Mild-Mannered Canadian Fury

Doug Stephen is Politely Peeved

A Mini-Review: Opera Next

Sun, 02 Jun 2013 «permalink»

This morning, I decided to sit down and play with Opera Next. I went in hesitant; I was actually an Opera user for a short time in the past (back in high school), and I’ve always found the company and their browser interesting but always falling just a little short.

While often little-known in the general community, Opera has long been known in the web community as the browser most hard-assed about “standards compliance” while simultaneously having one of the weirdest rendering engines. Firefox had Gecko, Safari and Chrome shared WebKit, and Opera had their own called Presto. Because of their diminuitive market share, most people wouldn’t design targeting Presto, and a vicious cycle was born.

Opera Next is an interesting shift; the group has dropped Presto and decided to move to a Chromium-backed system. This means that Presto is no more; the current builds of Opera Next should be using WebKit until Chromium itself switches to Blink, at which point so will Opera. The politics behind Google adopting Blink aren’t going to be part of this. This is just a short rundown of my initial impressions on Opera Next.

Will It Blend Render?

You would assume that WebKit is as WebKit does, but anybody who has used both Chrome and Safari will tell you that this is far from the truth; there are many other factors that go in to how quickly a web page will load. And on that metric, Opera Next is balls to the wall.

It’s fast. Like, noticeably fast. I had one of my friends, someone not really all that nerdy and not really all that wrapped up in browsers download Opera Next and go to the /r/all subreddit this morning, and just start clicking around. He immediately iMessaged me “Holy shit, Opera is fast.” This isn’t just the marginally obsessive observation of somebody that spends too much time studying page load progress bars; it’s tangible. Opera is easily twice as fast as Chrome and an order of magnitude faster than Safari at the simple task of loading pages, especially ones that are heavy in JavaScript. The side benefit of this is that, while JS heavy extensions will still impact your browsing experience, they won’t do so nearly as much.

While I’m specifically mentioning JavaScript and speed times, it should be noted that these tests are informal and that I know little-to-nothing about Opera’s JS engine; I don’t know if they’re using V8 or their own out-of-the box solution. JavaScript may have nothing to do with it.

Opera does have technology similar to Amazon Silk where they intercept, cache, and compress traffic on their own servers. They’ve been doing this for a lot longer than Amazon has, because they have been serving the niche market of providing browsers for mobile phones (not just smartphones) for a very long time, and have become sensitive to the needs of users that aren’t on a super-modern Internet backbone. This feature is present in Opera Next, but as far as I can tell it is not responsible for the speeds that I’m seeing. The feature itself is called “Off-Road Mode” in Opera Next and has to be explicitly enabled; it was not during my testing.

All I know is, Opera Next is really, really fast.

Bells and Whistles

Opera Next UI

Opera Next’s UI is quite spartan, but not in a bad way. This is the result of a few things: first, the Opera team have always favored a fairly dense, compact way of presenting information. Secondly, the browser itself really doesn’t have a ton of features; this is a big departure from previous releases of Opera, which have had more knobs and fiddles than I ever knew what to do with. This, to me, is a good thing. The minimal feature set is almost a little refreshing.

Some of the more interesting choices made were things like the lack of a bookmarks bar. In fact, it seems as though Opera has abandoned the idea of the bookmark entirely. Instead, they rely on two other features. One is the Speed Dial, which should be familiar to Opera users and reminiscent of similar features in Chrome and Safari. It works similarly to the “top pages” idea, but I think that Speed Dial might predate these features, and it works a little differently; the list of sites isn’t built up by the browser on your behalf, but rather all of them are always custom set by the user. It’s like Safari’s Top Sites if everything started off blank and once created it was always pinned. The second is the Stash, which is effectively a bookmark. That said, I find that the Stash is much more like bookmarking for the modern era of browsers; instead of just a text list, the Stash shows a snapshot of the sites you have saved. It’s very very simple to either promote a site to the Speed Dial or remove it from the Stash, and the tagline itself of an empty Stash is that it is a place for things you want to come back to; the day of the bookmark as being a site that you frequent has gone away for most nerds with the advent of RSS and social media. I’ve always felt that bookmarks were an artifact of another time, and Opera Next really seems to feel the same way.

The Stash

The only downside to this whole setup is the lack of a bookmark bar. I use my bookmark bar in Safari and Chrome to hold not websites, but bookmarklets. This is especially useful in Safari, where Cmd+{Number} triggers Bookmark Bar items. Instapaper is bookmarklet number 1, so a Cmd+1 will automatically save the current site I’m on to Instapaper for me. I’m sure most of these things can be replicated with extensions, but it’s still a hiccup in my workflow.

Every Day Usage

The big question, though, is “Can I use Opera Next now, today, every day, to get things done?”

One of the major components of a modern web browser is Extension support, and for many of us our daily workflow has been built up around a set of extensions. Opera Next, being brand new and of a progeny with a tiny user base, is lacking in this department. I believe that it is fully compliant with existing Opera extensions, as going to the “Get Extensions” menu item will take you directly to the Opera extensions page. But that isn’t necessarily the greatest catalogue of tools, and this could be a problem for most people.

Or so it seems.

It turns out that, while not immediately presented as a supported feature, Opera Next is 100% interoperable with Chrome/Chromium extensions. It takes a little work, though.

For any website that distributes .CRX files directly, things aren’t that tough. The process for installing a .CRX in Opera Next is fairly straight-forward; drag-and-drop the .CRX file in to an open Opera Next window, then go to opera://extensions to access the Chromium-style extension manager, then activate the extension from there.

For sites that rely on the Chrome Web Store, though, where Google has really gone out of their way to prevent people from accessing CRX files directly… it’s trickier. I used the following steps to generate a .CRX file for the Reddit Enhancement Suite, though, and it worked perfectly. It requires that you have Chrome or Chromium installed.

  1. Navigate to ~/Library/Application Support/Google/Chrome. The user Library folder is hidden on OS X Lion and later, so you’ll either need to CMD+Shift+G and type in the path, Option-Click the Finder’s “Go” menu item, or activate hidden folders.

  2. Under the Default folder, you should see Extensions. Unfortunately, all of the extensions will have their names hashed in to garbage. You’ll have to sift through each folder until you find the extension you’re looking for. If you’re lucky, the extension has an Icon that you can look at. Another way is to open up the file called manifest.json in a text editor and look around until you see the extension name.

  3. Once you’ve found the extension you’re looking for, copy the version number folder (not the hashed name folder) to your desktop or somewhere easily accessible; basically, you want to copy the folder that is the immediate parent of the manifest.json file.

  4. Open up Chrome/Chromium, and navigate to chrome://extensions, then activate the check-box that says “Developer Mode”. After doing this, you should see a button that says “Pack Extension”. Click this button, point it to the folder you copied out, and it should generate a .CRX in the same directory.

  5. Follow the instructions I gave earlier for .CRX files

Unfortunately, this still leaves me with one last problem.

The most important browser extension in my arsenal is the 1Password browser extension. I’m useless without it. And while the 1Password .CRX will install in Opera Next, it won’t communicate properly with the 1Password Helper, so I can’t actually use it to access any of my stored passwords. Hopefully Agile Bits will be able to issue a small fix to allow for interoperability; given that the extension works out of the box I’m hoping it’s something as simple as white-listing an app bundle ID somewhere. But that’s being optimistic; I’m sure it’s a lot more work than that.

One Last Nag

No AppleScript support. This is a big deal to me; I use AppleScript on browsers all the time. The lack of 1Password and AppleScript support makes it tough for me to advocate switching to Opera Next full-time, but that would only be if it was me looking for advice from me. Obviously, your mileage will vary.

Wrapping It Up

Opera Next completely surprised me. The simple and sparse UI is pleasant to use, the features that are there work great, and it’s fast as hell. It has all of the little niceties of Chromium; a unified search/address bar with Google Instant results, support for a huge subset of the ever-evolving HTML5/CSS3 specs, and a huge extension library (if not always the easiest to work with). If Opera Next got the ability to fully utilize the 1Password extension and rudimentary AppleScript support tomorrow, I would absolutely switch to it full-time without question.

The little things that do suck could be easily fixed.

Did I mention that it’s fast?

Steve Jobs introduces AirPort Wireless Internet

Tue, 07 May 2013 «permalink»

A lot of people forget, or never knew, that the first wireless-networking-enabled, 802.11x compliant computer1 was the iBook.

A lot of people also forget/don’t know that the name Wi-Fi, what we now consider the canonical name for wireless networking, wasn’t coined by the IEEE or engineers that created the protocol, but rather a brand consultancy hired by the Wi-Fi Alliance. In fact, the name AirPort was used by Apple months before the Alliance unveiled their chosen name of Wi-Fi. You could make a strong argument that the “real” name of the 802.11x protocols could in fact be AirPort.

Either way. Such a cool video. Vintage Steve showmanship. The hula hoop is just a perfect sell.

(via MG Siegler)

  1. Which is the set of protocol standards that we now call Wi-Fi.


Fri, 03 May 2013 «permalink»

Years ago, I discovered a show on Hulu called Three Sheets1. A show I had never heard of, on a network I didn’t know existed, hosted by a guy I had never seen before.

It was brilliant. The host, Zane Lamprey, manages to do something that you don’t really see done in other travel shows2; he manages to completely immerse himself in local drinking customs and hangover comfort food. In the US, we don’t really have a strong food-and-booze culture. We like booze, and we like food, but we don’t really have that much of an identity around it. The closest thing to “American” cuisine is take-out Chinese and fast food burgers. But when you go to other countries, food and local booze are hard-wired in to the local culture in a much different way. They’re integral to the way a lot of people live their lives and partake in local customs, and should be integral to anyone visiting that wants to get a real taste of the local experience. And this show captured that in a way that I don’t think any other show has managed to capitalize on, all while gussying the experience up with a drunk host that just takes the entertainment factor in to a whole new zone.

Anyway, Zane Lamprey is trying to kickstart a new travel/drinking show called Chug, which sounds like it will be more of a spiritual successor to Three Sheets than his other show (Drinking Made Easy) was.

Looks good.

  1. It’s still there!

  2. Even food-oriented shows like No Reservations aren’t quite the same; these are hosts with a reputation and clout. There’s a certain degree of pre-meditation. Three Sheets is effectively an unknown drunk guy with a camera crew. Genius.

Throwed rolls

Thu, 02 May 2013 «permalink»

I didn’t realize that Lambert’s was a multi-location business, until I saw this video and then went to their website.

We have a Lambert’s very close to me, the Foley, AL location, which is around a 45 minute — 1 hour drive from Pensacola. It’s not uncommon for people here to make the drive out to Foley for dinner at Lambert’s; the food is actually quite good.

Their liver and onions are fantastic.

It’s Quiet… Too Quiet…

Tue, 30 Apr 2013 «permalink»

No, I didn’t abandon you again.

The past few weeks have been pretty hectic. I took leave from the lab so I could focus on school, because I’m winding up my undergrad at UWF[^1].

Needless to say, I’ve been very busy and haven’t had time to write. Last week was UWF’s Scholar’s Week, which culminated in the Student Scholar’s Symposium, where I had two different posters that my name was attached to. Presenting one poster at a conference is draining enough, having to manage two posters with judges visiting both was a different story. The team that I worked with in the physics department (a project about lasers) took home an award, and in the CS category I took home an award for my project Wernicke. Maddening hard work, but it paid off.

This week, final exams. I graduate on Saturday.

Soon after, back to normal.

What’s In a Tomato

Wed, 24 Apr 2013 «permalink»

You may have caught whiff of Rob’s name when his Soylent concoction bubbled in to the media for a while (see this Vice interview as well). Since that time, he continues to discuss and share his insights in to the world of nutrition. It should be noted, as Rob will tell you himself, that he isn’t a doctor.

One little chunk of the article that jumped out at me:

I purchased this tomato at a farmers’ market in San Francisco. It cost me 60 cents, which is about half the price of a supermarket tomato, and contains 25 calories. That’s 2.4 cents / calorie. By comparison, a double cheeseburger from McDonald’s costs 99 cents and contains 440 calories, which is 0.225 cents / calorie, more than an order of magnitude more cost effective. It would cost me $130/day to live on supermarket tomatoes, $65/day to live on farmers’ market tomatoes, and $6/day to live on cheeseburgers. It’s no wonder the poor eat poorly.

Food for thought.

Apple Q2 2013 Results: $43.6 Billion Revenue, 37.4 Million iPhones, 19.5 Million iPads Sold

Tue, 23 Apr 2013 «permalink»

Revenue up, earnings down, iPads still growing, iPhone growth slow.

Nothing unexpected, nothing that couldn’t have been drawn out if you had paid attention to Apple’s guidance for the quarter, yet Apple-doubting writers made claims of terrifying collapse leading up to the call and will probably figure out a way to churn out some FUD pieces after the call.


Mon, 22 Apr 2013 «permalink»

We all know that, no matter how hard we may try, sometimes we do need to use quick fixes, hacks and questionable techniques in our code. It happens, whether we like to admit it or not.


Whilst this isn’t ideal, we have to do it from time to time; all of us.

The real problem, though, is that we rarely go back and tidy these things up. They slip through the cracks, get ignored, go unnoticed, and stay for good. This we do not have to do.

The idea behind shame.css is that you keep a specific file, called potentially shame.css, where all of your hacky !importants and magic numbers and fiddly stuff go to live. This obviously works best with CSS preprocessors so you don’t have an actual 2nd stylesheet called “shame.css” linked on your sites.

Anyway. I like the idea. Good thoughts.

Web Sheriff needs to work on their auditing

Fri, 19 Apr 2013 «permalink»

Yesterday on Reddit, user stealer0517 posted the following link, The actual leaked 6:07 version of “Get Lucky”!, which linked to a SoundCloud track that remixed what was available of “Get Lucky” from the commercial with Rick Astley’s classic 80’s ballad, “Never Gonna Give You Up”. It was a catchy remix, a funny troll, and I made a tweet propagating the joke because I was bored and thought it was a clever remix.

Today, I received an email from Twitter informing me that Web Sheriff had issued a DMCA takedown notice to me and several other people who had made tweets pointing back to the SoundCloud track, which is also now missing. The claim was that we were linking back to, and I quote, “[…] downloads of unreleased track DAFT PUNK - “Get Lucky”.”

This doesn’t read to me as a complaint about whether or not the use of the background track was acceptable. This seems to me that, in spite of what Wikipedia refers to as “human auditing”, somebody at Web Sheriff isn’t doing their job and genuinely thought the linked Rickroll was a leaked Daft Punk track. There is no argument about Fair Use here, because the complaint has nothing to do with the remix itself.

I’m obviously not going to contest or counter-notice. It’s not worth my time; it was a silly joke tweet. But this is fucking stupid.