Firefox Extensions I Use

I’m often asked what Firefox extensions I use in my web browser. For those who ask, here you go.

Basic plugins that anyone may like:

  • Gmail Manager – check and manage multiple Gmail accounts
  • History block – prevent some sites from crowding your web browser history
  • Echofon – Twitter client (formally known as TwitterFox)
    • I’m looking for a better Firefox Twitter client, please comment if you know of one.
  • PDF Download – Decide whether you rather download or view PDF
  • Tabs Open Relative – Open new tabs to the right of your current tab

Plugins specific to web development:

Google Android G1 Week 2 Review

So I’ve had this Google phone for 2 weeks and I must say that I’m very pleased with it. Unfortunately, I have not used a blackberry or an iPhone for 2 weeks, so I cannot fairly compare the phones. I can, however, point out the important features as well as the ergonomics of the phone that make this phone awesome.

Features That Rule!

The functionality and tight integration of the applications make this phone kick butt.

Gmail – Gmail works awesome on the phone. It has its own separate Gmail application which makes it easy to send and view Gmail messages. Since the phone is multi-threaded, everything works similar to how things work on a regular computer. For example, during the election I was following twitter on the phone and NBC4 Columbus put out a tweet asking for pictures of the lines at the voting booths. First I opened up Gmail, started a message. Then I turned on the camera, took a picture, closed the camera whcih brought me back to my message then quickly attached the image I just took and finished by clicking send. The whole process is pretty seamless.

Contacts – My contacts in Gmail and on the phone are all part of one single database of contacts. Anytime i add a new contact on the phone, it appears in Gmail. When I add a contact in Gmail, it appears on the phone. This is just one super powerful feature.

Calendar – I have a number of calendars. As expected you can view your calendar on the phone. What’s sweet is it also views all the calendars that are shared out to your Google Calendar. This means that the overlay of calendars from my work, personal and wife’s calendars appear in my phone. What’s even more awesome is how calendar events that have alarms configured set off the alarm in the phone. This whole calendar integration was very well thought out and Google deserves an A+ for this one.

Google Maps – This has already come in handy twice! Last week I was trying to find the West Marine store here in Columbus. When I mapped it at home, I thought the store was located on the west side of Sawmill road. When I drove over there and couldn’t find the store, I decided to re-map it in Google Maps on the phone. Though the point mapped did not indicate which side of Sawmill I needed to be on, it displayed the phone number for the business as a clickable number in the same way other numbers appear as contacts. I just clicked once and bam, the phone dialed West Marine and within seconds I was talking to someone who helped me find the store.

Dialer – The dialer application is what it is, the app that lets you dial numbers and contacts. This may be the first part of the phone that i could see vast improvement with. One cool feature though is how the Phone’s contacts can be filtered by groups. I setup a group in my Gmail contacts of people I call the most so those are the numbers that only appear in the main list of contacts in my phone. But don’t let this fool you, just because you only list contacts that are in a specific group does not mean the phone doesn’t recongize all of your contacts. It’s pretty tight phone in that regard.

Text Messaging – This works similar to Gmail, with each person you text listed as a separate thread. Nothing good or bad to say about it.

IM Client – It works pretty well and does the job.

Browser – The browser works pretty well. The coolest part of the browser is how it handles tabs. I like to open new links in a new tab, so all I do is hold my finger on the link for 2 seconds then a menu appears letting me open the link in a new tab. Moving between the tabs is pretty easy too. Sometimes I find myself in twitter in one tab and reading a blog in another. My only gripe so far is that you cannot perform file uploads from the browser. Not sure why this limitation is set but it is definitely something coded into the browser.

All around the default package of apps in this phone make this a very powerful tool for keeping in touch with others in all modern forms of communication.

Ergonomics Gets a C+

Though the phone is growing on me, it has some obvious ergonomic flaws. I pointed these out early on in my first blog post about the phone (click here) so I’ll just touch on them.

Ports, or lack there of – The position of the USB port sucks when you are texting. Though so far I have not found a need to have headphones plugged in while I am texting I can foresee that this will be a problem when I’m using the phone as both an mp3 player and as a phone. The lack of portion options also limits this phone. Had they just put a headphone jack along the right side of the phone then I’d be a happy camper. Then I could listen to music while texting without the plug getting into the way of my hands.

Camera – The camera has absolutely no options which sucks. Since it’s a camera phone, I’d like to set the picture quality a little lower so the files are smaller for sending in email. One other complaint is the delay when clicking the picture button and when the picture is actually taken. You absolutely cannot take a crisp picture with this phone holding it with just one hand. I am getting used to it but boy my last phone had a 1 Megapixel camera and took pictures much faster than this one.

3rd Party Apps

SSH Client – Okay, the average person would not even care about this but being a programmer and network administrator this feature is awesome. The application is called ConnectBot. It’s a petty simple SSH client. Though it is a bit painful to use with a texting keyboard compared to a regular keyboard, it does the job. I haven’t had to use it in a practical sense yet but if I am ever out of town and away from a computer I still have a way to connect to one of our rack servers and fix a critical problem through the shell. Extremely powerful tool in my opinion.

Twitter – There is a pretty good Twitter app for Android called  Twidroid. It works pretty well. The only feature that it lacks is a screen of public @ replies. Otherwise it works pretty well.

Pac Man – Yea, who doesn’t like old Atari games.

Others – I’ve installed an app for calculating tips at restaurants, an app which lets me use the camera to scan bar codes at stores to search other stores for comparable pricing and a weather plugin to easily obtain the current, hourly, 3 day and 10 day forecasts.

Overall Opinion

This is a great tool. I no longer want to refer to this as a phone as it is much more than that. I now know why so many people love their Blackberry’s or iPhone’s, these multi function devices let you do so much. However, they will never replace a computer, that is for sure. If anything, these devices could bridge the gab for the need for laptop computers. I am sure it will not be long before I hear about folks going back to desktop computers because their phone does everything they need when they are out of the office. I also predict that in a year or so we will see Android based laptop and desktop computers. I don’t see any reason why Google would not do this, as this would complete the gamut of needs for the average person and business as far as computing is concerned. Apple took OSX to the phone and I am certain Google will take Android from the phone to the desktop. Time will tell if I’m right.

G1 Android Phone Day 3

Okay, I said I would wait a week before I give my review of my new Google G1 Android phone, but I now decided to wait 2 weeks since next week is the election. So this post will be a 3 day review of the phone thus far.

First conclusion, if you use Gmail, then this phone is for you!

Integration with Google

This phone is tight, I mean tight, with Google services. I use Google apps for my Domain, which means Email sent to mandato.com is actually handled by Gmail. The phone worked right out of the box with my mandato.com Gmail address. This tight integration with my Email and calendar alone will save me a lot of time and help me better manage my communication via both Email, IM and phone. If you use Gmail for your business and/or to communicate with family and friends, you will appreciate this phone.

So how tight is Android with Gmail? Well, all my contacts in Gmail are contacts in my phone. My calendar events are now synchronized between my phone, Google calendar on the web and my desktop Sunbird calendar application. Sure other applications and services (Act, Lotus Notes and Outlook come to mind) integrate with Software phones on computer desktops, etc.., but this does the job for new kinds of customers like myself, those who have mobile and/or virtual business environments.

So, this is why I got the phone and I must say it does everything I expected.

The Good, The Interface

The Interface for the phone is intuitive, though I would have to say this phone is not for everyone. As far as a phone is concerned, it works pretty well. In normal mode (keyboard closed), you can do a lot of basic stuff with the phone, access your calendar, dial, Google maps, web browser, email, etc… As soon as you need more computer like functionality, just put your thumb on the left side of the screen and push it to the right, and you got yourself a nice functioning keyboard. I never understood why someone would design a phone like this, but now I have it I know why, to keep things simple when possible. For example, I don’t think my parents will have a problem answering a phone call with this phone, but they certainly would have problems using the keyboard. I still have a phone that my mom could make a phone call with without getting completely confused.

There are some items about using the phone, that I’ll call techniques, that someone will need to learn to appreciate how to use and navigate a G1 phone.

First is the menu button. At any point, you can click the menu button to do essentially the same as clicking the ‘File’ pull down menu in any Windows application. For example, in an IM chat, click the menu button to do things such as close the IM chat window or toggle to another ongoing chat window. You’re going to need to learn this fast as there is no touch screen option to get to these options or settings screens.

Touch and hold, in some instances, will achieve the same as a right click when in a Windows application. For example, when viewing email messages, touch and hold the message in question to see options such as delete and mark as read/unread.

Back button is very important, as it does as it implies. Anytime your in a screen and you want to cancel what you’re doing or go back to the last screen, just click the back arrow button and you’re good.

The most tricky but coolest of features is the “closing the blinds” like feature to see the current list of notifications. It is hard to describe, but basically at the top of the screen is a bar that tells you what’s going on with the phone, date/time, battery life, etc… The top left corner will have icons for different types of notifications such as email, gmail, calendar, IM, txt, missed calls, voice mail etc…. All of these incoming messages or notifications are all listed in these blinds. This feature is definitely pretty sweet.

The Bad, The Hardware

I do have a couple items with the phone that I don’t like. Fortunately, they are issues with the hardware, not the software.

First problem is the lack of port options. The only way to plug anything into this phone is through its one proprietary USB port. The phone does come with stereo headphones, though if you want to keep the phone plugged in to charge, then listening to some music or making a hands free call isn’t an option. I did order an adapter off Ebay, but you would think it would just make sense to solder on a 2.5mm jack, as it is the most common hands free jack size.

Using the keyboard while something is plugged into the USB port is no walk in the park. My right index finger wants to surround the sides of the phone when typing, the cable just gets into the way. See photo. When nothing is plugged into the USB port, I’m just peachy keen. When a cable is plugged in, my finger constantly has to decide if it should wrap above or below the cable. Very very annoying. What would be ideal is either a second USB port on the right side of the phone (top side when in keyboard mode) or if the USB port was at a corner and could rotate from corner to corner or bottom. My vote is for either a second port or headphone jack centered on the right side (top side when in keyboard mode).

The built-in camera is not so hot. Part of the problem may simply be with the button location though. When I take pictures holding it vertically, it is hard to press the camera button. When turned sideways, the button is a little easier to push but you still need to hold the camera with both hands to keep it as still as possible to prevent blurring. I have yet to take a clear photo with the camera.

Conclusion

This phone is awesome. It is definitely going to save me time allowing me to keep up with work when I otherwise would not be able to as well as keep everything tightly together so I can access all my data from any computer and my phone.

Columbus Ohio Internet Usage Unknowningly Monitored for Profit

I just found out my Internet Service Provider (ISP) called WOW Internet and Cable has been monitoring our web traffic since March of 2008 for profit. The monitoring takes place by installing hardware made by NebuAds within the ISP’s network, WOW Internet in my case. Web traffic from WOW Internet customers (like me) is routed through these hardware devices for tracking. The data (html, javascript, images, etc…) that customers like myself request from web sites such as Google could be modified in order to display targeted advertising. According to DSLReports, WOW cable (and other NebuAds clients) can make at least $2.50 a month per customer.

I was made aware of this by a local TV station here in Columbus, Ohio.

When I spoke with WOW today, they informed me that I was recently made aware of this change when they sent me a notice in the mail of recent change in the terms of service. Like any trusting customer, I did not read the fine print. The notice did not come with a cover letter explaining what part of the notice changed and/or why. See Third Party Advertisers section of WOW Internet Terms.

Notice that in the WOW Internet Terms they created an acronym for “Personally Identifiable Information” as “PII”. The way the acronym is written in the sentence it implies that it encompasses other items. Make no mistake, they clearly state that PII is your name, address and phone number and nothing else. They do not state that IP addresses are PII. In my opinion, your IP address on the Internet is just as personally identifiable as your telephone number or street address. An IP address identifies you on the Internet so data knows where to be directed over the entire World Wide Web. The same can be said about telephone calls and snail mail. Apparently WOW does not believe that your IP address on the Internet is considered “personally identifiable information” even though IP addresses have been continually used to identify individuals and is commonly added to header information of many Internet protocols such as email and web browsing.

Users may opt out of the service on a per browser bases using cookies. This means that anytime I decide to switch from Internet Explorer to Firefox, Opera, Safari or another computer for that matter, I have to remember to follow a procedure (that I currently do not know) to add a cookie to each browser I use to turn this tracking off. Further more, I now have to do this for every computer in my home and for anyone who visits who uses my Internet. This means that browsers used in my home must support cookie handling, removing my choice (or anyone else in my home’s choice) of turning off cookies in web browsers. For 3rd party applications (Non web browsers) that use the Internet (such as to download or check for product updates) will continue to be tracked by WOW.

WOW Internet is the 12th largest Cable provider in the United States. WOW has been using NebuAds to profit from its customers since March/April of 2008. For the past three months, WOW has made more than $7 from myself alone. I have yet to see any savings passed onto my bill. It appears this $2.50 is an additional revenue stream for WOW and is not something they are using to pass savings to their customers in exchange for invading their privacy.

The 3rd largest cable provider, Charter Communications, recently decided not to use the NebuAds service to make money from its customers. Charter decided to abandon the practice following the release of a report that caught the interest of the United States Congress into the legalities of the adveritsing targeting mechanisms.

The most upsetting aspect of this whole thing for me personally, is that I’ve discovered that this tracking is known to cause problems with Google Gmail. I use Gmail and Gmail for my domains and have come to rely heavily on Google’s Gmail service. Since March I have experienced issues with Gmail and for the longest time have presumed Gmail was the problem. Now that I know that my ISP, that I’ve been paying over $100 a month to provide me reliable access to the Internet, may have been the cause of the problems I’ve been experiencing with Gmail frustrates me greatly. I’ve lost a lot of time and productivity with the problems I have had with Gmail. Email is a vital service, especially for someone who requires not only for tracking and paying bills but for employment and work as well.

I’ve called and notified WOW that they will have to contact me in 7 days to let me know that they will no longer be tracking my Internet and have stopped modifying my Internet traffic. Otherwise I will switch to another ISP. They have until July 7th to resolve this issue, or they will loose me as a customer. If after July 7th, they do not rectify this problem with their service, I will contact federal, state and local government representatives in my area of WOW’s shady practices, notify my neighbors what WOW is doing with their Internet usage, and make it a point to NOT recommend WOW for Internet services.

WOW, you have 168 hours. What is your answer?

UPDATE (GREAT NEWS)

WOW cable called me today (Thursday) at about 4pm to let me know that they are removing the NebuAds for all of their customers! I no longer need to switch ISPs! What an emotional roller coaster but unlike some businesses apparently WOW does listen to its customers. I’m going to stick with WOW now that they will no longer deploy this questionable intrusion of advertising in my web surfing.

As soon as I have a press release to link to I’ll create a new blog post about it.

Using Gmail outside of the web browser – Eudora 8 and IMAP

I saw a few weeks ago the announcement that Gmail now offers IMAP support. For those who don’t know what IMAP is, it is a protocol that allows E-mail applications such as Outlook, Thunderbird or Eudora to store copies of E-mail on the server. IMAP existed before webmail and was the ideal way to manage E-mail if you had to access it from multiple computers.

Two years ago Google offered hosting E-mail for specific domains, meaning I could use Gmail for mandato.com. I quickly saw two advantages to moving my E-mail to Gmail. It allowed me to remove a resource from my web server and gave me superb SPAM filtering. I signed up as soon as I found out about the service and have been a very happy Gmail for your domain customer since.

With the recent addition of IMAP support, I can now return to using an E-mail application on my desktop. This allows me to compose messages without having to rely on the web browser.

I’ve been closely watching the next version of Eudora, code named Penelope. They recently released a beta version of Penelope/Eudora 8. The new Eudora is based on Thunderbird. All of the add-ons available to Thunderbird are available to this new version of Eudora. So if you like the clean Eudora interface and the reliability of and options available in Thunderbird, you will feel right at home with this new Eudora.