collusion – tracking and mapping links between websites

I’ve been pretty mindful about avoiding trackers on my site. I don’t use an external web analytics package (I do have the apache logs, crunched by AWStats, but nothing anywhere near the level of a Google Analytics or even WordPress Stats tracking). But, websites connect to other websites. That’s kind of their job. And other websites track stuff. So, even a website that doesn’t directly track people, by using YouTube videos and other hosted media, exposes people’s activity to those who track them.

I saw a post about Collusion – a Firefox add-on that maps links between websites, both the ones you go to directly, and the ones that send media and pull tracking info.

Here’s what about an hour’s worth of activity looks like, after letting Collusion monitor my browsing in Firefox:

The icons that are glowing are sites that I went to directly (all work-related, of course…), and the non-glowing icons are sites that either fed media to the sites I did visit, or who tracked my activity as a third party. Looking at my blog, with no third party tracking explicitly set up, there are still several sites indirectly monitoring activity of people.

That’s kind of creepy. The only way to completely avoid this is to host everything yourself, and never link to anything else. But that kind of goes against the whole purpose of this online-community-hootenanny thing…

learning communities

I spammed over 2200 faculty members with an invitation to vote on topics of interest for formation of Learning Communities, and used the opportunity to sneak in the first public mention of UCalgaryBlogs.ca. There’s no turning back now. Full steam ahead!

The votes have already started to roll in on the poll, and soon we’ll have a pretty good idea of where to take the project. w00t!

MediaWiki as a presentation application

I gave a presentation this morning as part of Faculty Technology Days 2007. I was asked a few weeks ago if I'd like to talk about weblogs and wikis, and I couldn't come up a reason why not, so they slotted me in. In the meantime, I've been doing a lot of thinking about weblogs, wikis, academic publishing, and being Open, Connected and Social. So I decided to try to subvert my presentation slightly, into a more open-content-is-good kind of talk (but still based on blogs and wikis for much of it). What better way to do that, than to present directly from a wiki? It's worked very well for Brian Lamb – all of his presentations are wiki-driven.

Yesterday, I came across a link to some Firefox Greasemonkey scripts for use with Mediawiki. (aside: I'd thought I'd seen the link via Twitter, but can't seem to find who said it there – I remembered it being from Scott Leslie, but it could have been through del.icio.us, or via a comment he made on a blog somewhere…)

Anyway, on scanning through the list, one jumped out at me. Not literally, but that would have been cool. The "Wikipedia Presentation" script sounded very cool. I'm a big fan of the wiki-as-presentation style, and this mashed up a Mediawiki page with the awesome S5 html presentation engine. By installing this script, it automatically enables viewing any Mediawiki page as a full-screen slideware presentation.

So, I installed it.

And it failed. The current version of the script has been updated for the current version of Mediawiki. I'm using an older version (because my server doesn't have the latest PHP bits to run the latest MediaWiki). Older Mediawiki pages use div elements to mark sections of a page, while newer versions use spans. After some extremely complicated editing of the Greasemonkey script (changing the 3 instances of "span" to say "div" instead) I was off and running. My modified (i.e., reverted) version of the Greasemonkey script is available here.

The cool thing, if you're using a Mac (and, really, what ISN'T cooler if you're using a Mac) is that you can install an application called Mira to enable using the Apple Remote to control Firefox. I bound the back/forward buttons on the remote to the left/right arrow keys, and I was navigating through a Mediawiki page as a full-screen presentation, using a wireless remote.

With the script installed, the wiki/presentation page for this presentation should show a "Start Presentation" link right beneath the article title.

There was one minor tweak I needed to make. By default, the content of the slide starts too far down the screen. When using a projector, you may be stuck at 800×600, and a bunch of that was sucked up by empty space at the top. So, I overrode one of the styles to make it start higher up. There are a couple of ways you can do this. If you have the Web Developer extension installed, just add a new User Style Sheet containing the style below. Otherwise, edit your Mediawiki skin (in my case, the file at /skins/monobook/main.css ) to add this:

#wikipedia_presentation {
margin-top: 0 !important;
}

I gave a presentation this morning as part of Faculty Technology Days 2007. I was asked a few weeks ago if I'd like to talk about weblogs and wikis, and I couldn't come up a reason why not, so they slotted me in. In the meantime, I've been doing a lot of thinking about weblogs, wikis, academic publishing, and being Open, Connected and Social. So I decided to try to subvert my presentation slightly, into a more open-content-is-good kind of talk (but still based on blogs and wikis for much of it). What better way to do that, than to present directly from a wiki? It's worked very well for Brian Lamb – all of his presentations are wiki-driven.

Yesterday, I came across a link to some Firefox Greasemonkey scripts for use with Mediawiki. (aside: I'd thought I'd seen the link via Twitter, but can't seem to find who said it there – I remembered it being from Scott Leslie, but it could have been through del.icio.us, or via a comment he made on a blog somewhere…)

Anyway, on scanning through the list, one jumped out at me. Not literally, but that would have been cool. The "Wikipedia Presentation" script sounded very cool. I'm a big fan of the wiki-as-presentation style, and this mashed up a Mediawiki page with the awesome S5 html presentation engine. By installing this script, it automatically enables viewing any Mediawiki page as a full-screen slideware presentation.

So, I installed it.

And it failed. The current version of the script has been updated for the current version of Mediawiki. I'm using an older version (because my server doesn't have the latest PHP bits to run the latest MediaWiki). Older Mediawiki pages use div elements to mark sections of a page, while newer versions use spans. After some extremely complicated editing of the Greasemonkey script (changing the 3 instances of "span" to say "div" instead) I was off and running. My modified (i.e., reverted) version of the Greasemonkey script is available here.

The cool thing, if you're using a Mac (and, really, what ISN'T cooler if you're using a Mac) is that you can install an application called Mira to enable using the Apple Remote to control Firefox. I bound the back/forward buttons on the remote to the left/right arrow keys, and I was navigating through a Mediawiki page as a full-screen presentation, using a wireless remote.

With the script installed, the wiki/presentation page for this presentation should show a "Start Presentation" link right beneath the article title.

There was one minor tweak I needed to make. By default, the content of the slide starts too far down the screen. When using a projector, you may be stuck at 800×600, and a bunch of that was sucked up by empty space at the top. So, I overrode one of the styles to make it start higher up. There are a couple of ways you can do this. If you have the Web Developer extension installed, just add a new User Style Sheet containing the style below. Otherwise, edit your Mediawiki skin (in my case, the file at /skins/monobook/main.css ) to add this:

#wikipedia_presentation {
margin-top: 0 !important;
}

Firefox 2 with Performancing

Firefox 2 with PerformancingFirefox 2 with PerformancingFirefox 2 with PerformancingFirefox 2 with PerformancingFirefox 2 with PerformancingFirefox 2 with PerformancingFirefox 2 with PerformancingLike just about everyone else with an active TCP/IP stack, I grabbed a copy of Firefox 2.0 today. It feels much cleaner and faster than before, and the spelchecker is definitely welcome (making it feel more like a MacOSX browser, where all other browsers have had spelcheking for ages…)

As part of the upgrade, it grabbed new versions of my extensions, including Performancing. Poking around in the PFF 1.3 settings, I notice it’s got its own concept of plugins. Including one that takes any local images used in a blog post and hucks them into Flickr on demand. mwaaaAAH? I’ve just got to try that sucker. How about a screenshot of Firefox 2.0 with PFF 1.3? Here goes… command+3, then drag the resulting image into place and resize by dragging the corner widgets…



Update
: It didn’t handle resizing as expected (or at all – no way to select one of the Flickr-generated sizes, only original), and using a 1280×854 screenshot inline in a blog entry would be evil. But it works. Cool. Dragging the image from Flickr directly into PFF solves the problem nicely.

And PFF seems to have lost all of the strange text rendering bugs I was seeing under Firefox 1.x.

Update 2: PFF still doesn’t seem to successfully set categories/tags on my Drupal site. Don’t know if that’s a problem with PFF or Drupal (or both). Not fatal, but inconvenient.

Update 3: How does the image FTP upload work?

Update 4: OK. I got categories working! Woohoo! The trick is to set Drupal to use the MetaWeblog API, and tell PFF to connect to a Drupal site. Seems to work like a charm.

Firefox 2 with PerformancingFirefox 2 with PerformancingFirefox 2 with PerformancingFirefox 2 with PerformancingFirefox 2 with PerformancingFirefox 2 with PerformancingFirefox 2 with PerformancingLike just about everyone else with an active TCP/IP stack, I grabbed a copy of Firefox 2.0 today. It feels much cleaner and faster than before, and the spelchecker is definitely welcome (making it feel more like a MacOSX browser, where all other browsers have had spelcheking for ages…)

As part of the upgrade, it grabbed new versions of my extensions, including Performancing. Poking around in the PFF 1.3 settings, I notice it’s got its own concept of plugins. Including one that takes any local images used in a blog post and hucks them into Flickr on demand. mwaaaAAH? I’ve just got to try that sucker. How about a screenshot of Firefox 2.0 with PFF 1.3? Here goes… command+3, then drag the resulting image into place and resize by dragging the corner widgets…



Update
: It didn’t handle resizing as expected (or at all – no way to select one of the Flickr-generated sizes, only original), and using a 1280×854 screenshot inline in a blog entry would be evil. But it works. Cool. Dragging the image from Flickr directly into PFF solves the problem nicely.

And PFF seems to have lost all of the strange text rendering bugs I was seeing under Firefox 1.x.

Update 2: PFF still doesn’t seem to successfully set categories/tags on my Drupal site. Don’t know if that’s a problem with PFF or Drupal (or both). Not fatal, but inconvenient.

Update 3: How does the image FTP upload work?

Update 4: OK. I got categories working! Woohoo! The trick is to set Drupal to use the MetaWeblog API, and tell PFF to connect to a Drupal site. Seems to work like a charm.

Flock Beta 1 Cardinal

Flock hit beta 1 (or 0.7, depending on how you count) yesterday, and it seems like a really solid release. My favorite feature isn’t even part of the core Flock code – it’s got more Extensions enabled, including Mouse Gestures!

I’m hoping they nailed down the nasty memory leaks that plagued previous builds, and cleaned up the window opening code, which could take several seconds to spawn a new browser window. But it’s definitely on the right track.

Now to see if they managed to squeeze in category sorting/filtering in the blog posting interface (which, other than that, has been the best blog posting wysiwyg interface I’ve ever used).

Nope. It doesn’t sort or filter categories. Meaning that although it only took me 2 minutes to write this simple post, it’ll take at least that long just to select the proper categories from the menu provided…

Flock hit beta 1 (or 0.7, depending on how you count) yesterday, and it seems like a really solid release. My favorite feature isn’t even part of the core Flock code – it’s got more Extensions enabled, including Mouse Gestures!

I’m hoping they nailed down the nasty memory leaks that plagued previous builds, and cleaned up the window opening code, which could take several seconds to spawn a new browser window. But it’s definitely on the right track.

Now to see if they managed to squeeze in category sorting/filtering in the blog posting interface (which, other than that, has been the best blog posting wysiwyg interface I’ve ever used).

Nope. It doesn’t sort or filter categories. Meaning that although it only took me 2 minutes to write this simple post, it’ll take at least that long just to select the proper categories from the menu provided…

AJAXWrite – MS Word in your browser

While Writely is cool, it deals with online documents. You can import/export, but the document lives online. That’s cool for many uses, but scares some people.

I just found a link to AjaxWrite (via Tangled up in Purple) – it’s a javascript based word processor that appears to be compatible with MS Word. You open and save documents on your local hard drive – not in the Internet Cloud.

AjaxWrite ScreenshotBasically, it’s just a copy of Word that lives in a browser window, meaning you don’t have to install it anywhere. Stick your .doc files on a USB thumbdrive (perhaps with a copy of Portable Firefox) and you’ve got a portable word processor that you can take anywhere, regardless of how a “guest” computer is configured… (actually, if you want portable word processors, there are some options for native applications as well)

In the screenshot here, I’ve opened a somewhat complicated .doc file on my hard drive (tables, colours, etc…) and it let me do editing right in Firefox. Note the toolbar icons, and regular menu bar.

It might not be quite as fully featured as a copy of MS Word, but it’s handy, and lives anywhere with an internet connection…

While Writely is cool, it deals with online documents. You can import/export, but the document lives online. That’s cool for many uses, but scares some people.

I just found a link to AjaxWrite (via Tangled up in Purple) – it’s a javascript based word processor that appears to be compatible with MS Word. You open and save documents on your local hard drive – not in the Internet Cloud.

AjaxWrite ScreenshotBasically, it’s just a copy of Word that lives in a browser window, meaning you don’t have to install it anywhere. Stick your .doc files on a USB thumbdrive (perhaps with a copy of Portable Firefox) and you’ve got a portable word processor that you can take anywhere, regardless of how a “guest” computer is configured… (actually, if you want portable word processors, there are some options for native applications as well)

In the screenshot here, I’ve opened a somewhat complicated .doc file on my hard drive (tables, colours, etc…) and it let me do editing right in Firefox. Note the toolbar icons, and regular menu bar.

It might not be quite as fully featured as a copy of MS Word, but it’s handy, and lives anywhere with an internet connection…

Performancing for Firefox

Just testing out the latest build of the Performancing for Firefox extension – a fully-featured weblog manager built into Firefox. And it’s free.

I had to stop using it a while back because it was behaving oddly (character spacing in the text editor was wonky enough to make it unusable) but it’s behaving perfectly now. Not sure if it was the latest Firefox update, or a rogue extension, but whatever was causing the misbehaviour, it’s all good now.

It works with a whole bunch of weblog platforms. I’ve tested with Wordpress 2 and Drupal 4.7, and it claims to work with MovableType and many others.

The latest PFF build also has a few nice new features – like sorting categories, integrated Metrics display, and a nice del.icio.us bookmarking utility. Lots of other cool stuff, too. Definitely a handy extension. I’m looking forward to comparing it with Flock when the Cardinal build is released next month!

Just testing out the latest build of the Performancing for Firefox extension – a fully-featured weblog manager built into Firefox. And it’s free.

I had to stop using it a while back because it was behaving oddly (character spacing in the text editor was wonky enough to make it unusable) but it’s behaving perfectly now. Not sure if it was the latest Firefox update, or a rogue extension, but whatever was causing the misbehaviour, it’s all good now.

It works with a whole bunch of weblog platforms. I’ve tested with WordPress 2 and Drupal 4.7, and it claims to work with MovableType and many others.

The latest PFF build also has a few nice new features – like sorting categories, integrated Metrics display, and a nice del.icio.us bookmarking utility. Lots of other cool stuff, too. Definitely a handy extension. I’m looking forward to comparing it with Flock when the Cardinal build is released next month!

Firefox with Mouse Gestures

I’ve been waffling back and forth between Safari and Firefox over the last few months. The flexibility of Firefox keeps drawing me close, like a moth to a flame, only to be burned because it doesn’t “feel” right. Safari does. I’ve been slowly adding Themes and Extensions to make Firefox start to look/behave better, and it’s close. Darned close.

The thing that might push it over the threshold for me was the addition of the All-in-One Mouse Gestures extension, which combines a bunch of stuff (including Mouse Gestures) into one nice package. In Safari (and every other Cocoa app on my system) I’ve been using CocoaGestures to add powerful mouse gestures to tasks like tab switching, closing tabs, etc… But on Firefox, I had to keep reverting to the keyboard (or moving the mouse to select a tab – much more efficient to just flick the mouse and have that motion translated…) Heck, I haven’t even found a keyboard combo to switch tabs in Firefox yet…

The last two things that Safari rocks at are the integrated spel cheker, a handy key combo to put the text focus in the Google search field in the toolbar. I’ve tried the Firefox spell checker extension, with no luk.

I’ve been waffling back and forth between Safari and Firefox over the last few months. The flexibility of Firefox keeps drawing me close, like a moth to a flame, only to be burned because it doesn’t “feel” right. Safari does. I’ve been slowly adding Themes and Extensions to make Firefox start to look/behave better, and it’s close. Darned close.

The thing that might push it over the threshold for me was the addition of the All-in-One Mouse Gestures extension, which combines a bunch of stuff (including Mouse Gestures) into one nice package. In Safari (and every other Cocoa app on my system) I’ve been using CocoaGestures to add powerful mouse gestures to tasks like tab switching, closing tabs, etc… But on Firefox, I had to keep reverting to the keyboard (or moving the mouse to select a tab – much more efficient to just flick the mouse and have that motion translated…) Heck, I haven’t even found a keyboard combo to switch tabs in Firefox yet…

The last two things that Safari rocks at are the integrated spel cheker, a handy key combo to put the text focus in the Google search field in the toolbar. I’ve tried the Firefox spell checker extension, with no luk.

Performancing 1.1

The Performancing extension for Firefox was just updated, and they added some great new stuff. It’s now tied into del.icio.us, and adds a “Page Tools” view that looks up the current web page in Technorati (handy, but no handier than a bookmarklet).

Firefox is still not quite as nice as Safari, so I don’t think I’ll be using it full time (page scrolling performance in Firefox is terrible on my ‘book, and text rendering isn’t quite as nice as in Safari). Maybe I’ll try it for a few days to see how it works out.

The beauty of keeping all bookmarks in del.icio.us is that it completely commoditizes the browser. My bookmarks are completely portable. The only links/tools that get left behind are the bookmarklets I keep in a browser’s bookmark toolbar, and those are easily replaced.

Two things that they could add to make Performancing rock harder would be:

  1. Sorting categories. 285 categories and counting, and it’s hard to find specific categories for a post (where did “performancing” go in this unsorted mess?)
  2. Category search. Even with sorting, it would be handy to be able to search/filter categories. Maybe it’s a tool that only shows up if a blog has more than 20 categories or something… It took me longer to find the categories for this post than to write it.

One thing that strikes me is just how much faster/easier/more flexible adding categories is through the WordPress web UI, when combined with the Cat2Tag plugin – it is a simple text entry field, similar to del.icio.us or Flickr, with autocompletion of existing categories and seamless creation of new ones as needed. It even provides a sorted and weighted tag cloud view of existing categories if desired. No idea if adding categories is even possible via the posting API, but it keeps me coming back to the WordPress posting UI…

Update: Disabling Firefox’s “live scrolling” makes it feel about 6 bajillion times faster. It’s totally usable now. I’ll try it for a week or so (again)…

The Performancing extension for Firefox was just updated, and they added some great new stuff. It’s now tied into del.icio.us, and adds a “Page Tools” view that looks up the current web page in Technorati (handy, but no handier than a bookmarklet).

Firefox is still not quite as nice as Safari, so I don’t think I’ll be using it full time (page scrolling performance in Firefox is terrible on my ‘book, and text rendering isn’t quite as nice as in Safari). Maybe I’ll try it for a few days to see how it works out.

The beauty of keeping all bookmarks in del.icio.us is that it completely commoditizes the browser. My bookmarks are completely portable. The only links/tools that get left behind are the bookmarklets I keep in a browser’s bookmark toolbar, and those are easily replaced.

Two things that they could add to make Performancing rock harder would be:

  1. Sorting categories. 285 categories and counting, and it’s hard to find specific categories for a post (where did “performancing” go in this unsorted mess?)
  2. Category search. Even with sorting, it would be handy to be able to search/filter categories. Maybe it’s a tool that only shows up if a blog has more than 20 categories or something… It took me longer to find the categories for this post than to write it.

One thing that strikes me is just how much faster/easier/more flexible adding categories is through the WordPress web UI, when combined with the Cat2Tag plugin – it is a simple text entry field, similar to del.icio.us or Flickr, with autocompletion of existing categories and seamless creation of new ones as needed. It even provides a sorted and weighted tag cloud view of existing categories if desired. No idea if adding categories is even possible via the posting API, but it keeps me coming back to the WordPress posting UI…

Update: Disabling Firefox’s “live scrolling” makes it feel about 6 bajillion times faster. It’s totally usable now. I’ll try it for a week or so (again)…

Thoughts after trying Firefox again

When I upgraded my blog to WordPress 2.0 RC3 last week, there was a bug or issue that corrupted a cookie used by the fancy schmancy new authoring screens. Safari barfed all over that corrupt cookie, meaning I couldn’t use it to manage my blog. Firefox just ignored it (and the functionality that required that cookie apparently degraded transparently – the widgets were no longer collapsable or movable).

So, I thought it would be a good chance to switch to Firefox 1.5 for a while and kick the tires a bit as my primary (only) browser.

Things I like about Firefox:

  • Fancy schmancy wysiwyg and “ajax” crap all just works.
  • Websites don’t try to protect me from myself by warning me that I’m using Safari
  • The del.icio.us extension makes creating bookmarks better (but not hugely better than the bookmarklet)
  • The great “Web Developer” sidebar, with the cool stuff like cookie inspectors. Many of these tools are reproducable via bookmarklets, but it’s nice to have a unified place to get them all.

Things I don’t like so much:

  • NO. SPEL. CHEKER. I tried installing the recommended extension, but it never worked. And wouldn’t have been integrated with the OS-level dictionary I use in every other app on my Powerbook. It’s really uncomfortable typing away, and not being able to know at a glance, or via peripheral vision, if I’d made a typo or a stupid spelling attempt (I rarely get words with more than 3 letters right on the first shot…)
  • No Cocoa UI widgets – they’re available in Camino, and are apparently planned for Firefox 3.0 (official plan), but the XUL widgets suck badly, compared to the great ones that are provided by Cocoa. Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way.
  • Feels like it is quite a bit slower than Safari. Speed is good.
  • Text rendering sucks badly as well. Compare pages to what they look like in Safari. Just simply not as good. And Firefox doesn’t support the CSS dropshadow – meaning my blog’s banner text looks worse in Firefox 😉
  • Page load progress indicator – the simple spinning “working…” indicator just ain’t enough. There’s an extension to get more info, including a progress thermometer, but nothing comes close to Safari’s elegant thermometer-beneath-the-location-field implementation.

When I upgraded my blog to WordPress 2.0 RC3 last week, there was a bug or issue that corrupted a cookie used by the fancy schmancy new authoring screens. Safari barfed all over that corrupt cookie, meaning I couldn’t use it to manage my blog. Firefox just ignored it (and the functionality that required that cookie apparently degraded transparently – the widgets were no longer collapsable or movable).

So, I thought it would be a good chance to switch to Firefox 1.5 for a while and kick the tires a bit as my primary (only) browser.

Things I like about Firefox:

  • Fancy schmancy wysiwyg and “ajax” crap all just works.
  • Websites don’t try to protect me from myself by warning me that I’m using Safari
  • The del.icio.us extension makes creating bookmarks better (but not hugely better than the bookmarklet)
  • The great “Web Developer” sidebar, with the cool stuff like cookie inspectors. Many of these tools are reproducable via bookmarklets, but it’s nice to have a unified place to get them all.

Things I don’t like so much:

  • NO. SPEL. CHEKER. I tried installing the recommended extension, but it never worked. And wouldn’t have been integrated with the OS-level dictionary I use in every other app on my Powerbook. It’s really uncomfortable typing away, and not being able to know at a glance, or via peripheral vision, if I’d made a typo or a stupid spelling attempt (I rarely get words with more than 3 letters right on the first shot…)
  • No Cocoa UI widgets – they’re available in Camino, and are apparently planned for Firefox 3.0 (official plan), but the XUL widgets suck badly, compared to the great ones that are provided by Cocoa. Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way.
  • Feels like it is quite a bit slower than Safari. Speed is good.
  • Text rendering sucks badly as well. Compare pages to what they look like in Safari. Just simply not as good. And Firefox doesn’t support the CSS dropshadow – meaning my blog’s banner text looks worse in Firefox 😉
  • Page load progress indicator – the simple spinning “working…” indicator just ain’t enough. There’s an extension to get more info, including a progress thermometer, but nothing comes close to Safari’s elegant thermometer-beneath-the-location-field implementation.