Shallow Thoughts

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Fri, 27 Mar 2015

Hide Google's begging (or any other web content) via a Firefox userContent trick

Lately, Google is wasting space at the top of every search with a begging plea to be my default search engine.

[Google begging: Switch your default search engine to Google] Google already is my default search engine -- that's how I got to that page. But if you don't have persistent Google cookies set, you have to see this begging every time you do a search. (Why they think pestering users is the way to get people to switch to them is beyond me.)

Fortunately, in Firefox you can hide the begging with a userContent trick. Find the chrome directory inside your Firefox profile, and edit userContent.css in that directory. (Create a new file with that name if you don't already have one.) Then add this:

#taw { display: none !important; }

Restart Firefox, do a Google search and the begs should be gone.

In case you have any similar pages where there's pointless content getting in the way and you want to hide it: what I did was to right-click inside the begging box and choose Inspect element. That brings up Firefox's DOM inspector. Mouse over various lines in the inspector and watch what gets highlighted in the browser window. Find the element that highlights everything you want to remove -- in this case, it's a div with id="taw". Then you can write CSS to address that: hide it, change its style or whatever you're trying to do.

You can even use Inspect element to remove elements immediately. That won't help you prevent them from showing up later, but it can be wonderful if you need to use a page that has an annoying blinking ad on it, or a mis-designed page that has images covering the content you're trying to read.

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[ 08:17 Mar 27, 2015    More tech/web | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 19 Mar 2015

Hints on migrating Google Code to GitHub

Google Code is shutting down. They've sent out notices to all project owners suggesting they migrate projects to other hosting services.

I moved all my personal projects to GitHub years ago, back when Google Code still didn't support git. But I'm co-owner on another project that was still hosted there, and I volunteered to migrate it. I remembered that being very easy back when I moved my personal projects: GitHub had a one-click option to import from Google Code. I assumed (I'm sure you know what that stands for) that it would be just as easy now.

Nope. Turns out GitHub no longer has any way to import from Google Code: it tells you it can't find a repository there when you give it the address to Google's SVN repository.

Google's announcement said they were providing an exporter to GitHub. So I tried that next. I had the new repository ready on GitHub -- under the owner's account, not mine -- and I expected Google's exporter to ask me for the repository.

Not so. As soon as I gave it my OAuth credentials, it immediately created a new repository on GitHub under my name, using the name we had used on Google Code (not the right name, since Google Code project names have to be globally unique while GitHub projects don't).

So I had to wait for the export to finish; then, on GitHub, I went to our real repository, and did an import there from the new repository Google had created under my name. I have no idea how long that took: GitHub's importer said it would email me when the import was finished, but it didn't, so I waited several hours and decided it was probably finished. Then I deleted the intermediate repository.

That worked fine, despite being a bit circuitous, and we're up and running on GitHub now.

If you want to move your Google Code repository to GitHub without the intermediate step of making a temporary repository, or if you don't want to give Google OAuth access to your GitHub account, here are some instructions (which I haven't tested) on how to do the import via a local copy of the repo on your own machine, rather than going directly from Google to GitHub: krishnanand's steps for migrating Google code to GitHub

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[ 13:11 Mar 19, 2015    More programming | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sat, 14 Mar 2015

Making a customized Firefox search plug-in

It's getting so that I dread Firefox's roughly weekly "There's a new version -- do you want to upgrade?" With every new upgrade, another new crucial feature I use every day disappears and I have to spend hours looking for a workaround.

Last week, upgrading to Firefox 36.0.1, it was keyword search: the feature where, if I type something in the location bar that isn't a URL, Firefox would instead search using the search URL specified in the "keyword.URL" preference.

In my case, I use Google but I try to turn off the autocomplete feature, which I find it distracting and unhelpful when typing new search terms. (I say "try to" because complete=0 only works sporadically.) I also add the prefix allintext: to tell Google that I only want to see pages that contain my search term. (Why that isn't the default is anybody's guess.) So I set keyword.URL to: (%3A is URL code for the colon character).

But after "up"grading to 36.0.1, search terms I typed in the location bar took me to Yahoo search. I guess Yahoo is paying Mozilla more than Google is now.

Now, Firefox has a Search tab under Edit->Preferences -- but that just gives you a list of standard search engines' default searches. It would let me use Google, but not with my preferred options.

If you follow the long discussions in bugzilla, there are a lot of people patting each other on the back about how much easier the preferences window is, with no discussion of how to specify custom searches except vague references to "search plugins". So how do these search plugins work, and how do you make one?

Fortunately a friend had a plugin installed, acquired from who knows where. It turns out that what you need is an XML file inside a directory called searchplugins in your profile directory. (If you're not sure where your profile lives, see Profiles - Where Firefox stores your bookmarks, passwords and other user data, or do a systemwide search for "prefs.js" or "search.json" or "cookies.sqlite" and it should lead you to your profile.)

Once you have one plugin installed, it's easy to edit it and modify it to do anything you want. The XML file looks roughly like this:

<SearchPlugin xmlns="" xmlns:os="">
<os:Description>The search engine I prefer to use</os:Description>
<os:Image width="16" height="16">data:image/x-icon;base64,ICON GOES HERE</os:Image>
<os:Url type="text/html" method="GET" template="">
  <os:Param name="complete" value="0"/>
  <os:Param name="q" value="allintext: {searchTerms}"/>
  <!--os:Param name="hl" value="en"/-->

There are four things you'll want to modify. First, and most important, os:Url and os:Param control the base URL of the search engine and the list of parameters it takes. {searchTerms} in one of those Param arguments will be replaced by whatever terms you're searching for. So <os:Param name="q" value="allintext: {searchTerms}"/> gives me that allintext: parameter I wanted.

(The other parameter I'm specifying, <os:Param name="complete" value="0"/>, used to make Google stop the irritating autocomplete every time you try to modify your search terms. Unfortunately, this has somehow stopped working at exactly the same time that I upgraded Firefox. I don't see how Firefox could be causing it, but the timing is suspicious. I haven't been able to figure out another way of getting rid of the autocomplete.)

Next, you'll want to give your plugin a ShortName and Description so you'll be able to recognize it and choose it in the preferences window.

Finally, you may want to modify the icon: I'll tell you how to do that in a moment.

Using your new search plugin

[Firefox search prefs]

You've made all your modifications and saved the file to something inside the searchplugins folder in your Firefox profile. How do you make it your default?

I restarted firefox to make sure it saw the new plugin, though that may not have been necessary. Then Edit->Preferences and click on the Search icon at the top. The menu near the top under Default search engine is what you want: your new plugin should show up there.

Modifying the icon

Finally, what about that icon?

In the plugin XML file I was copying, the icon line looked like:

<os:Image width="16"
... many more lines like this then ... ==</os:Image>
So how do I take that and make an image I can customize in GIMP?

I tried copying everything after "base64," and pasting it into a file, then opening it in GIMP. No luck. I tried base64 decoding it (you do this with base64 -d filename >outfilename) and reading it in with GIMP. Still no luck: "Unknown file type".

The method I found is roundabout, but works:

  1. Copy everything inside the tag: data:image/x-icon;base64,AA ... ==
  2. Paste that into Firefox's location bar and hit return. You'll see the icon from the search plugin you're modifying.
  3. Right-click on the image and choose Save image as...
  4. Save it to a file with the extension .ico -- GIMP won't open it without that extension.
  5. Open it in GIMP -- a 16x16 image -- and edit to your heart's content.
  6. File->Export as...
  7. Use the type "Microsoft Windows icon (*.ico)"
  8. Base64 encode the file you just saved, like this: base64 yourfile.ico >newfile
  9. Copy the contents of newfile and paste that into your os:Image line, replacing everything after data:image/x-icon;base64, and before </os:Image>

Whew! Lots of steps, but none of them are difficult. (Though if you're not on Linux and don't have the base64 command, you'll have to find some other way of encoding and decoding base64.)

But if you don't want to go through all the steps, you can download mine, with its lame yellow smiley icon, as a starting point: Google-clean plug-in.

Happy searching! See you when Firefox 36.0.2 comes out and they break some other important feature.

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[ 12:35 Mar 14, 2015    More tech/web | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sat, 07 Mar 2015

GIMP: Turn black to another color with Screen mode

[20x20 icon, magnified 8 times] I needed to turn some small black-on-white icons to blue-on-white. Simple task, right? Except, not really. If there are intermediate colors that are not pure white or pure black -- which you can see if you magnify the image a lot, like this 800% view of a 20x20 icon -- it gets trickier.

[Bucket fill doesn't work for this] You can't use anything like Color to Alpha or Bucket Fill, because all those grey antialiased pixels will stay grey, as you see in the image at left.

And the Hue-Saturation dialog, so handy for changing the hue of a sky, a car or a dress, does nothing at all -- because changing hue has no effect when saturation is zero, as for black, grey or white. So what can you do?

I fiddled with several options, but the best way I've found is the Screen layer mode. It works like this:

[Make a new layer] In the Layers dialog, click the New Layer button and accept the defaults. You'll get a new, empty layer.

[Set the foreground color] Set the foreground color to your chosen color.

[Set the foreground color] Drag the foreground color into the image, or do Edit->Fill with FG Color.

Now it looks like your whole image is the new color. But don't panic!

[Use screen mode] Use the menu at the top of the Layers dialog to change the top layer's mode to Screen.

Layer modes specify how to combine two layers. (For a lot more information, see my book, Beginning GIMP). Multiply mode, for example, multiplies each pixel in the two layers, which makes light colors a lot more intense while not changing dark colors very much. Screen mode is sort of the opposite of Multiply mode: GIMP inverts each of the layers, multiplies them together, then inverts them again. All those white pixels in the image, when inverted, are black (a value of zero), so multiplying them doesn't change anything. They'll still be white when they're inverted back. But black pixels, in Screen mode, take on the color of the other layer -- exactly what I needed here.

Intensify the effect with contrast

[Mars sketch, colorized orange] One place I use this Screen mode trick is with pencil sketches. For example, I've made a lot of sketches of Mars over the years, like this sketch of Lacus Solis, the "Eye of Mars". But it's always a little frustrating: Mars is all shades of reddish orange and brown, not grey like a graphite pencil.

Adding an orange layer in Screen mode helps, but it has another problem: it washes out the image. What I need is to intensify the image underneath: increase the contrast, make the lights lighter and the darks darker.

[Colorized Mars sketch, enhanced  with brightness/contrast] Fortunately, all you need to do is bump up the contrast of the sketch layer -- and you can do that while keeping the orange Screen layer in place.

Just click on the sketch layer in the Layers dialog, then run Colors->Brightness/Contrast...

This sketch needed the brightness reduced a lot, plus a little more contrast, but every image will be different. Experiment!

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[ 18:22 Mar 07, 2015    More gimp | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Mon, 23 Feb 2015

Tips for developing on a web host that offers only FTP

Generally, when I work on a website, I maintain a local copy of all the files. Ideally, I use version control (git, svn or whatever), but failing that, I use rsync over ssh to keep my files in sync with the web server's files.

But I'm helping with a local nonprofit's website, and the cheap web hosting plan they chose doesn't offer ssh, just ftp.

While I have to question the wisdom of an ISP that insists that its customers use insecure ftp rather than a secure encrypted protocol, that's their problem. My problem is how to keep my files in sync with theirs. And the other folks working on the website aren't developers and are very resistant to the idea of using any version control system, so I have to be careful to check for changed files before modifying anything.

In web searches, I haven't found much written about reasonable workflows on an ftp-only web host. I struggled a lot with scripts calling ncftp or lftp. But then I discovered curftpfs, which makes things much easier.

I put a line in /etc/fstab like this: /servername fuse rw,allow_other,noauto,user 0 0

Then all I have to do is type mount /servername and the ftp connection is made automagically. From then on, I can treat it like a (very slow and somewhat limited) filesystem.

For instance, if I want to rsync, I can

rsync -avn --size-only /servername/subdir/ ~/servername/subdir/
for any particular subdirectory I want to check. A few things to know about this:
  1. I have to use --size-only because timestamps aren't reliable. I'm not sure whether this is a problem with the ftp protocol, or whether this particular ISP's server has problems with its dates. I suspect it's a problem inherent in ftp, because if I ls -l, I see things like this:
    -rw-rw---- 1 root root 7651 Feb 23  2015 guide-geo.php
    -rw-rw---- 1 root root 1801 Feb 14 17:16 guide-header.php
    -rw-rw---- 1 root root 8738 Feb 23  2015 guide-table.php
    Note that a file modified a week ago shows a modification time, but files modified today show only a day and year, not a time. I'm not sure what to make of this.
  2. Note the -n flag. I don't automatically rsync from the server to my local directory, because if I have any local changes newer than what's on the server they'd be overwritten. So I check the diffs by hand with tkdiff or meld before copying.
  3. It's important to rsync only the specific directories you're working on. You really don't want to see how long it takes to get the full file tree of a web server recursively over ftp.

How do you change and update files? It is possible to edit the files on the curlftpfs filesystem directly. But at least with emacs, it's incredibly slow: emacs likes to check file modification dates whenever you change anything, and that requires an ftp round-trip so it could be ten or twenty seconds before anything you type actually makes it into the file, with even longer delays any time you save.

So instead, I edit my local copy, and when I'm ready to push to the server, I cp filename /servername/path/to/filename.

Of course, I have aliases and shell functions to make all of this easier to type, especially the long pathnames: I can't rely on autocompletion like I usually would, because autocompleting a file or directory name on /servername requires an ftp round-trip to ls the remote directory.

Oh, and version control? I use a local git repository. Just because the other people working on the website don't want version control is no reason I can't have a record of my own changes.

None of this is as satisfactory as a nice git or svn repository and a good ssh connection. But it's a lot better than struggling with ftp clients every time you need to test a file.

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[ 19:46 Feb 23, 2015    More linux | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 19 Feb 2015

Finding core dump files

Someone on the SVLUG list posted about a shell script he'd written to find core dumps.

It sounded like a simple task -- just locate core | grep -w core, right? I mean, any sensible packager avoids naming files or directories "core" for just that reason, don't they?

But not so: turns out in the modern world, insane numbers of software projects include directories called "core", including projects that are developed primarily on Linux so you'd think they would avoid it ... even the kernel. On my system, locate core | grep -w core | wc -l returned 13641 filenames.

Okay, so clearly that isn't working. I had to agree with the SVLUG poster that using "file" to find out which files were actual core dumps is now the only reliable way to do it. The output looks like this:

$ file core
core: ELF 32-bit LSB core file Intel 80386, version 1 (SYSV), too many program headers (375)

The poster was using a shell script, but I was fairly sure it could be done in a single shell pipeline. Let's see: you need to run locate to find any files with 'core" in the name.

Then you pipe it through grep to make sure the filename is actually core: since locate gives you a full pathname, like /lib/modules/3.14-2-686-pae/kernel/drivers/edac/edac_core.ko or /lib/modules/3.14-2-686-pae/kernel/drivers/memstick/core, you want lines where only the final component is core -- so core has a slash before it and an end-of-line (in grep that's denoted by a dollar sign, $) after it. So grep '/core$' should do it.

Then take the output of that locate | grep and run file on it, and pipe the output of that file command through grep to find the lines that include the phrase 'core file'.

That gives you lines like

/home/akkana/geology/NorCal/pinnaclesGIS/core: ELF 32-bit LSB core file Intel 80386, version 1 (SYSV), too many program headers (523)

But those lines are long and all you really need are the filenames; so pass it through sed to get rid of anything to the right of "core" followed by a colon.

Here's the final command:

file `locate core | grep '/core$'` | grep 'core file' | sed 's/core:.*//'

On my system that gave me 11 files, and they were all really core dumps. I deleted them all.

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[ 12:54 Feb 19, 2015    More linux | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sat, 14 Feb 2015

The Sangre de Cristos wish you a Happy Valentine's Day

[Snow hearts on the Sangre de Cristo mountains]

The snow is melting fast in the lovely sunny weather we've been having; but there's still enough snow on the Sangre de Cristos to see the dual snow hearts on the slopes of Thompson Peak above Santa Fe, wishing everyone for miles around a happy Valentine's Day.

Dave and I are celebrating for a different reason: yesterday was our 1-year anniversary of moving to New Mexico. No regrets yet! Even after a tough dirty work session clearing dead sage from the yard.

So Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! Even if you don't put much stock in commercial Hallmark holidays. As I heard someone say yesterday, "Valentine's day is coming up, and you know what that means. That's right: absolutely nothing!"

But never mind what you may think about the holiday -- you just go ahead and have a happy day anyway, y'hear? Look at whatever pretty scenery you have near you; and be sure to enjoy some good chocolate.

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[ 15:01 Feb 14, 2015    More misc | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Mon, 09 Feb 2015

Making flashblock work again; and why HTML5 video doesn't work in Firefox

Back in December, I wrote about Problems with Firefox 35's new deprecation of flash, and a partial solution for Debian. That worked to install a newer version of the flash plug-in on my Debian Linux machine; but it didn't fix the problem that the flashblock program no longer works properly on Firefox 35, so that clicking on the flashblock button does nothing at all.

A friend suggested that I try Firefox's built-in flash blocking. Go to Tools->Add-ons and click on Plug-ins if that isn't the default tab. Under Shockwave flash, choose Ask to Activate.

Unfortunately, the result of that is a link to click, which pops up a dialog that requires clicking a button to dismiss it -- a pointless and annoying extra step. And there's no way to enable flash for just the current page; once you've enabled it for a domain (like youtube), any flash from that domain will auto-play for the remainder of the Firefox session. Not what I wanted.

So I looked into whether there was a way to re-enable flashblock. It turns out I'm not the only one to have noticed the problem with it: the FlashBlock reviews page is full of recent entries from people saying it no longer works. Alas, flashblock seems to be orphaned; there's no comment about any of this on the main flashblock page, and the links on that page for discussions or bug reports go to a nonexistent mailing list.

But fortunately there's a comment partway down the reviews page from user "c627627" giving a fix.

Edit your chrome/userContent.css in your Firefox profile. If you're not sure where your profile lives, Mozilla has a poorly written page on it here, Profiles - Where Firefox stores your bookmarks, passwords and other user data, or do a systemwide search for "prefs.js" or "search.json" or "cookies.sqlite" and it will probably lead you to your profile.

Inside yourprofile/chrome/userContent.css (create it if it doesn't already exist), add these lines:

@namespace url(;
@-moz-document domain(""){
#theater-background { display:none !important;}}

Now restart Firefox, and flashblock should work again, at least on YouTube. Hurray!

Wait, flash? What about HTML5 on YouTube?

Yes, I read that too. All the tech press sites were reporting week before last that YouTube was now streaming HTML5 by default.

Alas, not with Firefox. It works with most other browsers, but Firefox's HTML5 video support is too broken. And I guess it's a measure of Firefox's increasing irrelevance that almost none of the reportage two weeks ago even bothered to try it on Firefox before reporting that it worked everywhere.

It turns out that using HTML5 video on YouTube depends on something called Media Source Extensions (MSE). You can check your MSE support by going to YouTube's HTML5 info page. In Firefox 35, it's off by default.

You can enable MSE in Firefox by flipping the media.mediasource preference, but that's not enough; YouTube also wants "MSE & H2.64". Apparently if you care enough, you can set a new preference to enable MSE & H2.64 support on YouTube even though it's not supported by Firefox and is considered too buggy to enable.

If you search the web, you'll find lots of people talking about how HTML5 with MSE is enabled by default for Firefox 32 on youtube. But here we are at Firefox 35 and it requires jumping through hoops. What gives?

Well, it looks like they enabled it briefly, discovered it was too buggy and turned it back off again. I found bug 1129039: Disable MSE for Firefox 36, which seems an odd title considering that it's off in Firefox 35, but there you go.

Here is the dependency tree for the MSE tracking bug, 778617. Its dependency graph is even scarier. After taking a look at that, I switched my media.mediasource preference back off again. With a dependency tree like that, and nothing anywhere summarizing the current state of affairs ... I think I can live with flash. Especially now that I know how to get flashblock working.

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[ 17:08 Feb 09, 2015    More tech/web | permalink to this entry | comments ]

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