Completely useless overview of mobile phone brands in the Netherlands, May 2016

An obscure need to know led me to create the following overview of mobile phone brands in the Netherlands. Since I got relatively little use out of it, I figured I’d share it here. Maybe it will find some use after all.

Caveat: I didn’t need a very precise list, so please don’t use this is as the basis for your hostile take-over or master’s paper.

By way of summary introduction (TL/DR: TL/DR) I will note that there are four-and-a-half network operators in the Netherlands who all have their own brands of mobile phone providers. T-Mobile (German), KPN (Dutch), Vodafone (British) and Tele2 (Swedish) have their own network. The half-network provider is Liberty Global plc, who do own their own frequency, but need to cooperate with Vodafone to make it work. (Things got too technical for me after this.)

Then there is a whole raft of companies and brands that provide mobile telephony and that use the networks of others. I did some quick Googling but found no indication that the network quality is any less if your company has to rent their access.

The list is not complete by any stretch; it is simply based on brands that sounded familiar to me. As it turns out, all the companies large enough to own a slice of the network spectrum sounded familiar to me, so at least there’s that.

T-Mobile brands:
– T-Mobile
– Ben
[- own network]

KPN brands:
– KPN
– Simyo
– Telfort
– Hi
[- own netwerk]

Vodafone brands:
– Vodafone
– Blyk
– Hollandse Nieuwe
– Sizz
[- former brand: Libertel]
[- also owns the Belcompany chain of mobile phone shops]
[- own network]

Tele2 AB brands:
– Tele2
[- since 2015 own 4G network]

Liberty Global plc brands:
– Ziggo
[- formerly UPC]
[- uses the Vodafone network]
[- has a 4G license]

Youfone brands:
– Youfone
[- owned by the same people that own NL Energie]
[- uses the KPN network]

Simpel brands:
– Simpel
[- founded by former T-Mobile employees]
[- uses the T-mobile network]

Note that I assigned nationalities to various companies, but the global trend is to have different headquarters depending on where the legal, financial, fiscal and labour environments are the most profitable. If a large company waves a national flag these days, you must start from the assumption that this is a branding exercise, not a heart-felt statement of loyalty.

Romerhuis, Venlo

I was born in one of the oldest surviving houses in Venlo, the Romerhuis, which also happens to be the first house in the oldest street of the city, the Jodenstraat.

The Romerhuis was built around 1490 in late Gothic style. By the 20th century the building had lost lots of its charm. The step gable had been removed, white gunk had been smeared on the front and the sides, and windows and doors had been changed.

romerhuis-190x-author-unknown

In 1939 city architect Jules Kayser started the two-year restoration of the building, and then the war happened. Allied troops kept trying to bomb the bridges over the river Meuse, but missed time and again. All the buildings around Romer House were flattened and the building itself took severe damage.

The allied managed to destroy most of Venlo, including many historical buildings, but they had to leave the destruction of the bridges to retreating Nazis.

romerhuis-1945-author-unknown

In 1950 the house was restored again, and this time the restoration took.

romerhuis-2011-branko-collin

More photos, see here.

(Photos: Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, CC-BY-SA; Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, CC-BY-SA; Branko Collin, CC-BY-SA; respectively.)

Game guide: playing Bruce Lee II on the Commodore 64

In 2015 Jonas Hultén released his Commodore 64 port of the MS Windows game Bruce Lee II, which itself was a public domain sequel to the Commodore 64 original Bruce Lee (and which was visually very similar to the original 8-bit style).

If you want to play his game—and you should, because it’s really good!—you can download it for free and play it both on the original computer or on a Commodore 64 emulator such as VICE.

This sequel follows the game play of the original version from 1984 faithfully—with a number of important deviations.

1. It’s harder.
2. No points.
3. A lot more extra lives (called Falls in the game).

bruce-lee-ii

The reason you can easily get extra lives is presumably because it is also very easy to lose them.

Is it wise to play the original first? I’d say yes, but that is because I liked version I a lot. It could be that you find the original too easy and that this would turn you off from the sequel. Note that Bruce Lee II is also very easy for a lot of its levels and to me that is part of the charm of the franchise—you get to properly explore stuff.

Part of the fun of the game is to figure out how everything works, but I decided to give those that are stuck in the first levels a leg up.

The best response to the previous paragraph is to stop reading here, because you know what follows, right? Spoilers! I will keep those to a minimum, though. I will explain the basic features of the game below and I cannot do that without spoiling some of the game for you. I will do this largely by discussing the first screen, meaning you still have dozens of screens to explore for yourself.

Is this a worthwhile trade-off? You have to decide for yourself.

Note that if you want to see more spoilers, you can find longplays on YouTube that show you how the entire game is played. These are important teaching tools for when you get stuck.

Bruce Lee II is a platform game in which you play the eponymous hero. Each room is a separate level where you need to locate and reach the exit, meaning there is no scrolling. Some rooms are reused. Some exits only open through actions taken in other rooms. Your goal is to play through all the rooms and destroy the wizard and in doing so free the princess.

bruce-lee-ii-doors

The first room, shown here, is simultaneously the first, sixth and twelfth level. As you can see, there are three exits (all to the right), with the exit for the first level closed by a door and that of the sixth and twelfth level currently unreachable.

Your character can duck, climb, run, jump, punch and kick. Duck: joystick down. Climb: joystick up or down when on a climbable surface, like a ladder or a vine. Run: joystick left or right. Jump: joystick left+up, up, right+up. Punch: fire. Kick: left+fire and right+fire.

There are three recurring items in the game that trigger a reward:

– Small lanterns.
– Big lanterns.
– Horizontal bars.

bruce-lee-ii-rewards

When you clear a certain amount of small lanterns on a level, doors will open. Here is my first spoiler: if you clear both small lanterns in the first screen, you will unlock the door to the right.

There is no specific order in which you need to clear lanterns, but each exit requires that a specific amount of lanterns are cleared. Sometimes lanterns reveal an exit that allows you to enter another part of the same room.

Big lanterns give you an extra life, one for each lantern. Generally they are located near where you need them most, sometimes they are located after that point (in which case they help you replenish).

Horizontal bars need to be jumped into: doing so will activate a hitherto hidden feature. My second spoiler: if you jump towards the horizontal bar in room one, a ladder will appear that allows you to get onto the top platform of this screen. Horizontal bars can only be reached using an upwards jump.

Sometimes horizontal bars and small lanterns activate doors and other features in other rooms.

The game has active and passive security to stop you from progressing. Active security are the guards who try and attack you. These are largely inconsequential, because they are easy to avoid, but a guard may shove you into a passive security feature such as a spike pit, which may lead to instant death. The solution is to not stand still for long in areas where there are guards.

In a departure from the previous game, guards won’t follow you onto platforms. They may however start on platforms. A simple method to ensure you’re left alone by the guards is to make your way to the lowest platform you can reach, let the guards follow you there and then climb back up. Even something as simple as dangling from a ladder may make you unreachable to a guard. Bruce Lee doesn’t tire and can jump from any height without hurting himself.

Guards die after a few punches or kicks and will respawn after a while. Speaking of guards and respawing: sometimes you will respawn in exactly the spot where the guards tend to hang out. This can be … unpleasant. The trick is to move away immediately upon respawning. Even though you are stronger than the guards, you will still die if you get enough hits.

I won’t say much about passive security, but you should know that there are a few traps that respond to your presence but that do not adapt their response to your actions.

Vines, ladders and grates can be climbed. You will learn to recognize the patterns that make these things (they are not meant to be hidden per se). There is no rhyme nor reason to what is a background, a wall or a ladder.

Backgrounds sometimes turn out to be platforms. This is enough of a departure from the first game that I will allow myself a third spoiler: the trees in the first room can be stepped upon from the ladder that will appear if you jump into the horizontal bar in that same room. The other ‘hidden’ platforms you will have to find yourself by jumping onto everything you come across. I wish you lots of falls.

bruce-lee-ii-platforms

There are three levels that I am not sure I should warn you about, but I am going to anyway.

1. There is a level where a ladder is revealed by jumping around in the space where the ladder is hidden. I think this may be a bug (there are other bugs on that screen). You can recognize the area because it is one of the few dead ends in the game. Just explore everything.

2. There is a level that everybody calls difficult. I can tell you that it is doable. I will admit though that I studied a longplay on Youtube a couple of times before I beat it. Today this level hardly makes a dent in my falls (lives).

3. There is a level that not everybody calls difficult, but that in my case proved almost impossible. When I checked the longplays on Youtube, I noticed that players could do things on that level that I could not. So there’s that. I played (and finished) the game on a certain system with a certain emulator using certain settings; it may be that you come across problems that nobody else has encountered. Peeking at a walkthrough or using a cheat may then be the only way to finish the game. (But I managed to finish that level without cheats.)

Retro computing scene alive and kicking

It started with this 2014 Commodore 64 demo music by Pex “Mahoney” Tufvesson. If you were to follow that link (please come back!), you would hear an indiscriminate collection of bleeps and grunts. You will have to take my word for it that these bleeps and grunts are in some ways better than any assortment of bleeps and grunts that came before on this machine.

It was a bit like coming across a band that you had thought had split up in the nineties, but not only were they still together, they were producing some of their best music ever. Stumbling upon the retro computing scene was a very pleasant surprise.

And it turned out there was a lot more to it than late advances in SID programming technology (SID is the name of the sound chip in the Commodore 64).

Until then—then being a few weeks back—I had thought the retro scene was mostly about looking back – like in 2008 when Martijn Koch built this interpretation of the 1971 arcade game Computer Space – or about carefully preserving a couple of machines while spare parts were slowly dying out.

Turns out there is quite a bit more to it.

  • New Amigas are being made, specifically the X1000 and the X5000.
  • You can now buy generic computers (so-called FPGAs) which can then become whichever machine you like.
  • And of course there are software emulators.
  • The Commodore 64 demo scene still turns out dozens of demos a year.
  • Fresh games are being made.
  • 8-bit hackers give hour long talks on the Commodore 64’s hardware to packed rooms.
  • There are several retrogamers vodcasting on YouTube.
  • Last year the party for the Commodore Amiga’s 30th birthday in Amsterdam drew 400 people.
  • People still use their 8-bit and 16-bit computers for proper gaming.
  • Some musicians use double, triple or even more SIDS to make their chiptunes with the original hardware. (Bonus link uses one SID.)
  • A variant of the CPU of the C64 is still being made by one of its original creators.

You could consider the FPGAs as blank silicon upon which you imprint the hardware from a long ‘dead’ 8-bit or 16-bit computer by loading that design from an SD card. The Mist FPGA even has two Atari joystick ports, as were used on Atari and Commodore computers in the 1980s, and a MIDI interface. Quite frankly at about 250 euro (300+ if you want your computer preloaded), that’s a sexy bit of kit if you don’t mind me saying so.

Sometimes games programmers use their skills (and our modern knowledge of old computers) to right old wrongs. The 1984 port of the Ghosts ‘n Goblins arcade game did not contain all the elements of the original, so last year somebody turned that old port into a version that appears to have everything from the arcade game (see screenshot).

g-and-g-c64

The Amiga’s birthday party wasn’t just held in Amsterdam, there were parties in Germany, the UK, Australia and USA (and more?).

So why are people still using these old machines and in some cases even returning to them? The reason is no doubt nostalgia. Computers back then were manageable. A single person could know what was going on in a MOS 6502 and share that information with others.

And also we now have the internet and we have development tools that we can use outside the target machine. I started coding a little in my Commodore 64 emulator, first using the slow BASIC language, then after I got frustrated switching to assembler (using JASM). If I were to do this programming on my old 64 (which is stashed away somewhere in the attic), that would be quite cumbersome. I’d have to save and load intermediate versions of my program from and to tape and that would take quite a while.

But I can now use my much faster Windows machine and the superior developer tools I have on it to do my coding; testing is just a matter of loading the result into my emulator.

What is more, groups of developers can use git repositories to share their code and chat rooms to talk to each other. Information not only gets stored inside programs, but gets shared between developers. (To be honest, both the 8-bit and the 16-bit computers had wonderful, dedicated magazines which also contained a lot of knowledge about how to develop for these devices, including the Dutch Amiga Magazine for which I wrote as a freelancer.)

Finally, knowledge gets added to. If you check the “8-bit hackers” link above, you can see at the start of the talk the difference between how well the Commodore 64 was understood at the beginning and at the end of its 10-year life (which, by the way, is an insanely long time for a single model to be produced).

First impressions of the Blackrapid Sport camera sling strap

There is a list of accessories that, when used properly, can easily lift your photography to a next level: tripods, flashes, reflectors and so on.

Having shot a 24-hours sports event twice and noticing how my wrists would hurt afterwards, I figured a sling strap might also be such an accessory. The regular straps that you get when you buy a DSLR work more like a necklace: they are too short to sling around your shoulder. Other roller derby photographers recommended the Blackrapid family of sling straps almost unanimously, so with two games coming up on Sunday, I bought one last Saturday.

Note that I hardly ever use the regular strap the way it was intended. Instead, I wrap it around the wrist and just carry my camera in the hand. Hence the wrist ache instead of a possible neck ache. The sling strap makes it so that you don’t have to hold the camera all of the time. You can just let it hang when you’re not using it.

The model I got was the Blackrapid Sports, but I can imagine my findings apply to most other brands and models of sling straps.

So here’s what I discovered in one day of shooting:

  • When you’re running, you still need to steady the camera with your hand to stop it from swinging about.
  • I’ve never heard the IS mechanism in my sports zoom make such a racket before when running with my camera.
  • The Blackrapid attaches to the tripod mount. This has a couple of disadvantages:
    • You can no longer set the camera down on its (flat) bottom plate (unless you detach the strap, which is admittedly easy enough, but … but … if you just want to change lenses or it just feels awkward even to have to think about this – OK, I admit, this isn’t really a huge issue).
    • The mount is unavailable for tripod use (see above for the seriousness of this issue).
    • The camera hangs upside down, which means that you lose fractions of seconds bringing it to up your face. This can be problematic when shooting events.
  • You need to be extra careful with your expensive lenses dangling out of sight.
  • Unlike regular straps, a sling strap with its padded shoulder band and its plastic bits is a comparatively unwieldy thing that takes some getting used to just being there, knocking over cups of coffee and what have you.

The best I can say about a sling strap so far is that most of the time, I did not notice it was there.

I guess what all this whining is supposed to say is that a) I still need to get used to the thing and b) I had no clear idea of what a sling strap was supposed to achieve. The latter is still an important point to make. Holding your camera in your hand may not be ideal, neither do the alternatives seem to be.

I can say this though: the day after, my wrists feel just fine. On the other hand, this is the first time every I had muscle pain in my upper legs after a shoot. Go figure.

Facebook pages for amateur event photographers

As you may know I regularly visit roller derby bouts to take photos of the action and of the events and the people surrounding that action.

I used to post the results to my personal Facebook account but have recently switched to using a separate Facebook page for my photos.

If you are in a similar situation, you may like to hear the reasons behind my switch, so here goes.

Advantages of using a page instead of an account

  • People don’t have to friend you or follow you in order to see your photos.
  • You can take breaks from Facebook, especially if you have empowered others to maintain your page in your absence.
  • Pages are (or can be) visibile to the public, whereas personal albums set to Public still require visitors to log in on Facebook.
  • Easy reference; people don’t have to ‘wade’ through pics from your personal life to get to the ‘good stuff’.

Disadvantages

  • Pages are public even if you’re not on Facebook. (Lower expectation of privacy.)
  • Facebook thinks page administrators are cash cows. Prepare for a barrage of little annoying ads on your timeline enticing you to buy more page views.
  • That’s right, Facebook artificially limits the amount of views that postings to a page get. The number of people that will get to see your photos just by following (‘liking’) your page will decrease drastically. Facebook lets you ‘buy’ more views from followers although the usefulness of buying such views is still very much a topic of discussion.

Notes

All of the above is still subject to Facebook’s many whims.

Facebook compresses the hell out of photos, making them look worse. This goes for both pages and accounts, and I only mention it because if you are considering switching to a page, why not consider switching to a Flickr or 500px account? In other words, how important are likes and shares to you?

If tagging is important, note that 1) tagging is disabled by default for Facebook pages, and 2) users may disallow pages to tag them.

Facebook pages require maintenance to counter Facebook’s ongoing War on Pages (as I call the commercialization of pages). There are a couple of things that might help:

  • Share your albums on your timeline.
  • Share the relevant albums or photos to the event pages.
  • Tag people you believe would like to be tagged.

It helps that you are shooting events, because events have visitors, and visitors like to talk to their friends about the events. If you’re shooting flowers or landscapes, posting your photos to your Facebook account may still be the better option.

So:

When? When not use a page?

  • When: if you post a lot besides photos and would like to spare your followers from this extra guff.
  • When: if you want to keep different types of photography separate.
  • When not: if all you ever post are photos.
  • When not: if your photos don’t naturally lend themselves to people seeking them out.

There are other reasons why you might be using Facebook as an (amateur) (event) photographer that I haven’t explored here. For example, you could use Facebook to draw the attention of your followers to photos you posted elsewhere.

Conclusion

I have had my page for a week now and posted albums of two events since then. The number of likes and comments I get seems to have stayed approximately the same, possibly helped by the fact that people see my posts about my albums on the event pages. Tags are down by an order of magnitude if not more. I am getting lots more attention from Facebook which wants me to start paying for views.

I am also still getting friend requests from within the community. The good thing is that now I know people friend me because I am part of the community and not just because they want to see my photos.

Where is my flying car? A couple of quick observations

The phrase ‘flying car’ used to be (and perhaps still is) shorthand for ‘the future’. As long as we don’t have the flying car that a nebulous ‘they’ promised us, the future is not now. Never mind that in this day and age even people fleeing a war-torn Syria carry around more computing power then it took to get people to the moon, the idea of having enough technology seems forever outside our grasp.

These days flying cars are also a go-to topic for the average lazy journalist—there’s nothing like an article that you can write as you type.

Articles about flying cars in the MSM (main stream media) tend to follow a certain pattern. They look at current efforts of building flying cars—which remarkably all look a lot like regular, non-flying cars. If you’re lucky these articles also discuss past efforts, so that you get some historical perspective—for instance, the perspective that people have been designing, prototyping and dismissing flying cars for almost a century. And these articles often close with some made-up theory about how flying cars would lead to mayhem in the sky, followed by conjecture that this may be why we don’t have flying cars yet.

One of my larger objections to this trope is teleological in nature. I contend that we already have flying cars. They were invented in 1903 by two American brothers called Wright and have since taken the world by storm.

It turns out that if you put it like that, a whole lot of people will say: “but that’s not a flying car, that’s an airplane!” So what makes something a flying car? The image we have of flying cars is something straight out of the Jetsons or Back to the Future. It needs to be a vehicle. It needs to land and take off pretty much anywhere you like. It needs to be compact enough to park it near your house and comfortable enough to use for commuting or shopping. And it needs to have two more things, which I will discuss in a second. What it doesn’t need is to look like a car or to have wheels.

Even if you bring these extra limitations into the definition of flying cars, you still have the problem that this vehicle already exists. It’s called a helicopter. You have also introduced a problem for the lazy journalists, because this stricter definition of ‘flying car’ no longer includes any of the flying cars currently under development. The Pal-V’s and Terrafugias require dedicated airstrips to land and take off, so unless you live on an airport, they are not flying cars.

These modern flying cars are basically roadworthy aircraft. They look like cars (at least the bottom half) because when they are on the road, they are cars. What they are designed to solve is the problem that you aren’t allowed to land a helicopter just anywhere. They are 10% technological innovation and 90% legal work-around.

The way land-bound cars are advertised it would seem that their main purpose is personal freedom, especially freedom from roads full of other cars. Obviously if you own a car you realize that this is just a fantasy. If you use your car for commuting, you get used to being stuck in traffic for a considerable chunk of your life. But maybe flying cars could provide a solution? So that’s the final limitation that separates conventional aircraft from flying cars.

So what makes a flying car again?

  • It is a vehicle.
  • That is capable of taking off and landing where and when its operator desires.
  • Compact.
  • Comfortable.
  • That is allowed to take off and land where and when its operator desires.
  • Freedom?

Interestingly the very idea of what a flying car is also contributes to make it so that we don’t have them. The final two defining features are after all legal and psychological/sociological in nature, and such problems can be tricky to solve. (I wrote something other than ‘tricky to solve’, but I’ll leave the anti-technocratic rant for some other time.)

BKR-registratie laten verwijderen? Nergens goedkoper! (Dutch)

Ook als al uw schulden zijn afgelost, kunt u een negatieve BKR-notatie blijven houden. Hier kunt u zelf iets aan doen.

Download nu het GRATIS e-book “Oneens met uw registratie bij BKR?”

Hierin wordt stap voor stap uitgelegd hoe u uw onterechte BKR-noteringen ongedaan maakt.

Andere aanbieders, zoals bkrisgeenprobleem.nl en geldleningaanvragen.nl, rekenen vele euro’s voor hun e-brochures. Hoe kan het dat ik deze handleiding gratis kan aanbieden? Omdat u hem rechtstreeks van de site van het BKR downloadt.

Jawel, het Bureau Krediet Registratie biedt gratis de dienst aan waar u elders veel geld aan kwijt bent. Dynamiet Nederland wil zelfs niet zeggen wat hun dienst kost. Op hun pagina Kosten melden ze: “De prijs is afhankelijk van de situatie en opdracht. Naast een betaalbare oplossing hanteren wij flexibele betaalmogelijkheden. U heeft de keuze om in één keer of in termijnen te betalen.” En zoals u weet, als u moet vragen naar de prijs, kunt u hem waarschijnlijk niet veroorloven.

BKR zegt zelf over internetaanbieders: “Op internet zijn diverse partijen actief die aanbieden uw registratie in CKI te verwijderen. Wees voorzichtig met dergelijke aanbiedingen. Het kost u vaak veel geld en het resultaat is zeker niet altijd verwijdering van uw registratie. Als u van mening bent dat u een onterechte registratie heeft, dan vindt u op deze website kosteloos meer informatie om deze, zo mogelijk, te laten corrigeren.”

Met andere woorden, ga met de juiste partij in zee – het BKR! Als u uw onterechte BKR-registraties teniet wil laten doen, laat u dan door BKR informeren hoe dit moet. Net als u heeft het BKR weinig aan onterecht negatieve registraties.

Let op!

BKR zegt dat u een klacht bij hun geschillencommissie vergezeld moet doen gaan van een recent overzicht van uw BKR-gegevens. Het aanvragen van zo’n overzicht of van toegang tot mijnBKR kan enige tijd duren. Zorg dus eerst dat u alle overige bijlagen voor uw klacht in huis hebt, dan het BKR-overzicht en dat u dan pas uw klacht indient.

Als u er niet uitkomt, schakel dan een vriend of familielid in om u te helpen. Wilt u of kunt u dit niet? Neem dan contact op met bijvoorbeeld de wetswinkel van uw gemeente, de sociaal raadslieden van uw gemeente of het maatschappelijk of juridisch spreekuur van uw wijkcentrum.

Zie ook:

Mister Money: BKR-code: hoe kom je ervan af?

(Engels / English: this is a public service announcement. During one of the most expensive TV advertising slots I saw an ad for a company called Dynamiet Nederland that claims it will cancel negative registration with the Dutch office for debt registration, BKR. I immediately smelled a rat—nobody pays for expensive TV ads only so that they can ‘help’ people. But what was the catch? At first I thought that this service would offer expensive loans to people with debts so that they can replace the debts with even more expensive debts. Then I found out that the service these companies are offering, is something a debtor can do themselves. In the above I outline how to do this.)

I started something

I started another blog. Why, Branko, you say (sarcastically), how nice of you considering the many, many (*cough*) things you post here.

You would not be wrong about that. I do blog too little.

The new blog, called Beezels, because I needed a name and any silly thing would do, has a single purpose: to write about cool stuff I found on clickbait sites so that I can share them on Facebook without actually having to force my Facebook friends to go onto these clickbait sites. Cutting out the middle man, so to speak.

As it happens, most of the really cool stuf on clickbait sites (of course I mean cats) is stolen from elsewhere anyway, so this blog will allow me to do something that clickbait sites seem to be hesitant to do, which is to acknowledge and link to the originals.

I am still hammering out the details. What is online now is little more than a test version. Feedback is welcome (here).

A few of my goals:

  • Stuff I and my Facebook friends find cool and that is shareworthy.
  • In others words (though it may not look like it), this is supposed to be a personal site.
  • Leaner than lean, content is king.
  • Corollary: no ads that require interactive technology like JavaScript (which probably means: no ads—I am fine with that).
  • Facebook-ready.
  • Acknowledging sources.
  • No comments; the goal is that these links get shared in your networks, not in mine.

The content, of course, is clickbait, but my goal is not so much to draw you in but to send you on your way with something nice that you can share. No idea if and how this will work, we’ll just have to see.

An unlikely ad blocker

I’ve started using the Firefox plugin YesScript as an ad blocker even though being an ad blocker may not be that plugin’s main purpose.

YesScript will let you mark specific websites. YesScript will then tell the browser that the next time it loads something from those sites, it must skip the JavaScript programs belonging to that page.

What happened was that certain websites would make my PC wheeze like an old man with a life long history of smoking. Apparently my PC’s fan was getting old and had stopped running smoothly. Although I noticed this with all kinds of software, the main culprit was Firefox, and the wheezing would always be the worst when I visited a click-baity website.

If you look at a small selection of the files a site like Mashable pushes to my computer every time I read one of their stories (see the screenshot below), you can easily see why my PC would have trouble coping. Most of the files you see listed are for the benefit of ad networks. Look at the scroll bar to the right; this is just a fraction of the files that are loaded. Most of the files that you don’t see here are also loaded for the benefit of ad networks.

[Screenshot displaying a list of files from Mashable]

I measured it: without YesScript, a single Mashable page sends 294 files to my browser. Those files take up 2.9 megabytes of bandwidth and take 49 seconds to load and render. With YesScript running, those numbers dwindle to 14 files, 0.1 megabyte and 7 seconds. I can actually finish looking at a cat photo while you are still loading the page.

Why don’t I use a real ad blocker? It’s simply because I initially identified my problem as a technical one—too much JavaScript—and so the solution I chose was also a technical one—block all JavaScript. Ad blockers work by banning all files coming from known ad networks and should be just as effective.

YesScript has a minor advantage in this respect, in that it leaves ads alone that play nice (read: that are strictly text or image based). It also blocks all those annoying “6 misogynist articles you might also like to read” banners.

But the plug-in’s disadvantages compared to ad blockers are probably greater. Obviously whatever useful JavaScript a page is running—for instance, scripts necessary to let you comment—are also blocked. I can live with that, but I imagine others cannot.

If you are wondering if YesScript is for you, let me ask you first: is the reason you want to run it because you want to block ads? If yes, go for an ad blocker. If you do end up using YesScript, you will find it is incredibly simple to use. The plug-in adds a button to one of your toolbars. If a page is playing havoc with your browser, click the button and reload the page. That’s it. If you want to run scripts on that domain again, click the button a second time and reload the page.

(Why don’t mobile phones seem to be afflicted as much by bad Javascript? After all, they tend to be a lot less powerful than your PC but will display clickbait just fine … ish. This I honestly don’t know. It may be because a lot of websites send adapted pages to mobile devices that are easier to load.)