The President's Message

April 2010

Rick Curry

The April meeting will be held on May 1, one week later than usual, due to a scheduling conflict.

It does not seem like it has been a year, but elections are upon us again. I believe that we held last year's elections by raising our hands at the general meeting. I will propose how and when elections will be held this year at our second meeting in May (on the 22nd). If you want to have input, please raise your hand at either of the May meetings.

I have four programs I would like to talk about. Each of them relates to Firefox, and loosely to each other.

One of our members asked about a way to grab videos from youtube or other common Web video and photo services. I installed a new update to Firefox over the weekend, and that provided a list of recommended add-ons that included "Video DownloadHelper 4.7.2" at https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/3006 -- a free plugin that allows us to "download and convert Web videos from hundreds of YouTube-like sites … audio and picture galleries … directly to your preferred format." For anyone familiar with it, this plugin uses the well-known ffmpeg program as the workhorse engine to do conversions (as do many programs that you pay for). In the same list of recommended add-ons was "Personas Plus 1.5.2" found at: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/10900. Some people prefer that their Desktop be a single color. If you prefer to put a picture on your Desktop background, you might enjoy doing the same things to the parts of your browser that are usually gray. Extending the idea of a "skin," this extension allows you to use images you create with a package like Photoshop or Gimp into your own version of a background image, skin, or in their terminology: "Theme" for your browser.

Making images and video clips for use in specialized products is a recurring theme in the products I am reviewing here, as is the relation of these products to the topic for a coming program by Dan Holmes (http://danholmesphoto.com) on Tips & Tricks for digital photography.

I enjoyed playing with Personas, and saw that it has a memory of previous themes I had loaded. I thought this was marvelous and loaded a few more themes so that I could show them to my family. On the first machine I installed this feature on, I got no warning that this feature works for only the last 10 themes I had "installed." The rest were quietly uninstalled and forgotten. The initial lesson I learned was to bookmark the page of themes I like so that I can always set that theme again.

On another machine where I installed Personas, I found that the menus were more intuitive, and it was also more obvious that they want you to set up an account if you want to make a list of favorites.

And that was the first of a list of nuisances that I consider characteristic of Firefox and Open Source projects in general. I have to admit, they are a pain. On the first machine, I initially had problems finding out how to change the theme. It turned out to be in Tools < Add-ons > Themes with this version of Personas, and the documentation seemed spotty to me about where the control for this feature had moved. It turned out that the newer version of Firefox had turned a previously external add-on into the native feature they used to call themes. My second gripe is that major changes can quietly happen in a project as large as Firefox, occasionally corrupting your configuration.

My third gripe is that Firefox antiquated my printer. This equipment did not break down or start to jam or present any problems to us. One fine day an update to Firefox did not include a working printer driver when there was text to be printed. If I chose to continue using the new version of Firefox, my printer had just become a very large paperweight. In fairness, it was an older printer that had far outlived the projected years of service, and the replacement does more and does it better for around $150 -- about the price of a replacement drum (and it was past time for this as well).

Still, Firefox is what we want. It has the newest and coolest features because the development is strongly driven by the desires of technology enthusiast volunteers who code it. For the same reason, converting an older printer driver is less likely to capture the imagination, and you are more likely to receive an offer of source code and the opportunity to contribute your time to programming the feature if you think it is important enough. And the final cool feature, that I was just fortunate enough to stumble on, is an add-on that allows you to easily put your personal photographs and other images developed with Photoshop or Gimp onto T-Shirts, mugs, hats, or buttons: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/11053

Happy computing!