Things I use: Firefox extensions

Stuss asked why she should bother switching to Firefox from Explorer. Apart from speed, moving away from the proprietary Microsoft platform, and security there’s one thing Firefox really has going for it. Extensibility. You can pretty much turn Firefox into whatever you want it to be. Thanks to the power of extensions.

But when it comes to extensions for your Firefox experience there’s a lot of bloatware out there. Stuff that will bog you down and make your Firefox experience reminiscent of your Explorer days speedwise – only with slightly more class.

Here are my 10 favourite Add-ons

  1. Firebug – a little web development tool that lets you edit the CSS or HTML of whatever page you’re on. Great for stealing other people’s ideas and code – and great for debugging that page you made that just won’t work right.
  2. Fireuploader – a nice drag and drop interface that lets you bulk upload images and files to a host of popular filesharing platforms and social networks.
  3. Better GReader – Google Reader is awesome. This little add on makes it more awesome – reducing the screen real estate taken up by pointless things – and enhancing the GReader experience. Oh, and it adds a really incredibly nice subscribe interface to any page with an RSS feed. It’s beautiful. I just click once to subscribe, rather than jumping through the obligatory three or four hoops it normally takes.
  4. Video Download Helper – There are a bunch of sites that will download a flash video from YouTube. FLV files aren’t all that exciting though – this add-on goes a step further, downloading the video and converting it to your preferred format.
  5. CoolIris – This started off as PicLens – it’s a funky image browser that brought albums to life in a pseudo 3D interface.
  6. TwitterBar – there are a lot of useful social networking plugins that bring your Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon etc profiles to your fingertips. Facebook is banned at work – so TwitterBar is my profile status updating solution. I type my status in the address bar, click submit, and Bob’s your uncle. That required activating the Twitter application on Facebook too.
  7. Xoopit – Xoopit is a Gmail specific plug-in that makes tracking images and attachments in your inbox a breeze.
  8. Flashgot and DownThemAll – two download enhancers battling it out for supremacy. Both are good.
  9. AdBlock Plus – Make ads a thing of the past, I’m curious to try AddArt – which replaces advertisements with artworks from a curated database.
  10. British English Dictionary – if like me you hate your browser changing s to z. Or suggesting that you do. Then the British English Dictionary will save you untold pain.

Honourable mention – the only reason this didn’t make the grade is that it’s not strictly speaking a plug-in. It’s a bookmark. Google Reader’s “Note in Reader” bookmark has pretty much ended my dalliance with Del.icio.us. I can now bookmark things in Reader on the run – and they appear for all to see in my daily links posts. I really don’t venture outside of Reader that much anymore.

Things I use: The Evolution of a coffeesnob

coffee-evolution

That’s a graphical illustration of the typical path of the home consumption of a coffee snob. If you’ve skipped any of those stages good on you. The path from International Roast to roasting international beans at home is one filled with pitfalls and dangers.

The best way to traverse this is with the help of others. I’ve found the forum at coffeesnobs.com.au to be particularly helpful in my own personal coffee (r)evolution.

The forum was most helpful during the rebuild of Sheila, my Rancilio beastie.

I’ve collected a bunch of links to particular discussions that I think are vital to such a process.

1. Choosing a Grinder
2. Corretto
3. Buying used coffee equiptment – I’ve bought two grinders from this part of the forum, and been happy with both. I only bought the second because upgradeitis set in. Mostly because my other one was fine for home use, but I now roast beans for other people and take my machine to parties.
4. Plunger tips
5. Stovetop tips – you can get crema using a stovetop
6. Coffeesnobs glossary – helpful guide to finding your way around the forum.

This is something I would like to do when I have some spare time – but I also don’t want to electrocute myself. The Panasonic SD-200 breadmaker I use for roasting is annoying because you can’t just switch it on and make it spin. This modification adds a switch that just turns the motor on and off.

Other good coffee sites/articles:

“Ingredients for perfect espresso”
Knockbox
– a forum moderated by the aforementioned Ministry Grounds (where I buy my green beans) Neil Atwood, good Australian alternative to coffeesnobs.
Home Barista
– a world wide forum – mostly US centric. With a great “How tos” section
Whole Latte Love
– full of reviews and stuff. Including this article on “rituals of espresso” that’s pretty helpful.
Coffeeparts – a great parts wholesaler who are more than happy to provide helpful customer service. I’ve bought a bunch of parts and paraphernalia from them.
Crema Magazine – an Australian coffee journal.
Cafe Grendel – a great coffee blog.
The Knockbox – another coffee blog run by an evangelical Christian who home roasts.

Things I use: Ministry Grounds

I like coffee. You know that by now. I’m also very committed to the idea that you can have coffee that’s better quality than the coffee served by 90% of cafes at home (without being crazilly obsessive and buying a commercial machine – but don’t tell my wife).

There are two essential ingredients to good coffee that make even the most rudimentary brewing methods produce a passable cup of coffee. Freshly roasted beans, freshly ground. That’s it. If you have those ingredients you can produce a great cup of coffee just by mixing the coffee with (almost) boiling water.

The freshly ground part requires a grinder. Most coffeesnobs will argue that you should spend more on your grinder than your machine. The grind is the most important variable when producing different types of coffee in different ways. Most coffee snobs say the only way to go is for a conical burr grinder – but I think given a little development of technique (ie figuring out how long to push the button for) even a spinning blade grinder will produce a better coffee than a lot of cafes if you have the right beans.

Lets face it, dud beans=dud coffee. It doesn’t matter what other variables you throw into the mix . Give a World Barista Champion a box of Lavazza beans from the supermarket and they’ll still turn out coffee that tastes stale and muddy.

Getting the beans right means getting the beans at the right time. Ideally 2-14 days post roast. The sweet spot timing wise depends on the type of bean and how roasted they are. The darker the bean the stronger the flavour and the thicker the “body” of the coffee – and the lighter the bean the more complex and tasty the bean is (and the less bitter).

There are two ways to ensure you’re hitting that timing sweet spot – one is to find a roaster who labels their coffee by roast date – the other is to roast your own. Buying roasted coffee is expensive – Coffee Dominion in Townsville roasts wonderful coffee – but charges $8 for 250gm – or around $30 if you buy a kilo in bulk. That’s a lot of coffee to get through in two weeks.

Buying green beans is much cheaper – Ministry Grounds – the online co-op I buy beans through sells green beans ranging from $6 through to $12 per kilo – you’ve got to throw postage costs into the mix – but it’s much, much cheaper. Neil Atwood, who runs the store and the associated blog, is a coffee snob and a church minister. He’s very approachable and helpful. The customer service is great – and all the green beans come with a “serving suggestion” roasting notes to help you get the best from different bean varieties.

Roasting at home is easy. There’s a plethora of information around the web. I got most of my tips from coffeesnobs.com.au (who incidently also sell green beans once a month through a first come first served “beanbay”) and my roasting set up cost me about $40 thanks to ebay and some astute garage sailing. I use a heat gun/breadmaker combo as do many people from the coffeesnobs forum – but roasting simply requires heat and agitation – you can roast beans in a popcorn popper.

Home roasting is cheap, easy, and has that do-it-yourself element that adds a whole lot of self-satisfaction to every cup. And it tastes better too.

If home roasting sounds like too much hassle you could always ask your friendly neighbourhood home roaster and they might do it for you… it’s well worth it.

Things I use: Google Reader

Google Reader has had the most profound impact on the way I use the Internet. More profound than even switching to Firefox. Google Reader is an RSS reader. Like all google products (except advertising) it’s free of charge – and developed by the leading geeks in the field. It’s now incredibly rare for me to actually visit a website outside of my email, social networking and banking sites. Everything I want to read about comes delivered to my reader. 

Here are some stats describing my Google Reader use:

“From your 236 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 14,956 items, starred 77 items, shared 117 items, and emailed 0 items.”

10 Reasons to use Google Reader

1. Organise your browsing – my 236 subscriptions are split over 13 categories that I created. And I’m constantly refining my subscriptions – adding and subtracting feeds is as easy as clicking the orange rss icon on an interesting site, or selecting unsubscribe from a drop down menu in Reader.

2. Refine your browsing based on your history – the trends page I pulled those statistics from also allows you to unsubscribe at the click of a delete icon – telling you which feeds you’re most likely to skip in your daily browsing.

3. Getting started is easy – all you need is a Google Account. Google will recommend blogs to you on the basis of your interests – you can search for feeds, you can see what your google contacts subscribe to, you can see what other people who subscribe to the things you subscribe to subscribe to… the options are pretty much as limitless as the Internet itself.

4. Navigation is easy – my subscriptions are broken down into categories, navigating between articles, categories and sources is easy.

5. Finding old posts is easy – Have you ever wanted to find an old blog post you read that is now suddenly useful to you? Previously read items are archived for typically easy retrieval. You can even star your favourites for much easier ready referal – or email them to a friend who might be interested. 

6. Sharing your favourite posts is a breeze – Not only can you email posts to people they might interest, the inbuilt “Share” function places shared items on a standalone page with its own RSS feed, and items are visible to your “friends”  based on settings that you determine. Share items can be easily be incorporated into your blog, tumblr, Facebook, etc so that people can keep track of what you’ve found interesting or informative. You can share with a note to editorialise the item in question or to justify its place in your heart. 

7. It’s fast – you get right to the content of a page without all the hassle of loading it, clicking the “next button” or putting up with any of the inconveniences of visiting a site. 

8. Sync for offline reading – if you’re catching a flight, going on a road trip, or heading somewhere boring with no internet connection you can keep your reader addiction fed with offline mode. The fact that RSS feeds are pretty lightweight (particularly with pictures and embedded media removed) means syncing is quick and easy – and your starred items and things you’ve managed to get through will be updated when you make the switch back to online mode, meaning you’re not reading the same things twice. 

9. Keyboard shortcuts – moving between articles is as simple as hitting “j” to go forwards and “k” to go backwards – I think “j” will now be the key that wears out fastest on my computers. 

10. Embrace the future – RSS was heralded as the future of the internet when it was launched – I was sceptical of this claim to begin with, but thanks to discovering reader I can see where that claim was coming from. Most websites are putting their content out there as an RSS feed, the vast majority of blogs are on the bandwagon – why spend your time punching in URLs or clicking through your bookmarks when you can just visit them all in one place – and browse through posts chronologically – the default is for you to be reading the most recent material first. Which means everything you’re reading is new and exciting.

Things I use

I’ve been thinking about producing a couple of series of posts in a more didactic vein than my regular profiles of useless gadgets, my rants on general stupidity and my list of links of things I’ve read using Google Reader. 

So I’m planning some regular features – maybe weekly – on useful tools, software, blogs I subscribe to – things that might be helpful for my regular readers or mini tutorials that will be helpful for me to revisit at some stage in the future.

I’m also planning a bit of a series on coffee – on the essentials for making cafe quality (and that is a little bit of a lose description) coffee at home. You don’t need an extreme set up like mine, the basics are actually surprisingly cheap and easy. 

I’ll put these posts in their own category and probably link to them permanently from the side bar of this blog and will maybe even create stand alone pages at the top where you’ll currently see already existing pages on who I am, my coffee set up, and our New Zealand holiday.

Why am I telling you this? I don’t exactly know, I just thought it would be a good way to introduce what will possibly be something useful I can contribute to your life.