Outlook.com – How To Block Messenger

Microsoft, please don’t annoy me before 6AM.

I had gotten in after the dog walk, settled in for some iced tea, and wanted to check my email once the computer got started.

Using www.outlook.com has never been a pleasure for me.  I want an email service that stays out of my way with extra “features” that I don’t want.   Having a chat service tied into an email program that is a bloated mess was not my choice.  Even Hotmail.com was better than the steaming pile of garbage that Outlook.com has been bloated into.

At the lower left of the browser screen was a helpful “Messaging” area with little icons of people who I have written in the past.  I found myself immediately looking for a way to turn it off.  After wasting a half hour in the “Byzantine” settings menu in Outlook, I went to do a search for how to do it.  I found this page suggesting that I add an entry into a low level file and restart my computer.   The low level file is a text file called “Hosts” that your computer reads in when it starts.  What Hosts does is to override networking.  

In Windows it is at C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc and Linux keeps it at /etc/hosts which would be where I would expect to find it on Mac OSX.

Some very basic and oversimplified networking concepts.

If you type in http://www.ramblingmoose.com your computer doesn’t know what that does. It consults your network stack, finds the gateway, and then talks to your internet service provider.  In this case it looks at a giant phone book called your DNS and gets the IP Address of the site.  Since my blog points to a blogger site, that number changes, and it’s hosted by Google anyway. 

But I can change that.

If I bring up Hosts in notepad or any other TEXT editor, I can add in a line saying that a specific IP address is to be used when you go to a specific web address or URL.

For example, if I want to block Google, I add a line to the file:

127.0.0.1  http://www.google.com

Save the file and restart the computer.

This works for some sites that are advertising providers and other nuisance sites.  My own Hosts file is pretty large having gotten one that has most of those malware and advertising sites that were known at the time.

But all this is annoying to maintain.  Fortunately, there is an easier way to do it.

Adblock Edge or Adblock Plus in Firefox and whichever other browsers it supports.  Adblock Edge is always the first thing I add when I install Firefox.  It allows me to block ads, hide pictures, and even block whole websites (domains) if I choose to from a semi-friendly interface.

Simply add a custom “rule” to adblock to block the following URL:

geo.gateway.messenger.live.com

It would be a whole lot simpler if Microsoft had decided that it would give you a way to block that Messaging app within Outlook.com settings, but they chose not to.  Luckily I can turn it off and get some things done.

How to add a custom rule:

  • Ctrl+Shift+F will open a window called “Adblock Edge Filter Preferences”.
  • Click on the “Add Filter” button in the upper right of the window.
  • In the blue box, enter geo.gateway.messenger.live.com and Enter.
  • Close the window by clicking the Close Box.
  • When you refresh Outlook.com in your browser, it will be blocked in that browser only.

Now I Know Why People Store Passwords On Post-its Under The Keyboard

I have a video.  In retrospect it isn’t all that much.  About a minute of my dog romping in the back yard.

I got it off the video camera, reformatted it to the correct size.  HD Video used to be a special thing, but now… even a cheap phone will do better video than we used to get back in the square box days of TV.

Not too long ago, and yeah, get off my lawn.

I grabbed a picture of my dog, and my neighbor’s dog Ellie.

Both were a lead-in.  I have done this sort of thing before, professionally.   I may be a bit rusty, but editing video is something I have done since the mid 1990s both professionally and as a hobby. 

I have taken video that I have shot, as well as video created from broadcast sources, and I even made a giant Powerpoint project that I converted to video.  Yeah, you know the one that runs behind the stage to annoy, er advertise companies at a street party?  I did that.

I managed to get the short video, three transitions, four titles, a comment frame, and more, put together and in the right format for the web.

Time to log into youtube.  Oops.  Where’s that password?

Wait, the washer was beeping.  It needs to go on another spin cycle anyway.

Back to … where was I?

Postman arrived… I can ignore that for a little bit.   Let me tweak the titles again, I’m not too happy how things show up in motion.  I’m getting a blur.

Time to render the video again.  Crash.

Windows is demanding a reboot, I can postpone that.

Bring the project back up again.  I think I need to find a better piece of software to do that task, I’m running something from 2003 still.  At least it’s not like writing a novel in an extinct word processor and on DOS.

Once I get this render done and uploaded, I’ll look into Cinelerra and Ubuntu Studio again.  I have enough Linux machines around me that that shouldn’t be a problem.

More distractions, this time the fifth recruiter in the last hour.  Sure, you’re from New Jersey.  Right, and I’m living on the Moon…

Ahh, render is done, now back to that old youtube account I have… Ramblingmoose.   What was that password again? 

Fail.  No such luck.  Should have written that thing on the bottom of a Post-it and stuck it on my desk somewhere.  It’s not in the emergency file either.

Oh well.   Time to drop back five and kick.   Write about the experience, curse at Google with my best might, and put up the original video of Rack licking peanut butter out of the Kong.  

*sigh*

Wow, that was only a month after I got him? Long time ago…

Will Garamond Save the Government 300 Million?

There is a 14 year old up in Pittsburgh area named Suvir Mirchandani that did an analysis on different fonts.  Since I play with fonts in creating web pages, it rang a bell with me.

http://www.cnn.com/video/api/embed.html#/video/politics/2014/03/28/lead-intv-suvir-mirchandani-expensive-fonts.cnn 
In short, most of the government documents in the US are printed in Times Roman.  It’s that “default” font you get when you have text with little tags on the ends of the letters that are called Serif.  Garamond looks similar to Times Roman and its derivatives, but it’s a lighter font.  The idea is that if they switched to Garamond at the same point, you end up saving money.

True, but… A 10 point Garamond is shorter and thinner than a 10 point Times Roman character.  To get the same height, you’d have to bump the size up on your text to a 12 point.

You should still save money but maybe not quite as much.  Since printer ink is ludicrously expensive, around $4285 a liter, any savings add up.

Does it matter?  Maybe, depends on how much you print.   You certainly will save money using the Light or Condensed version of the fonts, but you may not notice it.  If you’re printing out the resume, you don’t care, you just want it to look good.

I don’t tend to care anyway, I print very rarely, and besides I strongly prefer Gill Sans or similar like Trebuchet.  That’s the “Keep Calm” Poster font.  London Underground is another similar font. The M in Trebuchet is wrong, but that’s why I call myself a Font Geek.

What is more important than whether our 14 year old friend is completely right, or slightly wrong, is the idea that if you look carefully at a situation, small changes can make for a big difference in the end.  This is why things have gotten thinner in the manufacturing process.   Cutting costs, or even cutting corners, will save the manufacturer in the end.  If it is something to be thrown out and disposed of like packing peanuts, use the absolute minimum quality that will get the item to the ultimate person using the item.  It’s trash anyway, and trash is a massive problem.  Make enough of them and save a dollar a piece and it ends up being real money in the end.

The flip side of the packing peanut problem is the thickness of something like sheet metal in a car can be a life or death situation.  Thinning the grade of the sheet metal in a body panel of a car can be fine, if the car is never in an accident you won’t care.  If someone leans against the quarter panel of your brand new car and it crumples like a sheet of aluminum foil, you aren’t going to be safe in a crash.

The Warranty of Merchantability or Implied Warranty is a concept that fits well here.   The warranty states that a manufacturer “warrants” that a product is suitable to the reasonable use for its intended purpose.  You don’t expect to use your computer screen as a wheel chock to stop your car from rolling down a driveway, but you do expect to get a couple years at a reasonable brightness at a certain setting.  You know, so you can look at all those pretty letters, and fonts, and pictures of cats.

English Common Law is a wonderful thing, in this and many other cases.

So what do you take away from this?   As a web designer and consultant, I design things so they look good to me.  If I intend to print something out, will I be saving it for multiple uses?  Then splurge on the “bigger” fonts.  Once only?  Try not to print at all.  In the middle? Judge your audience.  Web only?  Make it pretty and change it when you get bored.

That last bit is why this page renders in one font and then snaps to another when it has finished loading.  The background there is that there are only a few web fonts.  Arial and Helvetica is one family, Times Roman (remember that one?), Trebuchet, and a few others in another family.  The font I picked for the blog looked good a while back when I changed my template.  It’s something called Cuprum in 14 point.  As one of the Google Open Fonts, I can use it freely, without royalties, and on any machine that supports the format even in commercial usages.  Blogger does the translation behind the scenes so that you, my reader, don’t have to have Cuprum on your computer.

Whether that saves ink if printed, I don’t know.  I could change the color to a dark grey and the result is I’d use less ink if I chose to print it out. 

Maybe our 14 year old friend should check that out?  What if you keep the font at the same size and weight, but change the color from black to grey?  From #000000 to #888888 for the web developers in the crew.

As long as it never gets printed, it just doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that you still have to be able to see it and after all if you can’t see it, it’s a waste of time, isn’t it?

How to Stop Facebook From Auto-Playing Videos

Believe it or not, I don’t have an April Fool’s Joke.  I don’t believe in them.  It’s for the amateurs around us.

So while today is Amateur Day, I’ll give you a little helpful hint.

I enjoy videos.  I watch an awful lot of them, probably more than I should.

When I launch a web page and it has a video on it, that video should not automatically play.  If it does, I am searching for a way to close that web page as fast as humanly possible.

I usually do it while at least growling at the laptop, and most likely with a few “invectives”.

You know, four letter words.

So if you are looking at Facebook, and I do this far too much to support the groups around here that I support, here is a way to make your life a bit easier.

  • Log into Facebook.
  • Click the “Settings” gear in the right side of the blue stripe at the top of your Facebook webpage.  Lately that gear has been changed to a little subtle blue triangle, point down.   The link is here to put you directly on the page.
  • The resulting “General Settings” page has a list of  settings you can work with in the left pane of the web page.
  • Click on the Video Settings link on the left at the bottom of the list or just click on this link.
  • Video Settings has only one thing you can set here, the Auto-Play setting.  Click on the “On” or “Off” button to set it the way you like.

Enjoy!

Dealing with Facebook Annoyances Using Adblock Plus

Audience is either Firefox Users or Chrome Users.

Facebook is the website you love to hate.

Teens are leaving it, adults can be addicted as a time sink, marketers think they can buy the world’s information at a song.

You can tame the beast some. 

Lately Facebook has made some changes to the way they present information.  It’s all about getting you to opt into more things – you know, to “Like” them.   That helps them build a profile about you.   Since you tend to give up that information freely, it’s pretty valuable.

But lately it got to be a bit much.  Since I manage a number of websites, and a number of social media presences online, I have to be on Facebook – all day.

First thing is you really need a good ad blocker.   The reason is that those ad services may be entertaining but they are watching what you do everywhere.  You may not have a problem with it, but I do.

I went to Firefox years ago and installed an adblocker.  The latest iteration of it is called “Adblock Edge”.  It will block both intrusive and non-intrusive advertising.   The distinction between that and “Adblock Plus” is that Adblock Plus has been paid by Google and perhaps others to not block their text ads.  That raises the question of what else are they not telling you.  Supposedly Adblock Plus is making the decision as to whether something is acceptable, and I’m not comfortable with that.

  • Simple, get Adblock Edge instead.  Adblock Edge will allow you, once you learn how to use the thing, to block any advert as well as things like frames and those reprehensible “Fancybox” and “Lightbox” things that seem to float over a web page.

I’ll let you look into that whole learning process.   It’s best that you look into it yourself, but the default settings on Adblock Edge are pretty good to begin with.  The simplest explanation is that you can right click on an ad, Select “Adblock Plus: Block Image” and tailor what you see.

The next step is to import something into Adblock Edge that works with Facebook itself.   There’s a big long list of things that they added that annoy me, as well as clutter their interface.  Frankly I don’t have time for most of it, but a long list of that stuff can be found in this article. 

Those annoyances are the “You May Like” or the “You May Know” genre of items.  They got to the point where they were more than half of what I would see on Facebook.   So when I saw the article, I followed the simple instructions:

  • First Surf this page.  It gives you a graphical representation of things you don’t want to see.

  • Second, select the link you want.  I selected the Block All in the first column but that may be a bit too much.  You can see the graphic and select the one you want by clicking on the green “+ add” button.

  • Third, add the rules to your Adblocker.  When you click on the “+ add” button, it will pop up the Adblock dialogue box for “Add Adblock Plus Filter Subscription”.  Click on the button to “Add Subscription”.

You’re done.  Facebook will be less cluttered – until they break that by changing things.

You can always hide those people or businesses by unfriending or unliking them, but that is a bit of a Nuclear Option.   This keeps the friends but loses the “chaff”.

It just got too hectic, so thankfully Technology came to the rescue.

Firefox 25 is Here

Getting caught up this morning I spotted an article speaking about how Firefox has been updated.

The short of it is that it’s more stable because they patched some internal stuff.

Internal stuff like memory problems and stability issues.  This is for Windows, Mac, Linux and probably iOS and Android too, but I haven’t gotten to the last two yet.

I was finding that Firefox 24 would simply pause.  Since I have on any given moment about 30 to 150 tabs open, that’s kind of scary.  Most of what I was doing would just… pause.  Pause for a couple minutes, so I was losing a fair amount of time when it would happen about once an hour.

Upgrading is pretty painless.  I clicked on Help, and About, and found the picture you see above.  Didn’t even have to click on a button until it was done.   When done the “Applying Updates” message changed to a button saying Restart. 

Now I’m on Firefox 25.  Whether other bugs will show up, I don’t know.  I do know it hasn’t locked on me in 3 hours of surfing about 200 web pages in tabs.

Since that’s done, I can get back to developing web pages, search engine optimization, and other “web development tasks”.

If you want all the deep and dirty info, here’s the article that I found that told me to check.

Avoiding Astroturfing

We’ve all looked at reviews online.   I actually find them entertaining.   Some sites really do have some over the top reviews where an inconsequential widget like a can opener is shown to be the end all of all creation.

Those are usually very easy to spot.   You will hear about an item on an auction site that has taken a life of its own and frustrated comic writers try to sharpen their wit and see if they get any attention for it.

That is rather harmless, kind of a prank.  A recent one was the three wolf moon T Shirt review on Amazon where putting on the T Shirt has been said to cause the wearer to get the powers of levitation and control over a pack of wolves, specifically in a Wal Mart.  This one has been going on for a couple years now as an established Meme.

But that isn’t astroturfing.   Astroturfing is the practice of posting fake reviews by someone connected with the company or product in order to drive sales or traffic to the site.   They’re usually pretty easy to spot, and pretty easy to avoid.   When you hit a review site like Yelp, simply skip all the Five Star Reviews.  They’re usually written by some second cousin of the owner of the shop anyway.

I’ve spotted them in company reviews posted on Glassdoor. Glassdoor is a site that exists to allow people to research a company they are interested in working for.  Hopefully they will give a glimpse inside the Glass Door to allow them to decide whether the company is worth applying to.   I have seen some reviews on Glassdoor that were clearly written by the owner, and they’re always “called out”.  What generally happens is that someone who was working there will post an anonymous review stating just how awful the company is and how it is mean to puppies and kittens and …   well you get the picture.

But Astroturfing also has a darker side, and luckily we have New York to thank for spotting it.  There’s a practice called “Search Engine Optimization” where a website is written in such a way to raise its ranking on a search engine.  The current wry definition of frustration is the act of proceeding to the second page of a web search in order to find something about something you need.   So webmasters, myself included, will try to add helpful links and comments in the page in order to make it more important and more pertinent to the web search engine.   The problem is that the rules are never told to the webmasters and they change all the time.

Search Engine Optimization is usually a guess.   A “Scientific wild-assed guess” or a SWAG, but a guess.

So what happened in the case of New York is that the State created some yogurt shops and looked for help in getting their pages optimized.   The shops never existed.   Some companies were valid and helped the shop “owners” work their webpages over with some commonly accepted techniques.   Others were more devious and resorted to Astroturfing.  These companies offered to have fake reviews posted in Yelp and others to drive traffic to the site.   That isn’t exactly legal as it deceives the potential client by having people in places like the Philippines and others posting these glowing reviews of a shop that they never visited and doesn’t even exist.

It’s also apparently illegal in New York, and should be illegal everywhere else.

Luckily these reviews are usually easy to spot, and normally easy to avoid.  Just avoid your Three Wolf Moon T Shirt.   It’s out of fashion now and worn “ironically” just like the reviews.