Monthly Archives: April 2008

Multiple tabs & parallel browsing

As you may have heard, I recently acquired an OLPC laptop. At some point I am going to write up my experiences with the OLPC/Sugar software so far (in the meantime, to uphold a promise I made, here are some useful tips for using and setting up software on the OLPC). For now, here are my thoughts on browsing the Web from the OLPC Browse activity.

The killer bit of the Firefox browser, IMHO, was the ability to open multiple Web pages in separate tabs within the same browser window. Of course, internet Explorer now does multiple tabs (in a rainbow of shades) but back in my Windows (pre-IE7) days, I frequently did parallel browsing of websites by simply opening each webpage in a new window. The advantage of multiple tabs is that you don’t end up with a clutter of browser windows all over your taskbar.

I suspect that multiple tabs in browser windows, and (in Firefox at least) being able to bookmark all the tabs at once, has slightly altered how people browse.

Opening in a new window set me off down the path of parallel browsing but multiple tabs ensured I got there. Especially as websites got more interactive and state-sensitive (meaning that you can’t switch to another website then click ‘Back’ to return to your internet banking session). And I got less patient waiting for pages to load (ironic seeing as connection speeds have increased).

So now I’ve started using my OLPC to browse the web occasional when my other laptop is unavailable. This is an interesting, and slightly frustrating, experience.

The Sugar interface on the OLPC basically does away with the idea of windowing environments. That is, you don’t have a desktop on which to drag around and switch between windows. instead, each application (known as an ‘activity’) runs moreorless full-screen, like this:

This means a return to linear browsing. in some ways it’s a liberating experience in that I read what I want to read of the current website or page before moving on the the next. And when reading blogs and the like, I can always click ‘Back’ later. In many ways, though (and i’m a great believer in computers supporting user-behaviour, and not the other way round), it’s just frustrating.

For example, in writing this blog-post, I couldn’t easily open my blog or Andy’s OLPC tips page to check that I used the correct URL in my links. Nor could I quickly check my usage of a word in dictionary.com. I can, and sometimes do, open other instances of the Browse activity – essentially opening in a new window but with a little more effort – but more than three instances, I’ve found, tends to crash the whole lot.

Now, the OLPC and its software isn’t designed for me; it’s an education tool for children in developing countries. On the other hand, how soon before the older or more tech-savvy children start to want to browse in parallel – especially when internet access gets more ubiquitous?

I have resisted putting Firefox on my OLPC but tonight I’m sorely tempted…

Snap Shots (Part trois)

I noticed, a couple of days ago, that my blog has acquired adverts.

For example, in my blog post It’s here, it’s green, and it’s got ears! a couple of the phrases in the post have acquired dashed underlines and Snap Shots icons, like the term ‘One Laptop Per Child’ in this screenshot (the link ‘XO (or OLPC) laptop’ has a Snap Shot icon because it’s a link that I created):

(click the picture to see it more clearly)

I’m not sure that I like this. I don’t want to be advertising random companies that I know nothing about. I was aware that the Snap Shots windows that are added to my links contain small ads in addition to the preview of the target website. But the preview of the target website is why I include Snap Shots on my blog and the ad is smaller than the preview and I can live with that. But I’m less keen on Snap Shots identifying phrases in my blog posts purely to add adverts.

I had a look at the Snap Shots website which explains that the adding of Snap Shot icons to non-link phrases is a new technology called Snap Shots Engage. It also describes the Snap Shot Shares scheme, in which I can get a share of the advertising income (I guess from both Snap Shots and Snap Shots Engage ads).

I’m not against people making money out of their websites – though I don’t choose to right now as that’s not the purpose of my website – and the Snap Shots Engage method is fairly non-intrusive compared with, say, Google ads. My objection is to a third party inserting adverts into my blog without me knowing and explicitly agreeing to it. Also, while the normal Snap Shots ads are obviously ads below the preview of the link target:

the new Snap Shots Engage ads are less obviously ads that have been chosen by someone else:

and in this particular instance, the tone of the text in the ad jars slightly with my enthusiastic OLPC post.

I’ve had a look at the Snap Shots FAQ page to work out how I can opt out of them putting ads on my blog but they just say:

“At this time, Snap offers advertising exemption to educational and governmental institutions. If you feel that your web site fits these criteria and would like to apply to be exempted, please send an email to customerservice@snap.com and we will review your application and get back to you shortly.”

And I’m neither an educational nor governmental institution. So, I’m going to disable the Snap Shots WordPress plugin and lose Snap Shots completely.

Sunflowers

Last year, I attempted to grow sunflowers for the first time. Blue Peter always encouraged me to grow them as a child but I never did. So, last Spring, I bought some seeds and planted them in little pots. They all germinated nicely so, just before we went on holiday in May/June, I planted them out in the garden. Unfortunately, in under three days, the slugs had eaten them all. I was devasted for about a day then started plotting how to beat the slugs next year.

So, this Spring, I’ve started collecting toilet roll tubes (also in the spirit of Blue Peter) so that I can stick them in the ground around my small sunflower seedlings when I first plant them out. Hopefully, that’ll fool those pesky slugs.

In the meantime, I’ve bought a couple of packets of seeds (hoping that if one is so tasty that the toilet roll tubes fail to foil the crafty slugs, I can try again). I’ve planted the first packet into small pots on the windowsill and the first few seeds have germinated nicely:

That’s despite me mixing in too much of the water-saving crystals with the compost so that every time I water them, the soil expands so much that it starts to climb out of the pots!

I’m hoping these ones work because I want to see what they come out like. They’re not your usual yellow sunflowers. They’re a species called ‘Moulin Rouge’ and the heads are a dark red instead of yellow. If they work, I’ll post a photo here. 🙂