Monday, 8 September 2014

New window has both Pale Moon button and menu - solution

On opening a new window in Pale Moon, you may find a "double layer" taking up extra screen space unnecessarily, with the blue Pale Moon button top left (with text not icon) - even if you've chosen to view the menu bar and the original window displays properly. Here's what my new windows look like:

pm-nw1Something odd's going on because it should display the button or the menu bar, not both! Possibly a bug, only started happening recently for me.

Here's my workaround or fix. To get rid of the top "bar", just hide the menu bar by UNticking it - menu View > Toolbars > Menu Bar, so that there's no tick against "Menu Bar":


Then, show it again by using the arrow against the Pale Moon blue button - choose Options, Menu bar:


Now the new window should be normal again:

pm-nw4But be warned, it's more of a workaround than permanent solution because it doesn't solve the problem going forward, and you may have to go through this process all over again for every new window you open in Pale Moon!

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Zotero & Pale Moon - "An error has occurred…"

This post is on how to solve the problem when you get this message in Zotero using Pale Moon:

"An error has occurred. Please restart Pale Moon.
You can report this error by selecting "Report
Errors..." from the Actions (gear) menu."


This forces you to restart Pale Moon, and unfortunately the error will keep recurring randomly as you keep using Pale Moon, which can be very annoying and time-wasting. It must be to do with Zotero's integration with Pale Moon.

Further issues (if you don't restart Pale Moon immediately) - clicking on folders on the left won't display their items list. However, you can save items to the currently-selected Zotero folder - you just can't see the items list or view existing items, and you can't view your webpages tabs properly as the Zotero pane is in the way, blocking your view!

Also, if you get this error message, and you try to use your keyboard shortcut (usually Ctrl-shift-z) or the X icon to the right of the Zotero toolbar to close the Zotero pane, or you open a new Pale Moon window and try to start Zotero there, you'll just get yet another error message:

"There was an error starting Zotero".



Workaround to keep working in Pale Moon (if not Zotero)

First, here's a temporary workaround, just to let you see and save your current webpages or tabs to Zotero.

Hover the mouse over the top of the Zotero pane so it becomes a double headed arrow:


Then click and drag it down to hide the Zotero pane, so that only the Zotero toolbar is showing:


Obviously this gets most of Zotero out of the way of your webpages and tabs, so you can keep saving your then-open webpages to the currently selected folder.

If you need to change folders just drag Zotero back up, click on the name of the correct folder on the left and save the next webpage item, etc.

What's the longer-term solution?

Full solution to "An error has occurred. Please restart Pale Moon…"

The permanent fix I found after some troubleshooting is to disable automatic syncing in the Zotero settings.

  1. In the Zotero toolbar, click the Zotero Settings icon (the cog), then Preferences:

  2. Click the Sync tab, then click by "Sync automatically" to UNtick it, and click OK:

  3. Finally, restart Pale Moon.

Since then, I've had no recurrence of the error message. I tested this solution by re-enabling automatic sync in Zotero and, sure enough, the problem came back.

The only downside is that in some ways this is just a workaround because you then have to remember to sync Zotero manually - click the Sync icon  at the right of the Zotero toolbar:


I now tend to do that every day just before I go and have lunch or dinner!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Kitchen timer / stopwatch review - numeric buttons!

A timer with numeric buttons! I love this Maplin timer (only £4.49) because I haven't the patience to press and hold one button for ages waiting for the setting to count up to the number of minutes or seconds I need.maplin-Numeric-Timer

Simples. Just press 2 0 0 for 2 minutes, & the Start/Stop button to start, the same button to stop, again to restart, and Clear to, errr, clear. (And you'd press 1 5 0 0 for 15 minutes & so on.) Instructions are on the inside of the cardboard packaging anyway.

Also works as a stopwatch. Press the Clear button so the timer is set to all 0s, then press Start.

At the back there's a handy attachment with a hole so you can tie string to the timer and hang it from a hook or something else, a kickstand to stand it up on a worktop, and a magnet if you prefer to stick it to your fridge or other suitable metal surface.

Takes a single AAA battery, not some esoteric hard to replace type of button battery.

Low tech yes, but a good kitchen timer is gold if you cook a lot like I do.

Only downside: the magnet isn't very strong, so be a bit careful when pressing the buttons, to make sure that you don't knock it off the fridge!

At the moment you can't get it online, you have to see if your nearest Maplin store has one. If it does, you can order online for collection and payment at the shop, but you have to pick it up within 7 days after you reserve it.

I really hope Maplin doesn't discontinue this, because my previous timer with numeric buttons died a few years back and it's taken me this long to find a replacement. Pity Maplin's website description doesn't trumpet the existence of the individual number buttons for search engines to find and index, it should! I only found it from idly browsing round the site, not from searching for a timer with number buttons.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Nominative determinism 13

Here's another example of nominative determinism - people whose jobs suit their names.

In a study of long-tailed tits' co-operative breeding, entitled "Ecological and demographic correlates of helping behaviour in a cooperatively breeding bird", the lead author is…..

Prof Ben Hatchwell!


(See other blog posts on nominative determinism.)

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Shampoo on Amazon - for millionaires only!

I always knew personal care products were pricey, but this shampoo sold via Amazon takes the biscuit! Or rather the soapsuds?
Some pricing algorithm….
£999.99 shampoo

Monday, 16 June 2014

Zotero & Pale Moon - solve Word communication error

If you get "Word could not communicate with Zotero. Please ensure Firefox or Zotero Standalone is running and try again", when trying to use the Pale Moon browser (see Pale Moon review) with Zotero and Word in Windows, here's how to solve the problem.

Don't waste your time trying the usual fixes for that communication error, something more specific is needed for Pale Moon. The following worked for me in Windows 7 Pro and Word 2010.

1. Use the 32-bit version of Pale Moon

The 64-bit version has compatibility issues with Zotero, so even if you have a 64-bit computer, it's best to download install the 32-bit version of Pale Moon.

If you've already installed the 64-bit version of Pale Moon, just uninstall it in the usual way (eg for Windows 7) and then install the 32-bit version.

2. Install the Zotero add-on

Install the Zotero for Firefox add-on in Pale Moon in the usual way.

3. Do NOT try to install the Zotero plugin for Word from within Pale Moon

Where you previously had Firefox and Zotero working with Word integration, you should not try to install the Zotero Word plugin again from within Pale Moon. That will just make even more stuff stop working. Tried that, just made things worse for me, Word integration stopped working altogether even with just Firefox open!

(But if you did that already, you can fix it this way: close Word, close Pale Moon for luck, open Firefox and then reinstall the Word plugin for Firefox direct from the Zotero webpage, open Word, and check that you can add citations normally in Word again.)

4. Edit the Zotero Word plugin

After some searching and tinkering (here's where I got the clue about the Startup folder!), I worked out how to implement the required edits.

Do not try to edit Word's normal.dotm file in the Word templates - you can't edit the Zotero macros from there. Instead:

  1. Open Word
  2. Menu File > Open
  3. In the File Open dialog box, click in the top address bar (or press Alt-d), then type or paste in the following:

  4. Then hit the Enter or Return key, or click the right arrow button outlined in red in the pic above. The correct sub-folder will open.
  5. Open the file in that sub-folder. You'll just get a blank Word document.
  6. Now in that Word document, press Alt-F11 (ie hold down the left Alt key and tap the F11 key). A new window will open, with the title "Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications - Zotero". Click on "Project (Zotero) on the left to highlight it:
  7. Next go to menu Tools, choose Macros, and you'll see this pop up:

  8. Click on "ZoteroInsertCitation" to highlight it, as shown above, then click the Edit button, and a sub-window should open up.
  9. Now find the section that reads:
    ' Try various names for Firefox
        Dim appNames(5)
        appNames(1) = "Zotero"
        appNames(2) = "Firefox"
        appNames(3) = "Browser"
        appNames(4) = "Minefield"
        For i = 1 To 4
    (you can search for 'various names' to get there - menu Edit Find or Ctrl-f)
  10. You need to make two changes
    1. insert the line:
          appNames(5) = "Pale Moon"
      after the appNames(4) line.
    2. change the 4 to read 5 in the "For" line
    so  it now looks like this:
  11. Now go to the menu, File Save Zotero, and close that window, then close

5. Further tips on using Zotero with Pale Moon

Don't have both Firefox and Pale Moon open! Just have Pale Moon open to insert citations etc from your Pale Moon Zotero library.

Syncing. You can transfer your Zotero library to Pale Moon by syncing it from Firefox to the Zotero Sync Server, then (using the same username and password) syncing it again in Pale Moon - it may take some time each way. If you don't already have a free Zotero account to enable syncing, it's worth creating an account, if only for the peace of mind with backups!

PDFs. Yes you can view PDFs in Pale Moon and add PDFs to Zotero using Pale Moon. You just need PDF plug-ins for Pale Moon. (Added 17 June)

Credits: this forum and patch. I just added some shortcuts and screenshots!

Fix Pale Moon migration tool problem

There's a migration tool to move all your Firefox settings, bookmarks, add-ons etc to the Pale Moon browser (see Pale Moon review and tips). This post is on how to sort out one problem you may get with the too.

Before you start

Before you consider using the migration tool, you need to note a couple of things (and see the limitations listed on the migration tool page):

  1. It may be best to set up everything clean, from scratch, in Pale Moon - download your fave extensions, tweak their settings as you like them, etc. This would avoid carrying over any possible problems with corrupt or odd settings etc from Firefox. It's more time-consuming to do, but I think it's well worth it (as do others), and this is what I did personally.
  2. If you have multiple Firefox profiles, the tool only moves the default profile - if you don't know what multiple profiles are, you're probably not using them! (I only have multiple profiles myself because problems with previous Firefox profiles caused me to create new ones and I haven't deleted the old profiles yet just in case).

Using the migration tool

If you've opened Pale Moon at least once before trying the migration tool, you should do this first before launching the tool (you'll see why later):

  1. Go to your existing Pale Moon profile folder (how to find your Pale Moon profile)
  2. Make a note of the full name of the profile folder, eg 12a34b78.username. Better still, copy/paste the name somewhere.

Make sure you close both Firefox and Pale Moon before running the tool, and say Yes to overwrite the current minimal profile data, if you're trying this tool this right after installation.


How to fix the Pale Moon migration problem - possible solution

This suggestion seemed to involve a lot of steps so I tried something else, and it worked! Below is solution I came up with (which hopefully will help some people, but if it doesn't you could try the more drastic one - at your own risk!).

If you've had problems with the migration tool, where it looks like no settings have transferred over from Firefox (see next section):

  1. Make sure you've closed Pale Moon and it's not running.
  2. Go to your Pale Moon profiles folder (here's how).
  3. If you see not one, but two, sub-folders inside the profiles folder (each named with a mix of characters and numbers), you're in luck!

  4. One of those profile folders will be the same as the original profile folder whose name you noted in the previous section (before you ran the migration tool). The other profile folder will be completely new.
  5. Note down the full filename of the new profile folder (you'd have noted the name of the other profile folder earlier, but if not, note it now, so that you know which name is for the original folder and which is for the new one).
  6. Now, rename the original profile folder - anything different, eg old.blah.
  7. Next, rename the new profile folder so that its name is exactly the same as that of the original folder (whose name you noted at the start before you ran the migration tool).
  8. (If you've already run the migration tool without noting down the name of the original profile folder, don't despair - look at the modified dates of the two folders. The older one is likely to be the original folder. Also, look inside the profile folder, at the "extension" sub-folder. The profile folder that contains your Firefox extensions, that you tried to migrate over, will be the new profile folder.)
  9. When you start Pale Moon again, the settings etc should have transferred over this time.
  10. If you made a mistake and renamed the wrong folders, and Pale Moon won't work or still doesn't show the transferred settings, just close it, get the filenames from your notes and try the above again the other way round!

Further action. When you start Pale Moon after all that:

  1. it may say that the Classic Theme Restorer isn't compatible etc. That's fine, you don't need it with Pale Moon
  2. the Status Bar may not be visible - you may have to rightclick the empty space to the right of the tabs and:
    1. tick the Status Bar (and also Menu, etc as you wish) to display it, then
    2. rightclick the same place again, choose Customize, then drag the Status text, Progress etc, and other icons down to the status bar as you wish.

Explanation? What seems to have happened in this particular case (though there might well be other problems with the migration tool) is that, although I'd asked for the old basic profile to be overwritten, the tool had failed to do that, but had created a brand new profile instead, in a separate profile folder, containing all the transferred settings. However, Pale Moon wouldn't recognise the new profile folder (even using Profile Manager, it claimed there was only one profile there - the original one that should have been overwritten). By renaming the original folder to something else, and giving the new profile folder the same name as the original profile folder, Pale Moon was made to recognise the new profile. Sorted!

(To save you trying this: what didn't work was deleting the original profile folder. Pale Moon wouldn't start at all when I tried that. Hence the rename trick.)

Background - problems with the migration tool

In case you got similar error messages, here are the background details.

I tested the tool on a friend's Windows Vista PC who had only one Firefox profile. It started out fine, it seemed to find the right folders so I clicked "Copy profile":


It seemed to progress OK, eg saying that Status-4-Evar wasn't needed in Pale Moon (which it isn't):


But the migration tool didn't seem to work! A message kept popping up, where I had to keep clicking "Continue" multiple times:
Script Control
The script you are executing is taking longer than expected to run. Click End to abort the script or Continue to continue script execution.


And then I got a message:
Copyfolder - Error Number: 76
Error Source: Microsoft VBScript runtime error
Desc: Path not found


It listed the paths just to the Firefox and Pale Moon folders in AppData (but not the specific profile sub-folders).

And inexplicably it ended with "Status: Completed", suggesting the transfer had worked, and that you could just click "Exit":


However, when I reopened Pale Moon it seemed that nothing had been migrated! No extra add-ons were visible, no bookmarks were moved, etc.

The rename trick explained in the previous section solved the problem.

Pale Moon browser review - best Firefox alternative

palemoonThis post contains a review and tips on using the free, open source Pale Moon browser - the best Firefox alternative that I've found, because it's based on Firefox, so your fave Firefox add-ons / extensions should work in it. There are versions for Windows and Linux (no Mac). I'll mainly cover Windows here.

A real thumbs up to Pale Moon - I've found this excellent browser to be a complete lifesaver, because Mozilla have been increasingly scuppering Firefox to the point where it's now almost unusable for me and lots of other people. It's well worth donating to them.

Moving from Firefox to Pale Moon

You can download Pale Moon here and install it in the usual way by doubleclicking the installation file. There are versions for Windows and Linux, and even a portable version.

Tip: get the 32-bit version. Even if you have a 64-bit computer, I recommend strongly that you do not download the 64-bit version - it's much better to download the 32-bit version first, as it's more compatible, especially with Zotero (see more on getting Zotero to work with Pale Moon). If all works well and you want to experiment with the 64-bit version, go ahead (but you're on you own!). If you're not sure what kind of Windows operating system you have, it's safest to try the 32-bit version.

Installation tip. If you're only testing Pale Moon and don't want to make it your default browser yet, be sure to UNtick "Use Palemoon as my default web browser" when you get to that stage of the installation.


You can always make it your default browser later once you're absolutely sure. Unfortunately there's only an option to import from Internet Explorer, not Firefox, inexplicably, so if you don't want it to import your IE settings, choose "Don't import anything".

If when starting up Pale Moon for the first time you get "Pale Moon is not currently set as your default browser. Would you like to make it your default browser", you should UNtick "Always perform this check when starting Pale Moon, then click No. Again you can always make it default later.


Also, it allows you to import your settings etc from Internet Explorer (so if you're thinking of using Pale Moon as a Firefox substitute, don't import anything). Unfortunately it doesn't import settings from Firefox - see further below.


Migration of your Firefox settings. Pale Moon provides a migration tool to move all your Firefox settings, bookmarks, add-ons etc to Pale Moon. This seems not without issues so I've written a separate post on Pale Moon migration - be warned, read that first before you try to use that tool!

Tips on using Pale Moon

Running Pale Moon and Firefox in parallel. As mentioned earlier, yes, you can use both Firefox and Pale Moon at the same time - I've had no problems with having both open at the same time (except that you shouldn't when using Zotero, see below). Once my period of testing Pale Moon is over, I'll be switching over completely to Pale Moon from Firefox. But I've already made Pale Moon my default browser (if you didn't do that when installing it, you can set it in menu Tools > Options > Advanced > General). Tip: keep Firefox for a while until you're 100% sure, as you can check your add-on settings in Firefox to make the same settings in Pale Moon, if the migration didn't work 100%.

Menu Bar, Navigation Bar. Personally, I like having the Menu toolbar. Rightclick in an empty space to the right of the Tabs and make sure Menu Bar is ticked to get it back. Same for the Navigation Bar if it's not there, etc.

Tabs on top. Just rightclick in the empty space in the tabs bar to tick Tabs on top if you prefer that (ie to move the address bar and other toolbars and bookmarks bar to below the tabs bar).

Add-ons. Every single Firefox add-on I've tried to install (ie all my usual extensions) all work in Pale Moon, yay! In Pale Moon, just go to the Mozilla Firefox add-ons site and search for your add-ons and install them from there. As you can run both Pale Moon and Firefox at the same time, you can switch between them to check your list of Firefox extensions.

Zotero in Pale Moon. If you use the Zotero add-on, please see my separate post on how to make Zotero work in Pale Moon, fix the problem of “Word could not communicate with Zotero. Please ensure Firefox or Zotero Standalone is running and try again”, and transfer your Zotero library across to Pale Moon. Works really well for me.

Bookmarks. To manually copy your bookmarks from Firefox, the easiest is to export your Firefox bookmarks to an HTML file that you save on your computer, then in Pale Moon you just import that file. In Palemoon, click the Pale Moon logo top left, then Bookmarks > Organise Bookmarks (or, if you have a menu bar, you can select the menu Bookmarks > Organise Bookmarks). Then select Import and Backup > Import Bookmarks from Html… Then navigate to and select the HTML file you saved from Firefox.

Tip: faster way to copy bookmarks across? I also found that in Firefox if I opened  Bookmarks > Organise Bookmarks view, on the left highlight All Bookmarks (or just Bookmarks Toolbar if you prefer), clicked in the right pane and copied it with Ctrl-c, then in Pale Moon opened the Organise Bookmarks view and highlight the equivalent on the left (ie All Bookmarks or Bookmarks Toolbar), clicked on the right pane and pasted with Ctrl-v, it also worked to copy the bookmarks or Bookmarks Toolbar across without having to export or import anything! The favicons in the Pale Moon Bookmarks toolbar may be blank, but once you visit a site by clicking its toolbar icon, the usual icon will reappear.

How to speed up Pale Moon. I've found Pale Moon to be pretty speedy (eg faster than Internet Explorer and it seems faster than Firefox), despite some views that it's not as fast as Firefox. For example, Pale Moon already includes most of the optimisations recommended for Firefox in this helpful post. However, I found that I could make Pale Moon run even faster (or feel faster at least!) by:

  1. doing the tweaks from the optimisation post on:
    1. network.http.pipelining.maxrequests
    2. network.http.proxy.pipelining
    3. reduce initial page delay (I used the value 50)
    4. use memory cache (even though I don't have an SSD drive), and
  2. disabling hardware acceleration in Pale Moon (menu Tools > Options > Advanced > General, then UNtick "Use hardware acceleration where available") then click OK.

PDF support. Despite views to the contrary, yes you can view PDFs inline in Pale Moon. There are two ways to do this:

  1. install the PDF Viewer add-on, or
  2. install a PDF reader which has a Firefox plug-in (like the lightning quick free Sumatra PDF reader), and then disable any built-in PDF viewer this way.

Voila! And, bonus: I've found that Zotero (on which more in a separate Pale Moon + Zotero post) will save PDFs in Pale Moon when displayed either way.

Moving Session Manager sessions from Firefox to Pale Moon manually - if you use the wonderful Session Manager, which has saved my bacon on more than one occasion after Firefox crashes in the past, you may have noticed it no longer auto-saves every X minutes automatically in Firefox 29 (see the May/June 2014 reviews for Session Manager).

However, I found that (with both Firefox and Pale Moon closed), even if without using the Pale Moon migration tool, I could copy over my Session Manager sessions from Firefox to Pale Moon, and they open! Here's how:

  1. In Firefox, go to the Tools menu >  Session Manager > Session Manager > Open Session Folder.
  2. Copy everything in the folder that opens up, except the "Deleted Sessions" folder.
  3. Now go to Pale Moon and open up its Session Folder in exactly the same way as above.
  4. Paste what you copied from the Firefox session manager folder. NB - if it says there's already a file with the same name, choose "Copy, but keep both files" if you don't want to overwrite your existing Pale Moon sessions! Make sure you first tick, at the bottom left, the box saying "Do this for the next X conflicts", to avoid having to repeat this for every file with the same name, before you click "Copy, but keep both files".
  5. Now, in Pale Moon, when you go to Tools > Session Manager, you'll see your old Firefox sessions listed, and you can open them - worked like a charm for me, and they open really quickly too!

Where's your Pale Moon profile folder? Easiest way to find it is to open Windows Explorer and type or paste:
%appdata%\Moonchild Productions\Pale Moon\Profiles
in your Windows Explorer address bar, then hit Enter to get to the folder. The profile folder is in there, a folder whose name is a mix of characters then a dot then probably your Windows username. Tip: or you could go to the Start menu and then type or paste the same thing (%appdata etc) in the Search box.


Backing up your Pale Moon settings etc. It's always wise to backup as soon as possible after you've set everything the way you want it, and backup regularly thereafter.

There's a backup tool, though it only backs up your default profile - not a problem for most people, as most people only have the one profile. Password protection seems to be greyed out. Be warned backing up takes some time, about 5 hours.

The indispensable free Mozbackup utility, which I use a lot, is meant to work to backup your Pale Moon profile - but you have to unhide your AppData folder first,  to unhide it see eg this post). However, when I tried it, I got an error message the first time, and the next time, it took about 7 hours to backup, which is odd as it doesn't take so long with Firefox. Be patient, even if it seems to be calculating diskspace for ages, just leave it to do its thing.

Other alternative browser options

Opera - I also use this free browser sometimes, because it's lightning quick, but - but…:

  1. I stick to version 12.16 and stop it from upgrading or updating (step 1 - changed it to "Do not check for updates" - + step 2), because after that version they've dumbed it down and tried to make it look and work like Chrome (just like Mozilla have done with Firefox, ruining it in the process). If I'd wanted a browser that was like Chrome, I'd just use Chrome!
  2. The kicker - I need certain Firefox extensions like NoSquint and Zotero. There's nothing like that for Opera. Which is why it's not my main browser.

Chrome - I try to avoid using Chrome because there's no easy tab switching based on most-recently used tab (MRU), plus there are security risks and privacy issues. The only reason I'd use it is to 'cast' a tab from Chrome via Chromecast to my TV, ie to get a webpage playing video on my computer to display on my TV.

Seamonkey - I tried it, but many of my essential or favourite Firefox extensions don't work in it, so I gave up.

Many thanks to those who recommended trying Pale Moon!

Background - and possible workarounds if you want to stick with Firefox

The nail in the coffin for me was Firefox 29's terrible un-userfriendly interface changes and its constant freezes and crashes, with the inability to recover properly from those because Session Manager stopped working properly in Firefox 29 too! Not to mention Firefox previously breaking add-ons / extensions constantly, forgetting that the main reason many people use Firefox is for the extensions, not Firefox itself.

For those reluctant to switch completely to Pale Moon, here are some other solutions or workarounds for Firefox 29's problems.

Problems with Firefox 29 (& 30)? - possible fixes

Fed up with Firefox 29 or 30? You're not the only one. Here are some solutions, fixes or workaround to try - I hope they help some other people.

1. Get the old user interface back

You can install the Classic Theme Restorer add-on, as covered previously. NB: after that you may need to rightclick in an empty area next to a tab, choose Customise, and then drag your status bar text (if you have Status-4-Evar) back down to the bottom left, and also draft your NoScript and other icons from the top right down to the status bar location, then Exit from the Customise view.

Mozilla have since given more guidance on how to restore the old look.

2. More drastic - restore an older version of Firefox

Eg you could download Firefox 28. If you want to make absolutely sure that you don't lose your existing settings, it's safest not to uninstall the existing Firefox 29 first (contrary to Mozilla's instructions) - instead, install the older version of Firefox over it, which has worked for some people.

There's a quick way to downgrade Firefox, instead of running the downloaded setup file for the older version to reinstall it (which worked for me when I tried it):

  1. open the setup file using the free 7-Zip, and open the folder named "core"
  2. copy its contents (ie all folders etc inside the "core" folder, called "browser", "defaults" etc)
  3. paste the copied folders/files to overwrite the existing folders/files that are inside your Mozilla Firefox program folder - ie open your Firefox program folder, then paste the copied folders/files and overwrite existing files, but NB:
    1. you may want to backup the contents of the Firefox program folder first, ie copy and paste them elsewhere, before you try this, so you can copy/paste them back if anything goes wrong
    2. my Firefox program folder is at C:\Program Files (x86)\Mozilla Firefox, yours may be in different location eg C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox - here's how to find your Firefox program installation folder

Important: ideally you should disable your network connection before downgrading Firefox, and turn off automatic updates (ie switch to "Never check for updates") on Firefox immediately after the downgrade when you re-open Firefox. Otherwise, it will just update itself back to a newer version of Firefox as soon as you launch your downgraded version!

Big red warning: downgrade and disable updates only at your own risk, because you'll lose the security updates rolled out in the later versions! Older versions are less secure. The next option, below, may therefore be a better bet.

Tip: if you don't manage to stop Firefox downloading an update at least partly, you can try this:

  1. close Firefox ASAP after you've turned off the automatic updates (disable that quickly!)
  2. delete the downloaded update files (here's where they are located). This worked for me and I was able to re-open Firefox without it trying to update itself.

I tried downgrading to 29 (from 29.0.1), but it still kept crashing or freezing and Session Manager wouldn't work properly again even after that, so I downgraded to 28. So far, that's still working, fingers crossed…

3. Download and use Firefox ESR (extended support release)

The ESR is intended for enterprises (there's even a portable version), but be warned that Mozilla try to discourage it for personal use!

The big advantage of ESR is that it gets all of Mozilla's security updates for Firefox: download ESR here. But it's effectively an older version of Firefox.

Now, I didn't test this to see if ESR keeps the existing Firefox settings, so you should take backup copy again just in case, but the trick above about copying over the contents of the "core" folder should work, if you don't want to do the full install procedure.

4. Give up on Firefox and switch to the Pale Moon browser!

I'm now exploring this option as I've had enough of Mozilla messing up the interface and functionality for people like me who have been loyal users of Firefox for years.

Pale Moon is an open source browser based on the same code as Firefox, which provides a tool for moving your settings etc over from Firefox, and so far all all my Firefox add-ons / extensions work! Please see my separate Pale Moon review and tips for more details. You can use both Pale Moon and Firefox at the same time, generally, so you don't lose anything if you try it.


With version 29, Mozilla changed the user interface of Firefox so as to make it near unusable. Also, I found that version 29.0.1 kept crashing and freezing (and not just because of Flash or Realplayer plugins!). Crash recovery (and indeed automatic periodic session saves) stopped working with Session Manager - which is extra bad when it's always crashing! That's why I had to spend hours getting my main browser to work again. And am now testing Pale Moon, which so far has been excellent.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Duck What?! Go

Spot the unfortunate typographical error or perhaps spellchecking mishap  in Netimperative's report on Apple's deal to let Safari users set privacy-preserving search engine Duck Duck Go as their default search engine…


Saturday, 3 May 2014

Fix Internet Explorer security, even for XP - & a trap to watch out for

You should have heard there's a security hole  in Internet Explorer versions 6 to 11 (ie most modern versions), a fatal flaw which could let attackers plant malware on your PC. This zero day vulnerability, announced by Microsoft a few days ago, was considered serious enough that the US and UK authorities issued warnings about it, as did the EU security agency ENISA.

To their credit, Microsoft in short order released a fix for this critical issue - even for browsers running on Windows XP, for which support has now ended generally (so if you're still on XP, for the sake of your security you should move off it ASAP).

How to update your Internet Explorer for the fix? Use Windows Update. For many people you'll be prompted to type 'Windows Update' in your Start menu search box.

There is one trap you have to watch if you have your Windows Update settings set to 'Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them'. (I use that setting because Windows updates have been known to stop computers from starting up altogether! So, for non-critical updates, I usually wait a few days and search to see if there have been cries of despair online about failure or inability to boot after the new update, before I apply the update to my own computers.)

If you have that setting for Windows Update, after you check for updates you MUST click on '1 important update is available'  (or '2 important updates'. or whatever it says):


When you do that, you'll see the list of important updates. Now here's the important bit: on my Windows 7 and Windows 8 computers, often items in the list of important updates are NOT ticked by default. You have to manually tick them. This is what happened to me in the case of the critical Internet Explorer update on Windows 8.1. The option was not ticked!


So you must tick all the important updates, especially that one. Then you can go ahead and click all the 'Install' / 'OK' buttons, and restart your computer when prompted.

I've noticed this happen many times with Windows 7 and Windows 8 Windows updates. Also, important updates like Microsoft Security Essentials or Windows Defender are often listed under 'Optional' updates rather than 'Important' updates, so you must go and check your Optional updates too, which is not good. I hope Microsoft fixes it so that security updates, especially critical ones, are all TICKED by default without users having to check, and that security updates are all under the 'Important' rather than 'Optional' section.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Firefox 29 for security - but fix 29's terrible interface

Update your Firefox to version 29 to address a lot of security issues. It also seems to be faster and using less memory, at least on my Windows 7 computer.

But, but - v29 has a horrible 'new look' interface which is hard on my ageing eyes, especially with multi-row tabs, and the rounded edges take up more space so I have more rows of tabs than I did, plus they took away the status bar that previous versions removed but which I got back as an add-on bar with Status4Evar.

So thank goodness for the Classic Theme Restorer add-on (via this article)! Install it, that's the best tip you'll get this month.

Steps to make Firefox 29 usable(ish) again:

  1. Update Firefox
  2. Install Classic Theme Restorer (how to install Firefox extensions) and change its settings as you need (see later)
  3. Restart Firefox
  4. Rightclick in the empty area beyond the last tab and choose Customise, then
    1. move icons back down to the status bar as necessary eg NoScript, Status Text (which is the status bar text displayed to show progress when visiting a webpage, the URL when you hover over a link etc)
    2. click on Title Bar at the bottom left if you want your title bar back
    3. click Exit Customise.

(Alternatively, use Firefox ESR so that you can get the security updates without the abysmal new interface.)

There seem to be more tweaking tips but I didn't need them. Installing Classic Theme Restorer gave me back clean sharp edges and my status bar! The Class Theme Restorer options I used (accessible from the Tools menu or the Add-ons page in the usual way - Ctrl shift a is how I usually get to it):

  1. Classic Toolbar Buttons, bottom left
  2. under Tabs I picked 'Squared tabs (classic)' - just tinker with the options… 

I didn't need to do anything else except check and change the width of tabs in TMP, and move icons or boxes back to the status bar at the bottom. Do donate to the developer, who very well deserves it.

Rant time. I still prefer Firefox to Chrome because of the lack of MRU tab switching in Chrome (TabMixPlus is THE best Firefox extension ever ever, I donate regularly). But in recent years Mozilla have been making the Firefox interface more and more unusable, it seems without thinking or caring about accessibility or usability or indeed bothering to listen to users. Prettifying it with rounded edges is not always best, particularly at the expense of accessibility. I like minimal but I like clean sharp edges more, and hiding too many things is a pain as users need information beyond the minimal (so a status bar is indispensable for a start). Someone on Slashdot put it well, it's just UX as 'an excuse for taking control from the user'.

There's also a cognitive and informational cost, beyond the learning curve associated with a changed interface - the new rounded tabs take up more rows as well as horizontal space tan the old interface (ugh smudgy kiddie look), and overlap so that I can't see what pages some tabs represent. (With version 28 I used TMP with short tab widths so I could cram more tabs onto one line but see what they are from the favicons.) It's ridiculous that, to get back workable interfaces, long-term Firefox users have to resort to third party add ons (which may break with new versions, like Status4Evar did before installing Restorer). What *&!@#£ came up with putting 'the icons/buttons you want to see all the time on the top toolbar'? Most of us have stuff we want all the time, AND separately stuff we need to see only occasionally. There's just no space on the top toolbar to put both, and I refuse to scroll horizontally, so I have to have a status bar! (That's why I still use a Quick Launch bar, in Windows 7 and Windows 8 - all my most used programs are there at glance, and the start menu, which takes one more step to access, is for the second-most used set.)

Changing aesthetics for the sake of it is fine, but not when it affects usability and productivity and takes away user choice. And why make users choose between security and usability? I resent having  an abominable unworkable accessibility-unfriendly interface forced upon me just in order to keep my browser secure. If Chrome had MRU switching and all the extensions I need (particularly Zotero and security ones like NoScript), I would seriously consider switching despite the privacy concerns and some security issues.

Mozilla, please get your act together and give users back their control. Though I doubt they'd listen to me when they don't listen to countless other users rather than 'UX designers' who may not use Firefox as much as us real users who need Firefox to do real work.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Funny TV programme info warning

Not content to over-block or over-filter perfectly innocuous websites, it seems that the UK nanny state's ineffective over-cautiousness is spreading… to TV programmes.

Note the warning in the programme info (shown on my, generally pretty good, Humax Fox T2) for a TV show depicting an elderly couple pottering gently along the canals of Wales:


Needless to say, the programme contained no "very strong language", nudity, violence or indeed sexual scenes!

Although occasionally they did grumble about the weather, and there was the odd swear word when their boat bumped against a canal wall…

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Chrome - secure your microphone from spying sites!

If you visit certain sites using Google's Chrome browser, and give the site permission to use your computer's microphone (to use speech recognition navigation etc), a researcher has discovered that the website could keep your microphone on even when you've left the site and think it's off - with no warning indicator that it's still on.

To secure your computer and stop sites using this vulnerability to eavesdrop on you using your mic, El Reg has suggested that you simply disable websites' access to your mic and camara. Here's how to do that, with pics:

1. In Chrome, go to the Settings menu (top right, click the 3 horizontal lines icon), then choose the Settings item from the drop down.


2. The Settings page comes up. Scroll all the way down to the end, and click "Show advanced settings":


3. Now in the "Privacy" section that appears (which in my view is an essential basic requirement and not an "advanced" setting, but another time…), click the "Content settings button:


4. Then you have to scroll down again to find the Media section, and make sure you select "Do not allow sites to access my camera and microphone", then click the "Done" button.


That's it! Obviously you'll have to change it if you actually want a particular site to access them, but remember to change it back afterwards.

I rarely use Chrome myself (here's reasons why I don't use Chrome), and this sort of security issue isn't exactly going to persuade me to change my mind!

Monday, 3 February 2014

Open Word or Excel document read-only - add context menu item

If you'd like to right-click on a Word or Excel document in Windows Explorer to open it as read-only, supposedly you should be able to hold down the Shift key, rightclick on the filename, and there should be an option to "Open as Read-Only".


However, choosing this Shift-rightclick option doesn't actually open the document as read-only. This seems to be a known bug in Office 2003 and Office 2007, and also in Office 2010 and Excel 2010.

There's one workaround and one fix.

Open in protected view

The workaround is that, if you Shift-rightclick on a Word or Excel .xls file in Windows Explorer, there's also an option to "Open in Protected View".

Choose that, and it works pretty much as read-only: you can't change anything, you can't save, but you can copy/paste from that document. This works for Excel as well as Word.

Rightclick context menu item

What solves the problem completely in Word, which I used myself, is to edit things to add a new rightclick Open Read-only context menu option that actually works to open Word documents as read-only. I based this solution on a combo of this post (which wasn't actually on opening read only) and this page (about opening read-only, but for XP only, not later versions of Windows).

Here's how to add a right-click context menu item to open Word files as read only, properly - works for me using Windows 7 and Word 2010:

First, download FileTypesMan (free, but donate if you can, the man certainly deserves it!) - you have to scroll quite a way down for the "Download FileTypesMan" link (I used "Download FileTypesMan for x64" as my computer is Windows 7 Pro 64-bit).

Next, unzip/extract the files (rightclick on the zip fiule downloaded and Extract all to create a new unzipped folder) and open the new folder, then run FileTypesMan.exe.

On the left, scroll down till you find and highlight .docx (or use menu Edit > Find and and type docx to find it, make sure you then highlight that line):


Now in the menu choose Actions > New Action (or press Ctrl-n).

In the box that pops up, fill it in like this (and see diagram just above the list):


  • Action name - I used  "Open read-only" without the quotes, you could just use "Read only" etc as you prefer
  • Menu Caption - I used "Open read-only" again
  • Command-Line - you can click Browse to find your Winword.exe under Program Files or Program Files (x86) (you will have to drill down to find Microsoft Office, Office14 or Office11 etc depending on your version), or Select from Running Programs if Word is already running, which is the easiest. You could alternatively enter the full path to Winword.exe, with quotes around it, as shown below, but it's easiest to Select from Running Programs (you can launch Word just before you click Select and it should work, just scroll down to find it in the "Select Process" list, possibly to the end):image

After you've used Browse or Select, it will fill in the Command-Line box for you with something like this:
"C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office14\WINWORD.EXE" "%1"

Now, you have to edit what's in the Command-Line box, by inserting after the "%1" the following (which you can copy/paste from the next line) - just after the 1 but before the close double quotes, and make sure there's a space between the 1 and the first /:
/h /n /dde

In my case, the Command-Line box ended up reading like this:
"C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office14\WINWORD.EXE" "%1 /h /n /dde"

Next, in the DDE section in the Message box, you should enter  the following, which again you can copy/paste:
[AppShow][REM _DDE_ReadWriteOnSave][FileOpen .Name="%1",.Revert=0,.ReadOnly=1]

(In the Application box you can enter Word if you like, but it will still work even if you don't.)

Finally, click OK. This adds a new Action to the bottom half of the FileTypesMan window, which you can doubleclick to edit in future.

Now, when you rightclick (no need to hold down the Shift key) a docx document in Windows Explorer, you will have a working "Open read-only" menu option (or whatever title you gave it in the "Menu caption" box above).

Furthermore, in FileTypesMan you can select (in the lefthand column) the type .doc for old-style Word documents, and rinse and repeat the steps above, if you wish.

Excel protected view - rightclick only

For Excel spreadsheets, unfortunately the above fix doesn't work, so you have to open them in protected view.

But to make life easier for yourself, you can use FileTypesMan to change things so that you don't have to Shift-rightclick to get the "Open in Protected View" menu option. Here's how to get that option to display just on a simple rightclick:

In FileTypesMan, find and highlight.xls on the left (scroll or search, as with docx above).


Now in the bottom half of the window, find and doubleclick "ViewProtected" (outlined in red above).

In the box that pops up, UNtick "Extended", and OK:


Now a simple rightclick, as opposed to Shift-rightclick, will call up the "Open in Protected View" option.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Hard drive brands - most / least reliable?

Which hard drive to buy? A helpful report by cloud backup provider Backblaze, which uses consumer hard drives, summarised its experiences with over 27,000 drives: of the following 3 brands, Hitachi did best in terms of both annual failure rate and cumulative survival rate (see the report for detailed info on specific models etc). The survival rates over 3 years were:

  1. Hitachi 96.9%
  2. Western Digital 94.8%
  3. Seagate 73.5%.

Interestingly, the latter two reflect my own experience.

I use 4 external hard drives as standard. Two are Seagate and two are Western Digital (WD). One is for my documents (I moved 'My Documents' and similar folders from C drive to an external drive, to protect myself against Windows problems or C drive failing - I wish Microsoft would store user data in a different partition from Windows!). The others are for backup.

One WD recently died, but I've had it for years, and the other one (equally old) is still going strong. One 2TB Seagate also died just after that - but it's less than a year old! And to add insult to injury, one of my WD drives was bought to replace a drive that died a few years ago - a Seagate, again. So, to add my own review, the failure rate I've personally experienced is 2 Seagates (including quite a new one) to 1 WD.

That's nowhere near as statistically significant as Backblaze's results, of course. Still, I'll have to buy at least one more hard drive soon given the 2 dead ones - and guess which brand I'm considering now? Hitachi!

I'm thinking of getting this one:

Or this 2TB one (though two of the 1TB seems better value, and one customer says the 1TB is USB 2.0-compatible, which I need as my KVM switch is USB 2.0 and I don't want to buy another one till the price of USB 3.0 KVM switches with DVI comes down a lot more!):


Backblaze noted that WD acquired Hitachi's disk drive business a year and a half ago, but given that WD ranked only just behind Hitachi, I'm not too worried about buying those Hitachi drives. Also, entirely subjectively, a relative who's a hardware whiz (always builds all his own PCs etc), has always sworn by WD drives. So I might go for this instead:

That's because I have so little desk space that I need drives that stand up vertically with a small footprint, so I may have to buy the WD given that it's not clear whether I can use the Hitachi Touro drives vertically on their side - does anyone know?

One thing's for sure, after two Seagate drives going dead parrot on me, the second one being my newest hard drive, I ain't gonna buy Seagates no more, no sirree!