Archives for February 2007

Creative Commons Turns 3 (Point Zero, that is)

I’m a few days behind on this one, but Creative Commons launched version 3.0 of their Creative Commons licenses. These updates clarify a few issues, add better internationalization support, and increase compatibility with other content licenses. You can read more background (and many more details) at the CcWiki page on the Creative Commons Version 3.0 licenses.

Some background for those of you who don’t know much about Creative Commons: CC makes it easier for you, as a content creator, to tell others what they can and cannot do with the stuff you make. So, instead of the “you can’t do anything with my content unless you ask me first” situation created by copyright law here in the U.S.A., CC licenses make it easier to share your stuff.

For example anything I publish here on my blog is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license (I just updated to v3.0). If you look on the right side of any of my blog pages, you should see a graphic and a link to the Creative Commons page describing what this means, in plain English: You can reuse any of the stuff on my blog, as long as you:

  1. Give me credit for my work in the form of a link, etc. (Attribution)
  2. Don’t use it for commercial purposes (NonCommercial)
  3. Make any derivative works available under a similar license so that others can reuse it too. (ShareAlike)

I’ve also made my Flickr photos and my bookmarks available to everyone under the same type of license, in case anyone wants to use them for any non-commercial purpose.

I’m a huge fan of the Creative Commons organization and its founder, Larry Lessig. They’re doing a great service in helping people share and reuse/remix their creations.

My Favorite Firefox Extensions

One of my friends recently asked me what I’m using for extensions in Firefox 2, then suggested I share my list with the world. So, that’s exactly what I’m doing here. I’ll split them up by category so you can find the ones that apply to you.

Improving the Firefox Interface

Even though Firefox is amazing out of the box (or, more accurately, after the download), I use a few extensions to fill in some gaps.

Adblock Plus

Adblock Plus blocks so many web ads, it’s really tough browsing on a computer where it’s not installed. It comes with a set of filter subscriptions that will automatically stay up-to-date so you only have to see the ads you really want to. Highly recommended.

Download Statusbar

Firefox’s default download manager annoys the heck out of me, but Download Statusbar fixes this. Just as its title says, it displays a download status bar at the bottom of the browser window to let you know when your files are completely retrieved.

Tab Mix Plus

I’m a huge fan of tabbed browsing, so I appreciate the extras offered by the Tab Mix Plus extension. Among other things, it color codes unread tabs, gives you the download status for each one, and lets you lock and protect tabs so you won’t close them accidentally.


One of the nice little touches I appreciate in Apple’s Safari browser is the address bar that doubles as a progress indicator. The Fission extension’s only job is to add this feature to Firefox, and it does it well.


ErrorZilla replaces the default Firefox error page with a set of options, including going to a Coral Cache version of the page (if it’s available), visiting the Wayback Machine, or doing a trace route or ping to see if the web server is down. It comes in handy every so often.

Power Tools

Here are some other extensions that don’t fit into the above category:


Greasemonkey is a little hard to describe. It lets you create little scripts that can modify pretty much any webpage right before it’s rendered in Firefox. You don’t have to actually write scripts yourself (there are tons available for download), though there’s a good guide available for free in case you get adventurous.

One of my favorite user scripts is one that creates a “smart” subscribe subscribe button for every page that has an RSS feed. If I’m already subscribed to that feed in Google Reader, it displays a little check mark letting me know I’ve already got it. A nice feature, especially when you have a couple of hundred subscriptions.

iMacros for Firefox

To be honest, I have the iMacros extension installed, but haven’t done much with it yet. I like the idea a lot though. It lets you write macros for a web page that automate repetitive tasks.


PwdHash makes it easy to create site-specific passwords, giving you a higher level of security than if you just use a single password everyone.


Operator exposes Microformats present on pages and makes it easy to work with them. A little handy now, but Firefox 3 will probably have this sort of functionality built right in.


Attention Recorder

Right up front, I admit this one is pretty geeky. There’s a small movement going on right now advocating the ownership of your personal attention data made as you use the web. I’ll write more about this at some point in the future.

For now though, Attention Recorder captures your clickstream and browsing history in a file on your computer which you can do whatever you want with. You can also choose to upload this same data to a trusted 3rd party such as Root Vault for storage and analysis. extension

I’ve been storing my bookmarks and links of interest to my account for almost two years now instead of saving them in Firefox. Not only are they now easier to search and available from any computer, there’s also the side benefit of sharing them with everyone else. I’m just that nice of a guy!

The extension makes it really easy to tag and save pages as you browse, and gives you quick access to your account when you need it.

Web Development

As you probably know, I’ve been big into web design and development for a while now. There are some awesome tools available for Firefox that makes the process easier. Here are some of my favorites.


Firebug is unbelievable. This tool has become invaluable in debugging CSS and JavaScript. You can easily see how styles cascade (or don’t) across your HTML elements and edit them on the fly to see how things look in the browser. It can also debug AJAX requests, something that has personally helped me in my Ruby on Rails projects.

If you do any sort of web design or programming, do yourself a favor and download Firebug. It’s free, but it’s one extension I’d actually pay money for.

Web Developer

I’ve been using the Web Developer extension since 2004, and it has become an indispensable part of my web design toolkit. Some of its functionality is duplicated by Firebug, but there’s still a ton of other features there, including a “view generated source” option, which lets you view the HTML as it’s currently displayed in the browser window. This is one of those things that come in really handy when debugging AJAX and JavaScript that modify the Document Object Model after the page is actually downloaded from the server.

Html Validator

I’ve become used to regularly validating my HTML documents during development, and the Html Validator extension makes this process automatic. Instead of manually going out to the W3C validator service, this extension will do the validation locally on your computer right after the page is rendered in Firefox. This can save a lot of time over the course of your project.

I’ll make one small note on this extension: I have run into some cases where this extension says a page has valid markup, but where the official validator picks out some problems. Even so, it’s still a good first line defense.

Live HTTP Headers

Useful mainly when doing web development/programming, Live HTTP Headers lets you take a peek at the conversation going on between your computer and the web servers it gets content from. You probably won’t use it on a daily basis, but it comes in handy in special cases.

Professor X

Professor X lets you take a look at the content of a page’s “head” section without viewing the source. Nothing earth shattering here, but still a nice option to have.

SEO For Firefox

The SEO For Firefox extension adds a bunch of search engine optimization links and resources that’ll give you better insight into a page’s search rankings, along with a bunch of other useful info.

Well, there you go. I hope you found one or two tools that can help you out. If you’ve got a favorite extension, please let me know about it in the comments.

Infants and Babies

Just wanted to put a new post up before heading to bed for the evening. First, here’s a video I took of Kael after dinner. He just learned the baby sign for bath, and it’s pretty cute:

Second, I’m not quite sure how many of you knew, but Casey and I are expecting again – mid July. We had our ultrasound a week ago, and I finally got it scanned into the computer tonight. We decided to not find out the sex again, just like with Kael. Everything is looking great!

Baby's Profile 1

Baby's Profile 2

GigaVox Audio Lite: Web Services in the Wild

Technometria is fast becoming one of my favorite podcasts every week. I like to say it’s “like The Gillmor Gang, but actually good”.

This week’s episode is one of the best yet. It’s a conversation with Doug Kaye of IT Conversations/GigaVox Media and Jeff Barr, Web Services Evangelism at Amazon. They discuss Amazon’s suite of web services tools they’re now offering to businesses and individuals on an on-demand basis. They include the Simple Queue Service, Simple Storage Service, and the Elastic Compute Cloud.

Doug Kaye, early to the Web Services scene with his great primer on the subject (Loosely Coupled: The Missing Pieces of Web Services), has become a power user of Amazon’s services by building the upcoming GigaVox Audio Lite media platform almost completely on them. He discusses the amazing ability to fire up new instances of audio processing servers on-demand as the need arises to create a platform that will infinitely scale as new customers are added. Take a look at his diagram for how he’s putting all of these separate pieces together for this system.

My mind started racing while listening to this episode. The possibilities for using web services like this are practically endless, and this example does a great job of showing off what can be built without having to invest tons of cash into servers and infrastructure.

10 Reasons Why Jeff Bezos is My Favorite CEO

  1. He survived a helicopter crash back in 2003 and laughs about it now.
  2. Instead of ignoring Tim O’Reilly and other critics during the Amazon 1-Click patent controversy in 2000, he joined the conversation and spearheaded the movement for patent reform.
  3. He’s a big fan of science fiction.
  4. He can talk to you about web services and other technologies like he’s been working with them for years.
  5. He was smart enough to invest in the 37signals guys last year.
  6. He’s building a spaceship.
  7. Even though he’s the top guy at Amazon, he still thinks and cares about things like how to reward the product reviewers on his site.
  8. You can see his personal wishlist up on Amazon.
  9. He built the first three desks for Amazon’s offices himself, out of wooden doors he bought at Home Depot. He’s still using one today.
  10. He publishes his email address on the Internet. You can reach him at

The Final Word on the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Drama

I think this very clever video is pretty much the final word on Boston’s embarrassing Aqua Teen Hunger Force Light-Brite scandal.

The city government’s response to this episode has been unbelievable, and has done nothing to provide real security to Boston. And, the Massachusetts Attorney General (Martha Coakley) seriously needs an education on what really constitutes a “hoax”.

Finally – Resolution with Symantec

I’m happy to say that my two month saga with Symantec customer service is finally over. I heard back from Ben this morning, who assured me people were looking into my issue. In the mean time though, I took my concern up a few notches by emailing a few Symantec executives.

Within the last 30 minutes, I received a call from a Symantec employee named Andrew who was really helpful. He had spent over an hour researching my problem, to discover that my issue was a very weird circumstance that was somehow was being created internally in their software.

In any case, while Andrew wasn’t able to fix the original problem, he did offer a temporary fix that will let me download what I need. I want to thank both him and Ben for all of the help they’ve given me.

My last word on this topic is just this: It never had to be this way. Throughout this ordeal, I had no way of knowing if my case had dropped off the face of the Earth, or if a Symantec employee was working on it. Good communication is everything in these types of situations. If I don’t hear anything, I’m left to assume nothing is happening, if that’s the intent or not.

Postscript: In case anyone is wondering, Symantec employees were aware that I was blogging about this situation since my first post about it on January 12th. They never once asked that I add to or remove my comments in any way.

Setting up Ruby on Rails and Using Capistrano to Deploy Ruby on Rails Applications to Media Temple Dedicated Virtual Server 3.0

Note: This tutorial is now quite dated, so I would not recommend attempting to follow it. Instead, take a look at Media Temple’s instructions for configuring Mongrel Clusters.

I recently deployed a Ruby on Rails application to Media Temple’s Dedicated Virtual Server 3.0 setup, and after running into a few problems along the way, eventually got everything working nicely.

I decided to publish my steps and documentation for anyone else who might possibly benefit from what I learned. If you’re not in that very small group of people, there’s probably not much for you to see here. If you’re still curious though, continue reading after the jump.

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This Pretty Much Sums Up Advertising

I believe there are very few things less effective than spending $2 million + on one 30 second Super Bowl advertisement. They are a complete waste of time and energy that could be better spent a thousand different ways – like actually making products and services worth talking about or improving customer service.

That’s why I think this quote from a Guardian article about a University of California Los Angeles brain scan study of Super Bowl ad effectiveness sums up not only most of the spots from last night, but the state of advertising in general (emphasis is mine):

The most ineffective ad was from Honda, which showed participants were less engaged during the ad than they were when they looked at a blank screen.