Friday, March 23, 2012

Essential Extensions

Presenting a small select band of FIREFOX plug-ins that I couldn't possibly imagine living without. Yes, alright... I know it would ordinarily be a "TOP TEN"... I do have others I COULD have used to make up the numbers. But these are either disabled by me (not a big fan of those customized tool bars that certain applications, trying to be 'helpful', install on your browser) or by Mozilla themselves (not compatible with the latest version of Firefox). So clearly, I CAN live without those!

#7 - a flash video downloader (YouTube Downloader)
Yeah yeah, I know it's a bit naughty (and a wee bit pointless, to be honest) DOWNLOADING material that was only meant to be STREAMED (much of which probably shouldn't even be there at all, if the copyright owners have anything to do with it!) But there comes a time when it's VERY useful. Let's say, f'rinstance, a friend with whom you are collaborating on a sort of "words & music" project, has posted on YouTube lots of videoblogs of herself reciting her poetry. It's jolly handy to be able to have a one-button solution for the task of getting those recitations (words and/or pictures) onto your own computer, so that you can go about your deviant remixing duties.
Details here

#6 - a web colour analysis tool (Rainbow)
So you're creating a new Stylish script (of which more later), happily hacking away at the CSS of some website or other, with the view to adding a splash of colour. Ah! but what colour, eh? How do I get the background colour of my 'divs' the exact shade of brown that will match that wallpaper? Well, that's where this little baby comes in. Switch it on and then point at anything in your browser window and you will be instantly presented with a little widget that shows you the colour and its hexadecimal value. Copy that 'alphanumeric' into memory then, if you want to convert the 'HEX' to a 256-increment RGB number, there's a handy pallet that will show you exactly that. You can also save your own pallet of colours into a library, so that your projects will always look consistent. 
Details here

#5 - a tool for temporarily hacking and reformatting pages (HackTheWeb)
I used to be extremely keen on a plug-in called Aardvark, but that one doesn't seem to work anymore with recent versions of Firefox. This one does pretty much the same thing though. There are times (for example, when you want to print out a webpage) when you want to temporarily remove an entire columnful of irrelevant bumph (more often than not, it's folks trying to sell you stuff). You just want look at the main feature that runs down the middle. I find this particularly useful for printing out railway timetables and recipes. Strip the webpage of all the stuff you DON'T want on your piece of paper and you'll find it all fits a little better! This tool was also useful (before Firefox upgraded its own 'developer tools') for pointing at page elements TO FIND OUT WHAT THEY ARE CALLED for inclusion in those all-important stylesheets.
Details here

#4 - a nice restful browsing environment (Firefox PERSONA Add-Ons)
Let's face it, Firefox looks a bit dull in its natural state. There are however A LOT of user-created "Personas" available for changing the appearance of Firefox itself. A lot of them, it has to be said, are quite garishly horrible as pieces of 'design'. The 'designer' has gone for a trendy pop theme, but has given no thought as to how legible the superimposed text will be or even whether their blurry picture of a bikini-clad screen goddess or Japanese boy band will even fit on the available space on the browser. Some of the colour choices render their efforts unusable and you wonder why they even bothered. But hey! it takes all sorts... I personally like a fairly plain background texture, with a contrasting font colour. Any picture elements should be placed over on the right-hand side where they don't get in the way of my tools and shortcuts. I always try out a scheme first to see if it's a comfortable fit. If something is too "IN YOUR FACE", or it clashes with my windows and buttons, then it's not a keeper. As you can see, my current choice is based on the sleeve picture from Miles Davis' "Jack Johnson" album, but I usually have about ten different themes saved in my Add-Ons Manager, for rotation as and when the mood takes me. Some of them are music- or TV-related, some of them are just "textural" and abstract.
Details here

#3 - Modify Headers
There are a number of geekoid reasons why you would want to "ADD, MODIFY & FILTER HTTP REQUEST HEADERS" if you are a 'developer'. Quite frankly, they don't concern me and I shouldn't need to bother you with them either, even if they mattered, which they don't. No, there is ONE REASON ALONE why I have this plug-in nestling on my tool bar. It allows me to watch "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART" without those "This Video Is Not Available In Your Territory" blocks. It tricks the server into thinking that you are somewhere Stateside and so you don't get nagged at. I have it on good authority that it works in the other direction as well. American citizens can use this method to watch BBC and ITV (and Channel 4... and five) programmes via the channel websites' media players - but don't ask me for specifics!
Details here

#2 - an ad-blocker (AdBlock Plus)
You still use the internet while being constantly bombarded with pop-ups... Your social network page is slowed down by being covered in banner adverts... Do you get really annoyed by these things? Well, then, you've only yourself to blame! Yes! I'm talking to YOU, MySpace users! I have no sympathy for you whatsoever. Heck, you're probably still using Internet Explorer, aren't you? I haven't seen an advert on a webpage for seven years or more. They take up vital webpage real-estate and they're not aimed at me anyway. AdBlock is an essential part of my browsing experience. It does exactly what it says on the tin, and it does it quietly and unobtrusively.
Details here

#2(b) - an additional plug-in that lets AdBlock selectively remove unwanted elements (Element Hiding Helper)
...and if you have AdBlock Plus, you'll definitely want this to go with it! Some web pages contain plain text or simply pictures which are adverts in disguise (and just as annoying). AdBlock won't normally treat them as adverts at all, so you need to manually make them go away by adding them to a blacklist. That's where this thing comes in. It adds a "SELECT AN ELEMENT TO HIDE" item to AdBlock's context menu. You can probably guess the rest!
Details here

#1 - the user styles manager (Stylish)
What would I have done with my evenings and lunchtimes for the last two or three years if it wasn't for this, "MY FAVOURITE WASTE OF TIME"? I'd have had to take up poetry and fill my blogs with something else instead! I don't think I've had a single day in the recent past when I haven't tweaked something or other (usually on one of my social network sites) through the magic of CSS... and this is the baby that allows me to do just that (if you haven't already twigged!)
Details right here on these very pages!

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