My Firefox plug-ins

They say that where Firefox really shines is its ability to extend its functionality through plug-ins. It is not why I use that web browser the most. Below are the plug-ins I use:

British English Dictionary, Woordenboek Nederlands. Because if left to my own devices, I would call the first plug-in “Brittish English Dictionary.”

DownloadHelper. I finally decided I wanted to save a Youtube video to my hard disk, and this plug-in lets you do exactly that. Add an encoder, and you extract the MP3 from a music video. Works with every site that has embedded videos, not just Youtube. Seems to have gotten pretty popular, because now that I know what they are there for I see the familiar coloured balls on many computers I come across.

Exif Viewer lets you see the data that photo cameras and photographers add to online photos, such as exposure, copyright information, and so on. Handy to find out with which brand camera a picture was taken, or if a journalist lies about when a photo was taken. It is possible for photographers to remove that sort of information, but so far most people seem to leave it in.

Leet Key decodes (and encodes) text from (and to) ROT13, which is sort of a standard way for posting spoilers. That is to say, if you want to write about a movie, but do not wish to spoil plot details for those who haven’t seen it yet, you can opt to encode the spoiler text with ROT13. This method is very little used on the internet, but does seem to have some kind of following, so this plug-in comes in handy every few months or so.

Leet Key encodes and decodes between many more formats, but even though a format like Base64 is popular, you will hardly ever find it on the World Wide Web. Base64 is what is used by e-mail to transport photos and other files over networks, even though the user typically doesn’t get to see the encoding that is used.

FEBE is a back-up tool for Firefox. I use it mainly to make sure that a fresh Firefox installation on another computer still has all my bookmarks and plug-ins. It is said to be buggy, but the one time I used it, it caused no problems, so maybe they got the bugs out.

Of the plug-ins (or extensions as the Firefox community calls them) mentioned above, I use the dictionaries almost every day, and the Exif viewer regularly.

I also a bunch of the many Firefox plug-ins for web developers (I work as a freelance web developer). These days I would be slowed down considerably if I had to make my money without them. But I won’t bore you with those—as they are business related—except to quickly mention their names: Web Developer, Firebug, Javascript Debugger, Tamper Data, Dom Inspector.

Are there any must-have plug-ins I missed?

The introverted side of Battlestar Galactica

I just downloaded the fourth season of Battlestar Galactica from the internet video recorder, and something I noticed while spot checking the files was that they changed the text overlay of the trailer.

In the previous seasons you would get a quick recap of the back story, A-Team style, so that even if you weren’t a fan of the series you would be up to speed before you even started watching.

The Cylons were created by man. They rebelled. [picture of robot firing his gun-hand here] They evolved. [woman coming out of her peptide bath] There are many copies. And they have a plan.

With the fourth season a new introductory text was chosen:

Twelve Cylon models. Seven are known. Four live in secret. One will be revealed.

That text assumes two things: one, that you already know the back story (not such a strange assumption), and two, that you care about who the Cylon models are. Without having seen a single frame of season four the series is already trying to tell me what it is going to be about. And I do not know if I care.

The producers of the A-Team also changed the intro, in the fifth series, but in that altered trailer they did not change the promise of its makers to the viewers (namely: Shichinin no Samurai set in the US). Battlestar Galactica seems to be saying it has changed into Lost, a series that has so far failed to hold my attention for longer than it takes to press Next on the remote control.

What is more, if BG really is going to cater for its current viewer base (not to mention only that part of the base that is most interested in the mystery behind the Cylons), there is also a hint of lowering standards. After all, why make the effort when you are not trying to woo anyone any more.

I am afraid, I am very afraid.

How does a market of free goods work?

Cory Doctorow in his review of Free, Chris Anderson’s latest book:

Information that can be freely reproduced at no marginal cost may not want, need or benefit from markets as a way of organising them.

Considering that markets organise themselves by exchanging information about costs and goods/services, and that there is a price attached in the sense of so-called transactional costs, that is not such a bad idea. Transactional costs are the price (usually in time and energy, not actual money) you pay for gathering information about the market and the product, and for making the actual purchase.

Often, these costs are a negligible part of the purchase price, but with free information they tower largely over it.

Cory Doctorow then goes on (and off the rails as far as I am concerned) suggesting that the distribution of free products may take place along the lines of ‘socialist’ organisations such as families and offices. Let us not go there, it is where madness lies.

The question is an interesting one and takes place at a micro-level—and indeed Doctorow has written much more wisely about the topic. How does a consumer decide which free information product to select? As with all products in a free market, a consumer needs information about the product. But gathering that information has a cost!

The micropayments movement has been racking its brains over how to lower this cost, as transactional costs are what has kept micropayments still-born so far. If you are unfamiliar with micropayments: very small payments for products of little (but not: no) value, such as comics you read on the web. The worth of an individual strip may be a few cents, maybe even less than a cent. It turns out that consumers who are in principal willing to pay half a cent for such a comic, aren’t willing to spend the time of paying half a cent. In other words, they value their time higher than the price of the product.

Models that seem to be getting money to producers of both cheap and free information are subscriptions, patronage, jar tips and so on, and the reason they work is that they either reduce the cost of figuring out how to pay to almost nil, or they increase the value of what is being bought.

There might even be some kind of sweet spot where the actual cost of (many instances of) the product is equal to the perceived monetary value of the transactional costs. If the producer would set the price at that sweet spot, you would get the interesting situation that the buyer would basically be handing over money so that he (or she) won’t have to bother with figuring out the payment details for a while—he will essentially get the product thrown in the bargain for free—, whereas the producer will see the money coming in as a payment for the product. You could get interesting misunderstandings that way, for instance if that producer lowered his price he might see his market collapse without ever understanding what just happened. (Just speculating there.)

That leaves the question of what happens when the producers do not want any money.