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The Best Firefox Plugins and Extensions

Firefox is a great web browser. If nothing else, the large number of people switching from Internet Explorer to Firefox convinced Microsoft to finally update IE. When Firefox added inline spell checking with version 2.0 they boosted the writing quality of every blogger, wiki contributor, and forum post on the Internet. What more can you ask for? Actually, the best thing about Firefox is its extensibility. Anyone with some programming skill and some free time can add features and functionality by building plugins and extensions. There are well over 2000 extensions listed at Mozilla.org, so where do you start? You can find a lot of "top 10" lists around the web, but I thought I'd add my two cents as well. Here is a list of some of the best Firefox extensions. 1. Adblock Plus - Adblock is a controversial choice because it allows users to block out the advertisements that many websites rely on for income. This website, for example. But again and again I find myself thanking the Flying Spaghetti Monster for Adblock. Some sites fill their pages with flash-based ads that flash, flutter, crawl across the pages, etc. And those are the ads I inevitably block. 2. StumbleUpon - StumbleUpon lets you channel surf the web. Click on the Stumble button and you'll get a new web site - give it a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down and StumbleUpon will suggest sites more to your liking. I should warn you, though, that this extension is very addictive and a terrible time-waster. 3. Procrastato - Now that I've ruined your productivity with StumbleUpon, I'll give you a little bit back. Procrastato watches for notorious time-wasting sites like Digg, MySapce, and YouTube and reminds you every few minutes to get back to work. 4. Firebug - If you are a web developer and you don't use some combination of these next four plugins, you might as well be writing code blindfolded. Firebug lets you inspect pages to find troublesome elements and edit HTML, CSS, and javascript inline. 5. Web Developer - The Web Developer Toolbar isn't quite as powerful as Firebug but it has some nice features that are easy to get to in a pinch. For example you can resize the browser window to make sure your site still works in 800x600. You can also kill all CSS styles, which actually make MySpace tolerable. 6. Tamper Data - If you ever run into a tricky HTTP header problem, or want to see what all is taking so long to load on a site, Tamper Data is the tool for you. 7. User Agent Switcher - You don't need to be a web developer to appreciate this add-on. There are still a lot of sites out there with buggy old code that tries to look for a certain version of IE and locks you out otherwise. Use User Agent Switcher to tell the site that Firefox is IE, and 99 times out of 100 everything runs perfectly well. 8. del.icio.us Bookmarks - I don't know about you but I have been building my bookmarks lists for 10 years, exporting and importing from one browser version to the next. The list is now way too large to be usable, but del.icio.us makes my bookmarks taggable and searchable. This plugin integrates them back into the browser. 9. SiteAdvisor - I was a little worried when SiteAdvisor was bought by McAffee, since I'm not a huge fan of their anti-virus suite. But SiteAdvisor remains an absolutely necessary tool on the wild web. When you do a Google search, you'll see little green checkmarks next to well-behaved sites and red X's next to spammers and spyware purveyors. Go install this on your mom and dad's computers today. Did I miss any? Let me know about your favorite extensions below.

A Horrible, but Amazing, Abuse of HTML

This goes out to all y'all web developers out there.  You know who you are.  In 1999 while others partied like it was...  1999, you slaved away trying to get your table-based layout working on Netscape and IE.  Thank goodness it's now 2007, and you can just grab CSS-based layouts from A List Apart. But off all the possible abuses of old-skool HTML, I bet you never thought of this one:  using table cells and bgcolor to build an image, one pixel at a time! [youtube]NqFOB77jLaE[/youtube] Link to video for those of you on RSS. Brought to you by Japan and cutesy anime chicks.

Taking Web Stats to the Next Level (of Weirdness) with Google Analytics

If you have ever run a web site, you've been exposed to the addictive, number-crunching fun provided by web stats. Any web site that's worth it's pixels will have, at the very least, a freeware program like AWStats parsing through the server logs and putting together colorful charts and reports. Our host, Q5media, are kind enough to provide us with LiveStats by Deepmetrix. Web stats can be really useful for blogs. They can tell you all sorts of interesting things about your readership, for example, last month 55 people found the site while searching for Yakety Sax, no doubt landing on our article about how Yakety Sax makes anything funny. Other top searches included guys kissing, how youtube works, and once you go black. Hopefully everyone found what they were looking for. As you can see, the most important use of web stats is to find the strangest search phrases people use to get to your articles. The small sample above is actually at the top of our list, but on a more sedate blog you might have to dig a bit to get to the comedy. Looking further down I get gems such as "indian dicks" and "bees apocalypse." In addition, web stats provide you a way to start fights between your writers as they argue over who's getting more traffic and why. So it's a lot of fun. In order to get some really deep knowledge, you have to venture off into the world of web analytics. Analytics gives you more than just the list of top pages by visitor count. You are able to see where readers come from, how they make their way through the site, and how they exit. If you have advertising on your site, you can really get a sense of what works and what doesn't. Google Analytics is a completely free, and fairly useful, analytics package to try out. It works by placing a small JavaScript on your pages - in Wordpress, you could stick it in your footer. So what is this deep knowledge I speak of? Let me give you an example: a few days ago we had an article about the weight loss drug Alli. With Google Analytics, I now know that 9 of the people who read the article clicked on an ad, no doubt one selling Alli or a similar weight-loss product. Six people clicked on to an article about things every nursing student should have, which means at least a tiny percentage of our readers actually look to us for helpful information. But five people clicked on the the page for the tag "accidents." If you follow that link you'll notice that there's only one article there. The only thing I can think is that five of our readers were not interested in the helpful information aspect of the article as the "pooped myself" aspect. They picked up on the tag and thought it would lead them to more... accidents. What's worse, in the academic world, this trail they followed is called the "information scent."

Knocked Up and why I never need to enter a theater again

knockedup_resized.jpgI could turn this into a simple review of Knocked Up. I could say that, while funny, well-cast and full of Katherine Heigl hottness, its needless and mostly uncritical obsession over celebrity culture (and the repeated celebrity cameos) dulls it faster than an evening watching C-SPAN. I could point out the major disconnect of the main character's obsession with celebrity nudity with the fact that we never get to see any of Katherine Heigl's naughty bits, despite two sex scenes and a tub scene. I could list all the ways that Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen and all the supporting characters are interconnected in such a way to make Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon devotees cream their jeans. But no, the reason Knocked Up has me swearing off paying $8 for a theater ticket and another $8 for popcorns and sodas (yeah, things are cheap here in Vermont sometimes) is because I've already seen it. Sure, it's a largely original movie, and I'm not going to claim Apatow stole the ideas for it from an previous work (barring, perhaps, the Miracle of Life, that sex-ed film we all had to watch in the eighth grade). But if you've seen just one trailer for the comedy, then you've seen the whole damn movie. Nearly every comedic scene of that movie was in the trailers, either online or on TV, from Rogen's "You're prettier than me" comment to his buddy's attempt to help with the birth and subsequent warning not to go in the birthing room. While they were indeed worth a chuckle when first watching the trailers, nothing about those scenes evolved into something funnier in the theater. And everybody else in the audience noticed it too - hardly a laugh at the scenes already played over and over again in the trailer. The scenes that did elicit laughs never would have had a chance in the trailers, such as the constant ridiculing of the roommate who bets he won't shave his beard for a year or Ben's worry that having sex while Alison is pregnant will mean that the first thing his child will see is his cock in its face. And this phenomenon didn't just ruin Knocked Up. A good half of the movies my girlfriend drags me to nowadays suffer from the same syndrome - let's call it premature cachinnation. Theoretically, that's not what a trailer's for, to give the whole movie away. Instead, a trailer should entice you with just enough of a sneak peek behind the curtain to give you an idea of what the movie is about and just enough information to decide whether it will be worth your $8. But hey, I don't mind saving my money and hitting up the Apple trailers page. It's another dime the MPAA and the celebrity-industrial complex won't be getting from me.

Sick of PowerPoint Slides? Here’s a Better way to Present Data

If you design web sites, write reports, or do presentations, you should probably take a look at the work of Edward Tufte. One of his best-known essays tells how your typical PowerPoint presentation can obscure information more than it helps illustrate. So what do you do if you have a ton of numerical data and just two and a half minutes to present it? Well, if it's data about the pron industry on the Internet, you could do something like this: (Might be NSFW) [youtube]QOFTQpNhsWE[/youtube] Thanks to TechCrunch for digging up the video. The video might seem like just a punchline, but seriously, this is the perfect way to present this data and I think it could be translated to other subjects as well. Obviously it would take a bit of creativity, I don't mean to say that your quarterly sales data should be sharpied across your significant other's backside. A simple example: if I had data about food, I might capture my audience's attention with pie charts made out of, well, actual pie. Tufte is not really a fan of pie charts, and I admit this example is more about capturing attention than effectively conveying complex data. Can you think of any novel, but amazingly appropriate, ways to present facts and figures? And in case you need the executive summary (read: no data) of the above presentation, here it is: [youtube]QtiGd58J0bY[/youtube]