Which brings me to Class, the best of a woeful lot of comedies I've seen this year. Class gets a failing grade, and it's STILL the funniest of the new comedies. It depends on faux gay humour to a great degree, brings in suicide as an ON-GOING plot device, repeats the same punch line ad nauseum “Your party,” and features a philandering wife. I did laugh three or four times in two episodes. Time well spent? Not anymore.

It's time for some FOOTBALL!!

Monday, October 02, 2006


Having not discovered a way to pawn off my work and still get paid for it (like my current external facilities manager, GRRRRRRR!), I haven't had time to do this thing.

But I will over the next few days. The BBL season came to an end with the usual result, the Mug Shots are Brampton Beisbol League roto champs again. The OOPS (the hockey roto) draft is tomorrow night with the Mug Shots and Pool Division cousing Bugaboos as defending champs. And even though the Mug Shots won the SNAFU (football roto) title last year, I decided to skip pigskin operations this year. That will leave me with some spare time to fit more work in ... or work here.

I hope.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

SPORTS: Boston and the Black athlete

The Boston Red Sox were legendarily the last major league baseball team to integrate, when infielder Pumpsie Green joined them in the late 50's ... AFTER I was born. As a kid, my Pumpsie Green card was one of my favourties. Nothing about Pumpsie being black, just loved the name.

Later, as a I grew older and became a little more aware of the importance of Green's presence ON that card, I formed an opinion of Boston as a hard place for black athletes. Sure, the Celtics were a tribute to Bill Russell, the Jones boys and Satch Sanders, but I just got the impression that Boston was as provincial as a Northern states city could get. Even when Russell got the head coaching job after Red Auerbach retired to the cigar-smoking section in the stands, I held fast to my notion.

Yesterday, talking to a New Englander, the subject came up. "Hmmmmmm," said my Bridge-playing friend. "Didn't Boston have the first black NHL player? Fellow by the name of O'Ree. Willie O'Ree I think. And you know Chuck Cooper broke the colour barrier in the NBA. You know, you can't paint us all with a tarbrush, when it was just the Red Sox management that was slow on the uptake."

And he was right. Sorry, Boston.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

SPORTS: It's not as good as it USED to be, but ...

I love lacrosse.

Played it when I was a kid one year, when I disagreed with the direction of the local softball team (I was a second-baseman, not a third-baseman). Wasn't any good. Actually, I was pretty bad. But at least I got to see some good goaltending by Jim Ward and the modern bulldozer of a player that was Billy Gardhouse. Once saw Gardhouse destroy his sneakers by jabbing a step so hard into the tar-top of the local box that the sole stayed there while Billy's foot and the top of the shoe went the other way.

Now, I know lacrosse is violent. Doesn't jibe with my dislike for boxing, does it? But properly played, lacrosse is an art.

Just now, I finished watching the Toronto Rock of the National Lacrosse League beat the Edmonton Rush in an entertaining game. But as entertaining as many Rock games are, the lacrosse I see today pales in comparison to what I was covering as a sports reporter 25 years ago.

I'm not a fan of the rule changes in the NLL version of the boxla game I love. Back in the day, you couldn't go into the crease with the ball, regardless if the last step you took was outside the goaltender's barrier. It made Bill Coghill and Paul Suggate interesting players as they explored how well the refs could detect their encroaching as they dived around, and more than occasionally, into the crease.

I don't like the large centre zone. It makes chasing penalty-killing teams impossible and eliminates the role of the human rag doll played by the likes of Joe Madeiros. Joe would get the ball in the offensive zone while on the penalty kill and the other team would send two, and then three, men to try and extract the ball. He would be battered about (yeah, I know I'm glorifying violence) for the whole two minutes, as often as not. That's right, the penalty killers didn't have a shot clock. It was great entertainment to see just how much punishment Joe and his ilk could take.

Joe was a specialist. Today, EVERY player is a specialist. There are no lines, just offensive and defensive units. About half of each 30-second possession is spent changing from one to the other. That is NOT entertaining. Lacrosse IS the fastest game on two feet, as Jim Hinkson was fond of saying. But not when the players are trotting to the bench or to the floor to get ready for 15 seconds of frenetic play. About the only advantage I can see to this system is that it allows under-sized offensive prodigies like Josh Sanderson to play the game. Mind you, Josh isn't much taller than Chuck Li was and Li and the Oshawa Green Gaels were dominant with him on the floor. Okay, so Gaylord Powless' presence might have had something to do with that.

The plastic sticks they use today with either hand don't permit some of the ball-handling wizardry that was a hall-mark of the teams of the past. Sure, Josh Sanderson, John Grant and the recently retired Gait boys, Gary and Paul, can still handle the stick like there's no tomorrow. But even Grant would agree he can't handle the stick as well as his dad, Big John. And even Big John wasn't the best handler on his squad. He played with (and for) Bobby Allan. The best of the handlers in Bobby's day could fake a pass left, fake a pass right, over the shoulder and then fire an underhand pass to a wide-open creaseman for a goal, all in a blink of an eye.

I miss the days when goalie Barry Maruk, Dennis' probably more-athletic brother, would regularly join the offence up the floor. He'd average a goal a week, about three assists a game, and would throw his body around the goal area with reckless abandon. Bob Watson, a smallish man, despite the humungous goalie costume he inhabits, shows many a Maruk-like move while tending goal. But I've never seen him venture up to the offensive area, let alone become a scoring threat.

John McCauley, Gus to his friends, and I counted myself amongst them, coached the Brampton Excelsiors in those summers between NHL seasons. Gus was possible the smartest man I knew in sports. There was a day when he started acting up on the bench, hurling accusations of blindness and assorted other failings at the referees. He was given a game misconduct and kicked out of the game. Surprised at how this NHL referee could go crazy at the lacrosse zebras, I asked Gus why he'd pulled the stunt, was it to get his players going? "Mugs," he replied with a smile that bordered on a knowing smirk, "Did you notice how many players we had on the floor at the time?" Assuring him I hadn't, he continued, "Well I did, and it was one too many." In order to save his team a penalty call, he'd gotten himself a misconduct that would cost him $25 out of his pocket. And that's why his Excelsiors were national champions. Everybody talks about the tragic loss the NHL suffered when he passed away, way too early. It was worse for lacrosse.

Maybe he'd be able to talk the purveyors of lacrosse to get rid of the music during game-play. Hell, I'd deep six it completely, just so the PA guys (and I was one, and an offender) could dial it back a hundred notches and not scream at everybody, just to be heard over the soundtrack. That alone makes it hard for me to get up off the couch, with it's access to a remote control to lower the volume, and head off to the headache-inducing environs of the Air Canada Centre.

So, it seems I have a lot to complain about lacrosse. Yep. But here's the kicker. Even with all of the changes not for the better, lacrosse is two hours of usually thrilling entertainment. It's got the violence, but it's got defence and offence. It's got individual thrills and great team plays. It's frequently tight to the finish, and you don't break ties with penalty shots or ever-lasting overtime. You get your money when you pay for a lacrosse game.

I love lacrosse.