Jimbo's Techlog

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The best mobile web browser - ever?

When it comes to browsing the web on a mobile device, it usually sucks. It's something I do when I'm bored, I never used to choose using my mobile device to visit a web site if there was a computer anywhere near me. That has all changed.

I recently downloaded Opera Mini. I had fooled around with this wonderful little app a while back, but it didn't have a mouse, and I had just gotten my BlackBerry Curve 8330 - and one of the main features that I loved was the mouse in the web browser. After not being able to properly view a web page the other day - since the BlackBerry browser sucks, and everybody knows it - I decided to give Opera Mini another shot. I'm very glad that I did, since the folks over at Opera seem to have solved most of the browser's quirks, and added some very nice features - including a mouse :)

This browser is simply amazing. It renders pages perfectly, and blazingly quick, too! Pages look almost identical in Opera Mini as they do in Firefox on a desktop - and they load almost as quickly, too. After entering an address, Opera will load a full page view of the site, and you can then move a mouse that is on top of a rectangle (which represents your screen), when you click on a portion of the page, Opera quickly zooms in on that part of the page, and then allows you to move a mouse around and click links, controls, etc. The motion of the mouse is a bit choppy - and it's clearly intended for a wide range of devices, which may or may not include a trackball - but once you get used to it, it's actually pretty neat. Opera seems to do a lot of stuff behind the scenes to help you navigate a site in a viewing area that's far smaller than the web developers intended. When you're in the page view, the viewing rectangle seems to "stick" to particular elements on the site - probably tables, divs, and other layout elements - to help you zoom in on particular blocks of content. Once you've zoomed in, the mouse "sticks" to particular elements, like links, controls, etc. It's a little more controlled than the BlackBerry browser, but once you get used to it, I think it actually makes you a little quicker and more efficient. I blow through web sites like they're nothing now, something that used to be painful on the built-in browser.

Opera Mini also has some cool animations, taking advantage of the newer, more powerful, mobile architectures. When you zoom in a portion of a page from the page view, the "zooming" is animated. When you call up the address bar using the shortcut "#1" or the menu, it rolls down from the top. Moving to a different page causes the new one to slide in. These animations don't seem to slow down page loading, and are a welcomed improvement - since your friends may have an iPhone, and may try to tell you how much better it is than a Berry.

Speaking of the iPhone, I've been comparing Opera Mini to the iPhone's browser - which is generally regarded as one of the best mobile browsers. I'd say that Opera Mini is just as good, if not better. Pages seem to load just as quick, and look just as good. The main advantages of the iPhone's browser really have nothing to do with the browser - the ability to browse pages with your finger, and the larger screen - both hardware limitations(?) of most BlackBerries. I haven't compared the two browsers side-by-side, but from my casual experience with the iPhone's browser, I'd say Opera Mini meets or beats everything the former has to offer. So now when your iPhone friends show off their browser in their final effort to prove their phone's superiority over your Berry, you'll be able to shoot that down, too. Then you can show them how your Berry gets push.. everything, and how it's better in just about every way - until your Apple friend curls up in a corner crying, drinking fake beer. Or not.

Anyway, while Opera Mini has it's little quirks, you'll quickly get over them, since you'll be too busy cruising the web at light speed. This is really a no brainer. If you have a BlackBerry - go get this app now. Oh, and the price is right, too - it's FREE! Joke's on Opera, I would have PAID for this!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The missing hour

Has it really been over 2 years since my last post?? I'm going to start posting here more frequently, under a new theme - still involving technology - which I'll discuss at a later date.

I just wanted to pose a quick question:

How do you set your cell phone alarm to anywhere between 2 and 3AM when daylight savings time is beginning?

I needed to set my Blackberry alarm to 2:45AM this morning, and realized shortly after setting it that it probably wouldn't go off - so I settled for 3.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Google Earth's Theatrical Debut?

Over the weekend I saw the remake of the '70s cult classic, Crank. The movie was alright, I never saw the original, so I can't comment on that aspect of it. However, there was one star that, I believe, made his theatrical debut: Google Earth! I've seen Google Earth used on news programs, but never in a feature film! The movie makes use of Google Earth's satellite imagery of parts of California, I believe, and even uses its slick rotate/zoom animations when homing in on a particular location from a global view.

I think it's cool that Google Earth made its way into a movie, but I thought it added to the overall low budget feel. This was definitely a free version of Google Earth, and we all know its clarity isn't exactly CIA quality. Anyway, if you're interested in seeing Google Earth on a giant screen, go check out the movie, otherwise I'd skip it.


Monday, August 07, 2006

Another apple I won't be biting in to

I don't normally follow or comment on Apple news, but this is an exception since it involves Intel and Windows. Allow me to rant.

There's all this hype right now about Apple using Intel chips, and the prospect of running Windows on Apples. Is it just me or is Windows the very reason 99.9% of users switch to Apples to begin with -- to get away from it!

I understand that a dual boot Mac would be great for developers, but aside from that niche market, what's the real gain here?

It seems that everyone in the biz is psyched about the mix of Windows and Apple, claiming it's going to be stable. Windows will never be stable. It doesn't matter what fruit is on the case.

And by the way, Apple users: If it has the heart of a PC, the OS of a PC, it's a PC! Apple should probably change its marketing strategy.

Now, an Apple OS on the PC, that might be cool -- but you might as well just install your favorite flavor of Linux.

I should mention that I don't really have anything against Apple users, I had some terrible experiences with Apple and their earlier generation iPods in the past, but I think everyone knows Apple computers aren't purchased for their company's stellar support.

In short:
Intel: Great deal.
IBM: Bad deal.
Apple: Good shorterm, we'll have to see how long term pans out.
Apple users: You can unfortunately no longer look down upon PC users as a lower lifeform. I never agreed with not calling an Apple a PC anyway -- it's personal and it's a computer, isn't it?
Windows users: Our OS still sucks, sorry.
Windows on a Mac developers/supporters: Don't waste your time.
Mac OS on a "PC" developers/supporters: This has a huge potential, as long as we can get past the legality of it, which is why I'll stick with Linux as my alternative for now.

Conclusion: This is publicity for Apple, which is always good, but I think this is the beginning of the end for the mystery that surrounds the Apple architecture that users hold so dearly, and could ultimately lead to Apple being more of a PC OS developer instead of a proprietary personal-computer-but-not-a-PC manufacturer.


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Pimp my fox!

I'm sure a many of you know what FireFox is, but for those of you who don't: It's only the biggest movement in web browsers since.. well as long as I can remember! It's a free alternative to the security-hole-laden Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Now that we're all caught up.

I've been a diehard Mozilla fan since it's very first version, and switched to Firefox when it was still a baby fox, and have been installing it on every computer I come on contact with ever since.

The other night I set out to take my default-themed firefox with its few extensions, and put together a set of extensions that worked together synergistically to form a sort of super-browser, and top it off with a slick looking skin. This was one of those "where did the past 5 hours go" nights, but lucky for you, I've broken down setting up your Firefox the same as mine into 5 easy steps. Enjoy!

Note: I'm running Firefox on Windows, so this guide is really aimed at fellow Windows users. If you're not on Windows, some of these extensions may or may not work (I haven't checked), but you get the idea, and if you like what the extensions do, give it a search on http://addons.mozilla.org, and I'm sure you'll find something comparable for your OS.

1. Download the latest version of Firefox! If you already have an older version installed, either select "Check for updates" from the Help menu, or just install the newer version and it will replace the older one.

2. Install this theme: Mostly Crystal -- You don't have to install this theme, and can instead skip to step 4 to just install my select set of extensions, but I've been through a ton of themes, the other night, and over the years, and this is by far the best. It's unobtrusive, customizeable, and maintains that unique Firefox look with a little more color and fun.

3. Now that you have the theme installed (if you installed it and don't know how to set it, in Firefox, go to Tools>>Themes>>Select Mostly Crystal on the left and click "Use Theme") this theme is fully configurable through the Firefox config files. This step isn't completely necessary, but it will make it look a little nicer.

  • Download the ChromEdit extension and remember where you save it
  • When the download is complete, go to File>>Open File and select the file that you downloaded. Follow whatever it says on screen, and the extension is installed.
  • Restart firefox by closing all open browser windows (unfortunately including this one), and meet me back here..
  • Welcome back! I hope all went well! The extension that you just installed will allow you to easily edit your firefox config file. Go to Tools>>ChromEdit Plus>>ChromEdit
  • Replace everything in there with the following code:
    /* Change the theme's default Flat Tabs to Native OS Tabs. */
    import url("chrome://global/skin/subskin/nativetabs.css");

    /* Use "Circular" throbber image in all places, always. */
    @import url("chrome://global/skin/subskin/throbber-circular.css");

    * This file can be used to customize the look of Mozilla's user interface
    * You should consider using !important on rules which you want to
    * override default settings.

    /* Use stylized address and search bars. */
    import url("chrome://global/skin/subskin/rounded.css");

    * Do not remove the @namespace line -- it's required for correct functioning
    namespace url("http://www.mozilla.org/keymaster/gatekeeper/there.is.only.xul"); /* set default namespace to XUL */

  • Then click "Save" and "Restart Firefox" and I'll see you in a few seconds..
  • OK! Now all of your options should be changed, you'll notice that your address bar is rounded like on a Mac, that annoying penguin is gone, and your tabs look more like.. tabs.. if you're feeling adventurous you can see a whole list of config options here: http://www.tom-cat.com/mozilla/firefox/userchrome.html

4. Now it's time to install some extensions. Here's a list of my GOTTA HAVE IT extensions:

  • Fasterfox - This makes Firefox download web pages faster. Plain and simple. Once installed, I'd go into its options window (see below on how to do that), and select "Turbo Charged" under the "Presets" tab. I also use "Enable Enhanced Prefetching" under the "Fasterfox" tab, but they claim it's dangerous.. if you're on broadband, I'd use it.
  • Google Preview -- This puts a little thumbnail of the webpage next to every google search result. Saves a ton of time, especially on slow connections.
  • Adblock -- This blocks ads on web pages. Also install the filterset. With those two combined, it automatically removes ads from web pages, including most flash ads.
  • IE Tab -- This lets you open an Internet Explorer window right in firefox! Simply by clicking a little icon on the bottom of the browser window! This is great for those annoying sites that don't look right in Firefox.
  • SessionSaver -- If you use tabbed browsing (which everyone should! It's the best part of Firefox), then use this, and it will save all of your open tabs and firefox windows when you close them or if your computer crashes, when you open firefox again, BAM all of your pages are loaded! Way cool!

5. Now these extensions are great, and I like them, but they're not for everyone. They require some configuring, but can be really useful if you're a Firefox superuser like myself:

  • Download Statusbar -- This replaces the annoying Firefox download window with a neat bar on the bottom of the browser. If you do alot of downloading, this is definitely a must.
  • Tab Mix Plus -- This lets you completely configure how your tabs work! It requires some configuring, but if you're always using tabs like myself, then it's worth the effort. I have mine set up to switch to a tab when my mouse is hovering over it, and to open a new one when I double click anywhere on the tab bar. NOTE: This also has a session saver feature, but I like the one in the SessionSaver extension better. It's probably a good idea to disable this feature in Tab Mix Plus, as they probably conflict.
  • Hyperwords -- This one walks the line of super useful and extremely annoying. Whenever you select text, or press a predefined hotkey or the likes, it opens a menu that allows you to do a ton of stuff with the highlighted text (search for it, map it, use it as a tracking number on UPS or a similar site, etc., etc.) I still haven't decided if I'll keep this one, because it gets in my way sometimes, but it has also proved useful.
  • PDF Download -- If you find yourself opening alot of PDFs online, then this should come in handy. It lets you choose what to do with a PDF when you click on a link to one (save it, open it in a browser window, etc.)

Well that's it! After you install the extensions, restart firefox for them to load. If you do a bunch at once, you will probably be bombarded with configuration windows, the first group of extensions don't require much, if any, configuring, but the second group's configs should at least be clicked through to make sure the defaults suit you. To access the configuration windows for the extensions, go to Tools>>Extensions, right click on the extension, and select "Options". Some extensions put their options right in the Tools menu, so you can look there, too.

If you installed an extension and are not sure how to use it, check out its options, or also look on the bottom of the firefox window, as alot of extensions install small icons there to use them. For example, the IE Tab extension puts a little firefox icon on the bottom, when you click it, it reloads the current page in Internet Explorer and the icon changes to the infamous IE logo, the reverse happens if you click it again.

If you followed these instructions, you are now using one of the most tricked out browsers on the net! Extensions don't slow down Firefox too much, but it's best not to have ones you don't use, so if you realize that you're not using one, just go to Tools>>Extensions, right click on the extension, and either Disable it or Uninstall it. (The former is good to see if you can live without it, and the latter is good if you know you can!)


Take back the web!

Hello Blog!

Welcome to Jimbo's Techlog! Maybe you instantly get the name, or maybe you're a little slow on the uptake, in any event, I'll tell you where it came from: About 10 minutes ago, I decided to set up a blog. 5 minutes later, blogger.com posed an intriguing question to me: "What would you like to title your blog?", seeing as how I had prepared very little for this moment, I wasn't exaclty sure how to answer. I asked myself a very basic question: What is this blog going to be about? Technology. Then I asked an even more basic question: Who am I? Jimbo! And I arrived at the name "Jimbo's Tech Corner" -- a bit of a media cliché if you ask me. In a desperate attempt to fill in the text box, I looked up the definition of "blog" and remembered that it is short for "web log", and I thought, "well while this is a log on the web, it's really a log of technology." Since "Tlog" would make for an annoying pronunciation of your new favorite blog as you converse with all of your friends about my latest post, here we are.

Please don't leave.

I promise all of my posts won't be this boring! I just didn't want to start off with a techy blog; I wanted to introduce myself first.

As you may have guessed, my name is Jimmy, but you can call me Jimbo. Blogger does. I'm a college student, a computer science major, and I run a small company called JimboTech.com. I'm currently the sole employee of this company, but we're.. err.. I'm..doing well.. I make housecalls and fix computers, do some web design, and other sorts of graphics design, typesetting, really anything involving computers that people will willingly pay me for.

Enough about me, let's talk more about this blog! I've decided to make it to give back to the Internet community which I have pillaged and plundered for the past 19 years, giving very little back. This is how I'm repaying the community for my countless hours of Googleing, scouring through blogs much like this one, finding that one piece of information that I need about a certain piece of technology.

I also have a small mission for this blog, and that is for it to be in depth and fast paced enough to satisfy any PocketPC-carrying-wardriving-battlestargalactica-watching geek, but broken down and simplified enough to be an easy read for the not so tech-savvy. So no matter who you are, you should almost always leave my blog with a smile on your face and some new tech-knowledge in your head!

Anytime I encounter a new piece of technology, or read an interesting article, I'll try and post on here. It might get opinionated, it'll probably be funny, and it'll definitely be informative. So stay tuned, grab a cup of coffee, PayPal me one hundred million dollars, and enjoy!